Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You Can Take the Girl Out of Kentucky...

The Brooklyn Baby Empire at the BBM's alma mater, Centre College.

The stray horse at my mom's house. Yep. Stray horse.

My aunt, Mozella, helps Stella model a local haircut.

My nephew, Daniel, is a pro at holding Stella.

My brother, Jason, is Stella's doppelganger.

Stella's aunt Nikole is smitten.

My sister, Nora, rocks as an aunt.

My mom, Judy, with 3/4 of her grandkids: Bethany (Nora's daughter), Stella, and Daniel (Nora's son). My other brother Kerry's daughter Claire lives in Las Vegas.

********************
I really should be packing to move into our new (BIG!) apartment. I am literally surrounded by boxes and humbled by Dave's admirable efforts to pack up our entire 650 square feet lives. But I am a master procrastinator, so blog I must.
We had a simply incredible visit to Kentucky. Stella dazzled and charmed my family until they were dizzy, and my family, in turn, wittled their way into my daughter's enormous heart. I got to experience what parenthood is like when you have the help of trusted loved ones (how will I ever go back?) and I was stunned at how well my sometimes touchy daughter adapted to all the new places, faces and Southern energy that surrounded her. I literally feel as if I left about half of myself back in the bluegrass state.
I often feel as if I inhabit two worlds. I love living in Brooklyn. I crave constant action and I love being surrounded by diversity and excitement. However, I miss the gorgeous landscape of my home state, the openness and friendliness of its inhabitants, and most of all, my wonderfully loving and hilarious family.
C'est la vie, or at least that's what I tell myself to keep from balling for a week straight every time we return from a trip.
We also had an awesome time at my 10-year college reunion. I had an amazing 4 years at Centre College, making intense friendships and falling deeply in love with some stellar professors who opened my eyes in so many ways. Sometimes, when times are rough, I reflect fondly on my college years. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but there are times when I completely understand the song from Avenue Q, "I wish I could go back to college." Here's a sampling of the lyrics:
I wish I could go back to college.
Life was so simple back then.
What would I give to go back and live
In a dorm with a meal plan again!
I wish I could go back to college.
In college you know who you are.
You sit in the quad, and think,
"Oh my God!I am totally gonna go far!"
So, yeah, I've totally romanticized my college years WAY too much in the past decade. But going back to my reunion, I had a really healthy realization: I had a wonderful college experience, made the best friends of my life, was in wonderful plays, had a cool campus job (techy extraordinaire for our drama department), studied in France for a semester, and took amazing classes. Out of the 19 years of schooling I've had from kindergarten to grad school, those are the 4 that I'd happily relive, if I had to.
That said, I am so happy to be where I am now. As much as I learned at Centre, I learned way more the 10 years following graduation. And as much fun as college was, I never really had someone during that time with whom I could share my life, and now I have my husband Dave, my partner in crime, and our gorgeous little girl. I live in an exciting city and have a wonderful family scattered around the country.
The best moment of the night of my reunion came when we returned to the hotel room, where my mom was watching Stella. I couldn't help but be nervous almost the whole night, as Stella hasn't been apart from us very much at all and still drinks her breastmilk almost exclusively from its original container. But there they were, my mom and my daughter, cuddled together on the bed, sleeping peacefully. I felt so overcome with love at that moment I almost burst right out of my spanx.
Now here we are, getting ready to move on up (or down, technically) to a 2 bedroom apartment in the sky (or on the 2nd floor). I feel so blessed and rich.
The only problem is now Stella seems to constantly be searching for that adoring and entertaining cast of characters we left behind in Kentucky. She may have been born in Brooklyn, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she's a Southern girl at heart!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Movin' On Up!

After about 2 years of countless real-estate searching, we have finally found a worthy/available apartment that's not in a crappy neighborhood! (This news has been brewing a while, but I dared not post about it until AFTER we'd signed the lease, which we did this morning. We've had many an apartment fall through right when we thought we'd nailed it.)

We will continue to remain the Brooklyn Baby Empire, because we will be staying in Brooklyn. However, we must bid adieu to Park Slope, as we won't be able to afford it until one or both of us gets that million dollar book deal we haven't been pursuing.

