Less iphone, more eye contact

March 7, 2013 § 2 Comments

There I was again last night, listening to the news and getting excited for a potential storm. But it never came. So disappointing because I thought I’d be able to go off the grid! Less iphone, more eye contact was my new year’s resolution, but I’m not finding it so easy to stick with. When Hurricane Sandy came, my family did not have a working smart phone. Like Laura Ingalls Wilder in “Little House on the Prairie,” all we did was make dinner, light a fire, cook, and go to bed. It was the most blissful and freezing cold eight days of my life, but we made it through just fine without electronics. I’m painfully aware that every time I go to my phone, I’m teaching our son to also bury his head in a little electronic device. I’m modeling that it’s necessary to check in with others, instead of ourselves. We had some guests come stay over in our home and their twelve-year-old son, who we hadn’t seen since he was 10, arrived with iphone in hand. We were so excited to see him. Our four year old waited by the window for their car to pull up, and as soon as the car door opened, he tried to engage with this boy, but he was unavailable. I would ask our 12-year-old guest what he wanted for breakfast, No answer. He looked down and had that device in the palm of his hand. As I laid out his air mattress to sleep on, I asked our 12-year-old guest what kind of pillow and blanket would he want. No answer. He looked down again to the palm of his hand. With the exception of a musical jam session, which provided about 10 solid minutes of what I think we all felt was absolute bliss and group harmony, the boy was unavailable. As soon as that jam session ended, he picked up that little device, hunched over again and began the intense stare, with his mouth dropped open and unconsciously began furrowing his brow once again, face stuck in his phone. Our son was happily skipping around repeating the 12 year-old boy’s name, thirsting for eye contact. He repeated his name again and again, but nothing could get 12-year old boy’s attention.
Lately, I’m purposely leaving my iphone far away from me. I’m much happier with the human connection if just walk out my door and check-in with the face of a neighbor instead of the airbrushed picture of someone who posted their pictures from their wedding last year. The wrinkled up close faces and tired eyes that are real right in front of us. I like what this smart mom calls the Hands Free Revolution. I am not judging you for holding your iphone. I do it too, and we all do. But what if we stopped for an afternoon and just turned it off? What would we replace it with, if only for a few hours and looked at some wrinkle and tired eyes for a change? Some grey hairs and some double chins perhaps? If children look up to adults as models, what are they modeling now? And imagine what they’d be modeling if we weren’t on the phone or texting? How would you spend your time?

Fatten Up. It’s Hurricane Time.

October 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

Sandy is more than a hurricane. She packs a lot of lessons in her bag and brings them to us. Every year there seems to be another hurricane gal visiting us here on the East coast. It’s starting to feel like a national holiday every year. “What are you doing for the Hurricane?” people are asking. So how will you deal with the impending doom? What is your method of survival? Do you cook a lot before a storm, and then realize that actually cooking won’t do a bit of good if there’s no power to warm your food? (I did today.) Do you enjoy watching sexy young newscasters ramp up the storm and see how absolutely panic-stricken you can become from watching them exaggerate the news, or would you rather listen to the soft-spoken Jonathan Schwartz on NPR as he calms us through the hype and uncertainty of the impending storm in between listening to Frank Sinatra and Tierney Sutton—-and then silence, while we wonder what he’s going to say next?

Up until today, I was starting to feel a lot more peaceful living in the suburbs than when I was in Brooklyn.
However, today, I feel the yearning for the city, especially since I’ve weathered so many disasters there in the past decade and I always made it through: the blackout, 9-11, hurricane Irene, the Brooklyn tornado. Good memories of the various apartment buildings and neighborhoods in New York and the incredible New Yorker-like satisfaction of the disasters I lived through.
But now…a natural disaster in the suburbs?

Tree branches decided to drop in, literally, just a few weeks after we moved in this summer. One decided to knock out the power line during the second week we moved in on the hottest day of the summer. And another dropped in to crash onto the roof of our house. Both times the branches fell it was clear and sunny, with no wind.

