Category Archives: The outside world

Survival of the Funnest

You may well be wondering “Hey, did you guys survive the bedbugs? Or have you been carried off by the invading swarm?”

Well, both, in a way.

We came through it. We walked Bloodsucker valley and lived to tell. We’re still moving around the city, and we’re not scratching persistent itchy bites. We pass through the nights unmolested. Ten years from now, I might be cautiously optimistic that the process has worked. But we also seem to have been carried off, replaced by new, stronger more bad-ass people. We were made new through bedbugs. And even the Fun Apartment was made new. Even though it’s pretty much still the same.

It was 26 days living with the bags. Twenty. Six. March of 2017 is now just a charred piece of paper on the family calendar.

It was only supposed to be 24 days, but the exterminator decided–twice!–to rearrange his schedule.

And perhaps I should thank him, because it was those extra two days that did it. Those were the days that showed me that things couldn’t be the old way anymore. I knew on those two days that we were–or at least I was–going to be different people at the end of those two days. Those were the days I said all the swear words.

Happily, at the end of those two days, Mr. Fun Apartment and I were different people still married to each other, so that’s a plus. And I was a new person who just did whatever felt good. And didn’t feel bad about feeling good. I dyed a pink streak in my hair. I threw out at least a third of our stuff, but decided that we really couldn’t live without a giant squid costume.

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Eyeballs the size of dinner plates!

I went to a fancy party–on a Monday night–and drank ALL the champagne! I made cereal and called it dinner–to great applause! We started watching Looney Tunes! The Mr. bought some shorts! (Well, he’s got the legs for it.)

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Push the Sky Away.

I got interested in a band* and then actually went to see them play–like an actual real person does! We went camping and ate ice cream sandwiches for lunch! At this point, I fully expect the boys to come home with tattoos. I’m cool with that, as long as they are anchors with the word “Mom” over them.

So now, apparently, I’m a person who says “Yes, why the hell not?” to almost any proposition I get. But I warn you to use your power over me wisely: I’m very susceptible to suggestion. Yes! The answer is yes! Unless you’re the PTA, in which case the answer is “Umm . . . maybe next year?”

So does all this newness mean that I’m ramping up for a big blog-name-changing announcement? No. Not yet.

But we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions that begin with “When?” and “Where?” I think we’re pretty set on “Who?” I’m afraid that “How?” will just have to sort itself out later. I’m too busy saying yes to things.

So, for my mom and the realtor she’s been secretly emailing, we’re not packing up yet. But we’re opening the lens wide. We’re putting on shoes, but no pants.

Why the hell not?

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*One of the in-house music critics insists on referring to the band as Nick Cave and the Bad Nuts. Hey, I’m pretty sure Nick would say “Bring it on.”

 

 

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Grand, indeed.

Remember when my super awesome Grandma ran off with my title of “Smallest Dwelling Space in the Family”? In one down-sizing move, she moved into her own assisted living Fun Apartment complete with bingo and a meal plan. Well, she’s been cut down in the prime of her youth. At age 100, she passed away two weeks ago.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I write my second obituary ever. When your grandma is 100, you kind of assume that she must have some key to eternal life, because she keeps still being there. Five or six years ago, I used to get weepy when I said goodbye to her. But recently, her staying power seemed so great that I’d give her a hug and wave “See you at Christmas!” on our way out of town. Ah well.

People, let me tell you: having a 100 year old grandma was awesome. She was spunky, feisty, and utterly devoted to her long-awaited great grandchildren.

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Oldest, youngest, and one in the middle.

And for a good portion of those 100 years, she was remarkably lucid. In recent conversations when I thought perhaps she was confused, inevitably it was I who had lost the plot, not her. To be fair, how could I be expected to remember that my husband got a new job, just because Grandma did?