We're moving an area a bit south of Kensington, a bit west of Ditmas Park, a bit north of Midwood, a bit east of Greenwood Cemetery. Despite it's lack of a real neighborhood title, it's a very nice area. It's quiet compared to Park Slope, but it has lots of trees, gorgeous Victorian-era homes, lots of nice Orthodox Jewish families, more diversity than Park Slope, enough stores and restaurants, and is very safe. And, fellow Park Slopians, you'll be happy to know it's only a 10 minute drive and 4 subway stops away from you!

Now, onto the best part: the apartment. I will post pictures as soon as we can get in to take them. (The floors were being finished when last we were there, and I dared not take pictures until we knew we had it -- see how superstitious I've become?) It's in this big pre-war building with an elevator (no more walk up) and laundry in the building (so we can continue the cloth-diaper dealio).

The apartment is...well, it's awesome. Now, having lived in NYC for over a decade, I guess my expectations might be considered low in comparison to someone who lives in the real America, the one where bathtubs don't just sit in the middle of kitchens and where 300 square feet is considered a closet, not a studio apartment.

But I don't care who you are, this place is amazing. It is a REAL 2-BR. Seriously. It's about 1000 square feet. The bedrooms are equal size -- huge. There's an entrance foyer that is only slightly smaller than our current living room. And that's just the foyer. The living room could be a living room in a house in the Midwest. The kitchen isn't huge, actually, but it's been completely renovated and it does have space for a table. The best part about the kitchen, though, is it's as far away from Stella's room as can be, which means I can do dishes while she naps. (Is it crazy that that THRILLS me?)

It has all those charming pre-war details that I love -- molding, arched doorways, thick walls, etc. The floors are hard-wood and in great condition because the last tenant spent many decades there (roughly 5) and covered up their majesty with fluorescent shag carpeting. Too bad we couldn't keep it (ahem).

So, I'm elated. Of course we have to move out November 1st and we'll be spending the next two weekends in Kentucky visiting my family, so we'll have to scramble to find movers, to pack, to get rid of/sell items we no longer need, and then to unpack and set up the new place. But hey, I'll take it.

PS -- Those of you who've offered to come babysit to give momma a break, I'd love to cash in on that sometime between October 27th and 31st so I could pack while you entertain Stella-bella! Just email me and let me know if that's something you're into! (Assuming I know you. Otherwise it might be weird. Even if this is NYC.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Construction Junction

Ugliness in the making

Big Ol' Hole in the Ground 1 Building Over


One of the Holes in the Ground Across the Street

Another Hole in the Ground Across the Street

The Finished Product: Brooklyn's Own Tower of Terror




There are many reasons why our current choice of habitation is not ideal when you have a sleep-challenged baby.

1. The apartment is small, and the bedroom is right next to the living room, separated by a thin, creaky door that actually has slats in it that allow light from the living room to spill into the bedroom. We've taken to putting a sheet over the slats to keep the light out, and Dave WD-40'd the hell out the door, so now it only mildly groans, like me when I'm getting a good massage. When we watch a movie, we are constantly readjusting the volume, turning it way down for music/action sequences and way up during important whispered conversations. If it's a movie I've seen before, it's not unusual to find me barking orders at Dave (who insists with all his testosterone on managing the remote) such as "loud scene coming, turn it down NOW!"

2. The apartment is luminously bright, which is one of the reasons we were so keen to take it. With our photosensitive girl, however, we must apply aluminum foil to the windows in order to block out that gorgeous sun, causing our once cheerful apartment to now seem like the set from the movie, The Others.

3. We live on a 3rd floor walkup. Stella weighs almost 20 lbs. I go up and down those stairs with her at least 3 times a day. (And yet, miraculously, my body refuses to shed its baby-weight.)

These are all good reasons why we want/need to move ASAP. But there is one other reason that trumps all of these. Because, in essence, we have an awesome deal on this place and it's in a super-sweet neighborhood. Our landlords are stellar and we're just now really getting to know our neighbors. We could really put up with those top three reasons, even as Stella begins to toddle around this cramped apartment.

