Tag Archives: moving

Winter wonderland

I do most of the snow shoveling.  It has always been thus in our household, as J hates the cold and I enjoy the challenge of a driveway with a foot of white stuff on it.  As we have acquired more children, I have come to realize a perk to this division of labor.  Even though the kids do come out to help for part of the time, there is usually at least a half an hour when I am outside, alone, with no one talking to me.  I will gladly take on more of the manual labor and frigid temperatures for the privilege of silence.  I live in fear that J will cotton on to the fact that the person outside may be cold, but that the person inside has to take care of the children.

Shoveling is exercise, too.  I find it hard to get enough exercise when it is too icy to run.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t snow frequently or hard enough to constitute a regular exercise program.

So, I arrive at The Cove, a small part of the lake just down the street from our house that town maintains for ice skating.  In a canvas bag, I have my brand-new skates.  I was filled with good intentions just an hour ago at the sporting goods store, but when I look at the fourteen-year-olds playing hockey on the ice, I am filled with doubts.  They look like they have been ice-skating since they were preschoolers.  I, on the other hand, have not put on a pair of skates in almost a decade.

But, I am far too old and have come too far to be stopped by fear of a ninth-grader snickering at me.  Let’s be honest.  I am far too old for a ninth-grader to bother snickering at anyway.  I lace up my skates and head out on the ice.

The one thing I remember is that tentativeness is an ice-skater’s worst enemy.  I push forward, moving faster than I feel comfortable doing, and am astonished to find myself remaining upright.  I have never skated on a lake before.  This ice has not been zambonied, although the town does plow it and spray it with water every so often to create a new layer of ice.  It is bumpy, imperfect, especially near the steps.  Yet, somehow, I maintain my balance as I circle around and around the pubescent ice-skaters.

There is one other adult on the ice – a man with his five-year-old daughter.  His wife shows up briefly, but she has no skates and declares it too cold to remain on the ice with her boots on.  The adults try to steer clear of the teenaged boys who have come out to use hockey as an excuse for gathering.  They are clearly aware that I cannot quite control my direction, and when a puck comes my way they know it is their job to retrieve it without crossing my path.

There are three teenaged girls there, but only one has skates.  The other two shuffle about in their Uggs, giggling and slouching, glancing over at the boys playing hockey in the middle of the ice.  The third girl has hockey skates on, and she tries to get her friends to stay longer.  She wants to play hockey with the boys, but she cannot do it if her friends leave.  Their presence gives her social validity.

After about twenty minutes, I take off my skates and walk home to get one of my sons.  Zachary is in some snit or another, and he declares he does not want to skate, only to change his mind the minute Benjamin expresses interest in accompanying me.  I clearly cannot manage both boys on the ice at the same time.  I have serious doubts about my ability to skate with just one of them.

J suits up Benjamin.  We agree that he will drive Zach over to The Cove so that we can trade off in twenty-five minutes.  There is no earthly way J would actually walk to the lake when the temperature is in the low twenties.

As I walk with Benjamin, I myself start to wonder about the wisdom of walking.  The street is windy, and even though I tell him that the wind will abate once he reaches the lake, he whines and dawdles.  I pick him up and awkwardly carry thirty-five pounds of preschooler plus two pairs of skates to the end of the road.

As I try to get him to focus on shoving his feet into the skates, Benjamin keeps up a running commentary about the activity on the ice.            “They have hockey sticks,” he points out, his voice lilting upwards at the end with a note of hopefulness.

“Yes, they do.  And when you learn to skate well, you can play hockey.  Can you please push your foot in?”

“They aren’t slipping,” Ben goes on.

“No they aren’t.  You need to actually put your foot in.”

He corrects himself.  “Except for that one.  He’s slipping.”  Eventually, we accomplish skates on both of his feet and both of mine.  We head out on the ice, braving the bumpy parts by the steps and then joining the man with his five-year-old daughter on the edge of the action.  Another man has arrived while I was back at the house, and he shoots with the teenagers while his two young sons – about the age of mine – do their best to keep up.

Benjamin and I last about twelve minutes, during which time I hold him up between my legs.  We maintain our balance, and he spends most of the time watching the older guys.  He is clearly taking notes for future reference.  It’s just never too early to learn about manhood.

