Thursday, August 23, 2012

Random Nico

It's not surprising that my kids' heads are as full of random thoughts as mine. Or, perhaps more accurate is the fact that my head functions like the brain of a toddler or young child. Hmmm...There's a chicken:egg conundrum for me to ponder for the day: are my kids random like me or is my brain = a brain of a young kid. (!?!?)

Last summer I spent the entire 10 weeks as a stay-at-home-mom for the first time since I have had kids (previous summers I was writing my dissertation), and I was a broken woman by the end of August. These two little people had exhausted me beyond any classroom/school/principal/student/reform stress had ever done. I was scratching at my front windows to go back to work.

But this summer has been a totally different experience. One, I put the kids into daycamp for four weeks (the month of July), therefore they only have six weeks at home. And then they went to CT for one week of the six weeks of home time and stayed with my in-laws, a treat that I appreciate greatly both because it gives me time alone to clean, dejunk, focus in our apartment and because my children truly love love love their alone time with their grandparents--something I never got as a kid. That makes me deeply happy. All said, I have really only had three weeks at home with my kids, and, at risk of the crap hitting the fan if I put this into words, it has been blissful. No lie. I have loved it.

These little people of mine are simply amazing. They are fun to hang out with, we have hilarious conversations, we can do so much more this summer than last summer, and I am just reveling in the amazement of the people they are becoming and how their brains work. So much that I am actually sad that I don't have more time with them this summer. What a difference one year makes. They are truly more "kid" than "baby" now, and it's really super fun.

Nico is particularly hilarious as he learns and begins to master language and humor. He is currently obsessed with his penis (Alert men: He thinks chocolate milk will make his penis grow. Try it!) and when he plays he has conversations between his horsies that are just...random but also brilliant. I just stand quietly to the side, spying on him.

Here's my favorite horsie conversation of the week:

Horsie 1: I have boobies.
Horsie 2: No you don't.
Horsie 1: Yes, I do.
Horsie 2: Let me see them.
Horsie 1: No, my mom said you can't see my boobies.
Horsie 2: My mom is dead.
Horsie 1: Oh, that is sad.
Horsie 2: Yes, I'm sad.
Horsie 1: I'm sorry your mommy is dead.

In an analysis of his imaginary conversation between two plastic horses I observed many pretty astute things. One, he understands that nobody can see your private parts but you, two, some people's parents are dead and that is sad, and three, you express compassion to someone whose mom is dead.

Pretty insightful for kid who isn't even yet three!

I go back to work on Monday, August 27th. Next summer I'll have to figure out how to spend more time with these little guys. I can feel the ground of parenthood shifting beneath my feet with them--they are, honestly, growing up so fast.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cleaning Grandpa's Car

A year and a half ago we inherited a 1999 high-end Acura with leather seats and 60K from Adam's then 94 year-old Grandpa, Vincent Watson. Right after Christmas of 2010 he received a diagnosis that he had congestive heart failure--he could go at any time and the doctor gently told him that it would be advisable to stop driving because he certainly did not want to take anyone out with him. As a mother who drives with two little kids in the car, I was relieved by this news. Grandpa, amid his grief over losing this independence, generously offered us his car. We got the Acura and named it "Vinny" after Grandpa but with a Brooklyn twist.

Vinny smelled like old man. Everytime we got inside the car, Alexandra would exclaim, "Vinny stinks!" Soon that old man smell would be mashed together with the smell of copious amounts of kid puke after a weekend odyssey to North Carolina for my cousin's wedding. Then Vinny really stank. Last summer, while in North Carolina, I cleaned Vinny for hours. While cleaning, I found so many strange little relics of Grandpa and I realized that as much as the contents of a woman's purse might define her, the contents of a man's car define him.

When cleaning Vinny again this summer in NC, I was reminded of these relics. Here's what I found last summer and felt compelled to write about this summer:

1. Grandpa spent his days--right up until he gave us Vinny--making calls on the sick and those stuck in their homes due to old age. A retired Methodist minister, Grandpa's desire to service his community was deep. He would drive towns away to visit folks in hospitals, at home, or to attend funerals. In the center console of the car, I found a worn index card with a list of names, written by Grandpa's squiggly hand in faint red pen. It reads: 4/24: Barb Hentz, Howard Bradley, Elsie Lyons, Phyllis Taylor, Betty Dorman, Archers, Mur. Hass Church? Muriel Chard? (question marks his) and on the flip side another date with more names. No doubt, these were individuals whom Grandpa visited during his rounds. Rounds made by a man in his 90's who still felt called to be of service to others less healthy, less able, less mobile than him.When I think of Grandpa, I think of this need of his to be of service to others.

