Friends

More than three years ago I met a gal and fell deeply in friend lust. I just liked her so much. She lived right around the corner, was having her first kid a couple months before I was having my second, she and her husband had moved here from Brooklyn, we had a lot in common. They were our people in a town that really is not full of our people. I tried to play it cool around her, didn’t want her to know that I was in desperate friend-love with her. On facebook I wrote frequent obsessively creepy status updates chronicling my quest to awkwardly befriend her.

Guess what? She is every bit as awesome as I thought she was. She also has an awesome sister and introduced me to an awesome woman I’d casually met who lived around the corner. That awesome woman introduced us to her awesome close friend. Z and I introduced all of them to an awesome couple who we are very close to. Our families and kids started hanging out pretty regularly. And over the course of several years these folks have become our community and surrogate family.

As a kid who moved around every few years it is the kind of group I’ve wanted to be a part of for my whole life. My boys will benefit from the consistency of these relationships even as their friendships with the various kids ebb and flow over the years. It certainly doesn’t hurt that my two will grow up knowing that there will be parental eyes on them all over the neighborhood. Fingers crossed that will help curb the number of dumb choices they are guaranteed to make as they slide towards adolescence.

I love these families, I do. The kids have a special place in my heart. The husbands are also dear friends. But the ladies. Oh, the ladies…..

During the moves of my childhood, and carried into my adult life I’ve usually had one or two extremely close friends. I’ve valued quality over quantity. Occasionally I’ve been a part of a larger group, the Sparky’s crew back in Brooklyn, but usually my social circle is tiny but tight.

This might be the first time in my life I’ve had been part of a group of ladies who are all dear friends. It feels effortless to be around these women, there isn’t jealousy or competitiveness. We expand to include new ladies, we sometimes hang out in smaller groups, there is an easiness in our friendship that feels like such a relief. It has made me wonder why I haven’t been seeking out this kind of group for my whole life. Not that women like these ladies are easy to find. But I’ve learned that quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive.

I’m working on a paper this semester and have been frequenting a local coffee shop. The other morning I approached the counter. “Can I please have a savory porridge and a pomegranate Italian soda?”

The woman behind the counter looked at me with panic in her eyes. “Are you all coming?” she asked.

“Nope. Just me.”

“Ok. Because if you were all coming I’d have to make more porridge.”

I laughed. “I hope that we aren’t too loud or anything.”

“No, but we have been wondering what you guys are. Like are you working on a project or something?”

I laughed again. “No, no. We are just…..friends. We are friends.”

some of the crew

Some of the crew. A couple of families are missing. I do wish there was a picture of all of us.

dads and kids

Dads with kiddos.

brothers on pumpkins

Brothers.

Running While Female

Today was the first long run of the first week of my first training for a half marathon. Five easy miles. Although five miles are never easy for me.

About 4 blocks from my house a guy on a bike wearing hard core racing spandex passed me. I smiled and gave a little wave. Because I smile and wave at everyone I pass, it just seems to be good exercising manners. His face lit up, he flashed me a huge grin. A couple of blocks later I’d forgotten about it.

Just gone the mile mark and I was trying to tell myself four more wouldn’t be so bad. A movement on my right caught my eye. I looked over into the smiling face of the guy from the bike suddenly running beside me. I did not smile back. It was around 9:45 am on a Sunday morning. There were plenty of people around, kids and parents on the playground at the top of the park, a young man taking shots at the basketball court, people walking dogs. And I was scared.

The guy was very fit, not struggling with the slow 11 minute pace the way I was. He stayed beside me or a few steps back. At the corner I sped up and made a right around him. For a little while I though he’d stopped following me. But he had not. Sometimes he was 30 feet behind, sometimes he was right next to me. I have no idea where he left the bike. As we circled around the park again he come up on my left, putting me between him and the curb and making me feel even more boxed in.

I wanted to tell him he was scaring me. I wanted to not give a shit that he was following me. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to call my husband. I wanted my wedding ring to increase in size, protecting me from…what? A guy taking a jog? I wanted to ignore the voice in my head saying my safety was threatened. I mean what was the guy really doing? Maybe he was just out for slow run. I wanted to not wonder if my smile and wave were too friendly back while he was on his bike.

