on moving on

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Our heat was out again this weekend, for the second time in as many weeks, and for close to 48 hours. I vented my frustration online, and while I got a ton of supportive responses and helpful suggestions, I got a few that made me bristle, particularly the suggestion that we should “just move.” This is certainly not the first time someone has suggested it, and to be honest, I’ve long been one to say “if you don’t like your situation, change it.” Hell, the reason we’re back in New York at all is because we wanted to change our situation, and we took HUGE crazy steps to do just that. But still, I bristled.

The heat in our building goes out frequently, or at least it seems to; I have no real way of comparing it to other multi-unit pre-war buildings, since this is the first time we’ve lived in a building like this. And the boiler problems are but one recurring issue we’ve dealt with since moving back to New York, to this building in Brooklyn. We’ve got mold in the bathroom walls and ceiling; a droopy floor in the hallway; baseboards and door frames that swell and buckle and crack, sending thick shards of paint cascading to the floor, to be swept up quickly before they land in little hands or mouths.

But we’ve also got a fairly decent amount of space. We have updated wiring, no bedbugs or other vermin, a tiny workhorse of a dishwasher, a small but serviceable kitchen (probably one of the best we’ve had in all of the places Mike and I have rented together). We’ve got thick, solid walls, beautiful light, and original hardwood floors that are as lovely as they are lumpy. We’ve got two bus routes practically at our doorstep, and two different subway lines half a mile’s walk in either direction.

Crime is minimal, schools are well-rated, and the area is extremely walkable. The streets are mostly clean and quiet and lined with trees, and while I don’t love all of our neighbors (particularly the ones who leave their trash in the stairwells or toss things out the window to land on our fire escape), I do love our tribe, the neighborhood friends whose kids welcomed us and our kids into their circle, who fed us when we brought a newborn Mira home, who have driven Julian to and from preschool on frigid days, who have offered their space heaters and their couches and their showers while we awaited the return of our heat, or the completion of bathroom repairs after a collapsed ceiling.

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This apartment is pretty much the best thing in the best neighborhood that we can afford at this stage in our lives, and I feel incredibly lucky we are here, despite its flaws. So I bristled at the suggestion that we should leave it, or that we could leave it.

I bristled at the assumption that we are even in a position to just up and move, that we have the money and the resources to uproot our family once again, to go… where? First month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit, broker’s fees (unless you’re lucky), boxes and packing materials, movers to get mountains of crap from point A to point B (unless we did it ourselves, in which case we’d still need a truck and a sitter, at a minimum)… that’s a hell of a lot of cash. It’s a lot of cash we don’t have, and can’t easily get.

But let’s say we did choose to move.

We may or may not already be priced out of our current neighborhood. A comparable apartment in the building next door to ours rented last month for $1900/month, and a quick search of rental listings this morning revealed that a unit on the first floor of our building is listed, at $100 more per month than what our starting rent was. I see the occasional listing for an apartment in the neighborhood and those immediately nearby that I think we could afford, but would we even be approved, given our financial baggage? And how would it stack up against our current location?

Assuming we land in a new apartment without our current boiler troubles and plumbing woes, what other issues are we looking at? Higher crime? Lesser schools? A longer commute? Would we have to buy a car and incur all of the expenses that come with that (not to mention the hassle of alternate-side parking regulations)?

New York real estate being what it is, we would likely end up in an area far removed from our current neighborhood, farther away from my job, with fewer amenities and resources available. We might find ourselves once again living in a neighborhood where my husband is targeted simply for being a white guy in a sea of brown faces, and where I would once again experience the joy of street harassment while simply trying to get to and from work. We’d be starting over, and not necessarily in a better place.

Beyond all that, the timing would suck. We’re looking at pre-K for Julian, and preschool for Mira, in our current neighborhood, starting in the fall. Should we stop the research we’re doing and investment we’re making into programs here, and start looking at what’s available in neighborhoods we know nothing about, and where we know no one, on the off chance we can find a new home there by September? We’d be far away from our little community, the wonderful network of friends we’ve made here, and who knows if or how long it would take for us to rebuild that elsewhere.

