No dress rehearsal, this is our life

We got back from Michigan a week ago, after a very short, very sweet visit with my grandma. Two days of driving for two days of sitting, talking, just enjoying being in her presence. It was lovely. 

The kids handled the long drive surprisingly well, and were smitten with their Gigi, and I was thrilled just to be with her again for a while after nearly 3 years away. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, given the chance.

She’s 95 years old, so “next time” is not a given. But we hope.

I’ve had a whole lot of feelings to unpack around this trip, around family and life and balance and priorities, and not a lot of time or opportunity to do so until now. I jumped right back into work when we got back to Virginia, assisting with a trial and trying to tame a furious flurry of stuff that had come through on my other cases in my absence. I missed some bedtimes and morning kisses, but overall we got through fine. 

It’s funny to think that after a year here, we are still adjusting to our new normal, but here we are.

And it has now been a whole year. That anniversary came and went this week, with memories popping up on social media of our Brooklyn goodbyes, our one-year younger kids curled up like kittens in the giant hotel bed, our stressed-out rants and the comforting words of family and friends, and then, the quiet slog of settling-in.

And now we are in September, which always feels big and important for the endings and beginnings contained therein, but which feels even more so this year. We’re on the cusp of one of the biggest transitions of our lives as a family:  Kindergarten, the start less then a week away now. We have bus schedules and supply lists and weekly folders to pay attention to now, we will plan our lives around school schedules for years to come. 

I’m thrilled for our boy but I’m desperately sad to be losing him to the education-industrial complex so soon. It feels like we held him for the first time just yesterday. I feel like I’ve missed too much of his life already. I want more time. 

Our arrival in Detroit happened to coincide with the last show of the farewell tour of a longtime favorite band of mine. (One thing some of you may not know about growing up in Michigan, is that you learn to love a lot of Canadian music.) So after Mike and the kids were asleep, I sat on the edge of the bed in our darkened hotel room, listening through headphones as Gord closed out the show in perfect fashion:

First we’d climb a tree
And maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently
And listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday
Casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal,
This is our life

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That song has always been a favorite, but it feels particularly resonant right now. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since that night. 

You never want to think that any given time that you see someone, when you hold their hand or laugh with them or eat a meal they’ve lovingly prepared for you, that that might be the last time. But last times are sneaky like that. You just don’t know when you’re in one until the moment has passed, and then it’s too late to do anything about it.

This was the first time in my life that I can recall that I visited my grandma and she didn’t cook for us. And at age 95, she has absolutely earned that right – I’m not mad or upset in the slightest. But I am sad that the “last time,” the moment, has passed, and we missed it.

When we visited 3 years ago, Julian gleefully tucked into a plate of grandma’s migas. Mirabelle has never tasted my grandma’s cooking, and likely never will. 

So I am sad about that. And I’m sad that my biggest cooking inspiration and teacher, the person who taught me how to toast the rice in the pan before adding any liquid, and to cook the chicken until it looks drier than you think it should be because if you don’t, the tacos will be soggy, the woman who taught me the importance of sitting around a table and sharing a meal together, and who helped me realize the joy that could be found in the simple act of feeding people, has, for the most part, stepped out of the kitchen. She doesn’t have the energy to cook anymore, and she can’t eat a lot of the things she used to love, and I’m sad about that, too.

When we got back to Virginia, all I wanted to do was cook her food. I wanted to fill our kitchen with the smell of frying tortillas, onions and garlic toasting, chiles roasted until charred, their blackened skins rubbed away to reveal tender flesh. Pinto beans cooked in bacon fat in a black iron skillet, mashed to creaminess and dotted with cheese. Guacamole and pico de gallo and salty corn chips. 

Beer to wash them down. Bourbon to numb my sorrow. 

I often joke that my ability to cut onions without crying is my superpower, but that night, I was powerless to stop my tears. I tried hard not to let the kids see or hear me. I want the memories they associate with this food to be happy ones, of a table full of family, boisterous conversation, laughter, animated discussion, security, and love, not of mommy standing in the kitchen mourning someone who is not even gone. 

I want to figure out how to find time to cook again. I need to keep her food alive. 

I want my kids to grow up knowing this food, I want them to share this food with the people they care about, like grandma taught me to do.

I want more time to climb trees with them, to talk, or sit silently, or both. 

I want them to hear the music that kept me going through my darkest times, and that I celebrated my triumphs and joys with.

