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Well our bags are packed, we’re ready to go

27 Aug


Movers arrived today, to box up our worldly belongings. The reality of the move gets pretty concrete when you’re faced with an empty wall of painting hooks and a wrapped up sofa.

There is still some anxiety on my part, but it is easing as it moves from unknown fear to a set of tasks, which have solutions. As my friend tells me, no one is dying in the makin if this movie.

And as my clothes are unceremoniously dumped into boxes, it feels more and more like stuff and less like me, or my life. Of course toddler may have a different opinion when he returns from daycare to find everything boxed up.

For most of our friends, we will talk to you on the other side, as they are taking our linking toys and moving them. We are due to fly out Saturday night, and settle sometime in the next week or so, but maybe more.

I’m not ready to say goodbye in my heart to Brooklyn, or New York, quite yet. But it is happening. Now.



6 Sep

Some of the highlights from our trip to Chicago, to visit family and drop in on another bar mitzvah:

– When we were going to my brother’s house, baby mama was looking around at the houses in the neighborhood.
Her: “It’s amazing what’s happening here. The houses are being built to look almost like castles. I mean, look at this one right here.”
Me (pulling into that driveway): “You mean, my brother’s house?”
Her: “Oh, shit. Don’t tell him I said that.”

– Baby loves Mr. Spotto. Mr. Spotto is the guinea pig at the friends’ house where we stayed. If we couldn’t find him, he was poking around the guinea pig’s cage, or else fiddling with the front or back door to try to sneak outside. “Guinea pig house? Purple!” At one point, he poked his whole head into the poor fellow’s cage, trying to get closer. Pet? Pet?

– Dinner at my (amazing) friends from grad school was both utterly delicious and super-hilarious. First, climbing at the playground as well as toddler-seeded toys all over the living room. Second, dinner was grilled pizza’s with kick-ass roasted peppers and pesto, grilled lake trout, and Israeli couscous salad. And homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert! After dinner, baby started banging on the table. Instead of making him stop, their two kids started copying him. Wham-wham from baby; wham-wham from kids. Laughter. Then slowly, everyone joined in. Wham-wham from baby; wham-wham from everyone. He thought it was the best thing in the whole world, and would just completely crack up. This went on for 10 minutes, I think the power made baby drunk.

– Baby loved watching airplanes taking off and landing. He was, well, not perfect on the plane. It was the first time we did the ‘lap child’ travel (he had gotten a seat in previous trips), and he was idgy and tired, and didn’t sleep until we just about landed. But nothing too bad at all. 7.5/10 harshly scored, but more like 9/10 if we weigh scoring for age and circumstance.

– Friends we stayed with made amazing dinner, plus more homemade chocolate chip cookies, plus Homer’s ice cream, plus their kids (9 and 11) are just so enthusiastically pro-baby. With a huge basement, the guinea pig, the cars and toys, the mini guitar, it was just a brain-explosion of kid-centered suburban living. It’s not our lives, but it sure is a luxury to take in for a few days.

– The bar mitzvah party and ceremony were lovely, but lovely in a more family way. I love my brother’s kids to death, but with so much anger and animosity and alienation in parts of my family, it’s just not as joyous for me as it might otherwise be. The party was loud and crazy in the fashion of contemporary upper-middle-class bar mitzvah parties.

– No sleep till Brooklyn. Baby napped very little, stayed up way past his bedtime, missed baths, ate weirdly and seemingly sparsely. Watched 10 times more TV in 4 days than he’s seen in his whole life. And (though it’s hard to really really tell) he had a great time doing it all.

bar mitzvah

31 Aug

We are going to the second nephew’s bar mitzvah this weekend. The last one was more or less a turning point in the family history. We’ll see how this one goes…

father’s day

21 Jun

I don’t post much about my father, because we are currently not really on speaking terms, and I don’t want to say anything that would exacerbate what’s already a problematic relationship. And while this is sad, those who know me know that it’s part of a mosaic of fraught relationships, going back before I was much born, and hopefully not (but, I don’t know, inevitably?) extending forward into the future of Baby B. But it’s Father’s Day – my first as a father myself – and I think it merits something more than a ‘father’s day – meh’ response.

When I was 11 years old, in 6th grade, my dad was larger than life to me.

