Birth Story

Nicky screaming newborn

We celebrated Nicholas’s first birthday on Monday, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what we were doing at this time last year. With that in mind, I decided to write his birth story.

When I was expecting my first son, Theo, I did prenatal yoga twice a week and took eighteen hours of childbirth classes. These classes fostered the comforting delusion that I could actually be prepared for childbirth. I loved hanging out with other pregnant women and doing exercises that would ostensibly help us breeze through labor like the beautiful mother-goddesses we were.

But the thing I loved most about them were the birth stories.

In the yoga class, it was customary for the new moms to email the instructor after their babies were born to let her know how it had all gone down. These women were known as the “graduates.” The instructor would take a few minutes at the beginning of each class to read the latest email to us, and I was captivated.

No matter how many stories I heard, I just could not wrap my mind around the fact that a person who had been here just last week, doing her kegels on the traditional Mexican yoga blanket right next to mine, had gone on to push an actual baby out of her body.

It was very much like when, as a teenager, I was completely obsessed with other girls’ tales of losing their virginity. Like childbirth, it could be painful and bloody, and the idea that it could result in an orgasm for the woman seemed dubious at best.

The couples in our birth class also emailed their birth stories to the group. The dads were the ones who wrote these stories. And interestingly, they were quite different from those I’d heard in the yoga class.

The stories written by the women were largely factual and lacking in drama: “After four hours of pushing, Harper was born. There was some tearing and I ended up with twenty-two stitches.” And the ones written by the men were a lot more… colorful. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the first one was something like: “I have never in my life heard a human being make such terrible sounds.”

These stories were scary but motivating, in a Rocky sort of way. After all, I was good at the classes, so I figured I would be “good” at giving birth. I could hold wall squats like a champ, and my husband, Steven, had aced the class in which we learned to use a scarf-like thing called a rebozo to help ease contractions.

I loved poking fun at the Brooklyn bobo self-seriousness of these classes, but secretly I was sure I was going to huff and puff the baby right out with nothing more than a yoga ball and my inner Gaia to help me.

Would it shock you to learn that this is not at all how it went? After sixteen hours of un-medicated labor I asked for an epidural. I cried because I felt like I was failing, and then I stopped crying after I got the shot and the pain immediately disappeared. After sixteen more hours passed with no baby, I ended up with a (gasp!) C-section. And it all turned out fine.

Still, I didn’t email my story to the yoga teacher. This was a selfish move, given how much I loved hearing the stories of others’. I think I hesitated in part because I knew how the C-section would be received by that crowd. I didn’t want others smugly thinking (as I had) that their births wouldn’t end up like that.

The second time around, I was torn between going for a no-muss-no-fuss repeat C-section and trying for a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarian). I knew that I would definitely opt for the sweet, sweet epidural, but I was pretty sure I could push the baby out on my own this time.

So I spent the first six months of my pregnancy reading everything I could about the risks of a VBAC versus a repeat C. I interviewed all of the doctors in my ObGyn practice about their views. One assured me that I was a “great candidate” and regaled me with the story of her own successful VBAC.

Another doctor warned that previous caesarian scars can weaken the uterus and cause it to rupture during labor. He told a story of a VBAC gone horribly wrong, in which a woman’s uterus basically exploded and she nearly died. Afterward, he was so traumatized that his wife begged him to never do another VBAC again.

I wanted to believe the first doctor, and in the image of me as a woman who could give birth the “natural” way. But in the end, I decided that the experience of pushing a baby out of my vagina was not worth the risk of an exploded uterus. I chose the anti-VBAC doctor and we set a date for the C-section.

Let me pause here to address a question that may have occurred to some of you, because I certainly struggled with it at the time: What does it say about me that I put my faith in the male doctor with the cautionary tale over the female doctor with the message of empowerment?

In order to move forward, I had to stop thinking of my decision as a statement about my level of feminism. The research was frustratingly inconclusive. Nothing I read told me plainly and irrefutably whether the C-section or the VBAC was the riskier choice. But the C-section would involve fewer unknowns, and more manageable risk, so that’s the one I chose. (And yes, the doctor was a nice Italian guy, and I knew my mother would approve.)

I made peace with my decision. This vision of childbirth was pretty much the exact opposite of the one I’d had with my first baby, but I convinced myself that it would be beautiful in its own way. My hospital stay would be almost like a mini-vacation! I would check into the hospital rested, showered and coiffed, and I’d glide into and out of the operating room with nary an abdominal twinge. There was no mystery here; I knew exactly how this birth was going to go.


My C-section had been scheduled for November 26, the day before Thanksgiving. What better way to celebrate the holiday? Steven’s mom and aunt came to stay with us in early November to help out during the last weeks of my pregnancy. They entertained our two-year-old and drove him back and forth to daycare. They went to the grocery store and cooked all of our meals and brought me tea in bed.

