I write a blog so I don’t forget things; like how much I hurt, how much I worked, how much I laughed, how much I loved…Bla Bla Bla
Today, I do not want to ever forget some precious moments with my daughter. A day will probably come when her smart ass attitude will frustrate me to no end, when I will ‘expect’ her comments and when I will no longer stop in my tracks because the words coming out of her mouth just silence me and blow my mind. Sorry if this sounds pretentious but I am too proud of her not to share. OK, I will now pass over the vomit bucket 🙂
Anyway, here are some keepsakes from P, age 4.
‘Mom, we are all getting old and we are all going to die, right?’
‘Yes…’ I replied, choking lightly and thinking ‘Shit I AM going to DIE!!!!’
“Eh…to make place for you and your family. If we all stay and hang out, there will be too many of us and you won’t have space to grow and do stuff’.
‘I don’t like that you have to die’.
‘It’s OK; I will always be somewhere watching you.’
‘Do promise you will watch me, OK? Because if you stop watching (as in looking at me), I will be lost.’
My heart really tightened at that moment because it was so innocent, simple, and genuine. Of course, children grow up obsessed with parental approval. So, what do I need to do not to screw it up? Me and so many of my friends grew up always feeling that we were not and will never be enough. Adult happiness becomes so evasive. Of course we cannot put all the blame on our old folks but I wonder when parents stop watching and start judging. When do parents turn from being ‘compasses’ into unsatisfied coaches ?
On her favorite books
I always thought that kids had this one book they cherished for ever and would carry everywhere; books about pigs, princesses, dogs and so on. A kind of literary comforter.
P changes ‘I cannot live without them’ books every 2 months. Among her recent obsessions: the illustrated Bible, the French – Lao pocket dictionary and the signed memoir by Condoleezza Rice ‘No Higher Honor’…Difficult to imagine these books as comforters.
She turns pages after pages, ‘reads’ intensely, nods, closes the books, re-opens the books and nods again. This stuff has officially freaked me out. That and when yesterday she told me ‘Mom when you decide to learn the guitar, I will tune it for you. I know how to do it, I saw Dad do it, it has to make a special sound when you pull the string.’ She has to be the world’s biggest bullshit express or what???
On being nice
‘I don’t understand why you ask me to be nice. It is not easy; it is very difficult to be nice all the time! How can you do this? What you ask is not fair.’
I am still pondering what to respond to this.
G & P’s new passive aggressive jousting is calling each other ‘Poop’. It absolutely drives them nuts and really upsets them. I mean it. They kick each other’s heads and they’ll be fine. They strangle each other and they’ll be fine. They steal each other’s food and they’ll be fine. But if the word ‘poop’ comes out, all hell breaks loose. Yesterday morning, P was bawling her eyes out: ‘G told me that I was poop’.
Me:’Well, he is your TWIN brother so if you are poop, he is poop too.’
DH was assuredly playing along: ‘Yes it is true. If you are poop, you get it from us so Mama is poop and I am poop and thus HE is poop too’.
We were feeling very smug about our stellar common sense but P started crying even louder. I tried her to calm her repeating: ‘Stop crying and just tell him he is poop too like everyone else.’
To which she screamed: ‘But stop it!!! I don’t want to be part of a family of poop!!!!’
DH and I turned crimson from embarrassment. She did make an awfully good point. As for the two us, a bunch of idiots…really hahahaha.
We live in a culturally very diverse neighborhood and from time to time some racial tensions just ignite on the bus or the subway. This morning an African American woman called some hispanic folks ‘cockroaches’ and ‘immigrants’ preaching a revisionist take on American History in which Africans were the indigenous population of America. Profanities ensued. L was confused like hell and I was just relieved that it was not older P or G who was riding the bus with me. So yeah, I wonder every day about what is my kids’ understanding of cultural and ethnic differences. I tried to start a conversation by asking P:
‘Do you think Mama looks more like your friend I’s mom (who is Asian Korean) or your friend K’s mom (who is French Caucasian)?’
She paused, smiled and said: ‘Mom, you are beautiful. That’s it’. DH looked at me beaming and we both concluded that she just understood it all. She has just cracked international conflicts and world peace.
Just like that.