Another awesome thing about a 100 year old grandma: I got to go to a birthday party at her assisted living facility where there were a lot of guests who weren’t quite sure who they were celebrating. There was a bouquet of 100 roses and a very large cake. And wouldn’t you know it? Grandma, who had had her hair done at a salon that morning, was working the room, thanking everyone for coming and asking if they had enough cake.

But having a 100 year old grandma was also very hard. She became less herself each time I saw her. As her eyesight left, it took her favorite activities with it. She couldn’t read, watch classic movies on tv, or sew. Her vocabulary evaporated rapidly. Conversations with her were more retrograde than linear and she became increasingly confused. Toward the end, she was genuinely suffering in a body that no longer obeyed her and a brain that stopped trying to follow conversations around her.

 

But at her essence, Grandma was a pretty fantastic lady. She had very high standards. My sister and I saw this in her reactions to the various boyfriends we paraded in front of her. My college boyfriend was met with a sniff. Later she told me “You must think I just fell off the turnip truck.” I’m still not sure what she meant by that, actually. But whatever her meaning, that guy isn’t around anymore, so she must have been right. A boyfriend of my sister’s was very well-received until he mentioned he didn’t want to have any children. After that, he might as well have been an end table for all Grandma regarded him. When I brought the future Mr. Fun Apartment around, she brought out the good china for dinner and told him “We’re putting on the dog!” Grandma knew what she was about.

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That necklace grabber is now 8 years old.

She was an inveterate letter writer. Wherever I lived, she sent a steady stream of envelopes to my mailbox. These envelopes were often stuffed with things she cut out of her newspaper–comics, articles, whatever struck her fancy. As her eyesight failed, the handwriting got worse and the newspaper clippings began to include panels from several different comics. I began to wonder when she would just post me the whole edition of the Grand Rapids Press inside an envelope and have done with it. But thanks to the strength of her pen, I have stacks and stacks of her letters to read through when I feel lonely for her. I even have most of the clippings.

She could be a very sweet lady, although not to everyone at every moment, especially toward the end. She also had a unrivaled  ability to carry grudges long past their sell-by date. Mention her name to my dad, nearly forty years after my parents’ divorce, and he still looks somewhat uncomfortable.

Do you want to know the secret to her long life? Let me tell you: ice cream. I’m pretty sure she ate ice cream every day of her life. She had a bowl every night while she watched old movies on tv. At least, she did until she couldn’t figure out how to work her tv anymore. Then she just ate the ice cream.

(Maybe I’ll just pitch this health conscious, clean-eating business out the window.)

Two things I inherited from Grandma: a love of craft projects–especially secret projects–and her sewing machine. In her later years, she made enough quilts to cover an entire sleeping village. As her eyesight went, though, the quilting fell to my inexperienced hands (quilt count: 4, if you count one that Grandma made and I hand-quilted and passed off as my own to my nephew.) But during her last, title-snatching move, we found a quilt (Dresden Plates, I am reliably informed) she had started, but will never finish. It came to the Fun Apartment, so Grandma and I are still working together on a secret project.

I’m taking my time on it. I don’t really want it to end.

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Team Spirit

A few weeks ago, the Fun Apartment represented at the women’s rights march here in our own backyard. After all, as I tell all three of these guys, several times a week, “Mommy is a person, not a (ladder, tissue, housemaid, miracle worker, etc.)” So, all of my fellas tagged along to support me at what one son referred to as the “Kitty March.”

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Meow.

(You guys! Why didn’t anyone tell me about the hats?!?! I could totally have made the hats!!! My knitting superpowers, gone to waste!!)

Anyway, as we strolled along (the boys were somewhat relieved by the pace, as they had earlier expressed concerns such as “Mommy, I don’t know how to march!”) Our newly minted kindergartener used the opportunity to try to read the signs. The third grader asked a lot of questions, and listened intently. They demolished a contraband bag of cheez-its which greatly increased their stamina for the march. Chants rippled through the crowds, but as one suggested that the current resident of the white house should vacate the premises immediately, the elder boy grew pensive.