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I’m tired of moving, and not just of the physical aspects of culling and packing and carrying and unpacking, but of the soul-crushing judgment of one’s salary and income and debt history and credit; of the exorbitant fees to be shelled out up front when and if you are deemed worthy of becoming a tenant of a new and largely unknown entity. I went through hell and back to get us into this apartment in this building when we moved back from Providence a few years ago; I don’t relish the prospect of doing it again.

I know that there are other places a person can live besides New York. But my job is here, a job that (almost) supports our little family. The industry is changing, the market is too, so who knows how much longer my job will tie us to this city, but until my job or other circumstances change, we will stay, and fight, and be grateful for what we have, for as long as we have it. It is a struggle at times, but it is still worth it. We’ve settled. And I’m not ready to move on just yet.

one more

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(photo by mko)

Mike and I got married on an unseasonably warm January afternoon, nine years ago today. There were 6 people in attendance, aside from us, and we haven’t seen or spoken to half of them in years, now. Time passes, people grow up and grow apart.  Life changes in ways you can never anticipate.

I never dreamed, back then, what our life would look like right now. Just a few years ago, I wasn’t even sure there would still be an “us.”  But here we are.  Nine years and counting.

Marriage is hard. We’ve lived through a lot in the last nine years – much of it overwhelmingly beautiful, a lot of it soul-crushing. Some of it, we still endure. For every misty-eyed moment of pure, heart-bursting joy, for every moment of raw passion, for every moment of comfortable stillness, there are moments of hurt, of screaming rage, of petulant silence.

Those angry, painful moments are just as important as the shiny happy ones, though, because they are hard, and because we fight through them. We persevere, because we care so very much about each other, and this marriage, and keeping it whole, scars and all.  We are worth fighting for.  “Us” is worth fighting for.  So we fight on, nine years and counting. Every anniversary is one worth celebrating.

43

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Another year behind me, another looms ahead. 42 was, on balance, a pretty great year. For us as a family, of course, it was huge. We got to know our Mirabelle and watch her learn and grow through her first year of life. Julian shot up like a weed, all long legs and arms; and his language and social learning took huge leaps this year, due in large part I’m sure to his starting preschool. Then there was that little book Mike wrote, a lifelong dream made real – we had no idea how well-received it would be, and how many new opportunities would come out of it. I feel so privileged to have been along for the ride, and to have played a tiny part in helping him create it.

But the year was not without its challenges. I struggled with PPD, and anxiety worse than I’ve dealt with in years. I’m in such a deep sleep deficit I’m not sure I’ll ever get out of it. My chronic pain has come back with a vengeance, and brought along some new aches and issues to boot. On top of it all, my weight has ballooned to its highest ever. Physically, I’m kind of a wreck, but I’m hoping that this year, with pregnancies and nursing now behind me, I can carve out a little time to focus on my health.

I also hope to find more balance in the coming year. My work days are often so full that I have a hard time even feeling like I can leave my desk. Then I come home and have to figure out how to divide my attention between the three people who need me (not to mention the two cats, the housework, the cooking, the lunch-packing for the following day…) By the end of the day, after furiously multitasking for hours on end, I’m exhausted, and “me” time – reading for pleasure, or writing or yoga, whatever – is the farthest thing from my mind. I miss it, and I really need to find a way to get a little of myself back, for my own good and for the good of my family.

I want to be able to enjoy these amazing little people I built for a long, long time. I want to model wellness and balance for them, and to be more present for all of us. Let’s hope this is the year I start to figure it out.

the last first year

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It hardly seems possible, but yesterday, my baby girl celebrated her first birthday. And with that milestone birthday, and no plans to expand our family further, we’ve made it through our last first year.

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Mira’s first year has been vastly different than Julian’s was. While we didn’t have the upheaval of a relocation, there was a lot of noise and chaos, far less calm and quiet than her big brother had as an infant. Mike’s attention was divided, with caring for two small kids plus writing his first book plus his regular freelance projects, and I have definitely felt like I haven’t given Mira as much of my undivided time or attention as I wanted to. I know that the various physical challenges and health issues I’ve faced over the last 12 months have often made me feel like less than the mom I wanted to be for her, but I’m trying to be kind to myself about that. That’s just one of many lessons our girl has taught me this year. And despite all that, she seems to have managed just fine, showing a tremendous amount of resilience for such a little person.

