Posts By menopausal mommy

Angels

So, I got into a car accident. For those that are Facebook friends, you’ll know this. It happened last Tuesday at about 3pm. Busy main road in East Nashville, I was minding my own business, driving really safely, because my biggest fear has been exactly this: getting into a car wreck at 8 months pregnant. And then out of my peripheral vision I saw something silver coming at me and started chanting “No no no no no no no” and then a boom and then my car spun a few times. I actually did hear a voice in my head, my own really, but a calm version of me saying to myself, as things slowed down: “put your hands on the steering wheel, relax and then ask for an ambulance immediately.”  The car stopped in the center of Gallatin Road. Not one damned car slowed down or stopped, they just moved around me and I remember thinking, “someone’s gonna hit me again.”  But they didn’t and I put my window down, undid my seatbelt and hung my head to breathe. A woman at the corner yelled “are you ok?” and I yelled back “I think so, but I’m 8 months pregnant so call an ambulance.”   I looked to my right, to my empty passenger seat, which had a sandwich and my purse on it but all that was spilled out all over the floor, bits of sandwich everywhere, my cell phone nowhere to be seen, my wallet, keys, journal, pens — strewn. I saw pink. The windows were covered in a pink goo that looked like silly putty or cotton candy and I realized that the air bags must have gone off.  I thought: “pink…interesting”.  I couldn’t see anything. I started to hyperventilate and hiccough/cry. The woman from the corner braved the fast-paced disinterested traffic and came over and said, “Honey, you ok? I’m a nurse.” She was older than me, a mother-like girth to her, comforting. I said, “I think I’m having a panic attack.” She said, “You’ll be fine. Just slow your breathing down.” A man came over. He was clearly the one who hit me as he approached me saying “I didn’t see you, I really didn’t see you, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you.” I asked his name. Said “it’s ok. It happens.” He talked to the nurse. Another woman came over and was on the phone with 911. I closed my eyes and put my head back on the headrest.

I was unharmed. Nothing seemed hurt or broken or bleeding. No glass had been shattered. But I stayed in the car until the EMT’s arrived and when they did, and helped me out of the car, my knees buckled and they put me on a gurney and put me in the ambulance to take my vitals. While this was happening, a police officer took my statement, which was pretty much “I have no idea what happened. I just remember silver and then spinning.” And at that point, sharp pains jabbed me in my crotch, in my belly and I howled out.  The EMT’s stabbed an IV into my left arm, put the lights and sirens on, asked me where I was delivering, and sped me toward that hospital. Somehow, they’d gotten my purse out of the car, handed me my phone and I texted my husband: “Urgent. car wreck. car totaled. they’re taking me to st. thomas”.  I forgot to write: no blood. I think I’m ok but I’m not sure because they’ve just jabbed a needle in my arm and now are careening down the road at top speed with a siren so I’m not sure what’s going on. Poor guy.

I’ll just skip to the end: I’m fine and the baby is fine. I didn’t know this until 36 hours later, when my Ob/Gyn (her name is Dr. Storck. I kid you not) sees me in her office the day after they’ve released me from a 24 hour stay at the Natal Unit where, in a few weeks, I’ll be giving birth; where I didn’t sleep all night because they had to take vitals and, where they were concerned about the contractions I was feeling and they were seeing and had an ultrasound ordered and I was in pain from the needle in one arm from the IV and the other from the blood they kept taking to run tests, and from my hip and my back, and from the swollen belly contracting, and from the “Lightening Crotch” stabs happening from time to time and freaking me out and, lastly, from the uncomfortable bed.  I’m fine. Baby is fine. But the 36 hours I waited to hear that was the scariest 36 hours I’ve had in a long, long time.

You see. This is not my first pregnancy and, although that’s a very very old story and one I don’t need to tell and I’ve worked hard on the grieving and the letting go of that story before I could create this story, in the back of my mind, sometimes, when I’m at my weakest, I have to do some seriously ninja-like spiritual warfare against the part of me that still clings to the old God who is not kind and is judgmental and shames and wags his big finger at me with lightening bolts of karma. So to have a car wreck at 8 months, you can imagine what kind of Medieval Torture Chamber my mind lived in for those 36 hours.

Prayer. Meditation. And people who love me who surround me in my worst times and remind me that I’m good.  My friends showed up. Even when one of them was getting a pretty huge award that night, like East Nashvillian Of The Year kind of award, a huge deal, and another went to the ceremony and if I were them, I woulda high-tailed it to the nearest bar and celebrated with some cocktails (or, mock-tails in my case).  But they came too. All dressed up and award in their hands. One came from her shift as a nurse at another hospital. Another came from work and brought homemade chocolate. Another texted in from a music conference. Then more texts, loads of them, actually from friends from family.  My husband, who had gone to the wrong hospital originally and then somehow made it to me without his own high speed car wreck, had brought me a cupcake and held my face in his hands and we cried.

Angels. All of them. From the nurse — who I have mis-remembered her name as Precious, because it could have been Princess or Peony or Penelope, but in my mind, she’s Precious — who held my hand and told me to breathe. To the hospital nurse who threaded her fingers through my hair, brushing it out, matted from the ride over and coo’d at me to calm me down. To my girlfriends who showed up, made me laugh, told me raunchy stories. To my mother and my mother-in-law who called crying and so relieved. To my husband, a miracle in his own right, that we found each other, that we landed together, because if you knew either of us about 5 or 6 years ago, us being married with me pregnant was not what we were working towards. In the least.