I want us all to spend more time with the people we love while they are still here, while we still can.  To appreciate the moments before they pass. 

No dress rehearsal. This is our life.

What kind of life do I want it to be? And how do I make it happen? 

under my skin

Various friends have posted today about a guy in Arizona who verbally assaulted a group of Mexicans at a political rally. I watched about 10 seconds of the video before I had to stop and turn away.

For the last year or so, it has felt increasingly dangerous to walk around in this skin. I know that for some of you, our friends and family of color, or those of you who are LGBTQ, or differently abled, or who are some combination thereof, it has been far worse. I should feel lucky. But mostly, I’ve been terrified – for all of us.

Maybe it’s because we are so connected these days, that we see and hear about occurrences outside of our immediate communities almost instantly via social media. Maybe it’s always been this bad and I’ve just been sheltered from much of it. But it sure doesn’t feel that way. My gut is telling me that something has changed in this country, something has shifted that is resulting in all of this ugliness spewing out into the world like some massive ruptured sewer line.

There are a whole lot of people who aren’t holding their tongues or measuring their speech anymore. People aren’t keeping their biases hidden or their hate and rage bottled up inside. People aren’t being civil or cordial or empathetic or decent. People are putting the darkest and ugliest parts of themselves out there, and it is frightening to behold. Because you just know once the evil genie is outside of the bottle, it is not going back in any time soon. It has an agenda.

We have family in other parts of the country that we haven’t seen in far too long, but I’ve been afraid to travel to see them. I will be traveling for work in the coming months, and I’m nervous about who or what I might encounter.  Now, this fear certainly isn’t new to me: I’ve traveled through many parts of the country as a kid and a teenager and a 20- and 30-something woman.  I’ve heard whispers and comments and felt eyes on me at rest stops and restaurants along the interstate, or as I filled my tank at a single-pump station on the side of a two-lane road, or as I checked into a motel in a sleepy rural town.  I once took a trip with Michael during which I was pulled aside for secondary screening at every single checkpoint on every leg of our three-city journey.  Been there, done that, made it through unscathed, if a little rattled.

But things feel very different now.  And it feels like there’s a lot more at stake.

We left our comfortable, diverse Brooklyn community last year, and relocated south of the Mason-Dixon Line. We did it for all the right reasons, and on balance, this move has been for the better.  But for all of the DC-area’s multicultural cred, it has become abundantly clear that Northern Virginia is a whole different world than we’re used to, and that there are a whole lot of people here who don’t even attempt to conceal their prejudices.

We are living in proximity to some of the wealthiest, and whitest, communities in the country.  That in and of itself is not a bad thing, but I have already been presumed to be my kids’ (bad) nanny, gotten dirty looks from strangers just for minding my own business in public, been followed in stores, and was even verbally attacked in front of my children by some horrible woman in a pair of expensive boots for the crime of joining my mom and husband in line at a family play-space.  This hasn’t happened anywhere else we’ve lived.  And yet, we are putting down roots here.  Moving again isn’t an option.

My kids look enough like their father, with their fair skin and straight hair, that I’m not quite as worried about them navigating through different spaces in this changing world as I might otherwise be. (Is it awful to be glad that your kids look nothing like you? Because it sure as hell feels awful.)  But me with my brown skin, my big hair, my wide frame, my wrinkles and greys – there are so many reasons I draw attention, and the wrong kind of attention at that.  I am “other.”  I feel more obvious than ever, an easy target for those who hate brown skin, who hate women, who hate fat people, aging people, working-class people in $10 shoes and the wrong handbag.

Regardless of who our next President is, we have a problem in this country.  These people and their ugliness and hate have come out of the woodwork.  They are invading our safe spaces, they are attacking us with their words and their bodies and their guns.  They are not going away.  So what do we do about it?

I’m sick and tired of being scared.

I take up space and I intend to continue to do so, and it’s terrifying these days but I refuse to stop. I was born in this country of parents who were born in this country. My father served this country, as did his father before him. I was raised to work hard, to be a good neighbor and citizen.  I have just as much right to be here as any of those loudmouthed hateful fucking ‘MERICANS and I’m putting my foot down.

My kids deserve better. My friends and family deserve better. I deserve better. This country deserves better. I refuse to shrink, to be quiet and  unobtrusive. I refuse to settle for less than what I’ve earned because some dude who thinks he’s marginalized says I should.

