In which she turns 33, and re-remembers that being one of three sisters is awesome.


Birthday mural my sisters made with Jaya and Alder

Yesterday I turned 33. “Jesus year!” chirped my friend Helena that morning (is this a thing? And is that supposed to be bad or good?! It certainly sounds ominous.)

My 33rd year has not started as badly as it could have, given that context, but I have to say: it hasn’t been my favorite birthday either.

I rang in my 33rd year, almost exactly at midnight, when Jaya started crying hysterically and we couldn’t figure out why. Now, in all my fantasies of having children before I actually had children, comforting little ones from nightmares was definitely one I had a very specific vision of: I imagined myself listening patiently, using soothing tones to comfort, my cool hand brushing hairs off the little one’s sweaty brow, sitting there as long as necessary, watching little eyelids flutter peacefully back to sleep.

Yeah.

Maybe that’s what it is like for some of you. But Jaya — Jaya doesn’t like to talk about her nightmares. She likes to sit straight up and wail until she is no longer possessed by whatever frightful vision has visited her in her sleep, completely stonewalling any attempts at comfort. You just sit there, impotent, pleading with her to tell you what’s wrong (because she will never disclose whether it’s that she’s had a nightmare, or her stomach hurts, or she has to pee), by turns super sweet and stern in a desperate attempt to evoke a response.

So we had a half hour of that last night. And then, immediately after we settled her back down, Alder woke up and starts wailing. Alder isn’t like Jaya when it comes to nightmares — on the rare occasion he has one, he will generally allow you to comfort him, and he is quite a bit less hysterical in general. And as it turns out, he didn’t wake up because of a nighmare — he woke up because he was sick. Because he proceeded to spend the rest of the night sleeping for 30 minutes, crying for 30 minutes, and coughing for 30 minutes, all night long, in that order and for that length of time, like clockwork.

So it was an inauspicious start to a birthday. But the worst part was that the kids’ out-of-nowhere cold ensured we wouldn’t be driving to Island Beach State Park to spend the afternoon and evening with some out-of-town friends who are normally 9 hours out of town and are currently a mere 3 hours out of town. These are some of our very best friends, and while we normally see them at least once and often twice a year, we haven’t seen them since June of last year. So missing the opportunity left me really sad and quite frankly a good deal infantile about “my luck on my birthday.” I’m normally not so lame; I’ve really reconciled myself to my birthday not being such a big deal anymore (I am 33, and have two kids, after all). We haven’t done much to celebrate in the last three years or so, especially since my birthday has been falling during Ramadan and eating is kind of the best part of a birthday. But it’s been a hard couple of weeks of dissertating husband and overexhausted children and yesterday I was just not having the easiest time reconciling myself to my birthday this year being spent with two sick kids in my house when it was supposed to be spent on a beach with dear friends. It was just one of those days where I fighting what was rather than accepting it. And fighting looked a little bit like sending petulant “I just want to forget it’s my birthday” texts to the sisters who were valiantly trying to gauge whether my little family was up to something else even though we couldn’t go to the beach.

So they took matters into their own hands, came over, handed me an envelope of money, and promptly sent me to a get an hour long massage while they cleaned my house and played with my sick children.

I’m not going to lie and end this entry with some kind of platitude that essentially implies don’t you wish you had sisters like mine? Because the truth is, as one of three sisters, you can sometimes feel cornered into a set role of “eldest,” or “middle,” or “youngest.” Family mythologies take over in all families sometimes, and it’s hard to see that people grow and evolve and thus are unfairly limited by those narratives. Other times there are the usual issues of any set of three: for example, right now my sisters live together, and I’m the only one with the children, so inevitably there can be feelings of exclusion. And sometimes, quite frankly, we just drive each other completely insane. I have definitely stormed out of fights with my sisters certain I will never, ever speak to them again. Never! On other occasions (okay, fine, this one being probably about twenty years ago) I have made my sister mad enough to throw a high-heeled shoe through a door. We are very, very different people. We are also eerily, eerily alike. It’s a potent combination, particularly when you live across the street from each other and have as entwined lives as we do.

But I also know that no one else in the world will ever have my back like my sisters. No one else in the world will always accept me as much as my sisters accept me, or know me as well as my sisters know me (and the fact that those two phrases can exist in tandem says a lot). In fact, I’d go a step further: no one else in the world knows just how broken I can be, and yet no one else in the world thinks I am quite as amazing as my sisters seem to. Having two little sisters is like having one’s own personal cheering squad. And having a cheering squad, I must tell you, makes life a lot more bearable.