2. Also tucked in the console was an obituary, cut from the newspaper--a slim column that reads off the life of on Francis Edward Morse, who died at the age of 103 in 2002. Mr. Morse had been born in 1898! What an amazing century to have lived through.We got the car in January of 2011, so this obit was pretty old. I am not sure how Grandpa knew this man, but I do know--from talking to Adam's grandparents and my last living grandparent, my 90 year old grandma--that when you make it to your 90's, not many others do. Your friends and family die, and you continue to live. A strange blessing and a very intense way to end your life.

3. The most curious item from the car was Grandpa's Topdog/Underdog ticket from a matinee viewing at the Hartford Stage. Now this just seemed to illustrate Grandma and Grandpa Watson perfectly. These two attended the March on Washington, shook Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s hand, and were staunch advocates of the Civil Rights Movement. They currently attend a Methodist church in Bloomfield, CT mostly populated by Jamaicans. The fact that they would choose to go see a play like Topdog/Underdog--a play about race relations in our country--isn't surprising. I hope to be as curious, involved, and seeking as they are if I make it to my 90's.

These three relics, along with Grandpa's hairbrush, are tucked in the glove box of Vinny, our Acura. They are our talisman, and I do derive a strange comfort from having them there. They are joined by motion sickness bracelets for Alexandra, a box of Hello Kitty bandaids, a clam shell from a mother's day beach trip, and other artifacts of our little family. The family line grows and shifts, even in our glove compartment of our car.

Grandpa is now 96 1/2, but each year in one's 90's is like 10 years of life from 0-60. Grandma (who is 91 and still drives a candy apple read, two-door Honda) and Grandpa are still living independently, together, gardening and reading, but aging very quickly. We treasure our times with them because we all recognize that each visit could be the last. We tell them we love them a lot. And we do. Deeply.

And Grandpa, who is still alive a year and a half after giving us his car, tells us every time we see him that he wants his car back. He is only somewhat joking, and we cautiously hide the keys each visit, just in case he decides to go for one last joyride in the last car he owned.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Earlier this summer I had dinner with an old friend. I'm not talking about and old friend as in we went to undergrad together, or even high school--this was a friend who had lived across the street from me from age 9 to age 12 and we literally hadn't spoken since. But, due to the advent of facebook we had reconnected. He is an consultant and has been coming to Brooklyn for work weekly. We finally made plans and got dinner.

Before our dinner date, I was nervous. I wondered, "What will we talk about? What if this is agony? Why haven't we spoken in 26 years--was I a total bitch to him and I've blocked it out?" I made a list of things I could ramble on about if need be. I had an excuse to get myself home quickly. All of this was totally unnecessary.

Ian Heiman, whom I knew for about four years of my life long ago, came over, met my family, and then we walked to my new favorite pizza place. We talked for HOURS, easily. We walked to get ice cream, still talking. We walked up to the park and ate our cones, still talking. I think our conversation could have lasted longer if it hadn't been edging towards 11pm. After all these years, we had so much in common--our relationships past and present, our kids, our beliefs on faith, our families...It was truly astounding. And heartwarming. After I walked Ian to the subway, I was in awe at how lucky I am to have people like that in my life, folks I can reconnect with--after a looooong time away--and we just click.

I just drove down to North Carolina to see my family with a pit stop in Virginia to stay with my friend Kimmie (a friend from middle school). Our friend Amy (friend from high school) drove 17ish hours from Chicago to Virginia with her four kids just to see me. Now that's love. We ate pizza, drank beer and wine, and caught up as our kids age 14 to 2 swirled around us. In NC and got brunch with my friend Sarah (friend from college) and her lovely architect husband David; they bought, rennovated, and live in my favorite apartment from undergrad on Mulberry Street. I hadn't seen Sarah since my friend Andrea's wedding in 2001, but our reconnection was seamless. I went to the Museum of Life and Science in Durham with my friend Abigail (friend from Americorps/Public Allies/Center for Documentary Studies) and her daughter Liberty, and our kids played in the mist exhibit, saw a black bear, and sweat in the August heat as Abigail and I shared stories and questions about jobs and location and life. Lastly, I had a lovely lunch, antique, and Target date with my dear friend, Erin (high school in NC). We have as much fun together at 38 as we did at 18.

