Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My favorite neighborhood

I’ve lived in New York for 21 years, since I was a freshman in college, and I’ve lived in many, many neighborhoods. I had a compulsion to move in my 20s--I was just never comfortable. Here are the places I’ve lived, not necessarily in the correct order:

• Morningside Heights
• Brooklyn Heights
• Upper West Side
• Lower East Side
• East Village
• Cobble Hill
• Carroll Gardens
• Chelsea
• West Village (6 years)
• Sunset Park

And now, Astoria, and in a few months, the Ditmars side of Astoria. And this time, we’re homeowners, so perhaps this will be my last neighborhood? Who knows.

But finding Astoria and moving here was a great revelation. This is by far my favorite part of New York, and I feel like I have the breadth of experience of having lived in a lot of places to really back that up.

I found Astoria via Sesame Street, where my husband works, and which shoots at Kaufman Astoria studios on 34th Avenue. We had been living in Sunset Park together and had just married that fall, and he was working in the studio on that season’s episodes. So every morning he left our Brooklyn apartment at 7 AM, and he came home most nights at 10 PM.

We had no children then and I was working late most nights. I was still on staff at an ad agency; I hadn’t yet gone freelance and regained control of my hours. So we were both stretched thin.

And we hated our apartment and we hated our neighborhood. But like most things you hate but that envelope you, we didn’t really consider changing. We had really low rent, we loved each other and we weren’t home that much.

But the neighborhood felt so unfriendly and desolate and downtrodden. I used to powerwalk (my knees couldn’t handle running, so yes, I became one of those silly-looking women—and when I start exercising again, I’ll go back) in Green-wood Cemetery, which was nearby, but they kicked me out (you can’t powerwalk in a cemetery, even if you bring along a bouquet of flowers so you look like you are going to visit a grave… that is how low I had sunk—pretending to mourn a loved one so I could work out). So I had to powerwalk through the streets, and it was so lonely until I got to Park Slope, and then it was too crowded.

So we just endured, enjoyed our cheap rent and rejoiced when Fresh Direct started delivering so we actually had okay groceries (there were no good restaurants near us either).

And then came the Sesame Street Christmas Party, which used to be a big extravaganza. It was held on the set (by Hooper’s store) with tons of food and a DJ playing eighties hits and disco, and a wild Muppet pageant, and singing, and alcohol, and some office hijinks. I’m not great at those parties but this one was fun.

After the party, the entire cast and crew were allowed to take Town cars home (big perk after months of late nights!), so we climbed into ours outside the studio and it took off through the Astoria streets. And that’s when I fell in love.

It was late December and late at night, and my husband and I were giggling at the drunken people (a mystery guest and one of the interns) making out in front of the studio (big gossip for the next morning!) and I looked out the window, happy to be in the car heading to our apartment.

And all of a sudden I knew I wanted to live here, in this neighborhood. It looked as though a family could be happy here, in these quiet streets. It looked as though people had real lives here, that they weren’t just camping out until the next best thing showed itself. It felt as though a life could be built here and enjoyed and treasured.

I mentioned how pretty I thought Astoria was to my husband and he sort of blinked at me. He had never considered it a neighborhood—it was where the studio was, nothing more and nothing less.

It was in Queens, and Queens, to young, ambitious people in New York, was very low on the totem pole. In fact, it was lower than where Brooklyn used to be. And yet somehow Brooklyn has become cool and desirable. Anyway, Queens just wasn’t on his radar. It hadn’t been on mine either until that moment. Plus my father had grown up in Jackson Heights, and he had talked often about escaping Queens. For me to actually desire to live in Queens was truly bizarre to my dad.

So my husband thought about it, and fairly quickly he agreed with me (transforming his commute from an hour to five minutes was a big incentive). And six months later we moved to Astoria, and a few months later had our first child. Astoria is where our family truly began.

I love it here. And it is the place I imagined it might be that night in the Town Car heading back to Brooklyn—yet far, far more.

I’d love to know how other moms found Astoria. It is my favorite part of New York City, and I wish I had found it years before.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


I have spent the last week trying to find the perfect cake to make for my son’s birthday party next weekend. I have tested so many recipes that it’s absolutely insane. I made my husband sit down and make a schedule for next week for who will clean what and when. My parents and sister are coming in to town and I’ve tried to schedule as many fun-filled events as I can pack into a long weekend for us all. And then there’s the party – inviting all of our friends and my son’s friends, getting the party favors, planning to make the food. I have four different lists going at the moment of what to buy and when, what goes where and how to do it.

Until this morning, when I thought of next weekend, I broke out into a sweat, stressing about everything. The funny part? My son is turning one. He cares nothing about cake or sparkly kitchen floors. He won’t know if his wrapping paper matches the party-themed napkins or if the cake is gluten-free, dairy-free or none of the above. So why am I doing all of this?

This is what I do. I’m a do-er. I like to do things and go places and cross things off of lists. And since I’ve had my son, my “do” addiction is out of control. It seems like as soon as I cross one thing off, three more things are added on. Cross off getting groceries – add on doing more laundry, calling to make an appointment with the pediatrician, and ordering diapers.

In my “other” life, I’m a Holistic Health Counselor. I coach people on how to make their own wellness a priority and to find peace and grace, yet when I look at how I’ve been living recently, I can honestly say that my life resembles neither peace nor grace.

A great man once taught me about “the magic of mirroring”, meaning that clients who are attracted to my practice will most likely have challenges that I have overcome or am dealing with currently.