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When we first learned we were having a girl, I was terrified, and I admitted as much here. But I have to say I had no idea how much I was going to love having a daughter, this daughter, this feisty little creature who has already shown us so much spirit and determination. She’s kept us on our toes from her very first breaths, and I suspect she’ll continue to do so.

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That’s not to say I don’t still carry a little fear about raising a girl in this world. In fact, recent events have made it even clearer that we’ve got a long way to go as a society before women are viewed as equal and important, with valid opinions and valuable contributions, and not as bait or prey or window dressing, not as beings to be objectified or judged or talked over. But I’m less scared now than mad, and Mira’s presence in my life makes me realize that it is absolutely crucial that I raise my voice, take action, raise hell, do whatever I can do to make a better, safer, more fair and just world, both for her and for her big brother.

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We’ve got an interesting journey ahead, and while I’m a little sad that we will never again have a tiny milk-drunk bundle at home, we’ll never again experience the first smile, the first laugh, the first bath, we have so many firsts yet to come, and I can’t wait to see where the road will take us.

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Happy first birthday, Dear Mirabelle. Thank you for making our family complete, and for sharing your smiles and your spirit and your joy with us. I love you so much.

3 is a magic number

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bike!

Three is a magic number,
Yes it is, it’s a magic number.
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number.

Birthday burgers!

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The past and the present and the future.
Faith and Hope and Charity,
The heart and the brain and the body,
Give you three as a magic number.

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A man and a woman had a little baby,
Yes, they did.
They had three in the family,
That’s a magic number

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Happy 3, Julian. We love you so much.

(lyrics from “Three is a Magic Number” by Bob Dorough)

sob story

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Mike just took Julian out for a walk around the neighborhood. Mira is in her crib, loudly fighting her morning nap. I should be cleaning the kitchen, but instead I’m on the couch with my feet up, giving some love to my little attention-starved orange cat, and venting.

We chose this life, and I wouldn’t trade these amazing kiddos we made for anything in the world, but damn, it’s hard right now. The sleep deprivation is killing me. My body is pretty much in a constant state of flare, and there’s really nothing else I can think to do to manage it. I’ve just gotten very used to going about my day with a higher level of pain.

I know it won’t always be like this. I know the only way out is through. And I am very much not wishing the days away, hoping time passes more quickly so we can maybe get to a more comfortable place. The days are already passing too quickly for my liking.

I just wish I felt better. It breaks my heart every time I tell Julian I can’t lift him up in the air one more time, every time I have to stop playing trains or Lego on the floor because it’s too painful for me. I’d give anything to get back the body I didn’t think was good enough when I was in my 20s. At least it was healthy and strong.

I’ll remember him dancing

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My Uncle Bob died recently. His memorial service was this morning, and I’ve been struggling for weeks to figure out just what to say about it all.

I hesitate to say that his death was a shock – he had been living with the aftermath of an aneurysm that probably should have killed him for about a decade, now – but I’m having a hard time believing that he’s really gone. My heart hurts for my Aunt Barbara, for my cousins and their children, for all of us who knew and loved him. I’m especially sad that we hadn’t visited in so long, that he never met my kids, and that we couldn’t be there today to say goodbye.

My mom and her big sister Barbara have always been close. They both married guys named Bob, and as it turned out, the six kids born of those two marriages were pretty close growing up, too. The Bourbeaus settled in Toledo, Ohio, and we stayed in Detroit, but I was lucky to spend lots of time at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the summer, riding my cousins’ bikes, hanging out with their friends, splashing around in their pool, and monopolizing their basement television set to watch MTV at all hours of the day and night (Detroit still didn’t have cable back then, and I had already fallen hard for the new wave and punk sounds being broadcast over the radio. My Aunt and Uncle totally indulged me). It was a nice dose of suburbia, a chance for this painfully shy and anxious city kid to relax, to try on some new wings in a safe place.

My Uncle Bob and Aunt Barb were – have always been – unfailingly generous people. Even as I grew to adulthood, when my problems led me to make some really bad decisions, to do some just plain stupid things, I always felt loved and accepted by them. Never judged, only welcomed.

