Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Time Keeps On Tickin' Tickin' Tickin'...

Space is not the "final frontier", it is time.

Whenever I participate in one of those exercises where I have to introduce myself to new colleagues or students and I'm asked to say something that people can visualize about me, I always take this route...

Imagine a balloon, tied to my shirt collar, bouncing about 18 inches above my head. Except, it's not just a balloon bouncing around, it's a clock balloon--but it works and ticks. A clock that is always on, always ticking, always with me. I can't untie the balloon and release it, so the clock never releases me. If you understand this and what it means, you'll understand me.

I count the minutes until I pick up my kids from school, go to the next meeting, take the casserole out of the oven.

I count the hours until I see my husband, put on my pajamas, or see a friend.

I count the days until a bill is due, a report is needed, or my volunteer work is complete.

I search for the hidden minutes when I can call the dry cleaner, take care of insurance paperwork, reply to a teacher, or schedule time with the veterinarian. It is difficult to explain that I love my life and live by the clock. Most people think that would equate misery, it does not. What it requires is focus and commitment.

I am capable of extreme focus and am frighteningly committed to providing my children a patterned existence with predictability. Child development research backs this strategy up and I've seen the positive impact it has on kids, so this is my M.O. My husband was in the military, so this life we've built works really well for all of us, it revolves around logistics...and time. We leave at the same time every morning, we eat dinner together, we grocery shop on Friday nights together, and we do chores on Saturdays--together.

Sometimes I wonder if this regularity and clock-oriented existence is partially related to living in an urban environment. Urban parents seem extremely tuned into their kids, as it tends to be more challenging to practice "free-range parenting" (which is a concept I love in spirit) when there could be a drive-by shooting at any time in any neighborhood. But whenever I say that in a mixed crowd, the other parents immediately shoot a look at me and say "No, it's that way everywhere." Okay. Maybe it's modern parenting. Who knows. I have no empirical data on it, either way, and I'm not interested in debate.

What I do know is that the clock over my head isn't always controlled by me--something that self-help experts cannot seem to embrace--this bugs me a little. I don't set the time my kids start school, I cannot change the fact that their schools do not bus in my neighborhood, and I won't ignore my kids or myself needing physical therapy or new glasses or a hair cut. The best part about being a grown-up is making my own life, the worst part is not always having a choice within that life. And no, I am not one of those people who claims "we always have a choice". Life is not that black and white. I  believe there are consequences to all we do--and choose not to do.

So the bouncing clock balloon keeps ticking and following me.

I have little time for me, our house repairs aren't finished, and my home business is on auto-pilot. I can do all that when I retire. For now,  I want to raise resilient, empathetic, and caring kids; enjoy my amazing marriage; save money for retirement; and nurture my career (for happiness and security). Some people get that, others won't. That's okay.

Tim gets it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

V is for Vecinos

If you've read my early blog posts, you know it was a rough start to our life in this bungalow. Bungalow Barbie dreamed up a few scenarios where she escaped from the NW side! (even consulted with a realtor! Shhhhh!).  And who in their right mind would not have had second thoughts? Major deferred maintenance (cockroaches, grease on the kitchen walls, falling ceiling pieces) no central AC, a foreign neighborhood, plaster walls (what is that!?!?), gang bangers, street noise, water in the basement...etc. etc. etc.

At the risk of seeming like Captain Obvious, it took many deep breaths to get through that first year. And once we got through that first year, we had more hurdles tossed our way...we lost our first huskie rescue, Zoe, to an unforeseen/unanticipated breed-specific condition; we were dragged into a frivolous lawsuit that has forever changed our family; and, with trepidation, we opened our home to a few people who needed a safe place to land and re-group.

But the story I tell today is not about the window replacements or the new roof/sidewalk/kitchen plumbing. It's not about Permaseal or our general contractor/new BFF.

The story I am compelled to share is one that leads us to the toughest decision of our marriage, thus far. Do we stay or do we go?

