Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Week Away

We spent all last week in New Hampshire, a nearly eleven-day getaway that was truly the calm before the storm that is the next three weeks. Although both Lucia and Greta returned to their characteristic New Hampshire ways and rose god-awfully early in the morning (Greta reliably by 5:00am; Lucia by 6:30am), there’s something peaceful about rising with the sun up there, with nothing but quiet outside the windows, and the occasional pheasant in the yard.

We spent all the time we could outside, sitting on a blanket with Greta while Lucia played in her ball hut, splashed in her pool, and enjoyed new discoveries from the barn—this time, a rocking-horse-type object. Lucia was particularly interested in the frogs this time, and we spent lots of time down at the pond, where she dipped her toes in the water and tossed clover and weeds to the frogs that were merely inches away. Sometimes, they’d leap at the plant, mistaking it for a bug, which thrilled her. One time an earthworm oozed out of the mud right near us, and a frog snapped it up in its mouth. I feigned excitement, though inside I was screaming Ick, ick, oh horrible nature!

Indeed, we had some closer encounters with nature than usual this trip. The ticks were particularly horrendous, for one thing. Last year, we ended up in the ER when we found a tick embedded on Lucia’s stomach. There were no ER trips this time, but only because we knew enough to check the girls—and ourselves—carefully every night. We found a tick on Lucia’s shoulder; one on my leg; a monster-sized one on my back; and one scarily close to burrowing into Andrew’s thigh. There was a tick in our car, and one in the bathroom sink, and lots that we brushed off our clothes. Horrible.

There were also several mouse incidents. Ordinarily I’m okay with mice—but Andrew and I both read an article in the previous week’s New York Times about vermin, learning that mice can carry the plague, and so neither of us were very thrilled when we woke in the middle of the night and heard a mouse running around our bedroom, around the perimeter of the room and then behind and beside our bed. All I could think about was a mouse jumping into one of the pack-and-plays. And so I agreed to some traps (just a couple, not the neck-snapping kind, out of reach of Lucia and hidden anyway every morning). The traps remained empty, but we had no more nocturnal visitors.

Oh, except one little gray mouse in the kitchen, which Andrew cornered on the counter. He tossed a dish towel over it, grabbed it in his hands, and carried it out into the woods, where he let it go.

This was fitting, since Andrew was truly enjoying his Back to the Land getaway. He spent much of the first few days of our trip gathering wood and then chopping it with an ax in the yard. At night, we burned this hand-hewn wood in our fire pit. He also prepared most of our meals on the grill. He didn’t shave the entire time we were there.

We ate lunch and dinner as a family every day, which was pretty great—it’s so hard to do this at home. I usually give Lucia lunch on the go when we’re out and about, and dinnertime is such a circus—it’s the end of the day; everyone’s cranky; I have to prepare Lucia’s dinner, and Greta’s screaming and exhausted, and I need to give her cereal—that Lucia generally eats while she watches Olivia. Not ideal. She clearly loved eating all together, eating what we were eating, and we are determined to replicate this in some way even when we’re not in NH. At the very least, we can make an effort to have family meals on the weekends. Once we’re in Maplewood, too, it’s possible we can do it sometimes during the week whenever Andrew can take an earlier train home.

For Memorial Day weekend, we’d invited friends from Brooklyn to join us, and we spent a fun couple of days together—Lucia and her friend ran naked around the yard, and after the kids’ bedtime we sat around the fire. Our friends seemed to fully enjoy themselves, ticks and all.

And now we’re back, counting down until moving day on June 21. This Friday, we leave for Connellsville, where the girls and I will spend the following week while Andrew is swamped with a big work week. The week after that is our last full week in NYC. This is getting a little bit insane.

Lucia did not want to leave NH. “I don’t want to go home,” she said. We didn’t want to leave either, but we felt ready to just get back and get all of this going. There is a lot to do in the next three weeks.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Letter to Greta: 7 Months

Dear Littlest One,

Seven months! Every month I’m amazed that you’re not a tiny tiny little infant anymore but a growing, curious, active little baby. You’re sitting up on your own now, though I still won’t leave you sitting by yourself since you tend to do the occasional face-plant or tip-over while reaching for a toy. You are eating food, and loving it—rice cereal, sweet potatoes, avocado, squash, peas, and pears so far. You still gaze intensely and longingly at “real” food, though, and I know these purees aren’t going to stay around for long.

