Thursday, May 31, 2007

Oh Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Last week our favorite neighbors moved away. They are the kind of family that included parents both DH and I liked as people, and a child that Big A adored. As any play-date veteran knows, that combination of parent/child compatibility is somewhat rare, and the fact that it existed just across the street from us was especially precious. We play dated regularly and watched each other's homes during vacations. Most memorably, these were the people who took in Big A the day my uterus ruptured and DH had to rush me to the hospital. I'm sure that watching my toddler (who was sick, to boot) on the last Saturday before Christmas with no warning was a colossal inconvenience. But they never complained, and in fact expressed gratitude that they happened to be home when my pregnancy shit hit the fan. Now, that's a good neighbor.

Our beloved ex-neighbors are attempting what I call "the golden exit." This is a scenario that anyone living in the San Francisco Bay Area knows: Sell your ramshackle property and move someplace far, far away, where your 25 percent stake in a house here translates into a 80-100 percent stake in the purchase of a bigger, nicer, newer home. When you live where the median home price is over a half million dollars, most young families who are lucky enough to be able to buy a house are doing so by taking on mongo mortgages. House payments then become the #1 determinant in our life decisions. They drag many a woman back from maternity leave before she is ready, or cause families to go into massive credit-card debt if they decide to try the single-income, parent-at-home route for awhile. It's inevitable that mortgages become the symbol of all that is hectic, frantic, and stressful in Bay Area life. It's no wonder that lower-cost housing is the siren song of the Red States.

Still, even though every family out here at least considers the golden exit in passing. most don't do it. People have problems staying here, but there are also obstacles to leaving. First, Bay Area residents are unable to tolerate any weather. Sure, we knit jaunty little scarves in winter, but we often wear them outside without jackets, because the Bay Area doesn't do ice or snow. And after the rainy season is over, you can count on it being dry for months and months. As someone who grew up in cloudy Upstate New York, this was a revelation to me when I first arrived. But, as with anything, revelation quickly turns to expectation. Everyone here cultivates ridiculously picky expectations about how the weather should treat them. When you utter, "Whoah, it's a little muggy!" when it is 30 percent humidity and 72 degrees, you are screwed. Moving to Saint Louis or Chicago is just out of the question.

The other big problem is that people are drawn to the Bay Area because of the wide variety of jobs, the ethnic diversity, and tolerant/liberal social values. If those things float your boat, it's hard to find a better boat than this. Sure, you can head to Seattle, Portland, Boston, or New York. Those are great places. But, those urban centers also have more expensive housing that would make the no-mortgage goal impossible for most. So in the end, most of us stay put and dream on about possibly leaving later.

So I'm bidding my ex-neighbors a fond farewell and wishing them luck in their relocation to Texas.* May they find the benefits of moving outweighing the losses. I'm also praying that the new neighbors who take their place will be even a fraction as great as these ones were.

*Texas, as in the state of mind rather than the geographical state. I refer to anything more than 30 miles away from the California coast as Social Texas, because once you go inland, the majority of people tend to be much more conservative than on the coast. Yeah, I know that would make me a wine-drinking, organic-food loving, latte-craving yuppie according to certain folks out there. To which I say ... yeah. For better or worse, that's probably me in more ways than not. Whatever. That's why I don't live in Social Texas (anymore), k?

Sunday, May 20, 2007


DH, the A's, and I were out for a rambling Sunday jaunt with some friends. Our friends also have an infant, and all of the kids seemed just a trifle cranky during the walk. That meant we stopped every 8 seconds to pop back in a pacifier, wipe a nose, or calm some screaminess. A hiking loop that is only a few miles long took us over an hour to complete. Speediness, thy name is not family.

After the hike we visited one of our favorite ice cream parlors. The ice cream made Big A twirl around the sidewalks and nearly collide with many pedestrians and their dogs (some of whom she yelled "BAAAAD DOG!"at because she is afraid of dogs) until we found our way to a playground where the sugar seizure could run its course. Finally everyone was hungry again, so we walked to the super market to pick up something for dinner.

Big A spied one of those shopping carts that look like a car and can carry two kids at the same time. They are gargantuan and incredibly hard to steer, so naturally Big A loves them as much as I despise them. Once we had the cart, we fell into our usual routine of throwing anything into it that looked or smelled good. It was only after we paid for everything that it occurred to us our car was not parked in the supermarket lot. It was back by the ice cream parlor, several blocks away.

We got some snickers on the way back to the car as we lumbered along, baby in our arms and a 12-pack of beer safely strapped into the stroller.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Perpetual Motion Girl

That's my Big A -- always on the move! Since I've posted several pics of Little A now, I feel like I should throw up some of Big A too, just to be fair.

