Category Archives: park slope

What’s Missing, What’s Here: On The Eve of My Book’s Birth Day

I seem to be living in a spiral-shaped sea shell these days. Harper turned four on Monday. Ollie will be two in a few weeks. And this Tuesday, April 2nd, a few days after the kids’ birthday party with all its balloons and frosting, my book officially comes out. The Mermaid of Brooklyn is about a mother with two kids, two years apart, like mine, but I started writing it when Harper was just a few months old, one day after a visit to the swingset, with her asleep in the carrier on my chest. I was thinking about my great-grandmother and rusalkis and the weird culture of Brooklyn parenting more than my actual parenting experiences, although of course it all gets mixed in together. And on Tuesday, my book launch will be at Powerhouse on 8th, the new bookstore in the building I lived in when I wrote the book. 2 kids, 4 years, and a move later: the book.

Of course I’m so excited and thankful. But also: confused.

Thanks to Jenna Blum for my very own milk carton!

Thanks to Jenna Blum for my very own milk carton!

Due to ongoing contract disputes between my publishers and Barnes & Noble, it’s very unlikely anyone will be able to find my book at a B&N store. In many parts of the country, that’s the only place to go and stroll about and discover a new book. I know my suburban Chicago B&N outlet was where I went on weeknights as a teenager to drink cinnamon-plum tea and read philosophy texts and women’s magazines (yes, at the same time) with my best friend and browse around in the quiet store at 8 pm and happen upon some book on a table I never would have heard of otherwise — and I feel like B&N should remember this, and care. I guess what I’m saying is, I really love B&N. I love my indies, and always support them, but when I was growing up in the suburbs, B&N was a sanctuary of sorts for me. And I have been so happy with Simon & Schuster and everyone at my division, Touchstone, and all their support of my book, and I get that both sides have their reasons. I know. It’s not personal.

What replaced my neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

What replaced my neighborhood Barnes & Noble.

But then, also, an unexpectedly nice thing has happened, because of all this B&N business: S&S authors, all (coincidence?) female novelists, have banded together to try to get our books on the radar.  M.J. Rose, Jenna Blum, Randy Susan Meyers — these are authors I have only known from afar, who are doing what I aspire to — writing smart books about women’s lives that readers obsessively love — and yet suddenly we’re all tweeting each other all the time. I feel this solidarity with other writers whose books are coming out into this mess, like we are all book-sisters (and not just competing for the seven spots for reviews left in the country). And there’s something really, really nice about that. I would post all their book covers here but I still have a lot of laundry to fold. So go here, and check out these wonderful books!

I once read an interview with an author whose debut novel had been largely ignored. When asked how he felt about the book’s reception he said something like, “You know, my wife and I just had our first baby, and that is a very good distraction, and puts everything else into perspective.” I loved this. I’ve found balancing writerhood and mothership to be challenging. It’s hard to find the time and focus and energy to write, even if, maybe especially if, you’re writing ABOUT motherhood. But I’ve also the combination to be a nourishing one.

Take today: I could have spent the day obsessing about my book and what will or won’t happen with it, but I was too busy having an adventure on the subway and a raucous playdate and making Charlie & Lola decorations for the birthday party. Ollie played in an afternoon sunbeam, swiping his hand at the glowing dust motes, laughing hysterically. Harper told me she was having a hard time deciding whether to be a doctor or a teacher. At bedtime, the kids cuddled up and Harper read Ollie his favorite books, and he propped his fat little cheek in his fat little hand to listen intently, and I almost cried, and that was all that really mattered about today. I’m lucky, lucky, lucky and I know it. I would of course like to be a lucky, lucky, lucky author with books in B&N but whatever, I’ll take what I can get.

And so:

If you live in New York City, please join me at one of my readings! Wine and bunny crackers, obviously, will be served.

If you don’t, please go into your local Barnes & Noble and with a very puzzled look on your face, ask where oh where is that great Mermaid of Brooklyn book you’ve been hearing so much about could be.

And finally, if you can identify the provenance of the bookstore pictured above, feel a moment of in-on-the-joke pride. Go on, really enjoy it. Then, tell me in the comments (but don’t Google it, you dirty cheater)and if you’re the first one to do so (and you are not my husband) I’ll send you a book!