But I did. I worried I had been flirting with him. Even though I knew I had not. I worried that my biker shorts and tank top were inappropriate. Even though they were not. I worried that I was being a weak, shrill woman who was making it all up. Even though I was not.

Who knew what his intentions were? I do not think he was going to hurt me. But he was making me uncomfortable and my reaction of tension and discomfort were clear.

Halfway along the side of the park there is a fire hydrant. I usually circle around it and return to the intersection where I hit two miles. I slowed until he was right next to me. And I quickly made the turn. About three quarters of a mile after he first pulled next to me he left me alone. I scanned my surroundings obsessively for another three quarters of a mile until I couldn’t help myself. I stopped with my back to a couple of trees in some shade and called my husband.

I felt like an idiot. A hysterical idiot. My husband and the boys were at a flea market and he asked if he should come pick me up. I didn’t know. I was scared to go home, scared he was still watching me. Scared in broad daylight surrounded by people. I decided to keep on going.

At four miles my husband called to tell me he was there in the car and he’d drive beside me home. I thanked him and waved him off. I finished the five miles. I did not see the man again.

About a month ago, after the Washington Post op-ed by George Will decrying sexual violence against women on college campuses as overblown, creating an atmosphere of victimhood as a prized and privileged status, the internet blew up with reactions that were all over the place. The ones that stuck with me were those written by women who agreed with Will.  I read responses from women who questioned why college girls always thought they were going to be raped. Women asked why did those girls think they would be so special that someone would want to sexually assault them. Women asked why other women were so hysterical.

The 2012 CDC finding that nearly one in five women will be raped in her lifetime? The statistic is nearly the same as a study commissioned by the Justice Department* in 2007 during the Bush administration. It is not a statistic conjured by a liberal administration or harpy feminists to further their agenda. It is real.

Women fear rape for many reasons. I do not  fear assault because I think I am special or desirable or that every guy is  inherently bad and a potential rapist. Sexual assault is a crime of violence and control, not desire. I have been taught for most of my life that women ask for it through their every action. I have been taught that if I am assaulted no one will believe me. The comments by women in response to Will’s article support that. When someone larger and stronger than me gets in my personal space I get scared.

So what the hell happened this morning?

I don’t think I was ever in real danger. Still, I changed my plans to run along the partially secluded path around a stream across from the park after the second mile. I don’t think the man’s intentions were bad. But he surely knew he was making me uncomfortable and he did not stop.

The bottom line is I am ashamed. For not telling him he was scaring me. For not demanding that he leave me alone. For letting my worry that I would offend him get in the way. For even questioning if I’d been flirting or if I was dressed wrong or if I was asking for it in any way. For feeling small and worthless. For still having dread in the pit of my stomach hours later. For already fearing Tuesday’s run.

I’m ashamed for feeling ashamed.

I expect more from myself. But I also expect more from that man, from any man.

photo (44)

I was not doing anything wrong this morning.

 *Study found through this Slate article.

Four Years

As a kid who moved constantly throughout childhood place is intimately related to time for me. The first time we lived in Fairfax, VA equals kindergarten and part of first grade. The second time in Fairfax equals fourth grade, but there were two moves in between the first and second time. New Zealand equals a few days shy of two years, end of form one to beginning of form three, ’88-’90, becoming a teenager, the unfulfilled hope of a first kiss. Fairfax the last time, the most significant time-from the final days of ’90 until the end of summer of ’95. Around four years and eight months. The longest I have ever lived in one dwelling.

Four years seems like a magic length of time. High school and college are four years. I’ve been thinking about the number a lot lately. We’ve lived in Syracuse for four years. T turned four a month ago.  It is such a respectable chunk of time, his new age adds a solidness to his existence. The kids that started as college freshman when T was a few weeks old have graduated. Z isn’t the “new father” professor, the one who is ridiculously excited about his baby. He still might be excited about the boys, judging from what his students say when I meet them he does talk about T and C constantly. But the boys aren’t babies. We have settled into the meat of raising kids.