This montage of friends and places and dates made me feel so lucky to have such good people from all chapters of my life. Friends I can pick up with after many years without a smidge of awkwardness. These relationships ground me in a way that's hard to explain in words--they are akin to a compass, or an anchor, or mirror, or all of the above, but having people who have known you through many versions of yourself whom you can hang out with and still feel that connection...well, that, my friends, is what this journey is all about.

You guys are my constants. You make this whole experience of life richer and more worthwhile. Thank you for that.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Contagious Imagination

Nico has finally started talking. Not that he was officially verbally delayed, but he was certainly not early to speak. Neither of our kids were which I found strange because we are a very loquacious couple. One of our friends joked that maybe our kids didn't talk early or early-ish because they couldn't get a word in edgewise--touche. Maybe.

But now Nico's talking, and Alexandra's talking, and Adam and I are talking, and at times we will all four be sitting at our little formica kitchen table and Adam and I will be trying to break down the day to each other and then both kids start speaking at the same time, about things of absolutely no relation to either our conversation or anything in general, and it's just. totally. NUTS. You can't even hear a word anyone is saying. It's a stereo of voices.

And sometimes, this random talking gets too crazy and I get pulled into the crazy. Let me explain.

Nico, in particular, will scream "'Scuse me!" at the top of his lungs and interrupt a perfectly lovely conversation as if the world is ending and only he can see it. Once you give him attention (what he really wants), usually with an exasperated, "What Nico!?" he smiles coyly at you and says something like this:

"Mommy, sometimes I fly on an owl to come and see you."

Alright, kid. Kinda poetic, beautiful, and completely random. Statements like that usually get a reply of:

"You fly on an owl to come and see me?" (You always have to repeat what he says to get peace.)

To which he nods his head vigorously as if I have finally figured it all out.

"Okay, honey...."  (And then you have to tell him you understand him to get peace.)

So, this happened Tuesday night--exact conversation--but he kept repeating this same statement about flying on an owl to come and see mommy. The words would get switched up a bit, but it was always the same idea:


He introduced the topic at the table, repeated it in the tub, while I was reading books, and as I kissed him goodnight. He was so convinced that sometimes he flies on an owl to come see me that he started to convince me! Okay--this is where I feel I lose my already fragile grasp on reality--I start wondering,

"Hmmmmm....maybe he is flying on an owl. Maybe my son is a magical creature who flies on owls at night when I'm sleeping and I don't know it...Maybe he is telling me the truth but like all mothers in the world I am just nodding my head with a 'Sure darling, whatever!' smile while he's actually really flying on owls!!!!! How awesome, Nico flies on owls!"

And then I shake my head and wonder what's happening to me.

But I love it. I love the wild imagination these kids have, and I do love being pulled into it. Even if only for a split second, and even if it makes me feel a teeny-tiny bit like I might need a vacay at a mental institution or a very posh rehab center in Arizona. Ahhhh.....

The kids last day of daycamp is tomorrow and then they're home with me for the month of August. If you see us flying on owls, don't be surprised.

[This definitely looks like a kid who *just might* fly on owls....]

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Born to Run Barefoot

I love running. I always have.

My mom did daycare at our house when I was younger, and in the summer she'd take care of a kid or two my age. Of course, we didn't have enough bikes for everyone, so I always volunteered to run beside everyone riding their bikes to the Creative Playground, our stomping ground, about a mile away. Even then, I loved to run.

I have never been super fast, I have never been ultra-competitive. I enjoyed running cross country and track in high school for the comraderie, and some of my best college memories are running around Chapel Hill after dark (because it was too freakin' hot to run in daylight) with my college roommates Ashley & Malina. I completed one marathon with Team in Training and the NYC Marathon in 2002, both with my good friend Julia. Running is both my time alone and my time with friends.

