Love Letter for 50

I bet you don’t find yourself writing love letters very often. I know I don’t. But it’s not that I never did. I’m a sap at heart, and I bet my husband can pull out a fair amount of sentimental cards I wrote on special occasions of years past.

But I think that was a long time ago. Before three kids and everything that comes with them. And maybe the tenor of those love letters has changed over time, even if the sentiment has not.

Today is my husband’s 50th birthday. And, if I’m being honest, I spent most of his last day in his 40s being sort of cranky with him. The way you do in a marriage when stupid shit goes wrong, nothing of substance, and just throws off your day.

And then, as I always do, I kind of let my crankiness peter out as normal perspective took over and all was well. This left me thinking more about my husband’s big day and the pressing issues at hand. Like what kind of cake we should all eat.

Sort of. I did think about cake (because I usually do), but also about so many other things on this milestone birthday.

When I met my husband back in 1999, he was 32 and I was a youthful 26. And photo quality was sub-par, apparently.

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17 years later, he is turning 50.

50.

The thing is that I sit here, on this dusty old blog, year after year, and wax poetic about my kids on their birthdays — their milestones, their interests — to remind my future self with these word time capsules just how they’ve changed each year. Maybe I should do a similar write-up for my husband today, but not so much about what has changed, but what has stayed the same and remained the very bedrock of who we are.

Sure, I had a bunch of really cheap jokes up my sleeve about aging, but none of them are any good. Not even the one about priority seating at our three year old’s college graduation in 2035 because my husband will be unspeakable-years-old.

And let’s just get it out of the way. The thing that pisses me off to no end. The thing that should piss you off, too. The man doesn’t really age. Sure, there are a few more wrinkles and perhaps slightly less hair, but overall, he’s a freak of nature and we should all hate him for this.

I recently met him for breakfast after his annual physical, where he casually referenced losing “a few pounds.”

“A FEW? HOW MANY?” — As a lifelong student of weight loss, I demanded to know.

“A few. I don’t know. The doctor asked me if I improved my diet (not really). If I started exercising (hell, no, not even a little). And then he looked over my blood panel with a shrug and said it was working for me.”

As he ate a fucking bacon, egg and cheese on a roll.

So he has his good looks. But that’s not all.

This past Saturday, we threw a party for his birthday and had all of our close friends here to celebrate. We had casino tables and a bartender under a big, weather-proof tent.

 

 

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We had the greatest cake in the history of cakes, which only notched up my daughter’s drive to appear on The Food Network, but was ***almost*** too pretty to eat.

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***I can’t stop eating it.

 

We caught up with friends from near and far who came to party with the guest of honor. And party, we did. Holy shit, do not ever make fun of 50 year-olds because this is what time my clock read when the last person stopped drinking in my kitchen.

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For the record, that works out really well when you have young kids. Really well.

Before they turned my home into a rave venue and set me back 8883 light years in sleep, I had asked them all to give me one word to describe my husband, which I collected for a toast I gave at the party.

Everyone had free rein because I promised not to disclose who said what. Under those circumstances, you’re bound to get a few snarky adjectives.

NOPE.

This is what I got:

Sincere
Generous
Gentleman
Gregarious
Mensch
Genuine
Caring
Precise
Zen
Kind
Aplomb
Meticulous
Unflappable
Trustworthy
Cheerful
Fantasty football genius (with the use of creative spacing, this is apparently one word)
Patient
Methodical
Thoughtful
Loyal
Upbeat
Optimistic
Fun-loving

Come on. Pretty amazing.

What did I learn from this? Well, first of all, I learned that one-word assignments really stress some people the hell out. Holy shit.

But more seriously, I found, after 17 years of knowing him — including 11 years of marriage, four homes, three kids, one pug and little sleep — all of the things that drew me to him are also obvious to everyone else.

There are people out there who get along with everyone. People who are universally liked and well regarded. I was lucky enough to marry one.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not always easy to live with. {Try to at least pretend you are stunned, even a little.}

And yet, this man, with all of those words that our friends provided to describe him so accurately — this man chose to spend his life with me. And that makes me the luckiest person I know.

And while all of those words rang true, I have one more to add.
Beyond.

His character?
His kindness?
His patience?
His generosity?
His effort on any given task, big or small?

All just beyond.

The life he has built here with me and with our children?
Beyond what I ever could have wished for.

And so, on my husband’s 50th birthday, a love letter may look different than it did when we were dating, or when we were newlyweds. Maybe a love letter now is a toast in front of our best friends and then being cranky about everything two days later, only to bounce back and say that I have always known you are the most spectacular husband, father and friend. You are my beyond.

Happy birthday. xo

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I Didn’t Mean to Buy a Fixer-Upper

I said it again a few days ago, as my husband and I began the process of preparing for our latest renovation project.

“You know, I really didn’t think we were buying a fixer-upper when we decided on this house.”

He looked at me incredulously, as if I were either joking or completely insane. But I meant it.

When we bought our house in 2010, I knew it needed a bit of work, mostly cosmetic. Built in 1909, it had so many original details that drew me in. So much character.

