Thursday, September 27, 2012

Today I Showered and Made a Friend, and Not Even In That Order

Tonight after putting Henry to bed, I technically showered. If, by showered, you mean got in the shower, turned it on, rinsed out our chlorine-soaked swim suits, washed off the papaya extravaganza that happened on Henry's outfit and also rinsed two days of baby saliva and air pollution off my body.

Anyway, I'm feeling uncharacteristically fresh and relaxed right now.

Also, I don't want to jinx it, but I think I made my second Brooklyn mommy friend. We met in baby swim class and had our first date today on the playground. Her son is a day older than mine and has nearly a full set of baby teeth as compared with Henry's muppet smile.

I think it went well. She air-cheek-kissed me when we parted. Usually I don't kiss on the first date, as Rayne must well remember, but I'm trying to be open to new experiences.

I hope if we actually become friends she never reads this post.

New friends?

Photo credit: AikiDude

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gentrification and Its Discontents*

* With apologies to Joseph Stiglitz

Die, Yuppie Scum
Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as "the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents."

It was in college that I learned "gentrification" was actually a dirty word, an atrocity heaped upon the poor by soulless bankers and lawyers. I first heard about it in the context of the Tompkins Square Park riot of 1988.

Basically, as so-called yuppies began to move into Manhattan's East Village in the late 1980s, they demanded an end to the mayhem that typified Tompkins Square Park -- loud music at night, drug deals, homeless squatters. They successfully petitioned the city to have the police enforce a 1 am park curfew.

Other residents began to protest the new rules and the changing character of the neighborhood (often shouting "Die, Yuppie Scum!"). On the evening of August 6, 1988, such a demonstration in the park turned violent, devolving into a riot between residents and police that lasted until dawn.

(You can read more about what happened in this old New York Times article.) 

Protesters against a playground renovation in Tompkins Square Park, 7/2/90
Photo courtesy of NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation

Wait... I Think I'm the Yuppie Scum
Twenty-four years later, the East Village is best known for its array of restaurants, ostentatious clubs for 20-somethings, boutique-chic shopping and a mix of artsy types and yuppies living together in relative harmony.

There is no one protesting East Village gentrification anymore. That war has moved to Brooklyn, where my family and I are part of the second wave of gentrification -- the post-artist-and-hipster yuppie wave -- that started in Dumbo and Williamsburg and has spread like locally sourced butter to the neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick.

My life here is a confusing push and pull between wanting to be able to walk my dog on a street free of shards of broken glass, appreciating being surrounded by a dizzying array of diversity and hating myself for being the bourgeois, yuppie scum I so despised in the comfortable naïveté of my heady college days.

Vive la bourgeoisie?

Photo credit: Bruno Boutot

The New Brooklyn?
As if in response to my own self-hatred, in this week's New York magazine, Mark Jacobson penned a nostalgic and angsty piece on the "New Brooklyn." While he laments the Old Brooklyn of his youth:
The borough was a land of ghosts, doppelgängers, uncertain shadows. A few weeks ago, Jed Walentas, avatar of Dumbo, bought the Domino Sugar factory, the old pile beside the Williamsburg Bridge where in the late-nineteenth century a large percentage of the sugar sold in the United States was refined. Saying the site offered “an unparalleled opportunity to create a new vibrant and mixed-use community … [for] a long dormant waterfront parcel,” Walentas shelled out a reported $185 million for the place. That was swell for Jed Walentas, but the number I most associated with the Domino factory was three, as in $3 an hour, which is what my buddies and I were paid when we worked at the place back in the late sixties.
he also grapples with the fact that his own twenty-something daughter is a self-identified hipster and Bed-Stuy gentrifier:
But these were my kids we were talking about, them and their friends. They weren’t the ones building high-rises in Williamsburg, the big arenas. They were just looking for a place to be young. Who knew why perfectly normal-seeming people get tattoos, drink so weirdly much, make fetishes out of various food groups like cupcakes, and adopt the diffident poses of actors in Wes Anderson movies? Youth occurs in a time of its own, immune to criticism from those claiming to have had better youths. As idiotic and privileged as it might seem on the surface, growing up remains no easy thing. Every passage to adulthood is a hero’s journey, to be respected, in its own way.
Implicit in his argument is that it's okay to be young and soul-searching like his daughter, but young families like us -- the ones buying the condos in the old Domino factory on the Greenpoint waterfront -- are a destructive force to what he calls the Brooklyn "brand."

