Friday, June 26, 2009

Kvelling Corner

I refuse to call this new section of my blog "Kvelling Korner," because misspellings for the sake of being cute are one of my biggest pet peeves. In fact, throughout my former life as a 4th grade teacher, one of my favorite games was "Catch the Mistakes!" I would encourage my students to seek out and record errors in signs, things like "Avocado's For Sale" and "Your crazy if you miss these deals" and "Open All Nite!" Nothing makes kids happier than correcting adults, and I'm sure there are many frustrated shop keepers out there who'd like to find the lady that encouraged a bunch of brazen nine-year-olds to correct their grammar!

Oh, and for those non-New Yorkers and/or non-Yiddish speakers, "kvelling" means to gush about something. It's one of my favorite words.

As a new parent, you're bombarded with marketing. There is so much crap you're told you need to buy to parent correctly, and it can be overwhelming, intimidating, and down-right scary to figure out where you should be spending your hard-earned dough once your bun pops out of the oven.

That's where my "Kvelling Corner" comes in. Now, it's true that what I might adore might not work for you. Every parent has to figure out what fits in their lives. But I simply must gush about a few choice items in the hopes that they bring you as much joy/relief/amusement as they do for us!

1. gdiapers

As you might recall from the old days of my blog, Dave and I (and Stella) were dedicated to cloth diapering for many months. It was wonderful while it lasted, but the huge, industrial washing machines in our current (ahem) apartment building ruined the diapers. The detergent caked up on the fabric, rendering them the opposite of water-proof and an enemy to Stella's sensitive tush.

So we tried gdiapers. The outer layer is reusable cloth, and into that you snap a reusable rubber lining. Inside that rubber lining goes a biodegradable, flushable insert that absorbs the pee and poop.

The only thing I don't like about gdiapers is that when Stella has a really nasty poop, I have to be quite intimate with it, as you have to rip the insert apart and "swizzle" the insert in the toilet. Sometime the poop goes on the rubber lining and you have to rinse it off.

However, there is something so gratifying about flushing away all the nastiness and not having to change your trash (or do the laundry) every five seconds.

The health food store near us carries the inserts for $12 for 32, so they're only slightly more expensive than disposables. But much better for the environment!

2. Maclaren Volo

Dave and I used to laugh at folks who'd talk about how their strollers "handled." I mean, really, do you plan to hike to the top of Mount McKinley with it?

My plan, anyway, was to use carriers to tote Stella around -- my beloved Ergo (another kvelling entry, I'm sure), the Moby, the Bjorn -- I loved the idea of taking up little to no extra space and having my girl in my face where we could converse. The only problem was Stella became very heavy very quickly (currently around 24 lbs.) and doesn't love to be in the carrier that much. She arches her back and cranes her neck, trying to see what I'm seeing and breaking my back in the process. So we began to use our stroller much more.

But after a few short months of trying to navigate the bumpy sidewalks of Brooklyn with a clunker, we got annoyed. Add to that the fact that our other stroller was a pain in the neck to fold and super heavy, and we knew something had to change.

I really did my research, asking all the moms I could find what type of umbrella stroller they'd recommend. And the feedback was impressive. Everyone said Maclaren, and several said the volo. (If you don't believe me, check out the various sing alongs and storytimes -- you'll see a sea of Maclaren at the entrance way.) Why? Because it's lightweight but handles very well.

We got ours on Ebay for half price, and it's worth every penny. (It would still be worth every penny at full price, too.) It glides around Kensington as if we were floating on a cloud (no easy task with all that litter on the sidewalk). It folds up easily into a minute, lightweight sliver of almost nothingness. The seat is mesh, so Stella doesn't boil in the New York summer heat. And it's pretty. (Ours is pink but also has a cool switch-out orange seat and canopy that I can wait to try out.)

That's it for now. I'm sure I'll think of more products to add, and I can certainly think of some worthy books to recommend.

But Thai food is on its way and blogger's giving me grief about adding photos, so I think I'll take a blogging break for now.

Happy purchasing!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shameless Self Promotion

I've been out of the theater business so long, that I forgot how to shamelessly plug myself. Let me do a few stretches and give it a go!