In the past 4+ years, we have rebuilt and "warmed" a home for two children who desperately needed a safe, welcoming, peaceful home-base. In that time we have learned the meaning of the word "neighbor" in ways that we've never experienced or imagined.
We've participated in a neighborhood watch that has driven out the gang bangers/dealers/drug houses and welcomed 2 new gyms and people roller blading...wth!?!!? Block parties, food passed over fences, all night pork roasts, church revivals...Vecinos...

This home has come to be the greatest new marriage team builder known to man! My husband and I will celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary in January, and I can honestly say that he and I are the best decision-making team I've ever known. Ever. We are best friends but more importantly, we share a vision and ideas that work. The kids see it, friends and family see it. It's a power like I've never known before. Together we have weathered more in 5 years than some people see in a lifetime.

Today, the home is far from complete, but it's loved--a symbol of love, commitment and safety. The kids love it, the dogs love it, the cat loves it.  It's been loved by friends, family, borders, neighbors, besties, etc. etc. The community we have built in the neighborhood feels natural to me, despite my own language not being the first language of the block and the ability to pass salt to your neighbor while they are in THEIR house eating dinner!  We celebrate, entertain, rest and laugh a lot in this home. I've even adapted to no central AC!

And now, the rub that we did not see coming.  Our oldest is 3 years from starting high school and our local high school will not cut it. We are not willing to risk interrupting her burgeoning brilliance yet we cannot afford private school. So, while we line up the stars for selective enrollment high school in Chicago, and pray a little, we consider relocating to a neighboring suburb. And to my own shock--I don't really want to move. Not yet.

Yes. I want a bigger yard. And I want more peace. And I want less crime. Of course. But if we leave, we give up our loving, protective neighbors. We give up our car pool mom-friends. We give up the businesses we've adopted and the haunts we frequent. And while, logically, I know all of these can be replaced, sentimentally, I do not want to leave them. Community is what's going wrong in so many parts of the world today, so I want mine. I want to keep it. I want to protect it.

What will happen now is a waiting game. Can we find a good high school situation in the city? I hope so. I really do. I can't believe I just said that...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The End of Innocence, Another Bitter Pill Life Lesson

Being jarred awake--or aware--is really a gift you know. So much better than not ever waking up or paying attention. I keep telling myself that--and to have gratitude for having a learning curve. I am hoping it makes me feel better. Or at least opens the door to a new normal...soon.

Three weeks ago, my bungalow, my bungalow dream, my home and my safety were violated. My rose colored glasses were pulled off my face so hard that I still feel the scratch marks today. Without my glasses, the glare of the world hurts my eyes and forces me to look deeply into the dark spots, not sure of what I will find.

We live in Cragin, a Chicago neighborhood that is on the Northwest side. Diverse, working-class, suffering from rising foreclosure rates and lots of paranoia from both the rise in anti-immigrant "chatter" as well as the cockroach-like spreading of gangs in the city. It exemplifies what is meant when locals describe the culture, crime and nuance of Chicago as "block by block". One block is neat with a tidy row of homes and the next is trashy with high lawns and roving Latin Kings. It's hard to know where to walk you dog sometimes, let alone where to let your kids ride their bikes.

Three weeks ago I was enjoying my neighbors company, gardening in my front flower bed. The sun was out, it was a warm, early evening. All the kids on the block were racing up and down the sidewalk on their bikes and scooters. The little girls, including mine, watched and made fun of the little boys--on cue. It was perfect.

The Chicago public elementary school at the corner has a playground and soccer field that are almost always in use. Kids, teens, adults and the ice cream man are there daily. I thought it was a nice feature of the area. A school, a safe zone.

That afternoon, I looked up and noticed large groups of kids leaving the playground at once, headed towards us. My eyes saw them, my brain began to tell me something was wrong...but not fast enough.

A teen boy crossed the street--my street--and turned away from all of us neighbors...who were watching him. He pulled out a gun and began firing at a van moving down the street towards the school. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

I remember turning to seeing the gangs scatter and disappear...and then looking for my kids. I dropped what I was holding and began running towards them. I was screaming "Get down! Get down!". It was all I could think of. If there was going to be a shoot-out, they needed to get down. Once I reached them, another neighbor and I were dragging them inside our brick homes. No one was hurt, physically.

