Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I wish I knew how to quit you!





Old pictures from one of our many Coney Island excursions (pre-Stella). See? Only in NYC!







OK. So here's what happened.






NYC showed up at my door this weekend. He had this huge bouquet of my favorite flowers -- hyacinth, hydrangea, blue irises, bluebells -- and a bar of artisan dark chocolate with dried cherries. Damn, this guy knows me inside and out!






I didn't want to let him in, but he looked so sad, and he needed to put the stuff down, so I told him, "just for 10 minutes, buddy."






He started to cry. He said he never meant to hurt me, that the pollution and crazy neighbors and rude people and overpopulation and high cost of living were crappy parts of his personality, but he could change! He showed me a newspaper article detailing how housing prices were going to drop even more in him, and I couldn't help but smile.






He took me to one of my favorite restaurants, strolled with me on my favorite streets, stared out at his ocean with me, reminded me of all the fun times we've had and just how far we've come, whisked me off to exciting places on the spur of the moment.






Yes, friends, he made me fall in love with him all over again. Please don't judge. You don't know what we have. You don't know how he makes me feel. Yes, he can be harsh sometimes. He can make my life incredibly difficult. He keeps me from my family more than I'd like, he can make me frazzled and bitter, but my oh my, he is exciting!






Forgive me. I just couldn't resist.






The Brooklyn Baby Daddy, Stella and I had a marvelous NYC weekend. We went to the Bronx Zoo on Saturday. I hadn't been there in over seven years, and at that time I didn't really enjoy it. It had been a brutally hot day in August, the zoo was crowded with cranky visitors, I had to go there to pick up my first (and very meager) Teaching Fellows paycheck (I have no idea why they made us trek out to the zoo for cash), I was so poor I couldn't afford to buy lunch, and Dave and I were on a "break" that caused me to cry at the drop of a hat. This weekend was quite different -- cool and breezy, not too crowded, no lack of money or romantic unhappiness to distract me, an adorable toddler through whom we could relive our youth. That zoo is incredible and we had a ball!






Saturday, we had a lovely picnic in honor of a friend's birthday in Prospect Park. Again, the weather was outstanding. The crowd was smart and cool, and Stella loved being around so many new people. We finished up by playing in our favorite of all the NYC playgrounds and picking up some Five Guys Burgers. Can you say perfection?






Yesterday, we went out to Jackson Heights, Queens, to visit a friend of Dave's and his family. I hadn't been there in about nine years and was delighted to see that it was still as lovely as I recall. I spent a lot of time there in my early 20's, because that's when I lived in the bad part of Newark, NJ (yes, there is a "bad part" and you don't ever want to go there) and was doing a lot of late-night theater. Those two elements combined to make me scared to go home at certain hours. So I spent many nights at the spacious 1-BR apartment of one of my dear friends and fellow producers who lived in the Heights. I remember liking her neighborhood, but thinking how I'd rather live in a much smaller space in "the city."






I couldn't help but smile at how things have changed -- how I'd much rather have more space and live in the outer boroughs. I also marvelled at how much better my life is now. I was incredibly lonely and poor at that time, uncertain of my future, missing my family, worried that I'd made a horrible mistake by moving out here but too proud to go back home.






We had so much NYC-style fun, that it's hard not to be a tiny bit wooed. It didn't hurt that we drove past the Statue of Liberty several times, a sight that never ceases to inspire and delight me. It also didn't hurt that I wrote down in my planner all the upcoming kid-friendly summer events and found that, if we so choose, we could spend every weekend, plus several week days, doing extremely cool stuff. Oh! And we're wickedly close to the ocean. I always wanted to live close to the ocean!






So...here I am again. There really is so much I love about this place, not the least of which is the amazing assortment of friends I've gathered in my eleven years here (my official anniversary is in a week). It can drive me crazy, goodness knows, but it can also fill me with excitement in a way no other place can.






So, for now, we wait. We wait to see what real estate prices will do. We wait to see how secure our jobs are. We wait to see what we think of some of the places we visit on our road trip this summer (Savannah, Nashville, etc.). We wait to see if I can manage not to slip a cherry bomb under my insane upstairs neighbor's door.






And don't worry. I've told NYC that this is his last chance. If he hurts me again, I really am walking out that door for good. Nashville's been calling and he's awfully cute -- in a brawny kind of a way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Country Mom vs. City Mom

The Brooklyn Baby Daddy during one of our trips to Kentucky. Stuff like this just doesn't happen in the city.


