Friday, March 30, 2012

We Got It!

We got the house, our glorious house, and here it is:

My lesson in real estate: let’s not do this too often. We got the house, but we had a couple of weeks of craziness to get here.

After a day of seemingly normal, successful back-and-forth with the seller on a Tuesday two weeks ago (we offered; they countered; we countered back), negotiations went haywire, and suddenly no one was responding to our bid; it seemed the sellers were trying to find another buyer and that we would ultimately be forced to make a blind bid. It was all a lot of real-estate jostling, with our broker angrily threatening to withdraw our offer, accusing the seller’s broker of acting deceitfully, and the seller’s broker responding with a lot of explanations and mild panic. All we knew by late the next night was that we likely weren’t going to get the house unless we offered asking price or higher. Which we just couldn’t do. So I spent that night crying on the couch, feeling robbed, because if we’d just accepted their counter offer the house would have been ours.

Anyway. Surprise, surprise, we heard early the next morning that another buyer had made an offer but the seller chose to go with our second offer. We couldn’t believe it. Andrew called while I was at the playground, and I jumped into the air.

We just finished the attorney review period, a tense three days of waiting for the seller to sign the contract amendment, during which time they were free to walk away if they chose to. But today, it was all signed and delivered back to our attorney, and later this afternoon I’m going to write and mail the largest check I’ve ever written, for half the down payment.

It's really ours. Asbestos tiling, no AC, dungeon/bathroom, uninsulated rooms, the whole lot of it. And we couldn’t be more elated. More pictures to come soon.

Andrew Googled the owners and found an obituary for the woman, who died last year (her husband lived in the house until recently, when he moved to a nursing home). They were married sixty years and lived in this house for forty-five of those years. The obit said she died “in the home she cherished.”

It is that—a home to be cherished. This is our soul-mate house. I look constantly at the handout the seller’s broker was handing out at the open house, and I feel like I’m living there already, like it’s already been ours for a very long time. I can’t wait to move in.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bats and Other Imaginary Creatures

Lucia, when I went into her room after she woke up from her nap today: “A bat was in my nursery. It scared me while I was sleeping.”

There was no bat. But all the vestiges of Halloween—bats, ghosts, witches, pumpkins, and monsters—have become regular characters in Lucia’s world lately. When we make a house with a blanket draped over her crib, ghosts and witches regularly come to visit, usually bearing a gift of “new markers.” Bats fly all around her nursery and the rest of the apartment. “I see a bat!” she’ll exclaim at random times. She’ll dramatically whip her head from side to side, as though following a bat as it swoops wildly around the room. Much of this is just her leftover—and lingering—interest in all the Halloween decorations she saw in October. Some comes from books we read, and some comes from the Olivia episodes she’s most fond of. The pure, scary ghost sightings are a thing of the past. Now she’s as likely to say “There’s a ghost coming through the window!” or “I see a witch!” as she is to say “Ian [Olivia’s brother] dressed up like a ghost!”

In any case, her imagination is, safe to say, robust. She spent a good bit of time this evening making me some soup in her ghost bucket and stirring it with long sticks she’d brought in from outside. She’d offer me the soup then snatch it back. “Let me stir it for you,” she’d say. “It’s too hot. We have to wait.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Letter to Greta: 5 Months

Dear Littlest One,

Five months! If I were miscalculating your age, as I did with Lucia, I’d probably be starting you on solid foods right about now. I haven’t miscalculated, and you’re not starting solids, even though you’re verging on being ready. When I eat now, if you happen to be nearby, you watch me so avidly that it’s like you’re willing the food into your own mouth. I was holding you yesterday while eating a banana, and I really though you were going to reach out and grab it. Also, you’re getting up at least once a night and eating for a long time, and during the day I feel like I nurse you all the time, so I know you’ll be ready soon. I’m in no hurry, though. Six months will be our starting date.

If possible, you’ve gotten even cuter over the past few weeks. You are screeching, shrieking, cooing, gurgling, and babbling all the time. You have a riotous laugh, which you bestow almost exclusively on Lucia—you especially love when she jumps up and down. You have an intense, penetrating stare, but you’re no longer as serious as you once were; you’re almost always smiling. When you’re not smiling, you’re usually tired, which is more or less the only time you cry. Unless the sun’s in your eyes, which you despise. Otherwise you are a pleasant, easy baby almost all of the time.

It makes me sad that you and I don’t get any one-on-one time, and I’m hoping that I find a way to do that when we move to our new town. Perhaps there will be a way for you and I to do a class together, maybe on a weekend when Lucia can spend time with Daddy. Until then, though, you seem to enjoy doing things all together. You sit with Lucia in music class and are rapt the whole time, even screeching happily when I spin you around during the dance song. You sometimes like being at the playground, if it’s overcast and I hold you so you can look all around. And you like to sit with Lucia and me as we do Play-Doh or read books, just happy to be included. One of these days you are going to be able to sit down with your sister at the art table and join in.