“I’m not slipping!” Benjamin exclaims.

The ninth-graders are still shooting, talking gentle trash, and pretending not to notice the opposite sex.  The two skateless girls finally leave, but their friend remains, a lone girl stealing the puck from her male classmates.  I wonder when she will stop playing hockey and if she will someday come to the ice while her husband skates with her child, then leave without even lacing up.  For the time being, however, she is brave enough to remain out there, one girl among ten boys, politely avoiding the grown-ups who are encroaching upon teenaged territory.

“Watch what she’s doing,” I say as she approaches.  “See what she’s doing with her feet.  Can you do that?”  Benjamin tries stomping on the ice.  “Not quite like that.  Can you push the ice away from you?”  He slides his feet against the surface as I hold him up.  He probably won’t be joining the NHL next week, but it is progress.  We make it up and down the ice four times before my back starts to give out.

By the time I get Benjamin’s skates off, it is clear that Zachary has decided not to leave the house.  We need to head home, partly because my toes are numb and partly because I suspect that, while I am out here playing Winter Wonderland with my cherubic three-year-old, my poor husband is dealing with a very bad-tempered five-year-old.  I take off my skates and stow them in our bag.  We head down the road towards home.

Today, I am confident we have made the right decision.

Inch by inch

The house is original to the town.  It is tall and yellow, with a giant lawn that flows into the lawn on either side.  There are no fences allowed here in Rockwelland; children stay more or less in their own yards, unless they are playing a game that requires a little more space, in which case they take over the neighbor’s yard by eminent domain.  There will be room for a garden, although I have been warned that it is often hard to find a spot where the trees allow in enough sunshine.  No matter – there is a spot on the front corner of the lot that seems to be far from any trees.  I drive by slowly whenever I can, picturing tomato vines and broccoli plants.

There are six bedrooms, seven if you count the office.  More space than we need right now, considering that all three children have decided to bunk together.  There will be space for the toys, for the art, and – my long-time dream – a room for the books.  Virginia Woolf would be thrilled to know just how many woman authors are finally getting a room of their own.

The kitchen is large.  They knocked down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room when they redid the house fifteen years ago, perhaps not imagining that they would have an awfully hard time selling the house without a formal dining room.  The house has sat and sat with a bedraggled little “For Sale” sign on the front yard, right where my garden will grow.   It is a victim of a devastated housing market and a missing dining room.

To me, of course, a giant kitchen is perfect. The kids can play and snack and draw and eat their boogers and do homework while gazing upon my loveliness as I cook.  Someday, if we feel the need for a formal dining room, we can expand onto the porch that spreads out all the way along two sides of the house.

It is not perfect.  The bathrooms will eventually need retiling, which makes visions of Home Depot dance in J’s head.  There is a one-car, detached garage.  The cellar leaks in one corner.  But it is a good house, one that has been a home and knows how to do the job right.

So, why the sudden doubts, just days before we finalized a contract?

As far as I can tell, it was a sophisticated case of cold feet.  Or perhaps not so sophisticated.  This town feels wildly unfamiliar.  It is a small town, but sometimes it feels like people are playing at being small town.  People move here from New York or Boston or L.A., looking for the small-town life, but in meaningful ways trying to recreate the lifestyle they had in their big cities.

Sort of like us.

The slowness scares me.  The whiteness terrifies me.  The fact that all the adults are over 30 and under 55 mystifies me.  And the predominance of Christians shocks me in just exactly the manner of a shower suddenly running out of hot water.

I grew up in a culture of Jewish superiority.  We may be short with bad eyes and a tendency towards allergies and asthma, but Jews are smart.  That’s why we predominate the Ivy League, Wall Street, and academia.  That’s why that whole conspiracy we’ve got going on will eventually result in world domination.  Of course, there are other smart people out there, but we know full well that none of them are as smart as we are.

The dumbest of the dumbasses, of course, are WASPs.  They are nice to look at, what with all that shining blond hair and those pretty straight teeth.  But, come on, we all know that Jews are smarter than Christians, especially the white ones.

