It's amazing how my priorities began to change when I had children. For example, if you had asked me twenty years ago where I would want to live most if I could afford anywhere, I wouldn't have blinked before saying the East Village. Ten years ago I would have said West Village. Now I am torn between Upper West Side and outside the city, like in the Berkshires. Right? It's nuts. I am craving a slower, calmer lifestyle. A backyard, a vegetable garden, a shady tree. Room for my girls to run around and air for them to breathe. A yard with bikes and a ball strewn across it, a kiddie pool. And a second bathroom.
We talk about moving every day. It's not that we hate where we are. We have a great apartment in a brand-new building in Harlem. We have wonderful neighbors and we are less than 10 minutes from 4 express trains. We have a car and a safe place to park it, we have a courtyard with our own planter, we have a small fitness room with a treadmill I can use when I don't run outside. We are refinancing our mortgage and saving a bundle in the process. And still, whenever we drive anywhere, we have neighborhood envy. We ask ourselves if we could live there. We try to imagine ourselves in a townhouse on Hudson Street or in the West 70s (easy, too bad we will never be able to afford it), in Woodstock (my favorite so far), western Massachusetts (second favorite), Vermont (too far), New Jersey (unlikely), Boston (love it. did you know me fifteen years ago? can you believe I just said that?) Long Island (no way), Hudson Valley (maybe). Depending on my job, depending on life, we'll see where we end up, but we are now two years into the ten-year plan we put ourselves on not long after Thora was born, and we still think we'll leave the city someday. Hard to imagine! But eight years from now we will have two little tween girls and a lot more grey hair and, if these past two years are any indication, a strong hankering for space, a sense of community that we just don't have where we live, more greenery and quiet.
But for today we are where we are and that's that. I am truly thankful for all that we have and I'm in no rush to skip town. In fact, Johnny and I talk every day about all we have to be grateful for. At the dinner table, we ask each other about something good that happened that day. It's a nice way to end a long hard day. I keep a list now of things I'm grateful for and it's kind of amazing how much awesomeness I have in my life that I never paid attention to before.Recently someone posted a link to a website on Facebook. I don't always click on links other people post, but this one caught my eye. It was the website of a group of photographers who volunteer their services to photograph new parents with their terminally ill or stillborn babies. The main photo was one of a woman crying, clearly in anguish, clutching a tiny baby to her chest. It was only when I clicked again and read the blog entry that I understood that this baby was stillborn. Someone had cleaned her, dressed her and placed her in her mother's arms. I couldn't look away. I read every word and looked at every picture and cried along with the mother whose baby never had a chance. I was amazed that there are such kind-hearted photographers who give service by taking part in these terrible moments and providing these grieving parents with a memory that they wish they never had to have in the first place.
There's a sign like this on our way to the 4/5 train station in the Bronx that took me by surprise the other day.
There's a sign like this on our way to the 4/5 train station in the Bronx that took me by surprise the other day.
Eventually I wiped my tears and clicked the site off. I went straight to my sleeping Teeny and held her to me. I breathed her in, nuzzled her peach-fuzzy head, felt her warmth. All these months I've been worried about her. Worried because she is smaller than her sister. Worried because she meets milestones more slowly than Thora did. Worried that she is the last of the five babies I know born around the same time to do anything - sit up, crawl, get teeth. Worried that between work and school that I am not home enough, that I don't pump enough or make enough homemade baby food, that she won't wear a sun hat, that she loves jumping in her jumperoo so much that she got a blister on her toe, worried worried worried. Now I felt nothing but gratitude. I have two happy, healthy, beautiful children who are different from each other. My love for this tiny creature felt tangible, visceral. Her beautiful, peaceful face with porcelain cheeks and long lashes stopped my heart for a moment. I made this. Even in sleep, she is so alive, so full of hope and promise. So really, who gives a rat's ass if she learns to crawl three months later than her sister? As someone recently said to me, I have four teenagers and they all have teeth and none of them are still in diapers! Someone else said, don't worry, she's not going to crawl down the aisle. She's here now. She's breathing and living and growing now. She is wonderful NOW. She is learning every day NOW. She is a beautiful, happy and healthy baby NOW. Her pediatrician assures me that she is as developed muscularly as her sister was, that she is normal and healthy and strong, just lazy. "It's all volition," she said. Thora never had any patience and was always rushing off to master the next thing. She's still like that. This kid is just happy where she is. Awake, she claps now, and grins a silly, toothless, gummy grin at anyone who calls her name. She recently learned to splash in the bathtub too. She gazes adoringly at her big sister, who sometimes brings her toys and diapers, feeds her and kisses her, and other times bonks her on the head or pushes her out of the way. I will never have another baby again. I will never experience pregnancy or childbirth again, I will never have another newborn. This baby is already growing up too fast. Just the other day we were talking about her upcoming first birthday and how we wanted to celebrate. I am so lucky, so blessed. I am grateful for what I have now. Especially since it's true what they say: it goes by so fast!