It's a lovely Spring day. You dress your 13 month old daughter in some play pants and a top, throw a little sunblock and a sunhat on her, take her out into your private back yard and sip some lemonade while she crawl/walks after your cats and dogs. Later, after she's pooped herself out, you throw some clothes in the washer and start up the dishwasher, then hang out on the front porch with the baby monitor, chatting on the phone with your mom while she naps. When she wakes up, you grab a snack for her and then drive to Target, where you get the stuff you need -- cheaply and quickly. Your daughter's in an easy-going mood, so you also hit the grocery store and pick up some supplies to make an extra special dinner. The aisles at the supermarket are spacious, filled with any and every product your heart could desire. There's no line at the checkout counter, and the friendly employee behind the register lets you use all your coupons without raising an eyebrow. You drive home and play out in the yard a little longer while you wait for the husband to come home from work. The sun is setting, the yard looks great, your daughter isn't afraid of grass or bugs, you have no ugly, psychotic neighbor living above you who'll wake you up at night, your car has its own parking spot -- all is right with the universe.


That's the scenario that's been running through my head a lot now that the weather is nicer. A yard. A simple yard. Something I was so used to as a kid has now become a personal Mecca for me. Not to mention a parking spot, my own personal washer/dryer and dishwasher, and the ease of living and lower cost of living that come with moving outside of the Big Apple.


However, I must constantly remind myself that the grass is always greener. It can be really easy to romanticize others' lives, making me constantly pine for what I don't have, never content with what I do.


So I've decided to use this blog as a very public pros/cons list of city living versus country living. You can feel free to weigh in with your own comments if you like, but just know that if you're my family, your comments don't count due to your ulterior motives. (I should show you the real estate ads for spacious homes, sometimes with swimming pools and the like, that my family sends to me from Kentucky. The tragic thing is these near-mansions cost the same if not less than the three bedroom apartments we're scoping out.)


Living in New York City:

Pros

*You get to say, "I live in New York City." Come on. Tell me that isn't cool.

*You are surrounded by the best art, music, theater, and dance our country has to offer.

*Life is not boring here. Ever.

*In Brooklyn in particular, you get to be a part of a community. I see the same folks at our library's storytime and at the playground, folks whose kids are becoming Stella's friends, and that's cool

*Piggybacking on that prior comment, you don't feel isolated. I actually feel safer living close to others than secluded in the country.

*You have a much smaller carbon footprint when you live in a city -- public transportation, smaller abodes, etc.

*We're close to the ocean!

*Bronx Zoo. Aquarium. Children's museums. Prospect Park Carousel. It's good to be a kid here.

*It's easier to be in shape here. I walk an average of 3 miles per day. Sure, I could probably do that anywhere, but it's much easier if you don't have a choice.

*The best food in the world is in NYC. Don't even try to argue with me about that one.

*I have an awesome job at an awesome school to go back to one day.

*Dave has a great job here currently.

*If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.


Cons

*Geez Louise, is it expensive here! Real estate prices are coming down, but I still can't find a decent 3 bedroom apartment in a safe neighborhood for less than $400,000. That's still about $150,000 too much.

*It's crowded.
*Crime and pollution and the like abound.

*It can be dirty, depending on the neighborhood.

*It's almost impossible to find a place with a yard.

*It's hard to find a place with parking. We pay stupid money in parking tickets.

*Simple tasks -- like going to the store, buying clothes, going to the doctor -- are just insanely complicated here due to traffic, public transportation, overcrowding, etc.

*Damn, this place is LOUD. Constantly loud.

*We're REALLY far away from my family and not terrible close to Dave's.

*You live in really close quarters with folks who are sometimes insane.


Living in a more suburban/rural area (Such as the suburbs of Nashville for my family or Montclair, NJ for Dave's):

Pros

*Space -- lots of it -- inside and out.

*Yards are normal occurrences.

*Parking spots are normal occurrences.

*Washer/dryers and dishwashers are commonplace.

*People tend to be friendlier.

*It's not crowded and there's less traffic.

*Everything is cheaper.

*Life, in general, is easier and less stressful.
*There's usually less crime.


Cons

*I personally can feel very isolated and lonely very fast in the country.

*You usually can't walk to stores or restaurants, and I love walking around.

*I get bored very easily, and there's usually less stuff going on in the country.

