Sheryl Crow"s got a new album, she's touring the country, and, oh yeah, she's now the mom of two supercool little guys. Writer Laurie Sandell was one of the very first to meet baby Levi. Now it's your turn!
Driving up the road to Sheryl Crow's home, a sprawling, 154-acre ranch on the outskirts of Nashville, it's easy to see why the singer would trade her Los Angeles life for this. The landscape is dotted with barns, cows graze peacefully in the fields, and the only sound is the rustle of leaves. Sheryl, 48, bought the house in 2008 and spent the next few years knocking down walls, rummaging through thrift stores, and putting her unique stamp in every corner, as I get to see firsthand once I've arrived. The wall of one bathroom is covered with antique photos in tiny gilded frames, a giant colorful fish tank with a counter on top doubles as a kitchen island, and a collection of vintage birdcages dress up a porch. Later, on a tour of the stables, I see the saloon Sheryl has built, complete with cold beer on tap, swinging Western doors, and a polished wooden bar she found on eBay. She likes to put her boots up here, after riding her horses with girlfriends.
In the kitchen I am greeted by a nanny and 3-year-old Wyatt, who is shaking a pair of maracas. "Dance!" he cries, giggling and grabbing my hand. Fifteen minutes later, the singer strolls into the room. Dressed in a tank top and jeans, her hair long and loose, she apologizes for the chaos and saves a maraca Wyatt is smashing against the floor. "I actually use this one!" she says with a laugh. I'm still taking in the scene when Sheryl asks, "Can you keep a secret?" Smiling, she points to a wicker bassinet on top of a marble counter. I look inside and see a tiny, swaddled infant; it is her 3-week-old son, Levi James.
"Shock" would be a major understatement to describe my reaction; after all, she hasn't yet announced her adoption of a second son. But the proud new mama can't wait to show him off, so she's giving REDBOOK the very first glimpse.
It's great to hear Sheryl's good news. Given her long history of public service, her down-to-earth persona, and all the iPod happiness she's provided over the years, Sheryl is the kind of person you root for. Yes, she's sold more than 35 million records, won nine Grammy awards, and performed with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson to Luciano Pavarotti. But she's also gutted out some tough moments: Four years ago, Sheryl went through a public and painful breakup with multiple Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Immediately afterward, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Curling up on a couch in her living room among her favorite guitars — next to mother-son matching drum sets! — Sheryl talks with surprising candor about her romantic struggles, her new album, 100 Miles From Memphis, and, of course, the newest guy in her life, little Levi.
Okay, guess I'm throwing out my original list of questions. You have a new baby!
[Laughs] Yeah, it's been in the works for a while. I was hoping to adopt a child when Wyatt was 2; a lot of the adoptions fell through. But things always work out perfectly. They just do. Generally, when you let go of your vision of how something is supposed to be, the universe hands you exactly what you need. And for Wyatt, 2 would have been too early. It would have been difficult for his self-esteem. But 3 is perfect because he's very well established now in who he is. He helps me with Levi's baths, with the burping. He helps me hold the bottle. He's very involved.
Do adoptions commonly fall through?
Absolutely. There's always that situation where the mom cannot live with the idea of giving the baby up. Generally, all the big choices are made in favor of the biological mother.
Were you in touch with Levi's mom throughout her pregnancy?
No, it was a closed adoption. So we're starting fresh, and there's something kind of great about that. For me, I have such a strong desire to make sure this baby will always know he was terribly wanted.
What did you do on the day Levi arrived — did you just sit around and look at him?
We were in a hotel in Mississippi, where he was born. Wyatt was with me. I wanted to make sure we were in a neutral area when he met the baby so his world wasn't rocked. Also, Levi brought lots of cool things for Wyatt, little toys and presents. How he knew what Wyatt liked... I guess he had a little help. [Laughs] But Wyatt is such a social little bug, I think it will be fun for him to have a partner in crime to pal around with. I'm really close to my family, really close to my siblings, so I love that Wyatt will have his brother. I don't know if there will be more, but we'll see.
Were you open to having a boy or a girl?
I didn't care what color, race, gender, whatever; didn't care.
Do you feel a lot more prepared the second time around?
I used to be a schoolteacher, and I've been around kids my whole life, so there were no big surprises. When Wyatt was first born, I had a really wonderful baby nurse who told me you don't adapt your life to your children's lives; you adapt your children's lives to yours. Wyatt came on the road with me when he was 3 months old; he's seen all the zoos and aquariums around the world. So my life hasn't really changed that much, it's just been enhanced.
How did you get to the point where you were ready to have a child?
I always knew I wanted to be a mom; it was just a matter of when. I'd just been through a pretty painful breakup where there were kids involved, and I'd also been through breast cancer treatment. After that, I felt an acute sense of urgency about how I wanted my life to feel. Since I wasn't married, my idea of what the picture was supposed to look like no longer served any great purpose. So I started the process of doing an adoption "home study," which means you fill out paperwork, get certified in infant CPR. The idea was, if the opportunity came, I would be ready.
What are some of the challenges of doing it on your own?
