Birds, Bees, & Babies

Gabriel Elijah on Mother's Day 2017

 

It was Mother’s Day morning, the morning I took the test. I knew it was too early, but I wanted to know just in case I was actually a mama on Mother’s Day. I set the test on the counter in our tiny studio apartment’s closet/bathroom. A quick glance told me negative. I sighed, steeling myself to the result, and started brushing my teeth. 

I spat the toothpaste into the sink, put the toothbrush back in the holder, and started to walk quickly out of the vicinity of the test. But it called to me, and I couldn’t stop myself looking at it quickly in passing, just in case I had missed something.

And there it was. A second line. Super faint, but there. I tried it in different lights, rotated it to different angles, and the line did not disappear.

I was pregnant. An inexpressible joy filled my heart. Somewhere deep inside of me was the baby that is now sleeping peacefully in our incredibly messy room as I sit in my rocking chair writing this post. Let me just say, it’s true that a baby changes everything. I’m just amazed that I’ve been able to write this much without interruption. I'm also loving the new IPad my parents got me. On a further side note, I can still taste the blackstrap molasses, bell pepper, and arugula smoothie I made for lunch. Unfortunately. And the healthy Immaculata chocolate chip cookies I made after. Haha. Solidarity folks. And postpartum figures... 😳

But back to Mother’s Day 2016. I walked into the main room of the studio, where James was snoring peacefully in bed in the dim morning light. He is an extremely heavy sleeper. It is nigh impossible to wake him up. So I sat down on the edge of the bed, smoothed his hair back, leaned in, and whispered, “Hey!” No response. I shake him vigorously and shout, “Guess what? I’m pregnant!”

It only took once. He was up. “Are you serious?” 

I show him the test.

“And it’s Mother’s Day,” I said. “Isn’t that crazy?”

“So when does that mean we got pregnant?”

“North Carolina according to the chart.” We’d played at St Michael the Archangel church a couple weeks earlier and I specifically remembered kneeling and praying for a baby. And also eating great amounts of delicious breakfast food at a local French bakery.

James laughs. “Nothing like good food and fun… So when is the due date?'

"January 17. Looking at the chart, it'll probably be a boy!"

"The DaSilva line lives on!" (James is the last male of his line.) He hugs me. “I can’t believe I’m a father!" Then a look comes over James’s face. “I don’t have a gift for you!”

And he never got one. Meanie. But it was short notice. 😘

Not being the secretive type, we told the family that day. Our baby existed and therefore would be celebrated. On my side of the family it was the sixth grandchild: we are pretty used to pregnancies, childbirths, and babies, and so we announced in a simple way over the breakfast brunch after church. Much joy! 

On James’s side of the family it was the first grandchild, so James wanted it to be a special kind of surprise. We discussed it as we navigated the maze of Home Depot looking for a cute birdhouse to give James’s mother.

There’s nowhere that will make me lose my temper faster than trying to find something specific in a supermarket.

“No wonder I’ve felt so bloated!” I said as we strolled calmly into the store.

“You look great, honey,” James said. 

“Even though I’m like only three-and-a-half weeks pregnant. Seriously. Oh man, I kind of feel nauseated.” I look at my iPhone. “Oh gosh, we are going to be late for dinner!” I see a Home Depot worker at the far end of the Miracle Gro. “Excuse me, sir, do you know where bird houses would be?”

A look of suppressed panic flits over his face. “Um, I think that would be outside somewhere. Like, by the garden hoes.” He points vaguely over my head.

“Oh okay, thanks!” I turn around and we start walking in that general direction. By the time we’ve actually found the doors leading outside I’m starting to feel exhausted. Then we get outside. It’s hot.

“He said they were by the garden hoes.”

“Oh, here we go,” James said. We scan the wall with squinted eyes, trying to make sense of the jumble of garden tools.

“I think I want to say it this way,” James says. “We’ll give her the birdhouse, and then say, ‘Mom, we have another gift for you, but it won’t be here for nine months.’ How do you like that?”