You have your first tooth, bottom-center left—it broke through the surface a day or two before your seven-month birthday. You’ve been fussier than usual (still not very fussy), so I knew something was going on. And you’ve entered that cute phase where you approach any object with a monster-ish open mouth, ready and willing to gobble up, or at least chew on, anything in your path.

Your raptor screeches are epic. I’ve never heard anything so ear-splitting. Sometimes you screech so loudly that your entire face contorts with the effort, making you look like a baby possessed. In New Hampshire one morning, you were screeching outside, and a bird in the distance began screeching back, its call identical to yours.

Your sleep is getting better, knock on wood. You’re still getting up twice a night to nurse, but at least you’re going back to sleep each time. Last week, however, you slept through the night twice—from 7:30pm—but then got up for the day at 5:00am. Today it was 5:30. That is very, very early. And though it’s impossible to feel angry when you greet us in the wee dawn with your happy wiggle, it’s still early, littlest one. Much too early.

You love balls—textured balls, plastic balls, any kind of ball. You are pretty good at grasping the textured ones, but the smooth ones (in particular, the ones for Lucia’s ball hut) are just challenging enough to keep you interested, sitting there on your blanket. You like chewing on various teethers, and you like your sippy cup, though I think you like chewing on it more than you like actually drinking water from it.

You are very adept at rolling from your back to your tummy now, though when you do it in your crib and wake up, sometimes you start crying because you can’t figure out how to turn back over. You like to sleep on your tummy now and then, which I’m trying to be okay with. In fact, when you’ve done your longest stretches of sleeping, I usually find you on your tummy when you finally call out.

This month you had your first trip to New Hampshire—two trips, actually. And next month you will move into a new house. You won’t remember apartment life, or sweltering summers on the hot-asphalt playgrounds. Your baby and toddler years will be full of space and light.

Lucia can make you laugh uproariously—you laugh when she jumps, when she dances, and when she comes over to you and giggles with you. You love when she hugs you. It’s so funny to watch you with her now that you’re more aware of this other little person around—you want to grab whatever she’s playing with, or you try to reach out and touch her, and sometimes she’s okay with that, and sometimes not. You’re asserting yourself, littlekins. And you are so cute these days I almost can’t stand it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reasons: So Many Kids

One of the reasons I love Park Slope is that it’s full of families. You can’t walk two feet without kicking a (thousand-dollar) stroller. Kids and parents are everywhere, and I’m sure I’ll never find an equal to this baby-raising community. Friendly conversations, commiserating smiles—it’s all great. But along with this massive collection of families is chaos and overcrowding—and I’m not even talking about schools, which is too far off in our lives to be a Reason but is certainly among the most important things driving us away from New York. Anyway, again I’m talking about playgrounds. It’s just too much. There are just too many kids. It’s overwhelming for me, not to mention Lucia. A playground nearby, which was being renovated for the past few months, opened this weekend; we’ve braved it twice, but it is just insane. It looks like some sort of gigantic event is going on—a kiddie rock concert, or something—but it’s just a regular day.

I’ve gotten wimpy now that I have two kids; there are some things I just won’t do. For example, though I’m sure Lucia would love the library’s Toddler Time, I can’t bring myself to go early to get in line for a ticket—a ticket for story time! This is city life. And it is, sadly, a reason to go.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reasons: Trash Everywhere

I haven’t been keeping up with my Reasons posts, but believe me, every day I write them in my head. Whenever I trip over something, or can’t find a place to put something, or experience something in the neighborhood that annoys or frustrates me, I tell myself I need to write about it on my blog. That hasn’t happened. I’ll try to be better, starting today.

Park Slope is an expensive neighborhood. And yet it is still full of trash. Some of it is just par for the course with city living, like the bags piled by the curb on trash day. But sometimes those bags break, spilling trash all over the sidewalk. When you have a toddler who likes to spot things on the sidewalk and add whatever it is to whatever collection she’s building, this is just not going to work. I look forward to not having to walk past bags of garbage when we move to the suburbs.

