I received an email titled “Our Fix-It Diaries” and thought: YES. Because it’s been the theme for the past few weeks. First, shoes to the cobbler to sew up and clean up. I don’t know how I manage it but I always pick the most pessimistic cobblers. “This is just a do-our-best and see what comes of it job.” “No, I wouldn’t count on that one coming out matching.” “I’ll fix it but it won’t last forever.”
Packing away things. Pulling old friendly things out. Remembering how lovely it is to wear a warm sweater with jeans and no coat. The coat stage is coming, but the-just-sweater stage always reminds me of how you actually see sweaters advertised. You get to be warm and not look all buttoned-in. Whistling to myself the passing wish that I had a brand new winter coat and a brand new winter hat. What do we think is the best winter hat trend this year? I would say: mono-color with furry pompom on top. Yup. Forgive me if I’m officially 12 months behind trends. It takes me awhile to warm up to them. haha.
There was a lull in the land where I forgot what I wanted to do during nap time besides stay utterly and absolutely silent. It’s ironic that I can’t find the words to describe how much chatter fills my day except to say that sometimes people stand near me for minute or two at a street corners, waiting for the light to change, and then turn to me and ask, “is it always like this?” Yes sir, it is always like this.
I just sat here for three minutes trying to come up with a way to describe Lux’s vocal companionship right now… The image that comes to mind is this tank at the aquarium filled with sting rays that we visited last week. The sting rays have had their stinging-rays trimmed (“Just like your fingernails,” the guide crowed to us), and so denuded, circle the tank like a rapidly flowing tributary of soggy pancakes, bobbing up every ten seconds or so, to brush against your hand. If you move your hand too much they sense the vibration and slink off course ever-so-slightly, and then eagerly swim on, only to circle back a minute later. That’s the best visual my weak brain can muster of my three year old’s conversation in my life right now.
Photos from picking zinnias and finding pumpkins at Parlee Farms two weeks ago. It was raining; it was glorious. Thank goodness for things like child-backpacks. I’m not exaggerating when I say this situation would have been a disaster if Joan had been wandering on her own in the mud. If you go, stop at Dream Diner on your way home.
I read this article in the Globe the other day, written seemingly on a lark, by a woman who brought her two little boys back the South End (Boston’s Brooklyn, replete with brownstones tugged from the hands of artists who were there first) for a weekend, “to see what it was like living in the city.”
It annoyed me that it was implied that living in the city for a weekend was in any way close to actually living in the city. Like if I went to Spain for a weekend, I could then write about how crazy it is to have kids in Spain.
But to my surprise, even in that short amount of time, she quickly experienced and noted the tough stuff about city life with young children. By the end of it, I didn’t feel that it was a romantic article. In fact, it was the good stuff about city life that didn’t get fair play.
Tough stuff: 1/ You are conscious of your close neighbors whenever your children behave like children, and are noisy—crying, stomping, jumping, dancing. You worry that they hate the noise and aren’t complaining out of cringing kindness. 2/ You experience meltdowns in public places regularly because you started the two mile walk back home just a little bit too close to nap time. 3/ You spend less time dwelling at home because home is actually pretty small. 4/ If you use your car, you often can’t find parking close to your apartment, and therefore add 10-15 minutes of walking to your trip home.
Anything written about this, at my stage of life, must be caveated by the fact that having young children in the city is deemed the toughest. Asking your three-year-old to walk six blocks at the end of the day because you couldn’t find parking and didn’t bring your stroller on the car-adventure, yes, that’s tough. Living on the fifth floor and having the elevator break for most of the summer, yes, it slows you down on your way in and out, particularly when the one-year-old likes to climb stairs on her own. Hopping on the T is complicated by the presence of a stroller and a snack-loaded bag, no matter how small the bag and how slim the stroller. Rest assured the T car will be dead silent when one of yours throws a screaming tantrum, as well. The fact that your children can never wander outside on their own, with you simply watching from the window is tough and feels restraining, even unfair (to them) at times.
