Friday, January 21, 2011

Tales of an Apartment Dweller, Part I: The Ramble

I never thought I would have so many apartments under my belt, let alone a few comically small ones. I had always wanted to live in a big city, sure, but a teenager hardly thinks about square footage. My first two apartments in the Pennsylvania mountain town of Lock Haven were fairly spacious, especially the second one. It was across from a KFC and above a head shop (for the uninitiated, that's a store where they sell things with which to ostensibly smoke tobacco and other hippie accoutrement such as Bob Marley tapestries and hackey sacks).  So, full of weird smells, but amply sized.  The first one lacked a dining room, but as it was just me, the bar in the kitchen did quite nicely for dinner, even with guests.  The only real problem in my first apartment was the raging theological debates between my Lebanese, Muslim landlord and his American, faintly evangelical, wife, which I could hear through either the very thin walls or the oil heat registers. (They had the majority of the house; I had one third of the ground floor).  I'll go out on a limb and say a husband and wife should probably be on the same page, theologically speaking.  I digress.

We had an 18-month stint in a tiny apartment in Rochester.  700 very oddly shaped square feet, with a gigantic bathroom and a monster of a refrigerator.  We had to rearrange if we wanted to have more than two people sitting at the table.  Looking back, we did a crap job of tiny apartment management at that place.  For one thing, getting a dog - even a small dog, maybe especially a small dog, because they tend to be more energetic - definitely breaks some small apartment and life rules.  Then we moved to the Gigantor of apartments just a block away.  Pardon me while I swoon in remembrance.  *Sigh*  1500 square feet.  Gloriously weathered wooden floors.  14-foot ceilings.  Two storage lofts.  We bought big furniture, got a table that went to 90" long, and the Husband constructed some "rustic" bookshelves to go along one wall.  Last year we had a 13-foot Yule tree.  My swooning, unfortunately, is interrupted by the memories of paper-thin walls and jackass neighbors who ignored the no-smoking policy in many ways, the domestic disturbances, having to hear Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea being sung along to time after time, having to hear far more intimate activity than I wanted to... so many irritants.

And then.  Wham!  The Williamses move to Georgetown.  If you are unfamiliar with the Georgetown neighborhood of our nation's capital (in our case Georgetown/Burleith, but that's splitting hairs), it is charming, walkable, full of luxury SUV-driving twits, renting yuppies (that's us) and students (also us), but most of all, old, with rowhouses galore.  We live in a Georgetown special feature, the English basement.  What it is:  most rowhouses here have 3 stories.  The first is half-below street level, the second half-above, and the third, of course, just on top of the second.  Our front door is down half a flight of normal stairs, has a full-sized window and door out front (a bit of a rarity), and then the back (our bedroom) opens directly onto a nice fenced-in patio/garden area that is about as long as the apartment itself.  Other English basements have itty-bitty corkscrew steps going down; I don't know how people even move their stuff in.  The insides are largely the same, although, again, I think our two bedrooms and 1.5 (more like 1.25) bath may be somewhat rare.

But oh, how tiny it is.  I remember reading a comment (joking) about standing in a living room of a Georgetown house and being able to touch both sides of the front room at the same time.  It's not far off.  I would say the place is, at most, 1000 square feet.  Maybe less, and the ceilings are pretty short.  That's a living room, 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining nook, and 1.5 bathrooms in 1000 square feet.  I can plug the vacuum into an outlet in the front room and go all the way back to our bedroom at the other end.  And... it's okay.

So that's where we live - next up is how we live. We've gotten pretty creative in order to make our existence in this wee place more of a joy than a chore.

Ha!  Was I ever off on the square footage... turns out it was just over 600.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Le Sigh

I have the first post in a two-part series all ready to go.  It's about dealing with a tiny apartment.  It was fun to write and I enjoyed my little memory trip through my previous apartments.