All people are flawed, of course, and the fuzzy memories of childhood have a way of coming into focus as you get older. The less attractive aspects of a person’s character, their vices or bad habits seem obvious in hindsight. But as a grown-up, you also have empathy, and the knowledge that no person is ever just one thing. How boring would that be? And how impossible.

I choose to remember the great things about my Uncle Bob: his generous heart, his twinkling blue eyes, the way he never missed an opportunity to twirl my Aunt Barbara or my cousins or me around a dance floor. He was so light on his feet, and so joyful. When I think of him, first and foremost, I will remember him dancing.

Robert A. Bourbeau, 1942-2014

The Just Us League

I’ve been trying for weeks to find the time and space to write down something, anything, about Mira’s birth, but when I’ve had the time, I haven’t had the words, and when I’ve had the words, I’ve been occupied with things like showering, or nursing, or spending a few minutes of quality time with Julian, or grabbing a bite to eat, or trying to keep the apartment from becoming a complete pigsty, or (ha ha) grabbing an hour or two of sleep.

Our transition from three to four has been challenging at best, and while I feel incredibly lucky and blessed that we had my amazing mom here for three-plus weeks to ease us through, and another dear friend here for the long Thanksgiving weekend, I still feel like there just haven’t been enough hands to juggle all the things, or enough hours in the day. I know it will all get better in time, at least that’s what I keep telling myself when it’s 3 in the afternoon and I’m still in my milk-stained pajamas, trying to figure out what on earth we’re going to eat for dinner when I haven’t even had lunch yet.

This guy is keeping me company while I breathe through contractions.

One month ago today, on marathon Sunday, I sat on our bed at 40 weeks and 2 days pregnant, timing my contractions. (I had an app, of course. We’re so modern.) This being my second pregnancy, my doctor had told me to call when the contractions were 7 minutes apart, one minute long, for one hour, since second and subsequent babies tend to come faster than firstborns. I had been so close to that 7-1-1 mark for days, but my contractions never seemed to get closer than 9 or 10 minutes apart, and at least twice in the middle of the night, when I was certain we’d be grabbing our bags and calling a car to head to the hospital soon, they would just… stop. I’d sleep fitfully for an hour or two, frustrated but exhausted, and hope that things would pick up again soon.

It was so very different than the first time around. We really had no clue how things would play out.

So I sat on the bed that cold and sunny Sunday, and my mom made bacon and eggs and potatoes and toast while Julian played in the living room, and Mike sat at his computer and wrote, and Kirby curled up at my side like a furry little doula, and Cat and PJ and Stevie and Ella sang through the speakers, and I breathed, and timed, and waited. I hadn’t had much of an appetite for most of this pregnancy, but it had finally come back in recent days, and the sizzling bacon smelled so good but I was too queasy to eat when it was offered. Mom and the boys enjoyed theirs, and I stayed in the bedroom, timing, breathing, waiting.

At some point I finally had a small plate of potatoes and toast and a couple of strips of bacon, but mostly I sipped as much water as I could hold (which came out seemingly as fast as I took it in). The contractions had been building in intensity over the course of the day, to the point where I had to stand or get on my hands and knees and brace myself to breathe through them. They were still no closer than 8 or 9 minutes apart, though, and while I was really hoping for an unmedicated birth this time, I was beginning to doubt that I could hang on much longer without some sort of pain relief. The sun dipped low in the sky, my mom pressed forward with dinner prep at my urging, and Mike and I decided that as soon as my contractions got to about 7.5 to 8 minutes apart, we’d call my doctor’s office.

We reached that point a little after 5 pm. I called my doctor’s office, and then their answering service, at 5:15. I gave my info to the nice lady on the other end of the line, was given the name of the doctor on call and told someone would call back. I relayed this info to Mike and said that if we didn’t hear back from anyone in 10 minutes, we should go ahead and call a car anyway.

We never did get a call back. Luckily, we didn’t wait for one.

I went out to the living room to tell my mom what was happening. She had a pot roast cooking and a football game on the television, and Julian was still down for his afternoon nap. I burst into tears as I was talking to her, and started shaking as she hugged me tight. It took only minutes for a car to arrive to take us to the hospital, and Mike and I loaded in and were on our way at around 5:45.