We also have a basement and for the first time in our adult lives, we are in charge of it. My husband is very excited about all his Home Depot purchases. The equivalent of the “super,” he spent all day getting the basement all ready for whatever flooding may happen. I suddenly miss our brick building in Brooklyn, where that indestructible slab of concrete weathered Irene, an earthquake, and even a tornado, all without harm.

But it’s the not knowing, but then knowing too much that’s driving me crazy. Can you remember a time when we didn’t have storm trackers, the internet, and up to the second weather updates? We know way too much these days. And it’s not just the weather forecast.

We are constantly texting, tweeting, and emailing ourselves into exhaustion. It is time to rest. To enjoy the end of fall, to enjoy the two months left of 2012, and to actually just be.

The storm is the one thing that everyone desperately needs — an excuse to party. I can’t really live in a storm without fattening up. It’s important for me to have ice cream nearby my candles.

When was the last time you were able to devote an entire day to being inside with candle light? Maybe the uptight east coast needs to stop, rest, and eat!

And how will I weather the storm? I’ll convince myself that no matter what happens, I’ll be able to say, Oh, me? I’m fine and so will you.

Movin’ and Groovin’

July 7, 2012 § 4 Comments

My husband and three year old just moved into a cute home outside of “the city.” During the first 24 hours, we ate dinner outside on our deck, received a beautiful orchid from a neighbor, watched some peas sprout in a garden (I only planted them a few days ago), and I received warm and friendly knocks on my door from other formerly Ft.Greene and Park Slope moms on our block. Originally raised in NJ, I thought I would never leave the city (after 15 yrs.) and go back to the suburbia I once knew. But this place feels like the “New” Jersey. It feels like I’m on vacation. And why shouldn’t life feel like that? I’d be a liar if I said I don’t miss Brooklyn. I do terribly! But right now, Brooklyn feels like an ex-boyfriend who I loved with passion, but made me feel a bit crazy. Full of contradictions, Brooklyn was true love. I loved the co-op we lived in, but what I didn’t love was the sign in the backyard of the apartment building that said, “Keep Off Grass.”

In the past two weeks, two tree limbs have crashed to the ground outside my home. I never worried about crashing tree limbs before, or decorating with impatiens. What grows in the shade? What grows in the sun? How often do I have to put out garbage, or deal with neighbors under 10 coming into my kitchen and asking, “Got any bagels?” I do love the beautiful trees, the awesome public pool where I don’t need to tie up my stroller with a bike lock. I see black and white teens sitting together at a pool picnic table eating together. In Ft. Greene, I saw a lot of different skin colors moving in different directions. Brooklyn, you are really like an ex-boyfriend that I am trying to get over. Here is a letter I wrote to you:

Dear Brooklyn,
Hi. What’s up? It’s really hot here in my new town, but I went to an awesome public pool today. I didn’t have to fight for a parking space, didn’t have to wait in line for my turn to swim, and I was allowed to enter the locker room with my cell phone in hand. You, Brooklyn, would have never let me do that. You were controlling.
You didn’t walk me home from the parking garage that was three blocks away. You would have let me fend for myself and walk in the dark until someone else, some total stranger on the street would try to tell me that I’m sexy, and I’d panic, and run home pretending I wasn’t scared, so the predator wouldn’t catch me.
Oh, Brooklyn. What are you up to tonight? You should come out here. There is an awesome two day concert here starting tomorrow based on the same concept as Woodstock.

Have you been to Habana Outpost lately? I miss it, but don’t miss the wait time for my food. I miss the Greenlight Bookstore and I wish it were right here in my new hood, but it isn’t. Why was it that when I finally decided to leave you, you finally decided it would be ok to let me wash clothes until 9PM? The whole 8 years we were together, you closed the laundry room at 4, making it impossible for me, a working mom to wash out my son’s potty training pants.