Having a nine year old, on the other hand, who is allowed to run to the corner market to pick up milk, who can walk side-by-side with you on the way to class before you go to work, who can name five friends who live within walking distance, and knows which train line to take the the museum, that is nice.
So I can see the future and the future is promising.
But back to the present: here are just a few things I like, limited to four lest I drone on.
1/ Every walk turns into an ad hoc lecture and discussion as we encounter new signs, businesses, cars, people, or destinations. Almost as if the city coaches me into talking to and engaging with my child. It’s probably just Boston traffic talking, but I never have these type of discussions when we’re in the car.
2/ I get excited about visiting new places. New coffee shops, bakeries, markets, parks, these things get me out of the house. They are probably the primary reason I live in the city at all. Your children have a calibrated barometer on your mood and know very well the things that please you. It makes me happy to know that Lux knows I’m excited about what we are doing, and that she gets excited too.
3/ You learn that the “tough stuff” is actually not that bad. It doesn’t matter how many people see your child freak out. It’s not really that big of a deal if you go out to eat and it goes terribly. It’s actually pretty fun to get stuck on a long walk in the rain, even if the baby does cry the whole way. In the end, you always end up home, and you always begin again the next day.
4/ Hyper-awareness of strangers. I like that the girls see so many strangers every day, they get very good and clear about whether they want to interact with them. If they aren’t feeling it, it’s obvious (here I’m remembering Lux dropping everything and sprinting towards me when she didn’t like an older lady that had started talking to her) and I don’t have to worry about them wandering into something. Conversely, I like that no one is really surprising to them. They see people from all over the world smiling at them every day (even if they choose not to smile back!).
What do you like about where you live? What’s tough? I’d love to hear.
I get a kick out of the girls sharing a room. We moved Joan into Lux’s room when she was 8 months old, I wrote a little bit about that here. Even when they are keeping each other up at night, even when one of them wakes the other up pre-maturely in the morning. Sometimes the night ends with both of them grousing in their beds, egging each other on, louder and louder. I like it. Remember in grade school, what was the great uniting power ? A common enemy. Nothing to build sisterhood among two humans of disparate age and interest like grousing about the same thing.
There’s power waiting to be taken in having a small space. Anyone can do it. You begin to take joy in every bag of things you decide to give away or throw away. The good stuff shines through. The girls have a small cabinet of additional toys, but their chief choice items, the ones they point at and ask for, are on this shelf. Having this stuff be out of their reach is as un-Montessori as you can get. Maria would shiver at the sight. I wish it wasn’t the case, but I also find that the act of requesting something causes them to value it a little bit more.
Note above my system for the girls’ clothes, on the top shelves. It’s one tub to every six months, with an extra tub for shoes and winter gear. Be sure to label them, and give yourself a month or two after they grow out of things before you pack them away. The time helps you truly evaluate the stuff and what kind of shape it is in.
Of the things on the wall, the maps get the most attention. Though when Lux was younger, she adored that Rifle Paper Co. alphabet poster (I just checked to see if it is still available, it’s not, but my goodness does Anna Bond have some good ones these days!). My older brother, who works in South Sudan, visited recently and pointed out that we need a map of Africa. He’s right! Both of our current maps came from Joe hounding etsy for vintage school room maps (they are not cheap. they are so worth it.) The New Yorker cover is a recent resurrection of a Saul Steinberg drawing combining several of Lux’s favorite things: skeletons, ballerinas, and mice. We are happy to change things out as the girls have new interests. Joe often places nice wrapping paper behind a print as an easy and cheap mat job, and we frequently use Ikea frames.
I’m happy to have these photos to document this tiny phase in my family’s life! I’m sure the place will transform in the next year, perhaps even in the next six months. The room I shared with my sister as a kid is so etched into my visual memory, I treasure those images. I want to remember Lux looking out her window for the moon each night, I want to remember finding Joan with a pile of toys in her crib in the morning, donated by her benevolent sister, I want to remember Lux telling me that bunny lives in Mexico and her hunting for all the “x” letters on the map, I want to remember their matching cribs and orange-striped sheets and how content they were with them.