The week before I was scheduled to deliver, my sister-in-law and her husband traveled from California to spend a couple of days with us. It was to be a last, pre-second baby hurrah. But I got sick. Really sick. I had the worst headache I’d ever had in my life; it felt like my brain had come loose and was clanging around in my skull. Because I was pregnant I could only take Tylenol, which is slightly less effective than Pez.

Along with the headache came a fever and chills. I would whimper pathetically every time I had to get out from under my covers, which I did only to use the bathroom. While the family hung out downstairs, I was upstairs in my bedroom, shivering uncontrollably and having a major panic attack. What was wrong with me? Was the baby in danger?

My mother-in-law drove me to the hospital on a Friday afternoon. The nurse gave me a paper bag to breathe into and told me that if I didn’t calm down I’d make myself really sick. Then she left me alone in the exam room for an eternity. Eventually I was sent home.

The following night I felt even worse, so Steven took me back to the hospital. I didn’t have a bag packed; I don’t even know when I’d last showered. I pulled a blanket off the couch and wrapped it around myself, and Steven tucked me into the car.

This time, the doctors kept me overnight in the ER. They planned to do a CAT scan first thing in the morning. My bed was in a curtained-off section of a common area, and I lay awake all night listening to an elderly woman moan that they should just let her die.

I alternated between worrying about the old lady and wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Did I have a brain tumor? Was I experiencing head labor?

But the CAT scan revealed nothing amiss. The doctors said it was “probably viral” and decided to keep me in the hospital until the scheduled C-section, which at that point was still three days away. The thought of staying in the hospital until then, in pain and unable to sleep, was unbearable. I begged the doctors to either let me go home, to my own bed, or get the baby out NOW. My body, sensing the emergency, came to the rescue: my water broke.

They decided to give me a pelvic exam, just to be sure, even as the sheets on my bed became drenched. This did not feel good at all. I don’t remember exactly what I yelled at the poor resident who conducted the exam, but I know it was not nice.

After that, everything moved in fast-forward: Contractions came on strong and fast, one on top of the next. I remembered then why I had loved the epidural so much.

It was a Sunday, and not only was my doctor not on call that day, none of the doctors from my practice was available. So someone I had never met would be performing the C-section. I endured more contractions—it felt like hours, but it was probably more like thirty or forty minutes before the anesthesiologist slid the delicious, numbing needle into my back.

And then the OB arrived, smelling of wood smoke. I imagined her getting called away from a cozy living room to come to the hospital. I liked her immediately. (I liked her so much that I switched to her practice after the baby was born. At my postpartum visit, when she examined me for the first time, the first thing she said was: “You never would have been able to push a baby out of here! You have a very small vagina.” Well, who knew? It would have been nice if someone had mentioned this to me much, much earlier.)

The doctor was assisted by an incredibly enthusiastic resident who had been caring for me on and off throughout my stay in the ER. “I told you I was going to deliver this baby!” he said, and put up his hand for a high-five.

My husband appeared at my side, disguised in scrubs and a mask, and the rest is a blur. I remember the doctor holding up Nicholas, squalling and bloody, for us to see. I remember crying with relief. I remember that they played Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” as they stitched me up.

Nicholas was whisked away. I couldn’t hold him or nurse him. Because of my fever and mystery illness, he was going to have to spend a few days in the NICU for observation.

Nicholas and I were in the hospital for the next four days. We spent most of it apart, me still fighting the mystery illness and him lying in a Plexiglass box. Occasionally I would hoist myself out of bed and into a wheelchair, and someone would wheel me over to visit him. He was only six-and-a-half pounds but he dwarfed the other babies, many of whom had been born weeks prematurely and were unbelievably tiny.

Then Steven came down with the mystery illness, and he had to go home. Part of me was irrationally angry with him for getting sick. For a while I was alone, and I lay in my hospital room, high on painkillers, staring out the window at the gray and snow and drizzle. I occasionally forgot about the baby entirely. I would say to myself: “You just had a baby,” and it didn’t seem real.

My mom came to take Steven’s place. She stayed with me in the hospital and slept in my room on the uncomfortable reclining chair-bed. The doctors had finally hit on a medication that helped my headache. Things were looking up.

On Thanksgiving morning, after another sleepless night, I turned on the television to watch the parade preparations. I was scheduled to go home that day. I shuffled into the bathroom and showered, shivering the whole time but happy to finally be clean.

And then, at last, we went home.

Things felt different than they had when we took our first baby home. For one thing, I was convinced that having this baby had been a terrible mistake. There was no way I was going to be able to care for him and my toddler. Also, in less than three years it seemed I had completely forgotten what it was like to have a newborn. I was terrified of him. He screamed whenever his diaper was changed, and his little bottom and penis and umbilical stump were so red and raw that I could hardly bring myself to look at them.

“His butt looks like chop meat!” my husband said.

I avoided changing him, leaving the task to the other adults in the house.