What the hell, Brooklyn? I mean, really, the day we left you decided to open the laundry room much to normal hours? Oh, of course you decide to change as soon as I said I was leaving.

Ok, well I can still visit you whenever I want. I can look at photos of us together and know that during the Tornado and Hurricanes, you were the safest place to be, inside our brick building.

This morning, I am planting in my garden. I am planting these impatiens, and well, I can’t help but have a feeling of impatience. It’s hard starting over here without you. But it sure was great eating breakfast on my deck and smelling the roses today. I know I love you but right now, I need to keep a distance.

In fact, I’m able to write a lot more because our son is playing outside and I can still get work done.
Ok, I don’t mean to throw it up to you, but in a one bedroom, there wasn’t a garden hose I could use.
Have a fun day, and please don’t New Jersey bash, ok? It’s pretty awesome here and there are a lot of people who used to live by you.


If I Could Live in a World Called Ikea

May 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

It was a cold, damp, rainy Monday, and all the great museums were closed. So where could I go on a day like this to pass the time with my three year old? Where else could I eat lunch with my son for eight dollars while gazing at the New York City skyline, get free 45 minutes of babysitting, and a whole host of floor model beds for my son to lie down in? Family friendly functionality is Ikea! From somewhat healthy food, to free babysitting, Ikea is a model of the Parent friendly American shopping experience that I wish would inhabit other corporate chains.

While picking out a new bed for my toddler, I met another mom and had a fruitful discussion with her about leaving the city to raise our kids in the suburbs. Since I’ve become a parent, I’ve grown to realize how impractical everything can be in the city for families. But not in Ikea. If your kid has to pee and you are in a New York City playground, good luck finding one with a bathroom that is unlocked, and if you do, you are constantly saying, don’t touch this, creating fear of germs in your little one.

But thank you, “Smaland” the play area in IKEA modeled after a Swedish farmhouse. I don’t mind your germs because you are providing me with 40 minutes of uninterrupted shopping. Sure, my son probably contracted the bubonic plague in the ball pool, but seriously, why can’t all the stores have that?

Ikea, praise be YOU and the affordability of your furniture.  God bless your ability to stretch my forgetful mom brain by naming your simple furniture in Swedish. I even feel sophisticated after I am forced to recall their name of a simple crib, “Helvik.” I play a little memory game with myself to challenge myself. If I can remember the name of the furniture all the way ‘till I get to the downstairs warehouse to pick it up, then I win when I find it on the numbered shelf. Or, if I opt out of that academic mind game, I can write it down with the free miniature golf size pencils and notepads they disperse near every department. The free ruler tapes hanging next to the pencils aid me when I leave my tape measure home. And when I do finally recall the name of the item (that is if I didn’t misplace the little notepaper they provided),  I feel smart that I could recall the name 22 minutes later, like I’m traveling abroad in Denmark or somewhere exotic. Yummmm….gotta love those Swedish meatballs.

The majority of the IKEA products are non-toxic too. I don’t have to think about the chemicals that my son is inhaling inside his crib. The instructions for setting up your furniture is affordable and so easy that your kid can set up the item with safe tools.

If life in all of Brooklyn were more like Ikea, I would be able to avert the days when my son and I fly backward as the bus driver yells into a blaring loudspeaker, “You can’t bring him on the bus with his stroller.”  And grocery stores in the city would have toy shopping carts, and clothing stores would have dress up clothing, and the world would be more welcoming for children in general. In the meantime, thank you Ikea. You are awesome for offering free breakfast for our Moms this Sunday. We, the parents salute you.

As We Change

March 9, 2012 § 4 Comments

Just a few days shy of my 39th birthday, and the Marketing Gods have found me.

