I feel much as you do, Jane.
I didn't start until I was almost 23....an unexpected Christmas gift from an ex-wife. I expected art supplies, an easel, paints and brushes, clay, you name it, anything except a guitar. I had never in my life had a music lesson, never been in a music class, never had any aspirations of being a musician. You could have knocked me over when I opened that unusual shaped box, expecting it to contain an easel for holding a painting in progress, only to find a guitar in it. I figured I'd better learn how to play at least a little on it or I'd piss her off, so I went out and got a Mel Bay Beginner's Guitar book and undertook to learn what I could.
At first it was a real PITA.....nothing made sense. I learned the musical scale, a few of the major chords, then I discovered song books and started buying a few featuring my favorite musicians....mostly folk, pop, even some country. Some of them I managed to master, most of them looked way too hard and I didn't even try.
A few years after I received the guitar, I had an industrial accident and broke both of my wrists and my pelvis. My right wrist healed while I lay in that hospital bed for 9 weeks, but my left wrist didn't and required a bone graft and 9 months in a cast. After I learned to walk again and managed to master climbing a few stairs so I could get into my house, I went home to nothing....no job, no hope, no future, it seemed. I sat and looked at that beginner's classical guitar and wished, but the orthopedic surgeon told me to not stress the left nevicular until the bone graft was totally healed, so I left it alone as long as I could. Eventually, though, there was no way I could leave it sitting, which surprised me, b/c I didn't really think of myself as a guitarist. Still, I found myself nestling the back of that neck into the area of the cast between the left index finger and the thumb and plucking away at some of the songs I knew. Slowly, but surely, the fingers remembered what they had done before and if it weren't for that guitar I really believe I'd have gone stir-crazy.
That guitar lasted through that marriage and another and into a third, always there, something to take my mind off the troubles when things became overwhelming, in a sense, my rock. I found myself doing much the same as you, during that period when my kids were young I would wait till the family went to bed and then head for the living room, grab the guitar and turn off the lights, and play, always instrumentals, never any vocals.
Twenty years later I decided to join some forum friends at Pearl, TX for a bluegrass event that is held every month. I had never played with anyone before, wasn't sure I could do it (it is still hard, having been a solo act for so long), but soon I realized if I was going to contribute anything to the bluegrass experience I would have to learn some songs to share. I still thought of myself primarily as an instrumentalist rather than a vocalist (still do). I continued to attend the Pearl events whenever I could and found myself learning a lot from the experience of playing with others.....again, another surprise.....but still (even though my family was long gone and I was alone in the house) most of my playing was in the darkened living room at night. I wondered what it would be like to be on stage, so in a moment of insanity I decided to enter the International Fingerstyle Competition at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS. I was surprised to make it on stage (only 40 get onstage), but not at all surprised that I didn't get into the final 5. I was not scared during the performances, and I think it was b/c I knew that if I screwed up I would never need to see those people in the audience again. I've mentioned a few times to those Texas Washies who join me at Pearl that it is MUCH harder to play for them than it was to play in front of 200 people at Winfield.
A couple of years later I decided to do my first open-mic night and my daughter was gracious enough to travel 200 miles to be with me.....one of your threads mentions stage fright, you can only imagine mine. I finished the 3 song set, got off stage and didn't even hear whether there was applause from the audience or not (I'm told there was) because all I could think of was getting down off that stage and out of those lights. My daughter mentioned that she heard for the first time in her life the words to songs she had heard me play as instrumentals all her life...apparently she had been listening from the bedroom when I thought she was asleep. It was a year before I decided to do an open-mic night again, remembering that fear, but eventually I did, and it wasn't as bad as I remembered. It gets better with every one, but I never fail to get butterflies in my stomach before I step up on that stage.
I've been playing for 40 years now.....I must admit I'm WAAAAY better than I ever dreamed I'd be when I picked up that box with 6 strings for the first time (I still don't think I have a musical bone in my body, the only thing I have to offer is perseverance). The thing that keeps me going is that I can look back on the experience and remember the milestones, that first epiphany at about 6 months when the chord changes became easier, the first time I realized I had played through a song without making any mistakes, the first time I managed to figure out a song by ear, those sort of things.
I keep at it, mainly b/c it's as much a part of me now as walking and talking and eating. I'm getting over the tendency to be too judgemental regarding my skills, to be too hard on myself when I make a mistake, and learning to embrace the challenges (like remembering words while I'm focusing on chord changes, figuring out how it was easier to perform with a vocalist by matching their tempo rather than expecting them to match mine, those sort of things). One thing I know is that when I die, I'll be even better than I am now.
I can't imagine my life without my guitars now. Women come and women go, families disolve as kids grow up and move on, friends come in and out of one's life, but they have always been there and I think.....no, I KNOW.....they always will be there for me.
YerDugliness, Esq./Post No Bills
Guitar Playin' FOOL, retired & attempting to age disgracefully!!
Washburns: WD32SW, D61SW, and C124SW
Other fine acoustic guitars by Breedlove (custom shop Revival Series 000), Darren Hippner (#506), Takamini (2005 LTD), Epiphone (Masterbilt AJ500RC), and Yamaha (G231-II)