He was smart, we all knew. He turned 16 the August before starting at MIT, where he went on a scholarship. He went there to study metallurgy, and he was meant to be the first college-education engineer in my family, to help with what was turning out to be the kind of family business – a metals reclamation business in Chicago. Instead, my dad became interested in economics and political science. When he graduated, he was ‘invited’ to study at the University of Chicago Law School, as part of their then-new partnership with the Political Science department at Northwestern University. But political science was more politics and less science than he was interested in, and he turned instead to law, ending up full-time at the University of Chicago, and eventually in one of the big law firms in Chicago. Years, and multiple jumps from big firm to his own firm to big firm, to a partnership, back and forth, he finally ended up in his own law firm.

He was virtually the first of his generation to go to college, certainly the first to get a post-graduate degree. His own father died at about the time he graduated from law school, and he married and moved out at about that time. My father is stubborn, opinionated, often brilliant, and very much old-school. As a kid, we got spanked occasionally. He has always carried around a handkerchief. He has always been of the opinion that parents are not really meant to be ‘friends’ with their kids, and that his job was to teach us, and to demonstrate to us, that life is about working hard, being independent.

When I was in sixth grade, then, my father was something of an intimidating figure. As I said, larger than life.

At my elementary school, we had a kind of weekly Good Will Hunting scene, where our teacher would post word problems, and students would try to get extra credit by answering them (you know, a train going 50 mph starts off from LA, another going 75mph from NY, etc). I did pretty well with these problems, but on a particularly thorny one, I spent hours trying to puzzle it out. Well, memory fades, right, and I was 11? Probably hour. Maybe minutes. And when I finished I checked and re-checked my work, then gave it to my dad to see what he thought. He endorsed my answer as well.

When I turned the answer in, though, I wasn’t given credit. Mrs. McCurdy informed me that my answer was incorrect. And I argued with her, that the answer she had must be wrong. Obviously. And then I shouted at her that her stupid book (because I assumed that teachers were so stupid that she just got the stupid problem out of a stupid book) was wrong. Because my dad told me it was right. And can you believe it, but the book WAS wrong, and I WAS right. Heh, right. Of course I was wrong, and my dad along with me.

It was the first time in my life that I had the specific realization that my father wasn’t always smarter, or always right. In retrospect, I doubt my own seeming perfection will last 11 years in the eyes of my own boy. But it was the first time I can remember the fallibility of my father.

I actually hope that someday I’ll figure out how to have something more of a relationship with my father than I have currently. I honestly don’t exactly know how that might happen. But it’s Father’s Day, and it is worth saying that despite the fact that he’s not a perfect man, and hasn’t been since I was 11, I love him very much.

Nanny time

4 Mar

In my memory, I grew up in a household where my dad worked, my mom didn’t, and my brothers and I were raised by my mom. My birth mother, who died when I was 7 or so, may have had a job (I think she was a teacher). But I mostly recall her being a volunteer for Women’s American ORT – an organization originally devoted to job training education for Jews worldwide, now devoted to tech training for Jews and non-Jews around the world. My step-mother, who mostly raised us, was also a former teacher (of high school music). So my brothers and I were raised, in the suburbs, by a stay-at-home mom, and a working dad. A typically upper-middle-class existence.

But memory is a stupid, faulty, reconstructive monster, rewriting the past through the lens of the present. In reality, there were people who have always stood behind this memory. Pat, who used to wield a wooden spoon for when we misbehaved, and once tried to lock my oldest brother in the basement (he broke the door in response). Julie, our ‘summer girl’, who took vacations with us – maybe to the Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri? Could it have been to Mackinac Island, in Michigan? To Hilton Head Island, in South Carolina? Pete, a seminary college student, took us hither and thither throughout high school. So did another woman, whom my mother called Helga because she was Norwegian, and whose name I can no longer remember. These babysitters, summer girls, and college helpers were prevalent in my childhood, and yet they were absent from the formal family structure of our lives. We never called them nannies. But maybe that was because they were White. But they certainly were caregivers, and they weren’t family.