Our neighborhood has a couple of annual events that take place two weekends after Labor Day. There is a block party on our street the evening before the Westcott Street Cultural Fair located one street west of us. Our house is perfectly situated for both events. Poor C hadn’t taken a crap all weekend and we were waiting for him to blow on Sunday afternoon. It was fantastic to just roll out of the front door and mosey over to the fair without a diaper bag. If the kid pooped we could just whisk him home to change him and be back in the action, round trip of about 10 minutes. We dig the local stuff, dig being a part of it every year. Even me with my anxiety and agoraphobic tendencies-if I get overwhelmed I can escape to my house in an instant.

At the block party on Saturday night I watched T zoom around on his bike with his pal and C following behind. I spied one of the big girls, a cousin to the kids my two spend most of their time with, rest her hand on the bike helmet clad head of C. She seemed to be just keeping track of the large brood of younger cousins and somehow my boys got included in that calculation.

My eyes burned and filled with tears.

My boys belonged.

It was the fifth year T attended the party. He was barely a month old the first time, cuddled in our Ergo on my chest. We met a couple with a little girl a year older than him. I could not comprehend how big she was, couldn’t believe T would ever be that size. Her mom was heavily pregnant with their second, they had just moved to Syracuse as well. I remember telling Z that I really wanted to be friends with them. Two years later we ran into them at T’s preschool. She had just given birth to their third four days after C was born. Last year T was in class with their eldest. This year their baby and my baby are starting preschool together. After we dropped off our kids this morning we stood and chatted with another Mom whose youngest is in the toddler room. They both have gals who just started kindergarten and I felt so grateful to hear about their experiences because I’ll be in their shoes next year.

This is all pretty mundane stuff. We met people in our neighborhood. Over the years we developed relationships. Our kids are starting to grow up together. It might seem mundane, but man, it is a fucking revelation to me. It is extraordinary. All I wanted as a kid was to know people and be known. And here we are putting down roots in a city that it doesn’t look like we’ll be leaving anytime soon. We are part of a community. Our boys will grow up with a crew of other kids who all live within a couple of blocks of us. They will belong, hell, the already belong.

I was blinking back tears at the block party because I was happy. I had a grin on my face yesterday because it seemed like almost everyone we knew in Syracuse was at the street fair. And it turns out we know a lot of people. As the three of us Moms were having a hard talk about where to send our kids to school and how to ease the adjustment into kindergarten this morning I realized I was excited to have access to women I genuinely like to navigate the murky waters of raising these kids.

We have a support system here. We are part of a community. I am giving my kids exactly what I wanted in my youth. And you know what? I’m giving it to myself as well. In our four years of living here Z and I have found the kind of friends who will mow our lawn while we are away or fill our fridge with food and clean our house after our kid had a frightening medical scare far from home. We lucked into a school for the boys filled with teachers we trust, some of whom have also become friends.

Don’t get me wrong, life is not some utopian dream in sunny Syracuse. Do the winters mightily suck ass? Yup, oh yes, they do. We live in an urban neighborhood. For me the good outweighs the bad, but there are break ins and muggings, more than there would be in the suburbs. And Syracuse is broke. Z and I believe in public education, we want to support it by sending our kids to the local elementary. We will send T there next fall. But we worry.

And then there is the big rain cloud that isn’t local, that would follow us anywhere-my mental illness. I have days of paranoia, sure my friends actually hate me, sure the other Moms at school pity me or are laughing at me behind my back, sure I am ruining my boys because I’m an abysmal Mom, sure that Z is going to leave me and take the boys with him.

But right now the good heavily outweighs the bad. We are part of this community. Syracuse seriously rocks.

t ladder applepicking

We went apple picking on Saturday.

2013 family apple picking

Fifth year in a row that we’ve gone to Beak and Skiff.

c pony

C rode a pony for the first time.

walking to the fair

My boys walking to the street fair.

puppets at the parade

The amazing puppets in the parade. It was a pretty epic weekend. All four of us were exhausted by Sunday night.

Grumpy Old Lady

Syracuse rocks in the summer. Last night the heat and humidity broke. I’m not sure it made it out of the 70s today. It is lush and green and comfortable. And the students aren’t around.

I know, I know. That sounds really bitchy. Especially considering without the students Z would have no one to teach. Especially considering I was one of the students for the last two semesters.

