On the verge of 8 months. My husband stole this photo a week or so ago. I love it.
On the verge of 8 months. My husband stole this photo a week or so ago. I love it.
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.
Tomorrow 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.
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.
“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.
It 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, 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.
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.
I searched this morning in vain for a food tracker app, just a simple way of keeping track of what I’m eating. I downloaded 2 or 3 but got frustrated when, upon attempting to set them up, the app wouldn’t let me past the question “Gaining or Losing”. There was no “Neither” or “Other” box so I just bailed. I just want an organized place of keeping tabs on the things I’m putting in my body. Not some annoying virtual diet coach with notifications popping up on my phone, reminding me to “step on the scale!”
I weigh 154 pounds. That’s 20 pounds over my weight back in May when I started the IVF prep dance of estrogen and progesterone shots. At the ER last week, I weighed 158 pounds, which they announced (loudly, I might add) as 72 kilograms and it took 4 of us to google on our IPhones what that translated to in American.
(Side note: Remember in the 1970’s when Jimmy Carter decided we would all go Canadian and elementary schools everywhere began testing children on the metric system? Yeah. I do. It never stuck. To this day, when I travel abroad, I am baffled that there is not a direct correlative temperature measurement from celcius to farenheit. My British friends say, ‘oh 30 Celcius is somewhere around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.’ I don’t get it. Isn’t math supposed to be exact? It kind of freaks me out when I am up against the grey edges of something I thought was certain, as if I’ve fallen into a dark Wonderland, like in the 2nd book where Alice falls backwards through the mirror into a nightmare – maybe I’m mis-remembering that book, but that was my takeaway)
So, after figuring out that 72 kg was about 20 pounds, my well-meaning and kind mother, in a benign attempt at small talk and I’m sure in an attempt to connect, said out loud “I gained a total of 25 pounds with you.” It was all I could do to not punch her.
My glucose test came back high yesterday. The nurse called me at 7am. Nobody calls me at 7am, so I picked up knowing that whomever was disrupting my sleep, it was most likely important. She said, “Um, Mrs. Wood, your glucose test level came back at 134. Anything over 130 is considered in the range of needing to re-test. It is just over 130, but still, we’d like you to come in for another test.” I know the test. It’s 3 and a half hours where I drink the sweet sticky orange or red Gatorade looking stuff, wait an hour, they draw blood. Then do it all over again 3 times. This is to determine whether or not I have Gestational Diabetes. Which, of course, now, I am convinced I do, as I look back over my culinary choices over the last 6 months and berate myself for the cupcakes, the soda, the cheeseburgers. I clearly let myself go and it is clearly my fault that my son will be born overweight with diabetes and I’ll have developed Type 2 Diabetes and will spend my life at the mercy of insulin shots and diet-monitoring. I know this because I googled it. I went directly to Web MD and got myself all the factual information I needed to go into a full out panic. I read the pre-requisites for Gestational Diabetes:
Mother is obese or overweight – and I thought, no matter that, since I got sober, I have gone between 128 and 130-ish and have been a runner and done Bikram Yoga consistently. Well, except for this past year of nonstop touring (and tour-eating) from Nashville to London and driving back and forth from Nashville to Chatanooga to see our Fertility Doctor. It’s been exhausting. I’ve slacked on exercise for lack of time and I’ve fallen back into small amounts of “sad-eating” (coca cola’s, bread and cheese) when I’m lonely or scared or just restless, irritable and discontent. Which is my usual state of being. It’s my fault. My kid’s gonna die and it will be my fault.
Family history of diabetes or obesity. Aunt Betty. My cousin. That one we only saw once at a family reunion back in 1982. My youngest brother and I have fluctuated between normal sized and slightly soft while my other brother and my sister are always thin and small. My mother is bird size. My father at 80 has six pack abs from competitive tennis and the first thing out of his mouth when he sees you is a comment on how fit you look (or he doesn’t say anything at all and that says volumes). Not to say my parents have been at all Joan Crawford-esque in their obsession with weight. But it could have had some impact, maybe, all the times when it was pointed out in bathing suit photos who was chubby and who wasn’t. I did enjoy a good run of bulimia in college. I was skinny then. I couldn’t see it then. I do now. Man, we are all so hard on ourselves. #CadillacProblems
Mother is over 35. Bingo. There it is. The nail in the coffin. It’s my fault. I’m 49 and I did this. With the cupcakes and my age. The pride of it all. My kid’s gonna be a sea monster.
I met a woman who is a more-famous-than-I-am-singer-songwriter this summer at a music camp. I’ll call her T. We were both teaching. She was strolling her 18 month old daughter through the campus and I decided, since I was in the extremely early stages of being pregnant, like a few weeks and nervous about how this would all work out, touring, art, and baby and it didn’t hurt that I love her music and think she dresses really cool, that she should be my new bestie. So I followed her on her walks, asking a bazillion questions and she was kind and patient and very forthcoming and I think at least for that week we were tight. She told me she had Gestational Diabetes during her pregnancy and she is a lot younger than I am now. She survived. Her daughter is healthy. So, with monitoring, it can be a NBD situation. But of course, I’m nervous and self-deprecating and so I am going to cut back on sugar and fat and carbs and try to keep track of every bite and swig that goes into my mouth. No more soda. I didn’t drink it for years and then I got sober and realized that I had a sweet tooth and a Coke on ice was my drink of choice when around others cupping lovely full glasses of red wine. I stopped again once the cravings for wine stopped but started up again during my first trimester as I was constantly nauseous and remembered that my mother allowed me to drink Coke or Ginger Ale anytime I had an upset stomach. So now, with a few days until I have to endure the marathon glucose test, I’m hoping to reverse the last 6 months of irresponsible diet choices.