So what is so terrible that you've spent most of your free time doing the real-estate cha-cha, you ask?

The pictures above say it all. Our little corner of the world has become, as I not-so-lovingly refer to it, Construction Junction. On one little block in Park Slope Brooklyn, five -- COUNT THEM FIVE -- construction sites have been established in order to create over-priced, fugly condominiums. Did I mention over-priced? Because they will be.

Now, in my not-so-humble opinion, towering, cheaply-made, ridiculously priced condos are the last thing our little neck of the wood needs. There's little to no parking already (and most of these buildings do not contain parking garages) and our highly-rated public school (at which I teach when I'm not on full-time mommy duty) is becoming increasingly over-populated and less and less diverse. Soon we will be neighbors with a-holes who could buy and sell us several times over. And the self-righteous attitude that turns people off about this neighborhood could very well become the doctrine.

But I'm not just angry at these condo developers because they're crapping on our neighborhood, causing the landscape to be less and less attractive while causing the real estate prices to be increasingly astronomical (if you're looking for a 2 bedroom in Park Slope but can't afford more than $700K, good luck, buddy). I'm also angry at them for a far more personal reason.

Those development sites are mind-bogglingly loud during the day. In particular, the hole in the ground one building over involves some machine that constantly jars the ground, causing my entire building to shimmy and shake (I've even had stuff fall off the shelves in the process). There's also some guy whose job it is, at least according to my aural abilities, to bang on a pole all day. "Ting ting ting ting..." All day. Not to mention the normal construction buzzes, bangs, booms, etc.

Even our ridiculously posh, very loud white noise machine can't drown out the sound of five construction sites. Especially when we're experiencing a minor earthquake in the process.

Worse than the sound pollution, though, is the possible air pollution. One of the holes in the ground across the street (as opposed to the one one building over -- there are three in total) used to be an older apartment building. They began dismantling it after Stella's birth, during one of our restless, napless times when I spent countless hours in the bedroom nursing and coercing her to sleep. I watched the guys rip apart in weeks what it took months for some other builders, decades ago, to make. I also watched the sky fill with dust and debris.

Around that same time, my 100% breastfed girl* was coughing, wheezing and sneezing her head off. Now I can't say for sure that there's a coorelation, but the minute they were done with the project, she stopped having countless colds. We've contacted 311 (NYC's community hotline) to complain about all this and request an air quality test, but we haven't heard anything to date.

So, I've had it up to my colossal breastfeeding boobs with all this construction. The looser restrictions on obtaining building permits in our city have led to the blander and blander landscapes and less-and-less affordable housing. Hmmm...reminds me of our current economic crisis. What lesson can we learn kids? Restrictions can be a good thing! (For example: someone needs to restrict my Oreo consumption, so that aforementioned baby weight can finally come off.)

There is only one little beacon of hope that I hold in my bitter little heart. Although there is not much speculative building that happens in NYC (hence our real estate bubble holding strong amidst the housing crisis), these four buildings must be at least partially speculative. I mean, who buys a condo before it's even built? And the only people I've ever heard of who can afford over-priced, cramped condos are Wall Street execs. (The more family-oriented wealthy crew tend to buy the gorgeous brownstones in Park Slope -- which is exactly what I would do if we were to suddenly strike it rich.) Last I heard, Wall Street guys ain't doing so well. Which means, maybe they won't be so hot to buy an ugly, expensive, 1 bedroom apartment. Which means maybe these a-holes who've decided to wreak havoc on my block might just lose all their dough.

Losing all your cash on a shoddily-built, overpriced condo is pretty rough. But it ain't nothing compared to watching your little girl miss yet another nap because some guy in a hard-hat is hitting a metal pole.



*Breastfed babies receive more antibodies and therefore have stronger immune systems than non-breastfed babies. At least, that's what all the pamphlets say.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Worry Foot


It's amazing how this little creature that you've convinced yourself is half you, half your spouse, is really comprised of so many people that came before you.