“Mommy,” he said. “Remember how you said that when we watch football, we only say good things about our team? How we don’t say bad things about the other team because that’s not nice?”

(Our team, by the way, is the GREEN BAY PACKERS. And this was the day before they were defeated in the playoffs by the team the boys referred to as the Atlantis Falcons. Ok, Lost City, you win. This time.)

“But, isn’t this”–he indicated the chanting–“like saying bad things about the other team? Shouldn’t we just say good things about the Packers–I mean, about women?”

People, I was stunned. Stunned, not only because it meant he had actually heard something I said other than “There’s chocolate for breakfast,” but because he heard something I said and he was right. They go low. WE go high.

So, here we go. I’m only saying good things about my team. And it’s easy to do. You see, my team believes in the dignity of all humans. My team believes in accepting everyone. My team believes in loving our neighbors and caring for our community. On my team, we open doors to welcome people in. My team knows that because all lives matter, we need to ensure that black lives matter. My team is about contributing to something larger than yourself. My team raises people up. My team believes that we have a responsibility to our children, to our planet, and to each other. My team believes in equity. My team has a lot of work to do, but that’s ok, because my team believes in raising our children to be even better than ourselves, so they’ll keep doing that work.

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You tell ’em.

(My team also believes you should pick up after yourself, but on this one, my immediate family members are not exactly first round draft picks.)

Wow, there are a lot of good things to say about my team. And guess what: if you want to be on my team, we’d love to have you! We don’t have jerseys, but I am going to make us the hats–looks like there will be plenty of chances to wear them.

Does this post mean that the blog will now become a hotbed of political insights? No, I seriously doubt it.  We’ll probably be back to wondering why our tiny household requires five kinds of toothpaste among four people later this week.

But today, I just need to say it: Go Team!

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Back to school.

Ahh, it is back to school time again. And not just for the kiddos, this year. For me, too.


You see, five years ago, I gave up teaching for what, in a lot of ways, has been an even harder job as a stay at home mom, albeit with smaller adult to kid ratios. Maybe if you don’t move to an insanely small home in a prohibitively expensive city, and maybe if you don’t lop three quarters of your income and living space away at the same time, you have an easier go of it, I wouldn’t know.

But I spent five years sitting on the economic sidelines. And I had thoroughly convinced myself that I would never be fit for the work force again. I made several awkward attempts at it, but my most recent approach of having a job find me just wasn’t working. “Give it another five years,” another mom urged me. “I think it could happen!”

But now–miracle of miracles!–I have rejoined the gainfully employed! I teach kindergarten! And it’s awesome! And it’s kindergarten! We are going to have so much crazy fun! And the kids are hysterical! I’m beyond excited!

And beyond terrified. What if I forget how to work? My memory of how jobs work is a little fuzzy. I gather that they want me to be there every day, around the same time. And apparently, I am supposed to stay there all day. Does that seem right to you guys? And I am supposed to dress up, not just in the jeans without holes. Yikes. I urgently need to know if skirts with cargo pockets are still a thing, or if I’m totally screwed.

To launch this whole job thing, though, it has taken a really large village. So many wonderful people have come forward, arms linked together, to make this possible for me. It’s a good thing you can’t see me typing, because I am actually crying as I think about everyone who has babysat my kids, cheered me on, lugged my laundry to 8th Avenue, bought me a(nother) glass of wine, texted me that it’s all going to be fine. Even the boys I have abandoned to their fate at the afterschool program rush toward me at pickup, joyfully asking about my day, thoughtfully inquiring if anyone has the same lunchbox that I do. Truly, I am blessed.

So I’m going to ask you guys a favor, too, if that isn’t too cheeky: send me off on this adventure with all your good wishes, okay? I’m going to need them.

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You may ask yourselves, why has it taken me an entire month to get this first day of school post up? Well, things came up. And work is a damn lot of work. I’m tired.