Today, I can relive it and not cry. Today I write it out for the first time. I've let go of the shame of living somewhere "less than perfect". I am grateful. I have gratitude.

Since that Sunday afternoon, I've spent a LOT of time thinking, reflecting, researching, interviewing and talking. Talking to people, parents, police, community people, neighbors. I have started educating myself on the what and why of gangs, gang life and culture. I have come to understand that I cannot protect my children from everything. I need to educate them. Teach them to have compassion for what leads people to that kind of life BUT teach them how to avoid being a victim.

I mourned. Am mourning. I am mourning because I realize how different the world is than when my sister's and I were children. I mourn my innocence. My naivete. I mourn the constructed, safe, sanitized world I've built my career as a mother on, because it cannot be sustained. I mourn my capacity to see only the good in my surroundings and the people in my sight.

My mourning brings a new vision, a new era in my mothering career. A vision that helps me see why I have to keep talking to my kids, and keep them talking to me. Why they need their dad's in their lives, both their birth and their step dad. Why I have to be more neighborly and cautious--at the same time. I understand that I need to tell my neighbors with kids that if the kids beat their parent's home from school and no one is home, that they are welcome to play in my house or yard until someone can come get them. I understand that my children's childhood experience will be constructed differently than mine, they will have a new normal. I have to figure out how to construct it, as it is nothing like mine. We will all adapt and be as safe as possible. And on the way there, I will mourn the end of innocence.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Before & After: Part II--By the Numbers

4849 = the address of the Bungalow we bought last summer
1922 = the year our house was built
3 = the # of years we were told we had to save money for a new roof because the one on the house we made an offer was good for that long
250 = the amount of $ we paid said appraiser for his "expertise"
= the number of beers I required when I learned that our home owners insurance policy would be
CANCELED if we didn't replace our entire roof in less than 6 months
= the number of contractors we went through to find the one who would commit to the project and make it so

3 = the number of shingle layers found on top of our house (red, blue and green--lovely)
= the number of times I want to KICK the appraiser who told us we had 3 years on our old roof

It's finally finished! Our new roof. The downside is that our "emergency savings" was almost completely used up. The upside was that we HAD emergency savings. The other upside is that, supposedly, we have about 30 years until we need go thru this again. Here are some before and after pics! Enjoy!

Front of our Bungalow "Before"
The Front of our house, in the winter gray "After"

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Anthropomorphism of a Bungalow

I am "un-decorating" the Bungalow today. Taking down and packing away the holiday decor that has graced it's walls, floors, mantel and window sills for the past 6 weeks. As I do this, and sip my coffee, I reflect on why we decorate and adorn our homes, especially my new Bungalow.

My new home, my bungalow, has been a stranger in my life since we closed on it, late last summer. I didn't trust it, didn't feel at ease in it, had a hard time seeing how it was going to relate to me or serve my family.

I had "buyers" remorse for a while after moving into it. It could have been part of the moving process. Moving a family of 4 during the dog days of a humid Chicago summer is no picnic. Perhaps it was trying to assimilate into this new space while navigating a new/old job that was increasingly sucking the life out of me. And then there is was the challenge getting my children at ease in their new home and neighborhood while still learning to live in their "mom's house"/"dad's house" world. It all stung a little.

We painted, repaired, carpeted and hung curtains. We adjusted furniture, set up new living patterns and created livable space. We turned a frightening, tore up yard into a little urban oasis with a cedar swing set, flowers, grass and a tall, safe fence. But I was still floating, still suspicious. Nothing was easing my anxiety. Not the lovely neighbors who invited us over for dinner, not the welcome visit from the Alderman's office, not even the sound of children playing at the playground across the street.

So I wrapped the ornaments, deconstructed the train tracks under the tree and then popped out to the front stoop to retrieve the silly, snowman wreath when I turned to go back inside the house and for the first time, I saw it. I saw my homes' face. I saw my house looking at me. In the process of learning how to live in it, fixing house became my home.

