Category Archives: New York

Every Odyssey Must End Sometime

Remember when you walked hunched over like a reed in the dunes, deeply rooted but relentlessly blown by the winds?

Remember?

I think there will be a time when I don’t remember. When the pain isn’t piercing. When I don’t have a hard time keeping my neck up straight and my gaze off the ground.

I recently heard on the Ted Radio Hour that it only takes humans three months to return to baseline after all but the most extreme traumatic events.

These are the kinds of things I take comfort in. We are built to be resilient.

A dear friend of mine was talking to me about her five-year-old daughter. “Five is hard,” she said. “It doesn’t get easier.”

I was glad to hear it. I’m tired of pinning my hopes on things getting easier. Five will be hard. I can spend my time sharpening my tools rather than filling my hope chest.

When 2013 slunk off into the dark night, my husband and I knew that 2014 was waiting in the corner with gloves on.

We’ve been trying to solve the problem of the apartment in the Bronx that we own. It was a good idea to buy it, newly married, planning a family, thinking of two bedrooms and a stable place to live.

Wasn’t it?

Every other young family I know seems to have a tale of real estate heartbreak and destruction. And they can all pretty much tell you to the penny the price they paid for their humility.

We’re still paying the bill.

New York was not content to let us go with scraped knees. New York needed to break our kneecaps with a crowbar.

When we moved to Oregon three years ago, we were underwater and couldn’t afford to sell. So we rented the apartment and took a hefty hit every month. And we watched as other people refinanced or got loan modifications or filed for Harp 2.0. But we didn’t qualify for anything because the place was considered a “second home” or an “income property.” So then we applied to sell it as a short sale.

The great thing about banks is they can require you to turn in every piece of paperwork that’s ever had your name flashed across it, and they can pass you on to case worker after case worker for months. And then say, “Oh, you don’t qualify for this. Someone should have told you that.”

This has been our purgatory.

Applying for everything available only to hear No, over and over and over and over again. The last time, with the short sale, the bank said, “You don’t qualify because you’ve made all your payments.” What?

It just didn’t pay to be starting your family and longing for a place to call your own in 2008. At least not for a lot of us.

The exhaustion, the stress on our marriage, the financial pain that our apartment in the Bronx has put us through is torrential. Right now. Right now it’s torrential.

But it may be over soon. Tomorrow. It may be over tomorrow.

But it’s hard to believe, because everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Our realtor had other plans for us and started to work against us, our buyer’s bank got bought, the building’s management company decided to stop responding to bank requests. We watched as the walls of bureaucracy mounted around us, and as we disassembled one wall, another got built.

In all, there have been three banks, three lawyers, a transfer agent, two realtors, a management company, and a co-op board. This is standard in New York. And with so many people involved, it’s easy for people to say, “Well, it’s not our fault.”

I think I had to write about this because it’s the reason that I keep disappearing. When so much of my emotional and relational capabilities are taken over by one giant obstacle, I fall into myself.

Some wonderful things have come from this, however.

My husband and I have had to have some really tough, ongoing conversations—and I think this meatiness is where we’ve found our soul as a couple. It’s very clear what is important and what is not.

Our buyers are really, really wonderful people and we are leaving this odyssey friends who have battled the forces of bureaucracy together with faith and humor.

I am able to—sometimes, even most times on some days—live in the moment. Because often that’s been the only thing I’ve had. And it’s amazing what an afternoon coffee or an hour in the garden can do for me.

So if you’re still here, thanks. I’m grateful for your friendship and your readership, and for your continuing willingness to share a part of your own self with me.

3/31/14 UPDATE:

It happened!!!! The piercing pain is gone!! Prayers and persistence and the unwavering support of friends and family have carried us to the other side. We are truly grateful!

We’re Heading West!

The grass is always greener on the other side, right? I’ve been down on New York for a few months now. It’s lost its luster. Walking down the street, I used to think, “I live here! Can you believe it!?” Now, when I’m down in Midtown I think, “Can’t I just get a hotel and pretend I’m a tourist? Do I really have to get on the subway and go home?”

The subway system is a cruel joke on thinking individuals. The MTA recently put up signs intended to improve rider confidence:

Instead of waiting until everything in a station is broken, now we fix something right when it breaks.

