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.)

make a wish

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.

where do we go from here

somerset

My parents worked their asses off until they retired, to give us more than they had when they were growing up. My brother and I went to the best schools they could afford. We enjoyed dance classes and tennis lessons and tae kwon do. We had a nice vacation every summer, often with a friend in tow. There were nice clothes, dinners out, toys and books and bikes and more. Things my parents could only dream of having themselves, as kids.

Mom and Dad bought a little brick house on the east side of Detroit when I was just a baby. I lived there well into my twenties, until I moved into an apartment with the man who would become my first husband.

It was a family-friendly, working class neighborhood. Until it wasn’t.

Detroit declined, people moved to the suburbs. My parents considered it too, but never made the leap. I don’t know why, but I never questioned it. It wasn’t – and isn’t – my place to.

So we stayed in that little brick house for years, as the neighborhood changed around us.

I was the first to walk into the house after we were robbed. My dad’s swing shift had him working afternoons, and on many of those kinds of evenings, my mom, my grandma (who was living with us by then), my brother and I would head out to a local family restaurant for dinner. I was probably 10, maybe a little older but not much, and as I bounded into the living room after my mom had unlocked the front door, I remember seeing a pillowcase in the hallway. I didn’t think anything of it, assumed it was the work of the cat… but within a few minutes, we realized something wasn’t right.

Lights were on where they hadn’t been before. There were open spaces on shelves where electronics had been. I felt sick, and my mom quickly shepherded us to the front of the house while she called the police, and my dad.

The Detroit P.D. sent a chaplain along on the call, which was odd and confusing to me, until I realized why a chaplain might have been needed, and then I felt even sicker.

They discovered a trail of blood in our driveway later, leading from the backyard where our sweet old dog had been locked into the garage (thankfully unharmed), his dog door barricaded by the heavy wooden patio furniture my dad had built. The glass panes on the door leading from our sunporch into my little brother’s room had been smashed, enabling the intruders to get inside.

I reminded myself for years that it was only stuff, and that except for some of my mom’s jewelry, it was all replaceable.

The bad guys hadn’t hurt any of us, but I never slept well in that house again, not even after my dad walled in the sun porch, and put metal screens over the glass paned doors, and installed more and sturdier locks on every possible point of entry, and showed me where he kept the shotgun, and explained how it was loaded (two shots of bird shot, two buck, two double buck), and taught me how to brace it against my shoulder in case I ever needed to use it.

In the 28 or so years I lived in that little brick house, I recall three shootings right on our block – one down by the corner, and two right across the street from us. One of those took place when I was a teenager, home alone with my grandma, and a little kid I didn’t know knocked at the door for my help. I forget if he was the shooter, or if he had just seen the accident, but his sister had been shot in the thigh in their home. I called the cops for him and sat and waited for them to arrive while he ran back across the street.

The girl came over several days later, on crutches, and thanked me.

The victims of the other two shootings weren’t so lucky, and I will never forget the sound of the mother screaming in her driveway over her son’s body, or the sight days later of family members crouched in that driveway with a bucket, scrubbing the bloodstains away.

Many years later, I was again home alone with grandma, when a man I didn’t know knocked on the front door. It was an old, heavy wooden door with a small, round stained-glass window you could open to the outside. I did just that, though the man’s voice was still muffled by the locked storm door between us. He pointed toward our driveway and said something that I couldn’t make out, and after a few more exchanges, I realized that he was telling me that our garage was on fire.

The garage that was just feet from the room at the back of the house, where my grandma, at this point very old and frail, was sleeping.

I had no idea how bad this fire was, what caused it or how quickly it was moving, but having seen many a burned-out shell in our neighborhood by that time, I called 911 immediately, then ran back to my grandma’s room to get her the hell out. Trying to gently but quickly shuffle a large woman in her mid-80s with congestive heart failure, who had been napping just minutes before, out of a house, down the street, and up a flight of stairs to the safety of a neighbor’s living room without having her collapse in panic or worse, is one of the more nerve-wracking things I’ve had to do in my life.

The fire burned so hot that the concrete slab and the whole of our driveway had to be torn up and replaced. The garage and everything in it – bikes and other sports equipment, patio furniture, tools and gardening implements, the grill and extra propane tanks (nice accelerants, those) – all of it was destroyed. There was smoke damage to the back of the house, but we were lucky – it didn’t spread to the house itself.

To this day I am so grateful I stayed home from work that day.

An investigation was done, and the fire was determined to be arson. The garage was rebuilt, and items replaced, and not long after, we all said goodbye to the little brick house.

Despite it all, I loved that house. I have at least a dozen good memories for every bad one, but those bad memories still creep into my dreams at night. I’ve lived with crippling anxiety for years, with an intense fear of being home alone, fear of the dark, of shadows on the wall, creaking stairs, things that go bump.

I believe in the bad guys. I’ve seen what they can do.

