Monday, July 27, 2009

Dreams and Houses and Dream Houses

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about where are we going to raise the girls. Yes, right now we are raising them just fine in NYC, and they enjoy the city life as much as two-year-olds can (playgrounds; Central Park Zoo; long walks). There are glitches here and there, but the experience is mostly positive, diverse, electric. We get cramped sometimes and get a little stir crazy on rainy days and oh how I am dreading the winter this year, but this is mitigated by the fact that on the weekends, we stretch out on Long Island, where they get to experience life as Country Children, running in the backyard and riding ride-on toys and watching birds and sliding down the basement doors, their makeshift slide. (Yes, they have a real slide, but they like the basement doors better). However, this Best of Both Worlds life has an expiration date, and that date is rapidly approaching.

The question is: Stay in the city or move out to the suburbs. And it is a really difficult decision to make.

There are many reasons to stay in the city: Nicole’s office is a five-minute walk from our apartment, which whittles her commute to a whopping ten minutes a day, total, and allows her to spend time with the girls in the morning and after work and occasionally have lunch with us, if her schedule permits. And, it is New York City, a place I love and have called home for the past twenty years, where I feel most at home in the world. But City Childhood is very different here and the schools are not so great. And private school runs about 30K a year per child, which equals about 720K on education BEFORE college.

And then there are many reasons to leave. The burbs have much better schools, more green grass, and if we lived on Long Island we would be significantly closer to friends and some family. That is huge. And I think it is fair to admit that we no longer take advantage of what the city has to offer. In twenty years, I have racked up my fair share of museum trips and Broadway shows and evenings at the Met and other quintessential NYC things. But these days, not so much. I beat the same paths to playgrounds, zoos and food stores, with the City That Never Sleeps at my fingertips, but just slightly out of my grasp.

What would make moving to the suburbs easier and the transition smoother, more palatable, would be finding our Dream House. Who doesn’t dream of a Dream House?

Making our lives even more complex, I want just ONE move to the Dream House that we will spend the rest of our lives living in. I am not the type that likes to move a lot. I know, I know. Boring to some, but safe and comfortable and right for me. So that means there is a lot of pressure on finding a house that we feel like we can live in for a very long time..

But this is not an easy task by any stretch. Give me, oh, ten million lottery dollars that I MUST spend on a home and I am all over the place. I could buy a brownstone in the Village or a modern, sleek apartment high in the sky or a shingled Colonial on three acres or a saltbox in the New England woods or an oceanfront bungalow with big windows and a natural waves-crashing-on-shore sound machine. My tastes are ridiculously diverse, to say the least. I am shabby chic and modern minimalist with ocean cottage sensibilities, all wrapped in one Real Estate Agent’s Nightmare package. My dream house has a checklist, which includes things such things as a rocking chair porch, built-in bookshelves, a fireplace, hydrangeas and a big, sunny kitchen with white marble countertops and one of those faucets over the stove for filling up pots because why lug it to and fro the sink, if you don’t have to? I have books filled with pages I have ripped out of magazines, so many ideas and inspirations. I challenge anyone to find one house, with my complete list of desires, in our budget. I dare say it is not possible.

But what I am wondering now is, is there REALLY a perfect dream house? Are we ever going to find it? Even if we had ten million lottery dollars to spend? And I wonder, does anyone ever really get their dream house? Because if they did, it wouldn’t really be a dream home, would it? It would be reality, and no one ever seems to be completely happy with that.

We humans are conditioned to never be happy with what we have, so no matter what we have, we will want more or better or different, right? There is always a better kitchen or a bigger yard or a sunnier living room. Obviously it would be hard to find one home with everything, but I wonder, is it time to shelve the Dream House Dream? I have watched friends house hunt and even with budgets up to three million dollars, no one is completely, utterly “I’m in my dream house!” happy. I have seen families miserable in 10,000 square feet and families deliriously happy in 400 square feet.

The lesson here? I could spend my entire life looking for my Dream Home and maybe I am just supposed to realize that there is none. Home is where the heart is, and all that. It’s who am I with, not where I am. It’s family dinners around the table and Movie Nights. White marble countertops, after all, are not really going to make a big difference in my life. It is just a pretty package.