While we’re at it, Jews are more liberal and tolerant than WASPs, too.  The only exceptions to the Jews-Are-Smarter Rule are blacks, Hispanics, and Indigenous People of assorted sizes and colors.  (We’d include Asians in there, except they already have their own stereotypes of superior intelligence.)  Those folks have been historically downtrodden, so we can ramble on and on about how there is value in all shapes and colors, all the while secretly knowing they can’t be as smart as we are.  Because Jewish people are smarter.

One of the most shocking discoveries I have made in the last ten years is that white Christians can be intelligent, accepting, interesting, warm, and funny, just as easily as they can be dumb, intolerant, boring, cold, and crass.  Or they can be some combination of those traits.  Imagine my surprise to learn that Jewish people are not, indeed, superior.  Yes, there are reasons for stereotypes, and I’ll buy that every generalization has some truth in it.  But, I am going to let you in on a very, very well-kept secret: there are stupid Jewish people, too.

Just, please, for the love of God, don’t tell anyone.  We’re only just now recovering from Zachary’s decision to debunk Santa Claus – let’s leave a few myths intact, OK?

When I first went to college, I was all afire with liberal fervor and a commitment to diversity.  Somehow, I made it through an entire undergraduate degree at a world-class university without realizing how completely limited my dedication to diversity really was.  It included Democrats but not Republicans, blacks as long as they weren’t Muslims, and men as long as they were either gay or involved in theater, two things that were by no means mutually exclusive.

It was not until my mid-twenties that I finally began to realize that people who believe in God are not necessarily gullible sheep or frightening fanatics.  I didn’t fully come to terms with that until a couple of years ago.  Other things I have learned along the way: having family money doesn’t automatically make a person soulless and being Latino doesn’t necessarily make a man a fantastic lover.  For the record, however, I have yet to find an Italian who can’t cook.  Again, sometimes there are reasons for stereotypes.

And Democrats do not hold the title to environmental awareness, compassion, fairness, commitment to the schools, or desire for peace.  There are plenty of Republicans flying those flags, not to mention people in other parties.

Of course, having learned such important lessons doesn’t stop me from falling back on what is comfortable and known.  Diversetown appeals to me because it is familiar.  I know the lay of the land in an urban-suburban community with lots of colors and economic statuses but only one world-view.  A big yellow house in an all-white town?  Not so clear on how to maneuver that.

Diversetown has plenty of activities to distract a girl from her own thoughts.  Places to go!  Shops to visit!  Groups to join!  Rockwelland has trees.  And lakes for skating.  And a whole fuckload of snow.

So, I freaked the hell out, to put not-so-fine a point on it.  I don’t know how to live a quiet life.  I may not be able to.  I don’t know how to live in a town where people are white and Christian and even possibly Republicans.  Hell, I just moved from West L.A.

Diversetown is awfully appealing.  I know how to go out and distract myself by browsing in a bookstore.  People there think like I do, vote like I do, and practice religion like I do, which is more or less ambivalently.

If only the schools were better.

We hit Diversetown this week, strolling the streets, talking to people in restaurants and grocery stores.  We called acquaintances.  How do you like your school?  How many kids are in your son’s second-grade class?  Is there a gifted program?

“No,” came the reply.  “There is absolutely not a gifted program in Diversetown.”

“How do the schools serve kids who need those programs?” I asked.

“Look, we all want the same things for our kids,” was the answer.  “We all want to believe our kids are gifted.” OK, whatever.  Personally, I’d like to believe my kids are happy and getting what they need out of their schools, but I understand why someone would think I am just bragging about my children and their superior intelligence.  But the question is still out there.  What do the schools do with a kid who is young for the grade but far beyond the curriculum?

“Well, these are all really smart parents, so the kids are all really bright, too.  These aren’t the kids of some big, dumb WASP.”

And there you have it.  That very attitude I have spent a decade and a half trying to train myself out of.  Christians aren’t as smart as Jews, but they have great genes for height.

I don’t need it.

We don’t need it.  We don’t need to immerse ourselves in a community that stands on its head to prove how liberal it is.  I have earned my liberal stripes, thankyouverymuch, and I don’t need a zip code to prove it.  What we need is a place where we can slow our lives down, stop being so impressed with ourselves, and just take some time to live.  Baking bread takes time and peace, and it can be as much of a political act as attending a protest.

