I remember going on preschool tours for my daughter and watching some parents jotting down notes and asking earnest questions about educational philosophy and why they should choose XYZ Brooklyn Private Preschool over other expensive and coveted XYZ Brooklyn Private Preschool. And the conversation then devolving into this: will there be people helping to wipe their kids’ asses when they go to the bathroom? Will the school provide wipes? Will the wipes be organic?
Meanwhile, my husband and I were cracking up at the three- and four-year-olds picking their boogers and wiping them on each other, and the banter that ensued between the kids as they did so. We kept looking around at all these tightly wound parents wondering why others weren’t smiling or seeming to not find this all a bit absurd and hilarious? How could people even focus on asking their boring and tedious questions while little Ascher was pouring glue all over little Ava’s gluten-free sunbutter sandwich?
I’m not engaged in a traditional mommy war, but sometimes I do feel like I am fighting a (one-sided) war with humorless mommies (and daddies). When it comes to parenting, you just can’t have enough of a sense of humor. There are way too many moments ripe for parody. And, frankly, if you can’t laugh at the ridiculousness of life with kids and the situations you end up finding yourself in, then you’re not someone I want to chat with at the sandbox.
I mean ugh, is there anything worse than trying to converse with a totally humorless parent? One who isn’t merely competitive or boring, but someone who just doesn’t get the banality and absurdity of it all? And, yet, these people are everywhere! I know life is all about context and about trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. And maybe these glum and dour folks are going through a divorce or illness and can’t fake it that day. I realize I should be more compassionate towards them – maybe they just don’t want to share a chuckle with me, the Random Mom Smiling in the Corner. But, honestly, having kids is too hard and too intense not try to find some levity.
Last weekend, a friend of mine organized a music festival with several bands, headlined by a lovely kiddie singer-songwriter who teaches classes around our parts. Rain happened, so the music fest moved indoors. Singer-songwriter sent email to large list of parents announcing venue change, in a lyrical, poetic and sweet verse. It actually rhymed and was as charming as musician’s public persona. Seconds later, singer-songwriter sent another email to same large list of parents, this one intended instead for members of his band, lamenting the change of venue and using the f word and a few other non-kid friendly intonations.
He must have realized instantly his mistake because moments later yet another sheepish email came in apologizing profusely. And then, on cue, email from outraged parent who demands to be taken off the email list. But who happened to REPLY ALL in order to publicly shame poor lovely singer/songwriter/teacher. Does this music teacher use that mouth with his students? How dare he! Do you know who I AM!? TAKE ME OFF THIS LIST! And then, of course, the lovers and protectors of singer-songwriter step in to his defense. People make mistakes! All along, all these people, replying all. Really funny stuff, but mostly because who on earth would be so humorless as to think a grown man who plays music for a living might curse in the presence of his band? How do these people make it though their days?
Life is totally ludicrous and terrifying random. Today I saw a very old friend who told me a bit awkwardly that he had lost his wife to leukemia two years ago. And another old friend got in touch recently and caught me up – he has completely lost his sight due to a rare disease. What do I feel in these moments of hearing of others’ extreme pain and loss? I just feel force of life, so scary, so painful, but also so overwhelmingly wonderful, just tearing at me. And I look at my kids, and all kids, and they are so pure and so alive and so freaking funny. So that’s how I cope and make it through the day. Whenever possible, I laugh.
(Photo: Noel Hendrickson)
My daughter started kindergarten this past week, but its me that’s gone back to school, and it’s 1977.
I watched Z. get ready for her first day, clutching her new purple quilted pencil case, and it shocked me how the memories flooded in. Suddenly, I’m four going on five, getting ready for my end of summer birthday. I’m wearing a paisley dress I obsessed over, the feel of the banana seat bicycle I first learned to ride beneath my bum. I remember how I looked myself dead in the eye in my parents’ full-length mirror, singing songs from day camp into a brush, mimicking how I saw older girls and women behave. I see Z. do dances in front of her shows on TV, hear her using intonations that I can tell she’s heard from other, likely older girls – the not so cute “Mommmmmm (MAH!)” and that’s “dis(GUST)ing!” I distinctly remember hearing my own voice say phrases like that – thinking I sounded so cool and mature.
