Summer’s wrapping up! Indeed, the kiddos had their first week of school (though more on that in the next post, I think, I’m always a bit behind with my posts), the academic year has started at NYU. I think it’s not quite so hot anymore, and I think the sprinklers are off at the playground now, and the apples are starting to show up.
But I wanted to say something about the sweetness of summer. We had a month where Cian and Ryah were both home, mid-August to mid-September. There was of course the occasional adventure over the summer, as I’ve already described, and Kate and Ryah had many more, being, I think, considerably less tired, and perhaps constitutionally more adventurous, than me. But my favourite part of summer has never been adventures, and they weren’t this summer either. They were my and Cian’s sleepy afternoons and endless story reading together (we are currently into a set of books by Julia Donaldson my parents sent us, beautiful, beautiful! Also Cian is into 5-minute stories about the Avengers… Less beautiful.) Vanilla ice cream and avocado milkshakes in our blender, trying to fatten me up as much as possible. My Saturday mornings, shuffling around in my pajamas, listening to Cian natter on about whatever latest Lego truck he is making (actually, his activities with cars and trucks can take a dark turn sometimes. He has a habit of trying to use things in novel ways, which I try not to interfere with, because children! Creativity! Play! Innovation! This photo is something he made with a truck and pieces of an electric mixer. When I asked him what it was, he said it was “a firefighter trapped inside a torched police car.” A torched police car. I don’t even know where he learned the word ‘torched’ or how he’s so blasé about a car being torched and someone being trapped inside it. Three-year-olds are creepy).
Summer Saturday mornings! Kate and Ryah and Cian and I would often end up in the park just down the street. Kate would bring the kids and Cocoa to the dog run (I have no desire in my life to spend any waking moment of my day in a dog run. But Cian marches out with Kate and Ry, holding on to Cocoa’s leash, and they all seem to have a lovely time). I’ll remember, later, hoisting Cian over a fence to Kate in the park so I could wander to a café and get a coffee and cookie or something. I’d return armed with snacks, Kate and I would catch up on gossip from the week and the kids ran around on the playground and in the sprinklers.
Farm share pick up is on Saturdays too, on the walk back from the park, in a gorgeous little community garden almost right next to our house. Eggs and a handful of veggies and perhaps peaches, my favourite part. Summer sweetness! One weekend there was a block party on our street. Music, people playing games, and families on the street cooking delicious food for anyone who wanted something to eat. Also, a bouncy house. I took the kids to the bouncy house. For me, the entire experience was horrific. I stood next to the bouncy house and watched them, far smaller than any of the other children, leap around in a frenzy, laughing hysterically, other kids’ elbows in their faces and knees in their stomachs. “Watch out for the little ones! WATCH OUT! WATCH OUT!” The bouncy house manager guy thundered at them, to no avail. To me it is a miracle that they came out of this bouncy house mostly unscathed and without having vomited. I wanted to vomit just watching. I want to vomit right now thinking about it. But they loved it.
What else? We had visitors! My brother Nabil was here earlier in the summer (and coming back next week!) He and I cooked mediocre curry, watched scary movies while Cian watched Octonauts, and took Cian to the Museum of Natural History and oohed and aahed over dinosaur skeletons. Kate’s mom was here for about ten days (I still feel bad that she had to experience our apartment flooding, but loved how she rolled with the flow with us on that). My bestie from college, Aylin, snagged a cross-country flight deal and was just magically here last weekend, healing half the angst of a lonely pandemic in one three-day trip.
In a way, this is all so very mundane, isn’t it? I’m telling you about how I picked up some eggs.
A beach camping trip to Fire Island was planned for Kate’s birthday (primarily by Emily, one of Kate’s closest friends for many many years and a person who can only accurately be described as a guardian angel of all of our lives). I was of two minds about going along. I’m tired all the time these days and it seemed easier to stay in bed with a book for the weekend. But Kate and Emily were so encouraging! They said, come along! They said, it will be so stress-free! You’ll sit on the beach all day and do nothing! It will be delightful! There will be no stress! It will be so relaxing! Yes, these are some of the things they said, so I allowed myself to be convinced.