*These areas tend to be less diverse, and I really want Stella to grow up around diversity in all its forms.

*You have to take care of that yard and that house that you own. No coop board is there to save you, no landlord will mow your yard for you.

*I get freaked out about people breaking into my place and nobody being around to hear me yell. (I've seen way too many horror movies, it's true.)

*You can't just wake up on a Saturday, flip through Time Out New York, and decide to catch the cheap "They Might Be Giants" concert at Prospect Park.

*You don't get to say, "I live in New York City" at your high school reunion.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Acting Taught Me about Motherhood

This picture has nothing to do with this entry, but can you blame me for posting it?


I've spoken at length on this blog about how teaching has prepared me for motherhood. If there was ever a job that made for the perfect transition into parenthood, it would be teaching. Although I'm still not perfect at this motherhood thing, using my skills has a teacher has been invaluable.




For example, I recently had an hour-long wait at the dermatologist's office. Stella was with me, and as you can guess, she doesn't do well with the whole sit still and quietly for any length of time. (What kid does, though, really?) Figuring this might be a problem, I brought the following in her diaper bag: two books, three toys, a bottle of water, a sippy cup of whole milk, a container of Cheerios, a banana, and wipes. We went through all of the above in about ten minutes, so then I moved onto my hand, which became the following: a puppet, a tickle monster, a prop for her favorite song about opening and shutting your hands, etc.




One hour and one examination later: no tears. I was even complimented by everyone on how calm and well-behaved my little angel was. Little did they know, one false move (0r moment of inactivity), and the office would have been chaotic indeed.




This all stems from field trips. I'll never forget my first field trip -- just me, the kids and a couple of parents. What else did I need, I figured? Well, a garbage bag for that kid to puke into would have been nice, as would some paper towels to clean it all up. Perhaps if I'd brought some saltines or hard candy, that could have been avoided in the first place. I should have brought an extra lunch or two, as many students forgot theirs, and I probably should have brought my own lunch as well. Money to pay for tolls on our bus trip? Hey, that would have been nice. A camera to capture those precious moments? Good idea!




You get the idea. Within a couple of years of teaching I learned what all good Girl Scouts would have told me: always be prepared.




So, yeah, teaching is a great prep course for parenthood. (And a darned good profession in many other ways, I must say.)




But what about all those years I spent as a theater bum? Don't they account for anything? I mean, aside from the crazy debt I racked up that I FINALLY paid off last month?


I wasn't the best actor in the world. I mean, there's a reason I wrangle babies and 4th graders rather than have my name in lights on Broadway. But somewhere between playing an Irish lass in college and a Jewish grandmother in New York (my off-off-Broadway debut at the ripe old age of 23), I got pretty good and summoning up personal experiences to help me understand a character.


I'd remember a certain idiotic ex-boyfriend if I had to feign heartache. I reflected on my first trip to Europe if I had to conjure up excitement. I delved into the grief I felt when I lost my grandfather to help me find despair. You know -- textbook Method acting stuff that Lawrence Olivier made fun of.


Well, it may not have made my acting any more amazing, but it's helping me as a mom. Because on days like today when Stella is a cranky, teething ball of temper and tears, it's easy to feel helpless and frantic.


Instead, believe it or not, I'm remembering the night I gave birth. Surrounded by two of the people I love the most in this world -- Dave and my mom -- I felt completely alone. I couldn't stand to be spoken to, but I screamed out if left alone in a room. I wanted the lights off and then was annoyed by how dark it was. My amazing doula, Julie, set forth delicious lavender oil that one moment soothed me and the next made me nauseous.


And my dear husband, mom and doula stayed right there through it all. Patient, loving, giving me the space I needed yet never leaving my side. I realized the minute it was over that they reacted perfectly.


So today, when Stella pushes me away, screaming, I remember how it feels to be that annoyed and unhappy. And I give her her space. Then I give her a teething biscuit. Then a chilled washcloth. Then my breast.


Who said a drama major was worthless?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Mother's Day Resolutions...

Stella's granny, Judy -- the best mom I know!


I love New Year's. As a kid, I made meticulous, detailed, incredibly long lists of resolutions that I fulfilled perfectly. Until around February 1st, when I forgot all of them.


In multicultural New York City, there are many new years to celebrate, and I tend to get into each and every one of them. There's January 1st, of course, with collard greens and Hoppin' John (two delicious Southern meals guaranteed to bring good luck and money). There's Chinese new year, usually in February, with its dragons, fireworks and delicious food. There's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, with apples and honey. And, for some, Passover is like a second new year, because, like me, many people just love renewal!