I’ve had Pat and Pete, and Julie and Helga on my mind. We have decided to hire a nanny for our Brooklyn Baby. Three days a week, as baby mama goes back to work and I finish out the semester, to take care of our little one. The evolution of childcare, from ‘I’ll do it,’ to a day care center, to a home day care, to a part-time nanny, is just one more thing in the ever-growing list of things I never imagined that I would do in my life. I don’t like to hire people to clean our house – it feels like we should pick up our own junk and clean our own toilets. And now we’re hiring someone to take care of our child. It’s fraught, man, just fraught. I’m willing to outsource the feeding of my family, the education of my family, sometimes the house-cleaning for my family, but not the care of my baby. That line is such a moving one.

Adding insult to injury, my wife has, like most women, done the vast majority of the work in securing someone to care for our baby. It wasn’t supposed to be this way – last fall, while we were overwhelmed with the list of baby stuff to do in anticipation of our bouncing baby boy, I took on the responsibility for finding childcare. A long series of procrastinations, too-timid outreach, failed sign-ups, and overly optimistic self-assurances, I ended up passing the task back to baby mama a month or so ago. She left my sad excuse for task management in the dust, with a cyclone of phone calls, center visits, pre-screening phone calls to women, reference checks, and try-outs. So basically, I took on a responsibility, wildly underestimated how much time and energy it would take, failed at it, and then passed that responsibility back to my nursing, sleep-deprived wife.

This is also why many men’s (or at least my own, to the extent that I do make them occasionally) claims to ‘equal childcare’ are so obviously silly. The 1-2 punch of breastfeeding and finding childcare means that I’ll never catch up, no matter how many diapers I change or baths I administer.

At the end of all this, we have a nanny, that most ambivalent of childcare professionals. She is a woman of color, and a Caribbean immigrant. All signs point to her being filled with awesomeness, and she will be a boon to us as baby mama and I both figure out what to do next for long-term employment. We don’t know at this point how things will work out in the short- or long-term future, so it’s a little premature to angst over the whole matter. It solves the problem in the immediate future of what to do about childcare. I do wonder if our baby will remember the lovely Black woman whom we hope will help take care of him. I hope so.

And now, for those keeping score, regarding the ‘raising a normal kid in Park Slope’: hyphenated last name? Check. Classical, yet top 20 most popular name? Check. Nanny? Check. Bottle heater-upper? Check. What’s left? A spot at the Berkeley Carroll, natch.

The bar mitzvah, again

21 Feb

So my wife and I went to the Bar Mitzvah, which was split between a morning service and an evening reception. This left a number of hours (maybe five or six) between gigs. We spent the time at the hotel where the reception would be held, and where my eldest brother and his wife had a room. The plan was to meet him (let’s call him the Incredible Hulk, because you don’t like him when he’s angry), his wife, and their 7-year-old son, all at the hotel.

We’re sitting in the hotel bar, eating lunch, of course discussing the World Champion Green Bay Packers. Because I couldn’t remember the Hulk’s room number, and the nice people at the front desk couldn’t help me. 4 people with my last name were checked in – because it was a family event. But whatevs. We ran into friends of my parents, who immediately took Baby off our hands and sent us off to enjoy our nice lunch.

Hulk comes by, with wife and 7-year-old. 7-year-old (Junior Hulk?) had been given a hotel room key, as a mark of independence. He proceeded to wander around in circles in the lobby, unsuccessfully locating the hotel room while desperately needing to go to the bathroom. Once he was pointed in the right direction, Hulk and Hulk’s wife had a couple of drinks and sat with us to chat.

In the meantime, I get a call from a second brother, who was meeting us at the hotel. He was standing in front of Hulk’s hotel room, where no one was there, but the door was propped wide open by a suspiciously 7-year-old looking shoe. ‘Um, I’m in the hotel room but no one is here. And the door is open. And all your stuff is just sitting here.’ Yep, right room. We’re down at the bar eating lunch. ‘Oh, ok. Oh, here comes Junior Hulk. Never mind.’

Hulk had finished his drink and moved on to another, when he announced that he had decided to finally have a one-to-one, heartfelt discussion with my estranged sister, who had been invited to the event at the urgings of my mother and father, and whose presence at the family event was more or less the biggest deal aside from the actual Bar Mitzvah. There is, suffice it to say, considerable resistance to having the prodigal daughter returned to the fold by other members of the family. Despite gentle suggestions that a few drinks in, perhaps this was not the best, clear-eyed plan ever conceived, Drinking Hulk nevertheless was adamant that he was going to have his say.