Certainly no one else in my world would respond to petulant texts messages by barging into my house, ordering me out of it, and then cleaning it while I get a massage.

No birthday present I could ever receive could be as good as the gift my parents gave me when they gave me those two.

Three sisters on the fourth of July

Posted in little sisters | 5 Comments

In which she tells you how to cheer up even the crankiest New Yorker

Okay, that subject line? Catchy, but totally misleading. In fact, I’ll even apologize; titling this post that way was a little manipulative on my part because I know how much people love to talk about cranky New Yorkers. Full disclosure? I don’t believe New Yorkers are an overall cranky bunch. Actually, in my experiences as a native New Yorker, I find that stereotype totally unwarranted. I’ve traveled a lot, and I can tell you: New Yorkers do not deserve their unfriendly reputation at all. Heck, think about it: we live packed in like sardines. It’d be a tough row to hoe if you hated other people.

All that being said, I have found two guaranteed ways to spread good cheer around the neighborhood, wherever you live.

1. Walk around wearing an infant or young toddler on your back, and hold a helium-filled balloon. This is especially effective on a slightly windy day. Seriously, you will feel like Santa Claus if you try this, for all the giggles and sparkling eyes you provoke as you walk past people.

(You will also gain a lot of upper body strength from the effort it takes to keep yourself stable while the bouncing infant tries to get the balloon for the duration of the walk. It’s two-for-one: an effective workout and a good deed. What more could you ask for?)

2. Walk around pushing a sleeping child that looks like this in a stroller:

Alder, after a fun romp with face paint

But if you do attempt this one, be sure you have a good amount of time on your hands, because of all the smiles you provoke, every fourth one will be attached to someone who wants to talk to you about how cute said child is, and/or how it looks like said child has had a busy or fun day. Which, as it turns out, is indeed true, and, hey, thank you for noticing.

Posted in alder, new york city | 1 Comment

In which she talks about sehri

Fast breaking!

I’ve been hoping to write a little bit about Ramadan here, because I’ve been reflecting on its meaning and role in my life a lot this year. But one of the things about Ramadan, especially in the summer, is that it doesn’t leave a lot of time for things like blogging; when you’re a Muslim in the United States, life goes on as usual during the day, even if you are trying to maintain extra spiritual practices on top of fasting itself. But when you don’t break your fast until after 8p, you’re not getting a lot of time to write, or read, or watch TV, or do any of the things one would normally do before bedtime. Because bedtime comes almost immediately after dinner.

The days of Ramadan are punctuated by two meals, and in July those meals are 16 hours apart: what we Pakistanis call “sehri” and iftar. Iftar is what you hear about most: it’s the big feast at the end of the day, the feast usually shared with family and friends, and it is indeed as glorious as you have heard. That picture up there, that is a picture of an Iftar dinner we hosted last year.

No one has any pictures of sehri. Sehri is the morning meal; the one we wake up to eat before dawn, in the hopes it will provide some sustenance for the fast ahead. I’ve been thinking a lot about “sehri time” lately, how when I was younger my mother would pad into my room and quietly ask what I wanted to eat, how through my half-opened eyes I would tell her, how she would then serve me in bed. How as a teenager, I would refuse to eat, asking only for water, annoyed at having to get up. In those times, everything was quiet, and dark, and still, with as little hustle and bustle as possible. Maybe once or twice a Ramadan we’d go upstairs to my aunties’ apartment and eat a bigger breakfast, but for the most part the goal was to fall back asleep as quickly as possible.

Those are good memories.

For the most part, since having my own home, sehri has been a less romantic affair, filled with the grownup responsibility of making one’s own breakfast. Once, when I was in my early twenties, I spent the night at my parents’ just so I could eat with them at sehri time. I got up with my mother, who proceeded to ask my youngest sister what she wanted to eat.

“OO-ga,” my sister responded groggily.

My mom and I looked at each other, suppressing giggles.

“Nani, I don’t understand what that is,” my mom said.

“LOO-ga!” my sister articulated.

At that, my mother and I were lost in a fit of giggles. This was the point at which Tahira decided to speak coherantly:

“It’s not that funny MOM!” she snapped.

