In this very different kind of parenting column, writer, new mom, and old soul Grace Wilson introduces three-week old baby Pearl to the community - at the annual Frida Kahlo costume competition.
- story by Grace Wilson, photos by Ana Balka
So there I was in the back of a 1979 Dodge Commander RV with my Halloween costume on staring at a positive pregnancy test looking down the barrel of many sober holidays to come.
Dr. Google told us that the baby would be due around July 14.
“Bastille Day!” Christian said with pride.
“Damn, we may miss Frida Fest,” I moped.
Bay St. Louis’s Frida Fest may have been 10 months away, but it is always on my mind. I’ve been on a mission from the ghost of Frida Kahlo to win the look-alike contest hosted every year at Smith and Lens gallery.
Three years have gone by without even a whiff of the prize, so at this point I’d settle for an Honorable Mention.
The first year, I was sure I had a win in the bag. I dutifully bribed Martha Whitney at the French Potager to make me the prettiest, biggest flower crown in town. I housed one of the judges in my vacation rental. I even brought along my tiny chihuahua, Presley, as a prop to sit on my shoulder.
When I rounded the corner of Second Street I saw what looked to be thousands of beautiful Fridas and knew I had no chance. Not even with a puppy.
With the ghost of Frida haunting me every day since July 11, 2015 — fast forward to June 22, 2016 —I was so excited Pearl had arrived three weeks early!
As I was holding her in my arms at the hospital, all I could think was, “Get ready for Frida Fest, girlfriend.”
As soon as we rolled in to the Bay and settled in to life with Presley at the Palm House, I began to get the wheels in motion.
Mommy and Me flower crowns from Martha Whitney - check.
Tiny little Mexican dress - check.
Eye brow pencil - check.
I was still feeling and looking 6 months pregnant. None of my maternity clothes fit right. None of my regular clothes fit right.
As I sat atop a Mount Everest pile of clothing in despair, I realized there was only one thing to do… draw a uni-brow on my three-week old, five-pound baby, wear the prettiest nightie I owned and pray no one would notice me.
Surely all eyes would be on Pearl, right?
And, of course, Presley.
As the summer sun began to set and sign-up time drew near, we got the family ready to roll down to Frida Fest central near the Mockingbird Cafe.
We were light packers for the two block journey: One bassinet, five diapers, two packs of wipes, three baby toys, a tube of sunblock, four bottles of breastmilk and one can of formula. I know what you’re thinking. Formula? You know, just in case.
Total parenting experts three weeks in!
Once again, we rounded the corner to find double the amount of Fridas from the first year - all more beautifully decked out than before.
We got to the sign-up table: Contestant Number 471. Or maybe it was 47.
We waited for what felt like hours for our number to be called, my husband nervously cradling the baby and me calling over everyone in town to come and breathe on her.
As our big moment got closer, I had more butterflies in my tummy than a Dolly Parton song. (Dolly Should is another Bay St. Louis Festival - and another story - entirely.)
I was able to peel the baby away from Christian and make our way to the judging platform.
Pearl had long fallen asleep, but I didn’t let that stop us. (And by us, I mean me.) As they called our number I lifted my tiny offspring into the air and was met by a collective gasp from every person in the crowd.
“Oh God,” I thought. “Did my boob pop out of this nightgown again?”
Looking down I saw the girls were safely secured.
Looking back up, I saw every jaw on the ground.
Obviously no one could believe….how beautiful my three-week old, five-pound baby was.
I skipped over the judges, one of whom could not even make eye contact with me for some reason. There were murmurs and whispers all around me… mostly I kept hearing… “Is that a real baby…?” Well, it’s not a Tickle Me Elmo, sister.
There was even a super-fan about my own mother’s age who asked to get a picture of baby Frida.
“I’ve got a massive doll collection and that baby looks just like one of ‘em,” she cooed.
Of course, I obliged. As she snapped the pic I smiled thinking that one of the things I love about splitting my time between Mississippi and the French Quarter is that no matter where you go or what you do, there’s always someone crazier than you in the crowd.
