Friday, June 29, 2012

Queen of Overkill

Here's my parenting lesson for today:  Prunes Work.

Henry, who just started on solid food a few weeks ago, was a little constipated yesterday.  To see his little face contorted in pain made me desperately sad.  So I fed him a combination of prunes and butternut squash for lunch.  Then I told Rayne to give him prunes for dinner.  Then I mixed his oatmeal with prunes this morning.

Needless to say, today he has had at least six PoopSplosions (TM), which are Henry's particular brand of, as my friend referred to it, "diaper assassination."  Today's Splosions were just Category I, meaning only one piece of clothing (mine or his) was slightly soiled.  In the worst, Category IV PoopSplosions (TM), entire outfits of both parent and child can be decimated.  I've experienced one Category IV PoopSplosion (TM), on the ride home from vacation in New Hampshire.  I pity the poor soul who used the bathroom after us in that sweet little bakery in Brattleboro, VT.

Anyway, tomorrow we are getting on a plane (two actually) headed west.  I briefly considered feeding him some bananas to stem the flow.  But nah, I'm sure the person sitting in the aisle seat won't mind getting up a dozen times so I can change a few poopy diapers.

Important Clarification

My husband would like me to clarify that he is not, in fact, a packrat.  "Packrat," he says, is closer to "hoarder" than he believes he is.  Instead, my husband is a "collector."  Much classier.

This distinction is lost on me, to be honest, but I love him, so I'm providing this clarification.  Consider it a public service announcement.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lo Zaino Invicta, or, Why Henry Will End Up In Therapy

Photo credit: Curiosando
Rayne is a packrat. He collects comics, baseball cards, Playbills and fleeces among other things. When we first moved in together, he had no less than 17 black coats of various lengths, styles and materials. I had to force him to try on each one and donate at least half so I could also own a coat or two.

I am the opposite. I throw everything out. I once shredded a diary just because I didn't want to read it ever again. I do, however, have a couple of nonsensical keepsakes which I refuse to part with. One is my dog Hudson's faux shearling puppy coat. I just can't get rid of it. Another is lo zaino (backpack) Invicta that I bought while living in Italy in the late 90s.

Anyone who has been to Europe (or to Times Square in mid-August) will recognize this backpack as the ubiquitous travel gear of every bonafide Italian. I think each person is assigned one at birth. 


A little backstory is in order. I studied in Rome during my junior year of college and met a boy. (How original!)  I spent the next four years traveling often to Italy, spending whole summers and even the entire year after I graduated from college. I bought the Invicta bag right before I left for good. These bags are ugly, I reasoned, but they are sturdy and spacious. Perfect for travel.

The last time I used this perfect travel bag was in 2000, when I spent a month in Paris on my own. Carrying that backpack was fabulous, because everywhere I went, people assumed I was Italian. (My Italian American features and surname probably helped as well.) If I spoke French, the natives could hear my American accent butchering their precious Parisian French two kilometers away. But if I spoke Italian, no one could detect my slight accent. This was convenient, since even before the absurdity of Freedom Fries, we weren't so popular in the City of Light.

But if I'm being completely honest, there is another reason I preferred to seem Italian.

I loved who I was in Italian. Not who I was in Italy -- I would have been my same tempestuous self regardless -- but rather who I was when speaking the language. My slight but inevitable accent coupled with the occasional incorrect preposition -- hallmarks of a fluent speaker of a second language -- cut the edge off my natural intensity in a way that made me simpatica, nice, for the first time in my life. And as people reacted differently to me, I actually became a version of myself that I liked better, a version I could only be in Italian.

I also loved my boyfriend's warm and boisterous family, who reminded me of my own, and especially of my grandfather, who had taught me to say that I was “American of Italian descent,” as early as five years old. The similarities between my family and my boyfriend's were striking: the fever-pitch of quotidian dinner conversation, the intermittent bursts of temper and wild gesturing, the Catholic guilt, the plastic-covered sofa, the Sunday macaroni. I felt I understood my family for the first time. 

So you can see why I refuse to give up lo zaino Invicta and why (perhaps less obviously) when Henry was born, I was determined that he learn Italian. While pregnant, I bought books, CDs and DVDs to this end. Forget Mandarin, Spanish or even French. I was gunning to have my child speak a beautiful but practically useless language. 

Here he is, practicing with a book we read together. He's both reading in Italian and eating the book, which is a great start toward appreciating the culture:

Nom nom nom

I say I want to pass my heritage on to him, to teach him the wonder and beauty of dreaming in another language. That's what I say, and it is true. But I know my identity is wrapped up in my experiences, that I still cling to a little part of the future I once imagined for myself -- summering in Umbria with bilingual children who ate proper lunches.  