Picture below by Helene McGuire
Note: I have been MIA for almost 3 weeks and have a lot of catching up to do!!! Looking forward to reading some of my fave bloggers. You know who you are 🙂
7.00am The Screw Up
The day started by a sobering realization: I gave our nanny her Friday off so she could have family time with her young kids. But DH was not working and I had to work…I gently warmed DH to the idea of having to mind the kids on his own. I started to say things like: ‘I have the meeting during the kids’ nap; it should be quick and nice’.
‘Where’s your meeting?’
He raised his eyebrow it is just the second largest borough in New York so I vaguely say: ‘I think it is somewhere in Greenpoint’.
I.e. 3 transfers, 3 boroughs Manhattan – Queens- Brooklyn = there is not a fucking chance that I will be back before the kids wake up from their naps. I am now trying to hide the IPad so that DH does not check Google Maps.
8.00am The Breakfast
We get ready to eat and of course I forgot to buy Nespresso refills, sliced bread, jam,…basically I had shopping amnesia. Facing me, I have an understanding silent DH who starts mumbling in his head (oh yeah DH, I can hear you we are practically twins…) and three tots who do now pretend to be starving. I mean they were perfectly content poking each other’s eyes a la Kill Bill for a stupid toy pocket light that is (seriously) the size of a quarter coin. Morons.
This until they heard the ‘we have no food, we have no coffee’ line. It was just what they needed to start shaking the kitchen gate and scream ‘Moooooom, I am hungryyyyyy!!!!‘Terrorists.
So I dash to our local hipster coffee place the Double Dutch looking like and smelling SHITE, in my PJs and see on my way some neighbors with their 2 young kids all dressed up (obviously smelling nice shampoo) strolling away to enjoy the sunny day. I am a fecking failure 🙂
8.45am The ‘I am choosing my battle’
I get the kiddos ready and decide to skip our usual tooth brushing routine that sounds like this:
Me: Please open your mouth so I can brush your teeth
Me: C’mon or your teeth will be broken like Mama’s and I don’t have money to get then fixed. Note: I really don’t.
Them clinching their teeth: No!!!
Me: C’mon!!! Forcing the toothbrush in their mouth seconds before getting whacked in the head by an hysterical tot.
So yeah, I have no time for this crap. Not today.
10.30am The Me Time
DH takes the 3 musketeers to the building common yard to play with their scooters. I finally have my coffee and start cooking the kids’ lunch because the deal was:
‘I’ll watch the monsters but you feed them. If you leave before, they won’t eat’ This blackmail works EVERY time.
That is the main difference between DH and I: food. He is of the school ‘you play with your food, you don’t eat. You complain about your food, you don’t eat.’ I am more like ‘OK I’ ll hunt you down with a spoon until you eat’. That is my Lao fiber, that pathological need to feed people.
11.30am The Rat Race
I am still not showered and running after my kids riding their scooters with a spoon of chicken pasta. My Lao grandma would be proud. Meanwhile DH is rubbing his forehead; he is probably thinking that this day cannot finish soon enough. Of course, the kids refuse to eat. DH is happy to eat the leftovers; the man is depressed.
I am out of the house (showered) and I stop feeling guilty. I am even excited by the idea of doing a transfer in Queens. I am pathetic.
3.45pm Rad Greenpoint
My meeting is finally done, I met with 2 beautiful and bright women entrepreneurs. I am fully energized. It occurs to me that people in Greenpoint are hip in the right kind of way: they are super friendly, talk slow and smile like a LOT. I also learn a new word: ‘rad’. I think it means ‘awesome’, ‘cool’, ‘out of your mind amazing’. Everyone is Brooklyn seems to say ‘rad this’, ‘rad that’. Somehow I don’t think I can pull it off. My skinny jeans are not skinny enough.
4.15pm The Psychopath
As I am on the train, I am checking out what the guy next to me is reading but cannot find out because the guy is actually Michael C. Hall with a sports cap on. I have been obsessed with Dexter for a longtime and still think that Season 4 with John Lithgow is one of the best things I have ever seen on TV. So I remain speechless feeling both giddy and scared shitless. Michael C. Hall was so good as Dexter that as I am sitting next to him, I am catching myself looking around to see if we are alone in the train carriage…I freak out. For real. I am teleported to Miami and am wondering if I am going to be the next Dexter victim…
4.45pm The Bouncy Castle
I get home and the kids are about to go ballistic inside the bouncy castle that DH is now setting up in our living room…Where’s the beer?