And now I’m a mother, and the decisions about where we live, about what kind of neighborhood my kids will grow up in, about who and what they will be exposed to, and what kind of memories they’ll carry with them into adulthood, are on me.

I have a good job, great benefits, a sense of stability in a field that is going through changes. We need to live in the city, or at least somewhere I can have a livable, reasonable commute, but we are watching wide-eyed as all around us, the safe, clean, quiet, affordable neighborhoods become less so. And I’ve realized recently that what we can afford is far less than what most people expect.

We just got back to New York. We love it here. We were looking forward to settling in and putting down some roots in what we thought was going to be a great place to raise our little family, and now, just one year later, we are trying to figure out where to go next.

So far, our options aren’t great. It’s disheartening.

I know there will be tradeoffs, wherever we land. There always are. But I feel the pressure building, already, to make sure that that those tradeoffs are the right ones, or at least, the best ones, for Julian and his sister-to-be.

I will never be able to give my kids even a fraction of what my parents have given me. I know I can’t shield them from every bad thing that might happen in the world around them. But I owe it to them to at least give them a sense of safety and security in their own home.

I have to do whatever it takes to prevent them from having memories of a pillowcase in the hallway, shattered glass on the floor, of a woman’s screams as she cradles her son’s body in the driveway across the street, of bloodstains being scrubbed off the pavement.

21 Months!

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I can’t believe we’ve already passed the 21-month mark. Here are Julian’s stats from his latest checkup:

Height: 34 1/2 inches
Weight: 28 lbs, 10 oz
Head circumference: 49.5 cm

His biggest development over the last three months: WORDS. So many words! He loves reading them, speaking them, signing and singing them, and he now recognizes words and individual letters in books and out in the world. He seems to gain a dozen new words every day! He is especially into naming things, and if he doesn’t know what something is called, he’ll ask, we’ll tell him, and he repeats it until he remembers. He now calls the cats by their names in pretty adorable fashion (Kirby sounds like “Goo-Bee”, Junie is “Choo-NEE!”), and he has become quite the mimic – which means mama has to really watch her potty mouth these days.

our little traveler

He has once again proven to be a great little traveler, handling 12+ hours (each way!) in my parents’ car as we journeyed to Michigan to spend the long July 4th weekend with my family. He had a great time hanging out with Nana and Papa, and meeting my whole, big extended family, and most importantly, finally meeting my beloved Grandma, his “Gigi” Marina.

and then I realized I'd been waiting my whole life for this moment

We spent a hot and muggy, but very enjoyable afternoon at the Detroit Zoo, and Julian loved seeing all the animals.

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The seals were a particular favorite.

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We had a blast hanging out in my aunt and uncle’s pool, too. This kiddo loves the water – I think swim lessons might be in the not-too-distant future.

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We’re having a great summer, trying to take advantage of our nearby parks and playgrounds, hitting the farmers’ markets for fresh summer produce (Julian is particularly loving the berries and stone fruits available now), and slowly gearing up for the arrival of Julian’s baby sister in November.

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girl talk

[I wrote this on June 4th, after my last OB appointment. At that time, my doctor told me he was “90% sure” our baby was a girl. I had my 20-week ultrasound this morning, where it was confirmed. She’s apparently healthy, which is really the most important thing and which I don’t want anyone reading this to think I am not grateful for and appreciative of; but while I’ve had 10 days to wrap my head around the idea of parenting a daughter, I’m still struggling with it. So I’m just going to go ahead and hit publish.]

I’ve said all along that all I wanted was a healthy baby. Through rounds and rounds of tests, the countless vials of blood taken, the seemingly endless ultrasounds, that was our goal. And finally, after weeks of waiting, of anxious days and fitful nights of sleep, we have the numbers, and they are good. I called Mike from the doctor’s office to tell him as soon as I left my last office visit, and tearfully gave him the news. Like me, he was thrilled and relieved.

But I’m ashamed to admit that when I gave him the second bit of news about this baby, my tears were less joyful.

We’re having a girl.

And that terrifies me.

I’ve never believed I needed to have “one of each” to feel like our family was complete. Heck, having a kid at all was an amazing surprise; being able to have a second feels like an even bigger gift. And apparently, some people in this country are willing to go to incredible lengths to have a daughter. But I am completely freaked out by the prospect, and pink bows and princess stories are the least of it.

The thought of bringing a little girl into the world, a world in which a mother has to explain to her 8-year old daughter what rape is because the little girl was threatened, in which incredibly hard-working and talented women have to write posts like this to explain/justify their success? A world in which women still can’t expect equal pay for equal work, or to make decisions about their own bodies? It’s depressing, and that’s just some of the crap that women in this country have to deal with.

Then there’s the day-to-day stuff, which is worse, perhaps, than those “Big Bads,” because it’s so pervasive. Little girls can be unspeakably cruel, and grown women even crueler. I’ve witnessed it and dealt with it at every age and stage, from the playground to the classroom to the conference room.