I may, in fact, have a little too much invested in his learning -- and loving -- Italian.

We all have expectations for ourselves and for our children. I hope the fact that I am aware of this particular piece of baggage will save Henry from the crushing pressure such hopes -- as positive and innocuous as they may seem -- can place on little developing egos.

I'm pretty sure he will come to me at some point and tell me, in all seriousness, that he hates prosciutto. And I'll have to be okay with that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

How a Handful of Roasted, Unsalted Cashews Spoiled My Day

This morning for breakfast I had a piece of toast with some jam. Actually, it was an untoasted, leftover piece of naan from a package. And because I was still hungry, I stopped to grab a handful of cashews on my way out to Henry's first swim lesson at the Downtown Brooklyn YMCA.

Photo credit: roboppy

That brief interlude in the kitchen, with Henry looking quizzically up at me from the Beco carrier as I crunched happily away, caused me to miss the bus by about two minutes. The next bus wasn't for 20 minutes, which was going to get us to the Y with only eight minutes to spare.

My first thought was to grab a cab, but I couldn't, for three reasons:

  1. In Brooklyn, I've learned the hard way, cabbies respond to your hail not to pick you up but to decide whether to pick you up, based on your destination.
  2. Unless it were a colossal emergency, I wasn't going to take my six-month old baby in a cab without a car seat.
  3. There are no freakin' cabs in Brooklyn, so the whole train of thought was moot.

I waited for the next bus, shielding Henry from the wind by turning my own face into the gusts. The bus was 15 minutes late and packed. I ended up getting off three stops early and huffing it to the Y in my flip flops.

Directions to the pool were something that the Y staff seemed incapable of providing. But when I finally got there, I was 10 minutes late for a 30-minute lesson. I laid Henry down on the bench so I could change him into his swim trunks. As I took off his regular diaper, I noticed that his diaper wasn't very w---

Bam! A fountain of pee spurted out of Henry's little man parts like that of a Florentine statue. Without thinking, I threw myself on it as if it were a grenade. Clear the decks! Henry giggled.

Once in, Henry didn't love the pool. He loves his bath but I think the whole stress of the situation got him down. Reach for the letters! Ring around the Rosie! Kick your feet! Grab the noodle! It was cold and chlorinated, and I had not sung him the "Naked Baby" song,* which precedes every bath. This was definitely not a bath, and his little bottom lip quivered with sadness.

(Speaking of sadness, did I mention that I was wearing a new tankini I bought from Athleta? That's right.  Tankini. Because wearing a bikini would scare the other children. They would probably start crying. I cried instead, in my mind, because I was wearing a tankini. Which is what moms wear. My mom. And her mommy friends. Not me and my mommy friends. Sigh.)

Anyway, I managed to change us both out of our swimsuits after the "lesson" was over. At this point, Henry, fairly traumatized and close to lunch time, decided that he would scream until he got some serious moo cow action. I unclipped half of the Beco and nursed him diagonally across my body while seated on a tiny metal stool in the women's locker room. An older woman approached me (totally naked btw) to remark how cute he was and how much I had going on. She gestured at the two huge bags at my feet, the phone in my right hand and the baby attached to my left boob.

Then she said, And I bet you also work.

I knew what she meant. But I got flustered. I actually started nodding until I remembered that no, I do not work. So I said, Oh, no, I'm on leave right now. (Also not true!) I mean, I'm not working right now, I added quickly. What was wrong with me?

As I made my way to the subway (the bus was on my shit list), I thought about the fact that I was carrying a 15 pound baby on my chest, and 12.6 pounds (yes, I weighed them when I got home) worth of diaper bag accessories (in case of the apocalypse), wet towels and bathing suits. It was 1 pm and I had eaten only a slice of bread, a spoonful of jam and a handful of cashews. I was covered in chlorine and pee. And I was heading to a new mommy meet-up group in the park (awk-ward) to somehow make friends.

This is work, I thought. And it's work I have no training for, unlike my desk job which I had been preparing for since kindergarten. What if I had taken care of children my entire life, and then, at age 36, someone put me in charge of clinical program planning and strategy at a community hospital? Here, why don't you read this one book and take a two-hour class at the Y? Then go run that hospital. It will all come naturally.

Yeah, I know taking care of Henry doesn't require any truly specialized training. But there is a steep learning curve all the same.

By the end of the day -- after a sandwich (finally!), the semi-awkward mommy meet-up and the errands -- I was exhausted. I decided to forgive and forget, to wait for the bus so I didn't have to walk a half hour carrying those extra 28 pounds home. Every bus but mine came, and after ten minutes, I walked. To spite the bus. I wasn't going to wait around for it anymore today.