Which Mercedes-driving MTA executive got that brilliant idea one morning and sent it to the PR team? “Tell them we’ll fix things right when they need fixing! It’s cutting edge! They’ll eat that sh*& up!”

But it’s really not the city that’s changed, it’s me of course.

I used to weather subway delays because I had a good book or The New Yorker. Now I have a squirming toddler who’s trying to lick the subway poles and hold a screaming contest. Instead of being able to skip up the subway stairs, I have to carry the toddler and stroller sherpa-style.

So we’ve been thinking about a move for a little while.

Our immediate families aren’t in New York, so we cast our net out to our family hubs. We looked online at all the space we could get. And that same excitement that we had when we sold our cars to rely on public transit is back, but in the opposite direction. I can’t wait to have wheels again so I can drive to Trader Joe’s anytime I want. I can fill my cart with blue cheese and gouda and not worry about having to carry it home with the toddler, relying only on my biceps for support.

So here’s the BIG NEWS that is rocking our world: this big-city family is packing everything onto a covered wagon and hitting the Oregon Trail.

We are moving to Portland, OR! Next week!

Hopefully we won’t get cholera along the way. I also hear the winter is a bad time to cross the Rockies in a wagon train.

I’m not sure what the change in scenery will mean for me. Will I be nicer? Less sarcastic? Will I stop running people over with the stroller? I’m going to try my hardest not to get into any knife fights during the first few months of big city detox.

In the meantime, please send some good vibes thissa-way. Momsicle’s going to be on hiatus until February, when it will come back slightly schizophrenic, full of cheese, and wearing Birkenstocks with socks.

Bon voyage!

Wordless Wednesday: For My Foodies at Christmas

If you are coming from They Draw and Cook, WELCOME! I am a New York–based writer and copyeditor (with a secret passion for illustration). Click here to see the photo of the lox terrine! Read on for more to make your mouth water…

If you can’t get to New York City for Christmas, or you’ve turned into too much of a Scrooge to bundle up and hit the streets, here’s a truly mouth-watering winter day on the town. See if you can guess what and where (scroll over the picture to find out).

Guide to Our Favorite Baby Gear

Why are new parents asked to put together baby registries? For weddings, you’ve lived a year or two on your own. You know what’s missing from your kitchen cabinets. Your towels from college are fraying; your sheets have little holes.

The baby registry similarly seems like a great idea. You get another shot at that cordless scanner and millions of items! But here’s the issue: you’ve never had a baby.

Expectant parents are the worst-equipped people in the world to arm with a red laser gun in a mosh pit of baby gear. You are most likely to choose things by thinking: Look at those adorable monkeys!

To add complications, some of us live in tight spaces. We apartment/loft/yurt dwellers have to sift through conventional knowledge to figure out what is totally essential. If a baby item doesn’t have at least three uses and fold-up, it can’t come in. So, with one or two pregnant friends in mind, here is my list of top-ten baby items that we have loved and used until they’ve practically fallen apart (but they didn’t, so they made the list).*

*Caveat: this compilation comes from an ultra-practical, pseudo-yuppie-kinda-white-trash, smoothie-making, one-child, unafraid-of-dirt point of view. Parents, chime in down in the comments section with the essentials from your own crazy worlds. Others will benefit from your road-tested advice!

 