The Black Apple, always awesome.

The Black Apple, always awesome.

When The Tragedy Isn’t Yours

Jane’s Carousel, beacon of light in the storm. Harper has vowed to try a horse that goes up and down next summer and by gum those horses better be ready.

A little ago Harper asked me “Are there mean people in real life?” I debated for an instant before admitting, “Yes. Yes there are.” There was a long pause and then she said, “But not in New York.” “That’s right,” I told her.

When you think about having kids you say things like “Oh, how can people bring an innocent little baby into this world,” but it’s usually just something you’re saying because you think you should at least entertain the thought, when really your mind is whirring with tiny chub-thighs and screen-printed onesies and that intoxicating baby smell. Then you have the kids and then you know what that statement means, you know your crazy love for them, you know the chilling dread of something bad ever happening to them. Because it probably will.

In the past two weeks, the world, the news, and my brain have been churning with terribleness. First there was the horrifying, haunting Krim family tragedy, which was none of my business, none of anyone’s business but that poor broken family, that mother who lived through every mother’s nightmare – the very story seemed custom-made to torture every parent who has ever had to leave their child with someone and felt uneasy — the senselessness, the horrible imagery.

Then a few days later came Hurricane Sandy (excuse me, Super-Storm Sandy), which hit the city worse than I think any of us really believed possible. Yes, we heard on the news about the evacuation zones and the potential for floods and all that, but we also heard a lot of that last year circa Irene and nothing much happened, and besides, hurricane damage just isn’t the kind of story we’re used to around here. And even here in good old KWT it feels abstract. It was windy and ominous feeling the days before the storm, but in our big tank of an apartment building we scarcely heard a thing. I slept soundly the night of the storm (I always do, the benefit of exhaustion). The kids hardly noticed anything. On Halloween, playschool had a party, we trick-or-treated. I worried that Ollie had too much sugar. And yet here, just miles away, in our own city, in our own borough, people are suffering. People have suffered unimaginable losses. Their homes, everything. A friend’s friend was killed by a falling tree. In another specially-designed-mother-torture story, a woman in Staten Island saw her two young sons swept out of her arms by flood waters. It’s a cliche to say you don’t have words but…I don’t have words.

So, probably because stories are too much for me to really comprehend, I find myself fixating on the aquarium, Coney Island, ruined books, the trees in the park – these losses are significant, but on a scale I understand. These things make me really, really sad – but not despairing.

Then today I found out a dear friend’s brother was murdered – senselessly, narrativelessly. She is drowning in sorrow and shock. I just never thought murder had anything to do with my family, she said, and I knew exactly what she meant. That’s why all three of these horror stories (one encompassing so many others, an anthology of destruction and mess and sorrow) have me feeling adrift – none of them makes any sense. This one aches particularly, because one of my best friends in the world — a bright, creative, compassionate, completely unique and hilarious and kind person — has had her life blown apart.

But I also feel like I don’t actually have any right to be shaken up, to feel sorrow. None of these stories is actually mine. In each instant I think, selfishly, awfully, I’m so glad that wasn’t my family, my kid, and then I feel disgusting, like that’s exactly what I would think people were thinking and hate them for if it really were happening to me. In each case, there is an initial thought to be fought, that urge to prove to yourself that it couldn’t actually happen to you, because of… because of nothing, there is no protecting your own family by somehow finding a way to blame others for the blameless act of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

How do you deal with tragedies that aren’t really yours? It’s a privileged question to ask, and possibly a silly one. But I still feel so sad. I guess I should just feel lucky that I have the luxury of a dull, thick-headed sympathy pain. I’m going to go help make food for an evacuation shelter tomorrow morning. I feel like this is a lame effort, a bandaid flung into a river of blood. And I know it’s mostly for me to feel a little better, but okay, I’ll take it. I want to be around New Yorkers who are trying to help, to feel like I’m a part of something, I guess, or trying to be anyway. That’s probably not the right reason, I realize this.I want to live in Harper’s world, where mean people seem imaginary. Where nothing bad B-A-D bad happens to us, or people we know, because it’s just not part of the story we know, so how could it?

