One day, Bert and Ernie decided to make a big change. Sesame Street had begun to feel a bit small, Bert needed a new professional adventure, and many of Ernie’s friends and family lived in another town. Bert did his part, finding a job that had everything – an exciting product, an appealingly small size, and a group of smart, reasonable people with whom to work. Ernie was excited. Ernie was so excited that Ernie proposed moving out of Sesame Street immediately and traveling for a week or two before settling in their new town. Like many of Ernie’s ideas, this one turned out to be colossally foolish. (Also Bert and Ernie weren’t gay and had two little kids and I’m Ernie.)
Long story short, we moved. Well, we are trying to move. We gave up our Seattle apartment in late May, planning to begin a San Francisco lease in early June. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. After an exhausting search, I found a sum total of zero apartments in our price range offering (1) two bedrooms, (2) a dishwasher, and (3) a washing machine. We reluctantly borrowed money and signed a lease for the perfect layout (big, open, and babyproof-able living space) in the perfect building (new construction, appliances, elevator) in the perfect location (walkable to a good half of the city, sunny) scheduled to be completed on a less than perfect date: July 1. Four weeks is a long time to spend in limbo, but we’d been around a bunch of blocks before moving into 123 Sesame Street and looked forward to visiting a few of our old haunts on the East Coast. Besides, summers with kids are supposed to be about family togetherness and adventure, right?
Here is a chronological breakdown of our activities and my accompanying emotional state:
Two weeks preceding departure: I pack our apartment all by myself, handicapped by the “help” of two toddlers. Enough said.
Days 1 and 2: Ian and I oversee by-the-hour movers transporting all of our boxes into a 26’ Uhaul truck (professional movers quoted a minimum of 7K; no, thank you very little); I fly from Seattle to California with the kids, a stroller, two carseats, and a month’s worth of belongings; Ian heads south driving the aforementioned uber-vehicle (the largest “haul” he’s allowed without a commercial license); Ian and I guard the truck and open storage units as movers pack our belongings into two little holes in a San Francisco warehouse while my mom babysits. I am excited – mostly about starting our new life, but I also thoroughly enjoy a day spent sitting on a cold concrete floor in the dank basement of a public storage facility reading a trashy book on my Iphone’s Kindle app. Compared with two kids on a plane, we’re talking serious luxuriating.
Week one: Our first week at my mom’s packed house (three of my five siblings also live at home at the moment) feels like any other vacation with family: excitement (to see one another), comfort (that nothing you do or say can change these people’s opinion of you; they’ll always love you), and frustration (that nothing you do or say can change these people’s opinion of you; to them you’ll always be the [insert adjective here] child).
Week two: We spend a lovely four days visiting with friends in Washington D.C., with only one blemish: getting my period on our host’s sheets. (This is the second time I’ve blogged about so sullying a set of sheets in our nation’s capitol. This time all embarrassment evaporated when my friend responded to my hangdog admission: “Just the sheets? Don’t worry about it. My sister somehow got hers on the drapes!” Emily Post would be proud. Of her, I mean. Good ol’ Ems would shoot me on sight with nary a “pardon me.”) We find a great deal on a one-way car rental for our drive to NYC and start the road trip in high spirits. At a rest stop off the Pennsylvania Turnpike we get a phone call: the building has no certificate of occupancy, and our move-in date has been postponed by three more weeks. Over the next 50 miles or so we go through the five stages of grief (“No freaking way!” “We should sue the freaking bastards.” “Maybe they can give us free storage or something else to take the edge off.” “This freaking sucks.” “Okay, three more weeks, except now I have the kids alone during the week. I can handle this. Where to? Freaking Boston?”).
Week three: We spend ten days with Ian’s family in New York City and rejoice in the company of more family and good friends. If by “rejoice” you mean greatly enjoy reconnecting with our besties and feel super bad about what a toll all the babysitting takes on my husband’s parents. We left one with fresh recollection of the monstrous energy suck that is trying to chase two toddlers for hours in an incompletely babyproofed space and the other literally unable to speak thanks to a pediatric bug we left behind. Ummmmmm, sorry? (Also, the verb “left” makes it sound way too easy. You know that agony when you peel back a band-aid from a big owie in a hairy place super slowly? That’s what departing from New York was like. I was motion sick before we got three blocks from Ian’s parents’ place in Manhattan at around 1 p.m. After twelve hours, three flight changes due to both mechanical and air traffic control delays, an aborted take-off, more than two hours on the side of the runway, an air train trip, and a hotel shuttle ride, we checked into the JFK Hilton 17 miles away. Our alarm went off three hours later – at 4 a.m. Also, three attempts to procure a portable crib from the hotel produced nothing but angst on both sides which meant Stuey slept in his stroller for about an hour and then on top of me – slash next to me and kicking me in the face – for the remaining hour and a half of our “night” of sleep.) Ian began his first day of work promptly upon landing in San Francisco.
Week four: Okay, not exactly promptly. First he had to meet a friend to get the keys to his new lodging: his friend’s (thank you, Brandon) dad’s (thank you, Brandon’s dad) boat. The kids and I stay with my mom. I do the whole single-parent thing which you know is suuuuuuuuper easy for me. Only this time I do it in a space that’s not babyproofed. Vivi goes to camp, but, as one unaccustomed to suburban life, I feel like I spend all morning and afternoon driving her there and back. I do, however, get Stuey’s naps to catch up on bills, emails, applications, etc. as well as to connect and reflect online (which is often more refreshing for me than actual relaxation).
