Friday, July 30, 2010

Vaguely Inappropriate Remarks

Yesterday I realized that Lucia's willingness to smile and stare at anyone and everyone on the street has rubbed off on me--and that I should perhaps take this as a warning and return to my eyes-down, alone-in-a-crowd city ways. As we walked past some men at a construction site yesterday afternoon, Lucia gazed up at a man, and I, in turn, gave him a smile--a "Yes, I know my baby's cute, how charming that she's looking at you" smile. Instead of returning the smile with a similar subtext, he said loudly, "Can I get in the stroller, too?"

I gave a fake laugh, and then frowned when I was past him, but really I have no idea what this was supposed to mean. It just seemed a bit creepy, akin to the time when I was an executive assistant (and why is this old, old job once again popping into my head?), sitting in the office with the pampered Maltese (smuggled into the building in a Pottery Barn bag) on my lap, and the CEO's personal driver came up behind me and whispered insinuatingly, "I'm jealous of Shitake*." I shiver even now, remembering.

One other funny/strange remark recently: As Lucia and I walked down 79th St. between Columbus and Amsterdam earlier this week, past a youngish guy in a suit, talking on a cell phone by the curb, the guy, mid-conversation, pointed abruptly at Lucia and shouted "That's cute!" as though he were having some sort of argument and Lucia proved his point. (She was wearing a large, floppy-brimmed sunhat. She was, indeed, cute.)

*similar to, but not exactly, the dog's real name

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Revisiting the Old, Confronting the New

Lucia and I had an adventure this afternoon: we rode the subway to 116th Street, and I took her all around my old stomping grounds at Columbia. We walked through campus, and then we walked past my old apartment on W. 118th. We then walked back through campus and down Broadway, where I saw that although some familiar places were still there, much had changed. I’d planned to have a snack at an outdoor table at Nussbaum & Wu—and was surprised to see there were no longer any outdoor tables. (Perhaps it was just today?) So we walked back over to Amsterdam and I had an apple streudel at the Hungarian Pastry Shop. I felt like I should have a stack of papers in front of me—I spent many long hours there grading essays, drinking endless cups of coffee as I marked up comma splices and dangling modifiers and leaps in logic—but instead I had a baby, crunching on a Mum-Mum.

Though I spent four years in the neighborhood (three years in graduate school and then, after I finished my coursework, staying put in my student-subsidized housing for another year), I hadn’t been back to Morningside Heights since I moved to Brooklyn in 2004. It was strange, so strange, to be back. That was my first New York home. I was so young when I arrived. I can still remember how it felt back in September in 1999, watching Mom and Dad turn off W. 118th onto Morningside Drive after moving me into my apartment, knowing I was on my own.

Eleven years later—walking the same sidewalks, in very different shoes.

Tonight Andrew and I confronted a brand-new phenomenon: when we crept in to check on Lucia, about forty minutes after we’d thought she’d gone to sleep, we found her not only awake but sitting up in her crib. Sitting up! She was not sitting up when she went to bed, and I had no idea she could get into a seated position on her own. It gave me an eerie little shiver to see her like that—to see my baby sitting and knowing I hadn’t had a hand in helping her. I rocked her back to sleep (she seemed to really be in a half-sleep) and settled her onto her back.

Half an hour later, I checked on her again, and found her once again sitting—but this time she had her legs in a wide V and was folded over at the waist, sound asleep. She must have sat up on her own again and just fallen asleep that way. We hadn’t heard a peep; she clearly wasn’t in distress. It’s like she was sleep-sitting. I can’t get over this—she’s never gotten from lying down to sitting on her own during the day, and yet there she was. A new trick. Will she remember it in the daylight? Andrew was a frequent sleep-walker as a kid—perhaps she’s taking after him.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lord of the Gnats

I made a slight error in judgment today. This weekend, after perusing the farmer’s market on Columbus, Andrew, Lucia, and I went to the terrace park of the Natural History Museum—I’d read about it, and I wanted to scope it out to see if it was someplace I could take Lucia this week. (i.e., I needed to know if there was an elevator option to avoid the large stairway.) The terrace has greenspace, a small cafĂ©, and a large paved area with streams of water jutting out, to the delight of many small children. The water pools at the bottom of the slightly sloped space, creating a little stream that I thought seemed perfectly Lucia-sized. And there was an elevator.