“That is all very well,” Candide once said.  “But we must go and work in the garden.”

I’m going with the big yellow house.  And the bakfiets.  And the garden in the front corner of the yard.  And the white neighbor who doesn’t give a shit what religion or political stripe or skin color I am because she’s too busy reminding my kids to wear a bike helmet.  I hope that, as a part of this community, we will work to make it welcoming to all those who want to live here.

I hope we’re smart enough for that.

Settling in

Many of you have asked how we are doing with the move.  We’re OK.  Benjamin is a little confused by the fact that both his preschool in Los Angeles and his preschool here have a Noah and a Ryan, but otherwise he seems to be adjusting nicely.  J is enjoying work thus far, and Lilah, other than the increased eczema, doesn’t care where she is as long as I am there with her.  I’m OK, too.  I’ve unpacked some things, I am carving out a little writing time, I have joined the town’s organic co-op.  In fact, we’re all doing well except for Zachary.

That’s because Zachary has no friends.  The children at school all ignore him, refusing to speak to him.  They also tease him mercilessly, mostly because they are all twice as tall as he is, a year older, and a different religion.  He has been sentenced to a lifetime of loneliness and isolation.

Of course, according to his teacher, the other kids are calling to him to come play with them and he is joining in, laughing.  There are plenty of other five-year-olds in the Kindergarten, he is not the only Jewish child, and he is all smiles and chatter throughout the day.

I appear to be getting somewhat conflicting reports.  While Zachary is always happy after school, he tells a dire tale of Kindergarten Pariah-ship and misery.  His teacher seems to think he is doing fine.  I’ve known him long enough to know that the truth is probably somewhere in between, but I have to take what he says seriously, because it reflects his reality, even if the rest of us cannot see it.  Whereas Benjamin hustles off to school with his pink sparkly Dora backpack, completely unconcerned about the opinions of his peers, Zachary takes things personally and awfully hard.

We’re all hardwired a little differently.


We decided to put Zachary in kindergarten in the new town, even though he had been in Pre-K in Los Angeles.  He was bored in his old preschool, plus we thought that it was best to minimize the transitions over the next year.  So, his first day of kindergarten, rather than being a proud September milestone, was the last day of November, just four days after we arrived in this very small town.

We took him to the school playground to play over the weekend, for all the good that did.  He kept telling us, “I want to get to school so that it will be over with.”  Just the attitude we wanted from our five-year-old.

I had that first morning all planned out.  I would take the double stroller so that the younger two kids could sit while I took care of delivering Zachary to his teacher.  I brought along apples – my favorite method of crown control.  I thought through exactly what I would pack in his bag and what I would dress him in.

However, the unfortunate fact is that parents simply cannot absorb their children’s anxiety for them.  The first day of kindergarten in a brand-new place with kids who already know each other is terrifying.  There is no way around that.

We went in a few minutes before drop-off to meet his teacher, a long-term substitute who, it turns out, was starting on the same day as Zachary because the regular teacher is out on maternity leave.  Then we went outside to line up with the other kids.

Zach – my brave little guy – stuck close to me.  I turned the stroller so that he could talk to his siblings, thereby giving him a face-saving activity in case all the other kids were checking him out.  He chattered to me, clearly trying to make conversation so that he would seem cool in front of his new classmates.  They are five; they have yet to learn that talking to one’s mother is not exactly the height of cool.

Then, it was time for him to line up.  He stood between two boys.  “This is the line for kindergarten,” the boy behind him said.

“I’m going into kindergarten,” Zach replied.

“How old are you?” the child challenged.

“I’m five.” He held up the fingers, because accompanying hand gestures put everyone at ease.

The boy in front stood right in front of Zach, his chest almost pressed against the poor kid’s face.  “I’m taller than you are.”

Having gone to a Jewish preschool, Zachary has been spared the knowledge that he is very, very short for his age.  In that moment, the first interaction he had with his future classmates, he was forced to come to terms with his diminutive stature and at the same time find a face-saving response.  The other mothers weren’t even aware of the conversation, but my stomach was sinking.  Just then, the teacher stepped out and waved in the kids.