I thought, somehow, that having children would make big decisions easier to make. If anything, having kids makes it seven hundred times harder.

Pictured above, this comes pretty close to my Dream House. Beautiful kitchen, almost two acres, four bedrooms and guest quarters above the garage and a finished playroom in the basement. Big enough to raise the girls in, but not so big that the house seems enormous when they eventually leave us. This was Nicole’s sister’s house, but they sold it about five years ago. Back then, we didn’t have the girls and I didn’t even think about leaving the city. Now I look back and think, what was I thinking? That room on the second floor, on the left, is where Nicole and I used to sleep. Also pictured, Leif and Skye in Taiwan. How cute are they?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

This day is starting off blah since we missed our 5 a.m. wake-up alarm, which means I didn’t get my mind-clearing, positive day-starting, endorphin-pumping run in. It’s all downhill from here, unless something magical happens quick.

I have been writing a lot lately, just not here. Oh, how I wish I could publish a series of email exchanges with a friend-in-crisis, but that would be an invasion of privacy. Even on the Secret Blog.

One of the topics discussed in Flurry of Emails is the power and importance of how we perceive things and what is says about us. Take this true-life example of a woman I know This woman HATES her neighbors (no one else has a problem with them) over some stupid dispute about a five-foot piece of property (one survey says that it belongs to the woman and another survey says it belongs to the neighbors). The woman hates them with a passion and is happy that they are in foreclosure and that their house is going to be auctioned off. She has ringside seats to their downfall and she is giddy with delight. But her venom and hatred and anger say a lot about her and who SHE is, and not the neighbors. Know what I mean? With that simple story you can tell that she is the type of person who will never, ever be happy and content. You can’t have that much hatred and bitterness living in you without it being a part of you. Right?

I need to apply that thinking to this tedious, time-consuming and expensive second-parent adoption process. If you have read this blog closely then you already know that this process makes me oh so angry and bitter (yes, yes, I know that makes ME bitter…I’m working on it). This has involved doctor’s visits and paperwork and attorney visits and, most annoying, a home study by a social worker whose purpose is to decide if Nicole is a fit mother. We executed that on Sunday, and while I was annoyed to have to submit to such nonsense, it wasn’t actually that bad. The social worker was polite and kind and didn’t go into our drawers or open the refrigerator or check the books on our bookshelf. The visit was clearly a formality, conducted mostly from the couch in the living room, which sort of made it even harder to understand. In fact, this entire process seems to be just one giant waste of time, because the courts are going to give Nicole her parental rights. This is no equivocation on that. So why do we need to go through this? Just more bureaucracy and wasted money and wasted time.

Which reminds me…what IS Obama doing for gay rights? Anything? Anything at all? A stupid gay pride party at the White House is about the extent of his involvement.

OK, so let me swallow all the bitterness and try to find the lesson from this. What I need to work on is the whole Child-Comparison trap. The SW asked us to describe the girls and I found myself saying things like “She is the reserved one and she is the outgoing one” and “She is the adventurous eater and she is the not-so-adventurous eater.” It was impossible for me to use adjectives without using the opposite adjective to describe the other. What is wrong with me? Even those with the most rudimentary knowledge of psychology knows that this will ensure visits to therapists down the road. It doesn’t help that people ask things like “Which one is the leader?” and “Who is the more vocal one?” The temptation to compare the two, since they are, after all, the exact same age, is something I really need to work on.

Madeline is going through a Language Explosion. But it is a s-l-o-w journey to the 60,000 word adult vocabulary. All of the sudden she is repeating words back to us and asking us what things are (still, both girls say “Dada?” which means “what’s that?” and the double-meaning of that is not lost on me.). But what is funny is that Madeline declares everything — and I mean everything — hot. To wit, she just ambled over here with a flashcard with a picture of bones on it and asked what it was. I said “bones” and she responded “Owns. Hot!” “No, Maddie, not hot.” I say that at least a hundred times a day. And that is not an exaggeration. I assume she will soon outgrow her theory that everything is hot; after all, she said everything had eyes up until a week ago.