You are rolling over from tummy to back. You can sit for a few seconds at a time, propped up on your hands. You are grabbing toys, holding them, and pulling them in to chew. You are drooling buckets, and spitting up a lot (a new, pleasant thing). You can take out your pacifier and, sometimes, put it back into your mouth. You prefer to fall asleep on your own in your crib after I rock you just for a little while. You are still taking three naps most days.

Perhaps my favorite thing you do right now is peer at me: After I burp you, sometimes I’ll feel you pull back a little, and when I turn my head, there you are, peering at me very, very closely with a little smile. Sometimes you’ll slowly open your mouth and move in, attempting to chew on my cheek (I prefer to think you’re trying to give me a kiss). Even at three in the morning this is cute, and that’s something.

Your cheeks are so round and fat, littlest one, that sometimes when I look at your profile I can’t see your nose. You are just too, too adorable.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Funny, Funny Lucia

Whew. Knock on wood, it seems we’ve turned a corner in the paw-paw withdrawal. We hunkered down at home on Saturday—played on the stoop for a while, but that was it—and by Sunday Lucia seemed more her old self.

A couple of funny, funny things from the past couple of days:

When we were out on the stoop on Saturday, a woman in a black burka walked by. “OH!” Lucia said at the top of her lungs, perking up and staring after the woman avidly. “A GHOST!” Andrew and I were speechless, mostly because we were laughing too hard (silently) to say anything. Hilarious. (I finally told Lucia that no, it wasn’t a ghost, it was just a woman wearing a special robe.)

Lucia continues to sing more or less continuously throughout the day. Today, however, for the first time, she decided to join me in my lullaby-singing as I put Greta down for her morning nap. Greta was on the brink of sleep when I laid her into her crib, softly singing to her. Lucia, who was, of course, playing in the room the whole time, ran up to the crib, peered through the slats, and began singing, “TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR…” She sang the whole song, in a loud performer’s voice. Miraculously, Greta closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Lucia calls “oatmeal” “oat-bduh.” No idea why. And when she says “meal,” as in, “I’m making a meal” (with play food), she says the word in a slow, drawn-out whine that sounds like “meeoow.” “I’m making a mee-aaal.”

Finally, an observation: Without paw-paw, Lucia has already changed. Even among the hard stuff this week, I could see it—talking more, giggling more, increased silliness, different kinds of playing. She even looks a little bit older. She still carries paw-paw around with her, but once or twice she’s even forgotten it in the crib after a nap or in the morning. Bibi, or course, is still beloved.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Reasons: Days Like Friday

Friday was one of the hardest days I’ve had as a parent. First of all, Lucia’s paw-paw withdrawal has intensified in the past couple of days, leading to extreme meltdowns in the morning when she gets up, more acting out during the day, and some nap- and bedtime resistance (though she has, knock wood, ultimately slept each time). Friday dawned with an epic meltdown that just wouldn’t end. By the time Andrew left for work, she’d been crying and/or screaming and/or whining for two hours. I’d planned an outing for us that day: the zoo with a friend. Through her tears/screams/whines, she kept saying she wanted to go to the zoo, so I felt sure getting out of the house and to a fun place would snap her out of it.

Indeed, once I’d lugged the double stroller down the stairs, loaded it up, carried Greta out to put her in, and corralled Lucia outside and gotten her to stand on the stroller’s riding board, Lucia was in a much better mood. She loves the double stroller and each time she gets on says she’s riding “like a scooter.” She was thrilled to start out on our walk, and continued in high spirits when we met up with our friend and her daughter to walk to the zoo.

And the zoo was a huge hit. Lucia loved feeding the goats and sheep, still fearless after several months’ hiatus from the zoo. She was excited about seeing the baboons and loved seeing the fish and other caged/tanked creatures. She wasn’t so excited about sitting down for lunch. She was even less excited about being told not to climb up and walk on some high walls. And she refused to get back onto the stroller as we walked around. (Cue music for impending doom.)

Greta slept for a good bit of the morning, but eventually she woke up and needed to eat. I led us to a shady spot to nurse, Lucia reluctantly in tow, while our friends went to see the sea lions again. I’ve nursed Greta at the playground lots of times, and Lucia is generally very good about staying close to me. Not this time. As soon as I sat down and began to nurse Greta, Lucia took off—just ran off into the crowd. And it was a very, very crowded day at the zoo. Yelling at her to stop, I pulled up my bra as best I could—not too well; hiked Greta onto my hip; and ran after her. She refused to stop running or to come with me, so I was forced—in full view of a line of nannies feeding lunch to their charges—to drag her back by the armpits. She stood by me while I again began to nurse Greta, then took off running once more. Repeat, repeat. Finally I dragged her to my friend, who, poor pregnant girl, had to hold a toddler on both hips while I finished nursing.