Although people tell me Stella is my spitting image, I almost always see my own brother, Jason, in her facial expressions. In the picture above, for example, she looks just like my brother when he is finding a way to insinuate that I'm of sub-par intelligence ("stup," as my family calls it). I wish I had a good digital photo of my brother so you could see the uncanny resemblance for yourself, but somehow Dave and I tend to overload our computer's memory with photos of Stella, cats and Dave's myriad guitars rather than our own family members. (Yay priorities!)

It's not always Stella's physical appearance that reminds us of others, though. Although Stella's fiery personality reminds some people of me (I have no idea why), I've also been touched and delighted to find my own grandmother peeking out from Stella's mannerisms lately.

Millie "Mamaw" Miles passed away in December 2005, two and a half years before Stella's birth. She was an incredible baker, an awesome ghost-storyteller, and a generous shoulder on which to cry. Her most amazing talent, some might argue, though, was worrying.

That woman worried nonstop. She worried when I had to give a speech in front of my high school graduating class. "What if you trip walking to the stage?" She worried about me going to college an hour and a half away. "All that driving!" She worried when I had a boyfriend. "Is he a nice boy? Does he come from a good, Christian family?" She worried when I didn't have a boyfriend. "Ain't you lonely, honey?" She even worried when she had nothing to worry about. "I just feel like I forgot something that was worrying me."

When I moved from a town of 1,000 people in Kentucky to New York City, my grandmother's worry-ometer went through the roof. I know she was upset to lose her beloved granddaughter, but I think she was too busy worrying about all the things that could go wrong in the big bad city to process that.

I forget which of my Mamaw's friends it was who said the magic words, "I don't ever worry about anything, because I know Millie will worry for me!"

Mamaw's worrying wasn't confined to her brain. Her worry exhibited itself physically, through what I always thought of as "the worry foot." She'd be relaxing on the couch, watching CMT, but that foot wouldn't stop thinking about her neighbor whose son was having his gallbladder removed. That foot would pat the linoleum, swish from side to side, bounce to a song by The Kentucky Headhunters, then wiggle angrily. Sometimes Mamaw would worry about her worry foot, and tell her company, "oh, don't mind my foot!"

Well, Stella has a worry foot, too. While I nurse her, Stella's little foot is constantly moving up and down, stroking my side, tickling my underarm, patting my thigh. Sometimes I grab her little worry foot, because it's so chunky and delicious, but she always wriggles it free so it can continue to worry.

Her foot doesn't just worry while nursing; it worries in the car seat, in the stroller, while I'm wearing her in the Ergo, when she's sitting on anyone's lap, during tummy time, etc. Her foot is training for the Olympics of body-part-worrying!

While I hope my girl can avoid the plague of worry that seems to affect almost every female from my gene-pool, I love that she has this particular trait from a great-grandmother she'll sadly never get to meet. I get to remember my amazing Mamaw every single day that I look at my girl, and Stella helps my Mamaw live on, just by being adorable!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Co...sleeping?

Stella and Cromwell modelling our current sleep configuration

I include the picture above not only because cats plus babies equals mad cuteness, but also to show you what our current sleep situation is.

The crib is right next to our bed with the rail slid down as far as it goes. We have this situation for 2 reasons. First, we live in a small 1 bedroom apartment, so there's basically few other options for crib placement. Second, since I breastfeed (and since Stella still wakes up quite often during the night), it is easier to just slip her into bed and nurse, sometimes even taking a nap in the process.

Well, at least that's how it worked for a while. Now, depending on the kind of day we had (i.e. how many naps she got, if any), Stella might fall asleep in the crib or she might scream and cry and refuse to go there, instead sleeping on the bed. Regardless, later in the night, she almost always ends up in bed with us, stretching her arms and taking up so much space that Dave and I are squeezed into a portion of the bed the size of a college twin. It's not as kinky as it sounds, believe me.

That wouldn't be so bad, except Stella's in a pinching phase, so sometimes I'll fall into a deep sleep, only to be awoken by dreams that a lobster is trying to eat my fleshy upper arms. Those dreams are even worse than ones where Kenley from Project Runway snags my man.