Need I remind him that he, too, moved his young family from the East Village to "the ass-end of Park Slope reserved for less financially successful breeders" in the early 1990s?


What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Adequate Sidewalks?
I recently met a mother on the playground -- because that's my life now -- who lives in Bed-Stuy at Bedford and Greene Avenues. She exuded guilt over the gentrification happening in front of her very eyes, change to which she, herself, was a party. She gave the example of residents' recent demands that sidewalks be fixed and trees planted.

I do harbor some guilt over my role in Brooklyn's supposed ruin. I know that by living here, I am making it more expensive for those who were here before me.

Yet her comment struck me as odd. What is wrong with fixing the horrendous sidewalks in this borough and planting trees on neglected streets?

Ditmas Park West tree planting, April 2008

Photo credit: Flatbush Gardener
In Clinton Hill, residents are also demanding traffic lights, speed bumps and garbage cans on the corners among other crazy ideas. And it's not only the organic-food-buying yuppies who will benefit from these changes. On the contrary, the Ingersoll and Whitman housing projects, home to over 7,000 people, will benefit, too.

I can only hope that that the intangibles -- the safer streets and playgrounds, the new farmers' markets that accept EBT (food stamps), the trees, the uptick in local business -- will ease the pain of the inevitable displacement of some of the population, especially, I assume, those who are not in government housing.

Indeed, displacement of any kind can be painful. Just ask the artists in the 1980s East Village. A friend was recently recounting how her husband's family was pushed out of Flushing, Queens by the influx of Korean immigrants who didn't speak English and didn't want to, at least not in their neighborhood. In a way, my own family was driven out of Brooklyn in the 1970s due to rising crime and an apathetic city government.


My Mother's Daughter
Before Bushwick was a magnet for all things hipster and holier-than-thou, it was home to an impoverished Hispanic and African American community and was a symbol of the urban decay that began in the 1960s. But before that, it was the home of working-class Italian-Americans like my mother's family, who lived in tenement housing, shopped on Knickerbocker Avenue and rode the L train to Manhattan. 

Mom and Uncle at home in Brooklyn in the 1950s

Yes, it's true. I was born in Brooklyn to a family born in Brooklyn. Even some of my grandparents were born and raised here. In fact, my mother gave birth to me at Brooklyn Hospital, a few short blocks from my current residence.

So to Mr. Jacobson and others who feel that Brooklyn is changing too much, too quickly, I must say, the only thing constant is change. And amid the fluid boundaries of our mutable world, sometimes the gentrifiers are just returning home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Waxing Is the New Leisure

You know you are tired when getting a leg-and-bikini wax feels relaxing.

There is a babysitter at home watching Henry nap; my plan involves the following exciting activities:
~ Get a wax
~ Buy condoms from Walgreens [Mom and Dad, close your eyes]
~ Get quarters from the bank
~ Do laundry
~ Unload the dishwasher
~ Talk to a potential client about a ghostwriting proposal
~ Write (if time permits)

So I'm laying on the table "relaxing" and a woman is ripping hair out of my body with a strip of hot wax. I'm doing this for Rayne, because I know he appreciates coming home to a regular woman who takes care of herself instead of Attila the Hairy Hun.

Move aside, woman, I must wax!

Photo Credit:
Michael (banlon1967)

(I also enjoy getting on the scale afterwards to see the three pounds I've lost. It's magic.)

Anyhow, the woman is quietly grunting each time she removes a strip of wax-covered hair, like Monica Seles finishing a two-handed backhand. I mean, come on. I don't have that much hair.

