Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Being an Adult

Momma Bear and Baby Bear

On Being an Adult:

You discover the chipping paint in your apartment contains lead.

You cry for about a day, mop everything multiple times, wash your baby's toys, and try not to imagine lead dust coating every inch of everything she's continually putting in her mouth.

You and your spouse spend most free moments on the phone with apartment managers, doctors, lawyers, health department employees to see how to resolve this.

But life doesn't stop during this.

You discover that many members of your family are having major health concerns.

You, yourself, are really behind in doctor's appointments but not sure how to make them with a baby in tow.

Your baby looks funny but you always worry that she looks funny so you tell yourself it's her vaccinations from last week just screwing with her.

She stops napping, so you have to scramble to find a way to do normal and necessary household chores (and cease showering and eating regular meals for a few days).

She also stops sleeping, so you spend most nights nursing and rocking and passing out for 10 minute stretches before doing it all over again.

You speak to a doctor and realize she probably has an ear infection. Diagnosed 3 days before a plane trip. You hope when you take her later today they can give her some helpful medicine. You try not to curse yourself too much for ignoring the symptoms.

The car needs to be moved for alternate side of the street parking but it's during your doctor appointment today so you'll just have to pay for a ticket. Even though finances are REALLY tight right now.

You have to finish buying and prepping all the food so you can make a small (but delicious) Thanksgiving feast on Thursday. You also have to find time to pack for your trip to Las Vegas to visit your dad, brothers, and niece. You have no idea how this will happen unless Stella is able to sleep tonight.

You've got to stop blogging while Stella plays in her exersaucer, but you feel disconnected from the world and want to put off getting her ready to go out in the rain.

You actually understand those commercials where aching people reach longingly for their Advil.

But then...

Then you realize that your daughter is saying "momma," and you never knew any word could sound so incredibly beautiful and make your heart do somersaults!

You are excited about going to Las Vegas and showing Stella even more family who adore her.

You are so lucky to be able to afford a delicious Thanksgiving meal and to have a roof over your head (even if it has some lead paint underneath that roof).

You have so much to be thankful for, and you have to realize that being an adult means constantly juggling responsibilities and concerns while also following your new mantra:

Be Grateful, Be Present.

In fact, maybe you should write that on a piece of paper and hang it in every room. Or tattoo it on your arm like the guy in Memento.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Staying Afloat in a Sinking Economy

Our family economy began to plummet long before the stock market fell. Neither Dave nor I ever brought in a large income, and we knew that when we had kids we wanted one of us to be home with that child for at least the first year. So now we're supporting 3 people on half of what we used to use to support 2.

Believe it or not, we're doing it. And it's not that hard (save for months like this one when we moved and just got back from a trip). Here are some things that have helped us.

1. Make a budget and stick to it. We have a certain amount we can spend on food each week. If we spend less than that, the leftover money goes in a "takeout" pot. When we've saved enough in the "takeout" pot, we can order takeout.
2. We only order takeout when we've saved up enough. That usually means 2 times a month. Otherwise, we cook. (This is good for your weight, also.)
3. We use cloth diapers and make as much of our own baby food as possible. I can't tell you how much those two things really help.
4. We make more food than we can eat for dinner and eat the leftovers for lunch. We also have one leftover night each week (I stole that from my thrifty, organized sis). This also helps with that guilt you have when you're throwing out perfectly good food that you should have eaten.
5. We have 2 - 3 vegetarian nights each week. Vegetarian food is much cheaper and often much better for your health.
6. We make a menu of all the food we plan to eat in the coming week and then create a shopping list. We use as many coupons as we can find to help us both develop our menu and choose brands. This idea was also stolen from my sister (thanks, Nora).
7. Finally, since we used to be takeout FIENDS, we've started cooking more international foods at home to satisfy our cravings. You'd be surprised how easy many of those dishes are, and of course if you make it yourself you can control the fat content, etc. I'm going to start sharing some of my favorites, because although I don't yet write my own recipes, I'm a pro at adapting ones I find to include ingredients I can actually find.

Below is my adapted recipe for Channa Masala, my favorite Indian dish. If you're outside of the NYC Metro Area, you may have some trouble finding the spices, but do look around for them. This is so cozy and delicious, it's worth it!

Channa Masala

1 T. Vegetable oil
2 medium onions – minced
1 clove garlic – minced
1 T. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. tumeric
6 T. chopped tomatoes (about one small can -- make sure to get unseasoned)
1 cup water
2 15 oz. cans chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1 tsp. tandoori masala powder
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garam masala powder
½ tsp. salt
½ lemon – juiced
2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tsp. chili powder

Heat oil under medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until beginning to brown.