The elusive Brooklyn bus.

Photo credit: Bitch Cakes
I don't know. Maybe if I had forgone the cashews, I would have made the first bus, and the whole day would have seemed a lot less hectic. Probably not, but I choose to blame the cashews anyway.

Either that or I am still at the beginning of the learning curve.... Damn cashews.

*The main lyrics to this song were developed by our household and go like this:

It's naked baby time, the nakedest baby time, it's naked baby time.
It's naked baby time, when babies get naked time, it's naked baby time.
It's naked baby time, so let's get naked time, it's naked baby time!

You have to be there.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Involuntary Plant-slaughter

In case you missed the post about why I have lots of plants in my house, it's called Toxic Shock Syndrome (Part II) and you can read it here.

For the rest of you, I thought you'd be interested to know that I have already murdered one plant:

I could freak out and blame the toxic air in our apartment, but the truth is I over-watered this unfortunate fern the first day we got it.  Rayne said I should give the plants a little extra water after we potted them since the transplant process can be traumatic.  I interpreted this to mean that I should pour enough water to overflow the pot and create a rivulet our wood flooring.

I could say that I did it on purpose to keep the other plants in line.  But I didn't.  I'm just a terrible gardener.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nursing Makes Me Hot

Not hot, as in turned on (sorry, honey). Hot, as in hormonally melting from the inside out. As in, the back of my neck is a tiny furnace, and if I don't get my hair off of it, I will spontaneously combust.

Pregnancy also made me feel hot. I ate quarts and quarts of gazpacho and begged Rayne for cold Ramen noodles every other night. Nursing, however, is much worse. And I hear menopause is amazing. Goody gumdrops.

Nevertheless, for those of you who feel the same way I do, whether pregnant, nursing or menopausal, I recommend the following tried-and-true remedies, in no particular order: Edy’s Fruit Pops; Ciao Bella sorbet (I’m currently obsessing over a Raspberry/Peach Ginger combo, although I have been known to polish off a pint of Mango in two sittings, max); sticking your head in the freezer for a few seconds (which I have definitely done on more than one occasion); and frozen bananas with chocolate sauce.

The optimal time of day for these cooling methods is the middle of the night. How convenient! While pregnant, I "slept" sitting up on the couch for most of the last trimester. I'm usually up in the middle of the night nursing. And menopause is supposedly no better for sleeping, either. See? It all makes sense. Nature has it all figured out for us. We are meant to eat sorbet in the middle of the night. It's all part of the Plan.

So, when the heat hits, go ahead and hit the freezer. If anyone questions your logic, just send him to the Mommy Moo Cow, and I'll straighten him right out. You're welcome.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Having Your Cake, and Smearing It on the Floor

By now you've probably seen or heard about the Atlantic Monthly article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former policy planning director in the State department under the Obama administration.  The article is amazing but long.  A shorter discussion is available in today's New York Times or across the blogging world.  [Update 4pm: For instance, this excellent piece in Salon.]

Obviously the article resonated with me, one of those 30-something women she referenced who looked around one day and realized that "having it all" was an old, tired and cheap cliché, one that didn't seem to apply to me.

To recap, I rose up the ranks in the healthcare industry until I was most recently the Vice President of Business Development at an excellent community hospital in the suburbs.  Although I liked my job and my colleagues a lot, I left in September of last year, when I realized that the commute was barely tolerable and would be completely unfeasible once the baby arrived in December.  I figured I would find something in the city after the baby was born.

I pursued some leads starting when Henry was three months, but I admit that I did not try very hard.  There was one job that I was recruited for that actually would have been a great fit -- interesting work, good people -- but I felt ambivalent even about that.  When the position was put on indefinite hold due to internal issues, I felt a wave of relief.  Telling.

The emotion I feel most acutely when I think about working is disappointment.  I want a career.  I feel incredibly lame without a job.  When I think about the fact that I am not working, I roll my eyes at myself in disgust.  I want my children to see that women are important to and can contribute to public life just as they are and do at home.

I feel disappointed in myself for not somehow having the foresight to choose a career with more flexibility and for being scared to even try to go back to work full-time.  I know how stressed out I was when I was working and commuting; I remember how much of strain it put on my marriage.  How could I add another full-time job on top of that?  I've always been such a perfectionist.  I'm afraid I wouldn't know how to dial it back.  And then I would implode.