So I'm going to consider Mother's Day another renewal, and therefore will make a (hopefully) abbreviated list of mom-based resolutions. They say if you list too many, you probably won't do any of them. So I'll try to stick to the ones I think are most important:


1. I want to cook more healthful, delicious and interesting meals for Stella. I've decided this is more important than a clean house, which I've been excellent at maintaining, because Stella's insides are more important that the external beauty of where we live. An excellent resource I've found for this (thanks to one of my awesome uber-mom friends, Shannon), is Chow Mama, listed to the right!

2. I want to play with Stella more. Not try to find things for her to do while I fill in the blank, not pack her up to go to wherever, not make eyes at her while I speak to someone on the phone. I want to get down on the floor, make her giggle, and get dirty. I'll never look back and regret that I didn't clean more, if you know what I mean.

3. I want to shake it off. Whatever "it" is. Her tantrum at the library. The poop that got in my hair during a diaper change. Her refusal, out of nowhere, to eat what was her favorite meal yesterday. Her desire to nap at the exact moment I'd planned to go out and meet a friend. I want to let it go, to roll with the punches, to find joy in the unexpected.

4. I want to be as gentle with myself as I am with Stella. I want to give myself a break every now and then, even if I don't fulfill numbers 1 - 3 on this list, because some days, I won't. I want to be a role model for how to love yourself, as that is something I want for Stella pretty much more than anything.


That's a good, solid list. It should last me until...hmm...Summer Solstice? Is that a new year of sorts?


Happy Mother's Day to all the incredible, wonderful, amazing moms I know, especially my own!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Writing it Down:

My daughter, the music lover!


OK, so I totally stole this from one of those amazing new mommies I mentioned in my previous post. Tiffanie was a cool chick I knew in high school. We reconnected and now I keep up with her adventures in motherhood, craft-making and cooking with her blog, Moment to Moment, listed to your right. Check it out!


Like Tiffanie, I want to start writing down those amazing moments that happen every day in a parents life. The stuff you swear you'll never forget, but fear you might.


So, here's my first "Writing it Down" moment:


Stella loves the song "Throw a Line" by Patty Griffin (she has excellent taste in music). When she wants to hear this particular song, she gives me a sly grin, then begins to tap her foot rhythmically on the floor.


When I turn the song on and she hears the strong bluesy percussion, her eyes light up and starts to bob her head up and down, ala '80's headbangers.


Sometimes, if mama's feeling sassy, I dance with her. Meaning I do my best to recreate some of my old ballet moves from my childhood while Stella crawls between my feet and claps her hands.


Sometimes, motherhood is just about the best thing I can think of.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'm Not Perfect...

An imperfect mother in her imperfect PJ's giving her daughter an evil plastic toy for her birthday!


Stella and I are huge fans of The Laurie Berkner Band. Actually, I think I'm the bigger fan of them than Stella, as she's content to listen to alt-country or punk music. But I prefer Laurie's message of "cleaning up can be fun" to alt-country's message that "life sucks" or punk's message that "your parents suck."


My new favorite LBB song goes like this: "I'm not perfect. No I'm not. I'm not perfect, but I got what I got. I do my very best, do my very best, do my very best each day. But I'm not perfect, and I hope you like me that way."


What a great message for kids! As a teacher, you'd be surprised how many perfectionists I've taught and how much more difficult they can be than other kids. They're not the teacher's fantasy that you'd imagine, because they can be moody when things don't go their way and they can be so hard on themselves that trying new things can be treacherous.


I know a lot about perfectionist tendancies because I was a perfectionist kid. I made straight A's from K - 12, had a room so neat that forensic scientists would have had trouble getting a hair sample from it, and was called a "goody two-shoes" by too many folks (who are now all Facebook friends, of course). I was hospitalized at age 16 with stress-induced stomach problems, went stag to the prom (hey -- at least I went), didn't have a real boyfriend until college, and literally sobbed each and every time I made less than an A on any paper, test, project, whatever.


Then I went away to college (which I was able to afford due to scholarships awarded to neurotic, socially-inept perfectionists), and I cut loose. I was surrounded by folks who were all heads of the class at their schools, folks who were frankly smarter than me, and I felt the pressure lift immediately. I made good grades in college, don't get me wrong, but I certainly didn't make straight A's and I no longer beat myself up for my lack of perfection. It was a wonderful time for me in so many ways.


