Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Newest Apartment Saga, or The Last Two-Family House on the Left

When the Brooklyn Baby Family escaped the Baltic Hell that was our last apartment, we really wanted to believe that we were starting fresh. We found a no-fee apartment through a friend, who in turn found it through a crunchy community bulletin board in Park Slope's famous Food Coop. The landladies were real people, not a corrupt mega-corporation run by the Russian mafia, and they seemed (and still do) like they really cared about us and wanted to create a nice space for us. They even put in new air conditioners and installed a dishwasher for us. The space was open and friendly, our downstairs neighbor was NORMAL and very kind, the neighborhood was awesome and convenient. And, possibly best of all, since we lived on the top floor, NO MANIAC, SERIAL-KILLER, UPSTAIRS NEIGHBORS TO SEND ME TO THE MENTAL HOSPITAL AGAIN. Oops, did I say again?

Ah, yes, we thought, we can put up our feet and stay a while.

And then, like the beginning of a formulaic horror movie, we began to notice...things. Little things. Things we thought we could shrug off.

Extremely loud rush-hour traffic that seemed to be right in our living room.

Mysterious swarms of bugs entering in through the skylights we raved about.

A random hole in the wall in the living room that we stuffed with foam insulation and duct taped over.

A bathroom door with a tricky lock that seemed to lock itself.

A crumbling ceiling around the in-wall air-conditioner in the bedroom.

A radiator in the living room that just didn't turn on. Ever.

And thing the things became bigger, more ominous, annoying as all hell.

A neighbor who started doing construction late at night.

The beloved dishwasher getting stuck in the middle of a cycle and leaving us with wet, crusty dishes.

Mysterious sounds, like two squirrels either screwing each other's brains out or murdering each other, INSIDE our ceiling (not on it).

Lack of insulation in Stella's room that caused it to be freezing cold the minute the heat goes off.

And, worst of all, a heating system that suddenly stopped working smack in the middle of -- you guessed it -- the biggest cold snap we've had yet.

I won't tell you the full story, because it's long and rambling and, dare I say it?, boring (that is, if you're not living it). But here's the bottom line.

Our landladies bought a brand new heating system last year that came with a warranty. The warranty guys came time and time again, replacing this, tweaking that, putting more oil in, adjusting it, bla bla bla. It would work for a day or two, then stop. Immediately our historic home from the 1800's with its gorgeous swiss cheese walls would become an igloo, and the most pyrophobic person on earth (me) would try to sleep at night while the ominous space heater kept her daughter warm.

Have I mentioned we have no fire escapes, and our upstairs windows (where we sleep) are too small for us to crawl out of? Not that I obsess about such things.

Things came to a head the night we turned on the space heater in Stella's room, opened her door (so as not to trap her with the fire should the worst happen), and locked the cats in the bedroom (so they wouldn't play their Brokeback Mountain cat games in her crib). We woke up to a freezing cold apartment (except for Stella's room, thank God), but when Dave tried to free the cats from the bathroom, the mysterious lock had locked itself. Dave heard nothing on the other side, and fearing that the room had become too cold for the poor felines, he ended up breaking the door. The cats were OK, but we, as a family, were dispirited.

The heat kept going off over and over, but I must say the landladies took it seriously and responded to us each time. Even recently, when we pleaded with them to get a new guy to look at it, as we feared the warranty guys (who sometimes missed appointments and seemed generally surly and clueless) weren't helping, they did it.

A pretty competent guy came, looked at every thing, messed with our radiators, etc. And, when he left, ALL our radiators worked and it seemed that finally, FINALLY, we were going to have some reliable heat this winter.

Until...our neighbor called us later to tell us the heater wasn't working again. It kept shutting itself off.

So, I didn't sleep at all last night, worried about the cats in the cold bathroom, worried about my daughter in our fire trap, worried about this life we were creating for ourselves, worried about all it would entail to truly change this life.

I've tried to stop whining on this blog, and honestly, we're handling this OK. But I'm 34 years old, and by golly, I'm ready for life to be a tad bit easier on us.

I'm ready to live in normal-ville, wherever that may be.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Reluctant Disciplinarian

As a teacher, you'd think disciplining my child would come naturally to me, wouldn't you? Well... it doesn't.

In fact, that was what I had the hardest time with as a teacher, back when I started out almost eight years ago. I wanted to be everyone's buddy, everyone's confidant, the lone adult who "got" these kids - their Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds. Of course this led to the class working their butts off to get away with murder 24/7.

So then I switched gears and became the screaming banshee of a teacher, getting in kids' faces, turning red, and causing everyone's blood pressure to raise unnecessarily. (Oh, God, sometimes I wish I could just gather my first year of students, those first graders at PS 114 in the Bronx, and give them all enormous hugs and boxes of chocolates. They got a pretty crappy teacher that year, unprepared and emotional. Of course, now they're all around 14 and would think that's lame, but still...)