The contractions started coming harder and faster while we sped through the Hugh Carey Tunnel and up the west side of Manhattan to St. Luke’s at 58th Street. Mike fired off a couple of quick texts to family to let them know we were en route. I was sweating and shaking and struggling not to show it; every time our driver stopped at a light he’d look at me in his rearview mirror, so I was trying hard to remain calm and composed. He let us off at the curb right around 6:15, and I clutched a newspaper box while Mike paid up and gathered our things. Then we hobbled slowly up a flight of stairs from the sidewalk to the entrance, and from there to Maternity on the 12th floor.

L&D

My memory gets a little fuzzy from this point on. We arrived at triage to check in, and though I had pre-registered I wasn’t in the system. I answered questions and started filling out forms as best I could, stopping at one point to bend over and breathe before being taken back to be examined. I was given a gown to change into and a cup to fill, then was left alone while the nurses tended to a mama who had arrived just after us, and who was clearly in distress. I made my way to the bathroom and tried to pee, but it was agony, then I went back to the curtained area to change out of my clothes. I put on the gown and again doubled over, trying to breathe and stay calm.

Someone came back after a few minutes that felt like an eternity. I was finding it harder to focus on my breathing, so I started singing, then humming (“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, of all things – it’s one of Julian’s favorites, and it was the first thing that came to mind) to try to calm myself. I had to get onto my back on the bed, but I couldn’t, and to make matters worse, I was feeling the very distinct urge to push.

When I heard the resident who was examining me say that I was about 9 cm dilated, I almost lost it. That minute between the nurses getting a monitor onto me and then locating the sound of the baby’s heartbeat was probably the longest minute of my life – I can’t recall ever feeling so terrified. Mike was still in the triage waiting room, nobody could reach any of the doctors from my OB’s office, and my body was telling me that this baby was coming out NOW.

Mike was finally brought back, and at this point, things started happening fast. I was transferred to a gurney for the short trip across the hall to a Labor and Delivery room. I was summoning all my strength to NOT PUSH, while trying to answer more questions from the nurses about my Group B Strep status (negative), whether I’d like an epidural (“OH YES but I don’t think there’s time?!”), and the like. Mike’s favorite part of this story is that I apparently yelled “JESUS!” very loudly at this point, legs splayed in the hallway of a Catholic hospital, which garnered some laughter from the nurses who were with us.

Once in our L&D room, Mike tossed our bags and coats onto a chair while I was hooked up to more monitors, answered a few more questions, and was again reminded “DON’T PUSH!” My legs were propped up and a whole team of people swirled into the room for the endgame. I fixed my attention on the guy who seemed like he was in charge (Dr. Lee, and he was), standing just beyond my right foot. He told me that I could push (finally!), and that when I did, I’d feel my water breaking. I did and it did, and I don’t think anything has ever felt so weird or so good.

The real pushing (and yelling) began after that, and it felt very much NOT GOOD, and while in the moment I thought I was going to split right open and die, the actual time it all took was relatively brief. Mirabelle Marlow Dietsch came roaring into this world at 7:15 pm, not two hours after we left home for the hospital.

Well. We have some story to tell. But first we rest.

They handed her to me briefly, then whisked her away to be weighed and measured and examined. I held her again while they cleaned and stitched me up, this little pink-cheeked bundle, and despite the physical pain I was in, I was pretty exhilarated.

mama and Mira

The experience was not at all as we might have planned, but in a weird way, I got the birth that I had wanted. And of course, most importantly, our little girl was healthy and perfect.

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So now we are four. We are figuring it out. Every day is different, but I couldn’t ask for more.

Welcome to Two

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Our baby boy turned Two! Years! Old! on September 21st, and today we all went in for his 2-year checkup. He’s still growing healthy and strong, weighing in today at an even 30 lbs. and 35 inches tall.

We had a low-key but very fun birthday celebration, taking the bus out to Coney Island for a trip to the New York Aquarium, and then lunch at Totonno’s before heading home again for a nap and homemade brownies. Julian loved seeing the fish and other sea creatures, and even got to touch a horseshoe crab!