5.15 pm The Playground
I hate playgrounds. I always end up bickering with 4 year olds and always seem to be searching for one of my kids. Too much stress; so I dial my friend Emma: ‘Fancy a Harlem tavern with all our 5 kids?’ and I am counting the minutes.
6.00pm The Tavern
aka the place where kids eat chips and listen to Jazz while their parents get plastered with beers and mimosas. It has a very high ratio of staff and usually half of them likes children so B-I-N-G-O, they will always stop your kids in time before they stab themselves with a knife. Awesome for outnumbered parents.
10.00pm The Bedtime
Somehow we bought wine and ended up at Emma’s and while the 5 kids watch something on the TV…the 4 parents kept sipping wine. Eventually every set of parents has to deal with their responsibilities. Denial is coming to an end: it is passed bedtime and one way or the other you have to clean them and put them to bed. As the kids are yawning under their blankets, for a second I am thinking: ‘What an ass I have been, they should have been in bed hours ago..‘ But my thoughts are interrupted by P.:
-‘Mom, why could I not stay at my girlfriends E. and M’s?
– Well you are only 3, a little too young…
-OK, when I am older, buy me a phone and I will call my girlfriends and I will stay at their place even after it gets dark. I am not scared, you know’
I smile. The apple did not fall from the tree. Atta girl.
‘Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year in the life?’
Seasons of Love, Rent musical
I have been, in a very sadistic way, enjoying reading my fellow bloggers’ meltdowns about Christmas’ preparations because it was another testimony that I am not alone in this world (sorry guys but it really made feel better). I hoped (maybe even prayed a little) that days would suddenly last 30 hours and that my kids would grow into civilized human beings, helping us out in this stressful Holiday season. I hoped they would give us a break when we were already down in the gutter rather than ganging up on us like some unruly teenagers. Recent (parent) bullying includes G & P reenacting a scene from ‘Boyz in the Hood’, blasting my guts out for no reason whatsoever. They created this Mortal Kombat twin act, taking turns to yell, point their fingers at me and pretend to shoot at me… And when I could not help but crack up, P sternly told me:‘Why are you smiling? I am not smiling…’ and bang, she then shot me. I seriously need to check whether they understood how to operate our Netflix account and switch from their ‘Kipper the dog’ program to ‘Reservoir Dogs’ or something like that, behind my back.
Anyway I am digressing. This year, we didn’t have any relatives or friends sharing Christmas’ Eve dinner with us (we are spending Christmas Day with friends). It was a first for us and it was a little sad. DH and I both come from large families with a penchant for drama prone reunions so Christmas is always an entertaining affair. But alas, this year it was just the 5 of us. I guess it was a first that I should start to embrace.
Regardless, I realized that staying put for Christmas offered some positives such as going to see cool Christmas shows, besides avoiding the ‘mind boggling kill me now’ transatlantic flights. However, the best is probably how Christmas in Harlem makes me feel I am part of some kick ass musical.
Indeed, a few days before Christmas, something wacko happened to me. I was at my local post office trying to find excuses for how I managed to fuck up yet again my Australian godchildren’s Christmas gifts. I mean, they live on the other side of the world and here I was queuing on 18th December trying to mail their presents. Considering that they have Christmas something like 24 hours (or is it 36 hours?) before we do…yeah, I needed a Christmas freaking miracle for them to get their stuff before February. After queuing for about 1 hour, I and other fellow customers started to feel fidgety. An old man (Soul Man) in front of me was singing and was watching me closely. After a while, he offered me his spot in the line probably because I looked like I was going to pee on his shoes while in fact, I was still trying to figure out whether my amateurish sealing of the package would actually hold during its transit.
I gently declined after much hesitation (after all, he was older than me for heaven’s sake); that’s when Big Man from the end of the line started to go straight to one of the counters jumping the whole queue. Oh boy, he got heckled good, Harlem style!
Crowd:’What the fuck you think you are doing? Boo, boo, get your ass back at the end of the line’
Big Man: ‘Chill out people, I thought there were were 3 lines that got merged for no reason’
Me thinking: yes because we are all idiots who want to cosy up against other sweating and stressed out customers.