And I love, love, love the beach, and Cian has been enamored with the idea of camping for a long time (mainly because he found our headlamps and thinks they are the best thing to exist on the face of the planet). And he loves the beach too, and it all did ultimately sound pretty stress free, even though that meant Emily and Kate would be doing a lot of planning and lugging and packing and driving. I figured my job would be to hold Cian’s and Ryah’s hands, and be fashionable in a beachy hat and sunglasses.
And that’s what happened, on the first day! Oh, there were minor mishaps, as is expected. We ended up getting on a ferry that dropped us off on the island a bit further from the campsite than we had planned, so there was more walking (and lugging, and sweating, and herding children and a dog) than we had expected. Turns out there was a lot of sun and a lot of bugs, which meant everyone was constantly smearing weird combinations of bug spray and sunscreen on themselves and trying to find shade.
But it was all lovely, that first night and day. I’d never been to Fire Island before, and there’s something about the ocean that puts my entire body at ease, and it was lovely to be away from the house for awhile. Oh, it was so beautiful. A winding, leafy boardwalk led all the campsites to the beach. The beach was clean and long and the waves were perfect. Cian was euphoric on the beach (though it took four grown-ups to encourage him to go in the water. Of course, once he was in the water, he refused to come out). Emily definitely has super powers too, and had all these amazing outdoor meals planned for us, so for instance, we’re all happily smearing butter and blueberries and maple syrup on pancakes in the morning (“I want pancakes and maple syrupppp” Cian shouted in hysterical delight when he saw this). But oooh! People kept asking for trouble. Folks kept making jokey comments about various things being good content for blog posts. Tim said that morning, “Come on, breeze! I wish there was more of a breeze.” Kate REALLY asked for trouble. Arguably, everything that happened next was her fault really. “I love sleeping with the sound of rain on the tent,” she said, with altogether too much cheer, when we saw that the forecast for the evening was ‘light rain.’ “It’s great sleeping with rain on the tent. I love the sound of rain on the tent. I love rain on the tent.” Yes, these are some of the things she said (Thanks, Kate).
SO, after a delightful day, and a pleasant, cooling, brief evening rain, that we thought was our expected ‘light rain,’ we were all safe and sound in our respective tents (which were all pretty filthy and sandy, but I mean it was beach camping so that was expected) and Cian is completely exhausted from a full, happy day on the beach and sound asleep, cheeks and nose red with sunburn, sand in his hair.
The storm started at maybe 2.30 am, maybe 3, and it woke me up. For what felt like a long time, I didn’t panic. I just made observations to myself. “Oh wow, that’s a lot of wind, this tent is flapping around” and “My goodness, this rain is really pouring down” and “By golly, Cian is sleeping through all this, he really was tired,” and “Uh-oh, I need to pee.” But then the storm got more and more intense. The rain! The likes of which I’ve only seen in monsoon season in Bangladesh. The lightning and thunder, flashing and crashing above my head! The winds, like a monarch gone mad! (OK I took that line from a pretty bad, delightfully satisfying TV show about FBI agents/terrorists I’ve been watching to recover from all our recent adventures). I tried to science my way into explaining to myself how everything was fine, like one of the main character kids in Abbu’s books would do. “Well, we’re IN the tent, so the tent won’t just fly off our heads. There’s no large trees, so nothing is going to fall on us. There are however taller things than the tent, so we probably won’t get struck by lightning.” The science failed me, terror took over, I FREAKED OUT, opened the window of my tent, got sprayed with a face full of rain water, and WAILED for Duja and Joey, whose tents were closest to mine (I was somehow sure they wouldn’t respond. I had convinced myself it was me, Cian, and the storm in the world that night. But they were both like, “Yeah?” and even just hearing their voices was the most reassuring thing in the world that night).
When they realized I was FREAKING OUT, they both started sending me reassuring texts. Duja offered to come to my tent, but she had the dog with her, and as terrified as I was of being alone in a tent with Cian in a massive freak thunderstorm, I’d take that over a dog in my tent any day. So, no. But Joey ran through the rain and into my and Cian’s tent. JOEY SAVED ME THAT NIGHT (Two things in relation to Joey saving me: 1) I’ve said it so many times that the other day Cian asked me, “Is Uncle Joey an ambulance?” 2) I’ve heard that Joey’s mom is a reader of this blog, so, though I’ve never met you, hi! And thank you for your wonderful son!) He sat with me, held my hand, said things about how it would soon be over, and even came up with some intriguing gossip from past lives to distract me.