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Neighborhood Watch.

Late one night, almost two weeks ago now, the air outside the Fun Apartment was thick with helicopters. Siren wails were trailing through the streets. Voices from the street carried up through the windows–not the usual Saturday night revelry.

“What’s going on out there?” I asked the Man of My Dreams. He shrugged and went back to needing glasses to read the laptop screen. It was after bedtime, so we were observing the radio silence protocol. The helicopters continued to flaunt our blackout curtains, however. Finally, my gossipy friend Facebook filled me in. “Explosion in Chelsea?!?! WE live in Chelsea!”

We began to scour the meager media reports. Apparently at 8:30, about the time, I was escorting one of the boys on an after hours bathroom trip to the back of the Fun Apartment, a dumpster exploded on 23rd street two avenues away. I hadn’t heard a thing, but the Mister, up front in the north wing did report having heard a loud noise.

We texted a few “We’re ok mom!” messages and then warily went to bed.

And morning came, a foggy quiet morning with very little new information, but several more inquiries about our wellbeing. Still, it was clear that, after the helicopter chaos of the night before, things seemed to be settling down. I slunk out, ostensibly for bagels, but really just for recon. Mostly, it seemed like a regular Sunday morning, only with 23rd street closed.

And we are a little ways from the scene. We were tempted to think of it as “far away” because it happened 6 blocks and two avenue away. Six blocks, after all, is a long way when you are walking with tired kids and heavy groceries. But six blocks seems a bit closer to home when one thinks in explosion terms. As my sister said, “Just how close does it need to get before you think it’s close?” Still, within the cozy bubble of the Fun Apartment, we felt safe. I guess we didn’t think there was another option.

Later, I brought the boys over to see the site, too. We couldn’t get very close, so they didn’t see much, but they got to ask all their questions and get it out of their systems before they headed for school the next day and heard all sorts of reports filtered through the brains of 7 year olds. And the boys did have a lot of questions, which I answered as patiently and calmly as I could (yes, there are a lot of police officers. No, they probably aren’t draining all the water from the water towers. No we can’t go any closer. Yes, they have handcuffs. No, Encyclopedia Brown probably isn’t here, he is busy in Idaville.) Finally, we got down to the nub of the situation: “If a police officer sees a chicken walking in the street, and he is really hungry, can he shoot the chicken?” That’s when I figured they were probably done processing and we could go to the playground.

I held a small balloon of hope in my heart–a hope that this was garden variety New York craziness, and not well, you know:

That balloon deflated rapidly, as the investigation came to a head very quickly. From three things seemed to happen very quickly. One mass text message later and by Tuesday night, the whole story seemed pretty thoroughly taped up.
It was so thoroughly taped up that I am left wondering if it actually happened. People don’t seem to be talking about it. The free newspaper went back to telling me about the best places to drink beer in the city (although they missed the best one: our window seat.) I walked by the site of the explosion site this weekend and I couldn’t tell with any certainty where exactly the bomb had gone off. And I walked the rest of the way home through a joyous street fair, thinking, “Nice try, hatred and fear. But you lose. Again.”

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List of demands

Once again, we have managed to work our way back east from our annual extended staff retreat. And as in years past, I am struck again by the following truths as we stumble in and dump bags of Midwestern bounty on the kitchen floor:
1. The Fun Apartment doesn’t actually seem that small. One would think that after getting our eyes all stretched out with all that space, the place would look more like a dollhouse when you peer in the window. But it never does. Instead it manages to look cozy. It looks like home. (But opening the refrigerator, that’s a whole other thing. That place really is tiny.)

2. Now that we’re home, even doing our normal stuff feels novel and exciting. Our neighborhood playground feels like wonderland! And the Y still has free babysitting!