It was clearly time to leave the zoo. We got Lucia to sit on the bench-seat part of the stroller and made a makeshift belt to keep her in. Thankfully, she sat calmly as we left the zoo and started walking home, happy to snack on some yogurt raisins. But then the raisins were gone. We parted ways with our friends. And she began standing up on the seat as we continued on towards home—terrifying, since the sidewalks are bumpy. She just would not sit down. She’s stand; I’d stop and pull her down; she’d stand up again. The more I admonished her, the faster she was to stand up. I had no idea how we were going to get home. Finally I just picked her up and held her as best I could in one arm while pushing the extremely heavy and unwieldy double stroller with one hand, Lucia screaming bloody murder that she wanted to get down and walk. Greta, too, screamed the entire way home, tired and irritable from the sun in her eyes.

We got home. Somehow, I’m not sure how, we did. I blocked the gate until Lucia had safely walked upstairs. I took Greta out of the stroller and carried her inside, praying no one would steal the stroller while I was out of sight. I went back outside and lugged the stroller up the stairs and into the apartment. Shaken, exhausted, I put everyone down for “naps” (which on this day equaled screaming babies in their cribs with intermittent sleeping). I drank several glasses of water and tried to calm down. Today, every muscle in my back and shoulders aches.

It was an awful experience. Awful. And it makes me leery of leaving the house again. I am counting the days till we can go outside into our own backyard without any of this insanity. If I hadn’t been done with city living already, this day would have hurled me over the edge. Is it unrealistic to think I can spend the next three months inside?

Also: Though we’ve ventured out before with success, I may have mischosen my double stroller. Obviously the flaw in the sit/stand model is that you can’t restrain the older child. And there are times—like Friday—when what you need is a three-point harness to just keep the kid in her seat until you can get her home.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Paw-Paw: An Update

The phasing out of paw-paw continues to go surprisingly well, knock on wood. Lucia carries it around with her, putting it near her at her art table or with us on the couch when we read, but more often than not she just forgets about it. A couple of times today she said she needed a new paw-paw, but she said it calmly and didn’t push the issue at all, as though she felt she had to say it but wasn’t really invested in the answer.

It took her about fifteen or twenty minutes to fall asleep at naptime; I heard her in her room, singing to herself a song from Music Together: “My lady wind…My lady wind…” She had a meltdown late this afternoon over her desire to simultaneously have and not have honey-graham bunnies, and she refused to even begin her bath until I was done putting Greta down, but otherwise we had a nice day.

Before she went to bed tonight, as we talked about all the things we did today, she said she wouldn’t cry about paw-paw because she was going to get a new toy. “That’s right,” I said. I promised that when she woke up tomorrow, she’d find a new toy.

Fortunately, my 270-piece eBay play-food purchase arrived today, and it is a) spectacular, or b) alarming, depending on whether you ask me (a) or Andrew (b). I can’t possibly give her all of it at once—I was overwhelmed myself—so I’m reserving a bunch of it for potty-training rewards and rainy-day excitement, as well as Easter-basket fun. Even with a huge box set aside, I laid out a wonderful spread of food on the coffee table, some of it even arranged into “meals” on plastic plates. Grinch Andrew wanted me to take half of it away, but of course I didn’t listen. I hope she loves it as much as I do so I can have an excuse to play with it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bye-Bye, Paw-Paw

This is a sad post to write. After gearing up for weeks, I finally did it: I snipped holes in Lucia’s paw-paw. A few days ago, I poked holes in her orange one with a needle; she didn’t notice. The next day, I put very small cuts with scissors in her green one; she peered at it a moment, then just went on with her day. Finally, yesterday in the late afternoon, I put two dramatic snips in her orange one. She put it in her mouth, spat it out, studied it, repeated that process a few times, and then said clearly, “I need a new paw-paw.” And I, feeling like an evil traitor, had to tell her that this was her only paw-paw and it was time for her to carry it instead of put it in her mouth.

She is handling this unexpected turn of events with surprising equanimity. Yesterday, she said a few times that she needed a new paw-paw but seemed to accept my ridiculous explanation that now that she was older, it was probable that paw-paw just felt different in her mouth, and that was okay, she could still snuggle it and hold it and sleep with it, and—oh!—she’ll also get a fabulous new toy soon to celebrate this important milestone.

When I say these things, I feel absurd. My explanation has no coherence, no logic. But last night she went to sleep with nary a peep (knock wood). And this morning she carried paw-paw around but wasn’t fussy or upset. Her nap suffered today—though she lay down as usual, I heard her talking and singing a half hour later, and even after I went in and sang a few songs, it took her a very, very long time to fall asleep. She wasn’t crying or calling for me—she was just in her room, quietly playing. After her nap, however, she was very whiny and clingy and distressed; she didn’t want me to put her down, didn’t want Greta to touch her, didn’t want me to hold Greta, didn’t want to do anything at all except watch Olivia. Which I let her do. It calmed and cheered her, and afterwards we took a walk to buy her a new sippy-cup, which she also liked.