Of course, as all this sitting and hand-holding was happening, the campsite started to flood. For a while I had this vague idea that we’d be dry because we were in the tent and the tent was miraculously good at keeping the rain off our heads, but the WHOLE CAMPSITE FLOODED. And the entire tent filled with water. And I watched as the water rose around us, and the mattress Cian was sleeping on got more and more wet, water creeping towards his head, and Joey and I made a few attempts to pull our legs in or something, but ultimately you’re just sitting in a flood and there’s no saving anything and why even try. Cian woke up at the point where the mattress was soaked through and perhaps floating. He tried to stand up and there was so much water he couldn’t. Now, a few people have asked me if he was scared, so to put their minds at ease: Cian barely noticed the storm or the flood and was delighted that Joey was there in the tent and also had a flashlight on his head. All he wanted to do was put on his own flashlight too and discuss at great length why his and Joey’s flashlights both had red lights and normal lights. So, that conversation helped pass the time a bit, as the storm continued to come down around us. Oh my god, I was terrified! I’ve never been outside in weather like that. Actually, to be fair, I have camped in torrential downpours before, but something about having a child I’m responsible for protecting just injected this completely different level of nervousness. But then, at some point the sun started to rise, and I heard Emily laughing somewhere out in the world, and I knew we had made it (though, at some point Emily was doing the rounds on everyone’s tents to check on everyone and I was like “Emily?” and she was like “Yeah?” and I was like, “KATE KNOWS WE’RE GOING HOME NOW RIGHT?!”)
The sun rose, we came out of our tents, and our campsite was a lake! Kate, Ryah, Emily, and Tim were in a massive three-bedroom tent, and the thing had FALLEN IN! But everyone was cheery, and we just started a long, messy, wet process of getting our stuff out of the flood and packed up to go. Truly, this was the best possible group to be caught in a freak thunderstorm and have a flooded campsite in; nobody was grumpy about it, or if they were, they didn’t let it show. Everyone was laughing and helping one another out. I was so impressed with everyone, and I feel like I learnt something profound about how to approach a disaster with grace. Just put your chin up and do what needs to happen next. I suppose this was possible because we’d all come through pretty unscathed. For me the biggest problem – the only real problem – was being cold. There was honestly very little dry clothing for anyone at that point, and the weather was different from the day before – it was still dripping, and cloudy, and really quite breezy (thanks Tim) so there was no warming up or drying off going on. For awhile we wrapped the kids in an emergency rescue blanket from Kate’s first aid kit, but they were overall too delighted by the new lake (Ryah was stoked to have a way to use her unicorn-shaped floatie) to stay still for long. Cian did want to snuggle on my nap for warmth and eat graham crackers for awhile, but once I managed to find a couple half-dry t-shirts to layer on him, he was great too.
We were supposed to stay another night, but with not a single thing dry, and no hope of the weather letting you dry it…well, we went home. And did a lot of laundry (well, Kate did our household’s laundry). And put things in the backyard to dry. And had glorious showers, and thought we were done with floods for awhile.
Of course, a few days later Hurricane Ida hit. This time what happened to us was my fault. Like a total idiot, as it was raining, I texted our camping group thread, “Storms are so weird and boring when you’re not outside in them. Miss this crew 😘” About three minutes after I sent this to the thread, water burst through the door to the yard and into Kate’s bedroom, and flooded almost the entirety of the first floor.
Oh, that flood’s a story for another time. Or maybe not. Even though the second flood’s aftermath was significantly more difficult to deal with than the camping storm, and easily equally as dramatic, I’m averse to writing anything about it because of what the city faced in that storm. It feels wrong.
So I’ll wrap up on a positive note: with a huge shout-out to the awesome beach camping crew: The tiny adventurers Cian and Ryah, Cocoa (the dog), Kate, Tim, Duja, and most of all, Emily (who is a planning QUEEN and the guardian angel of my heart) and Joey (who, indeed, was an ambulance that night). As Cian has been asking periodically since we returned from camping, “When are we going back to the campsite?”
