Having a baby didn’t stop us from touring with our band — we just bring him along (part 1)

Guest post by katey sleeveless
Adam Hawkins & Katey Sleeveless (The Golden Hearts) stand in front of their motor home, Glen, T-2 weeks to baby in April 2011. Photo by John P. Campbell

There is an air of impossibility about two musicians touring with their baby. If you don’t travel with a caregiver, the logistics aren’t concrete: There needs to be a lot of breathing room along with a dedication to adaptation. You need to be able to say, “I guess we’ll both do solo sets.” It’s important for us to remain expectation-less about how a show is going to go or how our child is going to respond to the energy of a venue or the people.

Other parents we meet will say, “You’re very brave.” People who don’t have kids often remark, “I thought life was supposed to be over when you have children.” They also say, “It’s good to know it’s not.” Everyone asks, “What does the baby do while you play?” There are as many answers to that question as there are shows.

By the time we had our child, going on the road to perform had become a natural part of our lives. I’d been hopping on the road spinning around the country since I was old enough to drive, and Hawk was always touring with his band. We met playing music, traveled together soon thereafter, and quickly set the pace for a life of future adventuring (read: Bellagio-fountain-hopping, neo-Nazi-protest-protesting, being kicked out of casinos for dancing, sleeping in bank parking lots). Long before Amilio ever saw the world, we dreamt of traveling the country in a motor home, playing shows and finding that special somewhere to call home. We moved in together knowing we’d save some money and soon hit the road. A week later, we found out we were going to have a baby.

Little by little, the initial shock wore off, we thawed out, woke up, came to, and realized our vision could adapt. Wouldn’t it be cool for our kid to say, “When I was young, my parents took me on tour with them all over the country”?

Our immediate (and admittedly somewhat panicked) states of mind had us thinking we’d better buy a house and settle down, post haste. For a few days in August we stared at each other with serious faces (the kind of faces people who are going to be parents make) and discussed making down payments, finding a house in the country, or taking over the family business. Little by little, the initial shock wore off, we thawed out, woke up, came to, and realized our vision could adapt. Wouldn’t it be cool for our kid to say, “When I was young, my parents took me on tour with them all over the country”? Our plans expanded to fit the pending little one.

We decided to start traveling as soon as the baby was “ready.” We didn’t know when “ready” would be. We guessed he might be strong and sturdy enough by the time he was six months old, so we circled a date in October and watched my tum expand (which is nothing like watching grass grow, paint dry, or water boil).

We had a calm, centered birth at home. Afterward, we sat around the living room drinking tea and talking about the experience. Our midwife Sheryl swept her gaze around the room, smiled (more to herself than us), and said, “All these instruments remind me of when I first started attending home births in the ’70s. How wonderful for Amilio to grow up around music.” Her observation strengthened our resolve.

Like most babies, Lio loved music from the get-go. Playing his dad’s latest album (which Lio had been there for practically every moment of the making of, in utero) made him coo and instantly relax. He clearly favored and recognized the tunes he’d heard so many times in the womb. We’d shot a video a couple weeks before the baby was born, and had played the song “It Isn’t Mine” probably fifteen times between the video shoot and band rehearsal for the album release. Now, this is Lio’s favorite song. Hawk plays it, and he just… stops. Stares. Smiles. This is his song.

Lio loves drums. He loves messing around on keyboards and pianos. And he’s absolutely fascinated with watching drummers and guitar players. Seeing Lio as a music lover in training also helped us realize our decision to take him on the road could be incredibly formative.

We weren’t quite getting the full picture of what shows would be like on the road, where we wouldn’t have the support of relatives and where the number of people and unfamiliarity would turn baby-holding into a mom-or-dad-only scenario β€” both the baby’s preference, and ours.

We did a few show-and-baby test-runs, traveling to Colorado when he was just a couple months old for Blank-Tape Records Fest, then playing a handful of shows closer to home near Des Moines. The shows cast some light on the unpredictability of simultaneous child rearing and show playing, but we were lucky in that we almost always had family in the audience who were eager to hold the baby while we played. We weren’t quite getting the full picture of what shows would be like on the road, where we wouldn’t have the support of relatives and where the number of people and unfamiliarity would turn baby-holding into a mom-or-dad-only scenario — both the baby’s preference, and ours.

We started booking shows for our east coast tour a few months after Lio was born. Instead of the web of bars we’d been accustomed to planning tours around, we turned our focus to look toward house shows, galleries, cafes, art spaces, collectives and DIY venues, coffee shops, record and book stores, and other all-ages venues and clubs. I told the contacts we had a small son. People were very receptive. We booked almost thirty shows from Iowa up to Maine, and down the coast to South Carolina.

Fast-forward a little over a year: we gave away or sold everything we owned, put the important stuff in a friend’s garage, bolted the baby’s car seat down for extra safety, and fashioned a crib out of the motor home couch. I sewed little motor-home curtains, and Hawk caulked (try saying that one) extra waterproof layers onto the roof and windows. As the midwest weather turned chilly, we set sail in The Big Ship, headed east.

You can read the rest of Katey and Adam’s tale about touring the country with their infant son Lio in tow tomorrow at 10am PST!