I am enjoying my daughter more than I ever have. She is bursting with energy and excitement. Every day is filled with discovery and hilarious conversations. It hurts my heart to watch her growing up and away from me, but I feel so close to her right now, as I remember what it felt like to be her age. I have scattered memories of early childhood but Kindergarten is the moment true memory is sparked. I vividly recall my teacher, Mrs. Lockett. My white fluffy bathmat with pink, blue and yellow flecks that I took naps on. Having an accident at school and having a little plastic bin with extra clothes to change back into. The way strep throat felt.
Last night I was reading Where the Sidewalk Ends to Z. I was reliving my own confusion at some of the things I didn’t understand in those dark and subversive poems – trying to wrap my head around Shel Silverstein’s crazy and specific universe. And as we read and she melted into me, I kept swallowing the lump of pride and sadness and purity of experience. It’s the same way I felt as she shyly sat down at her Kindergarten table last week. It was like watching a really manipulative television commercial for Life Insurance, one with indie music and the mom watching the kid walk into her first day of school with backpack on both shoulders from behind – only it was actually happening.
I’ve also been thinking about how I felt a few weeks ago during the run up to Hurricane Irene. We live right in the evacuation zone in Brooklyn and had to make a decision the day before about whether to leave our building prior to the storm in case we lost power. We have another kid who is just a baby, and it felt a little too risky to stay in place, so we schlepped our pack-n-play and air mattresses and crap over to my brother in laws, also in Brooklyn but on higher ground. There I spent the night restlessly obsessing that a tree would crash through the window and kill us all.
I had many emotions during the 24 hours of the storm: fear, annoyance at the inconvenience, dread of the unknown. But I think the most poignant part of the experience was that I didn’t want to have to be the adult making the decisions about how to protect my completely helpless children. I didn’t want to be making copies of our important documents and sealing them in a Ziploc. I didn’t want to scour the stores for D batteries. I wanted to be the kid listening to what someone else told me to do.
Today is 9/11, so of course it is a moment to recognize ourselves as vulnerable souls trying to move forward through the scary and unforeseen things that continue to plague us. I am 39 years old and I have all the trappings of an adult, but sometimes I wish I could cuddle into my own mom and she could just tell me the right thing to do. Of course I now know, she had no idea what she was doing, either, when she read to me and tried teach me how to behave in the world.
Millions before us have had children, raised them and let them go. But if you take a second to think about how scary and random life can be, it can bring you back to feeling like a five-year-old, standing on the steps of your big new school, clutching your purple quilted pencil case.
OMG Event planning! Ramona Avery and LuAnn Victoria are both turning sixteen and are planning Super Sweet Sixteen parties. “Man, you definitely look like you’re more than sixteen,” says Anthony, LuAnn’s creepy event planner. Avery is bitchy. “Mom, it’s not your party! I need 10, 000 square feet. You can have, like five guests.” LuAnn just wants her daughter to have a simple little party, you know, like at a nightclub in Manhattan called Arena, because, “It’s like an arena.” Avery does not want a winter wonderland theme. She does not want performers, because it will seem like a Bat Mitzvah. She likes control and she does not like break dancing. She doesn’t, like, want a Hollywood theme. Anthony suggests an ice luge with mocktails sliding down it for Victoria. She seems into it.
Avery is a stone cold killer, while Victoria seems more shy and grateful to her mom. I am having palpitations watching these Housewife mothers with their Housewife daughters. I want my 4 year old to never grow, ever.
Sonja comes to Jill’s dermatologist’s office to meet with Jill’s sister the lawyer about her bankruptcy problems. I too like to conduct all my meetings at my dermatologist. It’s just convenient, and I like the chairs.