I had trouble nursing him. I had thought it would be easy, since I’d been so good at it the first time around. (But again, I’d forgotten that it hadn’t been so easy at first.) I fretted that the baby’s time in the NICU had ruined our chances of breastfeeding. A lactation consultant came to the house, and eventually we got the hang of it. But it was not, at first, the lovely, relaxing bonding experience I remembered; it was awkward and painful.

All of that aside, the timing of Nicholas’s birth was pretty perfect. We were in the midst of the holidays, which meant time off for Steven and lots of family around.

But then it was all over.

One of the saddest, scariest moments of my life was watching my parents back their car out of my driveway and drive off, leaving me alone with my newborn and toddler for the first time. I stood by the window and watched their red Volvo disappear down the street. When I couldn’t see it anymore, I started to cry.

It was a few days after Christmas, and Steven had gone back to work. It had been weeks since I’d so much as taken a plate out of a cabinet; I was still sore from my C-section and woozy from lack of sleep. It seemed as though I would never feel normal again.

It was a double whammy: my usual post-holiday gloom was compounded by our sudden aloneness. The long winter stretched before us. Soon, I would be tasked with getting Theo to daycare in the morning and picking him up in the afternoon, all with the baby in tow. I would have to start grocery shopping again, and cooking, taking care of a toddler, and doing all the same things I was doing before, except this time with a newborn.

“How did the pioneer women do it?” I asked my best friend, half-joking.

“They weren’t alone,” she said. “Their mothers and sisters and aunts and everybody helped take care of the kids.”

She had a point. A pioneer woman’s life hadn’t seemed so great to me before—what with all the physical labor and dying young and everything—but I suddenly felt a little envious of them.

Things were hard for a while. There were a lot of tears, mostly mine. But then, gradually, we all got the hang of it. Nicholas eased into our family, and he filled a space we hadn’t known was there. His butt, mercifully, no longer looks like chop meat.

Nicky hi

Nicholas’s first birthday fell on a Monday. Theo was in school and Steven was at work, so it was just the two of us. We spent the day visiting a friend and hanging out together. That evening, in lieu of a party, he and his brother shared a cupcake. Theo ate the frosting, and Nicholas gobbled up the spongy cake. We will have another little party for him tomorrow, on Thanksgiving, when my parents are here.

This year there are so many things to be thankful for: for our sweet, happy little Nicholas, and for Theo, who delights us every day with his intelligence and humor. I am thankful that Steven and I survived another child’s first year—and that we still like each other. I am thankful that I will get to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade from the comfort of my own couch this year, surrounded by my three excellent boys.

Happy Thanksgiving!




Five years later, another goodbye

Baby 1

Five years ago today, we said goodbye to our first baby. I was five months pregnant—twenty weeks to be exact—when my doctor told us that the baby was not growing properly and that its head and chest cavity were swollen with fluid. These conditions were, in his words, “not compatible with life.” He told us it was only a matter of time before the heart stopped beating.

It was the last thing we were expecting to hear. We had gone to the appointment full of excitement—it was time for the anatomy scan, and we were hoping to finally learn the sex of the baby. My mother had started crocheting blankets. I could feel the baby moving. But after the doctor delivered his terrible news, we asked him not to tell us if it was a boy or girl. I couldn’t bear to know.

So I went from daydreaming about nursery themes to preparing for our baby’s death. At that point, we had two options: the doctor could induce labor, or I could have a dilation and evacuation—a late-term abortion. (Staying pregnant and letting nature take its course was not an option. Whatever was causing the swelling in the baby was making my body fill with fluid as well, and continuing with the pregnancy would be too risky.)

I chose the D&E. The “dilation” part of the procedure took a week and involved a series of painful procedures, during which I cried and screamed and then, ridiculously, apologized to the doctor. At the second appointment, before the doctor began, one of the nurses pressed a string of rosary beads into my hand.

And then, at the end of the week, on September 30, 2010, I went to the hospital for the surgery. Afterward, when they wheeled me out to the car, I tried not to look at the other women who were leaving with balloons and bundles in their arms.

Several long, frustrating months followed. For a while, my body behaved as if it had given birth. Thanks to postnatal hormones, my hair fell out in clumps, my breasts leaked milk, and I got so sweaty at night that I had to sleep on towels.

The doctors still didn’t know what had gone wrong, and they cautioned us against trying to get pregnant again until they had figured it out. They believed it was some kind of genetic abnormality, but beyond that they were pretty clueless. So Steven and I became investigators. We relearned everything we’d forgotten about genes and chromosomes and Punnett squares. We reached out to doctors and geneticists and submitted to all kinds of blood tests. Our detective work helped to distract me from the grinding monotony of my grief.

In the meantime, other babies continued to be born. My brother and his wife had a boy, and my best friend gave birth to a girl. I lived in Brooklyn at the time, and it seemed to me that the entire female population of the borough was either pregnant or had a baby in tow. My due date, February 8, came and went.