Week five: We rent another family’s apartment through Airbnb in “the Mission” (picture a tiny Queens, only under attack by some sort of hybrid hipster-yuppy virus) just a few blocks from the construction site we will soon call home. I buy a double stroller on Craigslist for a hundred bucks (ours is too deep into storage to retrieve, and – I’ll be honest – a little too flashy for the first week in our edgy new neighborhood). Ian wakes with the kids and feeds them breakfast while I sleep almost every morning. I go to my new gym (why yes, I did choose our apartment in large part based upon its proximity to a 24 Hour Fitness with childcare; that’s not normal?). We live the urban dream – exploring museums and playgrounds, scheduling multiple playdates each day, eating a wide variety of cheap and yummy food (and by “wide variety,” I mean Mexican, Peruvian, and Argentinian), and running errands on foot.
Week six: Wherein Ernie falls apart. Through the first five and a half weeks, I held it together largely thanks to method acting a-la Daniel Day-Lewis. You see, for the kids’ sake I feigned enthusiasm for our “adventure,” but I did it so effectively that I had a blast. And then I got PMS (which is notorious for thwarting female method actors the world over), the rose-colored glasses were exchanged for rose-colored . . . nevermind, too graphic even for me. (I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Ernie did menstruate twice during this ordeal. That’s what happens when moving takes two months.) Anyway, the rose-colored glasses came off. All of a sudden I just missed having a home to call my own. I like coming and going without arranging to borrow a car and getting out of the shower without fretting over whether any number of young male relatives will walk through the door (avoiding their mortification, not mine; I don’t give a rat’s tushy). I like knowing where everything goes and, let’s be real here, just generally being in charge of things (inanimate and animate alike). Plus, it’s hard to keep two kids quiet morning (brothers sleeping), noon (dog sleeping), and night (me sleeping, hopefully). Most of all – as you can probably tell from the word’s prior three appearances in this post – I need babyproofing. I go absolutely insane if I have to shadow every move made by two small gremlins, I mean children. During week six, I suddenly felt sad and powerless and frustrated and overwhelmed.
And then I received one of the only presents that could have made me feel better: the gift of superiority. (Tangent alert.) I pulled my mom’s sedan into a church parking lot on Tuesday morning and weathered the logistical thunderstorm that is camp drop-off (with all the seat belts, sunblock, hair-fixing, just-in-case trip to the potty, “I understand that all the other kids have fruit-by-the-foot and it looks so yummy, but it’s applesauce for you,” and whatnot). As I walked out the door with only one little hanger-on, I felt both lighter and guiltier (“I mean, really,” whispered the little devil sitting on my right shoulder, “your job is taking care of your kids and here you are subcontracting half of it so that you can get in a few hours of computer time?”). Between me and the car stood a group of fairly ordinary looking mothers. Most of them appeared to be a bit older than average and there were a few too many pairs of capri pants for my taste, but I had no reason to expect anything abnormal. One of them, who had a little boy playing in the dirt at her feet, smiled and beckoned me and Stu. I introduced myself and then bent down to play with the wee ones. A truly remarkable conversation transpired above me.
One mother asked another how she’s holding up during “the transition.” It turns out wide-leg khaki capris “recently” (last October) became a stay-at-home mom. When skinny-cut khaki capris followed up on the big sigh that Wide-leg unfurled, the latter responded, “there’s one issue that’s really keeping me from being happy with the kids.” As to be expected, head tilts and face scrunches warmly inviting further information and promising sympathy rippled through the circle of women. “I’ve still got the nanny full-time two days a week, and she makes it hard for the kids to get into a routine with me.” Shockingly (really, she’s the one making it hard? really, it’s the kids who need to get into a routine with you?), each set of lips above uttered an empathetic little coo (like “oh dear” and – no joke – “that’s terrible”). A mommy in long yoga pants (let’s call her “Didn’t-get-the-memo”) chimed in, “I struggled with that problem for ages before I had an epiphany.” Okay, I think to myself, this shit is about to get real. Not so much. “I told the nanny if she wanted to keep the same number of hours with us, she’d have to come mornings from 8:30 to 12:30 instead.” Skinny-cut breaks in, “But that’s the worst! Then they sleep in the morning with the nanny and you have to deal with a grumpy kid in the afternoon.” “No, no, no,” says Didn’t-get-the-memo with a wide, boastful smile, “you have to make the nanny keep the kid awake. That way, you can put them down for nap right when she leaves and have the day to yourself until 4:00.” And then Wide-leg deadpans, “But when am I supposed to exercise?”
Now, I’m big on trying not to judge other moms. I also applaud these women for prioritizing their own mental and physical health. To round out the disclaimers, I too scheme to maximize the amount of me-time produced by each childcare hour. However, a few factors come into play here. First, we’re talking a lot of childcare for a stay-at-home parent. Second, the tone of the entire conversation was very “woe is us” (yes, I’m a hypocrite; this whole post is one long sad song entitled “Ode to First-World Problems”). Third, and most importantly, I really needed a pick-me-up. So I took it. I may not have been a chipper, creative Mary-Poppins mom at the moment, but I could – all by myself – keep one kid alive for half a day and exercise. A spirit of community and compassion is all fine and good, but in competition there is triumph – and I needed a win. Head held high, I got the jogging stroller out of the trunk and loped through the rest of the week with the aid of smug self-satisfaction.
I will get back to you on Week 7. Like me, I am sure you are tired of this whole saga and just want to climb into bed and watch some TV. Maybe a little “Sesame Street”?