So today I dressed Lucia in a little bathing suit, and we headed to the terrace. I imagined she’d have a wonderful time scooting around in the water; during bathtime now, she squirms onto her stomach and splash/crawls from one end of the tub to the other, oblivious to water in her face. I sat her down by the spot where the water was pooling; we were in shade; her little toes were getting wet. But we hadn’t been sitting for even a minute before two little girls bounded up—sisters, probably about five and three years old. “Can we play with you?” the older girl asked boldly.

A ridiculous cold dread filled my stomach. I felt like the shy child I once was, just wanting to be left alone. But I nodded, and the little girls sat down. “Can I touch her?” one asked. “Only her foot,” I said. They tickled her foot. Then one began pouring cups of water over her foot and calf. When the sisters began splashing each other, I picked Lucia up and moved to another spot. They followed. They continued pouring water over her feet. Lucia wasn’t sure what to make of all this—they were a little too close, I think; there was too much activity. I felt a bit ambushed myself. Soon she held her arms out to me, I picked her up, and that was the end of our terrace adventure.

I was surprised that my little outing hadn’t gone as planned, but I have to remind myself that she’s only nine months old—perhaps water-play terraces are the province of older children. And perhaps she’s going to be a child who’s happiest with just one other child around—when she’s met other babies one-on-one, she’s been fine. Or perhaps on another day, a day following a night when she didn’t wake up at three and toss and turn until five like a little insomniac, she would have splashed like the little fish she seems to be.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Really Fun Games

Before Lucia was born, I got an offer in the mail to get a three-year subscription to Parenting magazine for $12. I bought it; I didn’t have any other parent-themed magazines, so I thought, why not. But now I wish I’d kept that $12 and used it to buy three cupcakes at Crumbs, a delicious bakery on the UWS. Parenting, like the equally hideous Family Circle, which my parents, for some reason, still subscribe to after what must be twenty-odd years, caters to the lowest-common-denominator of parents (i.e., moms), the ones who seek out articles that promise that you’ll LOVE YOUR BODY—NAKED! and who seek you-go-girl marriage advice at a newsstand. These magazines are so desperate to produce content month after month after month that they resort to absurdity cloaked as earnestness, going on faith that readers won’t pick up on the fact that the suggestions are completely insane—so insane that, in a different venue, they’d seem clearly tongue-in-cheek. My dad recently shared a tip he’d read that a good, quick way to gussy up a room is to cover the ceiling in tin foil.

The only good thing about Parenting is that it often makes me laugh. I was reading the current issue as I pumped a couple of nights ago and came across these amazing tidbits, part of an article titled “Get Wet! Make a splash with these fun activities.” These qualify as some of the most insipid games ever created. I mean, “created.” Little creativity, as I think you'll agree, went into these.

Fun Game #1:

“Freeze! Place plastic bugs, toy cars, or other small treasures in your cube tray, add water, and freeze. Then hand a piece of ice to your child (age 3 and up) and have her melt it in her hands until the prize emerges.”

Commentary:

Besides the fact that watching ice melt could not be more boring, this is actually a painful suggestion. I attempted to practice breathing techniques for a natural birth by holding ice cubes in my hand for minutes at a time, a tip from a natural-childbirth book I had. Seriously? Watching ice cubes melt? Also, what kind of monster-sized ice-cube trays are large enough to hold a Matchbox car? That's not a cube of ice; that's a brick of ice.

Fun Game #2:

“Drink up. Encourage your child to try water flavored with different ingredients. Include slices of cucumber, lemon, lime, orange, and various berries (raspberry, strawberry, blueberry)—and see which one she likes best.”

Commentary:

So we have both watching ice melt and drinking water as great ways to spend a summer day. I personally love the completely unnecessary parenthetical aside, as though there were some ambiguity around the suggestion “various berries.” It has the telltale ring of an overzealous copyeditor. (“Author: what kind? need specifics.”) Personally, I have no interest in cucumber water unless I’m at a spa, where it seems somehow very refreshing when accompanied by a fluffy white robe.