(Throw up on the page, not throw up as in vomit. Though in a house with a baby and a preschooler, people tend to be well acquainted with the full spectrum of throw-up possibilities.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Happy Five Months, Little A!

Little A is five months old today! Sometimes, comparing pictures says it all. The first photo was taken at five days old. The second photo is from last week.

Little A weighed 4 pounds, 13 ounces when we took her home from the hospital. She had a tiny meow rather than a proper cry back then, and due to her jaundice, DH took to calling her our little tangerine. At first we had to finger feed her every two hours around the clock because she couldn't nurse properly.

But the jaundice faded, she developed a strong cry (though she is so mild she barely uses it) and at some point she got the hang of nursing the old fashioned way. And next thing I know, somehow my little kitten of a baby weighs almost 15 pounds!


Friday, May 11, 2007

Eating, eating, eating ...

Cecily over at And I Wasted All That Birth Control recently wrote about trying to eat better, and boy can I relate to her thoughts on the joy of Whole Foods. Especially this time of year, a trip to an organic produce department is almost psychedelic: Ooooh, the colors! Also, the sense of well being that comes with eating tasty, healthy food on a regular basis is indeed wonderful unto itself.

It has been awhile since I've frequented Whole Foods (mostly because of it's "Whole Paycheck" downside), but I think now might be a good time for me to head over and get inspired by the fruits and veggies once again. They say kids are supposed to motivate their parents to try to lead better lives. But for me, kids have brought the worst eating habits of my life. When I was pregnant, to even look at a salad was to wretch or feel my rib cage melt from heartburn. The only things I could choke down on a regular basis while gestating were cheeseburgers and cookies. Breastfeeding also leaves me in the precarious of state of perpetual starvation, and so it seems entirely logical to have dessert after every meal -- even after snacks, if the whim strikes me.

After I weaned Big A and my appetite did get more normal for awhile, but family-related roadblocks to good eating continued. By then I was working full time again and too frazzled to cook properly. Enter the prepackaged dinners and takeout to solve that issue. Still, in between the junk there was still a decent share of fruits and veggies. At least until I got pregnant with my trisomy 18 baby and went through the medical termination. After that, it was a superhuman effort to just get out of bed, take care of Big A, not get a divorce, jump off a bridge, etc. All thought regarding healthy eating went out the window, where it stayed throughout Little A's dicey, tense pregnancy.

But now the fact that I'm still eating dessert after every meal (which happen to still consist mostly of cheeseburgers) is starting to bug me. I guess the good news is that life has become normal enough for me to worry about regular-type stuff like this. On the other hand ... the idea of giving up 5 desserts a day is gonna be a big challenge. Sugar, how I love thee!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Crosses on a Hill

In a town not far from where I live there are about three thousand crosses on a hill, a memorial to the soldiers lost and a protest against the Iraq War. While I pass the area fairly often, I am usually driving on an adjacent freeway, so the most I get is a quick peek before it disappears in a blur behind me.

But this weekend DH and I were out enjoying the glorious spring weather at a nearby park. We exited the freeway, Big A making silly jokes and DH and I laughing at them, and Little A joining in the conversation from time to time with husky little coos that were so gorgeous that my toes curled up in my sandals at hearing them. It was a sweet little counterpoint for all the other boring or annoying times a family inevitably experiences in the car together.

We must have taken a wrong turn at the freeway exit, because suddenly we were directly beside all the crosses on the hill. It was startling, to see so many gleaming white sticks planted in the earth. I squinted, thought of the dead soldiers for a moment, and looked away.

"What are those?" Big A asked from the back seat.

"Crosses," I said.

"What for?"

"For the people who died in the war," DH said.

I cringed at DH's choice of the word "dead." I held my breath and waited to hear Big A's next question -- "What's dead?" But, for once she seemed satisfied with knowing just what the crosses were, and after a few more random questions, she was on to the next subject.

While I put it off for one more day, I know the time is fast approaching when I will have to have the death conversation with Big A. She's only three and a half years old but notices so much these days. Not just physical things, like spots on a bug, or the colors of the different roses in the garden. She also figured out by herself that a high-pitched cry means that Little A is hungry, whereas a low keening cry means the baby desires company. Sometimes when I am reading the paper or making coffee I will look up and find her staring at me, soaking in ... something. A thing I can't see in myself, but she sees.

Yes, the death conversation is coming. And even though I know that at some point she has to learn that we are mortal, that this is a fundamental thing that must shape her sense of meaning in her life, I will still mourn her learning of it. How I wish there would be no more crosses on that hill -- or any hill, for that matter. What a difference that would make.