And then (insert screeching tires, car crash sounds, screaming and sirens here), I got injured.

No, it was not a glorious sports related injury. I remember the exact moment it happened. It was days before our wedding in August of 2003 and I was on the Upper West Side to get everything waxed for the wedding and our Mexican honeymoon. I was wearing flip flops and I was late. I shot across Broadway as the cars were coming, and snap! My right calf just...I don't know. Pulled? Tore? It hurt, badly. I took two weeks off, ran on it, and pulled it again. I took a month off, ran on it, and pulled it again. It became a sad routine, and then I stopped running.

And it wasn't because I was off my game. That summer I was training for the NYC Marathon again. I was in excellent shape--I could bike up to Central Park, run 18 8-minute miles, and bike home.I didn't run that marathon, or any other one, ever. My running life, for the most part, was kaput. Depressing.

I have had this chronic calf injury off and on for NINE YEARS. It has sucked. Every time I start to run again, I pull it again. I have had orthotics made for my marshmellow-y running shoes, I have had three different physical therapists, I have been taped, iced, heated, and I have rested. Nothing helped. I was told that it's because I have totally flat feet, feet that only became flatter with two pregnancies (and went from a size 10 to a size 11--god help me). I felt defeated.

And then I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. And I read it again. And again. The whole book resonated in me, especially the part that we--as homo sapiens--are all meant to run, not to be fat mother effers who sit on couches and eat french fries. Transport us back thousands of years and we'd have to run for food, from invaders, for life--what has happened to us? I refused to believe that I can't/shouldn't run because I'm flat-footed. And then he talked about barefoot running, and trusting in the architecture of my feet and my muscles to carry my body. He examined the history of running shoes, a tribe of indiginous peoples in the Copper Canyon of Mexico called the Tarahumara who run ultra-marathons wearing sandals and eating chia seeds, and the birth and new trend of barefoot running. I decided: screw those fluffy running shoes and my orthotics, I needed get barefoot. It was my last desperate attempt to re-cultivate my running self.

After having Nico, I was at a running ground zero = I was totally out of shape and had no mileage under me. Thankfully, this is a good place to start re-training your body on how to run. I read about running barefoot, studied the gait, and started small runs on the treadmill with the focus to land on my mid-foot, not on my heel. I got some Nike Free running shoes, and starting working out in them. Spin, small runs, elliptical, etc. I also stopped wearing my bulky Dansko clogs and other shoes I was told I needed to wear for "support" and wore only shoes with no support so my feet are on the ground, my favorite in the summer being Saltwater Sandals. Being both a teacher and a New Yorker, I walk a lot, so even when not at the gym my feet were practicing being barefoot, getting new muscles, and learning what it felt like to hold my body (which is not tiny) up. I remember my feet being sore last spring; they are never sore now.

A month ago I took the next step and got the Vibram five-finger running shoes. I headed out for a slow jaunt in Prospect Park (3.3 miles), cautious of my new kicks, and I found myself jumping over rocks on the trail and kicking it in at the end, I felt so good. I figured I would pay for it the next day--I'd wake up and my feet and legs would be immobile, but not at all! Not an ounce of pain.

Monday I went for another run in the park in them, and I am happy to report that for the first time in YEARS, I ran the loop in total joy. I felt great, my feet felt light and strong, and I ran with the happiness I had as a kid. I just wore them to a cardio interval class, and I felt so stable and connected to the ground as we jumped and balanced--so much better than those big running shoes.

I am sold.

I have put off writing this post for fear that I'll jinx myself and pull my calf again, but I'm hopeful that maybe, baby, I was born to run--just not in actual running shoes.

(PS: I have heard that Peter Sarsgaard is directing a movie adaptation of Born to Run, the book. I can't wait.)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Banana Bread Thanks

So, news around here is Adam got a new job. He's an architect for a construction & development firm (which is awesome!), but the construction office is located in Larchmont, New York. For those of you who don't know the City or its layout, Larchmont is not in New York City. It's in the 'burbs. So he has a long commute now, but he's doing it for experience and he uses his train time wisely to read and work on his side work.