I'm not doing it on my own: I have my band and crew, and my kid is growing up with so many great, strong, and very present male figures. My father and brother are very involved; Wyatt's got great cousins whom he just worships; and the guy who runs my farm, Chuck, is here every day, all day long. Of course, I still hope to have a partner who wants to be involved in raising my kids. But Wyatt has a built-in family around him all the time.
What advice would you give to moms who want to adopt as a single parent?
The only advice I have is that there will never seem like a great time to do it — just like when you're married, it never seems like the perfect time to have a baby. So you dive in and make your life work.
Who are your mommy friends: Who gives you great advice, or lets you vent?
Oh, gosh, I've got great mommy friends. Here in Nashville, it's Kim Williams-Paisley [the actress and wife of country singer Brad Paisley], Nicole Kidman, and another friend, Tracie Hamilton. They've been a wonderful resource for me. We get together at each other's homes, make dinner, and have girls' nights in. Or we'll go out for dinner and a drink — though we're mommies, so we don't let it all hang out. We've had good conversations about vaccinations, child-rearing, the "terrible twos"! Luckily, Wyatt's past the "terrible twos" now, which is great.
Every parent has a funny story about traveling with their kid. What's yours?
When Wyatt was around 2 years old, we took a long flight to Japan. So I did the one thing I said I'd never do, which was to quote-unquote drug my kid. I gave him a little bit of Benadryl, thinking that would mellow him out. Instead, it was like I'd given him a shot of speed. At one point, he was sitting on the lap of an older Japanese woman and talking across the table to another Japanese couple, none of whom spoke any English. You know that saying, "Don't try this at home"? Word to the wise: If you're going to try Benadryl, do try it at home — before you get on an airplane.
Switching gears, you recently finished up a stint on Cougar Town, playing a 40-something woman romancing a man who usually goes for much younger women. Was the character a stretch for you?
Acting was a stretch for me; I hadn't done much, let alone comedy. Courteney [Cox] asked if I wanted to do it, and I adore and worship her, so I said yes. It was good to get out of my comfort zone.
How do you feel about the cougar trend?
It's the word that's negative — older men have been dating younger women forever. In college I used to wait tables at Bullwinkle's in Missouri, and there were always older guys hitting on younger women. We had a name for them: "bird dogs." So I think we should start calling them that.
Would you date a much younger guy?
Yeah, if I met somebody who I felt was an equal and an ally, I don't know that I'd care that much about age. I think it just depends on the level of maturity.
As a mom, are you looking for different qualities in a partner now?
I'm not looking. If I meet somebody I adore and who adores me, and wants to help me raise my kids, great. I'm not a person that says, "Okay, I've got to get married and have kids — now." I have kids. It certainly makes you qualify your relationship in a different way, rather than asking, "Is this somebody I want to have kids with?" That's a terrible situation for a man to be in, and it's not good for a woman either.
Now, at the New York Women in Communications' recent Matrix Awards, you were very funny about your three broken engagements: that you loved being engaged but didn't know how the rest works out...
Being engaged has had its up moments, I'll tell you that. [Laughs]
What was the most important lesson you learned from those experiences?
It's never a good thing to have somebody ask you to get married because they think if they don't, you're going to leave. I've had that happen two out of the three times now. And I think getting married doesn't save a relationship that's already gone down the tubes. There's something really beautiful about creating a family, but if you're with someone who doesn't have that same vision, at a certain point you have to decide whether you're moving in the same direction. It's not enough to say, "Let's get engaged" if you're not going to be able to say, "Let's get married."
Let's talk about your new album, 100 Miles From Memphis. You describe it as a "funky, soul-based record." How important is it to you to change up your sound, style, look?
I'm really excited about the new record. It's much more carefree and not nearly as sociopolitical as ones I've done in the past. There are songs dedicated to peace and a higher ideal, but for the most part, it's inspired by music I loved growing up, like Al Green, Aretha, and Marvin Gaye.
You're doing a few dates with Lilith Fair this summer. What's it like to work with women who are just up and coming?
It's always fun because it reminds you not to lose touch with your original excitement about music. I love Feist and Neko Case, though they're not brand-new, and there are a lot of young gals like Colbie Caillat and Ingrid Michaelson, both good players and songwriters. It's very inspiring.
One of the ways you've recently connected with people was your battle with breast cancer. How did that experience change you?
It changed me in almost every way. It rebooted my sense of what was important. I learned to take care of myself emotionally, putting myself first and allowing other people to take care of me as well. It's great to be a strong woman, but when you're never allowing your needs to be met, or even heard, it catches up with you.
What percentage of your life is devoted to your causes, like the environment?
I hope at least 25 percent of it. I want my kids to see me as an activist and a humanitarian, and for that to be part of who they are too.
What would you like your future to look like? What do you envision for yourself?
I see myself becoming more and more of an activist, continuing to work on my spiritual life and using my name for good. I'd like to introduce my kids to the idea of being a part of a community: being around people who are going through different things and understanding what it means to help. It's interesting, when I think about what comes next... you could have asked me that 10 years ago and I would have talked about my career. But now, it's my children; that's what I see dictating the next five, 10, 15, 20 years of my life.