I'm disappointed that the "working world" would value me less if I did dial it back from 120% to 90%. I hate how that world, and my industry in particular, still values face time.  As Ms. Slaughter puts it:
Being able to work from home—in the evening after children are put to bed, or during their sick days or snow days, and at least some of the time on weekends—can be the key, for mothers, to carrying your full load versus letting a team down at crucial moments.
I once had a boss ask me how he would know I was working if I weren't in the office.  Here's the real question:  How do you know I'm working when I am in the office?  I could be on Facebook or Blogger.  I could be writing poetry.  And here's the real answer to both questions:  If I didn't accomplish what you asked me to do, in the timeframe you asked me to do it in, that's how you would know I wasn't working.

Alas, as Ms. Slaughter makes painfully clear, common sense does not reign.
The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.
Maybe I would go back to work if I thought it could be tenable.  But the current structure of the working world -- and of my industry in particular -- just doesn't work for me.

The second most prevalent emotion I have is anxiety.  What if I regret the decision to stay home now?  What if it derails me in the future?  Ms. Slaughter also captures this sentiment perfectly:
Many women of my generation have found themselves, in the prime of their careers, saying no to opportunities they once would have jumped at and hoping those chances come around again later. Many others who have decided to step back for a while ... are worrying about how long they can “stay out” before they lose the competitive edge they worked so hard to acquire.
What was the point of all those long hours, all that money spent on graduate degrees, all that time, if I can't get back in?  Even if I'm not sure I want to get back in?

Finally, I feel guilt.  Guilty for wasting energy ruminating on my extremely privileged position.  I can decide whether or not I want to go back to work only because my husband makes enough money for us to survive on one income, at least for a little while.  Cry me a river.  Most people do not have that luxury.

I always thought that I would be the type of person who would "need" to work, who would want a high-powered, 120% job.  I thought I would continue to plot my next step, just as I have always done.  When discussing what led her to leave her Washington "dream job," Ms. Slaughter says:
But I realized that I didn’t just need to go home. Deep down, I wanted to go home.
As it turns out, I love being home with my little boy. Raising Henry is the most difficult -- and most rewarding -- job I have ever had. I'm trying to put aside the disappointment, anxiety and guilt and enjoy every day with him for the gift that it is.

I'm not sure what's next. For the first time in my life, I'm (almost) okay with that.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Can't Find My Phone

Used with permission of Microsoft.
If I had to name the one phrase that I've said most often in the last six months, it's "I can't find my phone." You'd think it would be, "Please go to sleep," or "He pooped on me again," or "Ouch, you're hurting mommy's boob."

All of these phrases are strong contenders, but they do not take the cake. Because I lose my cell phone at least seven times a day. Like right now, I can't find it. And I want to go to bed, but I also want to have a fully charged phone tomorrow morning. I think need one of those binky straps that attaches to Henry's stroller belt.

When did I become so scatter-brained? I mean, I live in a two-bedroom apartment, and one of the "rooms" is a windowless mini-cave where my son sleeps. How does the phone keep eluding me? I even lost my phone while I was on the phone with my sister recently. True story. I was like - Barb, wait, I can't find my phone. And then I was like - Oh, I'm holding it to my ear. I'm d-u-m.

Sometimes I get agitated when I can't find it, and Rayne has to force me to sit down so he can go find it himself, usually by calling it or by looking in some absurd location, like attached to its charger "where it belongs." Where it belongs! Ha! I scoff at such a concept. My home is as scattered as my brain.

Oh, I just thought of where it might be.

Found it! Under a pile of random papers and Henry's coat on the kitchen table. Obviously. Good night.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

If You See a Suspicious Package...

The Maclaren Triumph is the little black dress of New York's mommy set. It's a light-weight aluminum framed "umbrella stroller," so named because you can fold it up easily with one hand and sling it over your shoulder. That way, you can get on and off subways and buses without an issue.  

As soon as Henry was big enough, I bought one (on sale, of course). It's a good stroller, actually. It's surprisingly sturdy for how light it is, and I can actually carry it up and down stairs with Henry in it.  This is way more than I can say for our BOB Revolution jogging stroller or Graco Snap-n-Go, both of which were unwieldy monstrosities in their own ways. Up until this point, I had basically been confined to my neighborhood if I was going to use a stroller instead of a baby carrier.

I was so excited to be a cool, mobile mommy, that I took him on the subway with it on day one. Down the stairs of the subway station we went, super mom carrying the stroller, Henry and the enormous diaper bag containing at least four days of rations (just in case, you know, we were to be separated from civilization).