A four-color catalogue arrived in my mailbox this week entitled, “As We Change.” As I skimmed through it, I discovered the “Wind River Open-Front Sweater” displayed in a montage of baggy colored silky sweaters, the kind that don’t cling to your body, but are still called “sweater.” Also, some anti-aging creams and some vibrators caught my attention. Not just any vibrators, one hundred and fifty dollar vibrators. The models certainly looked pretty, a little rounder and healthier than the waify ones in the Prana or Athleta catalogues I’ve usually received. I’ve actually never ordered from Prana or Athleta, though the clothes look comfy and sexy, without showing a lot of skin. This new catalogue has arrived every week, always with sexy models. They’ve etched on the cover, “Our Westchester store is now open!” Congrats to the Westchester ladies.Yay! What have we done without Athleta after all this time? Maybe it was ok that we went to Target!

But the “As We Change” catalogue models look like they may have had spaghetti and meatballs every other night for dinner, or maybe Fettuccini Alfredo two nights in a row. Maybe they haven’t eaten a salad in a few days. I happen to think they look damn good and am willing to bet their husbands are psyched, having something to grab onto in the bedroom.

Just one request, marketing gods of Google or whoever in cyberspace just revealed my upcoming 39th birthday. Hey, I’m still in my 30’s! I’ve still got one more year left! Maybe my 30’s weren’t full of sex, drugs, and rock n roll, but please don’t interrupt them. Let me go another year without the banish-your-double-chin-cream and the sexy incontinence protective panties. Yes, I was leafing through the pages and I stumbled upon a shirt that is supposed to effortlessly banish unsightly muffin top and back fat. As we change, can we stop being obsessed with the extra skin that pops out when you wear a bra? No, apparently, we cannot, because there is a market for this.

I am still waiting for the overweight Barbies to come out, for the diabetic Barbie to be on the market. I want to see the American Girl Doll with a cleft palate, or the American Girl Doll on anti-depressants, so she gains a little weight. There are reasons why we don’t always have perfect bodies.

I stopped reading this magazine after a few pages, looked down at my wubby, the little round mushy tummy where my child once lived in utero. Yes, I could definitely stand to lose this, if only I put in the effort. But I am still having trouble finding time for me to work out. Whenever I have a sitter, I am at work, so I feel a bit guilty paying for a sitter for just “Me Time.” And other times, I’d rather write than go to the gym. Actually, as I have recently begun thinking about how I can make more time for me, in the mail came my answer. Just two days after receiving “As We Change,” a catalogue appropriately entitled, “Time for Me” arrived.

I got very excited when I saw this and I actually spent time reading it for two mintues trying to make an effort to satisfy my longing to have “Time for Me,” but it failed. It had literally the same junk as the “As We Change” catalogue. I have been thinking about the solution and I think it can be achieved in two French words: au pair.

Gasoline For Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2012 § 5 Comments

I remember almost three years ago, about a week before my due date, when I was waddling around my kitchen, happily boiling some BPA free nipples in preparation for my soon to be born baby boy.

I was home that day, in middle of a self-created negativity purge. I was determined to eliminate any negative residue from my 20’s and 30’s before the upcoming life-changing event that would lead me into a forever after of love-fueled bliss. Anything that had to do with unsuccessful attempts to be successful in New York City was to be purged before the baby got here.

I cleaned the apartment, and I was drifting in and out of my own thoughts while listening to the nasal calm of Lenny Lopate. NPR was like a meditation for me and they were doing a special story for Valentine’s Day- about couples who no could no longer connect to each other since becoming parents. What bullshit, I thought. You probably have no foundation. Just focus on the love.

I started to think about the Valentine’s Days I had. The first one in my memory began in 1st grade. I had a crush on a kid by the name of “Lane” who wore a Snoopy Shirt. His three quarter sleeve jersey revealed the skin of his forearms and I thought this was cute when he skin was exposed. He traded a Ziggy Valentine’s Day card with me. It said,“Valentine, you’ve got class.” I felt special, but when I saw the card my friend Jessica received also from him: “Valentine, You’re #1,” expectations turned to heartbreak.

Then, in fifth grade, the whole week of Valentine’s Day, I a boy named Andrew placed used items on my desk. Each morning, another used treasure stolen from his sister’s bedroom. I received: A heart eraser that was worn down to the very end, an already opened toothbrush, and a book on getting your period. once again, disappointment.