The other day I had leftover prosecco in the fridge. Is there anything worse? When seen at the crack of dawn, light streaming into your refrigerator as you hunt for the milk, you know it’s already ruined. I had cheerfully popped the bottle the night before for a friend, we didn’t finish it before she left, and I certainly wasn’t going to donate a morning’s headache just for the sake of finishing it. Had it been good champagne, yes, certainly, but just-fine prosecco? No thank you.
So I made this champagne jelly, an idea first whispered in my ear by Ottolenghi. His recipe is for a full bottle, but, when adjusted, it’s perfect for using up the last cup of so if you have some in the fridge. You boil most of the alcohol with some saffron ( for color), but then add a little in at the end for flavor. So yes, if you share it with children they taste real alcohol. Good on them.
It has a strong champagne flavor, looks pretty in flutes, and would do well with some sweetened whipped cream on top.
Oh, and it wasn’t a hit at all…:
Champagne Jelly by Ottolenghi
+ 1 cup leftover prosecco/cava/champagne
+ saffron threads
+ 1/4 cup water
+ 1 gelatin envelope
Pour about half of however much leftover champagne you have into a pan. I poured in half a cup, and added a quarter cup of water. Bring that to a boil with few saffron threads and then removed from heat. Strain out the threads. Follow the instructions on your gelatin packet–mine advised sprinkling gelatin over the remaining champagne, pouring the hot liquid on top of that, and then stirring for about five minutes. Mine filled three flutes.
An update on how it’s going, since I began hiring a babysitter for three hours a week. It sounds so minor as I type that. Seriously, three. hours. But as you might have read, it was a process to even get there. I found (using sitter city), hired, and had a great girl for about six weeks, and then she had to quit for another job with more hours. As one often does. However she found a replacement for herself, one who is just as sweet natured and kind and they transitioned so smoothly that we barely hiccuped. Both of them are former music majors, devoted musicians, and they have the sweetest spirits.
After I remind Lux on Tuesday mornings about what’s coming up, she looks forward to the afternoon with the babysitter and is always pleased when she arrives. Joan is never pleased but supposedly she does not cry for longer than five minutes, though she absolutely screams when I leave. That would have ended the whole deal with the first child, but with the second there is a sense that all with be well. Plus there is that glow of reminisce and affection with which the three of us greet each other when I return.
Very quickly I realized it was just as some of you predicted to me: the babysitter formed her own relationship with the girls. Certainly she is polite to me, but it’s clear she is here to see the girls. I am the facilitator of the relationship, but part of it is about me not being there. And that’s nice.
It did take me a few times to learn that I should not do morning trips with the girls on the day that we have the sitter. A couple of times we arrived home at the same time the sitter arrived. You can imagine—frazzled mom dashes out the door to get her hours, goodbye to abruptly-abandoned children just taking off their shoes. Not good. Far better to have a relaxed morning at home, and then Joan still deep in her nap when Hannah arrives, and Lux coming out of quiet time to have one-on-one attention with this young lady.
The babysitters have proved to me that they can totally handle getting the girls outside for trips to the park (this, even when our elevator was broken for all of August and we live on the 5th floor). And this, even despite the fact that I didn’t thoroughly brief her on the stroller’s peculiar buttons and it collapsed on her when she was simply trying to extend the handlebar. Nice one, Rachael.
And for me! It’s been really, really nice. I have a ban on doing errands during that time. I go straight to a little private library up the street from us (the athenaeum for you locals, the best annual membership you’ll ever do) which has one floor of dead silence and big sunny windows. Actually, I first go directly to a coffee shop and order something, anything really, to boot up my writing spirits, and then I go to the library. I tip-tap furiously in the silent room for two hours (given walking time back and forth, it’s about that) and then head home. I arrive at 5pm, having hopefully prepped dinner in some way earlier in the day, and settle on the floor with the girls, relaxed and reminded how cuddly and curious they are. The day is almost over and we can enjoy the fact that Joe is to arrive in just an hour and half or so.