Turn heat to medium. Add coriander, cumin, cayenne and tumeric and stir.

Add tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes are lightly browned.

Add chickpeas and water and stir. Turn the heat up to medium high so you get a slight bubble.

Add tandoori masala, paprika, garam masala, salt and lemon juice. Turn the heat back down to medium/medium low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes.

Remove cover and add ginger and chili powder. Stir uncovered for 30 seconds.

Serve with basmati rice steamed with whole cardamom seeds and butter/margarine. You can also chop some cucumber and add it to plain yogurt (I recommend Greek yogurt) to make a delicious condiment. This dish can be SPICY!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reflections On Being a Teacher and a Mom

Stella's hoping nobody will recognize her.

First off, I must apologize for two things. I'm sorry I haven't posted any new entries in a while. I hope the ensuing riots weren't too bad and that nobody went off the deep end. It's just that we moved into our new place and that cause me to be preoccupied with unpacking and setting up. Also, Stella's sleeping got all fucactad. Was it the teething? Maybe. Was it acclimating to her new environs? Possibly. Could it have been that she hit 4,000 developmental milestones in 2 weeks (flipping, sitting, creeping, almost crawling)? Could be. Anyway, I had little time to sit down behind this computer screen, and so I apologize.

The second apology is for the photo above. Not for its insane adorableness; I will never apologize for that. But because it has nothing to do with this entry. I couldn't help myself. That picture deserved to be on this blog somewhere, even if it's a complete non-sequitur.

OK. Onto the meat.

When people ask me what I do, my first instinct is still to answer, "I'm a teacher." This is a bit strange because, although I'm certified to teach, have taught for 6 years, and am still technically employed as a teacher (I'm on an unpaid childcare leave), I am not currently working as a teacher. Instead I spend 24 hours/day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year working as a mom. Happily. Jubilantly. I just can't forget that I'm a teacher, no matter how much of a mom I become. Teaching is honestly my calling.

When I was growing up, my mom had a sort of...prejudice against teachers who were also parents. She thought they pushed their kids a little too hard, that their kids' work was always a little suspiciously perfect, that they had some sort of unfair advantage. To be fair, my mom is an awesome person and now LOVES that I'm a teacher. She, of course, thinks that I'm the exception to the weird parent rule.

And although I didn't always know I'd be a teacher (there was that short-lived, completely non lucrative career as a playwright/director), I kind of always knew I'd be a mom (someday in the DISTANT future, I always said). And I knew I'd be one of those moms who's kid was brilliant.

I always thought of kids as sponges. It seemed like such a waste to me not to speak a foreign language in front of your child, read them every book known to man, teach them to play the cello and solve complex math problems with them from the moment they popped out. I knew my kid would speak fluently by 1 year, read by 2 years, and begin working on her novel by 3.

That was before I actually became a teacher and met parents who lived that philosophy.

Now I really don't want to dog parents of students I've had. I've known incredible parents and forged wonderful relationships with them. However, in my former neighborhood there were parents who would push their kids so hard it nearly broke my heart. I would have students who would be falling asleep at their desks. When I asked the little boy or girl why he or she was tired, the reply was usually something like this: "well, I had my after-school French class, so I met with my tutor later than usual. After that, I had my African dance class and then came home to have a quick dinner before practicing my harpsichord and doing my homework. Then there was a special program on NPR about the economy that dad wanted me to hear so I didn't get to sleep until midnight."

Did you notice what was missing from that? Downtime and play.

Now that I teach, I've begun to view downtime and play as so much more crucial to a child's development than constant drilling of information in an attempt to fill up that sponge. Just today, waiting to get Stella's shots, I saw a man who seemed like a loving and attentive father. His toddler was adorable and very bright! Not a moment was wasted waiting for the doctor. Books weren't read, they were evaluated. "What do you think will happen next?" "How would you solve this problem?" Games left in the waiting room weren't played, they were used to teach. "If the red ball travels on the blue line and gets to the green triangle, what do you think will happen to the orange ball if it travels on the same line?"

To be fair, the little girl was engaged and having fun. But it just made me wonder, if this is how the dad acts waiting for the doctor, I wonder what kind of training is happening at home. Stella was chilling on my lap, gazing at all the people (much like my mom, Stella can people watch for days). I had a chewable book on my lap, in case she needed to munch, but I wasn't reading because she didn't look bored. And can I tell you that same father kept throwing me expectant glances? I mean, I honestly think he was concerned about the fact that I was wasting precious teaching time with my 7th month old.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm still a teacher at heart. I read to Stella daily. I'm working with her to say "mama" (to enrich her vocabulary but also because I'm peeved that she only says "dada" so far). I'm putting things in a container and showing her how to dump them out.

