Friday, November 30, 2012

Adventures in Homeownership

Monday: new stove arrives.

Tuesday: new boiler. Glorious heat. Heating guy called our old boiler "medieval" and a "carbon-monoxide machine," for which parts aren't even made anymore since they don't meet any safety standards. Probably good we got a new one. But Lucia now cannot go to college.

Thursday: Andrew discovers pool of water under basement stairs. Plumber comes at 6pm; says we should turn off water for the night. No water, no heat. Also, some tubing thing from the (ancient) dryer, which Andrew had duct-taped, fell down again. We're ignoring it.

Friday: Plumber finds problem pipe behind wall in basement bathroom. Replaces pipe. No more leak, and we have heat and water. But now Greta cannot go to college.

This is why some people are happily lifetime renters. I finally get it.

Letter to Greta: 13 Months

Dearest Grets,

What a little joy you are. You’re walking now, full steam ahead—you started just a couple of days after your birthday, spent a few days taking a few tentative steps here and there, and then just settled into the world of walking without looking back. You have a bow-legged, determined stride, and you can’t quite keep up with yourself—you’re impatient to be done with the unsteadiness of a new walker. You’re ready to run. You try to run. You cannot yet run. You take so many spills every day it’s sometimes difficult to watch.

You’re not talking yet, but you’re making yourself heard. You gesture and screech for what you want; you express your displeasure clearly when Lucia takes something from you or keeps you from something you’re after. You’ve thrown bona fide tantrums when we take you out of the bathtub—you love bathtime. You’re coming into your own.

You love reading. You have favorite books and don’t hesitate to toddler over with one of them, press it into our hands, and plop into our laps. You like blocks—you can stack one or two, but mostly you like knocking them down and scattering them around. If Lucia is building something, your purpose in life is to knock it over. “NO, GRETS. NO, GRETS,” Lucia hollars, shielding her masterpieces. Then you scream in frustration.

You have a funny, wrinkled-nose giggle where you kind of huff through your teeth; you smile with your whole face; you squeal and scream when you’re especially excited. It is impossible to look at you without wanting to scoop you up. But you’re busy these days. You don’t always want to stop for a snuggle.

You gave up breastfeeding without missing a beat, and putting you down for naps and bedtime is (knock wood) ridiculously easy. Naptime: pacifier, song, bed. Bedtime: pacifier, a few books, song, bed. You’re sleeping through the night much more often than before. And when/if you do wake up during the night, usually you go right back to sleep if we give you your pacifier. But without nursing to fall back on, when you wake up at 5:30 (or 5…), you’re up for good. This is not ideal. But we’re getting there.

You continue to be an amazing eater. You eat almost everything, in large quantities. At your one-year checkup, you were 19 lbs 13 ozs, 25th percentile; and 30 inches long, 75th percentile. Long and lean.

You’ve had your bibi for a while now—but this month it’s solidified as your security blanket. You have it with you almost all the time, and you even wrap it around your neck and wear it on your head like Lucia does.

Favorite books: Duck and Goose Find a Pumpkin, I Am a Bunny, Pat the Bunny, Brown Bear Brown Bear, Karen Katz flap books, Fall Colors, Clifford’s First Day of School, Barnyard Dance

Favorite toys/activities: blocks, dollhouse dolls, stacking cups, pushing the shopping cart, putting things in bags/buckets, handing things to people

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Before Thanksgiving: our ancient oven died in a dramatic burst of flames.

After Thanksgiving: our ancient furnace died in a quiet and brutal lack of heat.

We are now ovenless and heatless. We've been cooking things on the stovetop, and tonight we bought space heaters for the girls' rooms. And Andrew leaves tomorrow, early in the morning, for a week-long business trip.

Homeownership. Wheee....

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Letter to Lucia: 37 Months

Dear Little One,

You have been three for a month now, and all I can say is that to be with you these days is to be constantly surprised. You are not the same person you were three months ago, or even one month ago; you are changing so much, so quickly, that it’s almost hard to believe. Suddenly, you want to dress yourself, and choose your own pjs. You come up with elaborate games and activities. You are drawing recognizable shapes, and you can write an L.

But more than all this is how you’re changing socially. You’ve been coming out of your shell for a while now, but lately it’s been shockingly apparent. We had a few kids over this week for playgroup, and though you always look forward to playgroup, usually you turn shy when so many people come over. Not this time. You played the whole time with the other kids, shrieking and laughing as you all chased each other around the house, you and another little girl playing with your doll, standing with the other kids to have sandwiches at the coffee table. You had so much fun, and another mother even remarked on how you’d changed—she said you seemed to sparkle.