Unfortunately, it didn't stick.


I was 31 when I got pregnant. It took some work to get there. When I finally saw the two little lines on my little pee-soaked stick, I was intensely grateful, intensely joyful, intensely dedicated to being the perfect mom.


I think this is a pattern of thought that is quite common among us older moms. We waited for this. We planned for this. Sometimes, it didn't come easily to us. But, regardless, we have decided that we are going to be the best parents this world has ever seen and we will never, ever, not in a million years reproduce the mistakes of our parents nor the mistakes of any parents we have ever known.


WE WILL BE THE UBERPARENTSEXTRAORDINAIRE!


That's great. It's wonderful to be dedicated to raising your child to the best of your ability. But, for me at least, trying to be perfect comes at a cost.


Off the top of my head, I can think of several instances where I tried to be the perfect mom: Exclusive breastfeeding -- no bottles (not even with pumped milk) in sight -- for the first few months. No TV played in the presence of my daughter. Only homemade, organic food prepared by yours truly for her system six months or later after her birth. Tummy time for the required amount of time. Fresh air -- each and every day -- despite the weather.


The list goes on and on. Had I been able to fulfill all my goals, I really could have been as close to perfect as my yuppy Brooklyn culture acknowledges. But when you have a daughter who is a troubled sleeper, rarely naps, and doesn't play by herself for any amount of time, that list is a bit lofty.


I soon found that I really wanted a break from nursing, as much as I loved it, but was disheartened to find that we waited too long to introduce a bottle. I didn't want Stella to become a TV addict, but I find that if I don't turn on Jack's Music Show at least once a day (but never more than two), housework rarely gets done on days she doesn't nap. I broke down and bought jarred baby food when my lack of spare time made it hard for me to steam and puree the squash, sweet potatoes and string beans I bought at the store. Stella screamed bloody murder during tummy time, so I gave up on it for a while, and I still think that might be why she didn't really get crawling until she was ten months old. And finally, since my daughter fought me putting her coat on with a vengeance, we tended to stay in when the temperature was below 20 degrees Farenheit.


I think a lot of people would probably have rolled with the punches, telling themselves that this is how life goes, that we'll try to do better tomorrow, etc. Not me. I got very depressed, very down on myself. I began to feel like the UBERCRAPPYPARENTEXTRAORDINAIRE.


It doesn't help that I've always had an unhealthy tendancy to compare myself to others. And I am literally surrounded, both online and in real life, by amazing new mothers. Mothers whose babies eat swiss chard and sauteed salmon while Stella sometimes will only eat yogurt and cheerios. Moms who have not a single plastic, battery-operated toy in sight while I pull down the loudest, flashiest toys I can find in an attempt to keep Stella occupied long enough for me to pee. Moms who don't even own a TV while I hum the theme song to Jack's Music Show to get Stella out of the toilet and into the living room.


These moms are wonderful people. These moms are nice friends and great parents. These moms have done nothing wrong.


And these moms are not perfect. No matter how it looks on the outside, somewhere, deep within their peaceful home where their child sleeps through the night and has never had a pesticide in her system, something is awry. Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly dark, I talk to Dave (or Stella if Dave is not home) about the flaws I think might be there. Sinister, terrible, deliciously detailed flaws...


Lately, I've started to give myself a break. If I have to put Stella down while she's screaming so I can walk away and breathe, I congratulate myself on my ability to calm down. If I feed Stella whole wheat pasta with frozen organic veggies and tomato sauce for the 15th night in a row, I pat myself on the back that my daughter is eating better than most Americans. If I lie on the floor to take a break while Stella pulls out her toys or literally crawls over my belly, I tell myself that a well-rested mom is a happier mom.


The funniest part about this is that now that I'm being easier on myself, Stella's being easier on me, too. I didn't realize it, but all the stress I was putting on myself to be perfect was causing me to be short-tempered and bad-natured. Of course Stella picked up on it. Kids are sponges. (Can I tell you how my 4th grade class behaved when I was cranky and pregnant?)


So, no, my daughter doesn't have the most well-balanced diet, isn't sheltered from society's evil, has probably ingested chemicals from her plastic toys, and still isn't walking at 12.5 months. Her mom isn't perfect, and neither is she.


But we do our very best each day.