We are so quick to tear each other down, so quick to pass judgment, so quick to hinder rather than help. So often, there’s an edge of jealousy and insincerity in our words of praise or congratulations. What should be healthy competition is often shadowed with malice. We attack other women for everything from their hair to their parenting choices. We seem to be incapable of being truly happy for and supportive of other females. Hell, there are entire blogs dedicated to talking shit about other (female) bloggers.

Why? How is that okay? And how on earth am I supposed to prepare a little girl for all of that?

There is so much about BEING a girl that I feel poorly equipped to deal with. Raising one? Feels damn near impossible.

18 Months

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Julian had his 18 month checkup yesterday, and here are his stats:

Height: 33 1/4 inches
Weight: 25 lbs, 1.4 oz
Head circumference: 49 1/4 cm

He is doing great and continues to grow and develop just as he should be. He now has a whole mouth full of teeth, his appetite is terrific, and he continues to work at mastering the use of his tot spoon and fork. He has boundless energy, loves running and climbing, and has taken a great deal of interest in those little scooters that all the kids seem to be riding these days. (Mama’s not sure if she’s ready for him to have one just yet, but I suspect it’s only a matter of time. Sigh.)

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He still adores music and his books, and the expansion of his language and communication skills has been pretty amazing to behold. While we still can’t understand a great deal of what he says to us, more and more words are clear, and the sheer number of words that he clearly *knows* is pretty amazing. He has babbly conversations with us (and with his beloved kitties) on a regular basis. He has grown even more physically demonstrative than before. He loves giving, and getting, hugs and kisses, and he loves to interact with others when we’re out and about – kids especially. This social growth is something new, and really interesting to observe. Mike and I often remark that we have no idea where he gets this gregarious streak from – certainly not from his wallflower parents!

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We’re really glad to see that he does so well with other kids, since, assuming all continues to go well, there will be another one joining our family in the Fall. We’re convinced that Julian’s going to make an excellent big brother, but for now, we’re trying to really savor these remaining months as a family of three.

(the gorgeous photos above were taken by our dear friend meriko, who we had a a wonderful visit with over the long Easter weekend – thanks, mko – xxoo)

growth spurt

Dapper.

We had to postpone Julian’s latest round of vaccines because of his recent surgery (which was deemed a success, thank goodness), so we went in for a quick, shots-only well visit last Friday. Our little man has gained almost 3 pounds since his 1-year check-up just two months ago, now weighing in at 22 lbs. 11 oz.

He continues to eat a wide variety of foods with gusto, and is interested in trying whatever he sees us eating. He is also very working very hard to master his OXO Tot fork and spoon. He still stumbles sometimes, mostly because he’s just moving faster than his legs can carry him, but he’s pretty much got walking and running down pat. He can handle the steps at the Tot Lot, and loves to try his hand at climbing as well. He’s got an ever-increasing vocabulary, with “Dada” or “Daddy”, “cat”, “Mama”, “dog”, “egg”, and “down” all in use, and he’s even started imitating some of what he’s seen on Signing Time (which he loooooves). He also loves his books and loves being read to, and he’ll even bring you a specific book if you ask him to… Dear Zoo is a current favorite, as is Kitten’s First Full Moon.

It’s amazing to look back at what a wee little thing he was just a year ago, and compare that to the babbling, bouncing ball of energy we see before us today. He’s grown so much, and seems to change and develop in new ways every single day. I suspect we’re gonna have our hands full with this guy – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Now We Are One

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Julian had his one-year checkup today, and while he is still a peanut, below the curve in terms of height and weight for his age (now checking in at 29 inches tall and an even 20 lbs.), his overall health seems great. He is all about walking these days, working on that new skill every chance he gets, and even practicing his backwards walk over the weekend.

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He’s growing up so fast, I feel like he’ll be driving before we know it. (And don’t get me started on his interest in climbing… we’re going to have to bolt all our furniture to the walls.)

"Why is this spoon empty?!"

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Despite his small size, his appetite is great, and he has very much embraced self-feeding.

I am The Luckiest.

Mike‘s birthday was yesterday, and while Julian started off the day with more “traditional” toddler fare (milk and Cheerios, which he kindly shared with the cats), he was very insistent about sampling everything we ate on our nosh-walk around Chinatown.

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It’s pretty wild to think that Mike and I were well into our thirties before we had ever tasted steamed buns, fried dumplings or banh mi; our son, at a little over a year old, has now tried – and loved – all of these things. I so love that Julian wants to taste anything and everything he sees us eating, and that he has really enjoyed most all of it. I hope he continues to show such curiosity and adventurousness as he grows older.

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And now that he’s passed the one year mark, our little guy is scheduled to undergo the second (and hopefully final) stage of his corrective surgery this Friday. His new doctors seem to be very pleased with how things have progressed since the first procedure, and have told us they expect a good result this time around as well.

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I’m still fretting, of course. I’ll be glad to have this, finally, behind us.