This is true. You still drive me crazy a lot of the time, since, at three, you are demanding and persistent and impatient. But you are also hilarious and smart and creative. You’ve always been all these things to us, but now others are getting to see them too.

You and Greta continue to have your conflicts. Sometimes you love your little sister and enjoy taking care of her and playing with her; other times, it’s clear that you wish Greta would just sit still in a little-used corner of the house and keep out of your way. You’re not quite sure what to make of Greta’s newfound walking skills, since a toddling-around Greta is definitely a more in-your-face/in-your-stuff Greta who is growing more confident and feisty by the day. Deep down, I know you love her. Even on tough days, if Greta is upset, you generally run up with a toy or her bibi, sometimes saying kindly, “Here you go, Grets,” other times just throwing it at her—but making the offering nonetheless.

Winter is going to be hard. You need to run, to play, to be outside, and staying inside all day everyday is going to be trying for us all. We’ll have new rhythms to discover in the months ahead.

Favorite books: Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle; Olivia and the Fairy Princesses; Silly Tilly’s Thanksgiving; Berenstain Bears and the Giant Pumpkin; Little Mommy

Favorite toys/activities: Watching Dora the Explorer; “playing” Candyland; arranging small toys and play food in elaborate “picnics”; making towers and castles with blocks; singing songs; taking care of your doll; feeding your doll in the high chair; going to preschool

In this picture, post-dinner, you're eating your "extra-special snack"--a new nightly ritual Andrew got you hooked on. Now, when you eat a good dinner, you request "a special snack--no, an extra-special snack!", and we give you a little bowl filled with an assortment of snacks. Tonight was Wheat Thins, pretzels, yogurt raisins, a fun-size Kit Kat (your current Halloween favorite), and one piece of candy corn.

Here you are with your snack, engrossed in an Olivia episode.

Return to Manhattan

Last night, I made my very first return to Manhattan since moving to New Jersey. My return was done in style—Andrew and I went to the National Book Awards! Andrew’s company always has a table, and usually his team’s big partners are invited, but because of Sandy this year, there were empty seats, so Andrew got to bring me. I wore a lovely gray cocktail dress that’s been hanging in my closet for about five years with the tags still on, and I bought spectacular new sparkly shoes, got my nails and hair done, and generally tried my best to not look like the harried, banana-covered person I usually am.

The event was at Cipriani, very fancy, with literary luminaries sitting nearby—one of the fiction judges even sat at our table. At the after-party, I walked right past Lorrie Moore and managed to tell her I still remembered something she said at a reading about ten years ago—that you should never marry someone who thinks writing is cute. “Actually,” she said, “I think I said you should always marry someone who thinks writing is cute.” Does this mean I need to reevaluate my choice of a husband, who has never been anything but supportive and respectful of my work??

I didn’t have much time to ponder this; eleven-thirty came around fast, and we had to get home to relieve our babysitter.

And that’s the other remarkable thing about last night. Besides the fact that Andrew and I had a fancy night out—besides the fact that I maneuvered successfully in four-inch heels—besides the fact that I set foot once again in Manhattan (albeit in a part of town that has no nostalgic associations for me whatsoever)—is the fact that we had to leave before bedtime, and the world did not end. Greta had a difficult day—she got vaccinations in the morning and had only one short nap, so I put her to bed at 5:45pm. That left Lucia. Andrew and I were wracked with worry, giving our sitter dire warnings of the apocalypse she should expect. All day, I talked to Lucia about what would happen that night—that the sitter would read her stories and put her to bed. She never gave much of a reaction other than to say she wanted to come with us to our dinner. We left her as she began watching her favorite video, dread in our hearts.

But when I texted the sitter an hour later to see how it all went, she said she put Lucia to bed with no problems whatsoever. Lucia listened to stories, instructed the sitter on how wide to leave the door open, and then went to sleep.


Perhaps this means we might actually be able to start leaving the house a little bit more. An illuminating night all around.