As he ran into the school with the line, Zach called out, “That’s because I only eat bread!”

A few minutes later, when I had to pop into the room to pick up his epipen, he was sitting in the back of the group, looking so anxious that I was certain he was about to vomit all over the classroom floor.  Yet, when I picked him up that afternoon, both he and his teacher said he had a great day.  Apparently, a little girl with glasses had taken him under her wing and pointed out every single feature of the school.

Of course, when we got home, he had to replay the entire “I’m taller than you are” conversation.  “I told them it’s because I only eat bread.”

“Well, what did they say in response?”

“Nothing.  They couldn’t respond to that.  That’s why it was a good answer,” he replied.

You know what?  I think this kid is going to be OK.

Unclear on the concept

“I am NOT wearing a coat,” Zachary exclaimed.  “I am NOT cold.”

“Dude, that’s because you’re inside,” I explained.  To my child, this was faulty logic.  If it is warm enough inside, it is most likely warm outside.  Welcome to the reasoning of the five-year-old transplant from Southern California.  He complains bitterly about wearing a coat in the car or even to go outside.

His brother, on the other hand, has embraced cold-weather fashion.  Having inherited Zach’s old pink mittens from London, Benjamin insists upon putting them on every time he leaves the house, even in the middle of a mild afternoon.  He also wants a hat, a coat, and – if we would allow it – his snow boots.

Lilah, wisely, has figured out that a coat means she gets to go outside.  So she has stopped fighting it.  But the hats?  She is pissed about the hats.  And mittens restrict her thumb access, so you can probably figure out how well those go over.

Imagine my surprise when – the second day of school – Zachary informed me that he had worn his coat all morning.  “You wore it all day?” I asked, glancing up at the teacher.

She shrugged.  “We asked him several times if he wanted to take it off.”

“It’s cozy,” Zach explained.  So, let me get this straight.  He won’t wear a coat in the car, bitches about it outside, and yet wears it all morning in a public school that is comfortably heated to something just under tropical.

I think my kids are a little confused by the move.

The other thing that seems to be causing trouble is this whole multi-level house thing.  Having lived in a little ranch house, they think the tiny three-floor rental is a goddamned palace.  A dangerous palace, however, as they keep tumbling down the stairs.  I have provided them with slippers, but they seem to think those work better as weapons than as protection for their feet.

Zachary scored the best room in the entire house – the attic.  Seriously, if there were a way to get the king-sized bed up there, I would totally switch rooms with him.  He is delighted to have his own space, and he has meticulously laid out trinkets, toys, and books on perfect angles.  Unfortunately, he is also totally freaked out by being up there alone.  Both boys, in fact, seem to be terrified of being on a different floor by themselves.  Like twenty-something women on their way to a restaurant bathroom, they require company every time they go upstairs to get something.  Which can be awfully complicated as they inevitably get into a fight and end up falling down the stairs once again.

It’s all so confusing to them.  The kids pull out their umbrellas at every chance in the house, but then they drag those umbrellas behind them, upside down, in the rain.  Benjamin, having learned from his teachers that December has started and snow will be arriving, keeps asking, “It’s December yet?  Is it snowing out?”  Since he is looking out the window and there is clearly no snow falling, the only thing we can determine is he has absolutely no idea what he’s looking for.

I’ll bet you can guess which book I read eight times today.

Where they have to take you in

The kids and I have been staying with my in-laws for eleven days now while J finished up at his Los Angeles job and a truck with all our worldly belongings traveled across the country.  J is now up in New Jersey, meeting with movers, registering for school, waiting for the cable guy, visiting the DMV, and generally being useful.  He will drive down to meet up with us either late today or early tomorrow, which means he’ll be traveling just before Thanksgiving along with 97% of the other vehicles on the West Coast.

All I can say about how staying with my in-laws is going is that we are damned lucky they haven’t thrown us out yet.  The house is filled with all sorts of exotic accents that are irresistible to my children.  Like stairs.  Lilah, not used to having stairs around, is obsessed with climbing yet not necessarily particularly skilled at the return route.  Fortunately, her grandfather took it upon himself to give her some tutelage on how to descend the steps, somewhat alleviating my anxiety.

