Darling, I Love You, but Give Me Park Avenue

We moved.

We moved into a rental house, since we couldn't find a house that we loved enough to buy.

Everyone says that the rental is a great way to experience a new community: you get to learn the lay of the land and decide where you really want to live before committing.  I get it, and they are right.  But the fact remains that renting means a second move, and moving is high on my list of soul-sucking activities. 

The kids' spaces are homey and livable, but sealed and still-full boxes cluster in almost every other corner.  The adult bookshelves are bare.  My spatulas lurk in the depths of the packed boxes of wedding china, and there they will remain until we move to a more final destination.  Who needs spatualas?  (I do.  Suprisingly often.)

So, we're here and getting sort of settled but not really settled.  It's a beautiful seaside town, much smaller and bucolic than any where else I've ever lived.  It's nice to not panic if I forget to lock my car door and it's great to let the kids burn off their late-afternoon grumpiness on the beach, and there's plenty of free parking, but it's... very.... quiet.... here.  You can't walk to much, and most things are at least a 20 minute drive away (by "things", I mean mommy conveniences: Whole Foods, the Target, the highway that takes you into the city--not that you'd want to drive into the city).  You can take a boat into Boston, which is very cool, and there is a train--but neither run on weekends, so they are of limited use.  So I am feeling trapped in a half-settled house in the middle of nowhere, but the tasks at hand (tackling the boxes, arranging the books on the shelves, and always laundry, lunches and dinner) don't exactly fill me with zest. 

It takes time, I know.  I suspect the perfect house will pop up within an hour after I surrender and unpack the spatulas, and that clarity over whether this town is right for us will develop the minute I shelve those books.  Guess I'll work on the books first.    

A Brief Interlude, on Knob and Tube

In the kitchen, I fell in love with the Aga stove.  "The seller is Irish, and she insisted on it," explained the seller's agent.  In the basement, we gazed approvingly at the high efficiency German-engineered boiler.  In the attic, we spotted unusual wires.  I wondered what sort of fabulous European innovation they represented.  "Oh, yes, the house has knob and tube on two floors," said the seller's agent.

Knob and tube?  It sounded vaguely pornographic.  The truth was even more disgusting.  "K&T" to those in the know means that the house's electrical system dates back to the 1930s or earlier.  It's ungrounded.  It's a fire hazard.  Accordingly, it's pretty much impossible to get home insurance or a mortgage on a house containing it.

The seller's agent waved away our concerns.  "I'm sure it won't cost more than $5,000 to update the house," she said.  The electrician added a strategic zero to her estimate.  Farewell, Aga.  The search continues. . . .


The Hunt

The first weekend of househunting left me slack-jawed at Boston-area home prices.  Over a million for houses that hadn't been updated since the mid-1970s, or for homes that had been redone, but in the worst possible way.  Some homes with no yard, or no garage (this ain't Florida--or even D.C.  I want a garage).  One pricey beauty backed up to the Turnpike and had a karate studio instead of a dining room. 

The second weekend of househunting, I realized I wasn't in Kansas (DC or Chicago) anymore.  Walking downstairs to check out the basement of a house that didn't suit us but that didn't have any other obvious problems, I asked, "Any disclosures?"

"No," the seller's agent replied.  "It's in perfect shape!"  She flipped on the light, and I found myself face to face with a giant rock fully occupying one third of the basement.  Apparently, I needed to add "no basement boulders" to my list of non-negotiables--turns out they're not uncommon in old New England cellars, but I'm reluctant to take out a mortgage to house one.

I don't even know what week of househunting we're currently on.  A couple days ago, I was engaged in my usual addiction hobby of updating the Redfin page on my browser and willing the perfect house into existence when it worked!  The perfect house appeared!  I knew the location; I knew the house; I knew I wanted it.  I knew it would be a gut-job, so nothing short of it being a haunted Superfund site would deter me.  At 11:15 p.m., the seller's agent (who had ignored our agent's calls) said we could see the property the next day, but that we had to be prepared to move fast as they were working with someone who was interested.  I convinced Greg that our tortured search had led us to this shining moment, and, at 2:00 a.m. we submitted a very strong offer on that house--sight unseen.  I imagined laughing over the story at the dinner parties we would have in our beautiful, late-19th century dining room.  My dream burst the next morning when we learned that they'd accepted the other peoples' offer at an unspecified time. . .  It was all very sketchy.  I'm sure they used our offer to get the other people up higher--other people whom, as it happens, were working with a broker in the same office as the seller.  I felt an Incredible Hulk-like rage.  I swore a lot, and threatened to rip the face off the seller's realtor, and was starting to turn a delicate shade of green when I realized that Buzzy and Rosie were listening, so I tried to calm down.  After a day of pretending to be over it, I'm finally actually over it.  (And the kids seem to be more responsive than usual, so that's a plus).