He continued: ‘No need to shout. You think this whole thing is problems to me; it’s no problems. Believe me, I have real problems in my life, believe me.
Me thinking: please do NOT share more.
Soul Man gets involved: ‘Yes man, this is real life in here; we are not in a freaking movie’, before singing again.
The whole incident prompted 6 ft tall 70 year-old Mrs Doubtfire to leave her ranks and holler at the post office clerks. She lashed into a gospel-like monologue about the poor level of service and about how she had to do their job for the last hour by telling fellow customers which counter to go to and when. As the commotion was reaching its climax, she continued her paranoid preaching:‘I am sick of people thinking I am trying to jump the queue, I am standing here to make our rights heard. I was done with all my postage hours ago but I cannot leave without saying what I think. Do you feel me people, do you feel me?’
People started to cheer and Nicer Version Kanye West queuing behind me gave her a loud high five. Everyone started to laugh, whistle and show off some swagger while Big Man was yelling on his cell and repeating :‘Dude, people are getting nuts in here, they think they are a problem to me but Man, I have real problems, you know, real fucked up problems’. Some people just can’t let it go, can they?
I swear, we were very close to break into an ensemble rendition of ‘Season of Love’ from the Rent musical. Meanwhile, Goody two-shoes White boy with a prepaid package got dragged to the front of the line by Mrs Doubtfire:‘Boy, you gotta understand that there is no need to queue if you have prepaid. You get your ass to this window in front of ALL these people, lift the glass, put your package, push down the glass and go enjoy Christmas. That is how it works in here’. Livid Goody two-shoes White Boy obliged and ran out of the Post Office probably thinking he was going to get his ass handled to him by crazy crowd because he believed a lunatic old woman. He must have been a tourist…
When I finally left the Post Office, I felt full of energy, ready to listen to Rent Soundtrack, and very proud of myself for standing up, with the help of Nice Kanye West, against an older lady who decided to ruffle my feathers out of the queue because supposedly, she did not see me. I actually yelled at the old lady. Me Mrs I Get Screwed Over All The Time When Queuing In General, I yelled and held my ground. If only now, I could be as ballsy and firm with my 3 mini sociopaths at home…
Happy Holiday everyone!
‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’
Martin Luther King Jr.
Something that has been happening with G in the last few weeks got me thinking about self-identification and got me to revisit my own past struggle with my diverse identities. Basically (not) G thinks he is a black boy. And not in the cheesy Vanilla ice ice baby but as a boy with ebony skin and curly hair…My Manga faced boy sees himself as the 6th member of the Jacksons Five. Indeed, in all the books, IPad games, etc. if there is an illustration of a black boy, G points at the little boy and assertively claims: ‘it’s me, it’s G!!!‘ Every single time!
My initial reaction was: ‘Oh fuck, he is really really color blind’ (Note: he is struggling to identify primary colors). But as I started to study his big smile while proclaiming his ‘blackness’, I realized that his odd thinking was more complex and actually more beautiful than simple color blindness. The kid may flunk his public school ‘Gifted and Talented’ program entry test but he made me proud – a lot – in the last few weeks.
He reminded me that for a long time, I could never identify myself as Asian because I grew in a predominantly white neighborhood and thought I was just the same as my then fair skinned best friend Mariel. I remember studying for hours my face in the mirror of my parents’ old wardrobe and would not ‘see’ that my eyes were slanted, my hair was blacker and thicker than anyone else in my class (bar my sister), that I did not have any nose bridge (despite pulling my nose for an hour every night in bed and if you want details: yes it hurt and yes I felt stupid doing it…crazy girl) and that there were many reasons why my name could not be Stephanie or Adele. I would not ‘see’ but I knew I was different.
He reminded me that it took me almost 2 decades to reconcile my various cultural and ethnic identities and a lot of resilience to overcome the abuse from French kids calling me ‘Chinetoque’ (French racist slur for Chinese people) and from the Lao people calling me out for being a ‘banana‘ (no comment).
Because of all this, I wanted my kids to grow up in a place like Harlem so they can see and understand things such as:
– people of different colors besides your parents can fall in love and have kids together
– or white women are not necessarily the adoptive mothers of dark skinned children but can be the nannies paid by dark skinned parents
It became a kind of obsession to promote diversity in our family life; obsession obviously rooted in my own childhood insecurities.