And so—we’re really doing it. We’re really phasing out paw-paw. I’m prepared for a few increasingly tough days as the reality of it sinks in, but I have my eye on the prize—no more paw-paw. This isn’t to say it’s easy on me. Every time she gazes at paw-paw and says quietly, “I need a new paw-paw,” I want to cry. My poor little baby. When I cut those holes, I almost felt like I was committing an act of violence, akin to cutting off the arm of one of her beloved stuffed animals. Taking this from her is easily among the most heart-breaking, unpleasant things I’ve had to do as a mama so far.

But that new toy? Not a bluff, and pretty great, if I do say so myself: arriving tomorrow (I hope!) is a gigantic box of play food I ordered from eBay, 270 pieces of it. Lucia plays constantly with the paltry selection of food we have here, and she is going to love this.

The Hunt, Day 4

On Sunday, we headed to Montclair, crossing our fingers that we’d find something we loved that would turn our eyes from the Maplewood fixer-upper. We saw five houses, and, alas, none were perfect the way that the (unperfect) fixer-upper is perfect. We saw one beautiful home that had an inground pool (terrifying to me, with babies around), no garage, and no playroom. We saw a large, newly renovated home that was on a very busy road and had a tiny yard. We saw an interesting farmhouse with nice woodwork and a great yard, but the ceilings were low, the upstairs felt very tight (no hallway), and the whole place smelled intensely like the dog that was barking at us from the screened-in porch. (Note to future self: When selling your home, get it thoroughly cleaned first.) We saw a gorgeous, charming Victorian that had everything we wanted—but it was surrounded by apartment buildings and two-family rentals. It’s been on the market for six months, so clearly we’re not the only ones scared off by the unstable neighborhood.

When we discuss these homes, I feel like we’re on an episode of House Hunters. Will we choose house #1, busy road? House #2, smells like dog? House #3, toddler death trap? House #4, unpredictable neighbors?

And we choose…none of them. We came home from our day more certain than ever that we want the dreamy Maplewood home. After seeing almost thirty houses, we have a very clear picture now of what's available, and what we want. We spent the evening fervently discussing logistics and poring over Andrew’s insane budget spreadsheet. And tonight, at 9:00pm, we put in an offer. The seller has twenty-four hours to respond. We’re already not sleeping—Greta, our perfect sleeper, has been getting up every three or so hours for too many days to count—and surely we’ll be lying awake tonight, waiting to hear if this beautiful house is meant to be our home.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Hunt, Day 3

Fueled by urgency to see as many houses as possible in order to get our minds off the fixer-upper—or to decide definitively that that’s the house we want—Andrew took Friday off and we headed to Maplewood to continue our house hunt.

First we went back to the fixer-upper and looked at it with one question in mind: Could we live with it as it is, for a little while? We were surprised to find that the answer was yes, with the exception of the second-floor bathroom.

Our love for the house renewed, our broker took us to several more houses. The most promising one was a four-bedroom, fully renovated home with all the high-end finishes a home buyer could want. The rooms were quite small, but there was a large finished basement and a decent-sized yard. Beautiful kitchen, wonderful bathrooms, even a master en suite. And…we didn’t like it. It felt airless, suffocating. It was too perfect, too done, just too finished. Our broker said there will likely be a bidding war for his home, but we won’t be a part of it.

The other houses we saw were far, far too small, like little hobbit houses. Nothing even remotely tempting.

We concluded our day with the realization that the fixer-upper just might be The One. Nothing else even comes close. The fixer just seems like us. The perfectly finished homes do not.

We took today off, fearing heavy traffic and chaos from St. Patrick’s Day, and all we did all day was talk intermittently about the house. We’re heading to Montclair tomorrow. If we see something we absolutely love, it’s possible we’ll have to make an offer—things go fast there. If we don’t see something we love, we’re going to have to have a Serious Conversation about whether to put an offer in on the fixer. It’s all very exciting and very overwhelming. I can’t wait to see the houses tomorrow!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reasons: No More Late-Afternoon Playground Trips

There are so many reasons why we’re moving to the suburbs. As the weeks and months go on with our search and eventual move, I thought I would document these reasons in a series of posts called Reasons. I’ll start tonight, after a particularly grueling late-afternoon playground trip.

Going to the playground in the morning is great. Lucia is energetic and excited; Greta sleeps; there are snacks to eat, lunch to have, friends to run into. We almost always go to the playground in the morning, unless we have music class or are getting together with friends. Of course, now that the weather is nicer, every single nanny and mom in Park Slope also goes to the playground, and it is just ridiculously crowded. For two mornings in a row we failed to snag a swing even after an hour or two, unwilling as we were to wait in the swing line. (The line for the swings will, perhaps, be its own Reasons post.) But I digress. Crowded or not, it’s still generally fun.