The problem, though, is Texas. I’m in Texas. Which may be my favorite eating state besides Louisiana. I love a good breakfast taco, spicy chorizo with eggs and potatoes slathered with cheddar cheese. I love Enchiladas Suizas – chicken enchiladas in a green creamy cheese sauce. It’s going to be a hard weekend. Maybe I’ll just hold the cheese. Maybe.
p.s. I love my mom and dad. Just saying…
Update: I ate 2 breakfast tacos this morning. They were delicious. I’m not gonna worry too much about it. And thank you Texas for Topo Chico. I can do that instead of coke.
It is week 24 of this little dude pushing my belly a little bit further each day and flip-flopping around more than Mary Lou Retton on the vault. So I think it’s time for a reckoning. Ladies: can we talk about underwear yet? Because I’m a thong girl. And it’s getting tight down there and I’m hesitant to move onto granny panties yet. But things are busting at the seams in belly-land right now, I have zero pairs of button/zip jeans that fit so I’m down to leggings which are feeling tight, overalls which make me feel like I’m 15, and big dresses. Just saying, there are some serious queries a-coming. I’ve already said a fond farewell to my collection of shoes and boots and I’m living in about 4 pair: 2 sneakers, 1 boot and Uggs.
Also: those maternity jeans? So far, I have tried on a few pairs and I’m not so keen on that big beige nylon stocking coming up over my burrito belly. But, I miss jeans. I miss skinny jeans. Thank god for Free People and pleather leggings that stretch a lot. Between those, my Target black leggings (that aren’t the good kind cause I’m pretty sure you can see my ass through them, but I’m at the point of not caring, which scares me…) and my 4 pairs (count em) of overalls, I think I’m set for a while.
Anyway. After a few emotional posts, I figured it was time to get real. Because I just drank a strangely technicolor drink that tasted like cotton candy and they’re about to take some blood and then tell me if I have Gestational Diabetes and if I do I will feel so guilty about those cupcakes I wrote about a few blogs ago.
Next up: Is this heartburn or am I dying?
Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee
I was driving into Wyoming on a late August day in 2016, wandering through the flats and scrub, the southern part where the mountains were a faraway postcard I was hoping to see, en route to where I was supposed to be. The sun was high and hot and I kept the radio off to hear the wind numb my racing mind. I had to pee. A good excuse to stop and stretch my legs on this long ride in the moonscape, and I hoped for a truck stop, a gas station, some little café to appear.
Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. In the distance I saw it. Wasn’t sure what it was at first. A shock of white in the beige and brown tumbleweed. A point at first that grew as I climbed the hilly curve, grew and loomed, shadowing over the bowl of a little town below. As I saw the green rectangular exit sign, Exit 59, a huge white cross stood as a strange welcome to this ghost town. Large white crosses weren’t so surprising to me. There is on on I-40 on the way to Memphis. There’s one on a Texas highway I travel. Someone built one into the side of a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia; at the top of the hills of Williamsport, Pennsylvania where, in high school, we gathered near Steve Landale’s house and walked to the cross to drink beer in cans and smoke cigarettes. I pulled off the road and found a café, got a coffee and peed, but rather than head straight back onto the highway, I turned toward the cross at the edge of the town. Just a five minute diversion. I’d take a photo. Send it to my Catholic mother and make her smile.
Blessed art thou amongst women
As I pulled into the parking lot, the thing loomed larger than it looked from the highway and cast a mid afternoon shadow along the tops of the trailers and low-rent one story vinyl-sided houses. I parked my car and walked toward the cross, a gravel path to some green, a little grass, some flowers and plaques I wouldn’t read.
A small group of elderly women and men stood in a semi-circle in front of the cross. I moved closer. They had rosary beads dangling from their hands. There were eight, maybe ten of them and I tiptoed away, around them, so as not to disturb. I didn’t want to bother them and I certainly didn’t want them to notice me. I didn’t want small talk. I was looking for something else in the still desert air, in the shadow of the monolith.
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus
“Would you like to join us?” One of them had spoken.
“Oh, no. I’m sorry, I’m not…” and I couldn’t find the end of my own sentence.
“It’s ok. We are praying the rosary. Do you know it?”
I did. My mother. My grandmother. All my grandmother’s sisters, my great aunts, the nuns in their black widow habits with rosary beads dangling from their hips. The cold marble of the stations of the cross. The frankinscence that tickled my nose and set off allergy fits of sneezing in the middle of Mass my entire childhood.
Holy Mary, mother of God
“Yes. I do,” I almost whispered. One of them held out a rosary, an invitation. Surprising myself, I reached out and took it, joining them at the end of their arc.
Pray for us sinners now and that the hour of our death
And the words tumbled like tears from my mouth. I knew them better than I know anything. More than memorization, I know this prayer like the beating of my heart and, although I have raged against The Church in capital letters for the better part of 25 years, I fell into the lullabye of this prayer. My grandmother’s hands found my shoulders as the breeze touched my skin and I could smell her wrinkled fingers, talcum and rosewater. “My princess,” she would coo to me, brushing my hair away from my tears. My mother in her paisley skirt, stained by orange juice and flour, making cookies and pies while the four of us clung to her pleats, competing for her love.
The cross came out of the sun’s shadow and the words became whispers and one of the women next to me touched my hand as I touched the beads to my lips.
It was a mid-August afternoon. I stood with strangers on a borrowed pilgrimage for 10 minutes at most and the wind changed and the sun warmed and a prayer came out of my skin anew, a gift from all the women who gave life to me, to the mother I knew I wanted to become, finally, birthed in a strange barren landscape, just a stop on the way to nowhere special.
September 29, 2017