Oh, but it was. That is a good memory too.

My sehri now is different; I live with Andy, who with his usual Puritan Work Ethic, has decided that the most productive way to get through Ramadan in the summer is to get up at sehri, drink coffee with his breakfast, and then stay up for the rest of the morning. He generally works until around 1, then takes a nap with Ilan, then gets up and goes back to work until we break fast. Then, naturally, he crashes with the kids immediately afterwards.

But forget about his nighttime routine. Let’s backtrack to sehri, and let me remind you, in case you’ve forgotten, that all this breakfast eating is happening at 3:30 in the morning in July.

So, for Andy, the goal of sehri is to wake up and be ready to do work at an hour at which it is very difficult to wake up and do work. Generally this means he wants to turn all the lights on and blare some random Netflix documentary while he is eating.

Of course, I don’t want to get up at 3:30a, because I want to go to bed and go back to sleep until the kids (who have been blessedly sleeping in) wake up. So there are negotiations. Because I am an adult, and I don’t get served breakfast in bed anymore, and because I am an adult, and I have a husband whose needs are also important.

There is part of me that mourns a little for the sehri of my childhood and adolescence, but at the time they certainly didn’t feel special. They still felt like getting up in the middle of the night to eat breakfast and then get a couple of more hours’ worth of sleep before going to school, where I would proceed to not eat all day to my 11- and 15- and 17-year old self. I didn’t know then that, in retrospect, the thought of those moments would fill me with a deep pang of longing, for that quiet and still house, for the taste of reheated pancakes or paratha and egg from my aunties, for the whispers of my parents.

But I have to remind myself that someday I will almost certainly look back on these days of my incredibly dedicated, incredibly insane husband, his bustling around our too-bright kitchen, his bagel-egg-and-cheese-sandwiches that fill my stomach like a brick, and think nostalgically too. When Andy and I are older, and he’s not writing a dissertation, and the fasts are not 16 hours long anymore, our sehris will almost certainly change again, shift into some other pattern, as things tend to do. And I will look back and miss this time, this pattern, this stage, as we tend to do.

Posted in and the wee hours of the morning., big families., faith, wee hours of the night, when i was small | 4 Comments

In which she rolls with superheroes

Dining with the littlest superheroes

Here is one of my favorite things about my family right now.

Jaya’s in a superhero phase, which means, by definition, that Alder is too. Her favorite superhero is Storm, from the Xmen (prior to discovering Storm, Jaya was quite fascinated by My Little Pony’s Rainbow Dash, and I think the idea that a lady — albeit a mutant one — could control the weather instead of a colorful pegasus really represented a paradigm shift for my daughter). We’re not sure which is Alder’s favorite, although he does seem to be awfully fond of “the ‘Ulk,” as he calls that great green beastman.

Often when Jaya is pretending to be a superhero (although if she hears you describe this as pretend she will insist that she is really a superhero), she will outstretch her arm and pretend she is shooting something out of her palm at you. Sometimes, like when she is trying to control the weather, this appears to require great effort and she will scrunch her face, furrow her eyebrows, stretch her arm with all of her might. Other times it’s about as effortless as a “talk to the hand.” When asked what she is shooting, she will simply reply “everything.” When you inquire further, she will explain that she has all the powers. Okay then.

In any event, this is naturally a habit that Alder has picked up, except, in a curious and quintessential Alder-esque way, he has decided that this is not only useful during pretend play, but in uncomfortable situations: say, while dealing with a grabby child at the playground or while waiting in a long line at Ikea. He will stretch out his palm at unsuspecting people, often hissing as he does so. Occasionally, if he is really angry, he will yell “BAD GUY!” before resorting to his superpowers.

Because I am a great role model, I have also adopted this habit, and it’s become something of a call-and-response in our family. If the kids are being frustrating, or arguing with each other, I will pull out the hissy superhero hand and they will immediately drop what they are doing to join me, grinning wildly. If Alder yells “BAD GUY” at Andy, Andy will preempt him with a superhero hand and everyone will start giggling and participate in a hissypalm throwdown. It works in marital tiffs too. Today, Andy said something vaguely irritating, so I palmed him. Without missing a beat, the kids joined in. Bickering averted; smiles all around. Superpower indeed!

Posted in alder, jaya bird, motherhood, these days | 7 Comments

In which she shares something else she’s found on the street.