Over the years, I found the balance necessary to maintain order in a class.
1. Clear expectations of behavior.
2. Praise for good behavior.
3. Clear consequences for misbehavior that are followed each and every time.
4. Maintaining a calm, cool composure, no matter how upset the kids (or you) get.

It works. But the hardest part is when that sweet child who never misbehaves suddenly has a bad day and you have to call her parents. She starts sobbing, begging you please, just not this time! And you know she means it, that she'll never do it again, and you don't want to give bad news to her parents anyway, and wouldn't it just be easier to let it slide just this once?

But you can't. That's the deal. The same rules apply to everyone. And guess what? That kid lives, her parents live, you live, and now everyone in that class knows that you're fair and honest and mean business.

So now, what do you do when the child in question is an adorable almost-two year old, the sweetest kid you know, the light of your life, your very own offspring?

If you're me, you keep finding yourself thinking, oh, she's just having a bad day. Oh, this is just a developmental phase. Oh, maybe if I get her mind on something else we can avoid this situation. And, worst of all, maybe I won't even attempt this activity at all because I know she'll have a meltdown. (Which explains why I almost never go shopping with her, never turn on the TV to check the weather because she won't want me to turn it off, why I rarely go on long trips on the subway with my darling.)

I really don't want to become one of those mothers who's at her daughter's beckon call. It's bad for me, surely, as it rules my life and makes me feel frazzled. But it's also bad for Stella because it'll prevent her from learning to deal with disappointment, anger, and sadness, and might just create a kid who expects the world to revolve around her. (Believe me, I've had some experience with this type of child.)

So the Brooklyn Baby Daddy and I have started giving time outs and I'm frankly surprised that it's working. I'm staunchly against spanking and honestly, I used to be against time outs (it's a long story that harkens back to when I thought my ticket to hell would be purchased the minute I gave Stella an ounce of formula or let her fuss for a moment in the crib).

But every kid is different, and this works for her. The theatrical sympathy of The Happiest Toddler on the Block ("STELLA'S MAD THAT SHE CAN'T EAT ANOTHER COOKIE! SO MAD!"), the coddling, the constant looking for a way to distract her -- this all just made it worse. But once we taught her how to sit quietly in one spot for one minute (two minutes as of April 14th), she learned to both cooperate with our demands and dread the routine.

So, this is major work in progress, but now when she starts screaming because I won't let her spill the box of Cheerios all over the floor, I get on her level and warn her, "Stella, if you don't stop, we'll have to give you a time out." And she either stops or she doesn't.

The hard part is talking myself into actually following through when she doesn't, rather than reaching for the broom and bracing myself for a cleanup.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Multi-Tasking Momma

I found it hard to post in the wake of the devastation in Haiti. Although I do love to complain from time to time, I've led quite the privileged life and I can't fathom the heartache and pain the people of Haiti are experiencing. We've done what we can, which is donate money, and I'm sure by this point you know how you can help, too. But still, it's hard to sit here in my cushy life and go on about trivial issues when people are literally surrounded by death and destruction. My heart goes out to them, to say the least.

But, still, our lives go on, and so blog I must.

Lately, the Brooklyn Baby Family has found itself in a bit of a slump. The weather outside is frightful, and since the Baby Daddy is still currently unemployed and I am only employed two days a week, we spend many days together, hanging out in our fairly small apartment, reading the same books to Stella, eating the same foods, doing the same chores, guiltily letting Stella watch Elmo when we get too tired to go on. Although I'm happily medicated at this point, I still felt myself begin to sink into the dark, swirling eddy of my emotions, and I knew it was time for a change. Sure, I'd prefer that change to be a move to a modern house in Kentucky with central heat and a parking spot and access to my family, but since that's not an option at the moment, I'll take what I can get.

First, I began a three-week cleanse. Over the holidays, I was basically training to be a competitive eater (my favorite categories were french fries, beer and red velvet cake), and I was dismayed to find that even my fat pants were suddenly tight on me. Worse than that was the fact that I woke up with zero energy and felt terrible -- headaches, stomach aches, back aches. I'm 34, but I would have sworn I was 85. A friend at school had told me about a cleanse she does each year to give her body a break. It consists of vegetables and fruit (most raw), a tiny bit of brown rice or lentils, water, and supplements. After 10 days, you can add a bit of lean protein, too.

Sure, it's extreme, but I needed a major wake up call. I'm almost halfway through, and I feel fabulous. I've lost 10 lbs and feel fantastic, even mentally (and that's quite the feat, I can tell you).