Another fancy touch they have here is the toilet paper.  At child-level.  We don’t really keep toilet paper anyplace children can reach it in our house, so all three of my kids think it is some sort of newfangled toy.  At one point, Benjamin and Zachary removed all the paper from all three rolls of paper in the powder room and also emptied the box of tissues, while at the same time their sister was upstairs diligently unraveling another two rolls of paper in the hall bathroom.

Slightly more unusual is the laundry chute.  I, myself, think it is kind of cool.  The boys cannot get over it.  There is a lid they can lift plus a hole they can throw things in.  It’s basically begging for experimentation in the laws of gravity.  We have learned thus far that a box of diaper wipes does clog the chute while board books and sippy cups slide right on down.  Envelopes with paid bills in them only get stuck in the chute if inserted after the box of diaper wipes, whereupon my mother-in-law spends an hour-and-a-half trying to find the envelope she knows she left sitting on her bed.

Unfortunately, because we have so diligently enforced “yellow let mellow” in our own house, flushing the toilet is also a novelty.  So, Benjamin decided to test the mettle of the toilet by flushing down his toothbrush.  Plumbers are much more expensive on Saturdays, in case you were wondering.

He is lost, my Benjamin.  He cannot understand fully that he is going to a normal place with a normal school and lots of nice children.  He just does not have the cognitive ability to comprehend that the world is not flat, and we are not about to jump off the edge.  All he knows is he has been ripped out of one place, is only temporarily in this other place, and there is a big void in front of him into which he is about to be shoved with absolutely no warning.  So, while Zachary verbalizes his anxiety and Lilah suddenly learns how to talk and walk, Benjamin acts out.  We have swept up one glass and one bowl, loosened all the light bulbs in his bedroom, and – it goes without saying – revoked all unsupervised toothbrushing privileges.

This Thanksgiving, I will be grateful for many things.  We are back on the East Coast.  We will be heading up to our new home on Friday.  The kids will be starting school on Monday.  Our family is entering a new situation that could really improve our quality of life.

Mostly, however, I will be grateful that J’s parents haven’t thrown us out on our asses.

When moving sucks even more

Yesterday was one of those fucking days.  It actually started the night before when J vomited rather spectacularly.  Then, round about one in the morning, Benjamin proceeded to vomit all over his bed, which would not be so bad if that weren’t a mere seven hours before the movers were scheduled to arrive and pack our house up.  (Yes, I am aware that people who have someone else packing up their shit for them do not get to complain about moving, but please, read on.)

So, Benjamin was home from school yesterday while J staggered onto a plane for his business trip and Zachary – oh He of the Magnificent Immune System – sauntered off to preschool.  Our au pair, Cleo, came along to take Lilah to Gymboree, then promptly threw up in the Gymboree bathroom, which I guess makes it a good thing we’re not going back to that particular one.

The day unraveled from there.

Cleo took a long nap.  Given that Benjamin had lost about six hours of sleep the night before, I had him take an afternoon nap.  He woke up grumpy, which was not helped by the fact that I had to dump him into Cleo’s arms so I could go pick up Zachary.  When I came home, forty-five minutes later, he was still crying for me.  I had to carry all thirty-five pounds of him around the house with me while checking to make sure the movers got everything.  He finally let me put him down on his bed, only to start screaming again when Cleo came into the room.

Cleo took Lilah and Zachary to the library to get a few books to tide us over, as most of ours were by this time packed up.  I took Benjamin with me to rent the car I’ll need when my own car is loaded onto the moving van tomorrow.  As we walked, I told him, “When we get home, I’ll leave you with Cleo and take Lilah and Zachary to the grocery to get peanut butter, jam, diaper wipes, and Cheerios.”

“I want to go with you!”

“Benjamin, I need you to stay with Cleo.  I am not taking three children with me to the grocery store.”

“But, I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”  Suffice it to say I ended up taking three kids to the grocery store.

I know kids say things and misinterpret.  But Benjamin is not like that.  He has never accused an adult of hurting him.  He is very verbal and explained exactly what had happened.  When he was crying, Cleo, frustrated or vindictive or whatever, squeezed his arm hard.  And maybe that could happen accidentally.  Except we believed her when she told us it was accidental three weeks ago when she hurt Zachary.

