BABY LOVE

Diamond Rio's Jimmy Olander croons real-life lullabies after an emotional adoption

Diamond Rio guitarist Jimmy Olander has a new tune to play - and it's a lullaby. Jimmy and his wife, Claudia Fontenot, fulfilled their dream of parenthood when they welcomed 6-pound, 11 1/4-ounce Maximum Fitzgerald Olander into their world on May 21.

It's a dream the dynamic couple never thought would come true, especially since they didn't plan on having kids.

"We never wanted children," confides Claudia, smiling at how things have changed for the better. "But we never made sure we wouldn't have any because we always knew we might change our minds. When 40 started looming around the corner, I thought, 'We better decide because we're running out of time.'"

"When Claudia's niece was born," recalls Jimmy, "out of the blue she says, 'I'm thinking we might want to have kids.' I was 38 and literally packing my bags to go on the road, an hour before bus call. I said, 'I haven't got time for this conversation now, but I'll get back to you on Monday!' I called her the next day and said, 'If we're going to do this, we need to do it now.'"

After trying unsuccessfully for two years to conceive, Jimmy and Claudia decided to adopt. But it wasn't just any adoption. They chose "open adoption," in which the birth mother stays in contact with the child, even after the adoption is completed.

"When we first went to an agency and they told us about open adoption, it freaked us out," declares Jimmy, cradling Max in his arms. "We thought, 'Is the birth mother going to ask us for money continuously?'" adds Claudia. "'Is she going to change her mind and take him back, legally or illegally?' We told the agency, 'We'll listen to what you have to say, but we are not doing this.'"

But Jimmy and Claudia surprised even themselves. Through a friend of a friend, they heard about a 46-year-old woman, Renae (last name withheld for privacy), who was pregnant but not prepared to raise another child - and she was interested in open adoption. Jimmy and Claudia became friends with Renae and began talking about adopting her soon-to-be-born child.

"Right out of the chute," Jimmy laughs, "she goes, 'OK, no offense, but I do not like country music.'"

"We said, 'That's not a prerequisite,'" remembers Claudia. "For some people, open adoption is one letter a year with a picture," she continues. "We are the other extreme. We've gotten to be good friends with Max's birth mother. She is going to continue to visit, as will her parents and her 27-year-old son. It's going to be a very open relationship."

"This will be a good thing for Max," explains Jimmy. "My mother was adopted and years ago there were only closed adoptions. I don't know how many questions she had, but when Max has a question about where he comes from, he will know his birth mom and she will have that story for him. And we will have our story of adoption and raising him.

"We're not co-parenting," notes Jimmy. "We are the parents. But Renae will be in the picture.

"The adoption isn't going to be a big deal. It's not like at 6 years old we're going to say, 'OK, all the stuff you know, it's not really true.' He will know age-appropriate information from the get-go."

Claudia started the baby bonding process early. After meeting Renae, Claudia accompanied her on obstetrician visits and was in the operating room during Max's birth.

"She's been so giving," says Jimmy of Renae. "She even planned the birth date so I could be in town."

"She's laying in the OB chair with a gown on," recalls Claudia, "and I'm talking to the doctor going, 'What about May 22? No, let's do May 21.'"

Claudia excitedly recounts Max's birth. "It was awesome! It was so fast. When the doctor handed Max to the nurse I couldn't believe it. We had been waiting for over two years and I couldn't believe this little guy was ours. They bundled him up and handed him to me. One of my favorite pictures is of me showing our families the baby. My smile was from ear to ear."

Max can thank his parents' mutual love of Ella Fitzgerald's music for his middle name. And the first name?

"When Jimmy suggested 'Maximum' I said, 'That's a word, not a name,'" laughs Claudia. "Then Jimmy said, 'Why shouldn't it be a name? It's the most, the greatest, the biggest, the best!'"

"I'd like for him to have a name that he can aspire to," explains Jimmy. "He's going to have to grow into that name. And he will probably get into the maximum amount of trouble because of it - then I'll be spanked for that name!"

Since bringing their bundle of joy home, Jimmy and Claudia have been rudely awakened to the sleep-deprived world of parenthood. What's more, they're also parents to Thor, a 95-pound English Mastiff puppy. Between the two babies, there's always something going on.

"I haven't had any trouble with Max," announces Jimmy, looking sideways at Claudia and grinning.

"Jimmy acts like he has fathered his whole life!" she affirms. "The hardest thing for me was patience. When I know he's dry and he's been fed and he's not too cold or too hot, there should be no reason for him to cry. So I'm thinking, 'Dude, everything is the way it should be. Why are you crying?' And, of course, he doesn't answer me - he just wails a little more. So it's a little unnerving, especially because, as a new mother, you're just not sure if there really is something wrong."

The rest of the Diamond Rio family has stepped in to offer parental assistance. Lead singer Marty Roe's wife, Robin, decorated the nursery along with Lana Thrasher, wife of singer/songwriter Neil Thrasher. "Marty changed one of Max's first diapers," reveals Jimmy. "And we took Max to a Memorial Day party at Marty and Robin's home. There were a bunch of experienced mothers there, so we learned some good chops."

As Max settles into his mommy's arms for a nap, Thor pads over to check on the newest family member. "Everything's been nothing but warm and fuzzy since Max got here," admits Jimmy. "I am overjoyed."

Claudia smiles that ear-to-ear smile. "We love our little family," she coos.

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