3. After several weeks of Midwestern-style liberty, the kind where they can go play in outside by themselves, the boys seem to have grown up a lot in a relatively short span of time. During our visit, there were times when, while we were all still technically on the same property, they were as far as two city blocks away from me. So I am wondering how to use new long leash in a New York way. The other day, I applied it to the rather arcane and ridiculous process known as alternate side parking, during which one has to sit in the car for an hour and a half, in case the police or a streetsweeper come wandering by. But mostly one just sits in the car, going nowhere. You can imagine the non-appeal for kids. But can you also imagine how well walkie talkies work from the fourth floor down to the curb? Really, really well.

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Don’t worry, Mommy’s watching!

But, I have also been slowly realizing over the last few years that these boys are just not that keen on city life. Near-natives of the greatest city on earth? Meh. They’re over it. They want to move to the great white north.

Bite us, Big Apple.

So, the suggestion box has been stuffed to the gills with increasingly urgent requests to relocate. When queried further on this, they offered  the following somewhat surprising and specific elaborations on their dream house:

First son, first request: a dishwasher. (Love you, baby!)

Second son, first request: a pantry. “Oh! I know! A pantry! We could put things in it, like beer, cucumbers, anything!” (Really, what more does one need?)

Other ideas: a cherry orchard, with one tree for us, and one other tree for other people. A lake, but not an outhouse. If no lake, then a pool. And a treehouse that we could live in. After those demands are met maybe they could have their own bedrooms. Or even a bedroom that is not part of another room. Or just a treehouse.

Ah well, we live in hope. And–for now, anyway–in the Fun Apartment.

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Out of here

Today, we are doing something that makes life sustainable here at the Fun Apartment: leaving. We depart by car for a month or so in the Midwest so the boys can add swimming in lakes, climbing into car seats, running in yards, and riding bikes to their skill sets. This will supplement their strong showings from our home base in scooter riding, subway navigation, jaywalking, and Starbucks locating.

I have said before, but it bears repeating–every day, if necessary–my idea of bringing up these yahoos is borrowed from Calvin Trillin: “Despite all evidence to the contrary, you’re being raised in Kansas City.” (Of course, I have never even been to Kansas City, but I feel like this could be extended to include the entire Midwest. Or at least, anywhere but this godforsaken city.)

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Loaded for Bear.

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See ya, suckers!


It is kind of overwhelming to pack for a month, but since the entire Midwest seems to be nothing but laundry facilities, the clothes aren’t really a problem (except that I will look somewhat out of place there, just as I look somewhat out of place here–by nature, I think, I am some sort of hybrid species.)

One boy has really taken to the packing. For two days, his suitcase has been ready–crammed with stuffed animals, pajamas and twenty pairs of underpants. The other kid? Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing he likes to be naked.

We’ll be in the car all day tomorrow. And most of the next. But lots of fun awaits us (in addition to the fun I still have to pack from the Fun Apartment.) There will be boat rides! There will be swimming! There will be big yards! There will be camping! There will be assisted living! There will be parades! There will be grandparents! There will be fireworks! There will be big stores! There will be Midwestern craft beer! There will be a trampoline! And, there will be throwing up in the car.

So it is very exciting/an unholy mess around here. And I should probably be doing something about it. Here I go! Clear a path, people! I’m going to turn this chaos strewn closet into something neat and tidy! Any minute now!

Hmm, well, I guess I’ll do it later. Right now, I am going to enjoy my last few predictable minutes, and ignore all the piles. After all, someone has to finish off the box wine and I’m the best qualified. And the morning will be chaos and pancakes.

But during the pancakes, I will be dragging all the old toys out of storage so they can go live in the bedroom of my brand new nephew! Thank god for boys. Or at least, this one boy, not yet a month old, has managed to perform a miracle I never could wrangle: cleaning out our basement storage unit in a single trip! So long, Thomas the Wretched Tank Engine–take your theme song with you!

Sorry, New York. You are out of luck. Make your own fun. We’re busy elsewhere.

But we’ll be back. Save us a spot, ok?

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