I went to a tiny college that put the liberal in liberal arts. There weren’t any sororities or fraternities  Hell, there were only about 6 straight guys who were undergrads. OK, the drug culture was overwhelmingly severe, but I avoided most of it by choosing to live in substance free housing and then moving off campus (a rarity-the dorms were all singles after first year) as soon as second year was over.

SU is a party school. It is a sorority/fraternity school. It is a sports school. Z and I were bewildered when we first moved here. These are not our people. But it’s good to be exposed to new stuff. And the school is large enough that we were able to find our people over time.

Still, when the kids come back in the fall it is a bit depressing. We live in walking distance from campus, in the University neighborhood. We are around the corner from the small business district. It is a fantastic location and I wouldn’t want to live elsewhere. But. That first fall we lived here our car was broken into. Then an extremely drunk kid tried to push his way into our house. He was basically wrestling with Z while I held newborn T and my phone. He only left after I yelled that I was dialing 911. That stuff really made us feel unsafe in our home. It was before we found friends. Before we learned that during the first few weeks of the semester the kids do drunken treasure hunts (that would be the car break in-only some CDs and the registration were taken and the next day the registration was thrown into our neighbor’s yard). So seemingly harmless stuff, but still not very cool.

Cut to tonight. Our yard turned into a jungle during our month and a half absence. We’ve been feverishly weeding and tidying and mulching. Most of it is done, but the ivy that grows on the side of our garage near the back of our property is trying to overtake the poor shrubs that live beside it. So I was absentmindedly weeding. And suddenly I pulled up a clump with something dangling off the bottom.

wallet in yard - Version 2

Yup. A wallet.  With an SU ID. Yup, I edited his name off of the photo. Because I’m not that much of an asshole.

At first I thought it had been stolen and tossed in our yard. But that theory made less sense as Z and I went through it. There were his bank card, drivers license, insurance card, credit cards. Also, it was just too far from the street to be tossed back where I found it.

5er in wallet

A five dollar bill had partially disintegrated and adhered to the cloth of the wallet. And look! A little slug made its home there as well!

robe swing

This wallet was not stolen. It was lost. In the back of our yard…..near the really awesome rope swing.

Z and I started to get angry. This little entitled shithead was in our backyard. What the fuck? Judging from the dates on the cards he was here sometime after 2010 and he is still a student at SU now. It look me about three minutes to find his parent’s phone number online. I called, got the machine, stared to explain who I was and what I had found whilst weeding and his Dad picked up. He was very friendly and told me the boy had lost the wallet during a night he had no memory of about a year and a half ago when he was a freshman. He said he was going to get the kid so he could maybe “shed some light on the subject.” I asked him to hold on a moment. Explained that the wallet had everything in it including $5. I told him it clearly wasn’t stolen. I explained about the awesome rope swing. I said, “Your son lost his wallet while he was in my backyard.” There was a very awkward pause. He said he was getting his son.

The young man’s voice was sheepish when he introduced himself. He asked me to cut up and discard what I’d found since it had all been replaced. I had told his Dad there was a walmart giftcard and the kid told me to keep anything of value. I asked him if he remembered a yard with a rope swing. He told me he didn’t remember anything. I believe him. I’m sure he was completely shit-faced. The call was wrapping up. And I couldn’t help myself. “Dude. Listen. You’ve got to stay out of people’s backyards.” “Okey,” he replied.

Whole thing seems kind of benign, huh? What am I upset about? A year and a half ago in the middle of the night I was in my home with my husband, toddler, and newborn. This kid isn’t small, judging from the pictures probably 180 or so. Considerably larger than Z and me. He was so drunk he can’t remember the evening. He probably wasn’t alone. What if we discovered him? What if a confrontation happened? He and his friends were in a fenced in area past the house, they were nowhere near the street. The idea frightens both Z and me.

Yes, kids will be kids. But there is no reason to be an out of control dickweed. Tonight Z and I talked about when we were college freshman–we weren’t angels, but we never went on private property while blotto. Hell, I don’t think either of us roamed residential neighborhoods while partying. And I’ll tell you what, if one of my boys pulls a stunt like this when they are teens they will be in extremely deep shit.