Sorry to be such a bummer. Everything else seems lame to write about right now. And it’s daylight savings time, FML, which means the kids will be up at 4 am, and they are my cherished loves-of-my-lives but fuck if I love anything at 4 am. File under non-problem problems, I know.

PS: The week before the storm, Adam happened to take the kids to the Aquarium:

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McMe-Time With Fries

They made me do it.

I am writing this blog post on my phone, in my parked car, having just participated in one of the most salacious, shameful activities in my mom-repetoire, so embarrassing that I feel compelled to immediately share with the world. It involves… sleeping children. And… fast food.

But before I dive in, let me just provide some context– after an exciting morning of having a cavity filled (honestly, the most restful moment of the day), I spent an hour getting the kids ready to go to the doctor. This had me a little anxious already; last time we went to the doctor’s Harper distinguished herself by shouting,  “I’m not listening to you! I’m going to escape!” and running out of the room. This morning she is being especially contrary, vetoing the sweater I offer, turning down the suggested boots with disgust, really wanting Special Baby to go in the car seat instead of Ollie. (How do you argue with something like that?) Getting downstairs takes cajoling, getting across the street to where the car is parked takes threats, by the time I’m trying to get her in the car seat she’s kicking at my face (“I want to do everything all by myself on my own!”) while Ollie watches the show, and I’m yelling at her there on the avenue for all to see. “Stop kicking me!” I add as I shut the door, just in case any disapproving eavesdropper needs to know why I’m spewing venom at a sweet-faced little blonde clutching her dolly.

So. Then, the doctor’s office, where Harper repeats her trickery despite not being the one being examined at all, pushing at the doctor’s chair experimentally and whispering, “No doctor for me OR Ollie.” One shot and one screaming baby later, we are headed home. “I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up!” Harper announces as we get back in the car.

Now, we don’t drive often. This used to be because, hello, we live in New York City which is where people live when they are superior beings who walk places and frequent local shops. Now I admit, it’s mostly because finding parking in our neighborhood is an exercise in futility, so that my outings are all coordinated with alternate side parking, when the streets miraculously clear for the street sweepers, only to have every spot filled the instant it’s legal again. So driving is a little bit of a novelty for the kids, and for me, and so I am unused to this weird phenomenon of the kids both falling asleep in their car seats on our way back from anywhere.

Car naps used to disturb me because I used to care about “junk sleep” and “nap schedules.” Then I had another baby. Now I take what I can get. And when both kids are asleep at the same time, it’s like a spa vacation. In my car. So you know what I do?

I drive to McDonalds. I do. And I go through the drive-through. I do! McDonalds is so evil and disgusting! I, who used to be a vegan who lectured people on how supporting companies like McDonalds was destroying the earth and making angels cry! And… “Ah, can I get an iced coffee? And, like, a grilled chicken sandwich? Do you have something like that? A grilled chicken sandwich?”

“A McChicken?”

“Um, is that grilled?” I hear how ridiculous this sounds and correct myself, “Yes, please.” (It is not. It is a big chicken finger covered in greenish ribbons imitating lettuce and something like mayonnaise.) (It is DELICIOUS.) “Is the chicken organic?” I’m kidding, I don’t ask that. But I do think it. Oh, and can I just say that the sandwich, coffee, and fruit thingy that I get all cost $5? Do people know about this? That’s amazing!

And then, there I am, parked on a tree-lined Park Slope street, my kids snoozing away in neck-kinking slumps, sipping a McDonalds iced coffee (the medium is large enough to kill a horse — what is wrong with this country?! — oh, and delicious), and you know what? It’s the second-most relaxing moment of my day. After having my cavity filled.

PS Read more about how deeply, embarrassingly imperfect of a mother I am over at an even-more public forum here!

In Love With Inconvenience: The New York City Parent

 

Brooklyn Bridge, Looking East, New York City Side, July 7, 1899

Brooklyn, Land of the Schleppers

One thing I love about living in the city is having interesting, sophisticated, worldly conversations with the smart, creative people one meets here. To wit, one of my recent favorites, concerning the question, “How do you get in the door?” I bet moms in the suburbs don’t have stimulating conversations like this one.