To be fair, looking back on when we first saw our house, I remember my husband joking that “character” actually meant “expensive repairs” in real life. I shrugged him off at the time as a cynic.

We were approaching the house hunt from two different perspectives. Although we had been living in Manhattan for the previous five years together and both adored city life, my New York City residency stretched back a solid ten years prior to that point, while he had owned a house in the suburbs as a bachelor before I lured him out of Connecticut. As a result, he had seen this movie before — the one where gullible buyers think that old houses are charming but they invariably end up becoming money pits. Apparently I skipped that movie to watch bad reality TV instead.

But he was dealing with a woman who, for the better part of 15 years, had grown accustomed to living in minimal urban space that required certain lifestyle trade-offs. I never had a kitchen in the city wherein I wasn’t able to simultaneously touch all of the walls. I got used to storage and closets getting categorized as luxuries. As a perpetual renter, I hadn’t controlled my own thermostat in over a decade, and became accustomed to sleeping with the windows open in the dead of winter as the inside temperature lingered around a steady 81 degrees and the radiator activity resembled that of an active geyser.

So, about sixty houses into our two-year hunt, this was the one that satisfied most of our respective wish lists. Sure, it showed some signs of wear and tear from its 101 years, but it had a good deal of what we needed, plus it was located where we wanted to live and was within(ish) our budget. So what if the kitchen was dated? I didn’t have to store sweaters in the oven. And the old floors? Certainly not in their moment of glory, but original to the house. The bathrooms needed a facelift, but there was more than one! It was a plural bathroom situation. The unfinished basement? It was glorious storage.

I figured that some paint and a few modest upgrades would be all we needed.

Fast forward six years. This morning, the work began on our fourth major renovation project.

You see, since 2010, our then three-year-old and eight-month-old children grew a ton, as they are prone to doing. They accumulated a shitload of stuff and required more space to destroy. Oh, and we had a third child as well. I also no longer worked full-time and became more attuned to what kind of space we needed day to day.

And so, we took on a few projects.

We first finished our basement. Many people could end that thought with a singular sentence, but our estimated five week project took eight months and has several lengthy blog posts devoted to it — many of which involve thinly veiled threats to my often-MIA contractor who had better not ever set foot on my block again.

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This was the first time I learned that when you fuck with a 100 year-old house, it never goes as planned. I also learned that a giant steel beam can be shimmied under your house, when necessary, to keep it from collapsing. (Related: Steel beam shimmying wasn’t in the original plan or budget.) Yay for the new basement!

After a lengthy PTSD recuperation and a total HGTV blackout period, we regrouped and decided that maybe we’d make some straightforward cosmetic updates to the curb appeal of the house. You know, refresh the front porch and add in a paint job for good measure. Hilarious.

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Because you know what happens when you fuck with a 100 year-old front porch? Unexpected steel beam #2 to support the weight of the house. Yay for the new front porch!

My husband, feeling my growing anger and resentment toward the house that was steadily betraying us, abandoned our previous plans to build an addition for obvious reasons involving sanity, dollars and remaining married. He did, however, gently suggest that perhaps our powder room on the main floor was in dire need of a refresh before we hosted this past Christmas. No plumbing moving around, no major changes, just updating it.

This became known as a case of “while we’re at it,” a common renovation syndrome where homeowners fall prey to the logic that, while already suffering through work on the home, they may as well just add on one more item in the nearby vicinity. This one more item, for us, became an entire new entryway, extensive work on the dining room, new moldings, updating paint colors, replacing the original floors (because the basement upheaval had caused them to assume an endless “whack a mole” quality with tetanus-prone nails and planks perpetually popping up) and expanding a hallway. No steel beam to get any of this done, but we almost canceled Christmas.

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But what really needed more work than anything — what really stood out and cried for desperate repair — was the kitchen.

Remember when I said that the kitchen was dated but that was OK because it had enough storage and space? I lied. It’s not OK. And I don’t just mean because it’s ugly. I can live with ugly for more way more than six years.

What I can’t live with as much is shit falling apart. Like warning helpful relatives and friends as they open my kitchen drawers, “OH, WAIT! Watch out! That’s heavy and will fall right out onto your foot!” (There’s only one way to find that out for the first time, by the way.) And I don’t need a giant kitchen. We actually have a decent amount of space there, but it’s so poorly laid out, with some really wonky features. Its design makes little to no sense and can just be reconfigured so much better, without actually expanding the footprint of the house (because, again, sanity/dollars/marriage, my friends).

It took a lot of convincing to get me to agree to this project. A lot. I mean, can you even believe we are doing this instead of, say, torching the place? The truth is, despite what I’ve described in the last six years, I’m not a renovations kind of gal. I have a Type A personality, three young kids and an aging pug. I don’t do well with people in and out of my space, making a mess and creating chaos. I’m not that person, but I play one in this house. Apparently.

(Insert logical questions here about why not just move instead or why not just do all of the renovations at once instead of in a torturous piecemeal fashion. Just know that you can’t ask us anything that we haven’t already talked to death on our end.)