Comments on Having a baby didn’t stop us from touring with our band — we just bring him along (part 1)

  1. A clinical experience is not always best (hospital, house, ‘life is over’), and I love what Sheryl said. You just have to do what’s best for you and the family! The way Amilio will be raised sounds amazing!
    This really inspired me… just yesterday my partner and I were talking about vacations after kids (we LURVE to travel. a lot.) and we thought it would be cool to go to India after having a baby so we could have a family experience in the Ganges. Across country or across the world, I think babies and children benefit from seeing so many different things like this. Like you said, adapt.

    • Totally. It’s always cool watching your baby learn about the world – it seems even neater when that world is, well, the whole world!

  2. so glad there will be a continuation to this story. i love this little traveling family band already

    • Tara! This lady ^^^ took in a musical family for the night, whisking us off the streets of Baltimore & letting us park in her driveway in a much more countryish place for the night. You totally earned the tour-family-support badge! Thank you!

      Post script: I, too, have been hounding Ms. G to tell her wagony tales here.

  3. This is a fantastic post! I’m expecting my first and am so looking forward to still accomplishing my dreams and not necessarily settling down right away when the baby comes just because “that’s what people do!” ha!

    One question!! How did you secure the car seat in the rv/motorhome?? My fiance and I really want to be full time RV-ers for a while (when the baby is 1 or so) but everything I’ve found said it’s not safe (or illegal?) to have a car seat in an RV so I’m still looking for a better way/idea. If you have any tips that would be fantastic! πŸ™‚

    • Good for you! And thank you! I love everyone’s small steps toward redefining what it means to be a family. It’s so much fun to feel the solidarity in inventive thinking that comes from this site.

      As for the car seat – a picture would do so much more justice – and I think it depends on how your motor home is crafted. In ours, the seatbelts are anchored directly under the bench seats, in the middle of the seat. For normal use, the seatbelt would stretch up and under the seat bench and the cushions, then emerge from the back part of the bench to strap around your waist. What we did was remove the cushion, so the car seat base would sit flat on the heavy board that makes the top of the bench seat. We then cut two holes in the middle of the bench, so that the anchored belt could come directly up through the holes and attach to the base as usual. We also literally bolted the car seat base to the bench board in four places. What we got is a stable rock of a contraption. The car seat itself lifts in and out and attaches as normal. We pasted some lovely children’s pictures and paintings and such on the ceiling and around the baby’s area, decking it out in case he gets bored during travel. Most of the time, though, because of his age, he just sleeps! He LOVES to conk out in the motor home, probably because of the gentle bounce.

      I haven’t run across a state that expressly prohibits child car seats in motor homes. We read a lot about it before we tried it, and it seemed like there was a lot of confusion on the web about what’s legal and what isn’t. I have run across a number of Department of Transportation websites that have NO regulations whatsoever – meaning no statutes are in place – all they state is that “there are no laws governing this.”

      We did actually consult a police officer (family member) before we attached our base. He said (and I agree) that since the car seat does follow typical vehicle stipulations, we’re okay. Plus, as a total paranoid-for-safety mom, it meets MY crazy-ass requirements.

      We’ll have to get inventive again when he graduates to the toddler seat.

  4. This is such a lovely and encouraging thing to read for those of us wanting to raise an offbeat brood. πŸ™‚ Can’t wait to hear more about this wonderful little family and their travels!

  5. I really, really needed to read this! My husband and I are both theatre artists — he’s a director & I’m a writer and actor — and I’ve been feeling kind of blue thinking about how we probably won’t be able to collaborate any time soon, because who’d watch the baby? I’d resigned myself to either writing and working with him behind the scenes, outside or rehearsal, or perhaps acting on my own with another director (which is fun, but I happen to think that he’s the best there is). This is great inspiration to find a way to work our own thing out!

    • Awesome, Jill! You can totally do it! As theater artists, you’ve obviously got the creative willpower to make it happen! For us, determination (perhaps downright stubbornness) has also gone a long way in realizing our vision. πŸ™‚ We set our goal, worked toward it, and never looked back (except in a gushy, remember-when kinda way).

  6. I just have a question – this may be irrelevant being as I’m not familiar with your music, but did you do anything with regards to protecting your son’s ears? My brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their first baby in a few weeks and have been looking at various ear protectors and baby headphones so their son can go to his dad’s shows (he’s a drummer in an indie pop band) and being as my husband left his band when our first baby was an infant, I have no idea what to suggest to them.

    • Sully’s link looks great! I’ve also heard: gun shops and hardware stores (power tools) have great muffs. (These may or may not fit a lil un). I’ve also seen a good variety of ear protection at certain music outlet stores. There are definitely specialty stores (like Sully’s link) that cater to this specific niche.

      It hasn’t been much of an issue for us on this tour, since we’re sticking to low-key acoustic and quieter electric/drums/keyboard stuff. We specifically worked up a set that wouldn’t necessarily rouse a sleeping babe. πŸ™‚ (If we play with a loud band, or the crowd gets wild, one of us just ducks out with the babe.) For subsequent full-band tours – you bet we will employ ear protection.

      As for the babe – he digs rock n’ roll and does NOT like being removed from these situations. He’s a social little guy and you can tell he gets a bit miffed when we whisk him off. “C’MON, mom and dad…”

  7. What a great story! I’m not a musician, but have a dream of RV’ing cross country with our kids some day (so far only have one, a couple months older than yours). Have been hearing lots about you from Nikki, we are bloggie friends, if you ever do a show in Mpls, I’ll be there with our babe!

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