The search continues.  Our house is out there.  I hear there's a lovely one that recently came down in price, and it even has a karate studio on the premises.   

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team

We came to DC as a temporary compromise between my hometown of Chicago and his hometown of Boston.  As the years passed (or, in DC-speak, as administrations came and went), we found lifetime friends, bought a condo, and adopted a cat.  We planted flower boxes full of geraniums.   We fell in love with our friends' babies.  Then we bought a house.  We grew leggy tomatoes.  We had a baby of our own, and I navigated those foggy first months of motherhood with my new mommy friends.  We found babysitters and preschools, and then we decided to have another baby.  We planted sunflowers, put in a strawberry bed, and airily dispensed advice about local restaurants and mortgage brokers and plumbers. 

Though I joked about whether the girls would eventually cheer for the Cubs or the Red Sox (and secretly coached them to "Root, root, root for the CUBBIES"), my roots grew deep here.  I started to say we'd be in DC forever, duking it out.  Greg, working long hours and struggling to get home to see the children before their bedtime, was less personally established even as his career took off.  So he was receptive when a headhunter called him about a great-sounding opportunity in Boston.  Several months and interviews later, Greg grew excited about the possibility of moving.  Sad though I was that I/Chicago didn't win out in the end, I agreed the new job made sense on paper.  We have good friends in Boston and tons of family.  We didn't like flying back and forth for every family event on both sides, and both of us wanted Greg to have a better work/life balance.  (Or a work/life balance.  Or at least, to be at a place that acknowledged the life part of the equation.) 

After much agony and gnashing of teeth, Greg finally gave his notice today.  There's a "For Sale" sign in our front yard.  Yet I can't quite grasp what's coming.  I mark the girls' growth against milestones embedded here.  "There's the slide that Rosie couldn't climb last year."  "This is the same table where Buzzy had her first ice cream (technically, frozen custard) cone at the Dairy Godmother!"  The usually taciturn cashiers at Whole Foods gushed over both of my flaxen-haired babies.  Today, they gravely conversed with my big girls about the free samples.  The girls, too, have staked claims: "That's the park where Ryker fell through the tire swing!"  "Dat's where da Lincoln Memowial is!  I wan' climb steps!"  "I see the Washington Monument!  Are we by Daddy's office?"  "I wan' GO IN 'Bama's White House."

Driving down the Mall yesterday on the way home from our dear friend's house on Capitol Hill, I was sure that were completely crazy to leave this accessible children's paradise.  There's the Botanical Gardens, where we visit the trains every Christmas and like to pop in to see the orchids.  There's the Smithsonian carousel.  There's Natural History, where we can visit and have it to ourselves.  And, further along is the Zoo, where we say "pooh-pooh" to the tigers, just like Madeline. 

Will they remember any of this?  Will I, when I don't walk by the memories every day?  (I haven't gotten a lot of sleep over the past four and a half years, so I worry about my memory.)

Buzzy, for one, can't wait to go.  Thanks to the Berenstain Bears' Moving Day book and the promise of living closer to her cousins, Buzzy's eagerness to move makes me wonder if the child has an attachment disorder.  Though we haven't found the perfect house yet, I do know that we will relocate some time this summer.  So please let me know if you have a great house for sale in the Boston area.  Or if you know someone who wants to buy a great house in DC.  Or even if you have a great recommendation for an adult version of the Berenstain Bears.

Amazing Grace

She was two weeks away from her 103rd birthday.  She hadn't been doing well.  Still, the call came as a shock.  I guess it always does. 

She traveled the world, but I remember her mostly in Wisconsin, at the cabin.  Sometimes in Wheaton, at our house, where she and Grandpapa would stop on their snowbird's migration.  And a little bit down in Fort Lauderdale.  She was magical.  Everyone elses' front yards faced the street, but both of hers faced the water.  She sent postcards and gifts from remote places and her letters were sealed with wax.  Her hair wasn't gray, it was soft and white.  I can't smell Dove soap without thinking of her.  She had blue sequined eyeglasses and shiny gold and silver shoes and fabulous square wicker box purses that always had candy in them.  Usually Nips.  Pink lipstick, of course.  Twinkly blue eyes.  She had a shameless sweet tooth and she didn't apologize for it.  She didn't apologize for anything.