All conventional wisdom says to do kitchen renovations in the summer. I get that. It’s the season of grilling, of being out and about, no schedules, no homework and the occasional getaways. And so we began these “conversations” (which I really didn’t think would ever become more than that, based on my resistance levels) a few months ago with designers, architects and contractors. And we kept going. And we filed permits. And we ordered cabinets. And then we were all-in as summer approached.

And it was pretty much last weekend, as we began to empty out the kitchen and the adjoining family room (which will also be impacted), when I started to have a panic attack. Our plan was to relocate to the basement (see Project #1), as it has a microwave, sink, a full bathroom and some decent storage. Also, it has a wine fridge, if we really need to pinpoint my anticipated center of gravity during this process.

What it does not have is an oven, stove or dishwasher. And, hey, I don’t mind hand washing some dishes, but if your kids are card-carrying members of the Use All of the Cups We Own Every Day Club like mine are, you can see how it starts to give me anxiety. Yes, I’ll be loading up on paper plates this summer (shhhhh, sorry environment) and the grill is at the ready. But, honestly, I’m trying to embrace the sort of freeing feeling of not actually being able to properly cook all summer long. Oh, and entertaining? Off the table this summer. We’ll be at your place if you want to get together. Unless you want to enjoy a chilled white wine in my laundry room with me. Just don’t tell the kids I’m in there.

They say it will take eight weeks to get it done, but I know better. I even know where the steel beam is going this time.

The real irony here is that, apart from when we are upstairs in our bedrooms, all of our common indoor family time will now be spent in the basement this summer — which basically is like taking the smallest apartment I ever had in New York, on my own, and adding four additional people to it. And their toys. And their food. And their noise. And the pug (who is totally discombobulated and pissed off by his forced proximity to the kids).

I’ve come full circle. All I need is a George Forman grill, an overbearing, narcissistic boss and, hell, I’m practically back to my old city life.

It’s all going to be OK. I’m keeping my eye on the prize, even as the hammers bang and the dust flies and everyone is all over me about dinner as I try to fashion a meal out of a fucking hot plate.

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Day one is done, and I’m getting a pizza. But I’m stopping at the wine fridge first.

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Nine

Nine seems impossible.

It was nine years ago when I dragged my nine-days-overdue and extremely pregnant body to the Labor & Delivery floor to be induced with my first child. He needed to be prodded along, to be told that the time was now, much like he is today. He does things in his own time and hates to be rushed. He resists the unpredictable, the break in the routine.

But he was evicted from the womb and into the world after a long 15-ish hours of Pitocin and epidurals. The OB had told me he would be a large baby, based on the last few ultrasounds, but I had heard how wildly inaccurate those estimates could be. I chose to believe, even though my girth seemed to defy the very laws of gravity, that he wouldn’t really be that big.

Nine pounds and four ounces. They put him on my chest after he was born and I remember the doctor saying, “Say hello to your one month old.”

We were brand new parents and knew nothing about anything. We were shell shocked and thrilled and totally out of sorts. We read the books and listened to the advice of friends and family.

But what we learned early on, and what we still find every day, is that our oldest son has always been the one to really teach us about parenthood. All of the firsts were and remain his, and that is his special place in this family.

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In the last nine years, he has transformed from impossibly chubby baby to a long and lean third grader who is the household’s leading authority on paleontology, Star Wars and World War II. Although his temper can be quick, he is sentimental and sweet. He doesn’t care if I hug and kiss him in public. He will be the first to sit with me, sling his arms up on my shoulders and ask if he and his future wife and kids can live here with us (decision pending). I’m grateful that he’s in no rush to grow up. I’m not sure how much longer that will last, but I will take it every single day that it stays this way.

His big day marks the beginning of Birthday Season in our house, with an April-May-June-July line up (with the exception of my husband in October). It’s a time of year I look forward to, for a lot of reasons. In my mind, it kicks off the spring and starts the family get togethers of warm weather and grills and birthday cakes. I love my kids’ birthdays but they also bring me to my knees a little bit each time, wondering how we got here so fast yet again. It doesn’t seem like so long ago when I made Star Wars cupcakes with a big 8 candle. Or a pirate ship cake with a 5 candle. Or a Thomas cake with a 2 candle.

And so, here we are at nine (and another Jedi candle). One year shy of double digits and many moons away from that giant newborn. And still, while so much has changed, every day he teaches us how to be parents.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

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Eight

I get a little crazy when my kids have birthdays. I’m not a fan of math, but my mind starts racing with numbers whenever it’s time to add a candle to a cake.

Eight.

Eight is twice as big as when he was four.

Eight is four times as big as when he was just two.

Eight is two years away from double digits.

Eight is halfway to 16 and driving and all the insanity that comes with high school.

All of these things seem equally impossible.

And next thing you know, I’m practically weeping over sending my oldest off to college while thinking about how he was just a baby.

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But no need just yet, because he is right here next to me, explaining in vast detail the nuances of Jedi training.