The other new phase that we're in is teething. This means Stella drools a lot and puts everything she can get her lobster claws on in her mouth. It also means she's crankier (especially at night) and that she loves to bite my nipple.

Last night, in fact, she bit my nipple, then pulled her head back -- hard. It felt like a snapping turtle was failing at foreplay with me.

But it's not all bad, reader! Because her other new habit is pretty darn irresistable, even if it prevents me from slumbering. Around 2am every single morning my girl wakes up and laughs her head off. I don't know if she's laughing at a dream or laughing from the glory of making into our bed once again or just laughing at what suckers we are, but her laughs are squeaky and adorable. And the beaming smile on her face that comes with them is just ridiculous.

This, my friend, is nighttime parenting at its strangest and most wonderful.

When we move into a 2 bedroom, we may try to get Stella used to her own room. I would really love to keep cosleeping, and I know Stella would, too, but I think our constant moving actually keeps her up at night. She might get more shut-eye in her own quiet, dark setting.

And, although I crave 5 or more hours of sleep 2 or more days in a row, I have to admit I'll miss these unusual nights.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dream a Little Dream

Some dreams are just too funny not to share.

I guess I've been watching a little too much reality TV lately, in particular, my absolute favorite: Project Runway. I'll get to why that's relevant in a moment.

So, last night, the Brooklyn Baby slept -- a bit. You have to remember that in this apartment, a stretch of 3 hours is seen as a blessing, 4 hours is cause for celebration, 5 is a miracle.
So, a miracle happened last night, and we all slept from midnight to 5am. Now, before you start to comment on my blog something to the effect of "yippee -- that means Miss Stella slept through the night," just know that she's done this before and it never sticks. In fact, a relatively easy night like last night is usually followed by 2 weeks or so of our usual sleep -- awake every hour to hour and a half for sucking and wailing and indecision. (I adore my little girl, but she takes after her momma -- I can't seem to get comfortable, I toss and turn, and I'm a terror to share a bed with. And yet, I hate to sleep alone.)
What does 5 hours of sleep do to Randi? Well, it gives me a chance to dream, that's what! I've always been a vivid dreamer and I can almost always recall pretty much every detail of my dreams. However, if I don't sleep, I don't dream; and that's just sad.
Unfortunately, as Dave and my mom can tell you, my vivid dreams usually involve the people I love the most treating me like crap. Sure, I have the occasional flying dream or dream where I can still speak fluent French (even though I've been out of college over a decade) or even the allusive and wonderful naughty dream, but mostly my dreams are of me being a victim to people who, in real life, are marvelous to me.
Get to the dream, Randi! Geez! Sorry, I digress. So, last night, I dreamt that my husband of over 3 years, the man I've been with almost 7 years, the father of our adored little girl - I dreamt that that guy and I were just friends. True, we had a daughter in the dream. But in this alternate dream reality, that didn't account for much.

So my pal and I were hanging out, and I was trying to be overly casual because I was secretly in love with him. He was being jovial and funny and oh-so-irresistable, and I was thinking I might make a move, might help transition us from just friends (with a child) to something more.

Then some a-hole came in. In the dream, he was a friend of Dave's and a guy I could barely tolerate (not any of our real-life friends, thankfully, just a fictional a-hole). He punched Dave on the arm and says, "Dude, I hear you're with Kenley!"
Dave looks at me, slightly embarrassed in the dream, then looks back at the guy and says, "Yeah, we've dated a bit."
The a-hole says, "Right on, she's hot!" And I am reduced to a puddle of poo on the floor.
Oh, but who's Kenley you ask? I guess you do not degrade yourself with reality TV in that case, so I'll show you a picture:


Yes, she looks awfully proud of herself for snagging my man, doesn't she?
She's the designer on P.R. who makes pretty sweet vintage-y clothes but serves 'em up with a side order of snarkiness and immaturity that causes her to be reality TV gold. Oh, and I guess it doesn't hurt that she's hot.

So, that's how I spent my glorious 5 hours of repose -- dreaming that the love of my life was dating some pouty little reality TV star.
I guess a sad dream is better than no dream, right? (At least it means I slept.)