The late afternoon is another story. The dead-man’s zone of our day is that post-naptime stretch from three o’clock or so until dinner, Olivia viewing, and Andrew’s arrival home. Those three hours can seem to last forever, and that’s when Lucia’s pent-up energy can swiftly turn from giggly fun to hellion. So on nice days, I try to hustle us outside around four or four-thirty so Greta can take her late-afternoon nap in the Bjorn or the stroller and Lucia can work off some energy. Lucia is usually glad to go outside. And, in theory, I’m glad to be outside too. I just fervently wish we could be outside but NOT go to the playground. This is after-school time, and the public school adjacent to the playground releases its middle schoolers and all hell breaks loose. Combine the insanity of these older kids with the hordes of nannies and moms descending on the playground with their own post-nap toddlers, and it is just…awful. Screaming. Running. Scooters, balls, bikes. Big kids stampeding over the playground equipment, oblivious to new walkers and timid little ones.

Nevertheless, Lucia generally enjoys herself, unless the craziness is at such a level that she just stands off to the side, gazing on suspiciously. I can’t even in good conscience encourage her to venture out—I wouldn’t want to, either. I still don’t, at thirty-five. But having Lucia have fun at the playground at this time of day is a double-edged sword, and on most days our fun afternoon outing concludes with Lucia screaming bloody murder as I haul her home under my arm. I know immediately when I’m really in for it. “I want to stay at the playground,” she’ll announce when I say it’s time to go home. Today she ran underneath the slide and declared, “I stay right here.”

She refuses to walk. She drops to a crouch. If I get her through the gate, she’ll walk with me a few paces then turn and sprint back into the playground. Carrying Lucia home would not be a big deal if she were my only child. But I have Greta either in the Bjorn or in the stroller, so when I finally lose it, I have to basically loop my arm under her armpits and haul her away. It’s awful. It’s awful when she sits in the middle of the sidewalk and won’t budge; it’s awful when she turns and sprints away; it’s awful when I have to drag her. It’s awful when we have to walk down 5th Avenue with her screaming and sobbing. I walk past the same people working in their shops two or more times a day; there are many witnesses to the many ways we can return home from the playground. At least it’s Park Slope and it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll pass at least one other toddler melting down—in this neighborhood, no one’s looking at me disparagingly, that’s for sure.

Anyhoo. At times like this, I know that one of my Reasons for wanting to move is to eliminate this late-afternoon melee. With a porch and a backyard, we can still get outside after naptime—but there won’t be any more walks home like this. We’ll already BE home. Glorious. A reason to move, indeed.

Letter to Lucia: 29 Months

Dear Little One,

Well! So close to two and a half, you are. And you have become just unbelievably funny and cute. It’s a rare day that you don’t make me laugh out loud. The things you say, your facial expressions, the funny things you notice and do—it’s all just fun and great to witness. Our days are often long, especially on the (now-rare) days when you’re in a surly mood, but each one really is unforgettable.

I always expected you to be talkative, and you are. You pick up new expressions all the time, and are becoming very skilled at expressing your thoughts and feelings. On Tuesday, we were invited to a friend’s house for playgroup, but you’re getting over some sniffles and had a pretty tiring weekend; when I suggested we go, you gave me a serious look and said, “I just want to stay home. I want to stay right here.” So we did.

Lately, when I ask what you’re doing or if you want to do something other than what you’re engaged in, you say casually, “I’m just playing with sticks, Mama.” or “I’m just reading.”

You’re fascinated by the idea that you were once little like Greta. “When I was little, I chewed on that,” you’ll say. Yesterday, as we set out for a walk to the playground with Greta in the stroller, you said, “When I was little, I sat in the stroller.” And you often remind Greta that she can do things “when she gets bigger.” “She’s too little,” you’ll say after pretend-offering her a goldfish cracker. “When she gets bigger she have goldfish.”

You love your music class. You’ve always loved it, but you’re at an age now where you are really engaging with it, taking home things we do there and doing them on your own. “Like music class,” you say often, when you’re drumming on something or singing bits of songs. You look forward to class, and often ask to go on other days of the week. When we set out on class day, you announce repeatedly, “I going to music class!” Yesterday I asked if you were ready to sing and dance. “Yeah!” you said. “And play instruments!”

You are happy and joyful. And you have no idea, of course, of how cramped we are, how starved for space, how lacking we are for the freedom of grass and backyards and wide-open sidewalks. For you, this is home; you don’t know that home is a choice, that things could be—and will be—so different. There are days when I feel almost crazy with impatience to just get out of the city and start that wide-open life. Your daddy and I want to move, house-people that we are, but truly we’re moving for you and your sister. You’ll probably curse us when you’re teenagers and are trying to sneak out of the boring suburbs and into the city, but so be it. (Oh, and about your future attempts to sneak into Manhattan when you’re sixteen: I WILL know. And even if I decide to let you have your little adventure, guess what: See that woman in sunglasses, lurking across the street? Yep, that’s Mama, following close by.)