Poor Sonja. “I’m a lover, a gardener, a hostess. I’m not Donald Trump filing chapter 11.” Jill’s sister is good on TV and good at explaining money stuff. I suspect she’ll have a show soon on Bravo. Meeting over. Let’s go watch Jill get a “liquid facelift” by getting needles stuck up to her brain by a name brand doctor. “Ok, let’s enjoy ourselves,” Sonja says, ironically. Sister still got her sense of humor. Ouchie! That looks like it fucking kills. The dermatologist loves loves loves loves doing it. It makes her so happy. Sorry, that is just a strange thing to say. Maybe she loves the way her patients look afterwards, but can she really like the process? Can you imagine a pediatrician saying, “I love giving these shots to kids!” Is it really worth getting this for free Jill? Gross.
LuAnn and Cindy are planning a surprise party at Chez Josephine, a restaurant run by Elton John. Bawby is here in one of his new suits Jill picked out for him last week. Bawby!!
Ramona invites LuAnn to Avery’s party and seems surprised that Luann is having her daughter’s party on the same night. She is being competitive with her number of guests and undermining LuAnn left and right. Luann tries to pass her off to the magician and Ramona is incredibly rude to him – talking over him as he attempts to his sad little tricks. Here comes Simon wearing a caftan made with Zarin fabrics! Murray Hill the drag king says he’s dressed like a lesbian, which Ramona finds high-larious.
Everyone thinks its Jill coming through the door but false alarm, its only Howie’s girlfriend making a face like she swallowed something in the car on the way over. Oh hi Howie. But now here’s Jill and her hag friend from the Island and their liquid facelifts. She’s surprised! Thought she was going to see a show. “Look what Bawby bought me.” Giant freaking diamonds. She is totally dying right now.
And here is Ramona, undermining in the confessional. The party sucked. The room was narrow, uncomfortable, and she couldn’t talk to people.
Jacques tinkling the keys of the piano. Cindy is funny. Does a nice toast, she’s comfortable in that setting. This is the candle lighting at Bat Mitzvah party Avery did not want. Here’s weirdo Kelly apologizing about the surprise and being late. Look, there’s Michael Musto! Babwy’s toast: “You’re my wife, my lovah, and my best friend. Come mere baby! Kiss and a hug.”
Ramona is typing on her blackberry – “this party needs a jump start.” She puts on a red wig she pulled out of Kelly’s Dora the Explorer Backpack and does a vengeful imitation of Jill. “Bawby, my diamonds aren’t big enough.” While true, it’s not “classy” at all. Pretty mean. Everyone else is being nice. Jill does not like this imitation.
Here comes LuAnn down the stairs in a strapless dress with a giant peacock on her head. She is singing a song she wrote about Jill and channeling Josephine Baker. A huge “woman man” Ramona calls her. “What a bee-yoo-tiful voice” says Jill. Her voice is awful. As far as Housewife parties go, this one looks kind of fun. They seem to be having a good time for once.
LuAnn takes Victoria shopping for a dress, but can’t help picking up something for herself. She’s being ok tonight — self-aware at least for once. Victoria tries on a lot of slutty dresses and settles on one.
Back in Brooklyn, an awesome schlumpy Brooklyn hypnotist with an unspecified accent comes to see Simon and Alex. Simon has tried a couple of times to quit smoking and this guy is here to help. Alex looks skeptical but is going along with it. Simon has to go have one more cigarette before getting hypnotized, which is strange, but addiction is like that I suppose. Simon is doing it for the boys. Alex knows nagging doesn’t work but that doesn’t mean it stops wives like me from trying.
Hypnotist hypnotizes. I’m surprised he doesn’t dangle a giant pocket watch in front of Simon’s face and say, “you are getting very very sleepy.” Simon slumps over and the hypnotist starts yelling at Simon, “You are a non-smoker!” I love this guy! I want him to come over and yell at me that eating Swedish fish is bad. Simon wakes up and feels like there is a yucky taste in his mouth from the cigs. Alex looks surprised and skeptical. They embrace, to new beginnings. Simon looks not so good so lets hope he is taking care of his weird self and that it isn’t just cigarettes he is abusing.
Next scene is Avery and her friends going to a new restaurant. They walk down the street arm in arm and sit at the table and eat pizza and talk about the party. They seem very glossy and mature and Gossip Girly. Avery basically says that anybody who is anybody from the city is coming to the party. Her BFF saw the guest list and seems to approve, especially since “David” is coming. Ramona tells us in a confessional that Avery has an elite group of friends. And get Justin Beiber to come, one of the Housewives in Training says. Or Katy Perry. Jesus. Elite group indeed.