Finally, our medical mystery was solved. We learned that Steven and I are both carriers of thalassemia, a blood disorder that disrupts the production of hemoglobin. In its mildest form, it’s virtually symptomless; at its most extreme, it’s fatal. The baby had had the most severe form of alpha thalassemia, which meant that its body could not produce hemoglobin at all. Most babies with this condition are stillborn or die soon after birth.

Along with this information came the answer to the question we hadn’t dared ask back at the doctor’s office in September. I was going through the thick packet of medical records I’d requested from the doctor when I saw it: the baby had been a girl.

The word thalassemia is Greek for “sea blood.” It got its name because the first cases were identified among immigrants who had come to the United States from regions along the Mediterranean Sea (mostly Greeks and Italians, like Steven and me). It has a romantic ring to it, like sailors yearning for an adventure. But for our daughter it was a cruelly literal description. Her body, unable to produce blood, had filled itself with water instead.

We could have tried getting pregnant again the old-fashioned way, but doing so would have meant facing a one-in-four chance of losing another baby. So we decided to go the science route. That meant first doing a course of IVF at NYU Fertility Center. The idea was to end up with a few embryos that could then be screened for thalassemia. This is called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD.

The geneticists who would do the screening were based out in California at a place called Gene Security Network—a name that made me envision a secret bunker located deep underground. Apparently, a test did not yet exist for the type of thalassemia we have, so they would have to create the test first. They weren’t sure they could do it. If they managed it, they would use that test to determine which embryos were thalassemia-free, and then the NYU doctors would transfer one of the healthy embryos into my uterus, where, hopefully, it would decide to take root.

Amazingly, it all worked according to plan.

I started my first IVF cycle in the spring of 2011. That cycle yielded twenty-six eggs, which, when coupled with Steven’s sperm, resulted in seventeen embryos. Ten of those were deemed good enough to biopsy for genetic testing, so the embryologists at NYU took a few cells from each and sent them off to Gene Security Network.

Romantic, right?

In the end, we got four healthy embryos—which, for anyone undergoing IVF, is an embarrassment of riches. And, in a bittersweet twist, all four of them turned out to be boys.

The first embryo was transferred in July 2011, and in March of the following year, Theo was born. We decided to try for number 2 in October of 2013. Sadly, that one didn’t take. We gave it another shot in March, traveling into Manhattan from our home in New Jersey on St. Patrick’s Day. That embryo became Nicholas, who was born last November.

One embryo remains.

For various reasons, we have decided that our family is complete. So we found ourselves facing another decision: We could have the remaining embryo disposed of as medical waste; we could allow NYU to use the embryo for research; we could donate the embryo to another family who is unable to have a baby on their own; or we could have the embryo transferred into my uterus at a time when it is impossible for me to become pregnant, thereby letting my body dispose of it naturally.

It was pretty much a no-brainer to donate the embryo for research. If the embryologists can learn something that enables them to help more people have families, then what more could you ask for? I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give it to another family, as wonderful a gesture as that would be; I would go insane thinking about one of “my” children out there somewhere in the world. Nor could I allow it to simply be thrown away. And having it transferred with no chance of conception just seems… pointless.

And yet. I am finding it incredibly hard to make it final. We have now gotten three letters in the mail warning us that we owe $1,000 for the embryo’s annual storage fee. (A steal for Manhattan rent, but still.) We are out of time. We either have to send a check or sign the research waiver.

This whole process, from the baby we lost to the embryo that remains, has made me ask myself some hard questions. It has challenged notions that I had previously taken for granted—about abortion, about when life begins. It also has shown me how very lucky we are.

We are lucky to live in a time in which science and medicine make it possible for people with fertility and medical issues to have healthy children—and we are extremely fortunate to be able to afford to take advantage of it. We are lucky to live in a state in which late-term abortions are an option. Many others are not so lucky. Some must travel elsewhere—if they can afford to do so. If they can’t, they have no choice but to endure suffering that could have been avoided.

Last week, when I was on a walk with my dog, I passed a woman sitting on a bench with her infant daughter. Seeing little girls often makes me think of the one I lost, but this time it really got to me. I started to tear up and was soon choking back sobs. I was a wreck. After a few minutes of this, it occurred to me: the date was September 23, exactly five years to the day since the doctor’s appointment when we learned that the baby wouldn’t survive. I had never kept that date in my head; I’d only remembered the 30th, which is when I went into the hospital to have the surgery (I still find it difficult to call it an abortion). When I got home, I looked through old e-mails to double-check, and I was right.

I don’t usually buy into these woo-woo, touched-by-an-angel moments, but I have to believe in this one.

I also have to believe that this last embryo will help advance the science that allowed us to have our two healthy, amazing (and incredibly handsome) boys. Because, having thought it through over and over, I can say with conviction that this embryo is simply a bunch of cells. It is not a baby. And, just like the first one, it was not meant to be ours. But it is still so hard to say goodbye.

The Chicken Debacle

One minute you’re feeling pleased with yourself for coming up with a plan to make your 3-year-old’s childhood a little more magical, and the next you’re performing emergency rhinoplasty on a 1-inch-tall rubber chicken.