I also experimented with early morning care this summer. I signed Lux up for two weeks of “summer camp” which began at 8:30am and let out around noon. It was not that relaxing. Getting her dressed and out the door was such a stress on my morning. Joan still took a morning nap at that point, so I did get two uninterrupted hours, in addition to quiet time later that day. But, as those of you who do this regularly know, they are still on your mind that entire time (I mean, obviously right? Should have seen that coming). Did I put enough sunscreen on? Did she get enough sleep last night? Were those shoes comfortable? Did that girl next to her have a hacking cough? And on and on. One time I called in to say Lux wasn’t up to coming in that day and was asked “Oh does she have hand foot and mouth?” Um no, is that going around? “Yes.” Oh great.
Then I would get her home, and she’s worn out from all the socialization, the going-with-the-flowing that one does when traveling in groups, and she was totally tuckered. Again, another obvious thing, but not something I had factored into the rest of our day. It was like she just got home from work and didn’t know how to decompress. Out of nowhere she would say stuff like “I don’t like her” about Joan, something she had never said in her life. Or like, start kicking her. I felt out of control with the forces that were influencing her. I was also surprised to find that the things she was doing at school were the same as at home: play with toys and books, have a snack, play outside, have lunch, make a craft, get glitter glue everywhere. It’s not rocket science after all. I guess I was caught off guard by that realization but I was also buoyed by it: we do those things too! This is a regular preschool right here, albeit a disorganized and unreliable one that is fresh out of unbroken crayons.
MY GOODNESS I am not typing all this out to make those of you who have something that is working for you begin to doubt it. Please NO. Just a follow up to that drama and a reflection for myself, the grass is greener over at that preschool, they are still the loves of your life and worm their way into every spare tunnel in your head no matter where they are physically, and so on.
To sum: working with a limited budget, I learned that having a sitter who could come to my house and play with both girls and develop a relationship with them together, and come over even when they were sick, is the best fit for my situation. And I learned that three hours a week, though tiny, has a quite an effect.
to commenters: I apologize that comments were broken for a couple weeks! I did SEE your comments, but they did not appear here. All is well again and we are back up and running with Disqus. Thanks for your patience.
Pipsticks, a subscription for sticker lovers, was begun by a graphic designer who hunted for great stickers for her children and fell down her very own rabbit hole of an idea. She started a company sourcing cool stickers, packing them up, and sending out them to the delight of children everywhere.
I took an instant liking to this little project, besides the mom-invented part which is super, because the packaging is so cheerful and fun.
Pipsticks sent me two free months of stickers to see if I liked the service, posting about them was my own decision. Hooray.
My friends, it was a wonderful summer in the city. It’s not just my projection: weatherfolks back me up to say that it was one of the most pleasant summers in a long time. With no pool membership to our name, I didn’t regret one day that hovered around 70 with a breeze. Loved each and every one.
There was still a heatwave the week of the girls’ birthdays, that second week of July. It appears to be an annual furnace week in Boston, no matter what the year. Forged in the fire of hot bricks and slate roofs, these girls.
I won’t tell you the mornings were quiet with the sound of birds chirping and rainbows percolating, no. Summer is high construction season in our neighborhood, these old stately homes being updated to all manner of modernity. I see the friendly contractors, bashful about their dust and clamoring, more than I see my own neighbors. Mornings began abruptly at 8am with the bang of jackhammers and the slam of dump trucks. And planes flying overhead whenever Logan needed to re-route, determined by an algorithm I don’t understand. But one day I will corner the right person on an airplane and she can explain it to me.
(note there I said SHE can explain it to me. As a mom of girls, I’m really working on my projected personal pronouns. All our stuffed animals have turned out to be male and I’m sick of it.)
Every now and then we’d peek out at a huge moon, or hear fireworks in the distance, or find the pink sunset sky too irresistible, and climb up to the roof to watch. From there we can see one of our friend’s patios. They have a huge framed rooftop patio, chock-a-block with boxes of plants. My friend says it took a long time for them to have a baby, a long time to eventually find a surrogate mother to carry their baby, and while she waited and waited for something to care for, she nourished these plants. Now their little boy has a babysitter while she is at work, and the babysitter is very good at watering the plants. All this to say that everything worked out in the end, and they ended up with a rooftop full of greenery to remember it all.