We had suspected something was off about this girl shortly after she came to stay with us in mid-September.  By the time she grabbed Zachary so roughly that she left a mark, we knew that we would be moving in a few weeks.  Rather than fire her on the spot, we chose to believe her when she said he had been going crazy and was falling off the stool when she grabbed him.

We chose to believe her because it was convenient to us.

When I caught her on her cell phone, ignoring Lilah for forty-five minutes, we chose to believe it was an isolated incident, in part because the phone records supported that but also in part because it was convenient for us.  When, over the past week, she three times lied to us about what she was doing when out with Lilah, we figured that she’d be gone in a few days.

But, then.  “I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”

When I came back from the grocery, I emailed the agency that I wanted Cleo out by the next morning.  I then told her that the conditions under which she would be allowed to stay the night were that she was to stay in her room, which is detached from the rest of the house.  She could come in to use the facilities once the kids were in bed, although she decided not to do that.

I don’t think she was regularly beating the children.  I think she got frustrated and crossed a line far too frequently.  The scariest part is that she didn’t even know what the kids were talking about, putting on her most innocent fact when I confronted her.

Or maybe the scariest part was that we gave her the benefit of the doubt when she should have been out a month ago.

The next four days are going to be very, very hard.  All of our stuff is leaving tomorrow, but we are not flying out till Saturday.  We will be in an empty house with borrowed air mattresses.  I have borrowed a neighbor’s babysitter for a few hours this afternoon so I can get the boys from school and take Zachary to his final therapy session.  The kids are off school on Wednesday, and if I cannot find a babysitter to join us, it will be just me and all three kids at Day Out With Thomas down in OC.  So be it.

By Saturday night, we will be with the grandparents in D.C., and in a few weeks the move will be over.  We will be in a small rented house in New Jersey.  The kids will be in their new schools.  And we will not have a new au pair.  We will not have a new nanny.

“I think we need a better au pair,” Zachary said.

“We’re not getting another au pair,” I told him.  “I will be taking care of you guys all the time.  We’ll have a housekeeper who can help out by staying with Lilah during her nap, but I’ll be taking care of you.”

“Will you still be publishing books?” he asked, because bless the kid he actually believes I am a successful writer.

“Yes,” I told him.  “I’ll write when I get the time.”

It is late, and I feel nauseous.  Perhaps it is because I have not gotten enough sleep lately.  Or perhaps I am the next to get this stomach bug.  Or maybe it’s because I keep hearing my baby saying to me, “I don’t want to be with Cleo because she hurts me sometimes.”

Yesterday was one of those fucking days.


For a very long time, my husband has been working too hard.  He travels every week.  He schedules vacations and then works right through them.  He doesn’t get to see his kids during the week.  He has no set schedule and no set location, so he cannot get on an exercise routine, sleep regular hours, or eat right.

Oh, sure, there was always a reason – he needed to sell work or he had sold work and now he needed to deliver on it.  I staged an intervention in March.  “Look,” I said, “if the job really requires this kind of life, then the job sucks.”  That’s the supportive wife in me talking there.

From that conversation came the realization that, hey, he could actually look for a new job.  One that would allow him to work, say, sixty hours a week and travel only 25% of the time.  It’s not like we were asking for a sinecure; we just thought that perhaps his body deserved a chance to figure out which time zone it is in.

He began looking for a job.  Two weeks ago he was offered a very good one.  So, we are moving.

This job will allow us to live someplace with a lower cost of living that is closer to family.  We will be leaving Los Angeles, which has been a completely unpleasant place to live.  And J will be home three weeks out of the month.  The children will *gasp* see their father on a daily basis.  The funny thing about it is that we had lived the other way for so long, we just didn’t realize how untenable the situation was until another way of doing things presented itself.

The truck comes on Monday to take our stuff away, and then I will spend a few lovely days in an empty house with the kids.  On Saturday, we’ll all fly east to stay with family until our stuff catches up with us around Thanksgiving.  The move is happening very quickly in part because the company would like my husband to start but also because Zachary has been quite unhappy in school this year.  We’re not sure what the problem is, but if we’re transitioning him out anyway, we may as well do it quickly.