Momsicle’s Best Baby Gear

  1. Graco Snap-n-Go Stroller and Infant Carrier/Car Seat. This stroller lasts until the baby is 25 pounds. It is rear-facing, lightweight, and folds up fairly easily. The best part is that the carrier snaps right into a car seat base, so if the bambino is sleeping, no need to wake her up to put her in or take her out of the carrier. This is essential, because you DO NOT want to interrupt nap time. Once K-Pants got too big, we graduated to our favorite thing in the world…
  2. City Mini Stroller. We. Love. This. Stroller. Our qualifications were as follows: 1) Stroller must be made of an ultra-light-weight, Superman-strength metal so that a small woman could carry it up and down the subway stairs with forty pounds of baby/baby stuff; 2) Must be able to push it one-handed for real (How else will you dodge tourists on the sidewalk while talking on the phone??); and 3) it has to fold up easily (not kinda-sorta easy, but you-can-only-use-your-toes-and-it-still-folds easy). I challenge you to find a different stroller that fits these criteria. There are very fancy strollers out there that look like homages to post-modern architecture, but they cross the street to avoid the dirty subway entrances that we hoi-polloi use. You can also find strollers cheaper (the City Mini runs about $225), but you will be very sad. And I will definitely roll past you, pushing my stroller with my right hand while making a papier-mâché volcano with my left hand.
  3. Magnetic Cabinet Locks. Some people go all out with the baby-proofing. We prefer to let the House Destroyer roam free with all the fragile stuff above his reach. My dad gave the best advice in this regard: Pretend like floodwaters will roll into your house up to four feet high. Decide what you will save and put it above the water mark. Granted, our house is always a mess with the piles of non-breakable stuff constantly moving from room-to-room (you’ll start to find shoes in the recycling). But, really, that’s what kids do, and it’s nicer not to have everything on lock down. For items where the-Great-Flood-strategy won’t work, the magnetic cabinet locks are just so cool! They stick on and have a nifty magnetic key that magically unlocks the doors (buy an extra, because you might one day lock the key in the cabinet).
  4. A Pack-and-Play. You don’t need a fancy one with soothing sounds and a mobile, though some people love that stuff. But you do need one with a bassinet feature that allows you to have an infant sleep closer to the top (which can then be removed for toddlers). We love our Graco. We actually don’t travel with it, but we probably would if we had a car. Still, it’s great for when we have guests and the Pants sleeps in our room for the night. Also, it can substitute for a crib if you are super tight on space.
  5. Medela Pump ‘N’ Style Breast Pump. Yes, it is a stupid, stupid name. There is no breast-pumping in style. And how come the ‘N’? Really, Medela? But if you’re planning to breastfeed, then there will be a lot of not-so-stylish pumping. The Freestyle model is not powerful enough, and you don’t need the deluxe Pump ‘N’ Style with a leather case. Totally unnecessary. Medela warns that if you use someone else’s breast pump, you might get Hepatitis C, and we fell for that. But you can get one used, just make sure it is in excellent condition and you trust the source. Do not buy a used breast pump from a crack-head or a prostitute.
  6. Ergo & Sleepy Wrap Baby Carriers. I know this is two things in one, but we love them both. The Sleepy Wrap was a gift from my friend Heidi; it’s a long piece of cloth that comes with multi-step instructions on how to wear it. We call it the Ninja Wrap. As you wrap it, you look like you are either preparing to face the Karate Kid or auditioning for Iron Chef America, but it’s super comfy and allows you to swaddle the baby when she is really little. My husband never got the hang of the ninja moves and prefers the Ergo, which we still easily use with K-Pants when he is not walking or in the City Mini.
  7. Lansinoh Nipple Cream. Buy a couple and then use it all the time. Lansinoh is awesome for dry lips, too. Aforementioned Heidi, who is a labor-and-delivery nurse, gave me a sample a long time before K-Pants arrived on the scene. Then I asked for a tube for my birthday, which is why I’ve been carrying nipple cream around in my purse for five years. Who doesn’t love 99% pure lanolin?
  8. A diaper changing pad and a Diaper Genie. We don’t like to get sucked in to things that require special refills, but the fact that the Diaper Genie tightly seals the diapers and is small enough so that you have to change the trash pretty often are both things that will help ensure your house does not smell terrible. You do not need a diaper changing table for baby, although they are awesome. You just need a cushy diaper changing pad to put on top of a dresser or desk.
  9. A dishwasher caddy for bottle nipples. Do you like doing dishes while sleep deprived? Neither do I. So I put all of our bottle and bottle accessories in the dishwasher on the top rack. We have a plastic Munchkin dishwasher caddy and we love it.
  10. A baby swing and/or bouncy seat. There are few things that it is worth moving the furniture around to make room for. The baby swing is one of them (if your baby doesn’t hate it!). If your baby isn’t a hater, she will probably be soothed into a peaceful state that may give you time to shower. My suggestion: borrow one from someone.

And here’s a list of things that can be nice, but you don’t need for your apartment/loft/yurt:

  1. A baby monitor. Especially a video baby monitor. Just be quiet and listen for the baby. She cries.
  2. An infant bathtub. Especially a temperature-sensing, jet flow infant bathtub. Do you have a sink in your bathroom? Good. Now don’t make the water too hot.
  3. More than one stroller at a time. The apartment/loft/yurt doesn’t like that.
  4. A diaper bag. Buy yourself a nice, sleek satchel instead. We bought a Columbia diaper bag thinking it would be sporty and utilitarian. But it still looks like a diaper bag and the hinges squeak like a rusty bicycle.