But my kids seem to have taken their very own journey about their understanding and experience of race and class. G showed me something really new to me. He showed me that a boy with a caucasian dad and an Asian mom sees himself as a proud and happy black boy. And I will blast anyone who try to correct him and force him into boxes. I will blast them – Manga style.
What do you see when you look yourself in the mirror?
PS: meanwhile my daughter P is adamant she lives in the ‘Park’, I am at loss about what she means by this…I shall investigate and report to you soon 🙂
‘ My body may be a work-in-progress, but there is nothing wrong with my soul.’
Bree Osbourne (Felicity Huffman), Transamerica
Last week, DH sent me an email about a vigil in Harlem for Islan Nettles. I had no idea about who this hot African American woman was. I searched about her death and my heart stopped for like a second. A couple of weeks ago, 20 blocks away from my home, she and her friends were the victims of homophobic insults. A ‘scuffle’ apparently ensued and she was beaten bad, real bad. On Thursday 22 August, she was declared brain dead. She died because she was a beautiful and happy woman who once was a little boy. A mother had to bury her daughter because some people hated that Islan was proud to be a woman. 20 blocks away from my home she, with her high cheekbones, endless eyelashes and plump lips, by just being herself caused a hateful man to repeatedly hit her until she could not get up anymore…
I don’t know anyone who is transitioning or has transitioned to another gender. And if I am really honest with myself, not so long ago I was still feeling uncomfortable in the presence of transgender people. I would freeze for tenth of a second when someone with manly hands would firmly hold some train doors for me but all I could focus on was the red polish of their nails. I remember feeling pity looking at an old 65 year old pre op woman wearing a slutty skirt and riding her bike down Northcote road in London some years ago because while her long red hair was blowing in the wind, her male junk was crushed against the bicycle seat. I think what unsettled me was their absolute confidence about being who they were regardless of snide comments or bemused looks. Understandably it was, I am sure, the result of a very long and painful search and struggle. I more recently realized that I was in fact half admirative and half intimidated by such boldness and ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude. In the end, you could say that transgender women are the type of women I always wanted to be: unapologetic.
Islan’s death shook me deeply. It is a hate crime that happened in a place I have so proudly called home. Her death may seem like a tragic but isolated incident for New York—one of the birthplaces of the modern LGBT-rights movement. But ‘bias crimes’ have nearly doubled since this time last year here in New York City and people of color have been particularly affected…And this creeps the hell out of me.
I am not sure when transgender community will be finally accepted and respected in our society but a conversation I had with my 2 year old daughter over Labor day week end taught me something: we are never too young to learn respect and acceptance. She was teasing my (very woman like) girlfriend in a mean way by telling her: ‘ You are not a girl!’
My friend replied: ‘Yes, I am.’
P insisted: ‘No, you are not.’ (Note: these days, P thinks the worst insult she can give someone is to tell them they are boys…)
So the two of them went back and forth: ‘Yes, I am a girl’, ‘No, you’re not’ etc. I would normally find this whole banter cute but I started to get really annoyed and snapped: ‘It does not matter what you say, think or see, Miss P. If someone tells you they are a girl, or a boy as a matter of fact, you have to respect this and accept what they say, and move on, full stop.‘ She looked at me totally confused but I did not care because I knew I had found my own simple way to talk about tolerance and I was going to repeat this again and again until my kids get it. Islan and other transgender women deserved this… at the very least.
Saturday was an odd combination of ‘oh yeah’, ‘oh no’ and ‘what the hell???’ The snow everyone has been waiting for since December has finally arrived. I expected to be underwhelmed here in Harlem because we have been pretty spared by Irene and Frankestorm. It is like living in a little island. However, the wait was truly worth it. The snow was soft; it was abundant and yes, it was beautifully calming. When New York is snowed in, it is one of those rare occasions when the City seems quiet, sober, and almost sane. It probably means that all the crazies fear the cold.
At 7am, J’s dad called us (J is the twins’ BFF) for a Jazzy brunch and a sledge play date. I like the fact that we do know some other poor bastards who are awake at the wee hours of a Saturday morning. J’s dad was so ready to start the day, and so were we because after the 12th time of trying to put your kids back to bed or in front of the TV, more sleeping for us was obviously not happening.