After one year and two weeks of breastfeeding, Greta is weaned. Last Friday, I just decided it was time. Greta is drinking cow’s milk, she’s eating a ton, and she was nursing out of habit, not any real need. So I just—stopped. I didn’t really intend to do it cold turkey, and if she’d protested, I would have kept going and phased it out gradually. But this wasn’t the case. At her morning naptime, I gave her her pacifier and blankie, snuggled her close, sang her a song, and put her in her crib. She went to sleep without a peep. Same thing for her afternoon nap, and then at bedtime. I did nurse her late that night, but the next day, that was it. She’s more or less stopped waking up during the night now (though she’s been getting up quite early, like 5:30 or 6), and she goes right to sleep at naptime and bedtime. It’s like she doesn’t even remember breastfeeding was something she used to do.


I was ready to stop, but Greta is my baby, and weaning her means I have to (sort of) acknowledge that she’s not a baby-baby anymore. She’s walking, playing, trying to talk. She’s her own little person. She needs songs and stories and cuddling before bed, but she no longer needs to nurse. She is weaned.

My breastfeeding days are over. This seems like a big thing, a chapter of Having Babies that has come to a close. Not an ending to celebrate, really; just—an ending.

Friday, November 09, 2012


We are still without internet or TV, but on Tuesday night we managed to watch the returns through a convoluted setup of cell phone—wifi hotspot—iPad—streaming CNN. The image and sound didn’t always align, and for long spells the screen would be black, jumping back to life with surprising announcements like CNN PROJECTION: OBAMA WILL WIN ELECTION. Hooray!

I voted at a church near our house Tuesday afternoon. I went at lunchtime, and there was no line, and I gave my name and checked the little electronic boxes and walked home on a beautiful fall day, crunching leaves, moved not so much by the election itself but by the fact that I had gone through the ritual without even a thought of being harassed or hurt, that the most dangerous thing about my voting that day was the possibility that one of the girls would wake up from their naps while I was gone and Andrew was on a conference call. We’re lucky, and what a relief that this election proved that reason, respect, and inclusiveness prevailed once more. Lucia and Greta are too little to understand any of this (I tried to explain the election to Lucia, but she digested only enough to occasionally say “Obama!” throughout the day), but I’m happy that their very first presidential election is one they can one day be proud of.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Snow and Fun at School

We got a snowstorm last night, a good three or so inches of snow. Lucia was beyond excited yesterday when the first flakes started falling. She was excited about the snow—but she was also certain that this meant Santa was coming imminently. Ever since Halloween ended, and I explained that Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming up, she’s been exclaiming “Santa is coming!! I want Santa Claus!” at random moments. I’m not sure where she’s picked up this fascination/excitement over Santa. I’ve mentioned Santa to her a few times, but I haven’t made a big deal out of it (it’s only November 8!), so she either remembers last year’s Christmas (unlikely) or is just picking up on the pervasive cultural explosion of Christmas now that the Halloween stuff is gone from windows and stores.

Anyway, when she woke up to see the world covered in snow this morning, she squealed and shouted that she wanted to go outside to make snowballs. First, though, she had preschool. I took someone’s helping-mommy shift today because I knew our regular teacher wasn’t going to be there and that Lucia’s class was going to join another class—I worried that this would be upsetting for Lucia, who loves school but who also expects the day to unfold in a certain way. But I needn’t have worried. After a few confused questions about where her teacher was, Lucia traipsed off to play, mesmerized by new toy options and jumping up to volunteer to help the new teacher. At some point I’m going to have to retire my idea of Lucia as a shy, quiet kid. During a song about colors today, when the teacher pointed out some purple on Lucia’s dress, which featured a picture of a deer, Lucia shouted, “I saw a deer in our backyard!!” (which we did, last week). She jumped at the chance to ring the bell for clean-up time. She called after a little boy who wasn’t getting in line after gym time: “Come on, Jack!” She ran across the room to watch when the teacher popped popcorn at snacktime. She just loves being at preschool, and is a model student—she loves playing with the toys in the classroom, but she’s not one of the kids who won’t settle and focus when it’s time for organized activities. That’s the point of preschool for her, I think. She likes circle time, lining up, singing the songs. She just might be the perfect blend of Andrew and me—just outgoing enough to have fun and talk to people, just nerdy and introverted enough to get straight-A’s and be perfectly behaved.

And Greta? Tonight Greta toddled barefoot around the house wearing a pink velour track suit and a few strands of Mardi Gras beads, sometimes hurrying up to me with a book to read, other times rummaging determinedly through a bin of toys. I just imagine Greta running at top speed into preschool, ready for anything. Whether she displays any quiet, Margo-ish traits remains to be seen.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Trick-or-Treating by Flashlight

At two this afternoon, we finally lost power. It seemed like a fated thing, long overdue, after hearing the laments of still-power-less neighbors from the other half of the block for the past seven days. I was rocking Greta when suddenly there was silence—her white-noise machine just died. I heard a beep of something shutting down. From the kitchen, silence.