Please share an item that you love or love-to-hate below for the benefit of others. Otherwise, good luck with the baby gear stun gun. Go out there and buy some monkeys!

Laundry Wars

I hate the laundry. I’ve been doing it since fourth grade, but still, the washer, the dryer, and I are archenemies. I’ve melted red crayon into new school clothes; I’ve bleached and shrunk things.

I recently packed for a weekend trip and then pulled out my central outfit—a black, lined, wool jumper—only to realize that I had shrunk the jumper in the dryer. The synthetic lining didn’t seize up, however. This became very apparent when the lining presented itself a full two-inches below the wool. And my snafu was difficult to conceal over the laser-pink tights I packed to go with it.

Oh laundry: you’ve exacted your revenge again.

I’ve washed the dry-clean-only pile, I’ve made whites dirtier, I’ve twisted and generally destroyed. For something to become a lasting part of my wardrobe, it needs to be practically indestructible.

Luckily, in the past I’ve lived with roommates on a chores-bartering system that allowed me to trade cooking for laundry. Then I moved to New York and instead of spending the day in the Laundromat, I splurged and had the laundry people wash and fold it. That’s right: I had people.

When I started dating my husband, I quickly found out he did laundry, and if my clothes were at his house, he happily washed and sorted them not only into colored and white loads, but normal and delicate loads. I married him.

But now I’m a full-time mom, and suddenly I’m fighting with the laundry demons again (not because we abandoned the laundry people, but because K-Pants and his Paris Hilton wardrobe get special treatment).

Our laundry is in the basement of the building. The room is filled with old machines that often break down, and it seems like everyone in the building (me included) waits until their very last pair of underwear to do the wash (or in my case, K-Pant’s last pair of pants). That means everyone arrives with about 150 lbs. of clothes to pile into a small, under-trained army of rickety machines that often don’t work.

I know there’s some laundry magnate out their, living in a $5 million dollar mansion in Franklin Lakes, NJ, built solely out of quarters, hobnobbing with the Real Housewives. I bet he has a red Electrolux washing machine with a woman named Rosalinda who comes to use it. He probably doesn’t even know where his Electrolux is in the house, and he surely can’t hear it because it’s so damn quiet.

Well I can see the George Washington Bridge from my block, and I’m trying to figure out the best way to find the Laundry King and steal his Electrolux and haul that fire-engine-red beauty back to the Bronx.

Because today, as usual, I had to take out other people’s finished laundry to fit mine in, and on top of that the dryers did not dry my clothes. I’m pretty sure their only purpose is to dry clothes.

Maybe they’re having an existential crisis.

Or maybe they think their job is to simply warm up the clothes like a nice bowl of soup: warm and wet! I can certainly go for that combination, if you get what I mean, but when I’m on a tight schedule and the Pants is napping alone upstairs, I only have 10 minutes before he wakes up or the authorities come.

Laundry King, today you have won the battle, but this multi-book-saga-hopefully-morphing-into-a-movie-deal is far from over.

Two Tales in a City

When attacking industrial New York with a Brit, Charles Dickens comes to mind. On Saturday, my dear British friend Fizgig (also a very talented actress and jeweler) met K-Pants and I for a Brooklyn adventure walk. To feast your eyes on Fizgig’s version of what happened, click here. My version of the truth is below.

___________________________________

Sometimes I need New York to show me a secret. After living here five years, I’m often on edge and apathetic. (Recognizing my issues is the first step, right?) My relationship with the subway—for instance—is incredibly rocky and bordering on emotionally abusive.

I’ve flipped off MTA employees (I love me some CityMini stroller: you can drive with one hand and flip the bird with the other). I’ve tried airing my frustrations in writing: All I get are do-not-reply-to-this-email messages. I don’t think counseling will work. The wheels on those tracks are grinding me down and pushing me toward the third rail.

But then on Saturday, as K-Pants and I escaped the transportation netherworld and our eyes adjusted to the light, Auntie Fizgig appeared with sweet fruit cake from Narnia, a dog who acts like a dressage horse, and plans for a walk filled with glass-tiled sidewalks, hidden, rusted alleys, and secret food-truck getaways.

