Thursday, August 30, 2007

On time, frivolity, and the five year promise

“Maybe I’ll take a yoga class today,” my best friend from college said to me last weekend, as my 3-year old daughter shoved another book into her arms and climbed into her lap. “I’m sort of stiff.” Then she bent her head and read One Fish Two Fish to my daughter.

She had been telling me about her summer—surfing in Far Rockaway, her house on Fire Island, her incredibly interesting job, the dates she had been on. And I was listening intently. I love hearing about her life and she loves playing with my kids. But this one line—an unplanned yoga class—blew the top off my brain.

I used to do that. I used to go to yoga classes when I was stiff. No one cared if I went. No one needed childcare arranged. And that time hadn’t been already promised six times over to at least three other people. It was just yoga on a slow Sunday afternoon. Nothing more, nothing less.

When I had my first child, I resolved to keep some of my old life. Not all, but a little. I tried to see my friends. I tried to keep up with gossip and go to a few of the parties. I even tried to exercise. But with a full time job, it became clear that I didn’t have time to do everything. And as my child got older, I got less interested in those pursuits, and then I got pregnant again. And therein went the rest of my resolve.

With the birth of my second child (3 months ago), I just gave up. This year, at least, was a wash—I wouldn’t even pretend I was going to exercise. I decided to have lunch with friends but not bother to plan any dinners. I needed to get home and be with the children. I whittled down my priorities to my family and my job. That was it. Everything else, if it happened, was gravy. I was not going to try.

And a huge weight lifted when I stopped trying. If this was giving up, so be it. It felt great. I wasn’t exiling myself to total loneliness. I still had friends, though certainly not as many as I had when I went out a lot. I just didn’t do the things I had done as a single person.

On the subway I found myself listing all the things I don’t do anymore. Knitting with friends, having oysters and wine at the bar with friends, exercising, talking on the phone for hours, shopping for fun (!), taking long walks with friends, getting really expensive highlights, playing squash and tennis, going on vacations and not worrying about anyone’s nap schedule, going to bad parties and meeting unpleasant people and then talking about them the next morning on the phone and analyzing just why they were so unpleasant.

And most of those activities, I realized, would still be possible in five or so years, when I’ve been told things slow down. (Is this true?) I will someday knit again with friends! I will play squash. And that is enough to keep me going on bad days.

But will I ever have time to just spend on whatever again? Because that is the part I find most heartbreaking, the thing I fear I won’t regain in five years, or even ten years or ever—time as something I am free to waste. Because it’s a heavy burden—as anyone with little children realizes—to always be accountable, to never feel okay about saying, “the hell with it, I’m spending the afternoon at the bar, or at the gym, or on the couch, or on the phone talking about nothing.” Because at this stage in my life, choosing how to spend time is always a choice between a number of things that absolutely must happen.

I do remember, during my single years, the burden of too much time, of empty time, of afternoons that loomed open and terrifying, when no one really cared what I did. And that wasn’t fun. But that feeling is harder to conjure lately.

Even if the five year promise holds true, I can’t believe I’ll ever take time for granted again.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Parents, children and parents...

Olivia’s birthday party was in full swing, the will-it-won’t-it rain panic had passed and the kids managed to stay in one place and join in with Allison and the aardvarks. I took a mental step back and looked around. My beautiful daughter in my arms, my gorgeous son by my side and my friends and family all around. It was a moving moment. It was also an emotional one. Both my parents are being treated for cancer (dad-kidney/mum-pancreas) and neither one was feeling their usual selves. My dad sat quietly on a chair and my mum flaked out on the sofa. They missed the songs and the birthday cake.

Once the guests had left and the chaos had subsided, they both awoke from their naps, feeling a little better, and joined us for the present opening. Again I took a step back. This time I realized how blessed I am to have what I have and how fragile life is.

Until we have children of our own, we are the children. Our parents are our parents and we fit nicely into those roles. Having children changes that dynamic, as obvious as that may seem. I am the middle piece of the puzzle, I hold the other two pieces together. The picture would not be complete with one piece missing.

I’m confident that my mum and dad will come through the other side of this ordeal healthy and happy. There are a lot of birthday parties to come. Not to mention barmitzvahs, graduations and weddings!

I just want to be selfish and say that I need them to always be there, just like they always have been, just like I now am for my own kids.

Books, letters and maternal feelings

"You cannot open a book without learning something."
(Confucius, 551 - 479 BC)

My calendar says I have two more weeks to finish reading The Accidental for our book club. And I know I'll be extremely disappointed if I don't finish it in time. However, today I had to postpone my reading (and of course, come up with something smart to entertain my guilty feelings) because of a book about the Middle Ages that I had ordered a couple of weeks ago.