Seeing an ant outside is a big deal for you, little city girl. Yesterday as we walked home from the playground, you spotted a lone ant by a stoop, and you bent down to watch it, fascinated. You said hello to it, asked it what it was doing. When I asked if there were more ants, you said, "I don't see more ants. I only see one." You also love running after the pigeons at the playground, and you squeal in delight when you see a sparrow. Oh, for a backyard...

Favorite things: play food, play kitchen, play pots and pans, Play-Doh (making pancakes and tiny balls), Piggy, your doll, sunglasses, collecting sticks/stones/seeds, the arm slide at the playground, swinging, singing songs by yourself, giving Greta things to hold and chew on

Favorite books: Olivia Goes to Venice, Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin, Imogene’s Antlers, Elmo’s Big Book of Firsts, Not Now Not Now (from India), Pals

Sunday, March 11, 2012

House Hunt, Day 2

We returned to New Jersey today to see some houses in Maplewood and South Orange. It was not a successful day. We saw three houses, and we didn’t like any of them.

One had a weird sunken living room with two or three stairs to all other rooms of the house—a true toddler death trap. And there was a new addition off the kitchen with depressing-looking linoleum that just seemed bleak and soulless. We didn’t even look upstairs.

Another was enormous—like something out of Gone with the Wind—with all the ornate details that go along with a “period” home. Our Ikea furniture would look just…silly there. And the realtor said the heating bill is probably around $15,000/year. It's rare when even I will admit that a house is too much house for us.

The third was sterile, too newly done, and though it was pretty in the technical sense, it left me cold. The realtor said it was on the market because of a divorce, so perhaps that was part of the unhappy feeling of the place. The dislike was purely on the adults’ part, though: Lucia was in her glory outside, running around in the grass in front of the house, looking over her shoulder and scream-laughing when Andrew chased her. This child needs a yard desperately. She was so, so, so happy, running around in the grass.

The realtor took us to another house, too, but we didn’t even get out of the car. The house was set on top of a hill, with about fifty stairs leading up to it. I tried to imagine doing that multiple times a day with a double stroller—ha! There was a back entrance onto a back driveway without stairs, but if we’re spending all this money for a home, I want to have a home whose front door I can actually use. The realtor came to our car window, and we just shook our heads. (Well, I shook mine emphatically and made some sounds akin to "Ha!" while Andrew used his diplomatic voice to politely suggest we move on to the next one. We each have our interpersonal styles in this hunt. Andrew's boils down to chitchat-then-opinion. Mine can be summarized as, Next!)

We went back to the house we loved from yesterday, just to have another look around. We still love it. But it needs a lot of work. A lot. A lot a lot.

The girls did great again, though Greta once again screamed much of the way home. Lucia was a mellow, fun house-hunting companion, declaring “It’s a beautiful house!” at random times in the car. Collecting sticks at each house today was her primary objective.

It was an informative, interesting weekend. We’re off to a good start…

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Greta had her four-month checkup last week, and it seems my scant few months of having a "robust" baby are over. She is still quite tall--25 inches, 75th percentile--but is now 13 pounds, 25th percentile, down from the 50th. The doctor said she's slimming down and was unconcerned. I wasn't surprised. Lucia was in the 25th percentile for most of her first year, until she plunged into string-bean territory, where she (cutely) remains. I have no doubt Greta, too, will be long and lean.

For now, however, her cheeks remain so chubby that sometimes when I look at her in profile I can barely see her little nose. She's just so roly-poly. I kind of want to pinch these words, since she's sleeping and I can't pinch her actual cheeks.

It’s On

Today was our first official day of house hunting: it’s now March, and if we see a house we love, it’s within the realm of possibility that we could, and should, buy it, since we need to move out of our apartment by the end of July.

We saw three houses today—and loved all three. Today may very well have been the beginning and the end of our search. We saw one in Maplewood, one in Glen Ridge, and one in Montclair. All three were enormous—six bedrooms, finished basements, large decks, decent yards, living room, extra living room, dining room, etc etc etc. Space! We can afford them all, more or less; we’ll only have to eat ramen noodles for about twelve to twenty-four months. One package a day. Split four ways.

Anyhoo, the Maplewood house has fully captured our imagination. It’s on a gorgeous street, one of the town’s loveliest, and is just huge. Old and huge. It has all the charm and character we could ask for. The downside: it needs a LOT of work. A couple of things—like asbestos tiling in the basement—would have to be done right away. Other things—hideously outdated kitchen and bathrooms—could wait. And the fact that this is beyond the top of our budget means those things might have to wait and wait and wait. But the location—unbeatable. Quick walks to the train station and the town. Ideal.

We actually liked the Glen Ridge house better. It, too, was huge and charming, with dark wood throughout, tons of extra rooms, lovely deck and screened-in back porch, great almost-finished basement, perfect attic rooms for office space. Downside: nowhere to walk except around the (beautiful) neighborhood. Oh, and a tax bill that is embarrassing to say out loud. There’s a “tax appeal” filed, which could lower it. But there’s no guarantee.