Periodically, if it is relevant to other themes I’ve been exploring here, I will post an entry from my archive of the more private journal I have had since 2003. Here is one such entry, from a letter I wrote to Jaya when I was pregnant with her, back in May of 2007. This was part of a project I was doing then, which was compiling a song for each week of pregnancy; I called it my “gestation mix” and this was week thirteen’s entry. The song I had chosen for that week was Tobias Hellkvist’s cover of “Step Aside.”

Our names in the street!

Have I ever shared this picture? If you can’t make it out, it’s a shot of the words “ROBINA ANDY” scrawled into the cement. It’s on the sidewalk a few blocks from our house.

We had nothing to do with it.

The real mystery is that no one we know knows anything about it either, or will admit to having done it. It showed up at some point after our wedding, though we can’t be clear exactly when, since, I mean, how often do you scrutinize the sidewalk outside your front door, let alone blocks away from where you live? The only reason we even picked up on it is because it’s outside an apartment building Rayna used to live in, and she had stopped by at some point to make sure there hadn’t been any mail left for her there, happened to look down, and there it was. This building is next door to a pretty popular neighborhood bar, one that many people we know frequent, so the theory is that someone we knew got drunk and this was the result. But the real question is why our names? If you were drunk and saw wet cement, wouldn’t you scrawl your own name into it? The whole situation baffles me, but I smile every time I pass this little piece of sidewalk, which is several times a week since it’s on my way to the gym.

In the next three hours I officially sail through to the magical time known as the second trimester, this period where I will supposedly begin to be recognizably pregnant, stop gagging through meals, feel the baby move within me, stop feeling asexual, gain more energy, stop worrying. Of course I will not cross this threshold at exactly twelve midnight and suddenly feel all of those things. As with all things, though, it helps to conceptualize experiences with landmarks and so we have this one. When I first found out I was pregnant, this moment seemed impossibly far away –the way being 32 or 36 or 40 or whenever weeks seems impossibly far away now — and now it’s here!

When I think back on the first trimester so much of it surprises me, much like finding your name in the sidewalk when you didn’t put it there. I’m not only learning so much about pregnancy, about growing an entire human being (!!), but I’m learning a lot about myself, my impulses, my strengths and weaknesses, myself-with-Andy. None of it has been exactly what I expected. so on the eve of my second trimester, here’s to you sea monster, and here’s to the fact that I know you will continue to surprise me, both when it comes to you and when it comes to me. I can’t wait to listen to this song, which I find oddly comforting and euphoric despite its pensive lyrics, with you later, when your tiny hand is wrapped around my finger, and later than that, when you’re fifteen and are horribly embarrassed by the whole idea that I made a “gestation mix” for you, and even later when you and/or your partner are having a sea monster of your own.

Posted in love notes, pregnancy | 2 Comments

In which she shares a small morning.

I’ve never been an early riser, despite my best intentions. I only rise early when I am forced, begrudgingly, by one reason or another: a child crawling all over me, the endless chattering of birds while camping, an alarm that signals I have to make the hour and a half long trek to teach, my shift at the food coop, or the need to get a TB test read.

That last one happened last week. The kids haven’t been sleeping well, which means neither of their parents have been sleeping well, so when my alarm went off at 7a — although I recognize this is not early for others — after I had fallen asleep at 1a, I was not pleased. However, while I might not be a morning person, I have always been one of those people who is immediately alert. Wake me up in the middle of the night and my eyes will snap open and I’ll have a lucid conversation with you. Wake me up earlier than I want to, and I will still have trouble falling back asleep even if I can, because my mind will immediately race with thoughts. It’s a blessing and a curse, depending on the occasion. On this one, it was the former: I had to get moving, in order to commute into Manhattan to check the TB test I was asked to take for my midwifery program. I was going to a clinic where I had spent a large portion of my afternoon two days earlier; I was hoping getting there as soon as they opened would decrease my wait time and allow me to get home with minimal disruption to Andy’s work day.