At the bottom of the stairs, we encountered a single entrance, the type I like to call the "jail" turnstile.  In case you have never seen it, it looks like this:

When confronted with this issue, my brain did not think, "Oh, there must be another entrance in this very large subway station with a service door and a station attendant who can buzz me through." Instead, it reasoned, "Hmmm, I guess I have no other choice but to try to squeeze through the jail turnstile. The MTA is so stupid."

Apparently it's not the MTA that is stupid.

I didn't even take Henry out of the stroller. Thankfully he was strapped in, because once we entered, the only way to make room for the stroller was to hold it perpendicular to the ground, standing only on its front wheels. That was my first inkling that maybe this was not my brightest idea.  But we were committed.

We inched forward; we were going to make it.

Then we stopped. Henry, the stroller, the big fat diaper bag and I were wedged unceremoniously in limbo, unable to move in either direction.

I was sure that the turnstile had some kind of timer that would imminently render us permanently wedged unless someone swiped another Metrocard. I started to sweat. I pictured the police -- or those elusive "MTA employees" you're supposed to tell "if you see a suspicious package" on the subway -- being called to rescue the moronic mom and her five-month-old baby from the turnstiles.

Two guys were waiting to swipe behind me. "Uh, are you stuck?" One of them asked.

"Yep, it appears that way," I replied cheerfully.

After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was probably only twenty seconds, I took a deep breath, let go of the diaper bag and heaved my weight against the front of the jail cell.

It opened.

"Okay, all set! Sorry!" I called to the small line of witnesses that had formed behind me, mouths agape.

I looked down at Henry. He seemed no worse for the wear; he hadn't even made a peep. I knelt down and kissed his little round face.

And on my way home that evening, I sauntered calmly over to the center of the station and exited through the service door.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

This weekend, Rayne and I decided to take Henry on his first run in Prospect Park with the jogging stroller, since he is now old enough to support his head.  I was excited for this first jog.  Rayne and I met training for a marathon in 2006, and even though I am in the worst shape of my life, we decided to run the New York City marathon this November.  We smiled at our future cuteness, running blissfully along with Henry in the jogging stroller.  Maybe we would each have a hand on the stroller.  Beautiful flowers would appear in the sky, bathing us with their soft petals and sweet aroma.


As soon as we began jogging, Henry started emitting his special low-pitched whine that provokes in me a Pavlovian shoulder creep until I look like a frightened turtle.  Because I know what's coming.

We tried everything -- stopping to soothe him, stopping to pick him up, having me run in the front so he could see me, singing songs, ignoring him entirely.  But the pitch and intensity of his cries only escalated. 

After a mile or so, we gave up.  Score one for Henry.  We cut through the lawn and came to the park's big hill.  Rayne wanted to get a workout in, so he said he was going to "push the hill," which left me "pushing the stroller up the hill."  Henry chose this moment to elevate his whine-cry into a full-on series of screams.  Strangers turned from every direction to find the source of the shrieking monkey noise.  I smiled apologetically to every other person on the loop.

I wasn't self-conscious from the attention, because everyone else was also super out of shape, gasping for air and shuffling lamely up the hill along with me.  (No, they weren't.)

I threw in the towel.  I pulled over (no small feat with a jogging stroller whose front wheel is locked into a forward position), took Henry out of the stroller and carried him in one arm while pushing the stroller with the other.  He stopped crying immediately, of course.  I instantly went from being the meanest Moo Cow to his favorite Moo Cow again.  Score two for Henry.

For those of you keeping track, that's 2 for Henry and 0 for Running.  We will not, however, be deterred.  We have lost but one battle in the long road to Staten Island.*

* That's where the marathon starts.  Because runners have to go through all five boroughs, right?  Don't worry, we immediately run over the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn to, well, get away from Staten Island.  

Welcome, Baby Nolan

Recently, an acquaintance of mine from my size-4 running days gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, who turned out also to have some serious congenital birth defects.  She set up a Facebook page to update people on his progress.  A few days later "he" posted that he was a proud new member of the Babies with Down Syndrome Club.  

I don't know for sure, but it seems like they didn't know this was coming when the baby was born.  Rayne and I discussed all of these possibilities, of course, when we were pregnant.  But after the nuchal translucency test came back "ok," I think we mostly dismissed the possibility of the baby having any serious issues.  Even though I was 36, we declined the amniocentesis.

I guess you never know until these things happen, but I imagine I would have disintegrated into a useless mess had something serious been wrong.  

In contrast, I have been humbled and inspired by the optimism, candor and grace with which this family has handled baby Nolan's birth.  He has been bathed in an outpouring of love, that, thanks to his mom and dad, has extended well beyond the usual circle of close family and friends.

He recently posted this lovely poem.  I think more people should read it.  I'll wait for you to grab a box of tissues.  