Don’t be assholes, kids. Respect yourselves and those around you. And stay in school. Love from your neighborhood grumpy old lady.

zombie c

But seriously. You come on my land I set my zombie child on you. This is what he looked like after eating a kid who ran into our yard to retrieve a lost football.

Neighbor

When we decided to move to Syracuse Z wanted to buy a farmhouse with outbuildings on a whole bunch of acres in the middle of nowhere. I told him he could have all that jazz with his second wife, but if we were moving to the snowiest city in America and I was going to be alone in the house with a baby all day then that house needed to be in walking distance of…something.

Our search centered around the University Neighborhood and the house we purchased is a few blocks from a little business district with coffee shops, restaurants, a live music venue, a bike shop, several thrift stores, and a library that caters to kids. On top of all that there are two parks and a Natural Food Co-op within a 10-15 minute walk.

You can’t sugar coat it, the weather sucks here in the winter-that-seemingly-knows-no-end. But here’s the thing, when spring finally arrives it is amazing. Summer is magical. Fall is arrestingly beautiful. There really is a lot to like.

When it finally warms up a bit the sidewalks fill with folks out for a walk. In a lovely and organic way you sort of get to know your neighbors around here. You might not know their names or their stories, but you know them by sight. It’s fun to see people you haven’t seen since last fall.

Late Monday and Tuesday afternoon the boys and I took a walk to one of the coffee shops. Monday’s walk was less than ideal. I carried T most of the way as he wept because he didn’t want to go. But I wanted an iced coffee, damn it. And he was a peach on the way home. Which was good because although C was a delight for the first half of the walk, he decided to throw an extravagant tantrum on the return. Tuesday’s walk was just plan awesome. Both boys were into it. I was into it. Life felt good.

As we ambled past the big yellow house a block and a half from our own I idly wondered when we would see the couple who lived there next. We’ve been stop-and-say-a-few-words friendly with them since we moved in. Or Z has and I try to be. My shyness and lack of social grace will be no surprise to anyone who knows me. Our home has a front porch that is only accessible from inside the house which affords a level of privacy somehow. People don’t tend to notice us sitting there when they walk by, the voyeur in me loves it. In the summer we like to sit out there with a drink after the boys go down. The couple from the yellow house would breeze by, him running and her riding slowly by his side on her bike. We got a kick out of their routine. And she was always incredibly friendly and sweet to the boys when she saw us out and about.

Today I went to get my teeth cleaned. The dental hygienist looked at my chart and said, “Oh, you live on Allen Street. A woman who goes to my church lives on that street. She just passed away in March.” I told her I was sorry, but didn’t think much of it at first. The hygienist was old enough to be my mother. I assumed her friend was as well, which is certainly sad, but not unusual. It became clear that she really wanted to talk about the passing of her friend, she started to explain exactly which house the couple lived in and my heart sank. I asked how old the woman who passed was. “Thirty-three.” she said.

Her name was Rachel. I felt numb as I realized we’d never see her on our neighborhood walks again. And frankly I feel outraged. For her husband, her family, and mostly for her. For the loss of the life she was leading. For how precarious and unfair and painful and wasteful this life can be.

I don’t have a tidy summation for this story. The thought of spouting platitudes frankly nauseates me right now. I’m just sorry and incredibly sad.

neighborhood flowers

Bulbs planted throughout a lawn. This is truly a beautiful neighborhood. I wish Rachel was still able to enjoy it.

Saturday Was Local Day

In the last few years there has been a shift in the food movement from organic to local as a “the answer” for what ails our unsustainable food system. The “buy local” movement seemed like a good one to get behind, yet it always sort of made me uncomfortable. On the one hand I enjoy buying coffee from the guys who own the shop two streets away from my house. I’m happy to support their endeavor (although if they actually had the coffee in stock a little more frequently I would feel even better about patronizing them), I like seeing the crazy primitive set up they have for roasting-a cast iron capsule from 1906 with half of a huge barrel in front of it. There are days when I run in for an afternoon latte and the Roaster is standing three feet behind the espresso machine shoveling steaming beans into the air, staring intently at them as they fall back into the barrel in front of the breeze of a cheap box fan. I wish I knew what he was looking for-what made them “done”. I like that the huge burlap bags that the green beans come in are labeled organic and fair trade. I like that keeping my money in their business helps them stay in the neighborhood and creates a bit of healthy competition so Wegmans is not our only option when it comes to buying decent coffee.