The other eight “fun” activities in this article are less stupid, but only just. (Bathing your kiddos in a baby swimming pool to “take advantage of a warm summer evening” sounds fun until you start considering the hassle of rinsing out all the soap; and using the stream from a hose to push balls around the grass gives me a water-wasting shudder. That game would be illegal in California, I think.) Perhaps I should try to pitch Parenting with my own suggestions of fun water games for summer. These seem to match the tone and spirit:

Suggestion #1: Drop it! Give your child an eye dropper filled with water and have them squeeze out one drop a minute until the dropper is empty.

Suggestion #2: Wet blanket. Have your child use an eyedropper to soak a queen-sized quilt, one drop at a time. After several hours, when it’s soaking wet, wrap her up in it and give her a squeeze!

Suggestion #3: Painting with water. Give your child a bucket of water and a large paintbrush. Let her “paint” the sidewalk. It’ll dry as she goes, returning to regular pavement-color—which means she can just start all over again!

Oh, wait. Painting with Water was actually a favorite activity in the Orlando household during very early childhood, and there really is something satisfying about it. I take that one back. It’s way, way better than watching ice melt, no question.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday Bits

What a social day Lucia and I had yesterday. First we met a friend for lunch in Union Square; and, later, had a spur-of-the-moment playground meet-up with two friends and their baby, in town from Berlin. Andrew, too, has been having lunches and get-togethers with old friends and new. We’ve always been happy being just us, together, but it is wonderful to be back in a place where our world consists of other people, too. And Lucia, unwary of strangers, loves meeting new people, especially other babies. She seems to be becoming the sort of child who is going to run happily off to play with whatever children are around—making her as unlike me as a child as she could possibly be. But, of course, we shall see.

Lucia continues to detest peaches. I’ve been giving her small pieces of fruit to eat—blueberries, plums, bananas—and got some delicious peaches to try. These peaches were perfectly ripe, perfectly soft, perfect for little toothless gums. Lucia gamely picked up a piece of peach and put it into her mouth, but then she did her mango face—mouth open in horror, the unchewed peach lying limply on her tongue, small gagging convulsions coming from her throat. This time, I did not insist on a second taste. Peaches just don’t seem to be her thing. (But she loves the other fruits.)

Lucia is becoming familiar with things she is not supposed to touch. She knows she’s not supposed to crawl into the bathroom, and we keep the door shut; but if I’m in there, brushing my teeth or putting on lipstick, she quickly crawls over and hangs around the threshold, staring at me before beginning to inch her way in. Yesterday, when Andrew was brushing his teeth, she reached around the doorway toward the garbage can and just let her hand hover there, looking at Andrew, waiting for a reaction. She is so cute, and so much impending trouble.

Walking around or riding the subway with Lucia is a funny experience; she is so interested in other people, staring and sometimes waving or smiling, that I’m often forced to smile at the person myself in a “I know she’s staring at you for an uncomfortably long time as you try to listen to your iPod in peace, but isn’t she cute?” kind of way. I’ve made more eye contact with New Yorkers these past few weeks than I ever did before having a baby. Most people—most, not all—smile and wave back at Lucia, even surly-looking teenage boys (teenage girls always do). I try not to give the “not all” people dirty looks. Who doesn’t smile back at a baby?!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Workin’ Feet

Lucia’s precious babyfeet have become workin’ feet. Yesterday, when I put her in a stroller for a walk, I noticed a red welt on the big toe of her left foot—a blister. That’s the toe she uses to push off in her non-crawl crawl—and her maneuverings around the apartment have finally taken a toll. Her smooth, perfect little babyfeet are no longer just cute, extra appendages, there for singing songs about. (“Hey feet / Hey barefeet / Hey little feeties now / Hey barefeet / Hey toes / Ten little toes / Ten little toes / On two barefeet”—that’s for you, Beth and Nate, in case you’d managed to get that ditty out of your heads by now.) Now they’re workin’ feet, propelling her from bedroom to living room to kitchen to hallway, to the forbidden bathroom and the corner of the hallway where I try to put the stroller with its filthy, forbidden wheels (her current Holy Grail) out of her grasp.