Cindy and Alex are working out with Cindy’s adorable trainer, which is great, except that Cindy has a stinky hoody. She looks great for having such little kids. She must work out hard and expensively. Cindy doesn’t really seem to get bothered by much. I think I would like to be friends with her and meet her trainer.
Into Avery’s party which is being set up for the night. Avery squeals with her BFF about the furniture and the décor but everyone is afraid of lawsuits so they call off this really exciting fake snow that the party planners were so psyched about. Ramona – who is afraid of no one — looks totally scared of Avery, and I would be too. She is so happy that Avery is happy, but almost as if she is the personal assistant to Mariah Carey or something, like she can never please her and she finally got her to get excited for five minutes.
Mario is very conservative and doesn’t want there to be beds at the party, which really is a natural fit for sixteen year olds. Ramona has convinced him that these are seating. I’m sure Mario knows his way around a cabana bed. He seems much more wary of the cameras than he used to a few seasons ago – I wonder what’s going on behind the scenes here. Ramona is worried about the wine. Hey, event planner lady who looks constantly exasperated, where is that goddamned wine? Seriously. This is going to cost as much as a wedding! How is Ramona this rich again???? She’s very nervous about the wine. She dials a random number on her blackberry and asks for the Ramona Singer Pinot Grigio and um, some vodka. Too bad its Jill’s dermatologist and not the liquor store on Park and 82nd.
Victoria’s party. I’m so excited that the music producer from LuAnn’s single is DJing! Sweet! I think I spotted him at Jill’s surprise party too. Victoria has no problem with performers – people are hanging from the ceiling and juggling. FYI Avery, it doesn’t feel at all like a Bat Mitzvah. Kelly gives her a box of something and has a great Kellyism in a confessional. “Victoria is a cool girl. If she’s not like a Marc Jacobs muse or working for French Vogue in five years, then I don’t know anything.” OMG.
Avery is on the way to her party in the pre-requisite limo with her friends. Their dresses are crazy short, their hair and make-up professional.
The two parties happen to be on the same night, so the Housewives must choose between them. So contrived. Jill and Kelly go first to Victoria’s and arrive next at Ramona’s. Jill makes a dig right away that she’s never seen an adult section at a party like this and its only for impressing Ramona’s fancy friends. I can see Jill doing the exact same thing. If there hadn’t been a separate section she would have been dissing on her for that. “Its just not done that the adults should mingle with the kids. They should have their own section.” She really is a hater.
Though Avery’s is rather opulent, fancier than most weddings. Lots of lighting design and white leather furniture. Sonja looks glamorous but a bit worn. Came to the party with the adult section. I don’t blame her. Its February in New York and bitch is broke. Jill to the catering guy “no napkins – how could you have no napkins?” Looking for a fight this one is.
Ramona is feeling competitive. Wants to know what the theme was at LuAnn’s from the ladies who went there first. She argues with Jill about whether Ramona created a club from this loft space and if it’s different than just booking the party in an actual club. The editors of this show are so naughty. They show Ramona saying, “Why would I have a party in a club when Avery can’t be in a club for another 5 years.” And right as she says in a voiceover, “it sends a mixed message,” they show her nervously at the party taking a gulp of her wine.
Then Avery tells Kelly that she wants Ramona and her friends out of there. She’s does a verbal eye roll every time she opens her mouth. Kelly steps in to tell Ramona to get the hell out of Avery’s space that Ramona probably paid 500,000 dollars for.
Victoria seems to be having slightly more fun than Avery, but it could just be that she’s hammered. Her party looks more like an actual party than the stage-managed one Ramona Avery is hosting. Part of what’s weird about Avery’s is there’s no music, and there’s too much space. No one is yelling, or dancing. Just posing for professional photographers. Crazy how Avery knows exactly what to do in front of them. The right smile and hip pivot. Scary. She probably already has a line of party planning jewelry or something that she’s working on.