Come see me in Expressing Motherhood, a show with real moms telling real stories of the trials and tribulations of motherhood. It'll be at TADA! Theater September 24th - 26th, 8pm. I'm told you should buy tickets early, as the show, which originated in LA, has been known to sell out quickly.

If you come, make sure to stop by and sell hello. And don't forget to ask me how Stella went to sleep that night. Because, right now, only me and my magic boobies can do the trick. I'm hoping we figure something out by then.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Picture This

In case you've ever wondered why I'm so gung-ho to get the heck out of this apartment, I've decided to paint a picture for you (I will post actual pix at a later date, but I had to get this out). I've really resisted whining about this for many reasons, but now I feel it's important to share.

You wake up to the sound of your daughter cooing/fussing over the monitor after a poor night's sleep. You go to her room to get her, dismayed to find that it, once again, smells like cigarette smoke. Neither you nor your husband (nor the baby) smokes, so you know it's from one of your 4,000 heavily smoking neighbors. You open both her windows all the way, turn the fan on high, and check to make sure that her air filter is still one.

You get her dressed and everyone has breakfast. You hang out for a while, and right when it's time for her first nap, the construction next door starts. There's been construction in the vicinity since you moved into this building in November, which is ironic because you moved her to escape the constant construction in Park Slope.

She can't sleep due to the noise, so you head out for story time at the library. Ah, fresh air and quiet (well, as quiet as NYC gets).

When you come home, the entire lobby wreaks of smoke, and you realize part of the problem is that one of your chain-smoking neighbors props his/her door open to air out their apartment. Your philosophy, you're tempted to tell them, is that if you hate the smell of smoke in your apartment, maybe you shouldn't smoke there to begin with.

As you're having lunch with your daughter, you hear downstairs neighbor begin blasting techno. This happens a few times a day, sometimes at night, and it is so loud it vibrates the entire apartment.

Finally, your daughter goes down for her nap. You turned her white noise machine on high because you had to leave her windows open to air out the smoke. About 30 minutes into her nap, the dog that lives at the house next door begins barking loudly. REALLY LOUDLY. And incessantly. Somehow, miraculously, your daughter sleeps through it. (She must be exhausted.)

You do some dishes by hand, because you don't have a dishwasher, and mop the floor, to make sure the peeling lead-based paint that your landlord refuses to fix properly without a major battle, doesn't poison your daughter.

As you go to check your email, your hear your elderly neighbor's grandchildren arrive. They bounce a basketball inside her apartment, and because the walls are paper thin, it sounds like it's in your living room. They shriek and yell, she yells at them to be quiet, they yell back, the go out in the hallway and yell some more.

Your head is raging.

Your daughter wakes up and you head out to the playground. You need fresh air yet again. Who cares that it's raining and has been for the past month?

When you get home, you hear the feral cats who live in the heavily-littered courtyard engaging in romantic relations. The pigeons that land on your window seem to answer them. Maybe the cockroaches that won't seem to go away, no matter how many traps you lay down, can join in the symphony.

You give your daughter dinner, your husband comes home, and you all begin the bath time/bedtime routine. You notice that your bathroom ceiling is leaking again, but they claim they can't fix it because nobody fesses up to being the source of it. You pray it doesn't one day collapse on you.

Just when it's time to (hopefully) get your sleep-fighting girl down for the night, your lead-footed upstairs neighbor comes home, stomping all the way. You begin to pray, again, that he won't wake her up and that he'll use some common sense tonight.

You get your daughter down, thankfully, and have a little dinner. Just as you and your husband settle in to watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey (Danielle totally reminds you of that terrible roommate you had in the West Village and therefore you hope those other ladies will take her down), upstairs neighbor begins. He must do mechanical work up there or something, because it sounds like he's dragging something heavy and metallic across the floor -- back and forth, back and forth. He drops bags of tools on the ground. He stomps to and fro.

Before long, he's done it. He's woken her up. Despite her loud, expensive white noise machine. You know you can't talk to him. You've tried, and he just answers the door in his banana hammock, acting oblivious and claiming it isn't him. If you push the issue, he begins to yell and say that everyone in the building hates you and wants you to move. Your landlords won't help, as they hate you for daring to ask them to fix lead paint properly. Your super tries, but he can't really do anything. You've called the cops countless times, but upstairs d-bag watches for them and stops when they come. Besides, their greatest piece of advice to date has been, "have you considered moving?"