Today we met Barbra for lunch in midtown—we walked there to meet her, striding through tourist throngs and hideous sidewalk-smells and blazing-hot pavement. What an awful part of the city—though it did remind me of a time long ago during graduate school (could it really be eight years? nine?) when I worked nearby, back in my executive assistant temp days. Ah, memories. Time well-spent in a stable of seven assistants for a CEO and his wife, transcribing voicemails about the urgency of finding fish forks in a discontinued style of cutlery and stepping on and off a digital scale to “set it” and typing up correspondence from their Maltese to other dogs. I don’t think of these things very often, but when I do, they always make me laugh.

Anyhoo, harbored from the crowds at a nice outdoor table at Maison, Lucia was happy as a clam in her high chair. A French waiter approached and crouched beside her. “Bonjour,” he said. “Bonjour, bonjour.” He told her she was beautiful. “Will you come to Paris with me?” he asked. I nearly choked on my sandwich. “Give her another twenty-five years,” I said, but what I really meant was thirty-five, forty-five, fifty-five—an ankle homing-bracelet and an online PhD suddenly seemed like a pretty good idea.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

After Hours

Occasionally, very occasionally, like when we have a guest in town or when we have a frantic, eleventh-hour errand to run, Andrew and I find ourselves out in the world past 7:00pm. This is rare. Lucia’s bedtime ritual begins promptly at 7:00pm with Baby Spa, itself a ritual that involves undressing, clearing her nose with the nasal aspirator, administering vitamins, splashing around with Pig Duck and her other toys, and then lifting a grinning baby from the water with cries of “Naked baby!” Then comes drying off, lotioning, dressing, blanket-sleepering, and feeding the bedtime bottle of breastmilk. Then comes rocking and singing. Then comes pumping so I have the next night’s bottle. It is a lengthy process.

But on rare occasions, we do find ourselves out there, among childless people, families with babies and kids with later bedtimes, couples with babysitters, older people whose kids are long grown, and crazies who fall into step with us and advise us not to let Lucia out of the house until she’s forty, make her wear a house-arrest ankle bracelet, and encourage her to get her PhD online. And we’re reminded that there is a whole world that takes place past bedtime—a world of restaurants and bars and movies and plays.

On the even rarer occasion when I am out past bedtime by myself, the feeling is decidedly strange. Last week I went to Central Park to get in the standby line for Shakespeare in the Park (an unsuccessful quest) and, after a stop at Fairway on the way home, didn’t return until 9:00pm. The outdoor yoga class I’ve been to twice doesn’t get me home until 7:45pm. And whenever I’m out so late (late!), I feel like I’m doing something completely insane, walking, as I am, without a baby attached to me. I feel as though I’ve temporarily reverted to an older version of myself, the one who left New York. No one who passes me would see any difference (except for my rings, of course), and this is strange, reminding me how little we can know about the people rushing past us.

The fact that walking alone makes me philosophize at all just emphasizes how unusual a thing it is—my mind, without a baby to focus on, has to wander somewhere.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Letter to Lucia: 9 Months




Little Lucia,

You’re nine months old today—you’ve now been out in the world for as long, more or less, as you were in my womb. No longer more familiar with your uterine home than with the world—and your independence, your person-ness, is coming through more and more. You are a beautiful, happy, hilarious child these days, absolutely devouring the world around you—figuratively, as you lean forward in your stroller and stare unabashedly at passersby, and literally, as anything that crosses your path is fair game for being raised to your mouth. You babble, squeal, giggle. You communicate your likes and dislikes clearly—a book you don’t wish to read is often pushed to the floor, while the one you have your eye on is lunged for. You are a mini-person, with a mind of your own, and that is thrilling to see.