What’s this? Bawby has had a few drinks and is getting up in it with Simon! “Peace and love is my mantra,” he says to Simon. I’ve never heard Babwy talk so much. Look at his Jewish Mafia style, those glasses, that hair. “We had dinner, we love the kids. The girls had a rough patch.” God I love his intonation – it is so familiar. “An internet blog, a hate blog, hate mongers.” One of those Internet bloggity things. He is sort of telling Simon off and Simon is likely lying. Not sure what is going on but here comes Smoove Mario to smoove it over. I’m sure we’ll hear more about the hate mongers and Simon’s general grossness next week. “To peace, love and health,” says Bawby.
For the record, I would have preferred Victoria’s party with the ice luges and the Ecstasy brought in by Lu’s music producer with the mohawk. Having Jill complain about the steak tartar and how the lighting design was over the top/not sophisticated enough would have been a huge drag. Though I would have attended either affair if only to give Bawby a hug and smell his Drakkar Noir aftershave.
Peace, love, health.
I was looking to hire a musician to play guitar at my son’s first birthday party. I figured it would be fun to have someone sing a Twinkle Twinkle/Wheels on the Bus/Yellow Submarine medley before we plied the kids with cake and got everyone the hell out of our house so that I could take a nap.
First I asked the teacher from the little music class baby M. goes to if she’d be interested. It’s a brand name here in Brooklyn, one of the “cool music classes” with original songs about living in the city, taking cabs, tall buildings. After many inquiries, the lead performer finally gave me a quote: 300 clams. And that just really gave me pause. Sorry,but I’m talking 12 kids under five, maracas, maybe some scarves. Forty-five minutes.
One of the great things about living in New York City is that there are artists everywhere. Creative people who are shrewd and resourceful; they’re figuring out how to play music, act, write, paint – all while surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Many of these folks have realized that parents will spend a ridiculous amount of money on their kids in the name of “enrichment.” That means they can ask a lot for lessons and birthday parties and people will pay it. And then they can afford to play their own music at night, go on auditions between gigs or pay rents on their studios.
If you care about music, you’re aware of how overly cheery and precious some kids’ music can be. And how smart and hilarious and deep the great stuff can be (They Might Be Giants and Gustafer Yellowgold are two bands we love listening to and watching on DVD over and over again). It’s thrilling to see the specific genius of art and music created for a young audience, how elegantly these artists get into the brains of our babies.
Our Brooklyn neighborhood is home to hipsters who project their carefully curated culture onto their kids. These are people who insist that their infants really enjoy The Clash and that their 2-year-olds prefer artisanal popsicles to those freeze pops you can buy at the drugstore. So if your toddlers dance like mad to Yo Gabba Gabba, it reinforces the fact that you, too, are still cool (all bands are excited to be booked on that show).
I am not taking myself out of this phenomenon. I took my kids to Yo Gabba Gabba Live, where I overpaid for tickets and an official Yo Gabba Gabba light stick and watched at intermission as the sponsor of the event (Kia) did a live commercial for a captive audience (of children!). To me, it was an example of Good Indie Cool Thing Gone Bad. Which happens. There’s that line when something is lovely and entertaining and then it crosses into being cheesy and compromised. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but I’d rather not overpay for it.
The irony, of course, is that kids are the most opened-minded listeners out there, especially the younger ones. My daughter could not get enough of this damned Elmo potty video when she was aged two to three, and it mortified me to death. We often think we’re providing them with this awesome, homegrown goodness when really, you could stick them in front of a video for Who Let The Dogs Out? and they would go bananas.
Thing is, I probably would have booked the $300-per-hour musician – mostly because I know the music is solid and that the people who write and teach it actually care about their product being quality. But it took two weeks for them to get back to me, likely because they were busy booking gigs. Or hate doing birthday parties. And by then, I had hired an old friend to come and entertain baby M. and friends – a super talented singer-songwriter who is now working his way up the children’s musician world ladder. He was awesome. And cheaper, almost by half. We sang Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens and some other songs I don’t remember, and clapped and then had cake. And then everyone went home, and we all took a nap.