Despite not being an early riser, I absolutely love, adore New York City in the morning on the now-rare occasions I am forced to be out and about early. 7:30 isn’t exactly the crack of dawn, and I know there are millions of people commuting to jobs at that hour, but for some reason it is still remarkably quiet here. Now, I live in a relatively quiet quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn anyway, but there’s something positively still about it at this hour, and I relish walking with the houses — no doubt filled with bleary-eyed people, or still sleeping people, or children bright-eyed and bushy-tailed nagging their parents to wake up; people waking up next to someone they’ve just started waking up next to and smiling internally, a little giddy despite being tired; people getting ready for their last day of work before they leave for a vacation; mothers wondering at what bizarre afternoon hour their teenagers will wake up as they pour their first cup of coffee; a nurse putting his things away before he tucks into bed — rising up next to me. It’s not like the stereotypical peace of waking up in the forest, but there is something magical, to me, something not more peaceful but equally peaceful in a different way, about waking up in a world filled with people who are there and yet not there, who are still in their small spaces while you’re strolling through the bright blue, and yet somehow gray, light of the morning. You’re walking down that wide sidewalk right under them, right next to them, and they don’t know it, because they’re starting they’re own day.

It gives me that Whitman-esque feeling, a “Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul,” quiet kind of euphoria.

The quiet on the street at 7:30 in the morning belies what’s going on under the ground, of course: the subway is always crowded at this time, chugging people along to work, spitting them out in masses at the hub stations, like Union Square, which is where I got off to get my TB test read. But even as I walked up the stairs with that great wave of commuters, we dispersed like spokes on a wheel to the various exits when we got up to the platform, and when I entered the usually bustling Union Square, even that space was quiet at 8:10 in the morning.

The clinic was relatively empty, I was in and out with a negative TB test in only a half hour, and both trains I needed to return me to Brooklyn came almost immediately, allowing me to get back into my still-quiet neighborhood by 9:15: all-told, the entire errand took less than two hours, most of which was spent reading and daydreaming on the subway: one of my very favorite activities.

And then, as I walked home, just before I turned the corner up my street, I nearly stepped on this note:

Smiling, I continued walking. A few steps later, I noticed another:

I don’t know Faith or Alyssa, or, or their mom. But I think I love them just the same.

Posted in and the wee hours of the morning., new york city, transit | 4 Comments

In which she she can stop being embarrassed.

Here is what it looks like when an adult learns to ride a bike:

Giant bruise

Yes, that’s my leg (pictured: giant bruise, lots of dirt. Not pictured: several cuts; other giant bruise). Yes, until yesterday, I did not know how to ride a bike.

I’ll say it again, just so you can gawk: until yesterday, I did not know how to ride a bike.

I’ve shared the story of how such an unnatural thing happened here once before, and, somewhat to my relief, no one commented. Perhaps you were all ashamed on my behalf and wanted to pretend you had never read such a thing. Perhaps you looked the other way politely, to hide how flabbergasted you were. Perhaps you were so wowed by my geometric jumpsuit that you totally forgot to read the bit underneath and are now saying, “What? Robina doesn’t know how to ride a bike?”

That entry was a great leap for me. For a long time, I was much more likely to admit to pretty much anything than I was to admit I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I would own up to any other flaw much more readily; I was more forthcoming about any negative part of my history. Being an adult who cannot ride a bike is, quite simply, just too embarrassing to admit. Even my father, the least athletic person I know, knows how to ride a bike. So for the longest time, I remained a closeted non-bike-rider. I passed for a bike rider, as it were; it’s easy for others to assume you know how because everyone knows how to ride a bike! Everyone.

Or so I thought!

While at Pier 6 for our weekly unschooling meetup with friends earlier this summer, I was given a brochure for Park programs. I flipped through it and was both astounded and excited to see that Bike New York, a non-profit here in the city that partners with the New York City Department of Transportation and other City agencies, was offering free “Learn to Ride” classes for adults and kids. So I went to the website to sign up for a class.

And they were all full.

Apparently, there are hundreds of other adults in New York City who also don’t know how to ride a bike!

That fact was so relieving and comforting that it almost made up for not being able to take a class. Not willing to give up, I wrote them, asking to be put on the wait list for basically every class in the city, some on completely opposite side of the city from me in fact. I was determined. A few days later I received an email back letting me know new sessions had opened up, so I immediately signed up for one, and that is how I found myself at Pier 54 this afternoon.

Now, there is this mythology I hold about myself that’s been very consistent since childhood, although I don’t totally know the origins of it. That mythology is this: Robina is only good at reading books. Robina has no aptitude for anything physical. That mythology has been incredibly formative, stopping me from small things — such as learning to knit (I finally learned in 2009!) — and big things — such as not quitting a PhD program and going to nursing school when I first started feeling the call to midwifery (it took seven years to get out from under that mythology, but here I am!) — alike. So as I walked from the subway in my lesson I had to give myself a bit of a pep talk, which sounded a little something like “There is nothing about you that would make you incapable of doing something millions of other people can do” over and over again.