Once, we went over to this lush rooftop for dinner outside, with three other young children besides our own. All five children fought almost constantly, loud screaming wrestling battles with shoves and pulled hair. But the adults serenely drank glass after glass of wine, didn’t hover or apologize, did shifts to eat all of their dinner, and shrugged over the barbaric toddlers from the Empire of Shelfishdom. It was nice.
So many days ended with cool nights. All six of our windows on the left side of the apartment wide open, bedroom doors propped open, and wind blowing through. I am a certified insomniac of the mothering variety. Blame it on the wine, blame it on the midnight midsleep screech of Joan, owl-like and over even as I wake. I am startled and alert at odd hours. But I find the temperature has dropped even a few more glorious degrees and the wind is gusting from one side of the apartment out the other. Sometimes our pinned-up art has blown off the walls and onto the floor in the gusts. It’s dark but I can see everything by the lights of the city and I walk through quietly to poke around for a minute.
Plenty of stops for ice cream with sprinkles. Plenty of extra iced coffees when the day turned long. Still, flies-buzzing grouchy mornings followed by splashy baths in the tub to rinse hot-headed babes. Lux likes the water cold cold cold and I admire that.
I didn’t really expect Joan to start riding the carousel this summer. I don’t think we put Lux on it so young. Maybe we did? Without fail, Joan’s glee would attract the attention of bystanders, who would nonetheless look suspicious when I had to pin her screaming flailing child-tortured body to me after the ride ended. It was always worth it for that three minutes of joy.
We didn’t visit any museums and didn’t miss them. October can have them. Their long tiled hallways will seem to be fresh all-new territory. However the library received as many visits as ever. Lux is at this glorious, perfect moment where you can show her “the shelf about skeletons” and she’ll pull down every book and look through each one. Just as she hit this moment, Joan turned menace, sweet noisy menace, taking plastic animals from the children’s section and stuffing them into fiction shelves in the adult section, dumping whole carousels of books in the young adult sci-fi, screaming when I pull her away from the stacks of DVDs.
This summer we saw our first magician. He was billed as a pirate show on the flyer, but he showed up at our playground as a magician. Oh was I? He said to me. Well that’s my mistake. This show is more appropriate for this age group anyway. He warmed up slowly, with too many “this is how your parents look” jokes for two-year-olds who have young, hip parents. But anyway Lux was enthralled and after a few faux tricks that ended in kiddo titters, eventually he pulled out plastic flowers and a real live rabbit. They learned abracadabra and bippity boppity boo and chanted it back to him after every trick.
I can’t resist posting some of the photos from when the Boston Ballet recreated a photo from the 1970s. Certainly it was a publicity vie for their upcoming Swan Lake, but I will gladly take any and all marketing of this type! They stripped one boat of the benches and had one of the captains (the swan boats are pedaled, by foot, around the pond) slowly loop the pond twice. There were many people intentionally there to see it, but there were just as many who wandered and stopped in their tracks. Thankfully for the short people among us, it was not crowded at all.
In a rare moment of veteran-savvy-mom, I had no expectations, told Lux almost nothing about it ahead of time, and got there a few minutes early.
The white tutus against the green drapey trees, the quiet motor-less touring of the boat, the lack of signs, chitchat, and branding and the fact that it was free and open for all–MAGICAL.
What to say about feeding your young before they can masticate for themselves with chomp and gusto? What’s on the line for you, after all? The grace with which you approach meal times. The economy you manage in your pantry. The pleasure you might once have taken in a tidy kitchen. The belief you like to hold that your children are growing well, taking part, and developing a food fervor that will someday match your own.
Joan is not buying the whole milk theory. I always forget this is what hovers behind weaning–first wean, then find out they want you to serve what feels like gallons of whole milk to supplement the calories. Sniff sniff what’s this? says the baby. Cow’s milk? No thank you.