Ok, ready?  Here it is:

"My face may be different but my feelings the same
I laugh and I cry and I take pride in my gains
I was sent here among you to teach you to love
As God in the heavens looks down from above
To Him I am no different his love knows no bounds
It's those here among you in cities and towns
That judge me by standards that man has imported
But this family I've chosen will help me get started
For I'm one of the children so special and few
That came here to learn the same lessons as you
That love is acceptance it comes from the heart
We all have the same purpose though not from the start
The Lord gave me life to love and embrace
And I'll do as you do but at my own pace"

Friday, June 15, 2012

Toxic Shock Syndrome (Part II)

[You can read Part I of Toxic Shock Syndrome here.]

Right Lane, Cadman Plaza W. Left Lane, CRAZY LAND.

Photo credit: kelpenhagen
I love New York. For twelve years I have thrived on its unique energy, soaking up everything it has to offer – from its great restaurants and entertainment to its vibrant street life and colorful mosaic of characters. I even love the subway. Yep, I said it. I heart the MTA.

But when Henry was born, my relationship with the city changed. 

All of a sudden New York seemed incredibly loud and dirty and chaotic. Because it is all of those things and always has been. But I had swallowed the red pill and found myself suddenly floating in a fluid-filled sac, a big plug emerging ominously from my cervical spine. 

I felt an aching, somatic need to shield my baby from this toxic environment I had chosen to raise him in. With a sinking feeling, it dawned on me that Henry had never inhaled a breath of fresh air in his life.

And now we were moving to Brooklyn and were going to live along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I began to panic. Was I trading one toxic environment (cigarette smoke) for another (vehicle emissions)? Was I the most irresponsible parent on our blue marble?

We did some cursory research on air quality and learned from Captain Obvious that… wait for it… air quality in New York City is not good. Anywhere. Especially in Manhattan, where cars idle all day long in traffic jams up and down the avenues.

In a misguided but loving attempt to calm me down, Rayne used Google Earth to measure the distance between our Upper East Side apartment and the FDR Drive as compared to the distance from our new apartment and the BQE. Here is what he sent me:

See, he said. It’s really no different than our current location. (Relax! Take the blue pill!) 

Unfortunately, his argument backfired. Because, as we all learned from Morpheus back in 1999, once you swallow the red pill, you can’t go back.

You’re right! I told him. We need to leave New York immediately!

I then began a frenzied search for houses in Orange County, New York, which is just far enough to be a horrendous commute, but not far enough away to really qualify as country living. Now, before you think to yourself, ‘poor Rayne,’ I want to stress that he also got swept away by this idea, because, as much as he loves New York, he is from Oregon, and he loves greenery, too. (Also, barbequing.) 

Clearly, however, Orange County was not an immediate (or even long-term) solution to our problem, which was that I was completely unraveling over the idea of moving across the street from the BQE. As we backed off the suburban ledge, my practical side finally and thankfully kicked in. I researched all the possible ways I could reduce the toxicity of our apartment. I read tons online, including scientific papers that I could barely understand. I badgered my friend who is a water expert in San Francisco until she put me in touch with her friend who is an air quality expert. I also cried. A lot.

I concluded that I would have to be super-vigilant about everything else that I could possibly control, since I obviously could not control vehicle emissions from the BQE. Rayne gave me free reign to implement such “mitigating factors” in our new home, with the vague caveat that he was going to cut me off if I started to go (further) off the deep end, or “into crazy land,” as he put it. I knew better than to balk. 

To make a long story short, here is what we have done in our new apartment:
       1. I found some research done for NASA in the 1970s that talked about the best indoor plants for reducing toxicity and allergens in the space shuttle. If it was good for space, where there was no air, well, it might be okay for us, too. I then cross-referenced that list with the ASPCA’s list of plants that are poisonous to dogs. We bought four huge plants from this little stoner haven in Prospect Heights. (“You want, like, all four?” the shop girl asked with a slightly dazed look in her eyes.) 
2. We researched and installed a Rabbit air purifier, which is on the wall in front of Henry’s play area. It is a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Arresting) filter, which is regulated by the Department of Energy.  

3. We invested in an expensive vacuum cleaner equipped with a HEPA filter (the Miele S7280 Jazz Upright). 

4. We spent an extra $600 to have our apartment painted with low-VOC paint. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, and it’s what makes paint fumes smell so bad and what makes those emissions so dangerous to inhale. We used Harmony paint from Sherwin Williams. It definitely made a difference. It didn’t smell like paint at all.