You have considered moving, but you sunk over $6,000 into moving here, what with a security deposit, broker's fee, and movers. You need that money back to go somewhere new. So you call your lawyer.

Your lawyer isn't returning your calls anymore about any of this for some reason. You add him to your list of folks you'd like to get genital warts.

Before bed, after you've finally gotten the girl back to sleep, you look for places. Apartments to rent in Ditmas Park, Windsor Terrace, South Prospect Park, and good old Park Slope. Little is available in your range that seems nice. You dread going out to see them, finding that the agent lied about the neighborhood, finding the apartment is not really 1,100 square feet, finding that it's even crappier than the one you're in now.

You check real estate in Louisville, Kentucky, near your birth place, and sigh. Deeply. Homes. Yards. Distance from neighbors. Proximity to family.

You read your crappy mystery novel that you got from the library, then drift off to the sounds of techno, barking and stomping.


If you or anyone you know is considering moving to Kensington, Brooklyn, please tell them to really check out their place before accepting. Pay attention to smells, sounds, and neighbors. They should ask to check it out at night, after 9pm, and see how people behave. They should not rent any apartment owned by Kensington Imperial, LLC.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Playground Politics

We love our local playgrounds, even if we do have to hike about a mile to get there!

Stella and I spend a good deal of our time at the local playgrounds, now that the weather is marginally nicer. (Meaning we have about one sunny day per week lately.)

The playground is an interesting mix of personalities -- both parents and kids. And since I spend most of my day chasing Stella, making sure she doesn't fall off equipment or get bulldozed by five-year-old Tasmanian devils, I don't really get to meet and mingle as I should. Which means I've come up with nicknames for the motley crew I observe. Let me share a few:

Cellphone mom

There is a mom about my age with a son about Stella's age. Whereas Stella is still merely cruising and mainly crawling, her son is fully toddling, even sprinting. As the careful mother that she is, she follows him around the jungle gym, up the stairs, across the bridge, down the slide. However, the entire time she does this, a cellphone is glued to her ear and she is busy making what sound like business deals. I have seen her catch her son before he takes a scary tumble, never missing a beat of her negotiations. Sometimes I even wonder if the person on the other end knows she's a parent.

Recently, her boy slid down the slide, only to be snatched up by an annoying seven year old girl who began to vigorously shake the poor kid. (I can call her annoying because she wouldn't keep her kid-diseased paws off Stella - stroking her face and hands and hair and saying she looked like a doll. I politely told her she wasn't a doll, and therefore shouldn't be touched. Finally I had to take Stella away from this girl, all the while searching for a Cabbage Patch Kid to throw in her direction as a decoy.) It was mildly amusing, in that schadenfreude kind of a way, to watch the mom run around to her son and annoya-kid while trying to sound cool and professional on the phone.

Judgmental Mom

There is a mom with a daughter who exemplifies gentle parenting. Her daughter is so quiet you don't even notice she's there, politely following all the playground rules and gently making friends. Her mother simply beams at her daughter in a way that screams, "look what I did -- I am the perfect mother."

Well, that's fine. I enjoy being around perfect parents in the hope that might rub off, if only a bit, on me.

What's not fine is that every single time I'm around this mom, and I mean EVERY SINGLE TIME, Stella throws one of her def con 5 tantrums -- arched back, smacking herself in the face, screaming at the top of her lungs, wanting desperately to smash her head against the concrete (she would if I let her -- she has -- so I must hold her to keep from it). These tantrums can be the result of teething discomfort, hunger, or frustration that she can't walk yet, even though she really wants to. These tantrums, I can guaran-damn-tee you (as my mom would say), are not because I've been mean to her or yelled at her or been indulgent with her or parented poorly enough to merit a call to children's services.

But try telling that to her. I sit holding my screaming daughter, my eyes sometimes filling with tears, attempting different ways of responding depending on which parenting book is in my bag, but usually I just have to ride it out and distract her once it's done. All the while, Judgmental Mom glares at me and Stella, sometimes going so far as to gently shake her blond head in disbelief. (I guess it doesn't help that my main means of coping with such turmoil is to make weird jokes, saying things like "I promise I'll pay you five million dollars when you graduate if you stop" to Stella or proclaiming that she learned this type of behavior while we were living in Park Slope.)