Last night as I put the girls to bed, I realized how much has changed since I last updated. Bee and Teeny now share a room. Bee is in a toddler bed. Teeny is in the crib. It's a little crowded in their room but it's just that: their room. A baby's room is for the baby's parents, I think. The changing table, the glider, the lovingly crafted decorations, decals, framed photos and so on. This is a girls' room now. Yep, there's still a changing table and a glider, but as Johnny and I moved all the furniture around again and again to accommodate the bed along with the crib, we stubbed toes and tripped over things and argued about what we could toss. But what to get rid of? Not the changing table, as they are both still in diapers. Not the glider, as Teeny is still nursing. The toybox? The easel? The bookshelf? No, no. It all has to stay. That stuff is no longer ours; it's theirs and they use it. There are toys tossed everywhere, books piled up in places Thora can easily reach, marker caps under the easel, dried out and capless markers in the toybox, a half painted painting on the easel, dirty socks and a onesie on the floor. I surveyed the evidence of the little lives being lived in this room as I nursed and sang the baby to sleep in the twilight. There was a green plastic ball and one lone pink Croc in bed with Thora, a handful of pacifiers in different colors in the crib. Each girl had a harem of Ugly Dolls with a variety of names: Blue, Concord, Ox, Batoozi. Bee sleeps clutching Big Bird, Teeny rolls herself into a burrito of baby and cotton blanket. Little girls live and breathe in there now.
Bee is nothing if not a creature of habit, with a memory like an elephant. She now brushes her teeth morning and night with little to no fuss because that's what we do. When I come in from work, she says, "Mama has to go pee" before she even says hello. When I come in from running, she doesn't even try to hug me anymore because "Mama, you're disgusting. You need a shower." I'm allowed to brush her hair as long as I give her a turn with the brush afterwards. She knows we check on her flowers every day and reminds us to take her there if we forget. She knows she has her mini-school twice a week and when we tell her that's where we're going, she doesn't argue about getting in the stroller because even she knows that's too far for her to walk. Going to the sprinklers means she gets to wear her Crocs instead of sneakers. She wants to go back to the hippo park every single day and when we say yes, we're going, she lights up and walks straight over to the front door and says, "Okay! Let's go, Daddy!" and starts down the hall to the elevator.
This week we were supposed to be visiting family, but when our plans changed, we decided to take the girls to Sesame Place. Bee's absolute favorite character, favorite stuffed animal, favorite favorite is Big Bird and we've been talking about taking her there for a long time. It's only about an hour and a half from home, so we decided to do it in a day. It was so much fun. At first, she was pretty overwhelmed. She didn't love all the rides, but she enjoyed a lot of them. She saw all the characters, got to stand on Sesame Street, she got to ride down a river in a big green inner tube on my lap, and she got to meet Big Bird. This is such a big deal that two days later she's still saying, "Remember how I met Big Bird, Mama? Remember I kissed him? On the lip?" and "Hi Mama, how are you doing today? I'm going to Sesame Place again." I keep telling her we will go back, but not today. Soon. She pores over the crappy picture of her with me, Big Bird and Elmo superimposed over a lamely Photoshopped rendition of Sesame Street in a plastic Sesame Place frame and reminds me that she met Big Bird and that she's going back tomorrow. She made me write B-I-G B-I-R-D out for her so she could recognize it, and we wrote out S-E-S-A-M-E P-L-A-C-E for her to read and recognize too. She's not far from sounding words out. She already recognizes words like Mama, Daddy, Bee, Teeny, cat, car, drink. She knows that a is for alligator, b is for butterfly, c is for cookie and car and cat, d is for Daddy, and so on.
Her language acquisition and developing pronunciation are absolutely delightful to observe. She's mastered singular and plural and you vs me. She's getting past tense as well, except with irregular verbs like "Mama, I waked up." She has been able to count well past twenty for a while now, and her pronunciation is slowly getting better. She still says "memen" for seven but now she says "five" whereas a month ago she said "byse." I can tell the difference between how she says "Teeny" and "Shiva" now. For a long time she called them both "Bia" but now it's clear when she means the cat and when she means her sister.
Today we drove to up to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. Thora has been there before but this time it really registered. She fell in love with Boone the turkey and spent most of the afternoon petting him and talking to him softly. She also met two chickens, a cow, two pigs, a sheep and a goat, and loved them all. She stood in front of the cows, mooing heartily. Then she turned to me and said "Mama, we love cows. We don't eat cows." She skipped in the dirt and collected rocks and sang "Hi animals!" and ate one Field Roast hot dog after the next and wiped her Earth Balancey fingers on my (white!) shorts and asked if she could roll in the mud with the big pigs.
Here she is saying goodbye to everyone she met at Sesame Place as we started the drive home. Goodbye!