A Few Pittsburgh Observations

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I remember having a bit of culture shock when I moved from California to New York for college. Everything around me felt new, and at the same time I suddenly saw myself through other people’s eyes. In our recent move from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh there’s been some of that, too. (For one, I must talk fast, because here I’ve found myself jumping into breaks in the conversation too soon and accidentally interrupting.) Of course being stuck in the house most days with babies, my perspective this time is a bit limited. Still, here are a few differences I’ve noticed so far:

1. Here people just ring your doorbell to say hello. The landlord, friends, neighbors, acquaintances. They drop by. In New York even your best friend wouldn’t ring your bell unannounced. You’d have to schedule with them a week in advance. If anyone was coming to your house (with plenty of notice) you’d have time to clean the place up and put on a good show. Of course, when people drop by they see the real you, in your pajamas at noon, dust bunnies all over the rug, unwashed bibs all over the table.

2. Not everyone looks totally put together all the time. Maybe this goes with the just-ring-the-bell mentality. It seems acceptable to wear whatever beat-up tshirt you happen to be wearing. That was different in New York.

2. People acknowledge and greet each other when they pass on the street, smiling or saying hello. In Brooklyn, skeezy men say hello if you’re youngish and female, everyone else respectfully avoids eye contact.

3. It’s very quiet at night. Very quiet. If I went outside I bet I could see stars. Actually, hold on a minute…Yes. I just went outside (that fast) and saw stars. Actually first I saw the moon, which is very full and bright, brighter than the streetlights. The sky is deep night blue, not the maroonish color it is in New York. There was nobody outside, just dark, and the night-lit houses.

Tonight at dinner D and I agreed that we feel a fondness for Brooklyn, though we don’t miss it.

There’s Only One Master Bedroom

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All four of my apartments in Brooklyn were large single-family homes that had been awkwardly chopped into apartments. In our last apartment in Sunset Park we were on the top floor of what had been a single-family limestone. It was a railroad-style floor-through, probably originally the bedrooms, and when we first moved in we spent at least a week moving the furniture around to every possible configuration trying to figure out what would work best. We ended up trying the bed in all four rooms, every one but the kitchen, before settling on the front room. This shuffling was not stress free.

When we moved to Pittsburgh I expected the same from the duplex we’d rented. But it hasn’t been the same. This is the first apartment I’ve lived in that was built as a small single-family home and remains that way. Upstairs is the master bedroom and a smaller bedroom for the babies. There’s one wall in the master bedroom where our bed would go. Each bedroom has a door that closes, and a closet.

Downstairs there’s a living room that’s clearly a living room, with one spot for a couch, and a dining room off the kitchen. Everything was designed for what we’re using it for.

Out front there’s a porch, out back there’s a porch. Downstairs there’s a basement with a washer and dryer. I still never want to do laundry, but at at least now we don’t have to set aside a day when we’re both here to go to the laundromat.

These are small things, but they make a difference.

 

Now if we could just make some friends here we’d be all set… But as D said last week, “Every time I start to get nostalgic for Brooklyn, I think of that time I rode the 4 train downtown with my face smooshed up against the door because it was so crowded.”

A Goodbye to Sunset Park, Brooklyn

Not sure if I’ll have time to post the next few days, because we’ll packing the contents of our life into boxes and then schlepping it 400 miles through the snow in a truck. But I wanted to post together some of these photos I have of the neighborhood as a farewell. It really is a beautiful place.

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Brooklyn, a Love Story

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Since we’re leaving Brooklyn, I thought I would take the opportunity to look back on these past ten years, the Brooklyn decade. This is a love story.

After graduating college in Manhattan I found an apartment in Brooklyn Heights, my first apartment in Brooklyn. It was a share with a couple who would soon become engaged. Lovely Orange Street. My room barely fit my full size bed, but it had its own half bath.

Soon after I moved in I met D. He was living in Red Hook. We took walks to the Pier. Such a quiet, peaceful place, water lapping against the old sugar factory, that perfect, secret view of the Statue of Liberty. We cooked our first meals together. Every morning I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to work. Some days it was so foggy you couldn’t see the city at all.

My second Brooklyn apartment was with a friend in Park Slope. Again, my room just fit my full size bed. D and I split our time between this apartment and his apartment in Sunset Park. I remember the constant carrying back and forth of clothes, toothbrush, deodorant. Feeling like an imposition. The sound of birds early in the morning, the fire escape out the window. How chilly it was getting out of the shower. We fell in love.