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touching the horseshoe crab

And what kid doesn’t love good pizza?

finally, Totonno's

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(This stuff is famous for a reason.)

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Mike made a batch of delicious homemade brownies for our birthday boy, and helped him blow out the candles after the usual song. Julian’s Nana and Papa Hess sent along a short video clip of them singing “Happy Birthday”, too, which Jules wanted to watch again and again. We’ll get to see them in person again soon, as they’re planning to be here for the birth of Julian’s little sister, just weeks (?) from now.

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I can’t believe how quickly our baby boy has grown, and I really love the person he is becoming. Between the new baby and Mike putting the finishing touches on his book, our life is going to be a little crazy over the coming months, but I am really looking forward to having some time at home to spend not just with the new baby, but hanging out with my sweet Julian.

uncommon courtesy

Commuting While Pregnant

This morning’s commute on the B train. And it wasn’t the first time.

I know some of you must be thinking, “wait, aren’t you pregnant too?” And you’d be right, of course. About 8 1/2 months along now, with baby girl due to arrive 44 days from now. I feel huge, and tired, and cranky, and generally uncomfortable in all sorts of places you don’t want to hear about. And I’m still commuting from our home in Brooklyn to my midtown Manhattan office five days a week, for an hour or more in each direction.

I stand on trains and buses a lot.

The more often it happens, the more often I see others who are pregnant, or elderly, or walking with a cane or crutch, or who just generally look like they could use a little help, standing on the train too while a bunch of bankers and dudebros and others who could maybe stand to stand for a stop or three ignore our presence or worse, the more pissed off I get about it.

So of course, I vent all over the internet about it.

But it mostly makes me sad. I was raised to have some awareness of my surroundings, to have empathy for others, to help those less able, when and how I’m able to. Have manners just disappeared from our society? Has common courtesy become that uncommon?

Now, I’m the first to admit that as a bigger girl, my pregnancy might not be so blatantly obvious to some people. But the other pregnant woman on the train this morning was teeny, aside from the very obvious bowling ball-like protrusion in her belly region. She was grimacing like her back was killing her. She clearly needed a seat. I caught her eye, and the look of relief on her face said it all. And then when she noticed I was pregnant, too, she said “oh no, no! I can’t take your seat!” I told her I was getting off in 2 stops, and I wasn’t going to argue – she clearly needed to sit more than I did this morning.

After (presumably) seeing and hearing this exchange, did any of our fellow riders get up so we could both sit? Nope.

I can hear the arguments already. As someone who has lived with an invisible chronic health condition for more than a dozen years now, I know too well that sometimes you can’t always tell at first glance if someone might need a seat more than you do. But there are signs, if you know to look for them. And there are people who very clearly, obviously need a seat… pregnant ladies, elderly people, people with canes and crutches. People for whom it can actually be dangerous to stand on a train. And yet so often, too often, those people stand, because “nobody sees them,” or truthfully, they pretend not to.

People ride with their faces buried in a book or a newspaper or an electronic device, and they’re so caught up in their own little worlds that when their train pulls into a station, or their bus pulls up to a stop, they either don’t take that one little minute to raise their eyes and take a quick look around to see if someone is boarding who might benefit from a seat, or if they do glance up, they try not to let on so they don’t have to move, or act, or care.

It’s so easy, not to see. If you don’t see, then you don’t have to feel bad about your inaction, right? “Oh, I didn’t see that 90 year old lady trying desperately not to fall while holding onto her pocketbook with one hand and a crowded subway pole with the other.” “I didn’t see the young father with the tiny baby strapped to his chest trying to balance the baby and a briefcase and a diaper bag and the grocery bags on a rush hour train.”

I didn’t see. It’s so easy, not to.

This isn’t just a New York thing; I dealt with the same crap two years ago when I was pregnant with Julian and commuting between Providence and Boston every day. I’m sure it happens everywhere, to some extent. And of course most people won’t say anything in the moment, because who wants to make a scene? Who wants to look like an asshole? Never mind that the true assholes are planted in seats, ignoring the people around them for whom a small gesture would make a huge difference.

Open your eyes, people. Take a moment to see those around you. Show a little common courtesy, and hopefully it’ll come back to you or someone you care about at a time when you need it.