There are a few really sad byproducts.  Zachary will need to start over as a white belt in a new karate studio.  Lilah will leave behind all that fresh fruit she so adores.  And poor Benjamin will leave the teachers who rock his world.  But there will be teachers in the next place, too.  And we will leave W, who is a remarkably good friend.  Leaving her is very sad, but I am grateful we got a chance to reconnect.

So, if you don’t hear from me over the next couple of weeks, do not worry.  I am on my way to a better place.

Oh, the places we’ll go

Once upon a time, I was certain of many things.  I knew that cheerleaders were vapid and soulless.  I knew that I did not need money to be happy.  I knew that meat was murder, Republicans were evil, and religion was the opiate of the masses.  I knew that I wanted to live in a funky urban area with a diverse population plus access to the opera and jazz clubs.

Tonight, I know much less than I did when I was young and unencumbered.  Having children throws my values into deep relief.  As we try to narrow down possible places to live in New Jersey, we stumble up against our beliefs.  I mean, sure, I still value intellectual pursuits and diverse populations.  But I also want good schools.  Now, of course, the measure of schools is completely subjective.  For some people, quality schools may be about learning to value folks of all hues while for others it is all about class size or test scores.

What I know is that we want to live among good people.  And what the fuck does that mean, exactly?  It means that we prefer not to reside in the state penitentiary, I guess, although I suspect there are lots of good folks there, too.

So, we want a town with good schools and good people.  Fantastic.  That clears everything right up.

“You may not want a small town,” a friend warned.  “People can be awfully provincial.”  You know what?  Most of the people we know in big cities are provincial, too.  A spit-shine doesn’t do much to hide the fact that snobbery is the flip side of hickness.

What we have learned with all this moving is that there are no simple answers about people or places.  There are smart cheerleaders who read Kafka, and even the ones who don’t have plenty to offer.  Money is not the root of all evil.  There are people who believe in God who are deeply thoughtful and reflective and intelligent and have just come to a different conclusion than I have.  People are people.  There are lots of trappings, but ultimately, everyone is pretty much ghettoized by life.  And they all have something to offer.

Where am I going with this ramble?  Well, the movers are probably coming next week, and we don’t know where we want to rent in New Jersey.  Do we want the interesting town close to New York with the diverse population and the larger class sizes?  Or do we want the small, almost rural town farther out that gives us plenty of space to garden but only has white people in it?  And if we pick the diverse town just for its diversity, are we in essence using the people of color for their ethnicity?  We just don’t know.

So, we’ll close our eyes and leap and if we don’t like where we land, we’ll make a change at the end of the school year when it comes time to buy a home.  If experience serves as a guide, we will find interesting, good people no matter where we go.  The people will be narrow in some way or another no matter where we go.  We will regret the loss of something no matter where we go.

Now excuse me while I go hyperventilate about the movers who are coming next week.

We’ve been sort of busy

            A year ago, we were nearing the end of our two-year stint in London.  We had rented out the dream house we owned in Philadelphia because we knew the London thing was of finite duration.  We were set to leave in late March 2008 to return to our house, our friends, and the preschool we had signed up for in Philly.

            And then the decision finally came down the line just before Christmas day.  We would be moving to Los Angeles.

            So, a year ago, we were wrapping our heads around a rather sizable shift in our plans.  Instead of returning to the familiar, a mere two hours away from J’s parents, we would be moving to a city I had only ever seen for 36 hours, a nation away from our children’s closest relatives.

            A year ago, we were definitely only having two children.  We had given away all our baby stuff as soon as Benjamin was done with it because we had no plans of a third.

            Here I sit, our bonus baby zonked out in my arms, in Los Angeles.  Between last year’s Boxing Day and this one is packed a frantic preschool search from the other side of the world, temporary housing, finding a new home, making friends, learning an entirely new city, Benjamin starting preschool, and one very surprising pink line.

            I hit a low sometime in the middle of it.  The boys have been stretched and pulled.  But, we are surviving all the changes, and don’t think for a moment that I don’t realize how totally and absurdly lucky we are.

            A year ago, I had no idea what to expect from 2008.  I certainly never expected it to be this beautiful.