She introduced me to Fluffernutters, and she made fudge on rainy days, and walnut sticks, corn fritters, date nut bread, and the best devil's food cake anyone's ever tasted.  Even when other people privy to the secret recipe attempt the cake, it's not as good as hers.  Lard figured into many of her recipes.  And she lived well over 102 years, making it hard for her grandchildren to worry too much about their own cholesterol.

Not one for deep cleaning, but always up for a party.  The cabin always had little bowls of mixed nuts lying around, ready for the party to start or left over from one that ended.  She played cards like a fiend, and watched her soaps, and read trashy romance novels that shocked my socks off when I'd sneak them in grade school.  Her married initials spelled GEM, and the orange pontoon boat with the flecked orange and black AstroTurf carpeting was named in her honor.  Her ample dining table had a lazy Susan.  The picture window faced the water and was framed by hummingbirds who flocked to the red sugar water in the feeders that hung from the eves.  Grandpapa's chair had arms.  It was sacrosanct.  She spoiled all her boys, especially her husband.  Grandpapa died when I was in high school.  He always had her heart, but she still glowed at male attention into her 100s. 

I would have loved to know more details about her childhood.  She lost her mother, young--perhaps due to breast cancer, although we're not sure.  She had scarlet fever, and lost most of her hearing young, too.   Her father was very successful.  He used to blow pipe smoke into her bad ear to soothe the hurt.  She attended Principia, a boarding school run by the Christian Scientists.  Maybe because of that, she never put too much stock in medicine.  She met my grandfather who was working as a parking attendant at his father's garage downtown Chicago.  I have a fuzzy wedding picture that shows a very elegant girl dripping with flowers.  I saw home movies of a Mexican honeymoon.

Her car was a fire-engine red VW Beetle, and she had a lead foot.  She'd floor it over the roller coaster roads of Northern Wisconsin, and we'd bounce around the bench seat in the back.  I have one memory of sitting in the front seat next to her.  I was around seven years old.  I'd heard grown ups say "up North" and "down South" and "out West", but I didn't understand that the preposition actually described a location; I just thought you could pick which one to use as the mood struck.  So, feeling very adult, I took a deep breath asked her something about "up in Florida".  She didn't suffer fools, not even seven-year-old ones.  Disregarding oncoming traffic or the deer that often leaped into the road, she turned her head to look at me incredulously then burst into laughter and set me straight.  It always seemed appropriate that Gammie taught me the location of true North.

Her advice was sound; I refer to it often.  In college, faced with furnishing my first apartment, I was agonizing that the shower curtain I liked cost more than several others in the catalogue.  She said, "Oh for pity's sake, you have to look at it every single day.  Get the one that you like."  Even as a little girl, I tended to hoard the special treasures that came my way (Halloween candy, fancy soap).  She noted one of my little stockpiles and said, "It's not doing you any good in that closet.  Use it up."  That was her attitude about everything from fancy soap to life itself.  She used it up. 

We romanticize her--those of us who didn't live close and take care of her as she aged.  Of all the granddaughters, I know the least.  Even in her prime, though, I am sure she wasn't easy to live with.  Somehow it seems that the traits that made her difficult are also the ones we celebrate.  She was stubborn. She shamelessly played favorites, and that hurt feelings. She once told my mother, her daughter-in-law, "Well, I've always had everything I ever wanted in life, and I see no reason for that to change." So her children had to figure out what to do when the money ran out late in her life.  But underlying everything was a refreshing honesty: there was no B.S. about her.  She loved life and she lived it well, and she squeezed every bit out that she could. 

She hadn't been able to lift herself for the past week, but the night before she died, she sat straight up in bed and held out her arms.  I love that.  I love that she was fearless and open armed all the way to the end.   


The Hip Guy

"Let me know if this hurts," said the doctor as he approached my foot. 

"OUCH!" I yelped, and jerked away before he could touch it. 

I was at the orthopaedic practice recommended by the E.R.   I had opted for convenience instead of the fancy doctor recommended by my athletic friend Kirsten.  Her doctor practiced downtown DC and repaired injured hockey players; my doctor was five minutes from my house and seemed to repair little old ladies, judging from the waiting room. 