I laughed. “I love it! You do it, okay?” My eye alights on something that looks like it lives in the vicinity of bird feed.

“Oh man, these are birdhouse building kits! Ugh. We need one of these cute little bird houses that are all painted and stuff. Seriously!” Frustration broils inside of me. Who’d ever want to make a birdhouse when you could just buy one? … just kidding 🤐

James takes charge. “Excuse me, ma’am?” He accosts a young teenage girl who is working in the flowers behind us. “Do you know where the bird houses would be?”

The panic is genuine on her face and she doesn’t even pretend to know where they are. “I mean, maybe in the chicken wire or something?” She gesticulates vaguely to the left.

I wonder to myself how on earth a girl from the suburbs had the guts to get a job at a Home Depot? I’d probably lose my mind trying to pretend like I knew what I was doing in mulches and stuff…not to mention the heat of the outdoors…and wasps in the plants! (Says the girl who set up a beehive in her backyard… 🙈)

We walk a mile to the chicken wire section and look in vain through the barbed packages. Then I ooh and aah over the cute scarecrows. And then I feel my body melting to the floor as the Home Depot rises in horrific size around me and I say, “James, let’s just go. This is ridiculous.”

So we start making our way to the exit, I blindly trusting in James’s ability to navigate (I have an opposite sense of direction…for real). On the way out, we bump into the bird houses.

Who knew? No one. We get a cute little bird house, and since we don’t have time to get it wrapped correctly before we are supposed to be at James’s parent’s house for Mother’s Day dinner, we fill it with bird seed, coast down the driveway at the house, and sneakily hang it from a tree while James’s parents are grilling steak on the porch above.

And then, after dinner, James announces the news. Except it comes out like this: “Mom, we have another gift for you. It’ll be here in January.” Which of course doesn’t give quite the same impression as ‘nine months’… I nudge James to elaborate.

“Oh, that’s so sweet of you honey,” Kathy says. And then a look of confusion crosses Kathy and Mario’s face. “Wait, January?”

“We are pregnant!” James says, smiling.

Tears flow. Hugs circulate. Blessings abound.

And so that’s how we found out. I was pretty pleased with the idea that I’d be having the baby in January, when there is generally not a huge amount of touring for the Annie Moses Band and smack-dab two years from when we got married.

Little did I realize that that meant I’d be pregnant for one of the most busy touring seasons in our history, traveling all the way South to Disney Land, West to Colorado, North to Michigan, and East to New York City, with the baby kicking during my piano solos.

But more on that later 🙃

OCTOBERS

Sometimes there are periods of life where you walk around in the present and you feel the past with you, at your back. 

This autumn I can’t stop thinking about how last autumn I was newly engaged, spending these four months of the busiest time of our year planning for my wedding day and my honeymoon.

That fall was full of calls to venues, culinary plans, finding dresses, pre-marriage counseling, traveling, red beret hats and wool scarves, leather gloves and long coats, crimson leaves and hot chocolate in the Smoky Mountains.

A year later, after an Italian honeymoon, a blizzard, a busy spring, a crazier summer, and a full cross-country trip, I am again traveling in the vivid paint splashes of dying leaves, this time with my husband beside me. 

I love traveling North in this season. I love Starbucks hot chocolates, fuzzy blankets in the car, hoodies and sweatpants, the panoply of fire-red and purple and canary-yellow flying by the car window. Tennessee is lovely, but the fact of the matter is that its Autumn and Winter pales to the glorious color-ridden climes and then the frosty wonderlands of the north country.

One iconic day this October, we find ourselves in the lovely town of Madison, Wisconsin, performing in a theater in the nearby city of Edgerton. A morning free, and James, my sister Annie, her two children David and Vincenza, and I are off to enjoy a few hours in the most enchanting autumn day I have experienced this year. Blue skies, brisk winds, trees effervescent in the colors of fire, and the lovely downtown of the Wisconsin capital.

After a delicious breakfast of farm-to-table crepes and pour over Ethiopian coffee, we set off to explore the day. Annie and her children enjoy the lovely children’s museum, complete with a fairy-tale porch garden.

