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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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.

How to Find a Babysitter in Eleven Not Entirely Pain-Free Steps


So you need a babysitter. Maybe the babies came home yesterday, or maybe, like me, it’s been five and a half months and you’ve only ever left them once when your mother was in town. However long this day has been in arriving, the time has come. Sometimes, living in Brooklyn, things can be somewhat complicated. Here is a step-by-step guide to getting yourself out of the house. Or at least, this is how it worked for me:

Step 1: Ask other local parents for babysitter recommendations. Here is what they will say: “There’s a website called Sittercity, I heard.” “Oh my mother always babysits for us.” “I had a friend who is under-employed. We asked her to babysit once.” “My sister helps us.” “Sittercity.” “I heard Sittercity.” Turns out most people in Brooklyn either hire full-time or part-time nannies, or else they have family nearby. Unlucky you.

Step 2: Post to your local twins list serv. “Looking for an occasional babysitter for date nights and keeping sane!” Get no response. Finally get one response: “Try Sittercity.”

Step 3: Post again on another list serv. Get the names of three sitters.

Step 4: Call the sitters. Two are elderly ladies from Trinidad who have been babysitting for upwards of twenty years. They are professional babysitters, because, as D says, “In New York everyone is a career everything. That’s why we have to get out of here.” The third babysitter is a bouncy, high-voiced twenty-something aspiring actor who makes you feel ancient.

Step 5: Meet the sitters. Hand them your babies. Try to judge based on how they hold them whether they love your babies as much as you do. They will inevitably fail this test. Make conversation anyway. Look deep into their eyes and try to judge their deepest character.

Step 6: After they leave, call the references. Ask intelligent questions like, “So…she likes babies, do you think?” and “Um, is she responsible?” Get laughed at by incredulous, wealthy Park Slope twin moms who have had multiple baby nurses night and day from day 1. “Wait, they’re FIVE MONTHS OLD and you’re only hiring help NOW?!?! OH MY GOD. Wow. Wow.” And in response to your questions: “Yes she’s fine. We had a nannycam and watched her for the first month.” Also, “Yeah, she’s great. She’s a real sister-sister. We used her for three years.” Feel very uncomfortable with the whole conversation.

Step 7: Call the babysitter you think seems most okay. Bite the bullet: “I’d love if you could babysit next Wednesday.” “I’m sorry,” she says. “There are too many steps up to your apartment. Let me know if you want my daughter to babysit instead.” Back to square one…

Step 8: Call a local organization, the member-owned, progressive Beyond Care Babysitting Coop. Confirm a sitter for Wednesday.

Step 9: Have nightmares about babies starving, about milk rotting in the fridge, about your milk production drying up, about people who seem okay but are actually evil.

Step 10: The day of. The doorbell rings. Here is a woman at your door. She is short and round. She is kind. She is experienced and extensively trained, probably more qualified to care for babies than you are. She gets down on the floor with the babies and patiently listens to you tell her how to change a diaper, how to warm milk in a bottle.

Step 11: Walk out the door. Everything is fine. It is normal to be nervous. You can do it. And, you are a good mother.

Moleskine Sketch, Stroller in the Park

Moleskine Sketch, Stroller in the Park

Here’s all I could manage today. I did a sketch in my moleskine of the babies in the car seat stroller-mobile on our walk in Sunset Park. Actually it wasn’t much of a walk. I managed to get us out of the house, but then the babies fell asleep so I just parked the stroller and sat on a bench.

I’m feeling tired today. It was one of those days when I got back to the house and looked up at the front steps with dread, thinking of all the work of lugging the babies and equipment all back up to the top floor.

But it was a beautiful day outside. Fall. Fall is a melancholy time. Maybe that’s all it is, this feeling.

Life With Celebrity Twins

The babies have made me a part of the neighborhood. Taking them out for a walk means smiles and thumbs up from strangers, meeting women young and old, waving at kids, petting dogs, conversations of all sorts.

For the two years I lived here before the twins’ arrival I had developed a hello relationship with the two couples downstairs and with one neighbor. Since the babies arrived I have met Carmen and Nilsin next door, their teenage daughter and her friend, their father, and on the other side Ted and Helen, Dorothy, and many of Helen’s lady friends from the neighborhood who gather in her front yard on pleasant evenings. I’ve met Wally down the block and his two bull terriers, Luna and Patchy. And I at least smile at the man on the corner with the long white ponytail, who never gave me the time of day before.

My mother in law, who managed to raise my husband in a rough patch of Yonkers, New York, often gives me advice about how to stay safe in a neighborhood. “You have to go out so people see you,” she says. “Then they know you belong there, and if something happens to you they look out for you.” With these babies, people see me.

Sunset Park is a beautiful mix of Chinese, Mexican, Puerto Rican, young urban professionals, Hasidic Jews and everything in between. As I walk down the street there are exclamations of “Twins?” “Oh, so cute, twins!” “A boy and a girl?” “God bless!” “God bless them!” “Congratulations.” A teen girl crossing the street with a group of friends: “OH MY GOD TWINS!!” An elderly lady carrying two huge bags of cans holds up two fingers and beams, “TWO?!” She then continues to speak to me in Chinese, the both of us smiling the while. A little girl runs up and strokes M’s face and runs off before I can say anything.

Yesterday my neighbor on the left was outside as I arrived home from a walk. “Oh the twins!” she said, “Let me come see how big they are.” “Can I help you up the stairs?” her husband offered, edging down his own stoop. After she’d admired them and was turning toward home she said smiling, “You live in the baby house.” (Our downstairs neighbors also have babies. We are also the only rental building on a block of owners.) “It’s great,” she said, “They bring joy to the block.”

Moment of Family Bliss

Since I feel like I’m about to go insane with this sleep training, I wanted to record a moment of peace we had yesterday in the park. D went shopping at the co-op in the morning. When he got back the fridge was all stocked with food.

After feeding the babies, we each put one in a moby wrap, brought a picnic blanket,  a package of dumplings with two forks, a couple croissants and and some plums. For about an hour we sat in the park with the babies, nibbling the food and looking at the view.

The babies lay on the blanket kicking their feet and looking up at the clear blue sky, wispy white puffs of clouds and silhouetted branches of trees. Below us the grass sloped down to that perfect view of Brooklyn and the Manhattan skyline. At one point, a few flickers took off from a nearby tree, heading toward Greenwood Cemetery. Two handsome German ladies set up a picnic nearby with their two-year-old daughter, who had a short pixie cut and a pale pink dress. They smiled at the twins as they passed. From behind we could hear lively music from a group of Chinese dancers.

Everything felt right.