5. I bought a book on green housecleaning (Easy Green Living by Renee Loux) and all new cleaning supplies.

6. I insisted we pay extra for an organic drycleaner.

7. I make everyone take off their shoes in the entryway so as not to track whatever is on the disgusting streets into our home. (I actually read somewhere that this is effective.)

8. I wet dust regularly and Swiffer like it’s my job (it is!).

9. Needless to say, I keep our windows shut.

Do I feel better? Sort of. I love our new neighborhood. With the exception of our street, it’s greener and quieter, and I’m finding my places – yoga studio, doggie daycare, running path, nail salon, favorite restaurants. I can feel myself settling in. Our apartment is open and light. The kitchen is happily yellow and big enough for us to cook together. The nursery gives everyone a little more breathing room.  Rayne loves sitting on the roof deck at night. I haven’t smelled even a whiff of cigarette smoke. Even our dog, Hudson, is finding his favorite hiding spots. 

Most of all, our affordable living situation allows me to stay home with Henry and stretch my creative wings instead of returning to work full-time. I am one lucky Moo Cow.  

I’d like to say that, in retrospect, the tears, research and subsequent “improvements” to our apartment were overkill. But who am I kidding? I’m still plotting on the edge of insanity. (We could get a weekend place in the country! We could petition the city to reroute the BQE! We could move to the suburbs Denver!*) And if you enter my apartment with your shoes on, I will tackle you to the ground. 

*While you might think that Denver is just a city I pulled out of the air for dramatic effect, you’d be wrong. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last two years, and I’ve decided that Denver is the optimal place for us to live. I arrived at this conclusion despite never having been to Denver, or even Colorado for that matter. Completely reasonable.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Married White Moo Cow Seeks Former Body

I want my body back.  My size 4, flat abs, perky butt body.  The one that runs marathons and teaches yoga.  The one with completely intact lady parts.

Sometimes I yell at myself in the mirror.  Body!  I say.  Shape up!  Look better!  My body just shrugs and eats another bowl of cereal.

Then I glance at the sweet face of my sleeping son.  If lower back flab is the price to pay for him, well, it’s worth it.

Bullshit!  Haha!  I almost got you, didn’t I?  I would never cut myself that kind of slack.

I just want my body back.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Moo Clown

Henry loves music.  Specifically, songs that come out of my mouth.  I once spent an hour on the C train singing various songs, including The Itsy Bitsy Spider, On Top of Spaghetti, and the Mockingbird Song among others, much to the amusement-slash-annoyance of my fellow riders.

I am, for all intents and purposes, Henry's personal clown.  I sing, dance, make faces and sounds and happily humiliate myself all day long for his benefit.  

I even developed this little gem, with apologies to Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell, apparently the credited songwriters of "You Are My Sunshine."  Henry loves this one.  I sing it in all kinds of public places.

You are my sweet pea
My little sweet pea
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll never know, dear
How much I love you
Please don't take my sweet pea away

I am your moo cow
Your personal moo cow
I make you happy
All night and day
You'll never know, dear
How much I love you
I won't take your moo cow away

You are my sweet pea
The sweetest sweet pea
The sweetest sweet pea
That ever could be
You are my sweet pea
My sweetest sweet pea
Please don't take my sweet pea from me

Toxic Shock Syndrome (Part I)

Photo credit: Chepe Nicoli
I decided that we absolutely, positively needed to move from Manhattan to Queens one week before I gave birth to Henry.

And so on the cold winter Wednesday of that week, I hauled my pregnant butt (and belly) to Long Island City to traipse unhappily around with a chirpy twenty-something broker. Not surprisingly, I didn’t find anything compelling.

Two days later, I took the subway out to Forest Hills, (also Queens, but much, much further), where I filled out an application for an apartment complex in which Rayne would never even contemplate living for one second. I walked around the business district snapping photos.

Rayne later listened patiently as I described how the E train was express! And super-fast to midtown! And it would be totally easy! And great! And we should live there!

I even researched public elementary schools in the area and compared them to others in the city.

I was serious. We were moving. To Queens.

The true culprit of this particular bout of insanity was cigarette smoke. Two apartments across from us housed chain smokers, and the smell of smoke pervaded our apartment. One of the women actually had a heart attack on Christmas Day and subsequently required triple bypass surgery. She told the morning doorman that she’d rather die than give up smoking. So inspiring.

I had spent five years hating the smell of smoke in my apartment, seizing every opportunity to give my neighbors the stink eye. Every inhalation of second-hand smoke expelled from my neighbors' lungs for the last five years was leading me inexorably to this freak-out.

