Welcome to Kidorable Parenting’s interview with beloved kids’ musician, Laurie Berkner. I’m Jonathan Domsky, blogger, parenting coach and co-founder of Kidorable. My son and I have been big fans of Laurie’s fun songs for years. It’s such a joy to find music we both really like to listen to together. We love Laurie’s songs the first time we hear them and more importantly, they still sound great the 100th time, too. Let’s get started. Laurie, tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do and what you’re passionate about.
Laurie: Sure. I’m a musician, songwriter, and performer. I actually think of myself more like a creator in general but mostly for kids and for, as a songwriter, I write songs for kids and I guess now I’m a little bit of a story writer as well. And I’d say I’m passionate about creating things that the kids feel a lot of ownership over, that empowers them and reminds them how important they are and how important their feelings and their ideas are as well. And it’s fun.
Jonathan: You said that you see yourself primarily as a creator. How do you see your role as creator as different from performer?
Laurie: Oh, well, I guess I think “performer” is more specific. And when I think a lot about my own mission, about what I really want to do in my life and even as I have sort of a mission statement for my business and for myself, I don’t actually think specifically about doing things for kids or performing or anything. I really think of it as somebody who just wants to be able to get up every day and create. But I’ve found that I really love writing things for kids, making things for kids, especially young kids. I feel very connected to them, and I feel like I have a lot to give in that arena and it’s very satisfying for me.
So that’s where I have ended up, but really my feeling is…like I write every night and sometimes it’s a kids’ song and sometimes it’s more like a journal entry and it just, it’s a way that I feel very alive is to always be creating.
Jonathan: Nice. Laurie, what’s something that you wish you had more courage or imagination to do when you were younger?
Laurie: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is skydiving. Like I wish I’d had… I’m not sure that I would ever do it at this point in my life, but there are things like that that I feel like, especially now that, being a parent, I feel like there are a lot of things that I probably won’t do because I feel like I wouldn’t want to take any kind of risk that I might have when I was younger. So I feel like there’s something that I imagine would feel very freeing and exciting and possibly life-changing about that and I’m not sure if I’ll ever do it. So it would have been nice if I had done it when I was younger.
Jonathan: What do you do to give children you love the courage and imagination to seize possibilities within themselves and the world?
Laurie: Well, I mean, the children I love, there’s my own daughter and then there’s all the kids that I feel like are listening to my music and I guess maybe it’s sort of the same thing. I mean, when I’m writing songs, I definitely, I think about writing songs that help kids feel good about who they are and the choices they make. And I think beyond that also about like not having to be right or really perfect, accepted, being themselves. And I hope I do that with my own daughter. Just to really try to be there as supportive of who she actually is. And so I guess that’s my answer to the question.
Jonathan: Laurie, describe something in your family life that you’ve consciously made more fun, easy, meaningful or joyous.
Laurie: Well, one thing that we, we eat dinner together almost every day and it feels like, to me, that feels like a time that is like breathing out, you know. Sort of like a moment of relaxing, of taking a minute and actually paying attention that the three of us are together and being grateful for that time and having a chance to talk to each other and reconnect after we’ve all had different days. Or play a game or listen to music that especially, now my daughter is a teenager and she has a lot of things that she is interested in and excited about that we don’t always get to share in as much. So I feel like that space has become kind of sacred and is a very…yeah, I’d say it was a very joyous time. It is a very joyous time for me each day when I actually get to make that connection between the three of us.
Jonathan: Nice. How much time do you spend away from home on tour, and what do you do to connect when you’re away?
Laurie: Well, I try not to go away that much, although interestingly, I mean, not interestingly but this time is sort of a changing time. As she’s getting older, I have been more, it’s been easier to be away for a little bit longer. But I play, I’d say on average, about every other weekend, so about half the weekends a year. And I try to just go away overnight. Again, that’s sort of starting to expand a little bit now and sometimes I’ll be away for a whole weekend. So usually when I’m away I just, I check in a lot, you know, using FaceTime and calling and skyping, I mean, sorry, texting and just trying to make sure that I’m connected.