To my personal Higher Power, who masquerades, depending upon the day, as my dog Flo, or Patti Smith, or my old mentor Julie Portman, who passed away, she’s in the river, covered in blue, dancing.  To my Grandmother Roro, who smelled of talcum powder and Jean Nate, whose hands would softly rub my forehead. She may have been the voice I heard as the car spun around. She would have called me by the nickname she gave me and said, “It’s gonna be all right, Princess.”

So. Angels. All around. I’m ok. He’s ok. I’m almost 9 months pregnant. Since you know my age, you must have suspected, too, that this was no ordinary pregnancy. We needed a boost from science to help us with this one. And it took a few tries. And that was very tough (see earlier paragraph about Medieval Torture Chamber of Karmic Retribution). And on the day he was conceived (or placed, or turkey basted or however we’re gonna call it), there was a huge thunder and lightening storm as J and I drove to our Fertility Clinic for the ‘transfer’.  We got there and the electricity went out. The back up generator kicked into gear. There was a problem with the embryo they were going to use, so we had to wait while they prepared another. I kept my meditation up, the Serenity Prayer over and over again like a tape loop in my head.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….

And as they put me on the gurney and my feet were slid into the cold stirrups and the incredibly simple miracle of God and Science met, the power went out one more time and I laughed and said, “If this kid makes it, we’re gonna have to call it Daenerys Storm Born, girl or boy” (a Game of Thrones geeky reference).  He came into being in a storm. And he made it. He got shook around in a storm last week. And he’s doing great and moving and kicking and keeping me up at night. He’s got his own angels, I think.

The nurses kept saying “You’ve got a wild one on your hands in there.”

I can’t wait.

What I found while unpacking boxes this weekend…(note to my sister, this is before you came into the world)

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Resist

IMG_0048This was a few weeks ago, right before my last show before taking a long hiatus from touring. I was in a hotel room in Houston getting ready for my show and watching FB and Twitter posts about the Women’s Marches happening (again) all over the country.  Not able to join, I made my own personal parade in the bathroom mirror there in the Marriot. This was a few weeks ago. I could still see my feet, my belly button was still mostly an innie. It is not anymore.

Also: I was still in my 40’s in this photo.

I’m not anymore. 50 is the new 25. More on that in another post.

Here’s the thing: the march was weeks ago. But the notion of ‘resist’ is an every day thing for me. I’m not very politically active, although I am very politically aware. But ‘resist’ has taken on a lot more meaning than just being angry at injustice, incompetence, ignorance – which is rampant these days. Every day I wake up in this body with a belly that is growing faster and harder, and I’m learning to meditate and breathe through constant pain as my ribs, my muscles, my breath is all being challenged by this little boy inside me who punches and kicks and gurgles and hiccups at the inside of my uterus.  I am not resisting that. I am resisting the non-resistance. I am resisting having to say ‘oh yeah, this is easy.’ I’m being honest without complaining. Or at least that’s the practice.

So yeah. Resist. Resist stereotypes. Resist what people say you can and cannot do because of age. Resist agism. Resist people who think a woman in her 50’s should look or act or dress a certain way. Resist hating wrinkles. Resist people who fear feminism. Resist black and white thinking. Resist expectations. Resist what a thing should be and embrace what the thing is.

So here I am a few weeks ago, showing off a belly that when, without baby inside, I’d have thought wasn’t perfect and would NEVER have shown you that photo. But the truth is, it was perfect. And it is now. And it will be no matter the leftover pounds or the stretch marks or the scar, should I need one.

Resist. Then bring it on.

7 months

On the verge of 8 months. My husband stole this photo a week or so ago. I love it.

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Sleepless In Hendersonville

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I’m up in the middle of the night. I gave up the ghost of trying to sleep, of lying there in bed with lists spinning through my head of things unfinished, of lying there in bed in my lovely warm, new house with my lovely, warm newish husband remembering the times when I lived alone and I could suffer bouts of insomnia by banging on the piano or watching endless “Law & Order” reruns in my apartments and houses. Alone. No one to disturb. Just me and my books and guitars and piano and tv. Alone. Just me and my not-so-warm house that I was always on the verge of a nervous breakdown from fear of perpetual loneliness. So don’t let me use rose-colored-glasses on hindsight as if those were the romantic years. They weren’t. I wrote self-indulgent, shitty songs at 3am and rather than get up and read my meditation books or write the truth about what’s going on, I’d drink too much wine, take some Ambien and fall asleep drooling on myself on my Ikea couch that I’d bought off someone on Craigslist. And I’d be lucky if I didn’t text the wrong person to tell them all about how they’d disappointed me at 3am. Again.

I’m not doing that tonight. I snuck quietly out of my warm bed, down the stairs to my kitchen, through the house to the back room which doubles as our guest room and my writing room. Yesterday, I spent the day putting all my inspirational things on the wall in front of my desk, so that when I look up from my writing, I see birds and goddesses, things my friends have given me, an ink drawing of Leonard Cohen from my friend Andy who illustrates for The New Yorker, a cardinal I drew in colored pencil when I was about 8, a black and white photo of my mother in her wedding dress above a black and white photo of me and my sister as babies, and various other artwork and posters. There are buddhas and birds on my desk, on the window sill.