Lux is digging the baby oatmeal even more than Joan. So I find myself offering vitamin-enriched-gruel at all hours of the day, some kind of grey-hued comfort food. She’s even started asking that I not “mix it up.” So she can see “all the parts.” Thus I give her a bowl of the parts, parts being: powder, gruel, watery gruel. It’s like–would you like oatmeal with bananas, heavy cream and a dash of maple syrup, or watery gruel? Watery gruel please! Thank you.
In moments of desperation with a grouchy baby I pull out thick plastic bags of frozen blueberries or peas. I put these frozen pebbles in front of her and she grasps at them eagerly, munching through them and smearing bright blue on the table, the chair, her pants, my hair, and under our nails.
We go out for texmex. Joan sucks salt off the chips and then drops them to the floor, observing their fall from on high, like a benevolent god watching the progress of Spring across the earth. I dip into the bowl of guacamole and scoop spoonful after spoonful into her mouth. Joe taps his finger on a straw and traps droplets of Lux’s lemonade, then releases them in her mouth to buy us leisure time. This second child gets whatever she wants really.
I review my standbys almost daily, mulling in front of the refrigerator: lumps of sticky rice, spoonfuls of greek yogurt, shreds of steak, nubby piles of scrambled eggs, whole avocados, brocolli roasted till soft, thick peach slices, pink flecked strawberry puffs, mushy sweet potato bits, ground up meaty spaghetti sauce. I think I’ve got the options nailed this time around, but it’s the elemental stuff that’s much harder for me now: sit down with them. wait for them to open their mouths. if they don’t like something, don’t offer it again for awhile. respect your fellow diner. look at them as you feed them.
Joe invented a handy trick that always makes me think of a mama bird: take an apple, bite off a big chunk. Pluck the piece from your mouth and hand to any interested child in the vicinity, which is always both of them. Repeat at three minute intervals.
We break a raspberry popsicle into a bowl and let Joan pluck out the pieces. Lux and I made them, but I don’t remember how much sugar we put in. I briefly pretend to divide the tablespoon per ounce amount, like the back of a cereal box. Joan eats the whole thing with a shocked look on her face. Not from the sugar, I’m certain, but from the sensation of plinking tart, hot pink ice onto her tongue.
Brave are we warriors who strive forward into the smears, splats, whacks, and oacks (that last one is for all you Make Way for Ducklings readers).
Just for reference, I wrote the rather carefree Pintos with Lux when Lux was fourteen months old. She didn’t seem interested in food for a long time, so I didn’t bother with it until she was twelve months, much to the consternation of her pediatrician. Turned out fine and was much easier than early-introduction, in hindsight.
Joe and I slipped out for a date on Friday night to Inman Square in Cambridge. That place is just full of good restaurants, but I rarely make it over there because it’s an awkwardly long walk from the T. Ever-so fortuitously, Blacklane offered us the chance to try a ride with one of their chauffeur cars. (Blacklane is an international company that offers black car service in Boston and all over the world.) I scheduled it several days before, alongside our sleep sitter, so all we had to do walk outside when they texted me that the driver had arrived, and be whisked away in a rather glamorous ride. What a treat! We met first at City Girl Cafe, which was the coziest. A place to order a big bowl of freshly made pasta and share a bottle of wine. I particularly loved that they only had three bottles of red wine on the menu. No endless deliberation needed and you knew each one was going to be delicious.
I also noticed several diners eating alone at City Girl, which to me is a sign of the reassuring and relaxed hospitality of the place.
Then we walked down to Puritan & Co. The ladies of our foursome split a berry tart with vanilla flecked whipped cream and the men ordered matching whiskey cocktails (unplanned, supposedly). Because of the spacing of the tables you could tell that even when busy, the restaurant would allow for conversation and elbow room, two things that are getting harder to come by at newer spots in Boston.
I am rescheduling all our play date plans this week because it’s supposed to be HOT. One last foray into the sweaty 80s, and just before all the city pools close. Lucky us.