Sometimes actually we will do dinner together like when I’m away. So Brian and Lucy will have made dinner and they sit down and they just, like, put one of their phones out on the table, like where I would be sitting and then we use FaceTime and I talk to them and they tell me about their day and like what, you know, what are they eating and stuff like that. So I try to make it as, I don’t know, normal, I guess, as we can make it being away and I try to stay connected. On the other hand, they also both have a lot going on and sometimes when I’m like, “Hey, I need to talk to you, I want to talk to you now because I have this show in an hour,” they may be doing other things. So I try to respect that as well.
Jonathan: But even when you are away, you literally still have a seat at the table. That’s nice.
Laurie: Sometimes, yeah. Actually, that happened just a week ago. I was away. It’s kind of fun.
Jonathan: Laurie, what’s something about your current family life that you wish was more fun, easy, meaningful, or joyous?
Laurie: Yeah. You know, what’s hard is actually mornings. They’ve always been hard. I feel like there’s something about both kind of getting past the inertia of the night before, like getting up in the morning and kind of starting our days. I think it’s hard for Lucy, for my daughter also to kind of do that in where we’re engaged with each other, but also where she has space for herself. And it’s, I don’t know, I just find that transition also from being home together to kind of going out and everyone’s starting their day, sometimes that is hard. And I guess that would be a time that it would be fun for it to be more playful. I wish I were more playful about it. I actually think my husband is better at stuff like that. He can feel like, I dunno, play music or make jokes or turn something into a game when I feel like I’m stressed out and, like, everybody’s got to get to where they have to go and get started and, you know, so I wish I were more joyous in that time.
Jonathan: What’s something that you treasure from your childhood that you’ve tried to recreate with your own daughter?
Laurie: Well, this is something that is also a little bit of a function of her being older, although I guess it’s been about since she was seven or so. We go to a lot of musical theater and I feel really happy that she loves doing that as well. And for me, when I was a kid, we actually lived in California until I was about seven and then moved to the East Coast. And my mother’s uncle, worked in a, he was just a treasure of various box offices on Broadway and so he would actually get us tickets to see shows.
And from seven on, I really fell in love with musical theater and that was actually what I fantasized about being when I was a kid. I thought I was going to be like a Broadway star and now that she loves going to see those things, I am so supportive and excited about that and I probably spend way too much time and money on tickets, but it feels so special.
And she actually digs really deeply in, I guess in a way that I used to when I was younger and don’t as much now, where I would listen to the soundtracks over and over. I had all the records. And some kind of obscure shows sometimes because they just happened to be the shows that were at my uncle’s, The Royale or The Barrymore, like wherever he worked. And she kinda does that now, but she really, she has this online resource.
You know, there are communities online where she can discover new shows. And I feel like she’s really not only learning a lot but also thinking a lot about what her tastes are and really listening to lyrics and to musical shape and starting to write her own music and it’s very exciting. So that’s something that I really, I don’t know if I’m trying to recreate it with her, but it has been recreated, you know, in a way that feels really fun to me because I love kind of vicariously living through her new excitement the way that I used to when I was a kid.
Jonathan: You said that your daughter is starting to write music as well. What do you feel that you’ve done to foster that sense of creativity, to be a creator?
Laurie: Funny, my first thought is like, I did not foster it because, of course, she really wants to do things differently than me. But that’s not really the whole story. I think it came more recently that she has been open about wanting to write things. And I think one thing is just I do a lot of my own writing at home and I also take seriously her suggestions when I’m writing music. So I think she’s always felt like she could just do it. It wasn’t something she had to particularly learn.
It was just like she would actually… I remember when she was younger, we’d be sitting in the car and I would be working on either, maybe one of the musicals that I was writing music for or a new album or something. And I’d be like struggling over a song and from the back seat, she would say, “Mom, do you need some help with that? I could totally help you with that. Just what are you working on? Here, just tell me,” you know, she was like six.
I’d say, “Okay, great,” because I mean, she was the age, I needed her perspective so desperately. I felt like that’s actually often one of the hardest things for me is, well, it’s not hard to tap into that part of myself, but there are times where, you know, being an adult really is limiting because I’m not that age anymore or the age that I’m thinking about writing for.