We moved into our first apartment together, in Prospect Heights. Having our own space was amazing. Everything felt settled. And the bedroom, much bigger than the bed, felt cavernous. I began a love affair with Prospect Park, just a ten minute walk away. D and I took up birding. Then we got married. We had a wedding party in that apartment.

From Prospect Heights we moved further into Brooklyn, to our current apartment in Sunset Park. We had a small extra room. Every morning I walked through Sunset Park on the way to work, gauging the air quality from that panoramic view of Manhattan.

Then came pregnancy. On bed rest, I watched spring arrive on the street trees outside the window. My water broke in that apartment. Our little office became a nursery with two cribs, and the babies grew from preemies to chatty eight-month-olds.

It’s been a full decade. In the future, I see us showing the babies pictures of Brooklyn, telling them the name of the hospital where they were born, how we walked from our apartment to the NICU to hold them, stroke their tiny arms. But they won’t remember this place.

Brooklyn has been our city. This decade the story of our meeting, courting, somehow becoming adults. Now we’re moving to Pittsburgh as a family of four. It will be a new story.

Maybe I Will Just Not Leave the House All Winter: Life With Twins

IMG_1445Today it dawned on me that my carefully-devised system for leaving the house, which I described here, involving lugging car seats and strollers up and down two flights and finally carrying both twins at once down the front stoop, is not going to work when the weather gets frigid and there’s snow or ice on the steps. That will be the straw that breaks the camels back, so to speak (as they  get heavier and heavier).

So I guess I will just not leave the house this winter. Or maybe leave in the morning very early while D is still home, if I can motivate before the crack of dawn. Would it be bad for the babies not to go outside during the week? I do think fresh air is important. Maybe I can just bundle everyone up and open the windows real wide. Today I managed to get us all out to the park. Bean was so comfortable in the stroller she fell asleep, and M, in the carrier, took the whole thing in, her little cheeks getting pinker. Bright eyes watching the trees, the people.

I’m too tired to think about it now. I’m sure we will figure something out.

ps: Here is a bit of good news. This weekend on a trip to IKEA I picked up these full body bib/smocks, which were just what we needed. Now I don’t have to change everyone’s outfit after eating, which saves some time. I should have bought about twenty.

On the Twins’ First Snow and Just Being

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Today we took the babies out in the snow for the first time, headed to a holiday party. We bundled them up in double layers of pants, bodysuits, sweaters, jackets hats and hoods. (We are probably over-cautious in the bundling department.) The last time it snowed I stood with them at the window; they were transfixed watching the white drifting.

On the way to the party, walking through the snow, M fell asleep on me in the ergo. When we got there it was a very cozy room full of talking, food and lights. They seemed to enjoy the whole experience. They are so patient and wide-eyed, happy to smile at everyone, constantly making new friends. On the way home, though we rushed with them through the snow, though the subway took forever to arrive, though I complained about how fast it would have been to drive, though it was past their dinnertime, they were unfazed. Content, just being in the moment. I’m sure there’s something to learn from them, there…

Getting Out Of the House: Brooklyn Walk-up With Twins

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I have a new way of getting out of the house. I’m not entirely sure if it’s an improvement over the old way, which you can read about here. The advantage of the new way is that once I’m out, all I have is a very lightweight umbrella stroller plus the other baby in the ergo carrier. I feel incredibly portable. I’m sure I could even fit through the checkout at the store. Plus, the babies are just too heavy to be lugging them, their car seats, and their very heavy double stroller up and down two flights. So, here for your consideration is my new leaving-the-house system:

Step 1: Bundle the babies up (it’s winter).

Step 2: Strap on the ergo. Carry the stroller, a car seat, and my jacket down to the first (but not ground level) floor. This takes two trips up and down.

Step 3: Carry a baby down to the car seat on the first floor and strap her in. Walk back upstairs.

Step 4: Strap the other baby into the ergo. Walk downstairs with her. Put on my jacket.

Step 5: Carry the stroller (with baby in ergo) down the stairs to street level.

Step 6: Walk back upstairs. Lift second baby out of car seat. Carry both babies at the same time down to street level.

Step 7: Strap second baby into the stroller.

Step 8: Roll out with one baby in the wrap, the other in the stroller.

Then, coming home, repeat the process coming back up.

I’m still not sure carrying both babies at the same time is the best solution to the problem, but it’s the best I’ve been able to come up with so far. It’s an evolving system. I am proud that I managed to leave the house today despite the dread that arises in me when I picture all the steps necessary to get out the door. In any case I’m getting my exercise, and probably keeping my brain fit solving these fox, river, rowboat puzzles, right?