The Montclair house was gigantic and pretty, too, though across the street are tennis courts for a private middle school, so it’s not the prettiest thing to look out on. But the layout was great, especially the bedrooms, and there was an amazing attic bedroom too.

So, three for three. We could see ourselves in any one of these. This was either a fluke, and we’ll spend the rest of our hunt ruing our failure to purchase one of these; or a promising indicator of houses yet to come. It seems too soon to commit to something. We’ve only begun our search. But we’re heading out again tomorrow, so maybe we’ll have a better idea if we should be jumping on one of the ones we saw today.

One big piece of house-hunting news is that we’ve decided to focus only on New Jersey. Until today, we were still open to some of the River Towns and parts of Connecticut. But after today, for various reasons of interest only to people actually engaged in a NYC-area house search, we’ve realized NJ is the best fit for us. Onward.

The girls did amazingly today, and we really pushed them. Lucia seemed excited to be looking at houses. “It’s a beautiful house!” she announced after the Maplewood one. There was a cat in the Montclair house, always thrilling. The ride back to Brooklyn, however, was a total nightmare. By 5:00, Lucia was exhausted, Greta was exhausted and starving, and we were stuck in traffic for AN HOUR AND A HALF. I despaired of ever getting home. It was horrible. Greta was screaming her tiny head off. Lucia was screaming her bloody-murder scream. We were at a standstill, not even in the tunnel yet, Brooklyn a distant dream. It was…horrendous. We’ve learned our lesson. We’ll start for home much earlier tomorrow.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Bits

We had a couple of springlike days this week, and we headed out to the playground in spring jackets. Lucia had such a good time, running around without having her little fingers get frozen. Collecting sticks remains the primary playground activity, though she also went down the slide about a million times and ran back and forth over the shaky bridge with a little boy we know from music class. It’s so funny to me when toddlers recognize each other, especially, as was the case this time, when the toddler is with a sitter and not the parent I’m familiar with. “That’s Lucia,” I heard him say, and Lucia recognized him, too. They played and shared a snack until he left.

Greta spent much of our playground time napping. And being cute.

Greta proved last night to be quite the little strategist. Gone are the days of sleeping from 7 to 7. Now she’s waking up once a night at least, two times lately. And last night, she woke up at 4:30am. She didn’t cry—she just began doing her raptor screeches, happily awake. I nursed her and put her back in the bassinet; more happy raptor screeches. Then I put her in bed with us, cradled in my arm…and she fell instantly asleep for the rest of the night. She knew what she was doing, this little one. I love snuggling with her, but I don’t sleep very well when she’s in our bed because I’m super-paranoid about blankets or pillows drifting over her tiny face. So this can’t become a habit, tempting as it is.

I tried to cook three times this week, and three times it was unsuccessful. Monday I tried to make carmelized onion foccaccia, which I’ve made a hundred times, mixing the dough first in the bread machine. This time, instead of dough, it was a liquidy mess; I assumed I’d hit the wrong setting. Tuesday, I tried again. But after mixing in all the ingredients I realized I was out of yeast. I had to wait two hours till Andrew got home to put in the yeast. End result: another liquidy mess. Wednesday I made chili. But somehow I’d forgotten to buy crushed tomatoes. I used a can of whole tomatoes, chopped up. Not the same. Edible, but not delicious. What is wrong with me?? I’m lucky I could pour goldfish crackers into a bowl this week. Worse, I had to eat that chili Wednesday dinner, Thursday and Friday lunch, and Friday dinner. Enough chili. Enough, enough.

Lucia has taken to saying she’s going to the “market.” She carries around a lunchbox, or pushes her shopping cart, and announces that she’s going to the market to buy some vegetables. We’ve been reading a book lately called Red Wagon, in which a little fox pushes her wagon to the market to buy vegetables. Lucia definitely takes in what we read, I’ll say that.

Lucia has become a one-man theatrical act lately. Each day we watch an episode of Olivia, and for a while we were watching one where Olivia’s brother Ian pretends to be a ghost, scaring Olivia’s friends. Lucia frequently acts out large portions of this episode. “A ghost!” she’ll say. “Ian pretending to be a ghost.” Then she’ll gasp a few times, dramatically. “I see it!” she then says. Then she looks at me and explains, “That’s what Francine says.” (In the show, Olivia’s friend Francine announces she’s seen a ghost.) By the way: Lucia’s ghost sightings began long before she ever saw this show. But now all the ghost sightings seem to be part of her Olivia reenactments.

She also sits down in Greta’s Bumbo chair and then dramatically pretends to fall out. Every day she makes me laugh out loud.