In college, I resorted to dating a loser named Wig who was a cross between a skater dude and Ken doll. He died his hair green with food coloring. He broke up with me in the dining hall on Valentine’s Day, “uh, I don’t think it’s working out. Rock on…” I masked the pain by loading up on the unlimited French fries & soft serve yogurt contributing to my unmanageable freshman 15.

The only memory of a non-disappointing Valentine’s Day gift up to this point, was the one I received from my Dad- a stuffed animal Owl with a note attached: “Hoo, Hoo, will find Jennifer Ostrega?” He really got it. But it was my Dad.

Now, I thought about my Valentine’s Day that I would hope to have with my husband and new baby. It would be a day where I could forget about pampers and just be pampered. Manicure, maybe mani-pedi combo. My husband would even get his toes pedicured—along side me.  He’d bring me chocolates, flowers, and eternal passion. I would have three, maybe four orgasms. BUT, It wouldn’t be all about me—because I’m a giver, not just a taker.  I would maybe surprise him with a can of whip cream by the bed while wearing a Pam Anderson Bay Watch Halloween costume I got on sale. I AM ONE LUCKY BIG MAMA, I THOUGHT. And then I interrupted my bliss with a fart because at this stage of my third trimester, I could no longer control my body functions.

So, the purge went well. So did the delivery-well, almost well. A few minor problems like passing a baby the size of a watermelon through my vagina, but who’s complaining?

This was the new chapter in my life. And this brings me to my Valentine’s Day last year. My husband travels a lot for work and on in this particular Monday evening, the 14th, he came home exhausted.

He finally walked in the door and told me that he had an empty gas tank, a dirty van, and had to drive clients in his car at the crack of dawn the next day.

He walked in the door to our apartment at 9PM, which is just the time of night when our two year old is finally settling down into a calm and peaceful state. At the moment of his entry, I’ve already been up with my son since 5:30AM. In walks my husband walks. I’ve got to go fill up the tank, and go to the car wash. At 9PM? Really?

“Dada—Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me!! Where are you going? Where are you going? I want to come with you.” I look at my husband and our kid who is wearing red doggie pajamas with feet is crying. I bundle him up and we stick him in the Brooklyn 32 degree winter air, so he can have quality time with his Dada….We look at each other fully knowing that this Valentine’s Day will be a little bit different. Wanna have a date to the car wash and gas station? My husband says.  “Sure! “I reply and smile.
We arrive and my husband vacuums the inside of the van on one of those timed quarter machines that eats your money up every minute…My son becomes hysterical thinking the vacuum is a giant monster that is going to suck him up. The bright lights of the station seem to be shining on me and my little family. I start to like it, and think there’s no place I’d rather be. I glance at the clock: two hours and 30 minutes left of Valentine’s Day. Under the neon lights of the gasoline station, Happy Valentine’s Day, I keep thinking to myself. This is real LOVE.

We pull out of the station, finally ready to go home after our one-hour excursion. My son is happily listening to Raffi in the van…”The more we get together, together, together, The more we get together, the happier we’ll be, cause your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends, the more we get together the happier we’ll be”  And I realize as I’m singing along that we never get together with our friends anymore. Where went OUR life? and I glance over at my husband. “Do you know what I want for Valentine’s Day?” I tell him?”

“Ice cream.” Yes, that’s pretty much it. I want some Breyers Chocolate Chip Mint Ice cream.

Ok, sweetie. No problem.”

“I’ll get it. “  I say as I’m ready to jump out of the car.

“No, I insist on getting it.” He says chilvalrously. We pull up in front of the supermarket. Breyers could not disappoint. Even though it has the same fat content as all the other ice creams, the fat inside it is “all natural” fat, I justify.Yes,  I feel really good about this choice.And he leaves the van. My son and I look over at each other, tired and bleary eyed. My husband returns with a cheap pair of Fuscia polka dotted socks. The fuzzy hot pink kind that you know will fall apart after one washing.  And, a plant.  And no ice cream. They ran out.