As ever your Sparrow.

Oh, To Have a Car: Life With Twins in Brooklyn

Material objects do not bring happiness.

That said…wouldn’t life be grand if we had a washing machine, a dishwasher, an elevator, and a car. People in suburbs or small towns, or even most other cities, have these things and think nothing of it. Many Brooklynites live without these comforts: I didn’t miss them until I had twin babies.

To drive to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving we rented a car, and since it was a weekly rental and we weren’t there for a full week we got it for a couple extra days in the city. To take advantage, last night I drove to the grocery store.

Here is shopping with the car:

Step 1: Get in car, drive to co-op in five minutes, park two blocks away.

Step 2: Shop to hearts content, buying massive amounts of heavy groceries, get co-op walker to help get groceries back to car.

Step 3: Drive home in five minutes, unload groceries from in front, park the car two blocks away.

And here is how it works usually, without a car:

Step 1: Walk two short blocks and two very long blocks downhill to the subway, whatever the weather.

Step 2: Wait twenty minutes for the R train. Ride local to Union Street.

Step 3: Exit subway and walk two and a half very long blocks uphill to the co-op.

Step 4: Either A) Buy massive amounts of groceries then call a car service, wait ten minutes and pay twelve dollars. Or B) Buy as many groceries as you can carry. Lug them in multiple bags down two very long blocks. Just miss the train, wait fifteen minutes. (Ice cream is melting.)

Step 5: Ride the R train back to Sunset Park. Walk two very long blocks up the steepest hill in Brooklyn carrying extremely heavy bags of groceries.

In option A, complete errand in an hour and a half, get home and feed babies and put them to bed. In option B, complete errand in three hours plus, miss at least one feeding with the babies.

I don’t love cars, and am very pro public transportation, but this set up is not conducive to sanity. I need efficiency.

Sweet Potatoes, Sweat and Tears

It’s been a long day.

It started with one baby screaming at 4:45 a.m. We waited until maybe 5:15 and then decided just to feed them. We tried to put them down again afterward, but no go. D went grocery shopping and the over-tired babies cried. There was no sleeping at all, by anyone. When D finally got home I had one baby in a moby wrap, the other was in the crib still crying, and I was about to lose my mind. He put the second baby in a moby, and when they finally fell asleep we transferred them carefully to the crib.

We had wanted to go to a neighborhood baby play date at 10:30. No way we were going to wake the babies, though. At 11:15 they finally woke up. We tried to feed them quickly and then go. As if getting out of the house is ever quick these days. And today it was frigid. Bone chilling winds rattled the window panes. Bundling the babies took half an hour. Finally, with the babies all bundled, as I was putting M into the moby wrap she spit up all over my chest. I had to unwrap myself and change. We started off to the play date probably about an hour and forty-five minutes after the start time.

“I think I wrapped [E] too tight,” D said, before we’d walked a block, the frigid wind making our faces ache. “I don’t think she can breathe.”

“She can breathe.”

“I don’t think she can breathe!”

“Let’s go!”

“This is stupid!”

By the time we made it to the play date the last two people were leaving. We said hello then turned around and walked back home.

The rest of the day went similarly. I went to get a free high chair from another parent of twins in Clinton Hill. She had asked me to come between 2 and 3:30 because her three year olds would be napping.

“They’re not sleeping,” she said first thing when she opened the door. Her hair was unbrushed and her eyes bloodshot. Her husband appeared around the corner, about to say something to her then stopped when he saw me. “The only thing about these highchairs,” she said, “I sort of wished we had invested in some of the fancier ones with steps, like the Stokke, because…”

“Aiiiiii! Maaaamaaaa!” there was a scream from down the hall. The woman sighed and walked off mid-sentence. They husband offered to help me to the car. “I don’t have a car,” I said. “I’m taking the subway.”

“Can you make it?”

I hoisted the the highchair over my shoulder plus lugged two booster seats they’d given me in a big IKEA bag all the way to the subway, the wind blowing me back one step for every two forward. I was reminded of the scene in the movie, In America, where the father carries the Air Conditioner on his back across town. I was also reminded of an ant.

When I got home we washed and scrubbed the high chairs, we fed the babies, we washed the highchairs again, we washed the babies, we washed everything, we did laundry at the laundromat, we made dinner. Finally we put the babies to bed. They cried for fifteen minutes before finally going down. I don’t know if they were wired from the sweet potatoes or what.

It’s been a long day.