What a weird universe is Facebook. A carefully curated place of likes and dislikes, chosen images and words, contrasted with the most stream of consciousness, walking down the street and thought I’d share it with you kind of randomness. It’s Look at my band, Look at my kid, Look at me in a bikini, Let me tell you what I think about the Middle East. It’s profound, ridiculous, sentimental, political, existential. Nothing and everything. Art and commerce. Hit and miss.
My new parent status dovetailed with my embrace of social networking, and I wonder sometimes what life with young children would be like without Facebook. In some of the darker and duller moments of parenting, connecting with people online was the most I could hope for. And, some days, it was much more satisfying than the awkward playground chatter that so often left me underwhelmed.
My kids have enriched my life in ways I can’t list, but I’ve also felt a loss since becoming a parent. I’ve felt sucked dry of the brain space I used to engage to think about art and culture; a lack of intellectual or creative spark I’ve traded in for the rewards of raising rugrats. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but Facebook has helped to fill this space again. I’ve craved a way to read and write and discuss, and Facebook has given me an unexpected community of people who feel the same way.
I used to think it was odd or embarrassing when people constantly posted pictures or details about their kids with so little self-awareness. Or, for example, when they’d post their sonogram pictures . I would internally rant, sounding like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes: “What ever happened to intimacy or privacy?”
Recently a relative of mine lost her newborn son and posted the details on Facebook. It seems like such an intimate thing shared in such an unprivate way. But it made so much sense for her and her husband and their community, who embraced her posts about the loss with prayers, love and beautiful support. It was really moving! And it made me realize that there is no inappropriate etiquette in this evolving social media land. Just as in real life, Facebook and Twitter can be messy, awkward and jarring, as well as helpful, connecting and surprising.
In his “Facebook Sonnet,” recently published in The New Yorker, Sherman Alexie describes Facebook as a bizarre repository of lonely people typing away toward recreating their childhoods. Here’s a sample verse:
“Welcome to the endless high school
Reunion. Welcome to past friends
And lovers, however cruel or kind.”
I think Sherman Alexie must have just joined Facebook and he’s having that initial freakout people have when faced with the oddness and inanity of seeing names from deep in our histories. Plus he’s a busy (and famous) novelist, screenwriter and poet, so he probably hates himself for wasting time hanging out there. Maybe he’ll get over it. Clearly its giving him material.
Facebook is like a giant bar, where everyone you know is hanging out. Some folks are always there. Some are noncommittal. Some you haven’t seen for 20 years and don’t necessarily need to talk to. You can initiate conversations, chime in to others or get cornered by someone who wants to talk about their juice fast or show you a million pictures of their new couch. But usually you have a good time, realize it was good to get out, and remember that the world is made up mostly of people who want to connect. And if the reality of our lives means it has to happen in front of a keyboard, I just can’t get bent out of shape about that. I’ll take what I can get.
Forget yoga, acupuncture, meditation or medication. When I’m in need of something to really take the edge off, I visitThe Container Store. It is a most wonderful and joyous place. For those of you unfamiliar, or unlucky to not have one where you live, it’s a home/office organization store devoted to selling boxes and bins of all shapes and sizes to put your crap into. You walk in, and with the help of the least attitudinal salespeople to have ever worked in Manhattan, you can organize your life down to the tiniest, junkiest, scariest drawer in your home. There is a container, or a hook, or a dry erase board, or a filing box that is sure to suit your needs and make you feel as if your life is absolutely not spinning out of control.
The ethos behind The Container Store is either genius or diabolical, depending on where you fall on spending yourself out of a problem. These days, I’m pretty much for it.
Sometimes I go there just to breathe the lavender and cedar scented air in the extensive closet department, where I can ponder the potential of all wooden hangers in my perfectly edited, sorted-by-color-and-style dream closet (no wire hangers for Mommy!). I wander the aisles, wide-eyed, present, and pulsing with the desire to de-clutter, snatching random crap that I know will make my life better and make me a super awesome parent and all around person to be envied: gift wrap and tape to always have on hand; shelf dividers so I can see all the snacks in the cavern that is our snack shelf; sensible, dishwasher-safe reusable baggies for school lunches my 4-year-old daughter won’t eat; atchotchke to gather the wires under my desk into a beautiful little bundle.