The matching Piggies continue to be a source of delight for Lucia. If Greta makes any sort of fussy sound at all, Lucia jumps up and says, “Oh! Greta’s Piggy!” then runs off, finds Greta’s Piggy, and delivers it to her. Sometimes the Piggies sit on top of the pillows on the couch and gaze down at us. Lucia is very conscientious about making sure Greta has her Piggy when she goes down for her nap.

Lucia also gives Greta a pacifier now when she's crying. "Oh here, Greta," she says, running over with Greta's paw-paw and putting it in her mouth. And in the morning, when Lucia wakes up and I go into her room, her first word is usually, "Greta!" or "Greta's awake!" She loves her little sister, more now than ever, I think. Part of it is that Greta is doing more, like trying to chew on toys. "SHE'S CHEWING ON IT!" Lucia will exclaim when Greta lifts a toy near her mouth. Pretty cute.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Things To Do

As usual, Lucia has found no shortage of things to do around the house lately.

She’s been playing with her cars.

When Andrew’s mom was here, Lucia loved going into the living room in the morning and playing on her “mountain”—the pile of couch cushions displaced when Kris turned the couch into her bed. One morning I had Greta “climb” the mountain and sit at the top with Lucia. Lucia loved it, and Greta even laughed out loud when I made her “climb” back down.

She’s been playing with Play-Doh. We discovered that off-brand “Dough Pâté” from the dollar store becomes transparent when spread thin, so I made “stained-glass amulets” for Lucia to stick to the windows. It was all-consuming for a very, very long time.

Greta, too, has found new amusements, such as holding and chewing toys and kicking around her little feet. And, of course, she's just busy being cute.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Do I Say It That Much?

Lucia is just talking and talking and talking, throwing out new phrases and words all day, every day, and it is hilarious and marvelous to witness. Just in the past couple of days, she’s started saying, “You know what, Mama?” and then going on to say some piece of information. Or not following it up with anything at all. In the bathtub the other night she kept exclaiming, “Oh! I know what I can do!” and then seizing some toy from the side of the tub before saying it again and focusing on another one. And today she was sitting in Andrew’s lap, and very purposefully she patted Bibi and said, “So, Bibi…” as though preparing for a serious talk.

And the funniest one, in my opinion: Yesterday we were both snacking on Cheerios at the table. She would take a bite then sort of ooze down from her chair, saying “Bye, Mama…Thanks again!” in an exaggerated, sing-songy voice before running into the living room. Then she’d dart back, climb into her chair, eat another bite, ooze down, and say it again: “Bye, Mama! Thanks again!”

Clearly these are things Andrew and I say all the time without realizing it. What a funny little mirror a toddler is.

For grandparents only: Lucia can now recognize, name, and say the sound of every letter of the alphabet. We were reading a new Holly Hobbie book yesterday and she pointed to the author's name and said, "Two H's." Genius! She's not even two and a half!

Friday, March 02, 2012

Done: A Preamble

In the weeks and months to come, I plan to write extensively on all the reasons why I’m ready to leave the city and excited to move to the suburbs. But today I’ll give a brief thought on the subject.

Lucia and I took a walk this afternoon (Andrew’s in India this week, so his mom is here, and I’ve been trying to get out with just Lucia when I can). It was a cold day, but she was happy to be outside, and she immediately engaged in her current favorite pastime: collecting sticks. I love her collections. I love that she likes to collect things, and I love that she’s picky about it—she doesn’t pick up just any stick, stone, or what have you; they have to be the right size, color, length. Our house is full of small, smooth brown seeds she’s found at the playground; for a week or two, she played with them constantly, cooking them in her pretend kitchen, pouring them from one small cup to another, arranging them on various surfaces. She loves to tramp around and find stuff. It’s cute, it’s fun, and I love to do it too.

Anyway. The problem today—and any day, really—is that when we take walks, all the good things to find, like sticks and stones, are concentrated around the bases of trees and against the bottoms of stoop steps and walls. These areas are, of course, “doggie bathrooms,” as I tell Lucia. It is frustrating for both of us to see all sorts of wonderful objects just there for the taking—and then have me tell her she can’t touch them. I am not a germ-fearing person—I feel my tolerance for picking things up, taking things home, even eating snacks she’s briefly dropped on the sidewalk is a little higher than most other Park Slope moms. But when I see damp-looking sticks around a tree truck, to my mom-eyes they’re practically glowing with grossness. And so I have to tell her no.

We found plenty of other sticks on our walk (were they all pristine? surely not; but I couldn’t say no to every single one). But when we got home I just felt so, so done with city living. The city is dirty. That’s easy to overlook when you’re striding to work in high heels—until I had kids I rarely had cause to interact on a hand-to-hand basis with the sidewalk. It’s different now. Lucia is close to the ground. She picks things up off the ground. She touches things on the ground. And it’s just…dirty.

I want to take walks and not feel like everything she touches has come out of a sewer. Better yet, I want to be able to forage for fun things in our very own yard.

That is my thought for today. Done. Just done.