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.