There’s books and journals, 4 yellow pads mostly half full of notes and ideas and lyrics and plans, guitars in cases, a card my husband gave me as encouragement. There are To Do lists pinned to the bulletin board and names of people I need to call. There’s a box of kleenex, never too far from reach.  There’s the painting my songwriter’s group gave me one year as a thank you for being the one who had the idea. There’s stacks of CDs from people I meet on the road and a baggie full of Ricola.

This is my space. My desk faces the wall, not a window, so my gaze goes inside. I’ve learned this about myself as a writer. I need light and access to the sky, but I need to stay in a corner, inside my own sky, as I write. I think Stephen King may have reinforced this idea in his On Writing, one of my favorite books on the subject of being a writer. My bookshelf is full of reference books, list books, idea books, encyclopedias of strange and wondrous things. There’s a Bible, a Dictionary, a Rhyming Dictionary, a Thesaurus, a book of mythology (or two), books on writing by my favorite writers, books of poetry I need close by should the whole thing fall apart on me. There’s my journals from the past 10 years, and the ones from earlier are in boxes in the attic (but I know exactly where they are). There are framed photographs of my grandmother, my mother, my female mentors, my friends.

I write all this out at almost 3am to remind myself of who I am and what I do, because that is what kept me spinning in my head in my bed and leapt me out of that womb to the computer to do a google search for “Motherhood” “Touring” “Musicians”.  Because, frankly, I’m nervous about the big What Is To Come.

In front of me is a list. Regions in the United States broken into cities broken into venues I have played broken into press markets. Sketches of time-lines, potential weekend swings, broken down into 3-4 day chunks with drive times. It’s what I put together yesterday to send to my agent to prepare for the fall, to prepare for getting back to work, even though I know it’s all just a sketch of an idea, even though I know I have NO idea what is coming. What is coming is this little boy. And he is coming like a beautiful, well-loved wrecking ball, to smash through my well-laid plans. And I welcome him with the most open and naive of arms. But in the meantime, I have to make some kind of plans, even if they will all fall apart.

I am making a record. I have been trying to start, but the Universe is throwing curve balls my way. Our first idea was to make it in my living room and Neilson came over with a mic and we laid down some acoustic tracks. But soon thereafter, I was in the midst of housing chaos – selling the house, staging the house, showing the house, my life in boxes, looking at new houses — and it became evident that the time was not right. So we waited until the first week of December and decided to do it in the studio, not my home, since my home was in transition, but it turns out, my voice was reflecting the chaos around me and not cooperating and the first week of December got put off till this week and this week has thrown me the 3rd Trimester Mystery Pains and sleepless nights and heavy mucus in my voice (again), making me sound a bit like a Brenda Vaccaro Tampax ad from the 1970’s, which is cool, but isn’t me, and so, I’ll be waiting again, at the mercy of my body to tell me when the time is right. I’m hoping it’s just a matter of days, not weeks. But, here’s that wrecking ball to come in and shake up my perfectly planned snow globe. And there’s not much I can do but ‘go with the flow’.

I am making a record before this boy comes into the world. For a few reasons. Practical reasons are first: I have the time right now. In a few months, when the baby shows up, I will most likely lose my brain, having glimpsed the Newborn Schedule in advance (I’m already mourning the loss of sleep). I have the money. I have the songs. Spiritual reasons go right along: I want to make art while experiencing making a human. I want the kicks and the rolls in my belly to be a part of this creation of music. And I want a reminder of who I am when HE shows up, so I don’t forget that I am a musician as well as a mother. Even though I know one will hold sway over the other for a while. Maybe forever.

So, it’s hard to be zen right now. I’m impatient. I want my voice to cooperate. I want this mystery pain to go away. I want to just get in there, in front of a microphone, and feel that forgetting that happens when I lose myself to music for a few days in a studio inside the songs I’ve created over the past few years. And I want the thing done so I can plot and plan like I know how to do, like I’m good at doing. Even though, I know, this is all about to change.

The mystery pain is a band of searing hot burn right below my right rib, laterally across my stomach. It hurts to the touch. Sometimes even just a piece of clothing on that area is enough to make me want to scream. It’s muscular, maybe, because when I roll over at night it feels like a pulled something, a sharp bruise, a jab. Or it’s heartburn because I feel it radiate to my back in an ache. Or it’s just, as my Gyn says, “another mystery ache as your ribs expand and make room for a person growing inside.”  I’m taking all the tests this week- the ultrasounds, the bloodwork, etc., to rule out anything serious, and my doctor says the baby is fine and it might be abdominal separation or just heartburn. But it’s a constant ache, a constant burn, and it’s gotten worse and it’s keeping me up at night making lists, exhausted by the pain, not really able to endure too much time driving (sitting makes it worse) or standing and talking (it’s distracting and makes me tired).  I have friends who have gone through and are going through cancer, and I’m aware that my pain is, most likely, not that serious, and I’ve watched my friends walk through unimaginable pain and despair only to come back with hope, even in the face of a hopeless situation. So forgive me my whining about what may be just the normal kind of thing that happens during the 3rd Trimester. I’m tempering being honest with being grateful, so to minimize the whine.