“This is so we can grow our love, “ he says, as he kisses me on the cheek.

I look at him through bloodshot eyes and feel warm inside. This isn’t spa chocolates-manicure warm. It’s real, we’re in this together, doesn’t matter what we’re doing even if we are at a gas station warm. This is real love under the neon lights of the gas station. Happy Valentine’s Day.

(Message from Author: This is for all the Moms who aren’t able to get a babysitter tonight.)

*Excerpt of this piece was originally read at The Next Chapter www.thenextchapteronline.net

Pre-school Audition

January 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

My son failed his “observation” at a pre-school, (let’s call it the fictional name, “Pottysori”). “Cognitively your son is well beyond two,” I was told, “but we cannot put him in the 3’s class because he is not potty trained. I’m sorry, but our 3’s teachers are not asked to do that kind of leg work.” Failed.

Here he was sitting like an attentive little guy at circle time, flawlessly hitting all his marks on that really confusing song called head-shoulders-knees-and-toes, knees-and-toes, which I finally was able to master upon completion of 8 weeks of a mommy and me class. But because he couldn’t use a toilet bowl…failed. He is bright, witty, and charming, poised and well, afraid of big giant size white toilet bowls they had without a potty seat that he was used to at home and at his other school, or at least the one at “Pottysori.”

Message: If your son is not potty trained by 3, Brooklyn mom, forget all opportunities for your child’s future. I’m a little tired of these “auditions” where I feel like I’m being observed a bit more than my child. While we were waiting for the teacher to arrive with her class, we were in a sunlit room filled with baskets of toys. My son was roaming from basket to basket, without any method or system, dipping into each basket to play with different toys. The school director sat in the back watching the two of us interact. I encouraged him to stay with one thing, and of course that made it so much worse, since a two year old’s modus operandi is “no,” making the situation potentially worse. At the end of the observation, I was told that it wasn’t going to work out this year.

I was trying to get him into another program mid-year,since the school he loves only has room for him two mornings a week, and I need an additional place for him on the days I need to work more. How irresponsible of me last year to wait until April, (only six months prior to the year that he’d be attending school!) Two days a week was the only thing available since our moving plans fell through and we were scrambling “last minute”-six months last minute. 

Thinking that perhaps I was being too rigid limiting him to only a pre-school, (after-all, so many educated working moms are choosing daycare), I resorted to checking out more of a daycare-type  place, which calls themselves an “academy,” not a daycare or pre-school.  There, the director smothered my son in kisses upon meeting him and told him he was “gonna be a heartbreakah!” “How long have you and your husband been togethuh?” she asked me. This place has a major waiting list, months long. Other moms have told me that the staff was full of love, and good natured, so I went. I don’t know what I was thinking when I decided to just go ahead and enroll him (oh yeah, this place is right next to my work).On the first day we tried it, I witnessed a boy throwing a child into a choke hold and I was the one who broke up the fight.  And so, I pulled him out of this place after a few other disturbing sightings, only to realize this place has a violation from the Board of Health for failure to properly supervise children.  And finally, the most recent place I tried this week gives homework. They distribute a notebook asking the child to practice writing his letters:  At 3? Homework so the daycare can look like their making their kids smart and they can check off their lists to make it look like the kids are achieving something.

It’s great to be a working parent today. We must thank Gloria Steinem for opening the doors for working women, but did she ever she ever have to live through this madness? I am left wondering why working moms are calling these places opportunities for “excellent socialization,” that phrase I have heard it countless times. I have this feeling that my son will be unable to cope come kindergarten, having been sheltered from the dysfunction that the other kids have experienced. Throw him into the ring now, right? Then, it will be less of a shock to his system later, so he won’t be such a social outcast having received so much “attention” so early on.

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  • Copyright 2011 by Jennifer Ostrega


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