I refuse to be scared anymore. I refuse to let hate win.

like cats

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We had planned to stick around for a while.

Another year, maybe two. We had just renewed our lease, had enrolled Mirabelle in a neighborhood co-op preschool/playgroup, had gotten Julian enrolled in the city’s Universal Pre-K program, and had even wrangled him into our top-choice school after a short stint on their waiting list.

We had finally started filling our living space with the things we needed to make it work better for our little family. We had started, slowly, to spread out some roots. We’ve made friends here, all of us. We love our little community, and we were looking forward to spending more time here.

With the long-awaited sale of my parents’ home in Alabama earlier this year, and their subsequent relocation to northern Virginia to live closer to my brother and his family, DC remained in our sights as a place to land someday in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully in a year, maybe two. And we looked forward to more frequent visits with my family – after all, we were just a few hours apart now.

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But about a month ago, I found out about an opening in my firm’s DC office. And, having gone down this road before, I knew that trying for a transfer would make a relocation SO much easier for us. Not having the stress of a long-distance job hunt down the road would be huge, and getting to stay with a firm I’ve spent many years at, retaining my seniority and benefits, not having to start over from scratch again… well, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

So I went for it, knowing that if things worked out, we’d have to undo all the plans we had in place for September and beyond, and spend a frantic few weeks trying to make new plans for our little family by the end of the summer.

Things worked out.

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, or interact with me in real life, then you know how fraught these last few weeks have been. But one thing after another has fallen into place – the transfer offer, the search for a new home, then our application and approval, and the release from our landlord for our apartment in Brooklyn. New tenants are signing a lease today for B8, and I hope they’ll have as many happy memories of it as we will carry with us (and fewer annoyances).

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The last few weeks have been a blur, and I’ve cried a lot of tears. Pulling the kids out of their school slots for the coming year was particularly sad, and the process of saying of goodbye to favorite places around the city seems harder this time than the last time we left. Saying goodbye to all of the friends we’ve made here will be harder still.

But I know in my heart this is the right thing for us, and the right time. Being closer to my family, now that we have these two little kiddos in our lives, is going to be so good for all of us, and once we settle into our new home in Reston, Virginia, it will have been worth all of the stress and the anxiety and the tears of the last few weeks.

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As a friend recently reminded me, whenever these big changes come our way, we always seem to land on our feet, like cats. It looks like we might just do so once again.

elements of style

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By now, you’ve probably seen (or seen reference to) a recent article about one woman’s decision to create a “work uniform” for herself. As someone who wore a uniform for the majority of my school years, and who happily lived in black turtlenecks for much of my gothy post-school life, this idea appeals to me greatly. I’ve found lately that I just don’t have the bandwidth for big wardrobe decisions in the morning (or even the night before), and if growing a minimalist wardrobe frees up time and energy for other things, I’m all for it.

My post-maternity and nursing wardrobe is a mishmash of the types of things I think I should be wearing (like day dresses I got on clearance but which don’t quite fit or flatter, and bright colors that never really feel like “me”), plus pre-pregnancy holdovers that I can’t bear to part with or have yet to replace with better fitting versions. I don’t love shopping for myself, and as my body has settled firmly in the plus size range, it’s even harder to find items to try on in a brick-and-mortar store. (Plus, who has the time? My weekends are packed to the gills as it is.)

So I’m formulating a plan. While I’m not financially able to just donate everything in my closet and start fresh, my goal is to gradually curate a wardrobe that will work for both my business-casual office, as well as my harried-mom-of-2 lifestyle. I’ll be culling my existing wardrobe little by little, and scanning the sale racks/webpages of my favorite, tried-and-true retailers for replacement items. I’ve also set up a couple of style boards on Pinterest as a way to track my recent purchases, as well as items I have my eye on as potential new additions.

One blogger advocates for maintaining a 37 piece wardrobe: 15 tops, 9 bottoms, 9 pairs of shoes, 2 dresses, and 2 jackets. I’m not sure where I’ll land (for instance, I like to have one suit for work, with both pants and a skirt; and our northern climate requires sweaters, pretty much year-round), but those numbers sound like a good place to start. I’m sure that this whole project will evolve and the exact items and numbers will shift as I figure out what is working for me and what isn’t.

My hope is that ultimately, I’ll end up with less stress about what to wear, more time in my day, and a collection of comfortable, versatile, durable and flattering items that suit me for years to come.

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.