James and I enjoy the beautiful farmer’s market in the shadows of the Capitol building.

Among the tables and tables of honey and flowers and vegetables and apples and Wisconsin cheeses, I find a magical cornucopia of everlasting bouquets, scarlet pumpkins, dried maize cobs, pussy-willow and fern.

It is all arranged delicately, atop barrels and baskets or piled enticingly. An autumnal paradise. All grown by an elderly woman who gardens, hangs the plants to dry and then arranges them with twine.

Whenever I see such enchantments, I am inspired. My mind’s eye sees the day, one day, when my husband and I and our seven children will have our own pastoral wonderland. 

And my husband and my boys will till the soil and weed the garden, of course. Why else have all those kids? ; )

Since James and I are a pair of hobbits stuck in human bodies (when we don't feel like being elves), after very little walking and exploring, with two little brown paper packages tied up with string and our artisan coffees, we find a quiet nook to read our books underneath a great flaming tree that blocks us from the chilly sweet-scented autumn wind. 

Because sitting together, reading our books, and drinking coffee on beautiful autumn days is quite our favorite thing to do.

North & East

We are traveling North through green farmlands and New England woods. Ironically, we are passing through some of the same places that the Pope will visit, one or two days in front of him. Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia.

immaculateconception.jpg

After three concerts we come to rest in Connecticut. We stay with friends from the three years that we lived in New Milford. It is a delightful reunion. My friend Bradleigh and I have been best friends since we met at a church flea market as children and connected over our love of antiques and Anne of Green Gables. Someday I will write a children’s series all about our New Milford adventures, exploring old houses, gathering acorns, discovering elf kingdoms in the woods. 

My sister, my husband, and I all enjoy the happiness of staying with Bradleigh and her family––including her new adorable Adaline baby––in her quaint white house surrounded by a New England forest, cleared of brushes and brambles, with quietly rustling leaf floors.

We spend all of Monday drinking coffee, hiking through the nature preserve down the road, writing and reading each other’s writing in a grass meadow while Gretchen plays guitar, walking to the post office and farmer’s market, and ending the evening with bourbon cream local peaches and Far From the Madding Crowd

The next day we awake early to drive into New York City. It is a different reality. One second we are in New York farmland, the next minute we are passing the Trump skyscrapers.

As I sit looking out the window, I am reminded of playing Monopoly. It’s commerce and capitalism and corruption and opportunity and opulence represented in a million people and a million buildings stuck on an island scarcely the land mass of my home town.

There’s something exciting and exhausting about it. Rather magical. We spend the morning in meetings with our team, planning the future, seeing bright possibility and the months ahead spooled out on paper and colored with imagination. We see the first music video from the Western Odyssey trip played in the Warner Classics office.

Then our Uber app makes a car appear and we are in The Cutting Room, where we perform that evening. Afterwards, exhilarated and hungry, my husband gets me a delicious grilled cheese sandwich from a local New York cheese paradise.

In the background of all this adventure is a deep sadness, because through all the business of our schedule, we get news from home that our grandmother, Dorothy, is very sick. She has lived in our house for three or four years now and we love her dearly. Zoe, our new little sister, was downstairs with her when Dorothy suddenly fell backwards from her walker. Her equilibrium was so impaired that my mother had to get the help of a neighbor to get her up and to the hospital.

All throughout the day we hear text updates back home in the South that describe a very bleak situation. It is deeply sorrowful to me. Grandma Dorothy is a mainstay of life: a quiet, simple, kind woman. Her room downstairs is always cool and peaceful, a bubble of tranquil organization inside the hustle and bustle of daily life. I feel especial pain for my new little sister, whom Grandma Dorothy helped to adopt and has taught to read and write and play piano. They have a very special bond. 

The next day the news is still bad. We come into the City again from Connecticut and stop there on our way to Philadelphia for other meetings. My father flies home to be with his mother. My heart aches that we can't all go home. The little ones are all around us, crazy in the craziness of the City, and it strikes me how little Evangeline is just beginning to stand up and learn how to walk, and now my grandmother cannot stand or walk. 