You, still wordless, inspire others to say kind, complimentary, and often strange things. In the elevator just last night, a man with a spaced-out smile and a ready “dude” on his lips talked at you in a kind of rhythmic chant: “Ah, a Maclaren—nice ride…only the best…top of the line…to be nine months again, little baby…to be able to be as genius as your environment allows…” You just stared, unafraid, as you did earlier in the day, when a large dog sniffed your tiny foot. You just take it all in, people’s faces, people’s words. But you do seem to know friends when you see them—when we met some of Andrew’s MBA friends last night, you smiled at them readily.

You are crawling a version of a crawl that involves your forearms and toes. It’s more a squirm than an actual crawl, but it gets you where you want to go, whether that’s a few inches or a few feet across a room. You’re getting faster at it, and I wonder if this is just going to be your crawl—if you’ll squirm your way from this to standing and toddling. That’s fine, little one. I have a feeling you’ll be unique in all kinds of ways, your crawling style the least of them.

You seem to be aware of and fascinated by other children. There’s a nice playground across the street from Trump Place, and when we walk past, sometimes I stop and let you watch the playing children through the fence. You are enchanted—watching them run through the spraying water in the water-play area, seeing them slide and swing. Sometimes you look at them and then look up at me as though to say, “Mama, can I play, too?” And now that we’ve ventured in—we swung yesterday for the second time, to your utter delight—you seem so happy to be part of it all. But it occurred to me, when I saw the happiness on your face, how strangely sad it might be for me when you do eventually run off to play—with other kids, away from me. It’s so exhausting, sometimes, but so indescribably peaceful, to be, right now, all you need.

You still love bath time. You now hate having your diaper changed. When I put you on your back on the bed, you flip to your tummy immediately; when you’re in an especially playful mood, you flip back and forth over and over again, squealing in glee. Your laugh is a precious thing to hear—and you give your biggest laughs only for Daddy. Sometimes he calls me when he’s on his way home from work, and we meet him outside—on Broadway, or on Pier I—and your face breaks into a smile when you spot him. You are, however, quite Mama-focused right now; you often cry when I’m out of your sight.

We’re in New York City now, our new home, with grandparents and aunts and friends easy drives and train rides and flights away. I’m so glad to be back in what feels like the center of our world with you, little one.


**Pictures are from 7/4/10.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Walks with Lucia

Lucia and I have walked miles and miles since moving to New York. We take walks every day—at least one, usually two, sometimes three if the day is nice. There are so many places to go, so many things to see; even walking the same route yields countless new sights and sounds. Just yesterday, on our usual walk in Riverside Park, along the Hudson, near sunset, we watched a man set up a tall speaker that soon began emitting music—a waltz? He was joined by a woman, and they began dancing, right there, by the trail, on a small plaza jutting out into the water. The woman, middle-aged, stick thin, had long frizzy hair held back from her face with a wide headband; she wore a tight tank top, no bra, and red satin dancing shoes. She danced with her face serious and set, her eyes closed, and I knew right away she was a Dancer—capital D—spending her life waiting for music to start. She danced earnestly, as though something were at stake. Maybe it was. Maybe it was.

Lucia gets so much attention on our walks. Everyone loves a baby; and with her wide eyes, and the way she leans forward in her stroller, craning her neck to see everything, she invites waves, smiles, and hellos. Sometimes she does a frenetic two-handed wave; sometimes she gives a small, tentative smile; she babbles unselfconsciously. She’s unashamed about staring long and hard, sizing up whoever it is who’s trying to make her laugh. Strangers stop me all the time to tell me how cute she is; a black-sunglassed woman at CVS stopped in her tracks and demanded, “I must look at her.” She stepped back and looked for several long seconds, and then said, “Thank you. That gave me a lift.”

One comment I’ve gotten a couple of times, always following a remark about her cuteness or beautiful eyes, is, “Enjoy her.” Enjoy her—such a strange directive. Do I enjoy her? Do I enjoy having this little girl as my child? Of course I do. I can’t imagine life without her. Do I enjoy every second of our days together? That’s a tougher call. For example, would I say I “enjoy her” as she screams her little head off, with real tears leaking from her eyes, when I do something as horrendous as try to change her diaper? (Beginning about two days ago, diapering has become a battle of wills. Mama has always won so far, but continued success does not seem to be guaranteed.) But usually—yes, dear strangers, I enjoy her, and these fleeting baby days.