The whiteness of everything gave me a perfect occasion to wear my loose knit by Mes Demoiselles. It looks and feels like being in a huge yarn of wool. I accessorized with a felt hat , the ‘stewardess hat’, that I blocked and designed two years ago while I was looking like a whale. It was not fun pulling all those blocking ropes and trying to hold tight the slippery hat block between the narrow crevasse between my then gigantic breasts and GIGANTIC belly. I felt like someone trying to catch a petulant living salmon with their hands full of Vaseline.
Morningside Park was quite a sight with people sledging everywhere and banging their heads against the park rails. Cheerful atmosphere. Sledges were a hot commodity. I could have probably been able to sell my infant plastic one for a cool $40. Welcome to Manhattan, bitch. The weather actually turned the whole neighborhood into a genuine entrepreneurial fair. Kids with bigger than them shovels were charging their services to dumbfounded neighbors who found their pricey SUVs trapped into walls of snow. An old lady passed by and said ‘aww that brings about some memories, I used to make pocket money like this: 5 bucks per car. ‘ You gotta love long standing traditions!
The minus side of the snow is that it drives the kids bonkers. Absolutely bonkers. The three of them found their way into our bed around midnight and after that…I am still not sure about all the details but it was bad. First, it was so bad that DH at about 3am threw his hands up in the air and wimped: ‘I am fed up. I am going onto the sofa bed’. This has never happened before. DH is a resilient husband (he has been with a high maintenance lunatic for almost two decades) and a resilient father (he almost never took time for himself since the kids were born). But his most treasured possession, even above his wife and his kids, is his Tempur pedic mattress. He loves it so much he was able to endure many disrupted nights since the kids decided to violate our bedroom aka our now defunct child free sanctuary (R.I.P. safe haven, miss you so much). But that night, he surrendered. I was thus left on my own with the three monsters. Absolutely traumatic. Here is a sample of what happened:
– I got stepped and jumped upon, nothing new here, but at some point P sat on my face for a while until I realized my plight. Breathing through a diaper full of pee is…I actually cannot find any words for this. I eventually rolled out of under her but found myself in the middle of a large wet spot. It could have been anything: cow’s milk, formula’s milk, drool from L’s teething or urine from a good old diaper leak. And yes I stayed on the wet spot because I had no place to go. The critters were everywhere: their six legs, six arms, 3 heads, 60 fingers and toes. Everywhere!!!
– around 4am I realized G was missing and started to look around the apartment freaking out that he might have run out and taken the building elevator. It is his favorite hobby. Instead I saw a silent boy with his belly sticking out his pajamas trousers standing by the sledge. I almost passed out; he was like a scary human size Russian doll in a deranged Japanese horror movie. Then he creepily whispered: S…L…E…D…G…E
– sometime between 4.30 and 5am I heard some suspicious giggling and went onto a full panic mode. P was pushing a heavy pillow onto G’s face while this idiot was lying there obediently submitting himself to this dangerous game. At this point I was ready to google: toddler psychological assessment for dummies.
By 7.00am I have given up. As I was pulling myself out of bed, I saw P pushing a huge box, climb on top of it and mess around with my stuff on the book shelves. I was not amused and told her to stop. She looked at me with pity, shook her head and with a sweet but sarcastic voice said: ‘Mommy, go to sleep, go to sleep…’ I looked daggers at her. What the fuck?
P.S: I enrolled in a blogger competition, the circle of moms. If you like what you read, please vote here. The competition closes on Wednesday 13th February, cast your vote now. Thanks!!
Years ago when I was thinking about how my life with kids would look like here’s what I imagined:
– a house off Northcote road aka Nappy Valley in London, a street where moms wear UGG boots, sip skinny lattes, have straight long hair and look like boho chic models
– me strolling my newborn in a bugaboo wearing my favorite YSL heeled boots and gossiping with my BFF Natasha
– working long hours but not worrying about it because DH could handle baby duties on his own or at least with the help of our mates from college living nearby
You see, we struggled so long to have children that I had all the time in the world to observe my friends take the plunge, draw some lessons and imagine how my family life would perfectly snug into this pretty picture. I was serene, thinking I would get all the tricks of the trade from my girls (e.g. how to get a Mary Poppins like nanny, where to get mama cocktails in the middle of the day, what diaper bag to buy etc.). But none of this happened.