On one particularly outrageous morning at the playground, the playground workers hadn’t yet arrived to empty the trash cans and do a general cleanup, and I kid you not, there was so much trash that it was flying around and hitting children in the head. It was a windy day, and in one corner of the playground—obviously, and of course, the corner Lucia wanted to play in, since it has the best selection of sticks and stones—garbage swirled about like a tornado. Plastic bags. Chip bags. Soda bottles. Napkins. It just seems ridiculous to pay thousands of dollars in rent only to have my child forced to duck from flying debris as she tries to collect leaves. I never noticed how dirty the city was—or, at least, I never really cared—until I had kids and had to interact with the city on a low sidewalk level.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Today was a gloomy, rainy day, and Lucia and I spent a fun hour this afternoon painting for the first time. She loved it: dipping her brush in the paints, rinsing it in a cup of water, drawing on various sheets of construction paper. At one point, I went into the bathroom, and she followed me as she always does; but as soon as she entered the bathroom, she exclaimed, “I have painting to do!” and ran back to the living room.

Andrew got home from work late, and Lucia and I were already in her nursery, reading stories. But I asked her if she wanted to show her paintings to Daddy, and she was just so excited—she ran at top speed into the living room, and I could hear her excitedly showing Andrew each of her masterpieces, jabbering incomprehensibly about using a paintbrush and rinsing it in water and putting paint on the paper. Pretty cute.

Letter to Lucia: 31 Months

Dear Little One,

You’re now closer to three than you are to two—a scary prospect, both because you’re getting so big and because I’ve heard terrifying things about the terrible-threes. We have our terrible-two moments, undoubtedly—your screams are so piercing that they leave my ears ringing, and your irrationality (you want to get back in your crib! no! you want to get up! no! etc.) is exhausting. Fortunately, these episodes aren’t too common, and for the most part you are delightful to be around.

You’re still a skinny little thing—I can see your ribs—but you’re growing, already into 3T clothes (mostly because you have long legs and a long waist). I still worry about your eating, though you’re long past the stage where I can trick you into eating more just by reading books distracting you in other ways. You’ll eat, or you won’t, and there’s not much I can do about it. You aren’t particularly picky, though we haven’t tested you much. Sometimes you decide you like unexpected things, like a black-bean casserole or pesto; other times you take one look at something new and assert, without even tasting it, “I don’t like it.”

You’ve taken to declaring your love for things in a dramatic, theatrical way. “I love goldfish!” you’ll shout as I hand you your snack. “I love water!” You sometimes tell me you love what I’m wearing; tonight I was purging some clothes in my closet and whenever I’d come out in something new, you’d say, “Ooh, Mama, I love your dress!”

You’ve come out of your shell more and more in the familiar sphere of our neighborhood and regular activities and friends. Though our kindly next-door neighbor still intimidates you, you’ve taken to showing her whatever toy you’re carrying or whatever collection you’re building when we see her on the street. You’ll wave to the very loud neighbor Millie now and even say hello sometimes if you’re at a safe distance on the stoop. You always wave and say hello to our super, Charlie. You get excited about seeing friends now, and are doing more and more playing when we see them. And you are a regular social butterfly in music class, running up to give the teacher a hug at the end, vying to be the child chosen to turn off the light before we sing the quiet song, racing over to the teacher at the start of the dance song so he’ll pick you up and swing you around. All of this would have been unheard of just a few months ago.

You still love to sing. You still love to collect stones, sticks, and leaves. You still get absorbed in quiet, intricate activities for long stretches of time—putting tiny Play-Doh balls in medicine cups (one in each cup, or divided up by size or color), making tall towers of Play-Doh canisters or Mega Blocks, arranging seeds and stones. You like to divide things into categories, sort things, settle things in various containers. You like playing with Matchbox cars and lining up animal figurines on the windowsill.

You love to play doctor, and we often set up a waiting room for your stuffed animals, then give them all exams. Everyone always has multiple ear infections. You always say you have ear infections too (the lone real infection you had over Christmas really made an impact), and now you’ve taken to requesting specific items of play food in order to feel better—a hot dog, a donut, corn on the cob slathered with butter.