Ninety dollars later, I'm headed to Walgreens, which is also for Rayne. I forgot my birth control pills when we were in Boston this weekend, and I'm petrified of becoming pregnant again. If I'm teetering on the edge of sanity, getting pregnant right now would be a free-fall onto the craggy rocks of lunacy.

Wheeeeeeeee!

Photo credit: ForthDude
But the ghetto Walgreens in my neighborhood keeps regular-sized boxes of condoms under lock and key, along with deodorant and Zantac. Apparently there is a lot of indigestion in the petty thief community.

I could ring a sales associate and ask him to free some condoms for me. I think not. Or I could buy the deluxe box of 50 condoms. But however much Rayne might want to, I don't think we are going to have sex 50 times before I start a new pack of pills. Sorry, honey.

But, hark! I hear yon wet laundry calling to be put into the dryer. Until next time....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Unraveling the Headphone Wires In My Brain


When I don't write, my thoughts get all backed up in my brain, caught and twisted around one another like so many white iPod headphone wires.

Photo credit: Steven Depolo

There are so many ideas, troubles, sorrows and joys bouncing around in there... I just get overwhelmed. And so it is that in the last several days, I've cried in the following scenarios:

~ Last night during the last verse of "Family Snapshot" while we were at a Peter Gabriel concert at Jones Beach on Long Island. I cried because... no, nothing at all about it resembles anything in my life. It was just a burst of misplaced empathy.
All turned quiet, I have been here before
Lonely boy hiding behind the front door
Friends have all gone home
There's my toy gun on the floor
Come back Mum and Dad
You're growing apart
You know that I'm growing up sad
I need some attention
I shoot into the light
~ While talking about the Pixar movie, Up (about the grumpy old man and the little boy scout), with my friend Kate in Boston. Just talking about it, mind you! Not watching, heaven forbid. (Oh, yeah, we finally made it to Boston after our epic fail in August.)

~ After reading this hilarious comic called "My Dog: The Paradox" from Matt Inman over at the Oatmeal.

~ For no reason when Rayne couldn't understand what I was mumbling to him.

In fact, I just cried thinking about the times I cried. To add to the pity party, I picked Henry up and slowed danced with him to a sobbing, half-remembered a capella version of "In Your Eyes," another Peter Gabriel tear-jerker special. 

Then I remembered my sister was crying yesterday because she was going back to work after four months home with her second baby girl. And I felt like an asshole.

I'm tired. Henry has been out of sorts and/or going through a growth spurt (which is what we blame everything on these days... but won't he technically be spurting for the next 18 years?), and I've been getting up to nurse him once or twice a night for the past couple of weeks. 

Plus, he's been clinging to me like I'm going out of style. Didn't he see the pink shirt and green vest I wore today? I'm already out of style.

I promised myself I would make dinner tonight. But can I use chop meat that, according to Fresh Direct, is "best if used by 9/22" if I'm just making chili and will cook the hell out of it anyway? Please?

Tired doesn't begin to describe it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A New Look

Hi all! I'm excited to finally introduce the new name, logo and look for the blog. I moved from "Mommy Moo Cow" to "Urban Moo Cow" to reflect the larger context I am writing about. As you can see from the logo, I continue to juggle baby stuff, but I'm also writing for a "living" (ha-ha! as if I could support my family this way) now that I'm officially published elsewhere.*

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go reward myself with a packet of Plum Organics Pear & Mango baby puree. It rocks. And only 70 calories per serving! I highly recommend.**


Let me know in the comments what you think of the new site!


* Check out my article on training for a marathon with a baby on my hip on Travlete, a very cool site for endurance athletes.

** Believe it or not, this post was NOT sponsored in any way shape or form. In fact, I'm hoping Plum Organics doesn't mind my using the website's image. I truly, honestly love the fruit purees.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the Subject of Choice

Yesterday I was in my old neighborhood in Manhattan. I took him to the playground in Carl Schurz park. After baby swings and baby slide, forward and backward (oh man, this kid is fearless...), I put him down and let him crawl around and practice his pincer grasp on twigs and leaves.