The students in the class were, amazingly, totally diverse: while it skewed towards women, every racial/ethnic group and age was represented. This was the first thing that made me feel comfortable. The second were the very friendly teachers, especially the cute tattooed one (ahem) who reminded me a lot of a dear friend.

The third thing was that they used the “balance first” approach, which means we first learned to glide on bikes without pedals. Though this was never an approach I had personally tried (in all two times I’ve tried to learn how to ride a bike), but because I have a 4 year old who is a total pro at her balance bike, it was a familiar concept to me. So as everyone began to slowly walk on tippy-toes while straddling the bikes, tentatively putting their feet up, I steeled myself. I thought, “I HAVE to learn how to ride today. I WILL LEARN HOW TO RIDE TODAY. PERIOD.” Then I visualized Jaya on her balance bike. And then I took off.

Now, when I say “took off,” let me explain. Took off does not mean I glided gracefully. Took off means I did a sort of high-speed, extra-waddley Flinestone car maneuver, like my four year old does to pick up speed on her balance bike, and then stuck my feet out like I was flying down a hill. It wasn’t graceful at all, but it was effective: I was one of the first to get pedals put on. It is probably also the reason my legs look like they do.

Learning how to start pedalling was a bit more of a challenge for me; after all, I couldn’t envision my four year old anymore and mimic her. That being said, I sure could visualize the way my husband starts biking, the way his cute ass kind of hovers over the seat when he first kicks off. It’s not like I don’t ogle it, every.single.time he leaves the house on his bike. So, with the imagine ever so clear in my mind, I attempted to replicate that. And, eventually, I got it.

That feeling, of my whole body having to work so hard to get the hang of it, and then having the wind in my hair (or at least, my helmet) as I managed to ride along, doing lap and after lap, was pure magic. I was absolutely and completely high on endorphins, and it was pretty much the best afternoon I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t want to stop. I am so excited that my goal of biking to school in the Fall, is totally attainable now!

Yes, I still have to work on my death grip and keeping my eyes aiming high. Yes, my ass does not feel as cute as my husband’s looks right now.

But I can ride a freaking bike.

I can ride a bike!

Posted in new york city, wishes attained! | 3 Comments

In which she starts a new chapter.

Before Jaya decided to up and learn how to swim, I had promised you all an update on how I am doing. So here is that slightly delayed update.

Since we spoke last I finished one chapter of my life: I completed my PhD. I completed my PhD, and all I got was a not-so-lousy cake that said “What’s Up, Doc?”

Well that’s not strictly true, actually: my diss also won my department’s “best in show” award, which was pretty cool because I got to hear a little blurb read about my work that made me sound all fancy. So I finished my PhD and got a not-so-lousy cake that said “What’s up Doc?”, a blurb that made me sound all fancy, and $500 (from said award), which I promptly put toward bills because that is the kind of life a PhD in English lives. Ha!

Anyway, the day I defended my dissertation was perhaps one of the most anticlimactic of my life. From what I gather, this is true of most everyone’s defense day, but for me it was especially anticlimactic because I knew I was closing a chapter. I had, for several years, been looking at my doctoral program as a job rather than a career, partially because I knew the chances of me getting a decent job in the city we refuse to leave was virtually impossible, and partially because as I went through my twenties and did all the things one does during that decade, I realized that maybe fresh-out-of-undergrad Robina was a little naive when she thought academia was the right field for her. This is something I plan to blog about further, and in more detail, soon, but suffice it to say that the defense was anticlimactic because I knew I would be starting a new path just a week later. Or rather, the prequel to a new path.

And now I’m done with the prequel and actually starting a new chapter:

Starting a new chapter!

Seriously, though: who the heck is Mrs. Robina? That’s Dr. Robina (even if you’re not nasty). And ahem, soon to be Dr. Robina, Certified Midwife. This is a journey I look forward to sharing with you all here. It’s something I’ve considered since I was 25, and I am beyond thrilled to finally be doing it (though I am not thrilled to be taking out my first student loans at 32 years old).

Oh yeah, and the other big news is that I went back to bangs.

Bangs!