In fact, he is usually near me, in my immediate orbit. He likes to be around us, to rely on us. And while he gains more independence and with each year, he reminds me all the time that he wants to be a kid forever. I love that he is in no hurry to grow up (and wish that he would give the memo to his sister).

This boy who made me a mother has a sweet, kind and sentimental nature most times (unless his quick temper is kicking in). He adores his role as the firstborn and dotes on his baby brother. He would be unlikely to admit that his sister is his best friend, but I know that he loves transforming her princesses into inter-galactic warriors and teaching her the principles of battle.

This year, we folded our family trip to Disney World into his birthday, and he couldn’t be more thrilled. Never one to shy away from the spotlight, he’s ready to wear his birthday pin and march down Main Street USA for everyone to know that the day belongs to him.

I know that his years of being a little boy are drawing to a close. Maybe it’s happening more quickly than I’m willing to admit. I honestly don’t even know where the last year went, with days of Star Wars and reading and Skylanders, Cub Scouts and tennis and homework.

But I’ll just put all that aside for now, repress my crazy math, and put the candles on the Jedi cake to celebrate all that eight will bring for him this year.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet boy.

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A Mom’s Guide to FitBit Victory

You know the old adage: The road to fitness is paved with distractions and kale. And accidental cookies.

I got a FitBit for Christmas and, if I’m being honest, I was sort of lukewarm about the whole thing, even if it was my idea. Its shiny lights were there to blink accountability at me and quantify my level of non-steppiness. It even wanted to confirm, with brutal honesty, the horrible truth I already knew about my lack of sleep. I wasn’t sure I needed all of this information in my life.

You don’t take enough steps!

You sleep poorly!

You aren’t burning enough calories!

You look terrible in a black rubber bracelet!

 

A blow to my ego, every one of them.

So I kind of let it sit there in the box for a while.

But one day, I took it out and put it on, just to try it. It blinked and buzzed at me, and I was curious just how many/few steps I was taking in a day.

Interestingly enough, I wasn’t doing so badly. It turns out that you can rack up thousands of steps just by doing the most annoying household bullshit every day.

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1) Preparing a meal for three children: If your kids are like mine, the term “simple meal” is a joke. I know that dinner prep implies standing still at a counter and then gracefully putting stunning little Pinteresting plates of Eat Your Colors on the table. But, alas, no. FitBit told me what I suspected all along: The 612 laps I take around my kitchen to serve a very beige dinner practically qualify as cardio.

Can I please have more milk?

Can you make the ketchup not touch the potatoes?

We don’t have any more napkins. I just used the last 87.

Can I have more ketchup?

The baby dropped his cup.

The dog is begging for my chicken.

Do we have more ketchup?

What’s burning?

Can you cut this into smaller pieces shaped like perfect spheres?

Just a little more ketchup?

The baby just tossed his dinner across the room.

Steps taken: 1,362

Wines consumed: No comment.

 

2) Chasing a naked, fugitive one year-old who escaped mid-diaper-change.

You need a diaper! Come here!

Do not throw that vase.

You can’t climb up the dishwasher racks again.

I can’t reach you under the end table.

It’s ok, it’s just pee. It will come out.

Steps taken: 774

Rugs requiring deep cleaning: 1

 

3) Laundry for a family of five. Double bonus points for the three flights of stairs. Need I say more?

Steps taken: Somewhere between 3,319 and infinity.

 

4) Kids’ bedtime requests. You know, getting them a book. Then replacing it with three different books after they change their minds (“Not thaaaaaat boooooook”). Drink requests. Lights off. Lights on. Fixing a blanket, the one that itcccccchhhhhhhessssss. Replacing items thrown from crib in amateur javelin training. Lights off. OFF. OFFFFFFF.

Steps taken: 812

 

5) The three-hour toy explosion clean up. Picking up princesses in distress. Dodging Legos underfoot. Circling the room while cursing to oneself, repeatedly looking for the source of that toy that won’t stop singing.

Steps taken: 336

Sanity: 0

 

So maybe I have an addictive personality but those little blinking FitBit lights started to impact my brain. They were holding my feet hostage.

How many steps do I have?

How many?

How about now?

Every day, I try to get at least 10,000 steps in. I’ve noticed that this goal has brought out some strange behavior in me.

  • Parking further away from my destination, even when that gives my children an additional 5-10 minutes to argue or elaborate even further on their tales of woe.
  • Extra laps at the grocery store. Yeah, that place where I’m usually trying to set a land-speed record departing out of desperation and/or unintentional theft at the hands of my children. Now, if my FitBit lights aren’t where they should be, it’s once more around the perimeter, kids! Let’s try not to destroy another produce display. If this isn’t a commitment to fitness, I don’t know what to tell you.
  • Irrational rage at a dead FitBit battery. Because, if you wear one, you know that there’s nothing worse than uncounted steps. More formally: Thou shalt not move while thy FitBit is charging. When did I become this person who insists on getting credit for walking?
  • And, finally, let me explain something to my neighbors, who probably think I am either insane or consuming large amounts of drugs at night. Usually around 10 or 11pm, if I see that I’m not close enough to my 10,000 steps, I begin the ridiculous ritual of Late Night Indoor House Laps. And because we recently replaced our windows and have since remained without curtains, it’s like a fishbowl of crazy up in here. I’m sure I look less than stable. But, not to worry, it’s all in the name of FitBit victory.