When long-lost sister arrived, she and Drinking Hulk retired to the other end of the bar. Wife and I finished our lunch, reclaimed our kid, and headed off with Hulk Wife to their hotel room (and where second brother and Junior Hulk were hanging out). Two hours of chatting and playing, a diaper change, and an awkwardly screaming Brooklyn Baby, and now-Drunk Hulk arrived. Apparently his heartfelt talk went…well, it went. Hulk proceeded to rile up Junior Hulk, annoy Hulk Wife, then scamper down to the Bar Mitzvah cocktail hour. Junior Hulk and Hulk Wife joined them. Baby mama fed the baby, second brother eventually headed down to cocktails.

Things actually got ugly from there. The party was waaaayyy too loud for Baby (good idea to bring him to the party, bad in practice). So Baby Mama sat in the hotel lobby with the baby, away from the actual party. Hulk passed out, after further antagonizing others. Second brother went out of his way to make the night about the Bar Mitzvah boy. Prodigal daughter and family were thick as thieves with my mother. I eventually headed home with Baby Mama after deciding that it wasn’t working very well. Parents ended up coming out to say goodbye to Baby, who at the end of the day spent more time with my parents friends than with my parents. Next morning’s brunch, and our lack of attendance, turned out to be another finger in the eye of my parents and their Mother-Daughter-Family Reunification Plan. And that was the last I saw of my family during the trip. And the last I’ve heard from, or really much expect to hear from, my parents.

So, let’s call it a mixed-bag of family meet and greet. On the upside, I’m closer to some of my dearest friends (with whom we stayed) than I’ve ever been. On the downside, well, right.

Back from Chicago

20 Feb

We’re back from our first family trip with the little one, and there is much to say. I’m not sure how to talk about all of it, or which pieces of the trip are appropriate for sharing. There is obviously a large element of over-share in any blog, but in this instance some of my family relations are raw enough that someone reading about themselves might take something out of context. Or in context, actually.

That said, let me separate things out into the trip itself, the mitzvah, the family unravel, and the therapeutic return.

The trip itself
The trip itself went extremely well, both coming and going. Brooklyn baby has proven himself thus far to be a mild-mannered baby, and it showed. There was a grand total of 10-15 minutes or so of crying, from security through the air travel itself, both ways. On the way back, BB even slept through being taken out of the carrier through security. We fed him on take-off and landing, changed his diaper once on each leg, and he was simply awesome. It obviously helped that we had purchased a ticket for him, and so we had him in a carrier seat between us. Still, everyone’s suggestion that traveling with a newborn turned out to be spot-on. Easy, peasy, lemon breezy.

The mizvah
Our reason for traveling to Chicago was for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, which went very well. My nephew goes to a Jewish private school, and has learned Hebrew all along, so reading from the Torah and Haftorah were not quite as hard for him as for others. But he handled himself with grace and humility, and it was impressive. Seemingly overnight, my two nephews have gone from being kids to being teenagers. Not sure how that happened. Surely it won’t happen to me.

The unraveling
On the other hand, the family drama surrounding the Bar Mitzvah continued a trajectory that began a few years ago, came to a head last summer, and has now basically unraveled my immediate extended family. I’m not sure what to say about this, because it is sad and frustrating, and anger-inducing, all at the same time. The gap between what I say, think, and do, on the one hand, and what I am perceived to be saying, thinking, and doing on the other, have never been wider. The end result is that it is more likely than not that BB won’t have much of a relationship with (some of/large parts of/key members of) my family. As Tolstoy notes, happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

The therapeutic return
Not that returning to Brooklyn is therapeutic. Actually, the smallness of our apartment, and the absurdity of living so cramped in this city, paying so much for so little, and being somehow proud of it, is pathetic. But that the boy’s foot has ‘graduated’ from stage one of the clubfoot therapy to stage two. From the cast to the shoes/brace. I’ll have more to say about this, but I think the next few months are actually going to be the hardest part of the whole ordeal for us. At least it looks like that today. Tomorrow it may look different.

So, we’re back. I’ll get back into the habit of posting, and there was fun and funny stuff that happened as well. But overall, this trip and its aftermath felt more like a sharp poke in the groin than a happy meet-and-greet of Baby Bilbo to his clan. Yay for awful beginnings! There’s nowhere to go but up!