So anyway, I think, like I said, taking her seriously, including her in the process, just doing it around her, showing her that like, and also that I can mess up or, and that I struggle or sometimes it’s easy, just all of the parts of the process. And also how much fun it is when something’s actually, has been created and you can share it with people. I think all of those things are helpful.
Jonathan: Nice. What’s something from your childhood that you’ve consciously changed in raising your daughter?
Laurie: Well, when I was a kid, both my parents worked a fair amount. My mom, in particular, worked out of the house a lot, and she traveled a lot. And while I also travel a lot during the week, she also commuted. She was just gone during the day a lot and I have actually made a really conscious choice to try to be home as much as I can during the day. Like be the parent who can show up for a school thing during the day, that could take her to school, pick her up after school, be around when she gets home.
And I just always remember feeling like how foreign that was to me when I would go to a friend’s house and their mom, in particular, was actually there when we were doing things. And actually, I kind of wanted to be able to be that kind of a parent at least until, you know, for these years when school and coming home from school means coming home to the same place that we live together. So I think that that’s probably one of the biggest things because it took a lot of, it takes a lot of scheduling and consciousness just in how I choose my workday and where I do things and how I do them in order to make that happen.
Jonathan: Laurie, what’s the best thing about being a parent?
Laurie: That’s hard to choose just one thing, but I would say, I mean, I learned so much from my daughter and I imagine that most parents do. I guess I love that and I think I also…sort of combined with that, I’ll cheat and add a little bit into it, which is like I love the feeling of loving someone as much as I do her. And that, the desire to learn from her and to explore having this kind of a relationship that is different from any other one I’ve had or at least my role is very different in it, you know, being the parent. That, I feel like that is, yeah, that’s been so life-changing for me and I really enjoy it. I love how much I learned from her and the feelings that I have around being my daughter’s mother.
Jonathan: Tell me about a current project or something else you think I should know about your work.
Laurie: Oh, so my current project, well, it just, that came out very recently is, I wrote a bunch of chapters for a series, specifically, it’s an Audible original series. And so when I said that I’m kind of a story writer now from your first sentence about what I do or what I am, that is new. I have picture books that are out, but I’ve never written just kind of 20-minute-long stories before and that’s what this project is.
It takes place in my “Song and Story Kitchen” that I created and I have a co-host, too. His name is Thelonius Pig and if anyone who’s listening knows my song Pig on Her Head, this pig also sits on my head sometimes, and we make things in my kitchen. And while there being made, I tell stories and the stories all take place in this magical land called Juniper Fields and are all about characters from my songs and who all live in Juniper Fields. And like Oscar Beebee, the bumblebee and Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco who are ferrets. And they go on adventures, and then we come back to the kitchen at the end and kind of wrap things up.
So creating almost four hours of audio with, my songs are also sprinkled all throughout the stories which are, they’re sort of like mini-musicals which has been really fun for me to create. As you can tell, that’s something that’s always been a love of mine. And it’s been, it was a really different thing than just writing like a three-minute song to create this whole world and underscoring, and doing the voice-overs and I voice the character voices as well.
And having someone else that I’m working with that we recorded with, Josiah Gaffney who was Thelonius Pig, and just the whole process was a huge learning process and also very fun. And I’m very glad to be taking a big deep breath and having a little break for me right now, too, because it was giant. Anyway, I’m excited about it and that’s kinda the thing that’s been on my plate really up until very recently.
Jonathan: Where can I find out more?
Laurie: You can listen to a trailer and find out more about that project on audible.com. Actually, if you just go to audible.com/laurieberkner, but also my home-, my actual website, laurieberkner.com, it’s L-A-U-R-I-E. That has all information about my concerts and the music that’s out and picture books and this Audible project and all the different things and all the videos that we make. I put out a new video every month on our YouTube channel. So there’s a lot of things to discover there.
Jonathan: Well, Laurie Berkner, this has been such a treat. I’m grateful for your time, your wisdom and the gift that your music has been for my family and for millions of families around the world.
Laurie: Thank you so much. It was totally a pleasure to talk to you.
In two weeks I’ll give a free Kidorable Umbrella to whoever leaves my favorite comment and shares this interview on the social media platform of their choice.