A significant year, indeed.

Posted in midwifery | 4 Comments

In which four year olds swim.

Until I was six, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment just upstairs from my mother’s eldest brother, my Uncle Paul. He lived in a three-bedroom duplex underneath, with his wife and two kids, my cousins. As it happens, that house is actually tattooed on my back:

Tattoo, done by the incredible Myles Karr!

It only occurred to me recently that, for my entirety of my childhood, literally until I was an adult, living in my own apartment, I have always lived with extended family: first in my maternal uncle and aunt’s house, then with thirty-odd members of my father’s family living in our own. When random acquaintances marvel over how “wholesome” my life is, with my sisters living across the street and my parents just one block away, I never mention how, for me, I sometimes wish they could be closer, how I in fact worry that my kids will miss out on so much of what made my childhood rich because they will not live in the same house as their aunties and uncles and cousins.

But this is not a story about living with extended families. This is a story about swimming. Well, it’s two stories about swimming, actually.

My uncle and aunt had a pool in the backyard, like good Brooklyn Italian in the eighties (and like my own parents still do). Since my mom’s other brother, wife, and kids lived just a block away, in the house in which my mom and her siblings had all grown up, I remember many, many afternoons of swimming with the four of my cousins and sometimes some of their friends, with all the adults milling around doing whatever it was adults did.

I have this one memory in particular, from what I believe was my fourth summer. I was swimming in that pool; it was chaotic and teeming with loud children, and whether this is a result of the memory becoming so crystallized over the years or whether it was because the day was actually this kind of day, in my memory the blue sky was cloudless and bright, the glare of the sun as it hit the pool water completely blinding. I remember floating around, in a tube, kind of playing on my own while the older kids roughhoused and jumped and swam.

You can imagine me looking something like this, minus the nose and the shirley temple:

One summer at a lake...

Okay, so you can’t really imagine me looking like that at all. But you can imagine a kid with those eyes, pigtails, and swimsuit sort of lolling around dreamily, as I was wont to do.

And then you can imagine that kid being underwater and disoriented and scared.

The tube must have flipped, and I must have gotten stuck, but I must not have been there very long because I don’t remember any terror over not being able to breathe, and I don’t recall any of the adults panicking afterward. I do remember my cousin Gina, who could only have been eight or nine at the time but who never has seemed like anything but a perfectly composed and beautiful adult, even at eight or nine, capably lifting me out of the water. I remember sputtering, and I remember the awful, burning sensation in my nose, the pulsating, blinding feeling of the chlorine in my sinuses.

And I remember my Uncle Paul’s arms reaching in and pulling me out of the water, and I remember with perfect clarity how safe and warm they felt. He held me for a while, and talked me through the horrible sensation in my nose, explaining why it felt that way.

It is one of the most comforting memories I have as a child, and it’s so funny the way such seemingly random moments become so memorialized for reasons I’ll never understand. What about that moment was so notable that I’ve tucked it away, held onto it for twenty-eight years? Surely I experienced other uncomfortable and scary situations, and surely I experienced other moments of safety and comfort. Yet this one has stood out, withstood the test of time.

I wrote about it in my thank-you card to my Aunt and Uncle, after my wedding, and my Uncle Paul did not remember the day but was astounded and appreciative that I did. Sometimes I think about his reaction to that thank you card in order to will myself into being mindful of how warm arms and a calm explanation can make all the difference even when we don’t realize it, even when we aren’t cognizant that something important is happening.

I bring this all up because Jaya had a swimming lesson this week. Now, Jaya is the kind of kid who took to water immediately, without an iota of fear. She has always loved roughhousing in the pool and being thrown into the water, has never been phased by the burning of chlorine in her nose; she was the kind of three year old who jumped in before you can get her swimmies on and then yelled at you when you jumped in after her because she swore, even though she was very clearly sinking, that she would have eventually swam up by herself. So, this year, her fourth, we decided to go whole hog with the swimming lessons and get some semi-private ones that are a little pricey but that, an acquaintance told us, got her own kid out of swimmies, and safely swimming, in four classes. Which, of course, we really wanted to happen; given Jaya’s lack of fear about the water, we need to know she can swim.

That being said, I certainly wasn’t swimming my age four even though I learned at a reasonably young six or seven, and I don’t know a lot of kids Jaya’s age who are swimming now, so I was a little skeptical this would happen.