But I feel it would be dishonest to not acknowledge that I am something of a mess right now.  Work has been rotten for the past month (that's right, from before the holidays and straight through until now).  The Bee is at a stage where she wants to tell us things but can't talk, and no amount of signing is going to completely relieve that.  There is also the fact that sometimes when we do know exactly what she wants, we have to tell her no.  No, we can't stand in the windowsill for half an hour.  No, we can't do nothing but watch videos of you.  No, you can't stand up on top of the changing table.  I try as much as possible to create an environment where I get to say "yes" more than "no," but unfortunately the world is full of things a toddler wants to do and can't, whether due to safety or ability reasons.  For the past few days there has been a lot of whining, and some crying, which is extremely stressful.  She has also been taking one nap a day because of what an ordeal helping her to sleep for two naps a day can be.  Plus, she will sometimes wake up possibly in a mood more foul than when she went to sleep.  We're adjusting to that, and between 3:00PM and 5:00PM she isn't the most pleasant of companions.


It's getting better, though.  The big audit by a certain pseudo-Federal mortgage agency will be over today - and hey, what's the worst that happens, I get fired and collect unemployment?  (I'm not saying I've done anything to deserve being fired.  I actually do my job pretty well, but I know that sometimes someone has to be blamed.)  The Bee has actually played by herself for decent stretches yesterday and today.  ("By herself" means on the other side of the gate while I work at the computer.)  She slept wonderfully last night, from about 7:30 until I went to bed at 11:00 (she only woke up then because I got into bed and dislodged her from her diagonal sprawl).  Little by little I am getting back to normal.

The real problem is that I need to find another job, where the stress level is a little bit more appropriate to the pay scale (currently, the stress level is much higher than is warranted by my meager earnings).  I am looking.  I do not, will not, leave the Bee (except with her father).  We have no family here and I cannot imagine leaving her with a stranger at this point.  I have long-term plans that are satisfying - going to get my MLS (Master's Degree in Library Science, unsure of the concentration), being crafty, having more kids - but this part right now is tough.

I need to sit down and work on achievable, short- and long-term action points that will Make It Better.  For now, though - I've got a clean apartment and a play date tomorrow, a sleeping baby who ran around naked before bath time much to the amusement of The Husband and myself, some chilled sake and a waiting Kindle, and that makes me happy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Feel You

Welcome to the January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Learning from children

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared the many lessons their children have taught them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I'll say it:  I have spent most of my life with a less than fully developed sense of empathy.  This has resulted in me being - at my worst - morally inflexible, unforgiving, and prone to write off others' problems as being their own fault.  Things that didn't affect me - well, they really didn't affect me.

The Bee has changed that.  She has taught me empathy.  I think it's wonderful and terrible at the same time.  The first time she cried, my brain started racing all by itself:  is she hungry-cold-hot-wet-poopy-lonely-gassy?  Without much conscious decision, I would pick her up and try to ascertain the source of her unhappiness.  Sometimes holding her was enough, sometimes it was another culprit or it was just her being a crier.  Regardless, those wails made me physically feel her pain.  There is a chemical component to this (which can be affected by method of delivery).  It's hard-wired empathy that doesn't activate until you have a baby.  Now?  I still try my darnedest to make her stop crying, and I really can't stand hearing other babies cry either.  I want to fix it.  Whatever it may be.

At some point, I realized that this empathetic response was spreading into other areas and relationships in my life.  I was constantly playing devil's advocate by examining what factors could have caused a person to do what they had done.  I was responding better and more genuinely to other people's grief (and their joy!). Sometimes it still takes some effort, but more often than not it's nearly as automatic as my feeling for the Bee. 

Why is this important?  Why do I feel like this could be a world-changing phenomenon?  Why does this study about babying and bullying make so much sense?  Because you can't be cruel to someone if you feel their pain.  I think our general lack of empathy can be contributed in no small part to the unnatural way in which we've segregated ourselves into groups based on age and whether or not we have children.  We have decided that children should be neither seen nor heard, and it is no surprise that bullying has skyrocketed.  It's easy to push someone around when you can view them as a non-person without feelings.  It's also harder to do something simple like pat someone's arm or give them a hug after a hard day when you can't quite imagine how they are feeling.

It's not just school-scale bullying that results from a lack of empathy.  It's racism.  Homophobia.  Being frightened of someone with AIDS and telling yourself they probably got it from drugs or promiscuity.  Dismissing someone with a different - or no - faith.  All because they are a non-entity, pure other.  Once you acknowledge that everyone, no matter what, deserves your full consideration, life gets so much more complicated, but ultimately much better.

So, thank you, Bee.  I hope I can teach you empathy half as well as you have taught it to me.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 11 with all the carnival links.)