The only problem is I can't really exercise while on it, other than walking, so my goal to run and do yoga will have to wait another 11 days. But I'm on my way and I'm proud of myself. (But I must admit there've been times when I would have cut off my right arm for a powdered donut or some nachos. I'm just saying...)

I'm also going to get back into performing, after a too-long hiatus, and I'm starting it off with a bang, so to speak. After doing a string of mom-themed shows, I decided to show off my sassy side by performing a steamy bit in Mama D's Arts Bordello, a fantastic, hilarious variety show. The theme is "The Jet Set," and the entire show will feel like you're on an airplane. Want to know what I'm reading? You'll just have to get yourself there -- Friday, February 5th at Parkside Lounge on the Lower East Side (see the link for more details). I also plan to do at least one Moth reading a month, from this point on, since I loved it so much the first time.

The Brooklyn Baby Family is also in need of money, so we have a few plans on that front. I picked up two new tutoring jobs a week, but would really love a third (hint hint). I am officially now a sub at my school on the days I don't work, and Dave is interested in becoming a sub for the city, too (which he can do for up to 40 days/year without a teaching license). Dave is also busting his butt finding exciting freelance opportunities that we can tell you more about once they're solid. (Lest you forget, I am a superstitious Southerner).

But the venture I'm having the most fun with is my in-home bakery, Bklyn Bakes. I love to bake so much, but I find I only do it when a major special occasion is coming up. A friend gave me the idea to start selling my homemade cakes, cookies, brownies and the like to folks who don't find joy in measuring and sifting the way I do. I thought I'd just tell people about it, in the off-chance that they were interested, and two days later I have two solid orders and one possible order -- all for this weekend! I don't know how it's going to be, baking delicious cakes while on a cleansing diet (this is willpower like nobody has ever seen it), but I'm so excited to do what I love, get paid for it, and hopefully make someone's tummy very happy.

So that's the update on the Brooklyn Baby Empire. I'm glad we overcame our winter inertia and I'm sure little Stella is, too (my born traveller was about to commit matricide from staying in our boring apartment all day, every day). I guess it just goes to show you, when you're not happy, doing something is always better than doing nothing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Baby Mommas

I have a feeling this post may veer into spiritual territory, something I rarely do because I don't like to alienate those who don't share my beliefs and also because I've always felt like my spiritual life is quite personal. I understand why others want to proclaim their views to the world, I really do, but for me, it's always felt kind of like telling people more than they'd like to know about what happens in the Brooklyn Momma/Daddy Bedroom. So, in advance, you have been warned.

We had an incredible trip to Kentucky to celebrate Christmas with my family. So incredible, in fact, that I didn't feel like separating myself from it for a single moment to blog. Sorry if I ruined everything for my dedicated readers for about two weeks.

It's hard to explain why it's so amazing to me how much I enjoy returning to Kentucky these days. Let's just say my family experienced quite a bit of turmoil for most of my life, and by the time I moved to NYC in 1998 (three weeks post college graduation), I felt like I was fleeing. There were constant arguments, lots of unhealthy behaviors and the feeling (whether self-imposed or not) that I didn't belong. I didn't belong in a small town, I didn't belong in Kentucky, I didn't belong with my family.

I'd had a short-lived, tumultuous relationship with a man in college who convinced me I was destined to move to New York. To be honest, until our romance, I figured I'd move to Nashville, possibly as far away as Atlanta, upon graduation. Although I was a theater (and French, don't forget the French! So practical!) major, I just didn't think I could cut it in the big apple.

But he sold me on it, and once he broke up with me -- with much emotion, embarrassing displays and gastro-intestinal problems on my part -- I wanted to go there, as much to prove a point to him as anything else.

And, to this day, I can't thank him enough for this.

I needed to show myself that I was capable -- capable of self-preservation, capable of living alone, capable of actually writing, producing and directing my own plays in New York City! And I did. I also developed an intensely accurate internal map of the subway system, learned how to not let anybody cut in front of me in line, and can tell you the best place to get pizza, sushi, bagels, and egg creams in the city.

And, of course, I made a circle of wonderful friends, met the love of my life and was blessed with a wonderful daughter here.

Amidst all of my self-discovery and actualization, my Kentucky family began to heal. My parents got their much-needed divorce, my mother threw herself into her career, my father moved to Las Vegas (a city that was made for him), my sister and one of my brothers met their soul-mates, and my other brother survived a brutal divorce and emerged a stronger, incredible father, brother and son.

Sometimes I feel like a major bum for not being there for anyone during any of this. My brother Jason and my sister Nora have been rocks for my mom, and my brother Kerry has taken excellent care of my dad, especially now that his health is fragile. What was I up to? Going into debt to produce my plays, moving apartments a million times, strolling around museums, and buying $13 cheeseburgers.