"Hmmmm," said the doctor.  "This looks like it could be a Lisfranc fracture." 

A what

"Blah, blah, eight weeks in a cast and on crutches, no weight on it, blah, blah---um, are you okay?" 

At his mention of eight weeks on crutches, I started bawling.  Just fell right apart on the crispy-paper-lined table.  It took both of us by surprise.  He called down the hall for Kleenex--apparently, orthopaedic doctors' offices aren't equipped for mental breakdowns (although by this point, I probably should have started toting my own box). 

I tried to explain: "I have a toddler.  It's Christmas.  I cannot be on crutches for eight weeks."  He said not to worry until we got the MRI results back.  Easy for him to say. 

A few days later, I got good news.  "It's not Lisfranc," said the doctor, as he scanned the paperwork from the MRI center.  "You fractured your calcaneus [heel] bone, sprained your ankle and have a lot of bone bruising throughout the foot." 

He glanced at me, then at the box of Kleenex that now sat on his desk.  "Now, I'm not going to cast you, but you need to wear this boot and start PT.  Come back in four weeks."

Four weeks later, still on crutches, still swollen, still purple, I returned.  "That's strange," said the doctor, who obviously failed his doctor-patient communications class in medical school.  "It's not looking any better.  Maybe I should cast you.  Hmmm."  He started paging through my chart.  "I know I read that MRI report, and they didn't see Lisfranc, but the report's gone missing.  I know I read it, though." 

"Yep, you read it," I confirmed.  "You looked at the actual MRI itself, too, though--right?" I half-jokingly questioned.

He looked up.  "Um, no.  I didn't.  I'm not really comfortable reading foot MRIs.  I'm actually more of a hip guy."

Excuse me?  You've been treating my foot for five weeks but you don't feel comfortable reading the MRI of the appendage in question?  My long-dormant lawyer-kill-mode kicked in. "No disrespect intended, but would there be anyone here who IS comfortable reading the MRI of my foot?" 

"Yeah, you know, you should probably see my colleague Dr. Blah, Blah, Blah."  He scribbled another doctor's name down for me.  "Okay, well, good bye."  And he left the room. 

I gathered my crutches and got angrier--both at the doctor and myself.  Instead of making an appointment with his colleague, I requested a copy of my file and films.  Lesson learned: I shouldn't have compromised my health care for convenience.  A hockey player who can't skate has nothing on a mommy on crutches. 

How to Talk so Children Will Listen (hint: it involves cookies)

There are lots of things that don't mix well with toddlers. Lipgloss and pageants come immediately to mind, along with clean houses, uninterrupted thoughts, and permanent markers.  After the last two months I can add "a parent on crutches" to the list.  It's just, well, impossible. 

We returned from the ER with "sprain" as the official diagnosis, and I hobbled to the couch to watch Greg and our sitter, Clara, handle dinner, bedtime and clean up.  Hmmm, this might not be so bad after all.  Then Greg gently reminded me that he had an overnight business trip scheduled the next day.  We extracted promises from Clara for all of her spare time for the next week.  I crawled up the stairs and went to bed.  Or, tried to.  Just as it's impossible to find a comfortable sleeping position when one's stomach is swollen with child, it's also impossible when one's foot has taken on Elephant Man-like proportions.  

The next day passed somehow.  The fun began when we had to return to preschool, 48 hours after The Fall.  Greg was still enjoying his 400 thread count business trip as I tried to get breakfast, empty the dishwasher and make lunches without the use of my hands. 

Then came the moment of truth.  I tried to impress upon my offspring the gravity of the situation.  First, to the four year old: "Buzzy, you are my helper.  You have to wait for me.  You have to listen to me.  You have to do EXACTLY WHAT I SAY."

She fidgeted, "Mommy, did you pack a straw in my lunchbox?"

Next, to the two year old--who, let's face it, was the weak link in this operation, present company excluded: "Rosie, you are a good girl.  You must listen to mommy.  You're going to wait for mommy.  Right?  Right?"

Rosie beamed at me.  "Ess, Mama."

I opened the door, and Buzzy actually waited for me.  Rosie tumbled out the door and promptly fell down the deck stairs onto the concrete driveway.  She lay there for a minute, as I crawled to her.  As I approached, she jumped up and made a beeline for the street.  "Buzzy, RUN."  I yelled to the four year old whom I'd just implored to wait.  "You have to stop Rosie.  GRAB HER, GRAB HER!" 