That being said, no amount of Web MD’ing will solve this issue, just as no amount of googling “will I ever tour again and should I ever tour again and maybe I just should face the music that the dream will die and a little boy will be born and all that work over the past 15 years of slogging it out in cafes and clubs to end up forgotten and artless is part of the overall plan of which I have no control” will make me sleep better at night.

I’m entering the phase where shit gets real. I’m a month away from my 50th birthday. The night before I turn 50 I have a gig at The Bluebird Cafe. Then I’ll celebrate this milestone, very pregnant, with all my badass girlfriends doing something fun and silly, like a burlesque class, or roller skating, or bowling. And then, a month later, I will become a mother. Although, the truth is, I have been a mother since the call came telling me I was pregnant. And maybe that’s the takeaway here. This is Exactly What It’s Like Being A Mother. Worrying. Sleeplessness. Then feeling extremely grateful for the being you house that is teaching you the order of importance of things. If I make it to California on a tour with a new record is about as significant as whether or not I ever learn French.  What matters is kicking my sore spot right now, inside of me, telling me to get ready. Or…better…telling me I’m already ready.

 

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Acorn Squash

UnknownTomorrow I will hit 29 weeks. The Bump app tells me my son will be the size of an acorn squash. Today I am still at 28 weeks and he is, supposedly, the size of an eggplant. Now, maybe I’ve got my vegetables wrong here, but it seems to me that an eggplant is larger than an acorn squash. Just a few weeks ago he was a pumpkin and then he went from that large and heavy thing to a bunch of kale, which is completely confusing because the bunch of kale I have in my refrigerator is light and small and certainly smaller than a pumpkin.  I listen to podcasts about pregnancy from the women at Parents Magazine and the information is really informative and helpful but they have this intro that’s kind of annoying, that does the thing where everyone gets cutesy cutesy, calling it a lovely baby bump (I swear, I’m gonna punch someone if they call it a bump again) and comparing the size to cute things like bunnies and pompoms and pink things. I’m not a girly girl, although I guess partly I am, in that I played with Barbies when I was little (granted: I chopped off their hair into asymetrical mohawk styles and had Barbie and Ken have sex a lot, all ways, bumping their plastic parts against each other while Skipper watched — and sometimes participated — from the sidelines).  I don’t match my purse to my shoes. I don’t even carry a purse. I have a bag. A big bag that will hold my laptop and book, a few scattered pens and lost Ricola and two dozen half used Kleenex (if I ask you to get something from my purse for me, you’ve been warned).  So this cutesy pie way of talking about pregnancy is growing old. I love the straight talk.  The ‘how does an epidural feel’ kind of podcast. Or the ‘seriously, will my vagaygay ever work the same again if this boy comes out through it’? Last night I was scrolling through Pinterest and found the list of Post Natal Necessities for the New Mom and grew cold and shaky when the first thing I saw was Depends. Depends? Because I’m literally the only pregnant woman in the history of middle class American privileged pregnant women to have not scoured the information before getting pregnant. I winged it. I saw the deep end, didn’t take the swimming lessons, and held my nose and jumped in. I kind of just found out about the fact that they might have to rip a seam from my anus to my vagina to get this boy out of me. All of a sudden a C-Section is looking good.

Seriously. I didn’t think this through. I mean, of course I did.  In most ways. In the BIG ways. I thought it through and came to the conclusion that I was about as ill prepared as any woman for a human to be growing inside me, and thought, well, I’ve run 2 marathons and not died; I’ve escaped a pretty harrowing potential guerrilla situation in rural Cambodia pre-Angelina Jolie, when there were no roads or sanitation or easy border crossings or Hiltons and Hyatts and I didn’t die; I got sober and I didn’t die.  So what the heck – let’s try this parenting thing.  Of course I knew it would throw a huge wrench in my well-thought-out-life-plans, and I concluded: bring it on!  I also knew I’d have to buy some new clothes. Would have to stop doing hot yoga. Would have to stop touring for a while. May have to figure out a way to make some money not being on the road. And I thought, bring it on!

But. Nobody told me about the heartburn. The kind that rips a burning knife through your flesh under the right ribcage, a slow burn around the diaphragm, to your back. The kind that feels like a severely pulled muscle, so that it hurts to the touch. And if I eat, like anything, no matter how many Tums I’ve downed, or Prilesec I take, or try to eat a low fat meal, nothing works. It just burns and throbs and makes me dizzy and sometimes sick to my stomach and it gets worse at night and makes it really hard to roll over as those muscles I use are burning and searing through me with little stabbing pains like I’ve ripped something. I think sometimes Jamey thinks I’m just exaggerating for a back rub.

I’ve had my gall bladder ultrasounded and blood-tested 3 times. My pancreas is fine. All my organs are fine. The baby is fine. I don’t need advice, thank you. I have heartburn. Which sounds wussy. But this feels like dying. I’ve been told, ‘oh the baby must have a full head of hair’, which I think he does, but that doesn’t help. And so I try to meditate on gratitude to get my mind off the searing pain. It goes away after a while, there’s that. I know this and count on this like a prayer. It’s the one most important gift of being a meditator. Knowing that everything changes, the ability to sit with the discomfort long enough without reacting to it to watch it change. See: it’s taken me 3 paragraphs to write the pain away. It started when I wrote “Seriously” above, from the morning protein shake I made from kale, bananas, berries, vegetable based nutritional supplement, local honey, almond milk and ice. And now it’s just a slight ache in my back. Soon, it will be gone until I eat again. If Jamey were here, though, I might have feigned tears to get some sympathy. And, truth be told, a back rub.