Leading up the lesson Jaya did her usual insisting that she doesn’t need lessons and that she already knows everything she needs to know about acrobatics/swimming/biking/reading/life. My child, gotta love her, is for some reason completely hostile to the idea of being taught anything formally. So she whined about going the whole day before the lesson rolled around at 3pm.

But then we got to the pool, and she was positively squirming, toes curled, pained as she waited to get in the water. And then throughout the forty minute lesson, she sported an ear-to-ear grin. Witness:

Jaya, gleeful in swim class

There were two other little four year old girls in the class, and a lovely teacher, and the technique was very interesting to watch from where I stood, though the sweat dripping in my eyes (the damn pool, which was in a hotel, was in a sunroom and it was 98 degrees out, so those of us not in the water just baked). They did lots of aspects of swimming, without formally putting it all together, but at some point, Jaya just started going under and attempting to swim. She didn’t quite get there, but begged to go up to my mom’s pool when we got home. So we did. Because it was, as I’ve already mentioned, excruciatingly hot, so where better to be?

And…she just started swimming.

And then she swam, and swam, and swam, and swam. And she’s continued to swim and swim and swim and swim for the last three days straight, not wanting to even stop to take a breath (although we insist). This reminds me of how it went down when she finally learned how to use scissors: she sat at her desk for several days, just cutting anything we threw at her, even waking up at midnight and cutting for a couple of hours into the wee hours of the night, until our floor looked like this:

Pieces of paper everywhere!

Again, something just clicked, and now, suddenly, remarkably, she is swimming the 18 feet of the pool, straight across, feeling the strength of her body, feeling that she can do this without help, discovering the way it feels to be in the water without giant inflatables stuck to her arm. And it appears to feel glorious. Unsurprisingly, her favorite thing to do is “superhero” arms, sort of launching herself above the water, savoring that moment of weightlessness just before she dives in.

For a kid whose fondest wish is to be able to fly, learning to swim seems to be pretty damn significant.

It is magical to watch her: magical to watch her learn something new so suddenly, magical to watch her discover what she is capable of, magical to watch her sense of pride in herself. Those first moments witnessing her swim, and feeling astounded, surprised, unbelieving, will also be eternally etched in my brain. But more importantly, I hope those feelings of strength and joy will stay etched in her’s.

Posted in big families., jaya bird, summer, when i was small | 12 Comments

In which four is good enough.

So four of you are still here.  Four!  That’s four more than expected.  It was so lovely to see your comments on Saturday: so lovely in fact that I can’t NOT attempt to start writing here again.  So, here I am. Writing.

But where to start? Now that’s daunting.

Expect to hear more detail about all of this in the coming days, but for now let’s play a very truncated game of catch-up.

The last you saw this little fam of mine, we looked something like this:

Family, November 2010

Obviously, Andy and I haven’t changed that much (you’re shocked, I know).  The kids on the other hand went from this:

Kids, November 2010

to this

Kids, May 2012

Which is to say, they turned into somewhat bonafide kids

Alder is 2 now; he makes up conjunctions like “womtime” (shorthand for “one more time,” and which actually means “infinite times, kthx”) and “peanut butter and jamwich,” looks genuinely concerned when he suddenly realizes, hands entangled in Jaya’s hair, that the screaming means “that HURTS!” and is thus finally learning to let go of the hair as a result, and has eyes that will eat you for breakfast.

See what I mean?

Alder's big brown eyes!

Jaya is 4.5, although she insists she is “4 and three quarters”; she is generally obsessed with the very concept of quarters (and halves, and thirds),  generally disdainful of figurative drawing, and generally happiest in the water or climbing an 8′ chain link fence.

These days we are following an unschooling approach to homeschooling, though I am sure that will evolve over time.  I joke that this  basically means that our approach to homeschooling is “carting our kids all over New York City.” Except that’s not really a joke.

Though Andy and I appear in far fewer pictures, we are still here too.  Andy is doing well, progressing with his dissertation, and making the rounds teaching at all the schools in NYC at which you’d hope to teach.

And me?  Well there are updates about me for sure, but you’ll have to wait for ‘em, because that is a whole, a whole — as they say — ‘nother post for sure. In the meantime, please pardon the dust — I’m still persnicketing (wonder where Alder got his general sense of flexibility with the English language?) around with the lay of the land here.

Posted in alder, jaya bird | 3 Comments