To be honest, I’m shocked that more people with kids don’t just move in with friends who have kids. It is so much easier to have a toddler when there’s another mom with a toddler right nearby. I am now able to toss my 3-year-old in the general direction of Kate’s 3-year-old and wander away. This is just how people used to do children, isn’t it, historically. And how they still do children, all around the world?! Lots of grown-ups and lots of kids all around each other. It’s some very small number of years I suppose, on the grand scale of things, where we sort of broke society over here and everyone became convinced that a family was going to be a husband, a wife, and their kids, and they just have to handle it on their own in all its misery. I think I’m meant to put up a shiny photo on Instagram, of beautiful me, my handsome husband, and my adorable child, where all of us are smiling and somehow not looking exhausted or like we all want to kill each other. I am impressed, and yes, slightly skeptical of those of you for whom this has worked, and I think have always known it was never going to work for me. My parents are also parents to Cian; I don’t know how I would have done my dissertation, or indeed, made it through his first several months of life, without them. My brother has shown up for extended periods when I’ve been on shaky ground. My Chobi Aysha’s actual blood is in Cian’s body because he needed a transfusion when he was in the NICU (and she was at the hospital when I gave birth)! And now I live with Kate. It was never going to work with just me and handsome husband and adorable child. I shudder to even think about it.
And yes, there are major tradeoffs to what Kate and I have done. There are things that are harder now that we are all living in the same house, things we had to give up. But guess what! When you have kids, there is a lot you have to give up! That’s just what happens! And a lot of it is never OK! I certainly do not regret having my son. So much do I not regret it that I even want another little one. But I have never made peace with having lost my solitude, my being alone in the world. That never became all right. It still isn’t all right. I’m just wading through life with some things that will never be all right. Aren’t we all?
My apologies, I digress. So, how does this all work?
There are a few things that are really important to our set up. One is that our house is a duplex – two floors. Each floor has two bedrooms and a bathroom. The top floor has the kitchen and the bottom floor has the living room. Kate has the bottom floor bedrooms and I have the top floor ones. Two floors means most of the time we leave each other alone, with Kate downstairs and me upstairs, Kate coming up if she needs to cook and me going down if I need to lounge on the couch, or if we want to do a work meeting together or chit chat. The separation is crucial because we are working from home, and because the kids need time apart too and having spaces where they can be away from each other has turned out to be important. It is also important because I’m happiest when I can kind of just be alone in my room all the time not talking to anyone. Kate gets this, so it works out. She’ll be in the kitchen sometimes and I’ll be shuffling around in my room saying nothing to anybody and nobody cares.
The kids go up and down a lot more than we do. Ryah duly brings up packages that arrive for me or Steven downstairs or whatever of Cian’s clothes ended up in her laundry (she also sometimes comes up to scope out if there’s a snack, since kitchen is up here). Cian stands at the top of the stairs and wails “Ryaaaaaah”, then goes thumping down the stairs on his butt to find her.
Oh, there’s negotiations even with two floors. Cian goes to bed much later and wakes up much later than Ryah (though not for long – they start 3k in a couple weeks). The first few days of living together, they hadn’t gotten over the excitement of it, and Ryah came charging up the stairs to find Cian and stormed into our bedroom where we were all totally asleep. Most of these little things have been figured out by now (they’ve also calmed down and accept that they now live in the same house). Sometimes they get in trouble and are sternly sent to separate floors. Like, a couple days ago Kate found them colouring on Ryah’s door. I am guessing this was Cian’s idea. Kate put an end to this activity. This caused a lot of sorrow all around. Cian had to come upstairs. He put his head on my lap and said plaintively, “I only want to colour where I’m not allowed to, and I don’t know why.” Ryah was defiant. She was not happy about having to give up the crayons. However, she was also amicable later about helping clean it off, so there’s that.
The other vital thing about our house is the backyard. The backyard! A backyard is like free child care for a 3-year-old! We are so very lucky to have a backyard. They just mess around in the dirt for like, hours. I can see them from my second-floor window, and Kate can usually go out to them if there’s ever a need. They are often dumped in a bath together after backyard playing, because they’re almost always barefoot and somehow their games tend to involve dumping dirt in each other’s hair. For us grown-ups, our backyard is perfect for BBQs, outdoor parties which are of course all the thing with COVID, and for staring up at the leaves on a Saturday for a bit of green in the middle of city life.