Now that summer's here (if only in theory), I've considered bringing a water gun so I can gently spray her in the face the next time she does it. This works on the cats!

Comparison Dad

I've seen a major influx of stay-at-home dads recently. I don't know if it's the economy or what, but more and more fathers are joining our ranks, pushing strollers, wearing Ergos, toting bananas and sippy cups.

This is a wonderful sign of the times, and one that's well overdue I think. However, that said, there is one dad at our local playground who makes me long for traditional gender roles.

His daughter is exactly Stella's age and adorable. Sweet but sassy, energetic and quick to laughter, she and Stella get along splendidly.

But while the girls giggle and coo, Comparison Dad asks questions. Lots of questions.

"Is she walking yet? What does she eat? You don't give her snacks do you? Does she sleep well? Does she listen when you say 'no?' Have you got her on a good schedule? She's down to one nap now, right? Do you do regular play dates?"

I respond politely and honestly, which inevitably leads to a lecture. I've been told about sleep training, getting her to work with my schedule, making sure she only eats three square meals a day with no snacks, making sure she knows her boundaries, etc. It doesn't phase him that I have a masters in childhood education and might know a thing or two about how kids tick. As much as he probably misses the middle management job he once had, he also seems happy being the CEO of his daughter's life.

Flirtatious Dad

This is actually a composite character. I guess stay-at-home dads get a wee bit bored with this life, because I've seen a fair amount of them be pretty darn flirtatious with the stay-at-home moms. Playground pickup lines, though, usually involve complimenting a Maclaren or inquiring about some new organic toddler snack. In their defense, they may be divorced. I don't know. But since we don't watch TV during the day, this is my form of soap opera fun.

Well, that's a good start. I'm sure I'll think of more names to add to my playground list. Of course I'm not mentioning the legion of incredibly cool parents who are fun to talk to and helpful. That sort of positivity is just boring.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Believe It or Not

I used to love that show, Ripley's Believe It or Not. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up when the theme song began to play. Remember the episode about fairies? Scared the crap out of me. I never looked at fireflies the same way again.

But I digress. I've whined a lot about real estate lately, so I feel an apology is in order. This is, after all, a parenting blog, right? What about the child you parent, you may ask. Have you no stories to relate about that adorable creature?

Of course I do. I guess I've just let the joy of motherhood be eclipsed by the frustration of our current living situation. One should never do that. (Can you see my finger wagging?)

So, why not share some amazing moments I've had with my daughter lately?

I grew bored of being in her room yesterday, so I asked her if she wanted to chase a kitty cat with me. She looked at me funny and crawled over to her books. I figured she just didn't feel like torturing the cats (for a change), but when I walked over to her, I found that she had pulled out three books about cats and laid them out for me.

Stella hates a soiled diaper -- always has. She also suffers from terrible diaper rash. So, on a whim, I decided to get a potty and give it a whirl. I certainly had no intentions of "potty training" at 14 months, as I believe we American parents are too obsessed with training our offspring in general. Well, Stella LOVES her potty. She's pooped on it three times, and even crawled up to it one day and pointed at it before she had a BM. Ah...only a mother feels proud of excrement, I suppose.

Stella's all-time favorite part of our week is story time at the library. We are so fortunate to have three FREE story times at nearby branch, and we go to each one. (This may not last, though, due to budget cuts, so I urge you to go to and donate!) Additionally, we go to two sing-alongs at a nearby cafe, so our week is booked with the kind of events that make young, childless hipsters regurgitate their Americanos. Stella is the belle of the ball each and every time. She gets to into every song, raising the roof with her hands, squealing, bouncing, and looking around at any lethargic toddlers/parents as if there's something wrong with them. Today, she crawled off my lap while the woman was reading a book, found her own book, and began "reading" it very loudly, a sweet sing-songy lilt to her voice. I guess like most Hollywood starlets, she's decided it's time to direct.