I come from a family who celebrate holidays and life markers to fullest extent. I've even referred to my family as "militant" holidays supporters. So we decorate, cook special meals and take time to mark occasions, big and small. The past 6 weeks our home reflected our family photos, our memories in the form of handmade ornaments, our familiar patterns in the forms of meals cooking and candles lit. We hosted a party and repeated long traditions. And now I understand why.

These things are all part of a formula, a subtle yet powerful formula that transforms ordinary space into a very personal component of our lives. Our house, our 1922 Bungalow, came to life for me--finally. I see it now, and am not afraid anymore. My husband and I will make plans in it and for it. My children will seek safety and comfort within it. Our memories will grow and enrich it. I will forever know that during a very cold winter of 2010, our Bungalow became another member of our family. Our home.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Before & After Bitches: The Living & Dining Rooms

I know, I know. I am not supposed to hate anyone...but I hate the former owners of our bungalow. That's right--HATE.
What kind of person paints original crown molding with a paint that closely resembles baby diaper (filler) green?? What kind of person grinds chewing gum into a hard wood floor? What kind of person lets stain glass windows get so filthy that they end up looking forest green instead of lime???

Hate people. I mean, really?

When you rehab a home, or give it a "hug" as my husband Adam refers to what we are going to our bungalow, you have to address the years of neglect that your home suffered at the hands of it's previous owners. And, it becomes PERSONAL.

I suppose the argument could be made about privilege and resources and time and money but do you know what I say to that? POO POO! They sell bleach at the dollar store! Clean up and take care of your shit people!

So here we were, dismantling holiday decor in our living room and we thought this may be a good time to show you some "before" and "after" photos from our city bungalow! While you are reading this, we are deep into a new, major project which we will reveal next month! Enjoy and feedback is welcome!

(Next up: the basement and back sun room!)


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Secret Evil Anti-Feminist Plot



Our bungalow has a smallish kitchen. Smallish meaning the kitchen, for the purpose of actually preparing, cooking and storing food and related utensils, is a fine size. Why one might call it small compared to today's suburban "super kitchen" standards because when you're in my kitchen are only in my kitchen and there is nowhere to lounge while in the kitchen. That's because it's a kitchen. Not a den or a family room or a game room. It's just a kitchen.

Every time someone new comes to see the bungalow, they have ideas on what we can do to "improve it". That is fine. I welcome new ideas. But the one I tire of goes something like this:

Me: And here is the kitchen (make Vanna White-like arm motion)

Guest: Oh. This needs updating.

Me: Yes, it's on the list. The red counter top needs to go. I know.

Guest: No, I mean, if you blow this wall out and expand the kitchen into your back porch, you'd have a huge kitchen and it would be easier to serve people.

Me: But I don't want a huge kitchen.

Guest: But, wouldn't it be nice if you could open this up?

Here is where I cannot seem to make people understand that I don't want a huge kitchen where half of the room is sitting space and half of it is food preparation space. Why? Because it seems that everyone I know has that kitchen. They call it "open concept" kitchen. And why don't I want this? Because I AM SICK OF BEING IN A KITCHEN!

I think it's a secret evil plot to keep women in the kitchen without them noticing! I do. Here is how design conversations among home building and remodeling professionals goes (in my head):

Evil house designers: "Let's see, hmmmmm, let's make a kitchen BUT let's make it BIGGER so that everyone is in the kitchen all the time then, the woman never has a reason to leave the kitchen! We will call it something hip and progressive and cool. I know, "open concept"! Doesn't that sound inviting?"

So now, we have tons of houses with huge kitchens that I never seem to get out of. I go to my sister's house and where are we for the entire visit? The kitchen. I go to my mom's house, the same thing.

Personally, I want OUT OF THE KITCHEN. I want to prepare the food, clean up and leave the kitchen. Perhaps that comes from serving children who seem to be eating constantly. Or maybe it's a rebellion against my long Martha Stewart wanna-be phase. I don't know.

So my little kitchen is fine. Well, once we replace the red counter tops and grease stained cabinets (don't ask because I don't know how or why there is grease inside the cabinets), I will be content with the space. I don't want to blow a wall out. I don't want to turn my notty-pine back porch into a diner. A want to cook within, and then leave, my kitchen.