Some of you know that I want to start my Master degree next year. Meanwhile I thought it would be nice to take a fall course in Literature, Arts or whatever course that would match my daughter's schedule at her school. After intense research, and by intense I mean spending hours and hours at the Internet browsing through catalogs and trying to understand how to navigate in sometimes confusing websites, I finally found out that the only course I could take without having to change Estela's schedule was Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance.

"Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance?", I asked Antonio about it.
"Well, I think it's a very interesting subject. Go for it", said my husband trying to bring some sense over my negative thoughts.

And so I did. It was the only option I had, right? The night I enrolled in it I ordered from Amazon a book called Handbook for William - A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for her Son. Needless to say my motherly side spoke louder. When I first placed my eyes on the book I could not think of any other use for it than its historical connotation, even knowing it was a book written
by a mother to her son. But much to my surprise the book reveals itself in its first pages, evidencing the uniqueness of a handbook as the work of a lay noblewoman of the ninth century:

I send you this little book written down in my name, that you may read it for your education, as a kind of mirror.
I wish you to hold it, turn its pages and read it, so that you may fulfill it in worthy action. For this little model-book is a lesson from me and a task for you.

At the end of my first year living in Astoria I decided to start a handbook for my daughter Estela as a result of living in a foreign land and away from my parents, so later in her life she would be able to understand our choices, learn from our experiences and about our relatives.
I wanted this book to be made of a collection of letters describing our family back in Brazil and discussing the aspects of being far away in a different society. The first and only letter I was able to write was entitled "Appreciating Grandparents".

To be continued ...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Outside with the kids.......

Please indulge me in discussing myself and my love of all things Astorian.

I like living in Astoria. A lot. I'm the type who gets defensive when people who live in other places make disparaging remarks about where I live (or am I just being defensive?) or who do not give Astoria the praise I feel it deserves. To be fair, I'm sure I would want to feel that wherever I chose to live was the best place- at least for me (and for my family). But really, I choose to live here because I love so much about it.

May I tell you why Astoria is so great? I feel like it's the best of both worlds because we are in the "city" (an in an outer borough of NYC), and we are really close to Manhattan (from 2-7 subway stops away from midtown), but it is also its own distinct and rich neighborhood. And of course there are plenty of other neighborhoods in other outer boroughs that are their own individual neighborhoods, and close in a commuter friendly way to Manhattan. But we also have so many cool things to do......

And I realize that I sound a lot like a travel brochure, but I have to brag about some of my favorite outdoor spaces. A very good argument, I feel, against living in the city and particularly raising children in the city, is that there is not a lot of space to run around in, or explore, or just go wild in. Yes, we have playgrounds, but there is not a lot of nature there, just asphalt and rubber padding.

Some places to play outside.....

My favorite park, the Socrates Sculpture Park, is a kind of wild space. There are cool sculpture exhibits, sure, but there is lots of grass and places for kids to romp. They have family art activities on the weekends (and offers art workshops to community groups at other times) in the summer. There are outdoor movies, bands play there. Also, they throw great parties......

I love Astoria Park too, it's a huge space! You really can't beat the view over the water, between the two bridges...tons of boats to look at and there's lots of grass, and hills to run down. In the summer, their beautiful pool is open.

Did you know that you can kayak on the east river?

When I think to myself, "Is it fair that I'm raising kids in a city? They have no "backyard" to play in...I grew up with a backyard, and we could move somewhere that has more space if we would stand a longer commute and live somewhere much farther away...." it makes me feel much better. Yes, they have to share their "yard" with other people, but there are beautiful spots here to play.

There are lots of wonderful things about living in/raising kids in the city, also.... which I will ramble on about later......

If anyone else wants to chime in about great outdoor spots in Astoria, or about raising kids in the city (arguments for and against)...........

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Astoria Moms- Urban Family Planning

We, the moms in my mama writing group, decided that we should make a blog. Enough talking about it- Let's Do It!

We have a lot to say, since we're a chatty bunch. We have opinions, absolutely, on what is the best grocery store to take our strollers into, and where to get good kids shoes. We also love to talk about all the very cool places we go to- in the city (Manhattan), in the 'hood (Queens, baby!), and beyond both near and far (Brooklyn, Long Island, England, Israel, Peru!).

We also have opinons on politics, literature, art, racism and sexism. We have really strong opinions on what it feels like to be a mom, struggling to balance keeping a sense of self with being a good parent.

And of course, dads, grandparents, guardians, aunts and uncles and those without kids (we once were just like you!) are always welcome!

But our blog, as a whole, reflects what it is like to be a woman with kids in Astoria, Queens, NY, and our adventures and thoughts thereof.

We welcome submissions and those who would like to join!