In general, I think I've come to the conclusion that my daughter is incredibly bright. I know, most moms don't think such things, but it's just a gut feeling I have. In fact, the things that make her an independent, sensitive, observant and gregarious toddler were probably the same things that made her an highly touchy infant with 1,001 sleep issues. So, moms of "difficult" babies, take heart! By the time your little one is 14 months old, she may have you (and anyone in a 1-mile radius) in stitches the entire day.

Not to say there aren't difficulties. Being the trailblazer she is, Stella is constantly tempted by open doorways, and never wants to stay in a room for more than ten minutes. This is frustrating when I'm visiting with someone and I can't have a conversation for following my kid around to make sure she isn't sticking her tongue in power outlets.

And, although sleep is MUCH better, it can still be an issue. She still fights her naps, still wants to nurse to sleep, and still wakes up at least once at night. But the trend, as the Brooklyn Baby Daddy in all his financial wisdom would say, is on the upswing. It just ain't perfect, yet.

And finally, when this kid is teething, she's not shy about letting you know. I recently read about a mom who had no clue her kid was teething, save for some extra saliva. Yeah. Not so much here. Stella is short-tempered and cranky, throwing tantrums every time anything doesn't go her way and biting on everything she can find (but her preference is always for nipples).


OK. That was a pretty good Stella update. But as part of my "Believe It or Not" theme, I want to leave you with a game I play called The Real Estate Cha Cha. (Those loyal readers who've read my blog for a long time, all two of you, might recall this game. Forgive me.)

This is a game most frustrated New Yorkers play, especially if we've lived here over a decade and come from a place with a much lower cost of living.

There are two ways to play. The first way is to think about how much you can spend on real estate in New York City. For Dave and me, it's around $300,000.

Here's what we can afford in Brooklyn (I'm sticking with safe neighborhoods, because there's lots of stuff available in scary places, but I've paid my dues in that department):
Two bedrooms in Bay Ridge (a nice, working-class neighborhood a REALLY far ride from the city on the subway), 900 square feet, no dishwasher, no parking, no outdoor space. The pictures look fine. Small but fine. $299K. That's actually a really good deal for NYC.

Same money in Louisville, KY (near where the BBM grew up):
Three bedroom home in the heart of Louisville, 3,443 square feet, a yard, and so many amenities that I'm just going to cut and paste from the Century 21 website: "Two car gar is on the main level & is a real plus for a walk-out. Great rm flows into the formal dining rm creating a perfect entertaining possibility. Just wait until you see the brand new just installed granite kit counter tops! These counter tops add that 1 touch of WOW you are looking for. Custom window treatments in the MBR & kit + 1 « wood blinds, fully equipped kit, berber carpeting, some hdwd flooring, whirlpool type tub & the list goes on. The formal great rm fireplace is gas. The lower level fireplace has a gas starter & still burns real logs. The amenities of this property make it easy to want to call it home. There is a deck, wired for surround sound, subtle exterior lighting & a fin lower level. Theater area, wet bar, space for game table& area for pool table plus a ballet room w/mirrors, wood flooring & double bars. Location, design & more give you every reason to see this. Be sure to stop at the club house for a look at the tennis courts and Olympic sized pool." As my friend Sara O'Bryan (who lives quite happily in Louisville) would say, le sigh.

Now, I know what you New Yorkers are saying. You wouldn't make enough money after cost-of-living adjustments to afford that there! That might be true. So then we play game number two. Where we plug in our Kentucky numbers! I think a safe amount for Kentucky might be $150,000, half of our New York budget. What do we get?

New York:
A studio apartment again in Bay Ridge, but this section is much further from the subway. It looks modern, which is nice, but it's literally one room with no amenities -- parking, dishwasher or otherwise. Listed at $149,000. Again, a steal in NYC.

A four bedroom home in a slightly less cool neighborhood of Louisville (still safe and near everything, though). 2,350 square feet, yard, parking, fire place, etc. $149,900.

So, you get the point.

And before my New York friends pull the whole, "Yeah, but you'd be in KENTUCKY" nonsense, I urge you to check out other cities in other states before you assume that New York is the only place where things happen. I thought that, too, at one point. Until I realized that I keep having to move further and further away from the things I want to do here, in crappier and crappier apartments, so what's the point? I'd rather live in a smaller city where I can actually be in the thick of things in a nice place. And as I've mentioned before, so many cool people have had to move out of NYC due to the outrageous cost of living that other cities only benefit from the influx of our refugees.