In the strange case that you were curious, here’s my version: If we are in the double stroller I kick Harper out, make her walk up the front stairs, then pull the stroller up the front stairs into the vestibule where I park, unload, put Ollie in the carrier, then lug everything up to our third floor apartment while shouting at Harper, “Go! Go! Don’t pick up the neighbors’ shoes! Just walk! No, don’t sit down and talk to Pretend-Murray! Walk! Up!” Or, alternately, if we are in the single, umbrella stroller, then I kick Harper out, make her walk up the stairs, unload whatever groceries we’ve acquired or cubbies that have been stowed in the basket, take these up into the vestibule, then fold the stroller and insert it into the stroller-pile in the hallway before lugging everything up while shouting, “Walk, Harper! No, Pretend-Murray doesn’t need a time-out! Go up the stairs! Up! Up!”

My friends and I like to discuss our other fox-chicken-chicken feed type conundrums – how to get groceries, walk dogs, take the subway, etc – in excruciating detail, grateful for every inkling that someone else has it worse. “Oh, you have to store your stroller in the basement? Drag!” It’s very enriching. And it’s not just the everyday household stuff either; it’s schooling (“How many pre-Ks is Punky applying to?”); it’s housing (“I hope the co-op board approves us so we can move into our $800,000 studio!”) – we just like everything to be about 12 steps more complicated than it is anywhere else.

But as I was transporting an IKEA haul up our rickety stairs the other day, having performed extremely complicated car-moving maneuvers (coordinating, as I do, all driving outings with times when the car has to be moved for alternate side parking/street cleaning anyway), it occurred to me that I probably secretly like all this ridiculousness. After all, it is a kind of a puzzle, a riddle to feverishly occupy my mind while my body performs numbingly boring tasks like grocery shopping. It becomes a kind of a game to multi-task as many tasks as possible, to transform an ordinary errand into a complicated series of strategic moves. Everyday life, become chess.

That said, I wouldn’t mind a slightly less crafty opponent, sometimes.

Fall in Prospect Park

fall in prospect parkfall in prospect parkfall in prospect parkfall in prospect parkfall in prospect parkfall in prospect parkEvery once in a while someone who doesn’t live in New York expresses concern about the strange practice of raising children in the city, and I realize they don’t know about the park. The park! We are obsessed with the park. Or I am. Harper has probably spent 60% of her life in the park. The playground, the meadows, the zoo, the botanic gardens, the carousel, the other playground, the other other playground, the tot lot. Oh the park. It’s true about city dwellers and parks being our yards. And we don’t even have to mow. It obligingly glows in Autumn. This is good because we are too lazy to drive out of the city in order to enjoy fall color. Which is good because we live near the park. Oh the park.

fall in prospect parkfall in prospect park

“I’m going to dream of Halloween”

I guess I’ve got a chip on my shoulder when it comes to kid Halloween. Every year I get annoyed that there are scary, inexplicable decorations everywhere, spooking Harper. (The other day at the children’s museum — “Why there’s a hand there, Mama?” “Oh, you know. Just a really fun severed hand floating in some fake formaldehyde as a hilarious joke. Whee!”) She also hates masks and face paint, although she did manage gather up the bravery today at playschool to get her nose painted pink. Then there’s the candy situation. Why would I want strangers to give my kid a bunch of terrible junk food I don’t really want her to eat at all? Why? And let’s not forget the costume situation, which just reminds me of what a non-crafty mama I really am. Maybe it’s the deep-seated costume-wariness of a bespectacled person. Glasses really make costumes impossible. I’m probably the only person in the world or at least Park Slope who wants Sarah Palin to jump into the Republican primary race — just because she’s a good costume for me, people, that’s it.

Still, over the course of the day I admit that my Halloween grinchiness was melted away. Harper was delighted with the morning’s costumes, invented by her: Charlie and Lola.

charlie and lola


charlie and lolacharlie and lola

charlie and lola
I was proud of her for this costume idea. First of all, it’s literary and almost entirely unrecognizable by the general public, and thus, my kind of costume. Second of all, it included her brother, which melted my Halloweeny heart. Third of all, it was easily thrown together, consisting of normal and rewearable clothes. I mean, am I an unfun Mom or what.

This costume was perfect for the morning at school — after all, it’s just clothes. And Harper really really liked pretending to be Lola all day. She demanded a lot of pink milk, addressed me as Marv or sometimes Minnie, and got into zany mishaps with an invisible Lotta. Good times!