You love Greta. You give her lots of hugs and kisses and even tell her, “I love you!” If I’m in the kitchen, cleaning up or making food (both of which I seem to do endlessly, endlessly), I’ll sometimes look over and see you showing her toys or giving her toys, sometimes instructing her on how to use them: “See, Greta? You can chew it.” If she cries, you race over to give her a pacifier and are pleased when she accepts it. “There she goes!” you’ll say, satisfied, when she finally starts sucking on it.

You get a wild burst of energy at 6:00pm, making the hour before the bedtime routine the most unpredictable time of the day. Sometimes you get so wound up you start hurling (or trying to, anyway) Greta’s things—the bouncy chair, the play mat—around the living room, or running back and forth at top speed, or shriek-laughing maniacally. Getting outside is best, and I look forward to the day I can simply open the door of our house and release you into the beautiful yard rather than hustle everyone out onto the stoop, where you have to play by the garbage cans.

Favorite activities: watching Olivia, playing doctor, making towers and stacks, collecting anything and everything, swinging at the playground, pretending to feed your doll rice cereal and carrots while I feed Greta, making a “house” with a blanket in your crib or over your art table, singing, doing motions to songs, feeding snacks to your stuffed animals

Favorite books: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (I really hate this book), Chamelia (I hate this one too), Elmo’s Big Book of First (ditto), Pezzetino (love it!), Llama Llama Mad at Mama (neutral to negative). Not our best reading month—you’ve fixated on a few books that definitely aren’t my favorites. I trust these will be replaced by better ones in the days ahead…

Sunday, May 13, 2012

One Family's History

This weekend, Mom and Dad came for a quick visit, and we were fortunate enough to be able to arrange to show them our new house. Andrew and I were so excited for the trip—we hadn’t visited the house for many weeks, and no one besides us had seen it yet. We were anxious to show it off, and eager to hear confirmation that we’d made the right choice.

When we arrived at the house on Saturday morning, our broker wasn’t yet there, but cars were in the driveway. People approached us: the owner’s daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and grandson. They were at the house to do some work and packing and hadn’t known we were coming. It felt like an illicit meeting, pre-closing: should our lawyers have been present? were we trespassing? There is something inherently odd about the process of turning a house over to a new family, particularly when the house in question has been lived in by one family for so many years. Even if selling is the right or only thing to do (as it seems to be in this case, with an aging, widowed patriarch in a nursing home and grown children with lives and homes elsewhere), there must be some degree of suspicion or resentment about the new people moving in, taking over once-familiar rooms, planning changes, pointing out quirks (that stove! that wallpaper!) that aren’t quirks at all to those saying goodbye.

This house, especially, just seems so full of memories—it’s part of why we love it so much. Awkward as the meeting may have been for the family, they couldn’t have been nicer to us, and it was actually pretty great to be able to spend this little bit of time with the people who know the house best. We found out that big screened panels to enclose the front porch are stored in the rafters of the garage. We learned that the patriarch regularly repaired custom wooden window blinds that are stored in the attic if we would like to use them. We found out that the son is the one who used the cellar bathroom as a darkroom (we’d spotted photo-developing miscellany on our last visit), and that he used to repair Mustangs in the garage. We learned that he and his wife, during a graduate-school stint, lived for a couple of years on the third floor. They showed us an impressive collection of rakes and shovels in the garage, some repaired by hand—including a pitchfork with a sturdy tree branch as a handle. They pointed out where a garden used to be, a pole that had held a basketball hoop, bushes that tend to take over if not kept in check. They said they filled four dumpsters when they cleaned out the house.

The rooms are, for the most part, empty now. The clutter of these particular lives has been almost entirely erased.

Though the family were gracious and welcoming, we made as quick an exit as possible, aware that their minds were on the work to be done. Being there felt intrusive, somehow, as they tied up the loose ends to their home (and it is still theirs, very much theirs); if it were me, I’d have wanted badly to be left alone. And though the family were right there in front of us, sharing their memories, I also felt distinctly haunted, as though they weren’t there at all and we were instead conjuring a departed family’s history from forgotten yard tools, scuff marks on a wall, a footprint of a garden in the yard; wondering what they were like, how they’d lived, even as we filled the house with our own footsteps, dreams, plans.  