It all started when Theo found an “egg” on the playground at school. He held up what looked like a cherry pit or maybe a tree nut and said, “Mommy! I found an egg!” He wanted to bring it home and keep it warm so it would hatch.

“Great idea!” I said.

When we got home, he found a little wooden box and put the egg inside. Then he covered it with Duckie, his favorite stuffed animal, and tucked the whole thing into the cabinet of his play kitchen. He told me to talk quietly so I wouldn’t disturb the egg while it hatched.

For the next two days, as soon as we got home he would head straight to the cabinet to see if the egg had hatched. “I heard the egg cracking when I was at school!” he’d say.

The frustration and exhaustion and everything is all for this: to see evidence that you are raising a kind, nurturing little person whose first instinct is to care for living creatures. Or maybe he’s just mimicking something he saw on “Paw Patrol.” Either way.

I decided I would buy a tiny toy chick and put it in the box under Duckie, so that when Theo came home from school the following day, he would find that his egg had finally hatched. For a second I worried that, rather than preserving his innocence and sense of wonder, I might just be messing with him. I texted Steven: “Do you think it will confuse him / make a mockery of his beliefs?”

We decided to risk it.

At the toy store I wandered the aisles searching for a tiny little chick that looked like it could have hatched from the nut-thingy Theo had brought home. I was just about to give up when I spotted a jar full of mini erasers near the register. The erasers were in the shapes of various animals, including… A CHICK HATCHING FROM AN EGG.


Back at home, I removed the nut from the box and replaced it with the little chick. I couldn’t wait to get Theo home. When I picked him up at daycare, though, I played it cool: “Should we see if the egg hatched today? Or not. Whatever.”

Theo walked to his play kitchen when we got home, his excitement clearly diminished by three days of waiting. Almost immediately he called out, “It didn’t hatch.” And then: “It DID hatch! Mom!”

I ran into the dining room and found Theo holding the little chick and beaming. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to notice that the egg had become quite a bit larger and was now made of an entirely different material. Details.

He nuzzled the chick against his cheek and started singing to it. I got a little teary and retreated into the kitchen so he wouldn’t see me staring at him and crying like a crazy person.

Less than 24 hours later, we had our first chicken-related emergency.

“Where’s my little chick?!” Theo yelled. It was the following morning, and I had no idea where it was. I realize that, as the mother of this household, it is my job to know where everything is at all times. But I had lost track of it sometime during the previous night’s pre-bedtime chaos.

Magically, Theo remembered that he had hidden the chick in a box on a shelf in our living room, and happiness was restored—briefly. It all went to hell again when he discovered that the chick’s microscopic beak was removable (for the love of god, why??), and, in spite of my pleas to just leave it attached, Theo soon dropped it between the slats of our deck, and it disappeared down into the spidery nether-region where Mommy does not go, ever.

His heartbroken wails made me reconsider this policy, for about a second, but I knew there had to be a solution that didn’t involve getting a face full of spider webs. So I dug up a sheet of orange construction paper, some Scotch tape, and a pair of scissors. While Theo sobbed, I MacGyvered a makeshift beak and stuck it into the little hole in the chick’s face.

chickie 2

Not my best work, maybe, but it was enough to placate Theo. You’ll notice that the chick is also now impaled on a lollipop stick. I was hoping it would make it easier to find next time.

I don’t think Theo ever took the chick for a real bird; I think he just didn’t question the whole thing too deeply. It made me think of the time when I was about 4 years old, and my cousin and I stuck a plastic baby rattle into the dirt in my grandfather’s garden and watered it as if it were a plant. The next morning, there was a whole row of rattles sticking out of the ground next to it. I think I knew it didn’t really work like that, but it was fun to imagine it did, and to bask in the knowledge that my grandfather loved us enough to participate in our little fantasy.

I’m hoping that’s what will stick with Theo when or if he thinks about the little chick, which has gone missing again—this time, I fear, for good. (It could be anywhere; I once found a Matchbox car at the bottom of a box of tissues.) It’s like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. We adults perpetrate these ruses to make our kids happy, in hopes that it’s the happiness, and not the eventual disillusionment, that makes a lasting impression.

Either way, next time Theo brings an egg home, I’m buying a bigger chick.

Being home with kids is like a nonstop staycation


Welcome to our house, featuring all the Flintstones gummy vitamins you can eat. (Adults can’t OD on those, right?) We hope you enjoy your staycation!

Do you love cereal but hate having to actually eat it? You’re in luck! Our junior concierge will be on hand to consume every last bite of the cereal you pour for yourself, right down to the milky dregs, which he will then drink directly from the bowl. Please do not attempt to give him his own; he only likes yours.

When nature calls, choose from among our two-and-a-half spacious, updated bathrooms. Please do keep in mind that we discourage closed doors here, and be prepared for a no-holds-barred commentary on your body and its functions. We recommend being in a strong place, psychologically, before attempting.