As the songs says, If I can make it here, I'll make it anywhere. I made it here. Now I want to test that theory.

But, again, I digress. I promise the next entry will be real estate free! I can't make the same guarantee about baby poop, though.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Some cute pictures to offset the sour mood of this entry:
Stella during naked playtime (before her pasta face has been washed.)

Stella, The Brooklyn Baby Daddy and cousins Sammy and Sophia in our sister-in-law's pool.

Miss Sassy-Pants at the park. (After our mile-long hike to get there.)

More stinky cuteness.

It happens so slowly, so imperceptibly, you don't even realize it.

You and your significant other outgrow his studio pretty quickly. You are, after all, two separate people and you need your space.

So you move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Rents are fairly cheaper, apartments are bigger, but there's still a very happening and with-it neighborhood. For a while, you love it.

And then you have a kid. Suddenly, that 650 square foot 1-bedroom doesn't seem as spacious as it did four years ago. The three floors you must walk up are taxing while carrying a 19 pound wriggling baby.

You decide you need more space, but quickly realize you can't afford anything in your neighborhood. So, like every creative, poor and tenacious New Yorker, you look at the map of NYC, take your finger and move outward from Manhattan. We were in Park Slope, you say, so let's try something south of there.

Kensington appears like a beacon in the night. Apartments are palatial by NYC standards and very cheap. It's close to a lot of other neighborhoods that you like, even if it doesn't have much in the way of its own shops and cafes and whatnot. This will work, you tell yourself.

You begin to use your car more, which is weird, but it only makes sense as you have to drive to a real grocery store and drive to visit friends. Toting a kid on the subway or bus, which are both a good walk away, can be frustrating, so you use the gas-guzzler more than you ever thought you would.

Then you really notice your lack of parking space. And your plethora of parking tickets. You get really annoyed that you have to bring a cart to the store because you might have to park ten blocks away and that's the only way to carry the groceries.

On nice days, you notice how far you are from playgrounds and the park. You tire of packing snacks and diapers and a cell phone to walk a mile to the park, play for thirty minutes, then return in time for your baby's dinner.

You dream of living in one of the million-dollar Victorian homes in Ditmas Park. Why? Because you could have a yard, a parking spot, a washer/dryer, a dishwasher, plus you have your own neat little neighborhood and you're close to the city.

Ah...the rare good life.

Except, then you realize it. Areas like Ditmas Park, the exception to most NYC rules, are the norm in most American cities. To have your own house, your own yard, your own parking spot, all in a functional and interesting neighborhood that's also pretty close to a bigger part of town? Those of you reading my blog from outside of NYC are probably thinking to yourself -- what's the big whoop? That's normal in most cities.

But you think to yourself: I can't leave NYC. I just can't. I came here to make my dreams come true. I can't give up now.

But then you also think to yourself: What dreams do I have that can only be attained in NYC? I no longer want to be an actress or a playwright. I tried that life and it made me unhappy. I love being a teacher and want to work with kids who really need me. Many kids in many areas of the country could really need me.

And all the cool parts about NYC, the parts you can't find elsewhere -- I'm not really using them, you realize. When was the last time you could afford to see a Broadway show? When was the last time you had enough energy to catch a cool concert? Taking a 14 month old to the Met seems taxing, as it's a good hour-long subway ride away and she would just want to toddle around anyway.

And you also realize that as NYC has become more and more expensive in the 11 years that you've lived here, you've seen more and more cool people leave. Artists and actors and teachers and musicians and writers who could no longer afford anything worth anything. Which makes you think -- if they all left NYC, that means other places are getting an influx of really cool people who just happen to not be wealthy.

And then you think: maybe I can be a really cool person who moves out of NYC, too.

But then you remember: you are one person in a family of three. The littlest member might not mind leaving town. It's hard to know; she doesn't talk yet.

But the man of the house has a job, a family, friends, an entire life here.

And this is where the Brooklyn Baby Manor remains: in a geographic limbo, so to speak.