I don't have any pictures of him eating dirt, but he did.
I noticed no other babies crawling (or dragging themselves) on the ground. In Brooklyn, the playground is filled with dirty, filthy babies crawling around on the dirty, filthy ground. That's where I got the idea it was okay in the first place.

It's just one data point, but I wonder if I would never have put him down had I only gone to parks in my old neighborhood. My point is, cultural norms are strong predictors of behavior; the playground episode is but one example.

That's why I agree with the Bloomberg administration's ban on large sodas.

(If you have been living under a rock, on Thursday, the New York City Board of Health voted to limit the size of sugary beverages sold in certain establishments in the city.)

I know, I know. What about "choice" and treating people like adults and blah blah blah?

Photo credit: Alexander Kaiser
I agree, it feels obnoxious. We all think we should be allowed to do whatever it is we want to do (usually within legal limits, although not always).

But as James Surowiecki outlines in his excellent piece from the New Yorker's August 13, 2012 Financial Page, it turns out that we are not, in fact, the masters of our own decision-making processes. (Emphasis is mine.)

An executive at the American Beverage Association has dismissed the plan, saying that “150 years of research finds that people consume what they want.” Actually, the research shows that what people “want” has a lot to do with how choices are framed. In one well-known study, researchers put a bowl of M&M’s on the concierge desk of an apartment building, with a scoop attached and a sign below that said “Eat Your Fill.” On alternating days, the experimenters changed the size of the scoop—from a tablespoon to a quarter-cup scoop, which was four times as big. If people really ate just “what they want,” the amount they ate should have remained roughly the same. But scoop size turned out to matter a lot: people consumed much more when the scoop was big. This suggests that most of us don’t have a fixed idea of how much we want; instead, we look to outside cues—like the size of a package or cup—to instruct us. And since the nineteen-seventies the portion sizes offered by food companies and restaurants have grown significantly larger. In 1974, the biggest drink McDonald’s offered was twenty-one ounces. Today, that’s roughly the size of a “small” drink at Burger King. In effect, the scoops have got bigger, and consumption has risen accordingly.
Not convinced? Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of Predictably Irrational, a brilliant book by behavioral economist Dan Ariely. (Emphasis is mine.)
[M]ost people don’t know what they want unless they see it in context. We don’t know what kind of racing bike we want--until we see a champ in the Tour de France ratcheting the gears on a particular model.... We don’t even know what we want to do with our lives--until we find a relative or a friend who is doing just what we think we should be doing. Everything is relative, and that’s the point. Like an airplane pilot landing in the dark, we want runway lights on either side of us, guiding us to the place where we can touch down our wheels.
I have news for you. Up until now, those runway lights have been established by advertisers and marketers for companies like Coca Cola and Pepsico and executives at the American Beverage Association like the one quoted in the New Yorker article. Companies have a fiduciary responsibility not to you but to their investors. Their goal is to maximize profit; to maximize profit, they must sell more goods.

Given that there is a direct link between drinking soda and obesity, regardless of income or ethnicity, I don't think it's wildly unreasonable for the city to try to reset the norm. In 2010, the New York City Department of Health reported a 23 percent obesity rate (versus 18 percent in 2002). Of the obese population, nearly 40 percent drink on average at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every single day.

We all share the burden of the health issues related to obesity (not to mention Type II diabetes) in the form of increased emergency department visits to public and not-for-profit hospitals (who receive tax breaks in exchange for the uncompensated care they provide), higher health insurance premiums, increased work absenteeism and classrooms disrupted by children zonked out on sugar.

Humans are social creatures. We are influenced by each other and by our surroundings. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But those who think they are not susceptible to marketing and the basic laws of behavioral economics are kidding themselves.

Our "choice" on beverages -- and a multitude of other products -- has already been manipulated. Government is the only body with the scope and resources to counteract the deleterious effects of the last forty years.

I'd love for my son to grow up in a world where "normal" is a twelve-ounce soda instead of a cup the size of his head.  As Surowiecki notes, "once people have a few sixteen-ounce drinks they may find that sixteen ounces is plenty." If they want more, they can buy more. But I suspect they won't. 