So yesterday, I was listening with great pity to my client, who was telling me that she finds no satisfaction in achieving a goal, but rather takes pride in finding something new and more challenging to keep her mind active. I asked her when she was going to find peace in just “be-ing”. I challenged her to just be with her feelings for a moment and it was difficult for her to do.

Then, it struck me. She is my mirror. She has been adding things to her list long enough for her babies to turn into men. Is this going to be me when my son is grown? Still over-achieving? Still crossing off one thing, only to add three more?

In church, the pastor was talking about “earthly riches”. Reminding us that “ you can’t take it with you”. But what about my “to do” list? Can I take that with me?

And what about when my son is thinking back on his childhood – maybe talking to a therapist or a health counselor. Will he remember us “be-ing” together? Or will he remember frequently seeing the back of my head as I intently mix up cakes and fold laundry and email and…

…make him wait for me to complete my never-ending list.

This life is about “be-ing”. Being together. Being loved. Being a friend. Being a mom and a wife and a daughter and a sister. I can be a human “doing” or a human “being”.

So how do I break my “doing” addiction?

For today, I am different choices, and if it means I have to include those on my “to do” list, I will. Add cherishing every sense as my son nurses from my breast while falling asleep. Add choosing to sit on the couch next to my husband and hold hands. Add going to bed early enough to be open to what the Universe has in store for me the next day.

And I know I can’t “take it with me” -- but if I can, I’d rather take my son than a really nice cake.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

And then we almost moved to ...

During the past two, three months I was living in a reticent and reluctant world, I guess it felt like I was living in a box. Things were about to change. My in-laws were in town and we had a wonderful time together, but then again, back to normal life.
I packed myself up and lived day by day as if it was my last day here in Astoria. (there's a voice inside telling me how dramatic I am - so let's put this voice aside for a moment. I am what I am)
Moving puts us in a delicate situation in which we have to deal with practical things and abstract issues. In our case, we wanted to move because of Antonio's new job in Jersey City, because we wanted to have dad home earlier and enjoy him as much as we could. So we started looking for information about rentals in Jersey City and Hoboken. We actually visited the place a couple of times and as much as we liked the area, we disliked the rental price, the small-sized apartments and the quality of some of the schools near the areas we were interested in moving in.
Finally, yesterday we sat down and talked about this big step. We weighed pros and cons, and were very honest about our desires, fears, dreams and how the moving would affect them ... The fact is, it is hard to leave Astoria (this lively neighborhood) and the life we have here (and all the friends). And although I am not sure for how long we are staying, for the moment we are staying for good.
I guess now I can put the box away. Life is waiting and I don't want to miss a thing!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

I love my boys

Ok, I only have one son and I am pregnant with a girl. So who are my boys?

They include my son and his gang. I joined this mom's group when my son was only a few weeks old and went to my first meetup when Samuel was 7 weeks old. I was such a geek. I went with a notebook and wrote down everything everyone recommended: an indoor playcenter called bumbolee's, swim lessons at the Y, well it was a short list, there was not much around Astoria. I took notes on who I met- I'm horrible with names and I didn't want to forget the names- I needed friends desperately. Who would figure that these women would be such an inportant part of my life now?

What I never imagined from that first meetup was that my son would learn his first social lessons, from the babies I met at these first meetups. My son is growing up with his set of buddies. He asks for them by name. "Mami I want to see my amigos" and he goes on to list the names of those he wants to see today. When we leave playgroups he leaves crying like he's some poor neglected child who never gets to play with friends.

These buddies I have seen since they were babes. As moms we've all shared in crying through the night, rolling over, crawling, walking, running, holy shit he won't stop running, and the lovely "dude can you leave my breasts alone already"? Now these little guys are making their own friendships and rules. They laugh, tease, hit, ok sometimes bite, hug, and love each other. When I see them together it is mayhem and complete joy. My eyes light up at not just seeing my son, but at seeing his friends. I am so proud of all these kids and their accomplishments together. Look at how strong so and so is. Look how far so and so is climbing. I can't believe how clever your son is to say that. Wow I can't believe how much energy so and so has. Dude your son is so gorgeous...

I really feel like bragging about all these kids like they were my own. So even if I never have another son, ladies thanks for making me feel like I have several.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Your turn, Mommy

Right now, I'm a favorite playmate. Not *the* favorite, but definitely in the top 5- for both of my kids. I'm very often asked to play trains, or cars, to paint or draw, and always to read books before bed. Also, though my singing is sometimes unwelcome, I am often asked to sing favorites-- right now it's "I've been working on the railroad," particularly, "Sing someone's in the kitchen!"
Outside, it's often- "Your turn. You roll, Mommy," and I obligingly roll on the grass. We can roll together, and my 6 month old is left to watch us confusedly. I'm asked to "swing" him by holding him under his arm pits. When asked to draw chalk pictures and letters or numbers, I'm happy to help. I am asked to ride bikes, too, but right now it's hard because I most often am carrying the 6 month old and we can't both fit. But I am helpful when it comes to taking worms carefully out of the dirt, and often asked to rescue bugs. We fill up buckets with water and pour it over the flowers or onto the driveway. We put leaves on the tiny rivers and watch them float away.
My 6 month old is also in love. All I have to do to get him to smile is smile myself. Or laugh, or tickle him under his chin. If I sing, he's ecstatic. I'm forever being groped- my hair is grabbed so that he can pull us more closely together and my cheeks and chin are used for teething. He yells and squeals to get me to look at him and he'd love to stay all day on my lap (and often nearly does).
I know that someday- hopefully not too soon- I will no longer be the preferred companion. I'll be *mom* and hopefully will fulfill other roles in their lives. During the days that feel like everyone constantly needs me, I have to remember that this, too, will pass.