But a few weeks ago a desire to also be a fairy princess was expressed. What IS a fairy princess? How does she know about them? I don’t know. All I know is, I placed an order with the brilliant Halloween seamstress that is my mother and a few days later a sweet, diaphanous, sparkly fairy dress arrived in the mail. Tiara, wings, and wand were obtained. Alton was squeezed into Harper’s old monkey costume.Costumes #2 were in full effect for evening.

Harper of course refused to wear the fairy princess getup. At trick-or-treating time we made our way out onto the street, Harper dressed as a cranky 2 year old who needed a nap. (A very convincing ensemble, I have to say.) But the magic smoke bubbles at the bakery across the street and hordes of costumed kids changed her mind, as did our accidental trick-or-treating on the way to her friend’s house. “Why he is giving me candy?” Harper kept demanding.

Finally we met up with Malka, her parents, and Adam. As usual, Malka and Harper whipped each other into a frenzy of giddiness, and soon Harper was racing around in her fairy princess costume which was good so I didn’t have to freak out on her about demanding it. The girls loved trick-or-treating, monkey-Alton fell asleep in the carrier, and the grownups got to feel charmed by brownstone Brooklyn in all its neighborhoody glory.park slope halloween
In conclusion… tiara+lollipops=really impressively tangled hair.

Malka’s Miniature Room

The other day Harper declared Malka to be her best, best friend. This was after some quality time spent engaged in Harper’s favorite friend-activity, namely, holding hands and running and falling down. Just like true best friends, they spend a lot of time being sort of awful to each other. But lately an amazing thing has happened. On a playdate Malka’s mother (the accomplished poet and YA author Carley Moore, who also makes a killer smoothie) and I realized we hadn’t heard from the girls in a while. After a moment of cold dread, we found them happily playing together in Malka’s sweet little room. After two and a half years of parallel play interrupted now and then by knock-down-drag-out brawls, this is a very thrilling developmental milestone. Malka is an older woman, having already turned 3, and I think her maturity might be rubbing off on not-quite-two-and-a-half Harper.

I believe the sweetness of Malka’s room has something to do with their congenial play. There is just something about this room (and the whole apartment) that feels like home, that reminds me of what I loved about being a child and my own room growing up– a relaxed, homey warmth.

Here’s what Carley has to say about the 9×12 room and how it came together: “My mom, Judy Haller of Jamestown, New York, made both of the quilts.  The purple one she made for Malka when she was born and it’s made from fabrics that we’re designed to look like childrens’ fabrics from the 1940s.  I love some of those patterns–the tiny kittens and the hearts, very retro.”

” The second one (the red and blue one), my mom made last year for Malka at Christmas.  I love the reds and blues and that there is a different panel for every month.  I come from a long-line of quilt makers–most of the women in my family quilt (my mom, my aunts, my grandma) so it’s special to have these in Malka’s room.  Plus, they are so one-of-a-kind–the quilter’s vision is always so interesting to me, kind of like a writer’s voice.”

“Shells–Malka loves shells and jewelry.  We try to arrange those on her dresser, and she rearranges often.  She sometimes tries to sleep with her shells she loves them so much.” [Ed. note: Also My Little Pony! Hello, wave of nostalgia! YES!]

“The new bookcase.  It’s a piece of crap from Ikea–a Billy to be exact.  I don’t want to knock the Billy though.  We have many of them in our house full of books.  I always say that I won’t buy another, but they are so cheap and they fit a lot of stuff.  Now Malka has some bins for tiny things like cars, paper dolls, and beads, and all of her books and puzzles fit in one place.  Yay!”

“Matt’s father made the Malka collage when she was born.  He’s a painter and collage maker.”

I think it only fair to note that this room was spic-and-span when we arrived, but the girls immediately pulled down one of the toy bins and got to work making music and playing. I’m telling you, this room WORKS!

You know what else I think helps make this home so cozy and warm? The excellent design choice of cats draped luxuriously here and there.

Also, Malka has a kick-ass doll house that really reminds me of the Fisher Price one I used to have.

So there you have it. And now, let us hold hands and run in the fields together. Metaphorically, I mean, of course.