As she gets older, we will find ways to solve real-life math problems daily. We'll make predictions about books, write a bit each day, discuss current events in child-appropriate ways.

However, we will also finger paint. We will make messes. We will roll around on the floor and tickle each other until we almost pee our pants. And finally, and I hope you don't call child services on me for this one, we will VEG OUT. Stella will relax on her bed, flipping through a picture book or holding her teddy or just staring at the ceiling. How else can you relax and process what happened to you in your quickly evolving life?

That's that. I'm not judging others for how they raise their kids (no matter how tempting) because the fact of the matter is we all make mistakes. I've already made 3,473, according to my latest calculations. But robbing Stella of her youth just to make her a prodigy is not one I'll add to my list.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad...

Stella loves her new room, even if she's not sleeping there yet!

Here we are, settled into our new, ginormous apartment. Moving is one of those events that causes your stress factor to increase exponentially, though, no matter how excited you were about the move.

The good news is, the place is still as huge as I remember it. Sometimes, after viewing an apartment, my brain has a field day with my memory, adding many square feet and sometimes even complete rooms to a place, so by the time I revisit it, I'm utterly disappointed in its sheer lack of size. That did NOT happen this time, though. If anything, the place actually seems larger.
Stella loves the size. She's always been prone to taking up lots of space, especially when she makes it into our bed (nightly). She's only 6 1/2 months old, and yet with her arms outstretched, she can cause Dave and I to huddle in a corner for the duration of the night! Now that she has an entire room where we can lay down her foam play mat (as seen in the photo above), she's creeping, flipping, scooting, you name it! That little girl literally couldn't wait to spread her wings, and our old 650 square foot place did not give her that opportunity!

The neighborhood is great! It's quiet, so much more quiet than Park Slope, but it's diverse and interesting. We've had delicious Russian beer twice this week. It's higher in alcohol content and an enormous bottle only cost $2. Take that, Beerkraft! We're also only a 5-10 minute stroll from Ditmas Park, an area with lots of young families and fun cafes, restaurants, wine-stores. It's like Park Slope Lite.

The building is wonderfully well-kept, with an elevator and efficient laundry in the basement (I gave that a test drive yesterday with tons of poopy-soiled baby clothes). The building seems to be populated by nice folks, and our neighbors are very friendly.

But, as you well know, this is New York City, and you don't get a huge, beautiful, CHEAP apartment in a safe, nice neighborhood for nothing.

Since this apartment building is immaculately maintained, they took major pains to renovate our place for us. The upside is that I have an entirely refinished kitchen with brand new appliances (oops -- I just drooled on the keyboard). The bad news is they polyurethaned the floors like 6 million times. It honestly looks like a roller rink in here, and the fumes are so bad that I have a nightly headache and I've been a beasty of a wife to poor Dave.
Much worse than that, though, is the fact that Stella's been cranky and is even coughing! I take her out for as long as the weather permits each day, and as my doctor-friend Lisa advised, we are airing the place out, getting an air filter, buying VOC-filtering plants, and taking other pains to reduce environmental hazards. Today I plan on buying a mop and drenching the floors in a mixture of water and baking soda, then finishing up by rubbing a lemon over the floor, as I read that that can help.
Still, I hate to think of my perfect little girl breathing in all those fumes.
And, although we signed a waiver from the landlord stating that they have no knowledge of lead paint ever being used in our building, it is a super-old building so I expect that there's probably lead paint somewhere under all those layers. That wouldn't be too much of an issue, except the paint is peeling off pretty badly on our bedroom door -- down to many old coats. We are sending the chips off to a lab to be tested for lead paint, and if it comes back positive, we're going to buy a sealant to contain the situation, but of course that'll mean that I also spend the rest of our time here obsessed with Stella not putting her hands in her mouth after touching the wall or floor. That doesn't sound fun
Ah...New York. Where nothing is ever just easy or even normal.
Again, though, we are so incredibly fortunate to have found this place and I know that, over time, the pros will certainly outweigh the cons.
There is one other downfall, but I'd rather not post about it here in a public forum. I'd be happy to tell you about it privately. (And no, it doesn't involve any adult naughty business. We have a 6 1/2 month old baby, remember?)