James and I stop in St. Patrick's Cathedral to pray for my grandmother. Kneeling in that space, I marvel at life. Why does our heart beat? Why do we know to breathe when the umbilical cord is cut? How are we built so uniquely? How does a sperm and an egg connect and a woman’s womb fosters a new life with personality and dreams and thoughts that will one day foster new life that fosters new life?

Update: I am very happy to say that my grandmother Dorothy made a miraculous recovery a few days after this post was published, and is now out of intensive care and on her way to complete health.

Hard Times Come Again No More

Colorado

A Western Odyssey

Thick darkness. Restless wind. Headlights on a two lane highway. Two orange foxes darting in front of the car. A thump.

The general outcry from several half-asleep people resonates in the vehicle. My heart hurts, just thinking about those poor foxes in pain. What can you do?

“I think that was the turn back there! We missed it!”

It has been a very long car ride.

We rumble down a dirt road, winding through the hill silhouettes that flicker in the headlights. The road guides us to a gate in the darkness, and then to a golden patch in the lights of log cabins. 

*    *    *

I awake in a cozy room with wooden doors like Pa Ingalls built in Little House on the Prairie. A sign on the door says that this cabin is a hundred years old and used to be the cowboys’ barracks. I like to imagine it. 

I step outside. The beauty of the landscape stuns me. Rolling green and golden hills stretching in every direction, the blue sky above, a wind so violent it knocks the sleepiness out of me. 

I dart back into the cabin for a very scanty coat that I happened to stuff into my hangup bag, and then Gretchen and I walk up to the meeting house, ducking into the wind with every step.

Hot coffee has never felt so good. Or homemade sausage and gravy and local eggs. We all sit at the log tables, talking and laughing with the cowboys and cowgirls of the Colorado Cattle Company, famous for its appearance in City Slickers, hearing the history of the gorgeous place, relaxing before our next video shoot. 

*    *    *

The afternoon sun has gone behind the oncoming rain clouds and the wind is more frozen than ever. We drive cross country to the set, a barren riverbed beneath a cliff, with two gnarly trees and bleached driftwood decorating the scene. The sky is grey above the grey ground. The wind whips my black dress around and around my legs. 

I step gingerly through the tall grasses, watching for rattlesnakes, though the veterans say it is too cold for snakes. Sandra, one of the cowgirls of the dude ranch who hails from Switzerland, says she sees 4-6 rattlesnakes a week in summer and always brings a shovel and a knife with her when she goes riding. 

I sit on my missionary organ and feel the wind slowly defeat my jacket as I bury my head into my hood. Sandra brings us hot coffee to warm us in our frozen state. We watch Annie and Jeremiah perform their solos while Paul achieves swift moving shots with the camera in the dry river bed, listen to Graham playing the music over the speakers, read books, huddle.

And then it is time for the group shot. I shiver as I take off the hoodie and the boots and warm mismatched socks (my socks are always mismatched…don’t judge me). Since I am not impoverished or living in the Dust Bowl and therefore do not have any shoes that look like it, I go barefoot. 

I soon regret that decision. The river bed is cold and wet, with sticky clay and sharp pebbles. I set the missionary organ up on its box and we play Hard Times Come Again No More over and over, the wind ripping our curls and tearing around our legs, the cold seeping in till my hands and feet are numb. I dig my toes deep into the clay. 

And then Tim and David are flying the drone above our heads. We are drowning in the music and the wind and the experiences of the man who wrote the song, the passionate cry for peace, all wound up in our memories. The plea is as old as the earth.

Rain begins to drip-drop into the dry river bed, falling off the leaves of the gnarly old trees and splashing in the sage brush. I wince as the dry grass pricks my bare feet on our walk back to the truck. Who could live without shoes? We load up our things and tumble cross-country back to the warmth of our heated cabins, our soft blankets, eating delicious, piping hot burritos.

It sinks into me. The blessedness.