Today we did something new: rather than stand outside the gate at the playground across the street from Trump Place, we unlatched it and went inside—and I pushed her in a baby swing. She was unsure at first, her little face serious and wary; she didn’t take her eyes off me as I gently pushed her back and forth. But then she began smiling, and then squealing, and she watched the other kids running around, and seemed to like being part of it. Unfortunately, it began to rain, cutting our swinging short.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The $1,000 Birthday Party

When I was pregnant, I learned pretty quickly that there were two things I should avoid completely: Googling pregnancy “symptoms” and unborn baby fears, and reading any message boards on said subjects. The information (“information”) I dug up was always terrifying, confirming whatever fears I’d unwisely set out to investigate. Really, pregnant women should just talk to a couple of good friends who are moms, maybe get a book or two, and leave it at that.

I’ve taken my own advice, refraining from any of that after about the first trimester. But I seem to have forgotten myself now that we’re in NYC. I don’t read message boards about babies, health, etc.; but over the past few days I’ve been perusing a variety of “city baby” websites, clicking on random topics—how much household income do you need to live comfortably in NYC? Where should I send my child to school? Is it possible to have a child’s birthday party in NYC for less than $1,000?—and, subsequently, feeling a low simmer of panic deep in my gut.

Let it be said, first of all, that I don’t think you have to make $500K+ to live comfortably in NYC, as many of that message board’s posters claimed; however, I’m not yet facing private school tuition. And I definitely don’t think I could ever stomach a $1K birthday party; however, I’ve never faced the prospect of hosting twenty kids in a tiny apartment and realizing fairly quickly that just won’t work. So I’m appalled—but I’m also ignorant of how life works here once a baby becomes a kid. And so I can’t stop reading, even though I know that people who post to message boards are generally not the people whose advice I’d take on anything at all.

Our plan is to move out of the city by the time Lucia is school age, but if my birth plan was any indication, child-related plans of any sort are an eye-rolling idea. And so the tremor of doubt intensifies. What if this becomes us? People who struggle to make it work on a half million dollars, people who outsource birthday parties, people who pay for multi-thousand-dollar sleepaway camp? I have to remind myself that we are not those people. And I don’t think we will become them simply because we’re now big-city people once again.

I once woke up with a numb lip, Googled “numb lower lip left side,” and found out I had twenty-four hours to live. I should have just made a cup of coffee, read the paper, and let the pinched nerve or whatever it was work itself out. Now that I’m living the baby-in-the-city life, I need to just cease and desist with the urban-life message boards. Andrew and I have our ways; we make things work; we’re happy and don’t need a lot of things or money to be that way, never have, and don’t plan on raising a child who needs all that for happiness, either (with the exception now and then, of course, of a $20 chew toy). Being here doesn’t change who we are. And if the time comes when I realize there’s no way to celebrate Lucia’s birthday with a group of little friends for less than a month’s rent—well, then we’ll hear the message loud and clear that it’s time to go.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Heat Wave


We’re in a heat wave. I thought we’d left triple-digit temperatures behind when we left NorCal; but no. It was just over 100 this week, and it has been brutal—hot and muggy. I’d forgotten about that sticky city-feeling one gets after walking around on such a day. For a couple of days, it was too hot to spend much time outside, which upsets the new daily rhythms Lucia and I have been developing—rhythms that depend, largely, on being outside, walking or playing in a park.

Fortunately, my parents are here all week—Andrew’s actually back in California for several days of orientation at his company headquarters—so I have lots of entertainment support. Although Lucia’s really been the one entertaining us. She is, if it’s possible, cuter than she’s ever been, more smiley and silly. She’s rediscovered her ability to roll over and now spends long periods of time on our bed (well-supervised, of course) flopping from her back to her tummy to her back to her tummy, squealing and occasionally pausing on her back to give herself a round of applause. She is still tantalizingly close to crawling, doing a cute inchworm move to propel herself a few inches forward; when she’s on the hardwood floor, she can pull herself forward on her forearms. She gets frustrated quickly when she’s trying to move this way, and, at times, nothing seems to please her; she just wants desperately to move. Soon, soon, I think.