I’m relieved on my workout days because it takes some of the FitBit pressure off of me to hit my 10,000 steps. I can grocery shop like a normal(ish) person and go back to parking as close as humanly possible to anyplace where I have to carry a tantrum-prone toddler.

But those little tyrant lights on my wrist? I think we’ve become friends.

As long as I refuse to let them tell me about my sleep patterns.

 

 

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She’s Five

Scene: Interior Kitchen — Dinnertime, Early July

Daughter: So, have you thought more about my Frozen cake? You know, Elsa’s ice castle? And can you make it snow with a button or a handle or something?

Me: Uhhhhh, probably not with snow. And it might not look exactly like a castle.

Daughter: Just a little flurry. You can just make a tiny handle for it to work.

Me: Are you sure you don’t want Olaf? Olaf is made of circles that are — oh look! —  the same shape as my baking pans. That’s an incredible coincidence.

Daughter: Not really. But if you can’t make a tiny handle to make snow on the cake, don’t worry. I will just use my ice powers.

Me: Or we can go out for ice cream.

Daughter: Or both.

* * * * *

Dreamer. Problem solver. Tiny princess. Lover of desserts.

She is all this and more, and today she turned five.

I watched her change so much this year. Her little baby body is gone and she is 100% kid now — growing longer and leaner out of nowhere. The glimpse of her legs hanging down over her car seat or her silhouette stretched out in her bed at night leaves me in total disbelief some days.

She is always watching. Always. Taking it in, picking up on the cues around her. Not missing a beat. If you think you slid something past her, you’re wrong. It will be in her report.

She is in on the joke. Ready to share it, again and again, adding her own flair to the punchline with every delivery.

Over the past year, she has slowly adjusted to her new role as the middle child between two boys. Truthfully, it hasn’t been easy for her, no matter how many times I remind her of how special it is to be both a big and little sister. Some days she believes me. Mostly when the planets align and princesses can live in harmony with ninjas, Stormtroopers, crying babies and nap schedules.

She lives in a world of princesses and fairies and kingdoms and spells and magic. At any moment, I can expect her to be in her next costume change. Not infrequently, she requests that I announce her arrival to the royal ball so she can display a proper princess curtsy.

Say what you want about the princess mania in little girls. I didn’t push it on her but I do think it’s adorable. And I know it’s fleeting. When I walked down the Disney Princess aisle of Toys R Us to shop for her birthday, I wondered how many more trips I’d make to that section of the store before she deemed it too babyish. Will it be next Christmas? Next birthday? Sooner? Possibly. So I’ll take the ruffles and magic wands and impossible fluff of the princesses before Barbie and whatever else will follow.

She is equal parts sweet, sharp and sass. A girl’s girl with endless requests for dresses, but as comfortable in shin guards as she is in ballet shoes. A high climber at the playground and yet happy to show you how a princess sits with her skirt fanned out for a tea party. She is fluent in both Star Wars and Frozen. She wants to learn to bake and garden, and is determined to ride the scooter faster than anyone else.

She tries new things often. Sports or foods or friends or pretty much anything. Unless it’s clothing that’s not pink or purple. Then, forget it. Not. Happening.

In September, she’ll start full-day Kindergarten. I know she’s ready. I’m not sure I am, but I can’t wait to see what the year will bring her.

As long as it goes just a little slower.

Happy birthday to my sweet girl.

 

 

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Sea Air

It has been a strange summer.

Our baby was born just before school ended in June. And so, it has been a hectic few months.

On the one hand, having a summer baby is great. No crazy winter clothing. Easier schedules and less schlepping the newborn around to the older kids’ activities.

On the other hand, this lack of structure for my two older children has been a challenge. Not that they need to be scheduled all the time, but they are feeling the effects of me being trapped under a nursing baby for what feels like 56 hours a day. When we do get out, we hold our breaths to see if the baby is going to scream his head off in the car. {Usually, the answer is yes. None of that car-induced napping here. Perhaps he disapproves of our minivan purchase and is firmly in the SUV camp}.

So it has been hard for the two bigger kids and, although they have been troopers, it does make me feel bad. I think we were all going a little stir crazy, even if in the warm weather of our own backyard.

While logging my 12,000+ hours nursing the baby, I saw everyone’s Facebook pictures posted all summer long — on the beach, traveling near and far, relishing vacation. I sighed when I looked at them. Let me be clear: I adore our new baby. And I know that the newborn stage is time-sucking beyond words, yet temporary. But, still, I did  feel that the summer was happening at an arm’s length. Happening to everyone else. I just wished for a little change of scenery.

Enter our good friends, who graciously invited our Van of Chaos to visit them at their beach house for two nights.