Just as I was getting my sight back from the flash of cameras, I realized that darkness had fallen, winners had been announced and once again my husband was dragging me - and now Pearl - home without a winning title.
He immediately sat me down in the cool air conditioning, looked me in the eyes and said very calmly, but sternly, “We need to talk…”
I stared past him thinking about how Pearl and I could take the Frida crown next year. She’d be big enough to wear a monkey costume, I bet… maybe stick her on my shoulder…
“That was too much,” he said.
Ignorance is bliss, right?
Editor's note: The 2018 Frida Fest is slated for Second Saturday, July 14, in Old Town Bay St. Louis. Click here for complete details and start getting your costume ready - with or without a baby or chihuahua.
Presley and Pearl
What happens when a very spoiled Chihuahua must cede the number one position in the family to a new baby? Writer, new mom, and old soul, Grace Wilson, tells the story of Presley meeting Pearl.
- story and photos by Grace Birch
And that evening, after I sobered up a bit, we rode to Prairieville and met the tiniest, fluffiest, sweetest puppy that ever existed and we named him Presley Birch.
So before Pearl, there was Presley. Looking back on the past decade of my Instagrams, a predicable timeline quickly emerges:
A tale as old as time.
(Or as old as social media, anyways.)
It all begs the question, when did I have time to walk around and take pictures of murals? Also, have I fed the cats today?
When I was 22, a co-worker had a baby and was lamenting how different they were from pets. “You can’t just open the door to let him go outside and play. You have to pick him up then place him outside. Same when he cries to come in...”
As I watched Presley piddle in the flowerbed one morning, I briefly fantasized about putting my future child in the patch of dirt next to him instead of changing diapers.
Turns out, it doesn’t quite work like that.
Keeping a dog alive for a year does give you an unfounded confidence that somehow this qualifies you to try your new skills on a tiny human.
I was terrified when I found out I was pregnant. You spend your whole adult life paralyzed at the thought of a positive pregnancy test... and then you see one and your eyeballs almost pop out of your head. The brief panic of “what do I do?!” gives way to the realization that your partner is hugging you and he’s really excited and so are you and everything is going to be fine.
In fact, everything is perfect.
But wait! How is this thing going to get out of my body?!
You spend nine months wondering and worrying. But as a very wise woman once told me, “All babies must come out.”
At one point, I asked my doctor if Presley (one of the tiniest, fluffiest, sweetest dogs he’d ever meet, I assured him) could perhaps be allowed in the hospital with me. Just to sit beside the birthing pool for encouragement....?
“That could be a tough one,” he said stone-faced.
Which was not a hard no, I pointed out to anyone who would listen.
I was telling this to potential maternity ward visitors, hoping someone would mercifully sneak Presley in, but it turns out people don’t really listen to mothers. They are really just hanging out to get a sniff of a new baby.
So we had a new baby. A human baby. And I wondered and worried how she would get on with our fur baby.
I read somewhere you should take something of the baby’s... a blanket, a toy, not like a toe or anything... and you let the dog sniff it before they officially meet.
We rolled up to the Palm House and I flew so quickly through the back door that Presley was still running down the center hall to meet me. I’m not sure who’s tail was wagging faster, mine or his.
There we were on the floor together rolling around when I heard my husband clear his throat with a baby blanket in hand. Presley wasn’t quite sure why we were offering him a blanket in the heat of June.
Pearl was perched on the dining table in her car seat. Daddy slowly lowered it down and just like everyone else who met Pearl, Presley gave her a sniff and instantly wanted to be her best friend. I melted into the background and became chopped liver.
Luckily, Presley loves chopped liver.
The next few days and weeks were a blur of fur and feedings. The whole family would literally dog-pile in the bed and we wasted summer days away napping and snacking.
The dog had never been happier.
Presley also had a new form of transportation: a baby carriage.
It turns out that people don’t really take you too seriously when you’re strolling around a small animal and a baby in a carriage.