Here’s Auntie Fizgig; just what the anti-cynicism doctor ordered:

And here’s Dressage Dog:

Armed with two cameras, K-Pants, and Dressage Dog, we headed to the Gowanus Canal—an area that is one of Brooklyn’s rough diamonds being polished.

The canal has been ridiculously polluted, but is on the mend. Here’s a photo of the Gowanus—kind of reminds you art history geeks of a dirty Flemish landscape painting, right?

Fizgig pushed us into a hidden parking lot where New York City street trucks go to rest up on the weekends. This is like sneaking up on your favorite celebrity in her local hangout.

Our gallant guide showed us a street mural by Shepard Fairey (of Obama poster fame).

Bright, bold textile prints…

Technicolor grafitti plays with nature…

…and the grafitti also poses as stained glass in the broken windows.

So, if you are in New York and looking for urban refreshment, sneak up on the Gowanus Canal. Just take the R train to Union Street and head west.

Sticking Up for the Smallest

I live in the Bronx and I’ve been following a few of the stories about bullying lately. Two weeks ago, however, they seemed to be following me.

K-Pants and I were returning a book to the library a few blocks from our house the last Tuesday in October. On the way back there were five or six news vans on 161st Street. Some of the Latin Kings—the alleged perpetrators in the Bronx anti-gay beatings—were about to come out of the borough courthouse. We watched as camera crews and reporters followed them to their cars.

On Monday, a friend and I took our kids to the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge. When you’re standing under the bridge, it doesn’t seem so far from the river. You watch the kids playing at the edge of the water and the bridge grows right out of the ground like a giant beanstalk. And though it doesn’t seem far to the solid, beautiful span, you know Tyler Clementi—hopeless—jumped off and died.

After Tyler’s death and the anti-gay attack here in the Bronx, I recommitted myself to showing love and care with all people.

But I discovered it’s easy to promise yourself you won’t post videos of someone on the web, or that you won’t invite someone over so you can beat him up. It’s even easy for me to promise I will never say something derisive to a gay person; I will never tell a black child she can’t play with my child; I will never spread rumors about someone because of her religion.

It’s simple to name these things, because I would never do them. It’s like saying I recommit myself to avoiding American cheese. Even so, I felt good about myself for a few days.

But then I realized the things I would do. I would cut off the fat woman who’s headed to the subway elevator taking my stroller spot.  She’s probably had a long day at work and two knee replacements, but I’m happy to clip her ankles and shove her out of the way telling myself that she should just lose weight. I would look away from every homeless person on the subway, thinking how they are ruining my ride. And I would forget to speak up for the disabled people who can’t use our city amenities, because my son and I can get around just fine.

I got this wake-up call by going to the Yankee Stadium parks redevelopment meeting (a thrill-a-minute, as one might imagine). I wanted a child’s safety gate installed at our park so kids can’t run into the street. Prior to the meeting, my neighbors and I had written to the parks commissioner. He told us we should watch our children better.

Them’s fightin’ words, Mr. C0-mish-on-her.

So I arrived at the meeting with seven pages of photos and admonitions I would use in future litigation once the first run-away child made for the street. However, the parks people stood down and said: Consider it done. Voilà! Child safety latches. Wind out of my sails and faith in government restored.

But other attendees were not so appeased. There were two people at the meeting from New York City Park Advocates, a group that pushes for accountability and inclusiveness in our parks. Did you know, for example, that there are 997 playgrounds in New York City and only 5 are completely accessible? Only five allow children and parents with disabilities to play like the rest of us. I mean really play, not just wheel around and watch other people climb on things.

I was like: Fo’ real?? I took this not only as an affront to the city, but a personal slap-in-the-face—I thought I was aware of stuff like this. When our new park opened, I thought: Great! Look at all these ramps and wide pathways.

But I learned that what I thought was open-access really isn’t good enough.

Sure, kids in wheelchairs can come in and use the ramps, but there’s a step stopping them from getting to the play equipment. They can push their friends on the tire swing, but they can’t get on. They can play in the water feature—when it gets hot enough. And if I were a parent in a wheelchair trying to keep my able-bodied child safe at the park—forget about it.

New York City Park Advocates calls this a culture of isolation. They asked those of us at the meeting for one thing: If you are able-bodied, speak up for those who aren’t.

I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t speaking up. So now, instead of recomitting myself to things I already do, I’m searching for the things I overlook.

To find out more about New York City Park Advocates, click here.