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The old rolled into the new and we are in 2018. 2017 was rough and beautiful. Broken and bountiful.  I’m worried about the universal energy out there right now and I know how hippy dippy that sounds, and no offense to my family and friends who are Republicans, but there is some negative shit out there coming from your side of the fence and it’s narcissistic and selfish and mean and it feels like the bullies grabbed their ball, kicked everyone off the field but their gang and are hoarding the prizes. But I work everyday to make room for the new.  I spent the last 2 days of 2017 moving from our home in East Nashville to our new home in Hendersonville, TN. About 15 miles away from our old home, but I feel like I’ve moved to a different world. East Nashville is all tattoos and nose rings, high waisted jeans on girls with oversized thick glasses and bearded guys in skinny jeans and suspenders, sometimes on unicycles. Many of them play ukuleles. Out here, in the ‘burbs’, the people I’ve run into so far seem, well, normal. Middle class white normal. I’m missing the colorfield of East Nashville. Here – it’s so white. So far. It’s middle-aged. So far. But the houses are way more affordable and we are able to buy one that will fit our growing family and we love it. It’s a 1965 ranch house, not unlike those in the neighborhood we just left, but with bigger lots and significantly less over-priced.  But I freaked a bit at first when we decided to move here – leaving bohemia for the first time in my adult life. I left college and moved into a ranch house with a rock band, mushroom parties every weekend and shag carpets with cigarette stains. A year later I moved to NYC after having dreamt about it my entire life, following the poets and the actors and the gypsies. Found my way to the West Village in a building not far from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s home, near Robert Pinskey’s flat.  Two years later to the East Village, then Brooklyn, then Hoboken, then Jersey City.  Then, in 2009,  I packed up everything I owned in my white minivan and drove south to East Nashville, the year before everyone from Brooklyn and Los Angeles followed, and found a 1918 cottage house for $700 a month with a huge front porch and swing. My neighbors were creatives: artists, musicians, home owners, restauranteurs, gay, jewish, buddhist, episcopalian, progressive, hipsters, rockers, punks, black, white, hispanic, arabic, asian, single, married, with roosters in their back yards and more guitars than guest rooms.  There were others too, and I met them too and loved them. The Trump voters from across the street with their large Trump/Pence signs in the front yard.  The older couples who’d bought their homes here in the 1960s and 1970s and were sitting on property they could sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars now because of the “It” city status of our little neighborhood.  The trailers and tenements and tract housing and low income villages. The gunshots at night. The homeless population, hidden under underpasses and along the banks of the river. I know it’s out here too. But then there were the hipsters who moved, like us, out of bohemia to Madison, Donelson, Hendersonville, when they started having babies.  They moved for bigger, more affordable homes, a good school system, the lake. To be out of the bar scene. To change it up.  Change it up. That’s what is scary to me. Not my new neighborhood. I met my neighbors and they are lovely people. We have 2 adjacent neighbors with 3 dogs each, so each morning Flo bounds out into our backyard, tail wagging, to say hi to her new friends and sniff each other through the chain link fence. I love watching this, watching her happy. We have a sturdy tree with an arm-like branch that juts out at a horizontal angle straight enough to hang a swing on it and I imagine our son kicking his feet in the air to get higher and higher as I watch him through the kitchen window, or sit on the screened in porch reading.  I imagine the summer days watching Jamey out there with him throwing a baseball mitt to mitt. I imagine the fire-pit picking parties we will have when our East Nashville tribe makes their way out to our house during the summer nights to swap songs in our backyard.

I have moved, on average, every 2 years since I was 21 years old. House to house. State to State. It feels nice to know my name is on this house as owner and that I do not have to move in 2 years. That I could stay in this house for years to come. Building something tangible. Not building a fairy tale, but building a foundation.

In a way, it reminds me of my son, moving inside me, kicking and twisting. I love that he’s safe in there, inside my belly, miracle of miracles.  That he’s all mine right now. He hears me breathe, he hears my voice when I talk to him. He is safe inside my large basketball of a belly. There’s nothing like learning to stay in the moment than being pregnant. I can’t wait to meet him, to have him outside my belly, carved out or pushed out or ripped out or however he comes, I’ll take him, hold him in my arms, feed him from my breast, smell his smell and sleep next to him for a while. But I will miss this time. This 7th month where I am swollen and uncomfortable, suffering from heartburn and back pain and sleepless nights and restless leg and midnight leg cramps and having to pee every 5 minutes. This 7th month where my baby boy is sleeping and moving inside me, tangibly as part of me. I will miss this time: when he is all mine. For right now. Because right now is the only moment I want right now. Today he is an eggplant. Tomorrow he is an acorn squash. And in a few months, as the frost will melt off the grass and give way to Spring, he will be a human boy, in my arms, not just mine, but mine and Jamey’s.