There are lots of activities to choose from as the day kicks into gear: One of our most popular picks is called “drying off all of the Legos that ended up in last night’s bath.” The 3-year-old loves playing with Legos in the bath, but he hates it when his Legos are wet! Haha, that guy! Get ready to spend some time here – those suckers have LOTS of nooks and crannies, and he needs them to be REALLY dry.

Watch how fast you bump up against the limits of your patience – and your knowledge – during a lightning round of “Why?”

Be the queen of the road when you take a drive in our 2014 Chrysler Town and Country. Your view will be the lush summertime suburbs, and your soundtrack will be the infant’s desperate screams. You’ve probably heard that babies are lulled to sleep by car rides; not this one! This otherwise mellow, affable baby will howl his fuzzy little head off from the moment you click him into his car seat until about two minutes before you arrive at your destination. Bon voyage!

Adrenaline junkies will love watching the 3-year-old run on pavement while wearing Crocs. And don’t miss our newest attraction: attempting to keep the baby’s hands out of his poop while changing his diaper. Watch out, he’s fast!

The dinner hour is one of our biggest draws. It starts around 5:30, when both boys change from lovable human children into hideous, snarling monsters. You’ll get hands-on experience in the art of cooking for and feeding a toddler and an infant while simultaneously fielding the UPS guy, door-to-door environmentalists, and a surprise visit from the elderly lady next door, with every ring of the doorbell triggering skull-shattering levels of barking from the family dog. Take advantage of our prominently placed kitchen clock, at which you will glance roughly every 30 seconds in anticipation of the husband’s arrival; and then feel the burn as you struggle not to take out a day’s worth of frustrations on him.

But wait – there’s more! Here at our house you can:

  • Find the toy that the toddler was holding five seconds ago and has since completely disappeared, and which is now the ONLY THING IN THE WORLD that will bring the toddler happiness.
  • Peel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle stickers off of the walls, coffee table and kitchen floor.
  • Take a shower, do laundry, read, answer emails, and finish all the other things you need to accomplish today while the baby takes a half-hour nap.

We are still taking reservations for this summer; there are a lot of openings. Please call now. Please?


We Are Not Farm People

Oak Leaf Goats Does

My mom has a saying: “I don’t go where you live; don’t come where I live.”

The “you” in this statement refers to animals, insects – basically any living thing that can be found outside of her house or a mall. She does not hike or camp or picnic on grass. She occasionally ventures onto her deck only to declare it “too hot” or “too buggy” and retreat inside to the air conditioning.

I like to think of myself as slightly more outdoorsy. I enjoy hiking (reasonable distances) and camping (the kind you do right near your car) and picnicking on grass (as long as there aren’t too many bees). But I did spend quite a bit of time with my mom when I was growing up. So if I’m being honest I have to admit that many creatures – particularly those with more than four legs – make me kind of nervous.

In an effort to avoid passing my squeamishness on to my children, I pretend to enjoy touching bugs, and I promote a catch-and-release policy with the insects and spiders we find in our house (even though my instinct is to smash them with a shoe while screaming). Apparently this charade isn’t fooling Theo, who refused to walk barefoot on our deck the other day after he saw one ant.

I won’t be too upset if my children don’t end up loving bugs. We can still share a healthy appreciation of nature while enjoying those of god’s creatures that aren’t quite so disgusting. It was with this in mind that, a few weeks ago, I suggested taking a trip to a local farm.

My siblings and I were staying at our parents’ house with our spouses and young kids, and we were desperate to keep the children entertained. I’m not sure why I insisted that my mother come with us. There is no air conditioning on a farm, and it literally smells like shit. But I tend to turn into Clark Griswold when it comes to planning “fun” family outings, and I need for everyone not only to participate but to demonstrate total, cult-like enthusiasm for the endeavor.

I wanted us all to do this together precisely because it’s not the sort of thing we do. Why couldn’t we all wander the grounds, breathe the fresh air, and frolic with the animals (or at least wander and breathe)? Also, one of my brothers was about to move to Dubai with his wife and two children; they would be there for two years, and this was the last time we would all be together for a while. So the stakes were particularly high. We were all going to go together, and we were going to have the best time ever!!

For some reason, probably because she was frightened by the wild look in my eyes, my mother agreed to come.


And so our group was set: my sister-in-law and her two children, 4 and 2; my two children; and both of my parents. (Not everyone had arrived yet. We were missing, crucially, the one family member who is an actual, legitimate farm person: my youngest brother, who has lived and worked on several farms and has done real farm things like make cheese from milk that he extracted with his own hands.)

The outing started well. We managed to get all of the children packed into the minivan with no major catastrophes. I slid behind the wheel feeling victorious. Nothing could stop us now! Unless we didn’t have the car key.

It wasn’t in either of my pockets, and it wasn’t in my purse. It wasn’t on the seats, under the seats, under the car, on top of the car, or in the diaper bag. We even checked under each of the children (if ever I can’t find something, there’s usually a good chance it’s under the baby).

