It’s hot. It’s cold. I’m sweating in the overheated apartment or I’m freezing on a jaunt to the Queens Farm Museum with two-week-old Hudson and 20-month-old big sis, Millie. I’m limping with a sore left knee that doctors here need a referral to fix or I’m cavorting with Miss Toddler as we dance to “Let It Go”. I’m up and down, I’m in and out, I miss my home in Cali, I know I’m gonna miss being here and being part of the documentary, “Beginnings”, and witnessing my daughter blossom into a gifted and patient Mother of Two.
Wine helps. So does the prescription-strength Aleve the Forest Hills doctor scripted me for my bum knee. Both products are helping me put a finger in the pain-dike until I can see a doctor back in SoCal. Crazy American health care system. I purchased the best Plan G Medicare supplement in case of something like this, but in order for me to see an orthopedic specialist to take care of the problem, I have to get a referral. Wait a second, didn’t I just get a referral? With an ultrasound? Err, guess I didn’t spend enough money yet. Oh, and did I mention the broker I used in California screwed up my Plan G supplement so I never actually had Blue Shield of California insurance? Double err.
By the way, for those of you who aren’t 65 and retired, I learned at a recent educator retirement luncheon that medical calamities are what-those-of-us-of-a-certain-age discuss when we are with our “own kind” (aka oldies but goodies). Fun times this getting older!
So what’s it like, you ask, living with a pair of non English-speaking grandparents, two babies in diapers, sleep-deprived parents, a lab-esque ebony dog, a husky grey cat within the confines of a 700-square-foot apartment in Queens?
Let’s start with the obvious: There’s no privacy. We’re mostly always busy diapering, cooking, cleaning, caring, not sleeping. You know. You remember. It’s all hands on deck, takes a village time. Everyone has a role and we all do our best not to step on anyone else’s toes. And so far, it seems to be working.
I’m the easiest target to get mad at. I sleep in the living room so I take up space. I’m in the way. I’m awkward. I’m the chubby girl comic relief. The nuisance that no one suggests directly to my face, but I know I can suck a lot of air out of the room. I’m a presence, to be sure. I like to play Disney music all the time. And now that my knee is an issue, I can’t escape via walks around the block. Best I can do is walk around the apartment, try to stay out of everyone’s way and sit on the balcony, which looks out onto a busy neighborhood street. It’s a nice street. Lots of foot traffic. Spectators to study. Sirens to shatter stolen moments of contemplation. Gratitude that it’s not me on the way to the hospital.
Life in the big city means adapting. It means paying attention to details, like the smell of Hudson’s breast milk poop. I know it may gross out some people, but baby poop doesn’t smell bad; it smells like baby. It smells like innocence and vulnerability and connections between the generations, my grandmother that I knew and my grandfather whom I didn’t, my parents, siblings, cousins, my children and nieces and grandchildren–all of us in this DNA mustard mud called Hudson’s poop. Because when you think about it, most families are complicated and poopy; we spend so much time solving, complaining, controlling, rejecting, judging, worrying, that interpersonal shenanigan crap often overshadows best intentions. Peel back the layer, and that shit that looks like shit is your brother, sister, parent’s version of trying their best, but screwing up.
Like not sleeping at night and babies crying and barfing and needing attention when the only thing you desire is sitting in front of a toasty fireplace with a glass of red wine for 30 minutes and thinking about the twinkling lights, the sweet chai, and your botched attempt at baking mince meat pies.
Fun fact: Did you know that in NYC mincemeat filling is a rare commodity? That this British staple has to be ordered from Amazon at $25 a jar? That there’s no way I’m going back to California without leaving behind Mom’s Mince Meat Pies, the ones I never appreciated when she was alive but have spent every Christmas since trying to replicate them.
Some years I nail it, but most I don’t. They are never ever as good as hers. Never. But the one thing I’ve learned from failure, and a few successes, is that it’s all about the pastry, the feeling, neither too crumbly or elastic. The just-right sweet spot of culinary heritage. I’m pretty sure it’s called love.
Tomorrow, I’ll assemble the flour, the cold butter, powdered sugar and tres expensive jar of mince meat filling, close my eyes and pray for Mom’s guidance. “Be with me.” I’ll notice my thick and calloused hands, like hers, and try to channel her knack for baking. Good or bad, they’re part of my tribe’s legacy.
And next weekend I’ll have tears in my eyes as I board JetBlue knowing that this precious time of bonding and getting-to-know and making my daughter’s favorite foods and making sure she can handle her new life, her new challenges, will be over. A chapter. A memory. Closed.
For now I will savor the hits and misses, the mattress on the floor, the additional calories, the gratitude for pain meds, the absence of personal space, knowing that each day is precious, that the recipe I seek to replicate was never actually written on a index card. For me to live my best life, I need to remember that there’s no re-writing prior chapters, that this is the moment. Miss it, and just like that, it’s gone.