Buzzy paused, confused by my directions to tackle her baby sister.  Then she enthusiastically went for it.  "TAKE HER DOWN!" I screamed, as I crutched to the foot of the driveway as fast as I could.  "TAKE HER DOWN!"  Both the kids gaped, but at least it successfully distracted Rosie from pursuing her dreams of playing in traffic.  

I wiped the spittle off my face, and we got to school without further incident.  By the return trip, I had figured out that carrying a cookie in my pocket was a more effective, if somewhat less exciting way to get Rosie to the car.  By the end of the day, I learned that getting a toddler to behave by talking to her rather than by swooping in to pick her up is sometimes possible but very time consuming.  (And that bribery worked the best.)  Being "on" with Rosie, and even with Buzzy, was and is the most exhausting part of the injury. 

That evening, my mother, who had read one too many Facebook statuses about her granddaughters in peril, offered to come to stay with us 'till I got back on my feet.  We gratefully took her up on her offer.  She will probably be more careful with her phrasing in the future. 

Ashes, Ashes

Preschool pick up is brutal.  Picture hyper 3-, 4-, and 5-year olds released from their classrooms into a narrow hallway filled with parents and nannies jostling for the right of way, strollers, baby siblings in car seats, dropped mittens, plans for playdates swirling, "Mom!  I forgot my lunchbox!", whiny negotiations to play on the playground, the occasional wailing of someone separated from their primary caregiver, and, over the whole scene, glitter like snow falling from art projects held above the fray. 

On December 5, we battled our way through that hallway.  I thought the hard part was over.  Buzzy successfully begged a few extra minutes on the playground then ignored my obligatory "five minute warning" that it would be time to leave soon.  She ignored my notification that the five minutes were up, and it was time to go.  She ignored me counting to three.  She ignored me saying I was leaving without her.  So I peeled Rosie off a ladder and left without her. 

Buzzy's preschool tops a wooded hill.   The path down was too far from the playground, so I took a shortcut towards the car.  I was angry.  Heady with her four-year-old capabilities and armed with a fresh sassiness that I blamed on preschool (certainly she wouldn't pick that up that attitude at home, right?), Buzzy had been ignoring me lately.  Despite her bravado, I knew she'd follow me to the car.  Sure enough, she came running, circled around me, then bolted off in the wrong direction. 

One step from the bottom of the hill and the sidewalk, I turned to watch where she was running--and down I went.  A second later, I was on my hands and knees, blinking the stars away.  Rosie was sitting happily on the sidewalk; I had obviously managed to set her down before my left ankle. . . exploded?   

"Oh, my God.  I am so embarrassed.  I hope no one saw that."  Blink.  Stars.  More stars.  Still on my hands and knees.  And I realized, "Oh, my God.  I need help.  Where is everybody?"  Blink.  Breath.  Realize: I wasn't on the path; no one saw me. 

Think.  Okay.  First: get Rosie before she wanders off, too.  Thank God, I fell a foot away from my parked car.  I somehow hopped and leaned on the car and strapped her into her seat.  I waited for Buzzy who wandered back eventually, and talked her into the car.   I successfully touched my fingers to my nose and decided I could drive.  I sang the three miles home to keep my mind off of what I was going to do when I got there.  I still don't know how we all got inside, although crawling was certainly involved. 

I called Greg and finally burst into tears.  "I hurt myself; I can't walk; I can't take care of my baby; I don't know what to doooo!"  He said he was on his way.  Good man.  Then, of course, I called my mommy.  "Mommy, I hurt myself and I can't walk and I can't take care of the baby and do you think I broke my foot?"  My mom reminded me that she was unqualified to diagnose me from Chicago and without a medical degree.  She made sure that help was coming, and she said it would be okay.  I stopped crying.  Our wonderful sitter arrived, and Greg took me to the E.R.  "Just a sprain," they said, when they reviewed the x-ray.  A quick lesson on how to walk with crutches and we were out the door with the name of a doctor to call if I wasn't walking in a week.

"Man, it's going to be an ugly week until I can walk again," I remember saying to Greg as I jauntily used my crutch to punch the handicapped button to open the door. 

Seven weeks later, my foot is still purple and swollen, I'm sporting an orthopedic boot, I need crutches to walk, and they gave me a temporary handicapped parking pass. 

To be continued....