Okay, that's all. I'm ready for the onslaught. Let me have it.


Friday, September 14, 2012

The Absurdity of Baby Music Class

I'm not sure what I was expecting.

Henry and I went to our first baby music class on Tuesday, and I was excited. Did I think he was going to spontaneously burst into song? Perhaps a soft-shoe number? Did I think I was going to meet my new best friend? Did I think he was going to meet his new best friend? Because none of those things happened.

What did happen was this: We sat in a circle, sang songs, banged on drums and shook percussion eggs.

Photo credit: Labanex
And by "we," I mean the mommies (and a couple nannies). The babies mostly gummed the instruments and looked around, utterly perplexed. I could almost hear the chorus of "what the...?" buzzing inside their little heads.

The scene was admittedly farcical: a bunch of over-eager mommies sitting in a circle clapping their babies' hands to songs they didn't know; an extraordinarily cheerful leader giving out toys and then taking them away as fast as lightning; sitting down singing; standing up dancing; sitting down again; lights on, lights off, lights on. Round of applause!

What the...?

I'm sure Henry will grow to love every minute of it. Plus, as the New York Times Well blog recently wrote in its post, Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits, "music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop." I'm pretty sure the study didn't look at nine-month olds, but, okay, point taken.

I, however, plan to get something else out of the baby music class experience. I'm going to cling to the image of a dozen genuinely confused infants sitting in a circle. I'm going to remember how absurd it all seemed on that first day. Because we humans habituate to situations. Pretty soon, it will seem completely normal and, I'm sure, desperately important that I'm carrying on singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider, waving my hands around and melting when I see a glimmer of recognition in Henry's toothless muppet smile.

There's a lot of angst in New York about signing your kids up for the right classes (and the right number of classes). It's hard not to be susceptible to the insanity. Baby music class may be important, wonderful and fun. But if I can also stay true to the basic silliness of it all, I might just be able to survive this full-time mommy business. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I'm Getting a Droid Razr Maxx

I know I said I wasn't going to post until the site was completely finished, but this is just too much.

This morning we all (baby included) overslept until 8 am. We missed meeting with the team for our long run but figured we would at least show up at the end to say hi, and then run on our own.

As we found a parking spot, it began to drizzle.

As we met our team in the park, it began to rain.

As we put the rain cover on the jogging stroller, it began to pour. Torrents and buckets.

Rayne and I decided to tough it out -- a little rain never hurt anyone. We lasted five minutes. It was coming down so hard from all directions I felt like I was going to get swimmers' ear.

I later found out from Gothamist that a tornado had actually touched down in Brooklyn around that time.

On our way back to the car, we stopped to consider our options under an awning. When were we going to get this run in? Should we wait out the storm?

If you look closely you can see Baby Henry's sad face.

Henry, who had been screaming almost non-stop since we put the rain cover on the stroller, began to shriek. (What, the sound of pouring rain doesn't remind you of your Sleep Sheep? You should be blissfully asleep, Baby Henry. Sheesh.) Ok, so we'd run tomorrow.

Rayne went to get the car while I tried to console my poor little boy with a hand placed strategically into the stroller so as not to get him wet. (It turns out he was already drenched, despite the stroller cover. Could explain some of the monkey noises.)

I finally got Henry down to sleep, little thumb in little mouth. Not two minutes later, a truck from the NYC Parks Department concluded that the person in front of him had not stepped on the gas fast enough once the light turned green. He honked ferociously. And Baby Henry screeched.

EFF YOU, PARKS DEPARTMENT. I HOPE YOUR LAWNS ARE PERPETUALLY WEEDY.

We transferred everyone and everything to the car. Hudson had actually slobbered all over the back seat on our trip to the Berkshires, so I cleaned it with my big soaking butt while simultaneously soothing Henry. Multi-tasking! Rayne's wet phone spontaneously and irritatingly rebooted every three minutes: Drooiiiidddd.

A half hour after returning home, the sun was out. It didn't rain again until 6 pm.