I have to admit, I hesitated. It’s hard to visualize how your two month-old is going to do in a new environment. Our baby is, shall we say, a crier. And I really cringed at the thought of him torturing everyone. But my husband made the executive decision that we were going, crying baby and all. The older two kids needed it. And so did I. It was time to pack up the minivan for a brief escape.

One of the perks of being married to an engineer is his ability to pack a disproportionate amount of our belongings into a vehicle in an efficient, Jenga-like manner. As you probably know, including the baby’s belongings into any trip, no matter how brief, instantly turns any family into the Griswolds. We considered bringing the Pack & Play, like normal traveling people with an infant tend to do, but the reality is that our child won’t sleep in it. Just like he won’t sleep in any of the seven other contraptions around our bedroom specifically designed for that purpose.

Except for the swing. We had to bring the swing.

Again, I hesitated. I’m not talking about a travel swing or any sort of compact item. Noooooo. I’m talking the full-size, tripod-like swing that has five speeds, including what we refer to as the Six Flags setting. It’s sort of obnoxious to rock up to someone’s house with a van full of crap that includes an industrial-sized swing. But these are good friends. I hoped that with some brief yet convincing reassurances that we weren’t, in fact, moving in for good, all would be OK.

And it was OK. More than OK. Our friends are incredibly gracious hosts. You know the kind of people who seem to effortlessly whip up gorgeous meals and serve them on beautiful plates and yet nothing feels forced or stuffy? Where everyone feels right at home? That is this couple.

So my older two kids played in the ocean and built sand castles with our friends’ kids. They ate ice cream by the beach and stayed up late and slept really hard out of sheer exhaustion. They were thrilled.

I didn’t hang out on the beach much with the baby. Because as great as it sounds {“Just put him in a tent or under an umbrella!”}, there’s something about the combination of sweating, sunscreen, sand and breastfeeding that just didn’t do it for me. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself — I absolutely did.

I went for walks near the ocean with the baby. I told him how he would spend many summers at my beloved Jersey Shore {with the appropriate and constant application of SPF 5 million — it’s never too early to start sunscreen discussions}.

I sat up on the deck of the house reading magazines while he napped.

I ate seafood and drank great wine.

I smelled the sea air, which is somehow so transformational and comforting. I had missed the shore.

And we even got some of our own summer getaway photos that I can look at when I see everyone else’s adventures online.

 

Good friends. Good conversation. Good food. Good wine.

Glorious.

And the baby? Hardly a peep out of him, and with his longest stretches of sleep to date. Clearly this can only mean one thing: We need to spend more time by the ocean.

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Secrets of Bacon & Sanity

Do you like to maintain your sanity while having young kids?

Do you seek out ways to avoid having a stroke when getting said kids out the door?

Do you like bacon in the morning?

Yes? Yes? And yes?

Then, please, allow me to share a rare nugget of parental wisdom with you.

Let’s call it: In Defense of Afternoon Kindergarten.

Oh yes — deep, deep thoughts over here.  Try to stay with me.

I remember it well. The madness, last Spring, over who could get a slot in the public morning Kindergarten. Or, said another way, how not to get stuck in the afternoon class.

First, I’ll state the semi-obvious and say that Kindergarten in our town is not full-day. It’s just a half-day program. And, by “half-day,” I mean shorter than pre-school. Pretty much, it’s enough time to get groceries and curse out the Board of Education while rushing to get to pick-up as your frozen items thaw in the car.  I like to file it under Absurd Things That I Can’t Control But Still Piss Me Off.

For logistical reasons I won’t bore you with, we needed PM Kindergarten.  I went so far as to request it, which was met by some hybrid of utter disbelief, the sound of crickets, distinct euphoria and borderline-gift-giving by the Kindergarten office. It was like they’d seen an alien: “You, want to, uh, request PM Kindergarten? Well, I think we can accommodate you. And love you forever.”

{That last part might have been in my head. I’m not sure.}

People around town would look at me with pity.  They would wince with sympathy.  “Oh, you got PM?  Oh, I’m sorry.  What are you going to do?”

I’d explain that we requested it.  Then they would pretty much blink audibly, walk away and write me off as clinically insane.

So, look, I know I’m only three weeks in here, but I think I’m kind of in love with afternoon school (except for the mind-numbing drop-off logistics).  I believe I’ve happened upon one of motherhood’s best kept secrets.  It’s like winning a small part of the Sanity Lottery.

Let me break it down for you.

  • My kids are best behaved in the morning.  They’re rested.  They’re fed.  They haven’t had time to build up any irrational rage toward me or each other yet.  People, why give that behavior to the teachers when I can keep it all to myself?
  • There’s something to be said for not giving oneself the early stages of a stroke trying to get the kids out the door in the morning.  We’re not sleeping in over here, but pajamas stay on for a nice long while.
  • I have time to make bacon.  Need I say more?
  • PM school breaks up the day pretty nicely.  Like I mentioned, the kids are relatively well-behaved in the morning.  So just when they are approaching their breaking point — Oh, look, it’s time for school!  They come back at 3:30 and we’re in the home stretch for the day.  With morning school, everyone is home by noon.  For the day.  That leaves something like 319 hours before bedtime.
  • Did I mention the bacon?