Bottom line, I am so happy that the girls are communicating more. Communication takes the guesswork out of Toddler Life, and the less guesswork, the better. Avery is very good at telling us what she wants and needs by using two-word phrases: No dancing! Sit Dare! Sing Momma! More jibbies (jibbies = tickles). Avery has clearly mastered two-word phrases, and since there is no official three-word stage in language development, more complete sentences, starting around three, is the next linguistic milestone. All this communicating makes life a lot easier, but it makes me miss their rapidly vanishing babyhood even more.

It is another nice day (no rain for a change) so we will go to the Zoo or playground later. And tomorrow, a playdate with Mr. Beck in Brooklyn and then off to Long Island for a Long Weekend.

Pictured above, me and the girls in front of my favorite flower of all time, hydrangeas. (They really are pretty.) And the girls at dinner. The lighting in the pictures is awful, but I couldn’t resist the cuteness of sharing a chair (neither girls wants to be in their expensive Scandinavian chairs anymore…so much for using said chairs until they are five).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I'm Not A Doctor, But I Play One In My Life

Thanks for the comments and emails. I was secretly hoping one of you would yell at me and remind me how lucky I am and how I have this enormous responsibility to keep it together for the girls’ sake, blah blah blah. But, alas, you all are much more gentle than all that.

One of my theories about where this is coming from: I have been awful about taking the Lexapro. A while back, I decided I was Cured and would no longer need it, so I stopped taking it altogether. Cold turkey. I promptly became really Mean and Edgy and Bitchy and was forced to admit to Nicole that I stopped the pill because, despite my lack of medical degree and lack of experience in drug administration, I decided it was time to stop. She in turn got upset with me that I would try something like that without talking to her (or, I suspect, giving her a say in the decision). So I went back on the pill. Fast forward a few months and I decided to cut my dosage in half because, again, despite my lack of medical degree and lack of experience in drug administration, I decided it was time to slowly wean myself off this pill and then stop. That was going fine until recently, when I simply started forgetting to take the pill. For days in a row. You would think it isn’t too difficult to remember to take a pill once a day, but for me, apparently, it is. I will go three days without it and then finally remember. This has been going on for a while.

The thing is, the pill did work in that it really evens me out and keeps the edge at bay. But it didn’t make me feel euphoric, and that is why I hold a grudge against it. I guess I have this image that an anti-depressant is supposed to make you feel like you are pumped up like you are on Ecstasy with a bump of Special K. I thought an anti-depressant made you happy and patient as Mary Poppins and optimistic like Pollyanna and filled with Zen-like peace like Buddha. Like how just before you go under with anesthesia you feel this amazing euphoric feeling tingling through your entire body. That’s what I want, all the time. Turns out that isn’t how it works. I am giving it another chance, full dosage, and if this fog of Blah doesn’t life, I guess I need to talk to the doctor about changing pills.

In the meantime, my genius idea to snap myself out of my funk was to take myself to see My Sister’s Keeper. I will warn you: If you are a sister, a daughter or a mother (and that about covers ALL women) then you should not see this movie. I cried, literally sobbed the entire time. It’s not like this was a brilliant piece of filmmaking or anything. The film itself was not that good, and the acting was just okay, but the story line was absolutely heart-wrenching. Cancer, you are a disgusting, cruel, non-discriminating despot.

So I wake up the next day determined to distract myself by being Super Mom. I took the girls to Central Park Zoo. They laughed at the penguins and they watched the polar bears and enjoyed a walk through the hot and steamy rainforest exhibit, which I enjoyed because it made returning to the humid outside seem not so bad. The best part is later on when Nicole came home I asked Avery to tell Mommy what she saw at the zoo and she said “Pens” (penguins) and bears. And I asked what part of the body that the bear scratched with his giant paw and she remembered it was his tummy. Their little memories and minds are developing, right before our eyes.

Last night, Madeline was standing on her chair at dinner and Avery told her “Maddie, sit down!” How cute is that! I am glad to have a disciplinary assistant around. I am more than happy to play good cop/bad cop, and let Avery be the bad cop. And Madeline has started with the “Where are You’s.” Like: “Mommy, air are oo?”

Decision made: We are spending the fourth in Northampton.

Pictured above, the polar bears and the girls. That look of anxiety on their faces was bought about because I stopped pushing the stroller to snap a picture. If you can lip read then you can see clearly that Avery is saying “PUSH!”