I even found the tiniest (and cheapest) container in the place: one-inch-square Lucite boxes in an assortment of rainbow colors, which totally delighted my daughter (39 cents!). But I can’t be sure that my almost 1-year-old son didn’t eat the hot pink one, as I saw him gumming enthusiastically it the other day and haven’t seen it since.
When I was pregnant last summer with my second kid, I was nesting like a meshuganah. Always a lover of containers, I became frighteningly obsessive, dragging home bins on a weekly basis (and I mean dragging – nine months pregnant and hoisting things home on the subway like a cavewoman dragging home her kill). The desire to purge and fold and stack was physical, like I could somehow alleviate the anxiety of parenthood by sorting and saving and labeling with my label maker: things to pass on to friends, things to keep for the baby, things to go to storage. My husband joked that he was worried to go to sleep for fear of waking up in a man-shaped bin. I was certainly tempted.
I had then, and still have now, an intense need to put things into things. Bins and shelves and the promise of an orderly exterior somehow make me feel like I can do it, I can handle the intensity of raising these children. I was not always like this! I could let things go – not do dishes immediately or throw things in a heap until later. But now that I’ve talked about it with other parents, I know so many mothers and fathers who crave order in this same somewhat obsessive way. There are so many things to think about that we cannot control, that sometimes it feels safe to fixate about things we can. Like bins.
I am aware that buying things will not lead to happiness in the long run. But sometimes it seems like if you have theright things, carefully chosen and perfectly curated – like if Martha Stewart were walking beside you in The Container Store, making recommendations on filing systems or giving you tips on the right hamper to fit into your tiny little closet – then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be okay.
We all have our stuff, both metaphorical and physical. No matter how organized that stuff is, or where we put it, it will always be ours.
I have these moments of intense nostalgia, usually triggered by one of my senses. A summer camp smell, certain songs by Phish, or a glimpse of The Breakfast Club on cable can recall a time and a place when I was a different person. So pure in their ability to create longing for a past life, these moments feel like the impetus for an artistic epiphany or something – like I’m supposed to do something tangible with these powerful memories. But I can’t paint or sculpt or write a song or make a film. I wish I knew how. Or had the time.
Recently I was waiting for my husband to meet me in Chelsea for a friend’s art opening. It was a Thursday, late afternoon, early summer, and the kids were home in Brooklyn with a sitter. I planned to walk around and check out some galleries, since I never do that kind of aimless cultural wandering anymore, but I was thirsty and ducked into an Irish pub instead. I sat at the bar and drank two beers and got kind of buzzed as the place started to fill with people. As I listened to conversations around me, couples and clusters of friends having their first drinks of the night, getting ready to go to a show, a party, a restaurant, I felt a pang of envy for my younger self. There was a time where I regularly sat in bars like this one, alone, sipping a whiskey, reading a magazine and waiting for a friend or a boyfriend. There was nothing this twenty-something unencumbered self had to accomplish, short of getting to my job and doing my laundry. Go to the gym, maybe.
A night like this — the first warm one of summer — would be languid, anticipatory, pulsing with potential. Maybe I’d meet someone hilarious or make out with a stranger. New York, and the world, was open to me. I didn’t know where I would be in ten years. Looking back now, my only anxiety was: who and where do I want to be and how in the hell do I get there?
I wouldn’t have guilt about leaving the kids. Or worry about ruffling a babysitter’s feelings by staying out too late. Or wasting money on a stupid night out. Wondering if I bicker too much with my husband. Or if my kids will be as lucky as I was to enjoy a mostly happy childhood.
I likely know where I’ll be for the next ten years, and most days I feel incredibly lucky. But now I have the worry of staying lucky, not screwing up. Being an example. Keeping my marriage strong. Being a good mom. Trying to enjoy my blessings without the crushing anxiety that can go along with having them. Because at a certain point all that languid, pulsing-with-potential business begins to get tired, and you start looking for the next thing, which begets the next, and the next thing you know you have a mortgage, two kids and four kinds of insurance (health, life, condominium, auto).
So sitting in a bar every once in a while is a definitely a good thing. It’s just a very different thing if you don’t get to do it with regularity.