Twas The Night Before Christmas

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“For unto us a child is born…”

My husband’s family live near and on the Tennessee River in a very rural part of southwest Tennessee.  This is where they are from and it is as far from the kind of place I grew up and spent much of my adult life as any place I could find in the USA. It’s a gorgeous area, full of rolling earth, horses running through fields, large old white-painted farmhouses with wraparound porches, trailers and cars and trucks and trailers and confederate flags and UT flags and peace signs. It’s not just one of anything and it would be wrong to make it one thing, to decide what it is and what the people are as they are all of everything.  They have guns and go deer and duck hunting and go to church and poor and wealthy and high school dropouts and highly educated and paranoid and compassionate. They vote Republican and Democrat. They have lost their jobs and started businesses and they live close to extended families. They are all of everything.

Jamey, my husband, showed me the house where his great-grandmother raised his grandmother, right down the road from where his brother now lives, down the road from where his PaPaw still lives, which is right near where Buford Pusser played out his legendary life. PaPaw even has a few of Buford’s guns. I love this area. If I could make a living without needing to be near a major city, I’d live out here, on this wide, wide river, near the fields of Shiloh.  Most of his family are Church of Christ, a religion I hadn’t even heard of before meeting him.  I grew up Catholic with a father who I knew wasn’t, who had been Baptist and had tried out many different protestant churches, but mostly stayed home while we all went to church, so as not to confuse us. Once we all left home, he found his way to the Methodist Church.  But growing up in a religion where every Sunday you say the Apostles Creed –  “the one true, catholic and apostolic church” – you can develop a judgment that all other religions are just, um, wrong. At least not “one” and “true”. (It wasn’t until college that I realized in the Creed that the word “catholic” uncapitalized didn’t necessarily refer to my own religion)  Until I walked away from the Catholic Church in a feminist huff in my late teens, I had thought every other Christian faith was just watered down.

This Sunday morning, Christmas Eve, my Church of Christ in-law family decided to go to a United Methodist Service, which took us all by surprise, most especially my husband, as they are all devout Church of Christ go-ers.  It was a tiny church, walking distance from their home, boasting a community of about 8.  I, swollen belly, almost 7 months pregnant and meditating almost every day as I try to connect to my son and this whole mysterious process of creating life inside my own body in a spiritual way, searching for guidance outside my own meandering flawed brain, was thrilled at the chance to experience this service. I love going to all sorts of religious services, to see how the practice unfolds in different states, regions, communities.  I challenge myself to find the similarities and try to not judge anything, even if my belief system may not match exactly.  I have had such strong disdain for religion and thrown the baby out with the bathwater for so many years, that my new practice is to just stay open, breathe and meditate through a service, and notice what words and phrases move me. To find connection.  And to celebrate the Eve of the birth of Jesus, the son of God to Christians, with my own first son in my belly, surrounded by my new family who may or may not know what I personally believe was a gift. Even if I hesitate to call myself anything in particular in terms of religion. I’m not worried about my everlasting soul even if perhaps anyone else out there is.

The church was tiny. One room.  Jamey and I walked in and the preacher, a woman in a white and purple robe, called out a welcome to us and the four people in the room turned to shake our hands. One came up directly to us and said, “You are Jamey and Amy and we are so happy to have you. I have a request,” and asked us if we’d sing a carol for the service.  Jamey turned to me, saying “I won’t but she can” and it’s at this point, I usually stammer a polite decline with some excuse of false humility: it’s too early, I wouldn’t want to intrude, I don’t know any, etc. This time, I just said Yes, of course and saw the piano and said, “I can do Silent Night” and her face lit up.  Behind us, walked in the rest of my husband’s family and we easily tripled the size of the congregation.  The minister was a white-haired older woman, grandmotherly with a wide warm smile and she introduced herself as a doctor and I was immediately charmed by her.  The service began with a carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High” and a welcome and then I was invited to do my part. I sat at the piano and played “Silent Night”, grateful that I’d just played it for my own holiday shows over the past month, and remembering that protestants, unlike Catholics, sing ALL of the verses, and glad I knew them.  I also hoped my early morning voice would hold out, a bit shaky, honestly from nerves. It’s easier for me to sing for hundreds than a handful. It felt to me like an offering. Less than an hour earlier I had done my morning meditation and asked my own version of God/Goddess/HigherPower to help me get out of my self and into service.  This was something I could do. Just lead one song for a few people, family and strangers, in an unfamiliar church far away from where I grew up.

A few readings and then Dr. Preacher-Lady gave the sermon. It was a long history lesson on Luke and the politics of the Christmas Story – contextualizing that stable and that couple. She spoke of taxes and governance and war.  She painted for us the picture that we all hold of that night, a crisp, clean, cold night of beatific smiles, Mary in a clean blue cowled dress, a clean baby in white cloth, white fluffy sheep, gold gilded robes of the wise men.  Then she blew a hole in that myth: the sheep would have smelled badly, the shepherds would have been dirty, Mary’s garment was probably caked with mud, the birth would have been very messy.  The Christmas Story is not clean as we hold it in our hearts. It is a story of a big huge mess. A child is born into a messy messy world, coming into the world as he comes into our lives, not easy, orderly and clean, but like a wrecking ball, rearranging the furniture, taking our well-controlled plans and jostling them.  When we invite spirit to enter, it’s not clean.  It’s a disorderly chaos that shakes our white knuckled fists from the wheel of our comfort zones, throwing us from our well-managed storms, and finally, curates selfless mission and purpose.  And ease.

Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I listened. Just a few months ago, my writing teacher Suzanne had channeled for me and written me a beautifully poetic charge, that my baby is coming to crash through my well-laid-out plans, to bring light and that I must write through this confusion.  My father once told me, when I was at my darkest confusion, barely even able to drop to my knees in submission to anything, that I lacked Spirituality. He didn’t say religion. He didn’t say God. He said Spirit. He was right. I was lost in a darkness of ego.  I was trying to manage all the chaos myself, hide the truth from everyone I knew, I was so full of fear but I was also snowed by it. Fear was independence masked. I had used up my flight and fight and I was smack at the bottom of frozen.  Into that winter cold came Spirit. It took work, it took surrender, it took doing things a different way, but a light cracked through and I stopped being angry at God, I stopped being judgmental of religion, I just stopped Not Listening and started Listening.

And this preacher in front of me, quoting the Bible, a book I’ve barely read, had my grandmother’s bright eyes, her intelligence, her kindness. I heard her laughter through this woman’s voice.

I saw my father growing up in his one room Baptist church in Elkton, Maryland, sitting in his good suit next to his twin brother Will, with his leather Bible, embossed with his name on the front. I saw my Nana, raising 5 children alone on a  small farm, poor and widowed too early.  I saw my Dad riding a spotted horse watching the day grew dark when the planes from Dover covered the sky on their way across the ocean to D-Day.

I saw my father-in-law on his first Christmas without his own mother, a sturdy, intelligent man of great depth and wit and deep love for his family, my husband so much like his father, and I felt my son move inside me, flip around, kick the wall of my tight belly.  And I let the tears fall, feeling grace move inside and all around me, and I thought how funny and mysterious Spirit works through and among us and how sometimes the Christmas Story in it’s messy perfection becomes manifest in the most unlikely places.

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6 Months

IMG_9816It happened. I had to do it. Not one single pair of my jeans (or pants, which are all jeans, but in various leathers, pleathers, denims) fit me anymore. I’ve been wondering when this would finally happen. When the belly would pop. It’s been creeping out, but I keep suspecting still, that I’m just chubby and yes, we’ve already determined that I’m vain for caring. I mean, pregnant women don’t care, do they? They love their growing belly, the scales going up and up. But me? I’m an ex bulimic, ex drinker who got sober and dropped 20 and got fit and trim and loved her body. I had a good 4 year run of loving my body. I guess that’s good enough, right? I mean, don’t get me wrong: I LOVE this body now, but when I forget that there’s a baby bumping around in there, I panic and think “Shit! I’ve been eating too many carbs, sugar, cheese, not exercising, what have I done?” I make a living standing on stage and we do have to think about these things because people take photos and videos and it’s usually the really shitty photos and videos that they put on Facebook and Youtube and tag me (sometimes I wonder if they’re just being mean). Some days I can’t wait to be 70 and be Patti Smith, long grey hair, a possible moustache (although I’m Irish so I doubt that will happen), deep nooks and crannies of age in the folds of my face, a long black coat over oversized black trousers, mittens with the fingers cut out. When I’m 70 and like Patti Smith I will walk onstage without make up and I will write what I want to write and sing what I want to sing (which is no different than what I’m doing at 49) and I will be a teacher at a University with records and books behind me like a yellow brick road that led me from 25 to 70.

But here’s the photo today on December 12, 2017. This is what I see:

I see a neurotic, 5’4″, once size 6/8 woman on the verge of 50 who doesn’t look close to that, standing in front of a dressing room mirror at a Target trying on, finally, a pair of maternity jeans.  And she looks pretty good there.  I’m standing sideways to take a photo for Jamey, because he’s been freaking out that I’m squishing the little dude with ever-tightening waistbands, so I wanted to send him the photographic proof that stands in for me saying “You’re right,” which anyone in a partnership knows is a gift better than diamonds.  And you know what? I thought I looked kind of hot. No makeup. Hadn’t even brushed my hair today, just put the hat on, my feet hurt, my back hurts and yet, there I am, big ole belly full of boy, a freaking miracle of so many things, and in all those years I had that body I’d worked so hard to get, I rarely stood in front of a dressing room mirror and thought “You are HOT”. I still found the flaws.

Today: I had that rare peaceful moment of thinking: you go girl.  You broken and beautiful you.

And with that, since the rest of the day brought nothing but unexpected chaos, I will counteract the stress by making Christmas cookies. And eating some of the dough.

Sugar

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Sugar, ah honey honey
You are my candy girl
And you got me wanting you
(Jeff Barry / Andy Kim)

I couldn’t eat after 8pm last night, even though I was starving and wanted desperately to eat a cheeseburger. At my part-time job last night they had a big plate of ginger cookies. Oversized, soft, chewy, dark ginger cookies. I forgot that I had made a promise to not eat anything sugary and I whomped two into my mouth before anyone could see. Then, as I gulped and swallowed, I thought, oh shit! I have to take my Glucose Tolerance Marathon 3 Hour Test tomorrow morning at 8am. I’ve just put myself over the sugar limit. My kid’s gonna be born with diabetes. I’m gonna die. He’s gonna die. It’s all my fault. So I downed a gallon of water and then basically couldn’t work because I had to pee every five seconds. And that kind of pregnant-and-have-to-pee that makes my belly hard and bloat and I know if I sneeze or cough or laugh I’m about to have a Depends moment, so I have to rush to the bathroom only to squeeze out the teensiest bit of urine. And my belly still aches and I still have to pee but nothing is coming. It’s maddening.