Monday, May 07, 2012


We had visitors last week—Andrew’s sister and dad were here last weekend; his dad stayed on for the week; and then this past weekend we drove up to New Hampshire to open the house and enjoy our first blissful weekend away from it all. We were there only from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, and a good bit of the first day was spent opening the house (i.e., Andrew and his dad cleaning out unmentionable awfulness while I sequestered the girls outside), but we still managed to take in some of the peace and rest we love so much.

We were outside nearly the entire time we were there—Lucia remembered lots of things from last summer, and though it was too cold to get out her swimming pool, she still got to swing, collect stones and dandelions, play with her ball hut, and ride around in her car and tractor. She could not have been any happier running around in the grass. Greta chose to celebrate our stay by beginning to sit up on her own for very long stretches (usually until she reaches too far forward for a toy and topples over). She happily played on a blanket in the grass. She did not choose to sleep very much at night, and, after another night of dreadful nonsleep last night, I am so tired I can barely function—I’ve been knocking things over all day as I walk around the apartment, as though I’m drunk.

A few pictures from the weekend, and then I’m off to bed, though I don’t know why I bother. I’m sure I’ll be up nursing Greta just at the moment when I’m drifting off into yearned-for sleep. She is nursing so much, and getting up so often, that I don’t know what to do. I started her on solids a week and a half ago, giving her rice cereal at dinnertime, and today I added in a lunch of carrots. She’s popping the snaps of her 6-month sleepers, so I can only assume this is some kind of insane growth spurt that will soon pass. And while I’m writing this disjointed, somewhat insane post, I’ll add that at her doctor’s appointment last week she weighed in at 15 pounds 11 ounces (50th percentile) and measured 27.5 inches (95th!!! percentile). She’s a good little grower, this one.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Naptime/Bedtime Sideshow

Lucia has made it her job to sing “Twinkle Twinkle” to Greta every time she goes to sleep, two times a day for naptime and then again at bedtime. This means she spends a lot of time hanging out with me while I nurse Greta in our dark bedroom. I always sing to Greta while she nurses: a few renditions of “By and By,” then on to “Great Big Stars,” finishing up with “Rainbow Connection” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” before I begin rocking her to sleep to “Sleep, sleep, sleep sleepyhead…Sleep, sleep, snuggle in your bed…”

Once Greta stops fidgeting and starts getting drowsy, I put her down in her crib. This is Lucia’s cue to grip the top of the crib, hoist herself up so she’s standing on the mattress and looking down at Greta, and sing “Twinkle Twinkle.” When she’s finished, we both say “Shh…shh…” and leave the room.

Except leaving the room is not always easy. Because Lucia must hang out while Greta nurses, she’s taken to bringing a selection of snacks and toys with her into the bedroom, with which she entertains herself on the floor. Sometimes she carries in just a couple of things, like Bibi and paw-paw (yes, she’s still carrying it around) and her doll. Other times she brings in a bucket full of things—a few tiny Play-Doh balls, a handful of seeds, a few strands of beads, a tiny Little People pig. And sometimes I hear her moving about in the living room, gathering, and then I hear the wheels of her toy stroller careening toward the bedroom, and she’ll wheel in a frankly astounding collection of amusements. Sometimes the things she brings in make me pause in my singing to laugh out loud, like when she wheeled in a few of Greta’s teethers, some sticks, a finger puppet, a water bottle, a pantry’s worth of play food, the caps from our contact lens cases, and an empty lunchbox. She never fails to scatter these things all around her, and then she stretches out on Bibi and listens quietly to the songs.

When I transition to the final song, she jumps up and quickly picks up all of her things, returning them, for the most part, to her bucket or stroller. After our “Shh…shh,” she and I together scoop up what we can and slip from the room. It is a funny little sideshow to naptime and bedtime. Tonight at Greta’s bedtime, Lucia brought in no toys, but she was wearing only a diaper and spent the nursing time parading about with a “Bibi dress” and then shivering dramatically and whispering that she was cold. And little Greta just nurses away, her little eyes always somehow closing even when the “Twinkle Twinkle” is off-key.