What pushed me over the edge the week before I gave birth, however, was an incident with our afternoon doorman, who looked and sounded like he had left the Bada Bing, stepped out of my television, changed out of his blindingly white track suit and gone downstairs to make sure no one unauthorized entered the buildin’. Fuhgeddaboutit.

Apparently delighted by the newly installed video cameras in our laundry room, Bada Bing decided that it would be completely appropriate and awesome to comment to me that he “would recognize those legs anywhere” and that I was so big he “could see the baby moving” on the screen. Seriously? Seriously??

Henry's birth obviously put a kibosh on my Queens plans. And for a little while, I was so sleep-deprived and blissful and ignorant, that I forgot all about the cigarette smoke and the peeping doorman.

Alas, one day in February, the smoke was particularly bad. It dawned on me that Henry couldn't hold his breath in the hallway the way I had for five years. I snapped. I decided that we absolutely, positively needed to move to Brooklyn immediately. Rayne did a ton of research on apartments while I sobbed hormonally on the couch, lamenting the poison entering Henry’s sweet baby lungs. He called and emailed countless brokers while I continued to sob hormonally at the dining room table, Google-mapping every address and cross-referencing it with my elementary school research.

The result was a marathon three days of apartment hunting over Presidents’ Day weekend, Henry in tow. We signed the lease in short order for a two-bedroom apartment in the Clinton Hill neighborhood. The apartment is huge, a 1,250-square-foot loft with high ceilings and a lot of light. There's an organic grocery store and a great little Cuban restaurant in our building, which is conveniently located on the same street as the elevated and ever-disgusting Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

As that realization sank in, I experienced a second bout of insanity and uncontrollable sobbing.

To be continued....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Parenting lesson #148: It doesn’t matter that you are sick.

Henry and I had our first group cold this week.  So exciting, I need to remember to log it in his baby book.  It was pretty bad.  If he felt even half as bad as I did, then he was a total champ.  He seemed sad, but no fever.  Maybe he wanted to nurse a little more, but that's about it.

I suspect, however, that he did not feel quite as bad as I did.  I was really sick.  Like, 101-degree-fever, soaking-through-the-sheets, please-just-let-me-die sick. 

Baby germs are mean to adults.  Mean, mean, mean.  I had this confirmed on Friday by our pediatrician, who basically said that if I felt so horrible, then Henry probably gave it to me.  But how did he get it? I asked.  Well, New York City is a Petri dish, he responded matter-of-factly, but not without a hint of amusement. 

Yum.  That makes me so happy.  I’m raising my son in a Petri dish.  Yay!  I’m personally choosing to live in a city that is a Petri dish and then, on top of that, choosing to raise my son in it.  Did I mention that we live near a major highway?

But I digress.

The point is that Henry still needed his Moo Cow.  'I can't' just wasn't an option.  This a-ha moment was the kind of banality that seems to pervade my life these days.  I've spent most of my time on this earth obsessing over such dilemmas as how to be happy, which career I should pursue, whether I should be a writer/journalist/blogger, when we will fix health care in the U.S., and how anyone could be cruel to puppies (to name just a few).  So it was somehow comforting to know the right answer without analyzing it ten ways to Sunday.  I needed to take care of Henry.  Full stop.  So I dragged my 101-degree body around and did just that.

Welcome from the Mommy Moo Cow

I need a project.  And because I am a hopeless overachiever, raising a child in New York City (Brooklyn, to be exact) is not enough.  Nope.  I need another project. 

For years I have resisted becoming a blogger.  My sister first broached the subject way back in 2004, when it actually would have been somewhat fresh and exciting.  I demurred.  What could I possibly have to say that would be of any interest to anyone?  There’s nothing new under the sun, right?  The thought of writing and rewriting each blog post, trying to make it perfect for my invisible audience, nauseated me.  

I tried to fulfill my writing itch by taking a magazine writing class, but journalism and pitching stories were definitely not my thing. 

Then I took a couple of fiction classes at NYU, which I absolutely loved.  I still work on fiction, but it’s difficult to get published, and it’s hard to devote myself fully to writing stories with aforementioned child usually clamoring for my attention.

After my son was born, the topic came up again among close friends who knew I was looking for a creative outlet.  Still resisting, I claimed that I did not want to become a “mommy blogger,” because it was too much of a cliché.  

But I need a project.  And I like to write.  And I’m a mommy.  So….  

Introducing my new blog, Life & Times of the Mommy Moo Cow (that’s me).  I’m just going to write about what’s going on in my scary little brain, without making too many problems for myself on how perfect the post is or isn’t.  The blog may or may not continue past a few entries.  But I hope it does.  Because I could use another (imperfect, creative, fun) project in my life.