Let me sum that up for  you:  Good behavior.  Breaking up the day.  Pajamas.  Bacon.  No stroke symptoms.

I may live to eat these words as the school year goes on, but for now I can’t — because my mouth is full of bacon.

Yes, there are drawbacks, like being the social pariah in town.  Who wants to meet me for coffee at 1pm?  Nobody, because their kids all just got home from their morning programs and they are trying to keep them busy for the 319 hours leading up to bedtime.

That’s OK.  I’m very comfortable in my pajamas right now.

 

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Celebration & World Domination

 

 

It’s birthday party time around here.

Don’t worry — there are no kids’ birthday cake disasters in the works.  And I’m not still attempting to extend my 40th {well, not much}.

Nope.  This birthday belongs to the blog.

That’s right, folks — The Fordeville Diaries meets The Terrible Twos.  I’ve somehow learned to crawl and walk over the last two years in Blog Land — so now I guess it’s time for unpredictable public tantrums.  Let the fun begin.

This is my 208th post on this site — 80 of which were written in the last year.  I won’t bore you with everything that I covered in the last 12 months, but here’s the Reader’s Digest recap:

  • We unknowingly undertook the longest basement renovation in modern American history — pending final ruling from the people at The Guinness Book.
  • I drank wine.
  • I dreaded turning 40.
  • I embraced turning 40.  This entailed taking my deep denial on a series of road trips, both domestic and international.
  • I almost kicked our General Contractor in the kneecaps somewhere around the eight month mark of the basement project.
  • I drank wine.
  • I had an apocalyptic swarm of bees in my yard, which resembled a National Geographic episode and a scene from Candyman. Which led to self-imposed house arrest and, ultimately, more wine.
  • I began to deny the very existence of our basement.  Except that I was dragging dirty clothes to the laundromat for six months.
  • I kept the 40th birthday party going.
  • I harbored an unhealthy amount of rage toward my basement.*

{*Note: The final, final approved basement inspection JUST OCCURRED LAST WEEK.  So if your wager on the completion timeframe of our “5-week” project was 54 weeks — you win!  What you’ve won exactly is still TBD, but I have a ton of items in our storage pod you can choose from.}

 

Now that you’re up to speed on the riveting excitement of my life, I’ll tell you a secret —  in the spirit of the blog’s birthday:  I never get tired of writing here.

If I had more spare hours in the day, I would spend many of them doing exactly this.  The blog is one of my favorite things in the world.  And every time, with every post, I’m so thrilled — and sort of surprised, and certainly lucky — that someone will read it.  And even comment.  And then — sometimes — come back to read more.

Some posts are better than others.  And it’s always fascinating to see which ones generate more comments and traffic {all you closet 50 Shades fans, I’m looking at you.}

These are my favorites from this past year.  Because a birthday is a good time to look back.

How to Lose Your Will to Live at the DMV

The Days Are Long

Out of the Office

Lawyering Up

Say It With Tape

I Might Be Scared of These Families

Hibachi PTSD

The Problem With House Hunters

 

A birthday is also a good time to look ahead.  And though the terrible twos can be tough, I’m confident we can get through them together.  With wine, of course.  And coffee.  And some unconventional parenting.

If you want to celebrate this birthday with me, I’d love it.

What’s that?  You want to bring a gift to the party?

Oh no, I couldn’t possibly accept a gift.  I don’t really need anyth–

Wait a minute.

I know what I really want.  And you can help me get it.

 

***************

FORDEVILLE WORLD DOMINATION!

***************

 

I’m kidding.

Mostly.

What I mean is this:  I love to write this stuff, but I’m bad at promoting it.  Really bad.  There are bloggers who excel at catchy, attention-grabbing titles and witty tweets to spread the word and attract more readers.  I’m more like, “Uh, hey, if you guys have time and aren’t totally busy, maybe you could read this.  I hope you think it’s a little funny.  OKthanksbye.”  

I was never a marketer by trade.

So, remember those Faberge Shampoo commercials from the 80s?  “And then she told two friends, and she told two friends.  And so on.  And so on…”  {If your answer is “Oh those were made before I was born,” just keep that to yourself, ok?}

That Faberge Effect is the best gift you could give me.  If you like what you see around here — please pass it along to someone else who might enjoy it too.  Because if my chronic mis-steps in parenting and, well — life in general — can help make one person feel less crazy, more normal and like Mother of the Year — then my writing is not in vain.

Not a fan of the Faberge model?  How about this instead:  If you’re not already following along on Facebook, please do.  Because you get exclusive bonus features* over there beyond my blog posts.  If I were a real blogger, I’d have some birthday giveaways or contests or something for all of you.  The truth is, I’m just not that organized.  But I suspect you already knew that.

{*Bonus features = mainly snarky photos about my kids or life in suburbia.}

But in all seriousness — thanks so, so much for your readership, your comments and your support.  And your wine suggestions.  You guys are fabulous.