So what is the problem with “buy local”? The zealotry of the movement, those who try to source everything they consume from some arbitrary line in the sand-the 20 mile meal, or 50 mile meal, or 100 mile meal. Keeping every dollar that local-saying goodbye to coffee even if it is roasted 2 blocks away because it sure as hell wasn’t grown anywhere near central New York makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Because what about the people that grow the beans organically and ethically in Costa Rica for example? Should we not support them because they aren’t our neighbors? There seems to be a fine line between fervent localism and isolationism. Or xenophobia.

Ok, supporting people all over the world matters. But is that the answer? What about food miles? How many calories of energy in terms of fossil fuels are expended for every calorie produced meant for human consumption? Isn’t there a compelling case for buying local in those terms? Of course. And that is the point. It is an incredibly complex issue that really can’t be simplified with a single catch phrase and mission. Or fixed by devout dogma focused on one issue.

And that is what I learned in school this semester-there are no simple answers, just more questions. But I think that is the ultimate point of nearly every class in an undergraduate setting. In grad school you start looking at complex answers and as you pursue a doctorate you start to try to create solutions.

Sorry, sorry I know this isn’t my usual Mommy blogger/anxiety blogger/diarrhea blogger fare. It’s been on my mind since my class wrapped up this week. And then yesterday we went to an awesome Craft Fair. We got several Christmas presents from local artists. Afterwards we drove to a Candy Shop down the street. It is fourth generation owned and operated, which is pretty cool. But the candy itself is delicious and that is what really matters. We were unable to muster much restraint when it came to picking out treats. I’m enjoying a potato chip enrobed in peanut butter and chocolate right now. Yesterday was our friend’s birthday and she and I headed to a local spa in the late afternoon to get massages. It was a local day all around. And while buying local isn’t my passion, while it isn’t going to solve every issue surrounding food and economic justice it felt damn good. As a bonus it made me feel excited about the holidays for the first time this season. Or that might just be the after effects of the massage talking…

Happy Birthday, J! The eggs in the cake were local. The chocolate and butter not so much….

Using his stool to pee like a big boy. He is pretty damn excited about this development. 

Sawdust butt!

My handsome man at the drill press. 

Over My Head

There is super casual neighborhood mothers page on Facebook that I belong to. Today someone else in the group posted an attachement to a letter written by a Mom accusing her babysitter of taking her 3 and 5 year old girls to the home of two male friends where they were separated from each other and sexually abused. 

It turns out I know the Mom and family. And from what I understand they have contacted the police and have been told there is nothing that can be done. 
The young woman had provided child care for at least one other mother in the thread. A long discussion ensued about the matter and several people weighed in to say it was inappropriate to have the conversation at all. We don’t know what happened, innocent until proven guilty, etc. 
I forwarded the letter to Z at work. He and I had a long talk and decided I should email the letter to neighborhood Moms we know. I did, I even included T’s preschool teacher. But I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. Am I participating in fear mongering? Is it responsible to share a pertinent situation with our neighbors, or is it irresponsible to spread rumors? 
I am really asking these questions. What do we do in this situation? What should we tell T? We haven’t even started talking about inappropriate touching. How do we bring it up without scaring the shit out of him?
And what is the right way to handle this if the police won’t help? Ultimately I decided that true or not I’d want to know that the issue was happening in our neighborhood. If the young woman and men are being falsely accused it is a terrible thing that could ruin their lives. If they did this I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that there is nothing the parents can do according to the police. A mother on the FB thread felt that sending the letter was an awful invasion of the privacy of the children who were suspected of being abused. But what is the alternative? Not to talk about it and risk it will happen again? 
I feel sick to my stomach. And completely and totally unprepared to deal with these issues as a parent. Friends, I am asking you, what do you think? What is the right thing to do? How to we protect our children? Today I am really scared. I don’t feel ready to handle this responsibility of leading people through this world where so many terrible things can happen.