I reached deep inside myself and fought the urge to hurl my purse across the lawn, tip over the water table and scream obscenities into the sky. We were going to have ourselves a bushelful of wholesome family farm fun, dammit, and I would not ruin it by having a meltdown.

I took a deep breath, wiped a trickle of sweat off my forehead, and started the search again, beginning with the diaper bag. And, like magic, there it was, hidden beneath Sophie the Giraffe (the little vixen). Nothing could stop us now!

My mom, who had already begun walking back into the house, slunk back to the car.

I drove into the sunny afternoon, and we started singing a song about going to the farm. It went something like, “We’re going to the farm! We’re going to the farm!” The gummy fruits and Goldfish flowed freely in the backseat. My nephew, who at 4 is a connoisseur of scatological humor, told a very detailed story about how he was going to make a poo hotdog and serve it to my husband when he arrived later that evening.

We pulled into the parking lot.

It was a glorious day, sunny and cool. Our first stop was the baby goats, sweet little spindly-legged things that nuzzled our fingers. Theo and my nephew were enamored. I glanced over my shoulder to look for my mom and saw her standing in the shade of the farm store’s awning, waving away bugs.

I noticed that the goats were straining to nibble at the grass that was just beyond the fence, even though there was plenty of green grass inside their pen. I pointed it out to my dad. Just five minutes in and we’d already witnessed an adage in action! And we didn’t even have to pay to get in!

We set out across a small field to visit the other animals. To my dismay, I saw that the field was crawling with cats, which happen to be my mother’s least favorite animal. Bravely, she wove the stroller through the hellish cat slalom and we made it to the other side, where we found… more goats. Okay, not a lot of points for variety so far, but it was still early.

The goats came out from the shade to check us out, and a few of them stood on their hind legs to get a better look. My mother did not like this at all. “Don’t let the kids get too close!” she said, keeping herself and the baby stroller safely out of goat-leaping range. “Relax,” I said. “They’re behind a fence. Plus, they’re nice. See?” I added, letting one lick my finger.

Suddenly, my nephew let out a wail. We all jumped – had he been trampled by a rogue goat? But no, a bug had flown into his ear. Or maybe one had buzzed near his ear. We couldn’t really be sure. But either way, he was done. “I hate this dumpy farm,” he cried.

That was enough for my mom. She was already pushing the stroller toward the car. My sister-in-law followed with my niece and nephew in tow.

Fine, I thought. But before we go, we’re at least going to see the ducks and chickens. My dad and I followed Theo over to the ducks, which were splashing around in a small pond. The chickens hung out in an adjacent area, guarded by a rooster who paced nearby, keeping an eye on us.

I should have warned Theo to give the rooster some room, but I didn’t want to make him unnecessarily nervous. Then I noticed that the rooster was getting awfully close. Before I could speak, the little beast let out a screech and charged, pecking at Theo’s legs. Theo screamed, and I screamed. I scooped Theo up and started running for the car. After checking the damage (just a little scratch), I whispered to my dad: “Don’t tell Mom.”

We had broken my mother’s code, and we had paid the price. We had been at the farm for a total of thirty-four minutes.

Later, as we drank wine in the safety of my parents’ air-conditioned living room, my brother – the one who moved to Dubai – said we had no business going to a farm in the first place. It’s true; we are not farm people. And on Theo’s leg was proof that at least one animal did not appreciate us coming to where he lived.

Maybe one day our children will find their own way to love (and respect) the beasts that live in the great outdoors and on farms, even the mean old roosters. In the meantime, I will try to respect my mother’s wish to stay the hell away from such places. But sometimes the beasts do come to where we live, whether we like it or not: in a few weeks we are all going to a birthday party that will feature a traveling petting zoo. I’ll let you know how that goes.

What my catalogs say to me


“Ooh, sorry – this is only for people who spend at least 90 percent of their time frolicking barefoot in meadows, ideally while looking adorable in big, floppy sun hats.”


“But something like this could totally work for you! You are sooo lucky that caftans are in right now. What’s that? ‘Mrs. Roper’? Sorry, I’m too young to understand that reference.”

“Well, you are like six months away from aging out of our target demo… Maybe it’s best if you leave quietly now, before it gets embarrassing. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got to get back to rubbing this flower on my face.”


These pants will really move with you and support you as you move through the aisles of Target.

“These pants are great for one-legged king pigeon splits, or for walking around in Target.”

Garnet Hill*
(*The catalog your high school boyfriend’s mom used to get.)

Remember when you were in high school, and your boyfriend's mom used to get this catalog?

“There is basically no point in getting out of your bathrobe ever again.”

I only buy bras and underwear with full coverage. It's important to be comfortable as you contemplate your own mortality.

“These full-coverage undergarments provide support and comfort while you contemplate your mortality.”