Due to his new job, I now have to do the mornings as well as morning drop off. For years, Adam has done the mornings and drop off b/c as a teacher I had to be at work at 7:45 and daycare didn't open until 8am. But now I am in charge of the mornings and all the chaos the morning brings.

I have NEVER been a morning person, ever. Even when I was a baby, my mom claims she would have to wake me in the mornings (sadly, my kids did not inherit that trait). I am grumpy, I don't want to be touched, and I hate everyone. Of course, this is difficult when you have two little lambs who need your attention. I think that maybe the hardest part of becoming a parent for me has been cultivating some early morning kindness. I am just naturally snappy and bitchy when I wake. One of my tragic flaws, I guess.

Monday night I made banana bread. Yes, it was 90 degrees at 9pm and I decided to turn the oven to 350 for an hour and a half to make banana bread. Our 800 square foot apartment became a veritable sweat lodge and, naturally, I was sweating like a beast, but the bread was sooo good it was totally worth it. I added some chocolate chips and cut back the sugar and the result was simply divine. Wish I had some now, but we ate it all in two days. Damn, our kids can eat.

Tuesday morning the kids were whining, crying, ripping out their hair and gnashing their teeth over going to camp. I was just beyond sick of listening to it and playing the calm and patient mom. I gave them banana bread and yogurt for breakfast and sat glaring at them, wondering why I had chosen to have kids and fantasizing about how easy my life would be when I can send them to sleep away camp in the far future. Then Nico looked up at me, chocolate smeared all over his face, and said, "Mommy?"

"Yes, Nino?" (Nino is his nickname b/c for the longest time he couldn't say the hard "c" of Nico)
"Tank you."
"Thank me for what?" I asked, a little snarkily b/c I am just a mean mom before 8am.
"Tank you for banana bread," he said, barely making eye contact as he continued to nosh the bread, getting chocolate all over his face, hands, and swim shirt.

And from that moment onwards the morning was okay.

(Note: The recipe is from The New Best Recipe cookbook, btw. Our fave cookbook.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Baby Fat Expiration Date

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to bear witness to my next-door-neighbors and friends bringing home their first baby to their apartment. The uncanny thing is that they live in the apartment where Adam and I lived when we brought Alexandra home. The truly uncanny thing is that their baby was born on Alexandra's birthday which made me delightfully happy in a really weird way, like I was watching my life unfold again but with other actors playing me, Adam, and baby Alexandra. But their sweet pea is a boy, so there are some differences, too.  Overall, thought, it was very moving to watch.

Kate, the mama, looked amazing. Granted, she was one of those women who probably gained 10 lbs and had a 7 lb baby. While pregnant, she was her normal stick self with a gigantic belly; she looked truly absurd. I'm not kidding, I don't think I have ever seen anyone stay so the same with such a huge baby bump. When I told her she looked great yesterday, she chortled and said, "You can't see all of me" and left it at that. That's because she has tact, something I greatly lack. I would have elaborated on my flabby stomach and my sausage-like vagina and my ass fissure and the many other ailments that accompanied giving birth to my two almost-10 lb babies. But she has much more grace than I do. I love women like that. Maybe in my next life I'll be given a frontal lobe.

I left them on their stoop to cross their threshold for the first time as parents and took my 5-year-old to the water playground. There, my two mom friends and I laughed about how mortified we were about our bodies after having given birth--oh, the horror, the horror! Kurtz from Heart of Darkness has nothing n a woman who has made and birthed children. Now we can laugh, mostly. But there are some days when we still cringe. I had one this morning.

Today I was getting ready in the bathroom with the company of Nico. I was naked, a towel wrapped around my hair, and putting lotion on my face when Nico asked me if I had a baby in my belly. Of course, I do not, nor will I ever again, and I told him this. I said, "It's just a little chub." He stood there silent for a minute, then he looked at me and said, in a confused way, "But it's not little, it's so big!"

Wow. Thanks, kid.

Needless to say, I am getting myself back to the gym/yoga tonight. I can't really use the excuse that it's baby fat when I no longer have babies. The baby fat expiration date has passed and now it's just fat. As I saw Kate, two days postpartum, I was reminded just how long ago it was when I gave birth. Time to start waking at 5am to workout again. Wish me luck.