But it is what it is, and I can only work with the here and now. Which is what is so confusing.

The Brooklyn Baby Family found an apartment that is affordable, in a great neighborhood, and has given us great friends with kids Stella's age. I have a job teaching at possibly the best public school in the country. I can write and perform my work to real audiences in a variety of venues. Dave has the opportunity to possibly find a job writing for another major publication here in New York. And Stella can always have the amazing bragging right of being a native New Yorker.

And yet, and yet, my heart and my soul tell me we're not supposed to be here. That little voice keeps telling me that our lives were meant to be lived in Kentucky.

I don't know if you've ever read Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist. Some people think of him as too new agey, but I find his theories to completely match up with my instincts. He thinks we each have a purpose in life. However, we also have free will. God can give us little hints (omens, as he calls them), that we're on the right or wrong path to fulfill our destiny, but He can't flat-out tell us what to do.

For example, years ago, when I found myself, once more, without an apartment, I really wanted to move in with Dave. However, he wasn't ready for that commitment. I seriously considered breaking up with him at that point. But then, when I began to search for a place, I found only one apartment that was anywhere near my price range (this was back when NYC real estate was even more ridiculous than it is now). Guess where it was? Less than a block from Dave. That felt like an omen.

So, this long and rambling post leads me to this. When we were in Kentucky last week, life was blissfully easy and calm. Yes, I realize we were on vacation, but this goes beyond that. People were friendly and open. Grocery stores had what we needed and were easily accessible. My family babysat for me so Dave and I could be alone. Sigh. Easy. Not to mention the rolling hills and low cost of living and the fact that we never had to worry about where we'd park our car. But I digress.

Coming back to NYC on New Year's Day, by contrast, was an enormous smack in the face. We picked up our car from the long-term parking garage to find that the driver's side window wouldn't roll up. In winter. We began driving on the BQE (a crowded expressway), cold, January air blasting us in the face. Then we began to smell burning rubber. I looked in the side view mirror only to find that our entire back right wheel had separated from the rim and was rolling down the freeway.

Dave, to his immense credit, remained calm and pulled off on the nearest exit -- Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. However, as we approached the intersection at the bottom of the exit, the brakes failed, and Dave had to use the parking break to stop us from colliding with several other cars.

At this point, we were shaken up, but elated to be alive. Dave pulled into a Getty gas station. The minute he turned off the engine, the attendant approached us, and in very broken English told us we had to get off of the property. I explained that we just had an accident and needed to wait here for AAA. He had no sympathy, not even when I produced my adorable 20 month old daughter, so I grabbed my purse and stormed off to the nearest diner, but not before cursing in his face and saying things that I'm intensely ashamed of now.

I ordered Stella a $9 peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tried to breath. Although I told the waiter that we'd just had a wreck, when I started to cry, both he and the folks around us completely ignored me. Stella began to get restless, spilling her milk and throwing her food everywhere. It was late and she was ready for bed.

I called a car service, but when they arrived, Dave had trouble loading the car seat in, because they did not have the LATCH system and their seat belts were messed up. So Stella and I sat in the car, freezing because the window was broken, and waited for around an hour and 15 minutes for AAA to show up.

They finally did, and the angel working for them quickly fixed our window and jumped our engine (oh -- did I forget to mention that the car wouldn't start, either?). However, his jack wasn't working. So we had to wait another 15 minutes for his associate to bring us a jack and for him to change the tire.

This whole time, nobody stopped to ask us if we were OK. Passers-by seemed annoyed that our car was in their walking path. At some point, Dave asked a couple in a car if he could borrow their jack. The minute he turned his head, they sped away, yelling at him, "sorry man!"

Well, we finally got home, and put the little one to bed. Our wonderful friend, Julie, who'd been watching our cats, gave us some Hoppin' John and collard greens (a Southern tradition on New Year's Day), which we ate gratefully, both out of hunger and a desperation to turn 2010 around.

Yesterday, we stayed in our PJ's and watched TV all day, telling ourselves we needed to recuperate. That night, when I was ready to turn in, our next door neighbor began using a power saw and hammering. At 10:30 at night.

Which means construction has literally been surrounding us in the last three apartments.

Thankfully, this guy stopped when Dave went over there, unlike our last noisy neighbor, but really, COME ON!

So, please forgive me if this feels a bit new agey or whatnot, but this just feels like the final omen in a string of omens that we don't belong here. True, it would be scary to start all over, to make new friends, to find new jobs, to get a house, whatever. But I can't help but feel like that's exactly what we need to do.

Now, how to get the Brooklyn Baby Daddy to agree with me...and what the heck would we call our blogs?