This hoodie is made of 100 percent cashmere and is great for hiding your old, wrinkly face in shame.

“This hoodie is made of 100 percent cashmere and is great for hiding your old, wrinkly face in shame.”

I Can’t Quit You


My 3-year-old son still uses a pacifier. I suppose there is a chance that by allowing this behavior I am turning him into a sociopath and dramatically lowering his chances of gaining early admission to an Ivy League school, but there you have it.

With the 5-month-old now sleeping through the night on a regular basis, and the return of relative normalcy to our lives, the very last thing I want to do is upset our delicate ecosystem. I hear that kids generally get over the loss of their pacifiers within a few days, but I am just not up for it at the moment. In fact, I can think of lots of other things I’d rather do, like:

– write a 40,000-word dissertation on Derrida’s idea of contradictory coherence in the classical concept of structure
– have my eyes pried open, Clockwork Orange–style, for a mandatory viewing of all 10 seasons of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”
– groom my bikini area with a pair of tweezers

Judge me if you will, but, to paraphrase the oft-quoted line used by parents who are failing at potty training: no one goes to college with a pacifier. (Unless he or she is a rave kid circa 1994.)

Candy ravers

… in which case, you have other things to worry about.

But what about his teeth? Isn’t it going to cost us gazillions in orthodontia? Maybe. We are going for his first dental checkup on Friday, so I’m sure we’ll hear all about it. My plan is to take away the pacifier if the dentist tells us to—a plan that really irritates my husband, who has been suggesting that we get rid of it for the last year. But, given my history of rejecting his opinion in favor of virtually anyone else’s, on topics ranging from movie recommendations to the coolness of my new shoes, this should not surprise him in the least.

Rag bag

In any case, the pacifier has got to be better for your teeth than the old “sugar teat” or “rag bag,” shown here in this Madonna and child painting by Dürer (1506). Basically, moms used to wrap an old rag around a lump of sugar – or meat or fat – for babies to chew on. Sometimes they’d soak it in brandy for good measure. Babies also used to suck on corn cobs, coral, ivory, and bone. (All of this information came from Wikipedia, so I know it’s definitely true.)

Binky, bobo, paci, dummy – parents and their offspring have created countless nicknames for the pacifier over the centuries. Our son calls his  a “booda,” a name he made up himself. (Translation: He’s SO clever, isn’t he??) We spell it b-o-o-d-a, though for all we know he might be referring to the actual Buddha. Maybe our kid is some kind of mystic, or a protagonist in a J.D. Salinger story, and taking it away would wreak havoc with the cosmic balance.

Maybe, given the booda’s possibly religious significance, we should take the time to give it a worthy sendoff, like burning it atop a pyre and setting it adrift in the Ganges, or hurling it into the mouth of an active volcano during a new moon, or shooting it into space.

Why don't we have this??

Why don’t we have this??

Maybe I am simply hesitant to sacrifice the precious hour or two my husband and I share together each evening before we lose consciousness on the couch. In short, if peace in the kingdom depends upon the prince having his booda, then the prince shall have his booda!

I mean, it’s pretty much on the way out already. Can’t we just let it phase out naturally? He is not allowed to have it at daycare, and peer pressure is quickly curbing his desire to use it in other social situations. During a visit to the library a few months ago, a little girl pointed at him and asked loudly (and, I thought, rather rudely), “Why is that boy using a binky?” and he immediately plucked it out of his mouth and hid it behind his back. He hasn’t brought it into the library since, and now he asks to leave it in the car during play dates and other encounters with his friends.

It is a harbinger of things to come – his peers will have more of an influence on him than his father and I do. So why not just sit back and let that magic start working for us now?

The whole thing reminds me of quitting smoking, which is also maybe why I find it so unpleasant. A pacifier is basically a cigarette for babies, minus the carcinogens. Our son often keeps his next to his plate at the dinner table, kind of like that chain-smoking uncle who used to keep a cigarette burning in the ashtray during meals. And the other day, when we accidentally left the house without one, I could see that he was seriously jonesing. He kept asking me to check in my bag to make sure I didn’t by chance have one in there – like when I used to obsessively dig around in my purses and coat pockets as if I would suddenly find a cigarette that I had somehow, magically forgotten about. I felt his pain.

Either way, the booda’s days are numbered. Over the last several months, our son has been throwing them in the garbage, one at a time, of his own volition. My husband has told him that we won’t be buying any new ones once they are all gone. (Did I secretly snatch one of those boodas out of the garbage and hide it in the cabinet in case of an emergency? Maybe.)

As I write this, I occasionally pause to plug my 5-month-old’s mouth with a little rubber Soothie in order to buy myself another minute or two to finish a thought. The irony is not lost on me.

I suppose I might as well settle in and get used to watching my kids struggle their own way toward personal growth. Sigh. And in the meantime my husband and I will place bets on which will come first: giving up the the booda or pooping in the potty. Or maybe our kid will be the first college freshman in history to go off to school with a pacifier and diapers.