Instead, on a whim, DH and I decided to flee the country and lose our mind in Manhattan with Thor and Archibald, our BGFF (Best Gay Friends Forever). And boy we did (more about this in later posts). However after 1 cycle of IVF and a surprise pregnancy (aka I forgot the pill/I did not even know I could ‘naturally’ make children pregnancy) here we are raising 3 babies in Harlem. Harlem with a husband who is as pasty as goat cheese…Harlem away from my college buddies and schlepping to build a new crew in a place that is way ‘Too fast, Too furious’ for a push over like me.
To start with, something strange changed in the dynamics of our couple (and I don’t mean the disappearance of a normal sex life that young parents go through). For the first time DH was the one feeling as an outcast in our new neighborhood with his pale skin and his Hugo Boss suit. And for the first time my ‘girl in the hood’ upbringing, swearing big mouth and tanned complexion made me fit in. In the past I felt like the lucky ‘gal from an ethnic minority and working class pool’ who managed to survive hurdles to social upward mobility, one hurdle after another but not without leaving many of my sisters behind. From high school onwards I saw ‘people like me’ slowly disappearing from my entourage, first in preparatory school, then in business school and later at work – I did work for the charity and philanthrophic field in which paradoxically most managerial positions were held by girls named Rose or Emily. As for my local Starbucks in Clapham it was full of blondes (real and fakes).
But today things are different. Today in Harlem perhaps for the first time in his life, DH realizes he is a white man. Recently he admitted ‘I really feel stupid walking home with my suit – I am the only white dude coming out the subway dressed to the T. It’s odd.’ I started to mock him when I realized that he was being dead serious. He continued:’Don’t laugh it’s true. The kids around try to be intimidating as kids do but it is unsettling. But it is funny because when I am with our kids all is different. I am not a newcomer invading their community but just a dad.’
It is true; Harlem is patchy. On one street you have a fancy restaurant where Obama raised a cool $1.5 million for the Democratic National Convention and where the Clintons can be seen dining. A couple of blocks from there, people happily exchange gun shots for no apparent reason except perhaps because they have guns. Harlem went through so much change with young families massively arriving in search for bigger square footage and access to the amazing outdoor play zones that are Morningside Park, Central Park and Riverside. With these ‘new’ residents came restaurants, cafes and bars and escalating real estate, pricing out ‘old’ residents. My neighborhood is thus a mix of stressed out parents (with an excessively high ratio of families with twins, go figure…) running after their toddlers, African American teenagers hollering people in the street and showing off their abs, African Muslims selling halal patties and spreading over the sidewalk at times of prayer. As for my nanny, she does not know who the hell Mary Poppins is but she surely cooks a mean Mafe (peanut butter based Senegalese dish).
Indeed, it definitely was not where I pictured I would raise my kids…but I absolutely love it. I love that when we go to our weekly story telling session at the local Police Athletic League G, P, L get to play with kids who look like them: born from a mixed race couple who embrace their differences. When I look around 90% children have mixed cultural backgrounds: African American/Hispanic, Asian American/Caucasian, Indian/Dutch and more..and among them here are G, P and L with their French/Lao/American/Vampire ‘DNA’. It is a little sappy but these 45 mins give me faith in humanity; this is, of course, until G decides he wants to bring down on his own the decorations and then I want to commit murder again…Of course sometimes tempers flare and you can get trash talked on a daily basis. Our summer au pair, Alice, got sniggered at by some sassy ladies: “This girl got no a**, tssst…She ain’t black.” That was little too strong a ‘Welcome to Harlem!’ for poorAlice, Oxford (England) born and raised.
As we were walking down our street this week end, teenagers or is it young adults were gathering on the steps of a brownstone house. They were hanging out and talking loud as usual. DH told me about them, he told me how he would always say ‘Hi’ to them on his way home. DH somehow thinks he developed some kind of street creds, which really makes me crack up every time. It is like me saying that I don’t mind drinking wine in a plastic cup…Anyway as we were passing near the group with our two strollers and 3 babies, the youngsters did say ‘hi’ and one started to hiss:’Dude, wow,…see Nigga got 3 kids!’. To this DH turned to me and smiled with a smirk on his face.
I laughed hard. DH has a posse!