And so, tonight, we went trick-or-treating in pitch blackness. All we could see of the (few) trick-or-treaters who ventured to our block were flashlight beams; the only signal candy-offering houses could give was a candle or lantern in the window. It was truly eerie, the street absolutely dark; Lucia kept pointing out the stars in the sky. We left a bowl of candy on our porch while we were out, and our house was truly Halloween-y: yesterday we carved our two biggest pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, and their glowing, jagged-tooth faces looked spectacular against the fully dark night.

Lucia was very brave in these extraordinary trick-or-treating conditions. She donned her ghost costume excitedly, chose her plastic pumpkin as her candy bag, and off we went. (Greta also wore a ghost costume, but she stayed snug in the stroller.) I am very pleased with how my very first homemade Halloween costumes for the girls turned out—white-fleece ghost robes with a felt-letter BOO! sewn onto the front. Lucia glided with me to each house and gave a loud, enthusiastic “Trick or treat!!” to whatever neighbor opened the door. She was thrilled to get candy. “I have so many treats!!” she said each time. “My pumpkin is full!!” We went to about six houses before she declared herself tired and ready to go home. The whole way home, she kept saying, “Treats! I LOVE trick-or-treating! Hooray! Hooray!” (Unfortunately, the influence of a much-loved Halloween episode of Dora also came through, as she said several times, “We did it! We did it! Lo hicimos!”)

Lo and behold, our power went on shortly after we walked in the door. (Ours turned out to be a planned outage as repairs were going on; our unlucky neighbors’ houses are still dark and cold.) I had to bribe the girls back into their costumes for a few pictures. All in all, a very interesting suburban trick-or-treating experience. Lo hicimos!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Five Years: A Recounting

***Today, November 10, we got our internet back--it went out the day of the storm. I wrote some blog posts over the past two weeks and will post them now. Blogger allows me to retroactively date them.***

Today is my and Andrew’s five-year wedding anniversary. To mark the day, here is our marriage so far, in numbers:

5 years of marriage

1 real wedding

3 exchanges of vows (legal; symbolic; official Catholic)

2 kids

2 cars (now 1)

6 apartments in 6 cities (Citrus Heights, CA; Sacramento, CA; Roseville, CA; New York, NY [temporary housing]; Brooklyn, NY; Maplewood, NJ)

3 states (CA, NY, NJ)

2 interstate moves (CA to NY, NY to NJ)

countless weekend trips (pre-kids)

3 trips to the ER (Andrew: kidney stones, sliced finger; Lucia: tick)

1 major surgery (Margo: C-section)

1 historic election (2008)

2 hurricanes (Irene, Sandy)

Immeasurable happiness. Happy anniversary, dearest!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Storm for Us

Somehow, we got through the storm unscathed. We never lost power, and all of the beautiful trees in our yard stayed standing. We are lucky. Next door, and down the rest of the block, power is still out. (Two neighbors have strung extension cords to our outdoor outlets.) A gigantic tree a little ways down our street was uprooted and is still blocking the road; it took down an entire power-line pole, and the line was still live yesterday. Just up the street from us, as well as over one block, enormous trees were uprooted and fell over onto houses. A neighbor told us that a couple of blocks away, a tree split a house's second and third stories in half. So, we are lucky. Friends came over yesterday to charge phones and warm up (she's eight months pregnant; they have two other kids; still no power). We, on the other hand, went to Home Depot to buy paint--Andrew's office is closed for the rest of the week so we decided to undertake a home-improvement project, painting the "rec room" in the basement. Like I said--lucky.

We don't have TV or internet service, and we haven't gotten a newspaper all week, so we feel oddly cut off from the storm and everything else, our world barely larger than our neighborhood. This is very frustrating since the election is Tuesday, but also somewhat liberating; I'm at a cafe right now while Lucia's in preschool, catching up on news online, and reading the latest from Nate Silver made my blood pressure spike. (For just a moment I felt like I was back in 2008, hours slipping away as I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed various news sites, starving for any scrap of new information. In 2008, I did not have kids.)

Anyway. We have nothing to complain about. We are happy and warm and well-fed. Our house was a true fortress during the storm, too--we barely heard the wind, and there weren't even any rattling windows. It's a house that's built to last.