So I woke at 7am and got myself dressed in the comfiest clothes and packed my laptop and my book and my headphones and drove through the chilly December rain to my doctor’s office.  At 8am, they stuck the inside of my left forearm with a needle, “this will sting, take a deep breath” and drew blood for a baseline.  Then at 8:30, handed me a bottle of bright orange liquid, which I was to drink in 5 minutes. It tasted awful. Like cotton candy and that pink kind of bubble gum that had gooey liquid inside that was (if there is such a thing, and there is) too sweet. I almost gagged the stuff down. They said, ‘now you may feel sick to your stomach and lightheaded, so let us know’. And sent me back to my corner to wait one hour. I set my alarm and opened my laptop to watch the latest Netflix episodic binge mystery.  I was prepared for this 3 hours of boredom. I was going to be cozy.

An hour later, repeat, except on the right arm. This one hurt. And bruised. Back to my corner and my laptop. An hour later, same thing, left arm. Each time I felt like giving the nurses a high five, ‘hey y’all, it’s me again’. I feel like we bonded. I don’t know their names. They stuck me four times and drew blood and as much as I tried to sail through this with ease, I was worried, because, if you read this blog, you know that I’d already convicted myself of involuntary manslaughter with the cupcakes and the coca colas and the 2 ginger cookies last night. A girl can worry.

Fast forward to about an hour ago when the nurse called. Good news, she said, you’re fine. Your levels are normal.

So. Another hurdle in the journey of the late 40-something pregnancy. No Gestational Diabetes. Honestly, it’s a miracle. I was already settled into the idea of daily insulin testing. I’m grateful that at least for now, things are fine. Little Dude is flip-flopping around, and then landing with a whomp on my bladder, again, I have to pee and I’m sure nothing will come out and I’ll finish up, pull up the overalls, pull on the sweater, come back to the couch, lay down and he’ll do the somersault back flip twist right back down again on my bladder.

Rinse. Repeat.

Houston, December 2

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Space. Quiet. Reverent. Purple and blue and black and flecks of — is that orange? white?  or a trick of the eye? Rivers of colorless color, drips of paint that morph from waterfall to face to a flower stem to an open palm to God herself, murky, in the monolith.

I woke this morning very depressed, having stayed up too late last night after my show, scrolling the web, reading The New York Times, Twitter, anything to make sense of what felt like a country where one side just took their ball and stabbed the middle finger at the other.  It is like being in a relationship with someone who plays games, you’re always feeling like you’re begging for clarity, there’s a little bit of hope, and then complete abandonment. I am tired after a year of nothing but hate and aggression that ignore just old fashioned fair play. It’s like a baseball game where the teams don’t line up at the end to shake hands. Instead they insult and shame each other. Abandonment and shame. That’s where we are at as a country.

And so, this morning, I drove to Houston to The Rothko Chapel. A few years ago I was on tour with Tim Easton and Megan Palmer and Tim took us here and I sat in front of one of the paintings and wept openly in silent prayer.  I have been back every time I come through Houston. I have brought my friends Doug and Telisha Williams, Rod Picott, Emily Robinson, Matt Haeck, Megan many times.  I bring people here like Tim Easton brought me. Every time I come, I weep. This morning, for the first time, I took a cushioned pillow on the floor, rather than sit on a bench. I came to find grace. I came to find a way through the noise. I chose the tall painting at the back, one I had not developed a prior relationship with on other visits. It was one I was NOT drawn to. I just chose it as the underdog. The other ones I have stared through and know like old friends. This one felt like a B list pick. So today I chose her. And sat in front of her, restless after a few moments — “this one isn’t working for me, I knew it, I should move” — and yet, I stayed with her. Sat cross legged. Breathed through my mouth. Kept my eyes softly open and my gaze on the purple until my vision blurred into the painting and the painting became the sea and the wind and a hand and the virgin mother mary and jesus and my dog long gone and my grandmother’s rose-scented skin and a river and the tears started to pour out of my eyes over my cheek and I closed my eyes and repeated to myself “I am not of this body; I am not even of this mind” over and over until the words blurred like the painting and I was just still. For a little less than an hour.  When I finally opened my eyes, what I saw in the painting was a tall leveled tower, like Babel, leaning, windows open and empty and I thought, ha! that’s where we are at, in the Tower of Babel, all of us shouting different languages so that nobody is talking TO anyone, just throwing noise into the air stuffed with anger and confusion and riotous discontent. And I looked at that tower and I felt sorry for it and then I just saw it as sick and full of sick people and I saw myself as a sick person inside it and then I loved it and a calming peace came over my heart and I knew it was time to get outside in the sun. I thanked whatever God-Of-The-Day had shown up, as mine morphs and shape-shifts, and stood up.  My foot was numb so I had to twirl the tingle out in order to put weight on it. Reflexively, my hand went over the top of my now-hard belly, remembering that I have a son growing inside me, and I gave a little prayer for him, too, that he is able to be born into a world not so tangled by words and that I learn not add to the noise so that he can know grace.