So, if you’ll have me for another year, I’ve got a lot more up my sleeve.  I can’t reveal everything, but I’m told that good marketers use teasers.

  • Will we renovate the kitchen next?  Or maybe tear down the whole house?  And who will live to tell?
  • How will Señor and I resolve our legal battle around the annual Halloween costume debacle?
  • In which states will my kids vomit this year on road trips?
  • And — last but not least — how many people will I accidentally poison through the new couples’ dinner club I’ve joined?

You’re all on the edge of your seats, aren’t you?  I can feel it.

Year Three awaits.  After I have some celebratory cake and wine.  Join me, won’t you?

 

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Pod Living

Look what we had delivered last week.

The last time I saw this storage pod was back in November 2010 — as we prepared to shred the basement beyond the limits of a tolerable home renovation period. {“Whatever happened to that basement reno that you wouldn’t shut up about,” you ask?  The big reveal is coming soon.}

Anyway, the storage pod — it’s baaaack.  And it was a little like a game show:  Guess What’s in the Pod!  Or Fordeville:  The Early Years.  OK, maybe more like Hoarders: Storage Pod Edition.

Well, I’m knee-deep in sorting through its contents.  And — lucky you! — you’ll get to see some of the gems that I am not too ashamed to share.  Soon.  Because, when you grow up in New Jersey in the 80s…well, let’s just say that the photos and artifacts are highly entertaining. At my expense, of course.

But in the meantime, some deep thoughts.  Namely, it struck me that the storage pod is a viable alternative for a first apartment.  Yes, really.

If you recall, a few months back, I was on a similar tear.  I shared my total resentment of observations about the Pottery Barn Kids Cottage Loft Bed being both larger and nicer than my first Manhattan apartment.  It’s obvious that the PBK execs followed my every word, latched onto my ideas, and immediately called an Emergency Bed Sales Strategy Meeting to keep the trend going.  Because in the last PBK edition, I noticed that the urban male dweller was not to be overlooked.  Behold, fine hipster twenty somethings with low income and steep city rental tabs:  The PBK Eli Fort Bed.

{Image: Pottery Barn Kids Catalog}

 

Now you don’t have to do the Walk of Shame from  your hipster girlfriend’s PBK Cottage Loft Bed.  You’re welcome.

“This magical retreat for your child evokes the spirit and appeal of an outdoor tree fort. The twin-sized bed sits above an open play area to double the space in the room. It’s built of rustic-finished wood, with open windows for a lookout and a sturdy ladder for access.”

Ah, yes, like its cousin the Cottage Loft Bed, this is also better appointed and larger than my first actual Manhattan residence.  Move thee to thy nearest young nephew’s house.  Stat.

Or…

Get yourself a storage pod.  And move in.

Just hear me out.  Especially if you’re in the Marketing department of 1-800-PACK-RAT.  Get your Emergency Bed Sales Strategy Sales Team in place.  Because I have a whole new revenue stream for you:  The Urban Residential Pod.

Here’s the interior of our storage pod.  It is essentially the same size as my studio apartment in Manhattan, circa 2002.  Truly.  How interesting (aka sad) that both seem to fit the same amount of furniture.  Sadder still, they both seem to have the same view of a wall and minuscule exposure to natural light.

But here’s the rub.

  • The pod is stored in a climate controlled facility.  Whereas in the Manhattan starter apartment, you are opening your windows during a blizzard to bring the temperature down to a breezy 81 degrees.  And then, come summertime, you are taking your life in your hands trying to precariously mount an ancient AC unit in a crumbling old window frame, while hanging from your waist four stories over a busy city street.
  • The pod and my apartment seem to have had a similar neutral color palate. 
  • The pod might have been cleaner.  And more updated.
  • And, the pod is cheaper.  Way cheaper.  We were paying around $90/month for the pod.  And my apartment?  Well, in the year 2000, I was SUPER LUCKY  to have found this rent-stabilized place for a total steal of around $1300/month.

Now, there are some drawbacks with the pod.  Top of mind, of course, there is the issue of some basic utilities.  Don’t panic — I’m not referring to WiFi — because you can totally pick up the storage office signal from  your pod.  I meant the other utilities.  Like plumbing.  And possibly electricity.  But I’m totally confident that PBK will soon have a pint-sized yet high-end solution for you.  Unless the newly established Urban Residential Pod sales team at 1-800-PACK-RAT beats them to market with a utilities upgrade package.  It’s going to be a fierce race to the hipster consumer’s wallet.

Then there’s the socialization aspect.  I mean, it’s probably hard to bring a date home with you to the pod.  As clean and well decorated as you may keep your pod, it’s probably going to be, at a minimum, a little awkward.  The truth is that any woman is going to get a very Silence of the Lambs vibe from this situation.  It’s also tough to keep one eye on the clock all the time while out with friends, making sure you don’t get home after the storage facility closes for the night.

So there’s that.

But these are smallish trade-offs for a clean, secure, spacious and totally affordable urban living space.

Or maybe I’ve just gone completely delirious in my attempt to sort through all of these boxes.

 

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