Oh, and, apparently, my phone drowned. When Rayne took it out of the stroller and opened the back, water poured out. Ooopsie.

I think there are two ways to look at this story. 1) $@%*&! or 2) Woo-hoo, I'm getting a new phone!

I'm going with #2.

I mean, COME ON.
[Update 9/11/12: I'm totally NOT getting a Droid Razr Maxx, because I'm totally NOT spending $650 on a phone right now. I guess it's back to my old CrapBerry for awhile.]

Monday, September 3, 2012

Under Construction

Happy Labor Day!

I may not post for a few days because I'm in the midst of redesigning the site. It takes a lot more work then you think it will. Or want it to.

Plus, as I said to Rayne on our run yesterday, I don't really know how the Internetz work. He suppressed a smirk and then graciously gave me a three-mile tutorial. Yay, nerdy hubby!

In any case, I'm excited for the reboot. Stay tuned for the Moo Cow's grand re-opening!

Don't worry, the little cow icon isn't going anywhere.

Gratuitous cuteness to hold you over for a few days.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Faith Restored

Today Rayne and I jogged from our apartment to Coney Island as part of a 12-mile training run. Baby Henry did great: he slept most of the way. When he wasn't sleeping, he babbled endlessly. (This kid has a lot to say; can't wait for actual words, as I'm sure they will be hilarious.)

We ran down the pedestrian path on Ocean Parkway, through the neighborhoods' ever-changing mosaic of ethnicities. These days, there seems to be a strong Muslim presence in an area that is typically known for being populated with Orthodox Jews. In Brooklyn, no one is immune to the influx of diversity.

We also passed a number of streets I recall hearing my parents mention from their youth: Kings Highway, Avenue I. Bonus bit of family history. (Oh, you didn't know my parents were from Brooklyn? I have a post brewing in my little brain on that, fear not.)

Finally, mercifully: Coney Island. I, incredibly, had never been on the boardwalk while it was open. I've only been there for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, which starts there at the crack of freaking dawn and finishes in Prospect Park.

Rayne thinks Coney Island is sort of a pathetic excuse for a beach. I understand why -- it's certainly no Caribbean paradise. The sand is brownish; the boardwalk is uneven and faded. But we live in one of the biggest, most populated, most urban environments in the world, and a subway ride to Stillwell Avenue is all that is required for a breath of sea-salted air and the feel of sand between your toes. I think that's pretty neat.

The beach was packed. I must have heard ten different languages as we ran the length of the boardwalk from Ocean Parkway to Seagate, a gated community on the western tip of Coney Island. A band was playing on the Seagate side. We pretended -- to whom I don't know -- to stop for a listen while we stretched our tired legs (mile 11, ouchie).

Afterwards, I took Baby Henry on a kiddie ride. He didn't really seem to get it. He will, however, hear the story of his first amusement ride over and over for the rest of his life if I am my parents' daughter.

I increased the nostalgia factor with a little sepia.
Rayne had a Nathan's hot dog. Two, actually. I had a knish -- o.m.g. I've discovered the perfect post-run food! -- and some watermelon. Then we jumped on the Q train -- the very same that ruined last weekend's run -- and rode home.

I guess you could say it was the perfect Brooklyn day, blisters and all.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety Jig

Rayne sings that every time we return from anywhere, be it Ikea or Tanzania. I once asked him where it came from.

My dad used to say it all the time. I think he made it up, he responded.

Well, not exactly. It took seeing it on my friend's Facebook page to disabuse us of the notion that Rayne's dad was Mother Goose.

Here is the Mother Goose nursery rhyme, courtesy of apples4theteacher.com:

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety jig.
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog,
Home again, home again, jiggety jog.
To market, to market, to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done. 

Not so pleasant a thought, to be honest. A fat pig, a fat hog and a plum bun? What were those people making for dinner? Gross. Then again, I'm not much of a meat eater.

We still say it every time. So there you are.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig. Goodbye August; hello Brooklyn.

Photo by ralph & jenny, licensed under Creative Commons.