Once I was simply trying to get to the French Quarter Post Office before it closed, and I simply couldn’t. People were frozen in their tracks in front of me pointing, staring, cooing, Instagramming... one woman at least tried to give me a dollar to take a picture. I explained we weren’t a performance art piece - just a little basket of adorables trying to run an errand. Nothing to see here.
Turns out, they are quite the sight.
Presley and Pearl have survived two Easters together now. The cats are just “ca-cas” still, but Presley is a little person with his own name in her small world.
My fears of sibling rivalry diminish daily. There’s less and less tail-pulling and more and more food sharing. We can’t wait to witness years more of adventures.
I’d love to hear your fur baby (and real baby) stories. Bonus points if you send me puppy and baby pics. Spam me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introducing Mother of Pearl
Writer, new mom, and old soul, Grace Wilson, introduces a new column exploring the pleasures and pitfalls of parenthood, learned at the knees of Evangeline Pearl.
Ever since June 22, 2016, pacifiers, half-eaten popsicles, pearl necklaces and other items previously foreign to me have crept into my life and the crevices of our home.
There are so many things that happen in the first few years of a child’s life, but since you are walking around like someone just hit you in the face with a frying pan, it’s hard to remember them all.
I’m grateful to have a space to start sharing some of these moments. Welcome to our new column: Mother of Pearl.
There won’t be any parenting advice here, since I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. In fact, you can take these vignettes and make notes of what not to do.
These are old tricks, but I’m a new dog. Take for instance the first birthday. How many times have we heard not to make a big deal out of a child’s first birthday?
Not enough, obviously.
This is a perfect example, like a house fire, of how a small thing can wind up so out of control so quickly. (And yes, there was a small house fire as we were prepping for Pearl’s party.)
The first sign that things were about to get silly should have been when people who didn’t come to our wedding (an equally out of control situation) began booking plane tickets to fly across the country for this event.
An event she’ll never remember.
But is forever burned in our memories.
What started out as a simple plan to blow up a few baby pools and grill some hotdogs turned into a full-blown Hawaiian luau, complete with a whole roasted hog from Williams BBQ and a fire dancer from New Orleans.
My in-laws, who spent many years in Hawaii, lovingly prepared authentic Hawaiian side dishes and appetizers for days. About an hour before the party, there was what the Bay St. Louis Historical Society now refers to as “The Great Panko Breadcrumb Fire of 2017,” which my husband put out with a fire extinguisher, with a bug sprayer strapped to his back as wasps were stinging him under his shirt.
Honestly, it’s a wonder anyone in my family is still speaking to me.
Turns out, my ever-thoughtful Husband didn’t even need to spray for bugs in the yard because, like clockwork, as soon as the Bay Rats Marching Battery began to play, the bottom fell out of the sky in the most epic summer rainstorm of recent memory. Did I not mention that a full children’s band came to perform?
Those kids played their hearts out so beautifully. I wish I could have enjoyed the moment a bit more, but I was too busy praying a lighting bolt wasn’t going to strike the huge oak branch they were playing under.
The kids and their equipment survived and I must have stopped praying for a second because the next thing I knew lightning came so close to the house, it shot through the amplifier and metal guitar strings and zapped one of my favorite New Orleans musicians. Did I not mention that singer-songwriter Sarah Quintana had come to serenade?
Music was moved to the Great Hall.
The cake got mistakenly ordered from the Claiborne Hill in Picayune, not Waveland. A drag queen came to the rescue with cookies.
Pearl, worn out from all the action, fell asleep long before candles, cake and ice cream. As people drifted out, more came in. Just as a second wind was filling my sails I finally took a moment to look around at the lovely village that was helping raise this sweet baby and realized that once again in life, nothing went to plan, but in the end everything was perfect.
My family and I are so honored to be a part of the amazing community in Bay St. Louis. Pearl has already had so many adventures around the places and characters of Old Town. We are looking forward to sharing a bit of child-rearing antics with you all.
I’d love to hear your stories and advice when it comes to throwing birthday parties for the kiddos. Email me at : email@example.com