The picture is from NH--Lucia swimming in a sled.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Fourth of July, Back Where We Belong

This weekend, Andrew and I found ourselves adhering to one of our favorite traditions: spending the Fourth of July at the Littells’ ancestral home in New Hampshire. Andrew left work early Friday afternoon, we loaded up the car, and we were off—missing the NYC holiday traffic but getting stuck in Hartford. Nonetheless, by nightfall we were there, sweeping cobwebs from the doorway and mouse droppings from the countertops, putting together Lucia’s crib. Once she was asleep, Andrew went into town to get us some groceries and a pizza, which we ate in the dining room, nothing but stars and darkness outside the windows. We were lulled to sleep by bullfrogs and crickets, just as this house’s inhabitants have been for almost three hundred years.

Over the next three days, we reveled in the extreme relaxation that only comes from visiting this house. We read, wrote, played outside on a blanket with the baby, took walks along the unpaved road, filled a plastic sled with water for Lucia to use as a swimming pool. Andrew swam in the pond; I, as usual, did not. (Lucia dipped her toes in.) We had lunch at the Harpoon brewery in Windsor, Vermont. On the Fourth, we drove into Plainfield, a tiny town like something out a movie that calls for “a typical American small town.” We’d missed the parade, but locals were still sitting by the road in lawn chairs, chatting with one another; there was a cake auction inside the historical society’s office; and a few old buildings had opened themselves up for tag sales. Local art was being shown inside the town hall, but our attention was elsewhere—the hall is dominated by a stage with scenery designed by Cornish Colony member Maxfield Parrish. As ladies cooed over Lucia (wearing her bonnet, fitting for a day in a town founded in the early 1700s), we soaked in the atmosphere, then had lunch at a cookout sponsored by the local firemen. We could have been in 2010, or we could have been in 1900. Surely we were being whispered about, strangers at the fair.

Being at this house is always like stepping back in time. Every drawer in every bureau contains ghosts of centuries past; portraits of Andrew’s great-great-grandparents are mixed in with snapshots from his babyhood, nestled against blueprints defining the estate’s acres of land. Dead ladybugs are tucked into the seams of the furniture; dead moths, their wings outspread, drift into corners. And at night, when we turned off all the lights and laid outside on a blanket to look at the star-filled sky, there was nothing—no sound save the frogs and a frightening rustling in the woods, no light but the stars. Shooting stars flashed. The milky way trembled. Fireflies glowed in the fields.

And on Monday, loathe to leave and greedy for more hours in this timeless netherworld, we chose to spend the entire day there, right up through Lucia’s bedtime; and after her bath and bottle, we got in the car and started for home, crossing our fingers that she’d sleep the whole way. She did, and we made it back to NYC in record time, surprised, somehow, to realize we are so close—to be able to go back whenever we want to, instead of just once a year. It is thrilling to know that this wonderful place—this peaceful sanctuary—is within reach now. We really are back. We really are lucky. Somehow all the things we’ve planned for have fallen into place.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Yoga in Unusual Places

Now that I’m living in a place with yoga studios on every block, there is no excuse not to get back into it. I was doing yoga about twice a week before getting pregnant, and I did prenatal yoga, but once Lucia was born, I barely made it out of the house for a mama-and-baby exercise class once a week. I hope this will change now that we’re back in New York.

Last night, I went to a free yoga class held at sunset on a plaza right on the Hudson, part of a summer program at Riverside Park. (Andrew met me there on his way home from work, and we did a stroller hand-off.) As over a hundred of us did our downward-facing dogs and cobras and trees and were encouraged by the instructor to give thanks to Father Sky and Mother Earth, I could hear the rush of traffic on the West Side Highway, the lapping water of the river, the scattered conversations of people walking on the path. It was really fun.

I like doing yoga in unusual places, though I have but two experiences so far (three, counting last night’s): a private class with a Zen Buddhist monk on a rainy morning in Nikko, Japan; and a class on the marble labyrinth in the middle of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. But I’ve learned about several interesting free classes offered around the city this summer, and so I am determined that this list will grow.