OK. That’s our scene, a nice little mundane domestic post about our house and every day. That’s nice! For the one about how we went on a beach camping adventure for Kate’s birthday, got caught in an insane thunderstorm and got completely flooded and Ryah and Cian floated away (kind of) on a unicorn-shaped floatie, you’ll have to wait until next time.
A few months ago, Kate and I decided to join forces, and she and her daughter Ryah and me and my son Cian all moved into a duplex in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn together. We are having enough adventures, and people ask us enough questions, that I thought it might be fun to share some of our stories and thinking as we figure out life in this very strange time for the world. I think I am writing this blog as a gesture of affection to my family and friends (to those who were with me on my previous blog about starting Kaan Pete Roi, and are now coming back – almost ten years later! – thank you and welcome back!) The pandemic took a lot from us, and as if that were not enough, I am watching in a sort of shocked horror as the world is starting to burn around us, everywhere we look. It all feels terrible and uncertain. Sometimes, I think that the world will not survive for the next generation, and I feel very strange that we decided to keep making a next generation anyway.
And yet…what else could we have done?! We are here! We have our beautiful children, and we are here with them, and with each other, looking out. There is still glee, dirt smeared in toddler hair, scoops of ice cream, barbequed burgers, sprinklers at the playground. We are here, and there is a lot of joy (and yes, a reasonable measure of exhaustion). So, here we go! I wanted to share some of it. Welcome to our house.
My main cast of characters!
Kate. Kate is my friend, the sister I got to choose, and my fellow Mama bear. She’s also a Research Scientist at Global Ties for Children at NYU, which I also am. I tell people sometimes that it seemed like a good general life rule to see what Kate was doing and kinda just try to do the same thing.
Kate is one of the smartest people I know and my go to for many, many, many things. My wedding took place in the backyard of her previous house. I have asked her more about statistics than anybody should ask probably ask anybody. She whips up a delicious cheesy vegetable pasta and green juice with lots of ginger and texts me from downstairs to remind me to eat it. She has a power drill that will drill into brick if she wants it to, a phenomenon I marveled at as she drilled two pot-hanging devices into a brick wall in our house. She’s kind of a bully, the very best kind, one that turned her bullying tendencies into wonderful, aggressive kindness. We talk about our research and our kids in the same paragraphs, over the same meals. Sometimes I think she’s crazy, and the best thing about our relationship is I can always tell her when I think it. She has figured out almost everything that is making our house work. Including, for instance, getting a picnic table for our backyard and painting it purple.
Me. Hi! I think most of you reading this know me already! In no particular order, I’m Mummy to Cian, Director of Kaan Pete Roi Emotional Support and Suicide Prevention Line, Research Scientist at Global TIES, incredibly proud daughter and sister and wife. There are a few other things I’d still like to be but haven’t quite figured out yet, but stay tuned, I’m just getting started.
Ryah. Kate’s 3-year-old daughter. Ryah is smart, spunky, and rambunctious. She knows what she wants and is ready to get it. She climbs, runs, and falls better than any 3-year-old I have ever seen. Actually, better than most people I’ve seen. Her sense of fashion is impeccable, her hair is amazing, and her smile fills up my heart. Her staying power is incredible. Once that kid digs her heels in, they’re staying in. Can’t wait to see what this looks like when she’s 17, good luck Kate, but it’s interesting enough at 3. She’s big, she’s strong, and you want her on your side (once, we were all at a playground together and some random boy didn’t want to share his toy car with Cian and, like, she didn’t exactly throw the sand IN his face, but she definitely didn’t not throw it in his face). Ryah sticks her hands fearlessly in the finger paint, and it ends up all over her body. Oh and have I mentioned she likes food? She likes food. Lots of food. All kinds of food. Kid sucks on limes, literally.
Cian (pronounce “key-an”). My 3-year-old son. He was supposed to come into the world a month later than Ryah and decided he was going to come a month earlier instead. Cian’s prematurity was a wild ride for me, one I’ll probably write about on here at some point. My little guy is smart, sweet, and sensitive. He’s the most eloquent three-year old I have met, if I am allowed to toot my own kid’s horn, which I am. His vocabulary is stellar, his pronunciation (in English, and when he chooses it, Bangla) is perfect, and his smile fills up my heart. He has a very impressive attention span. Since he was the tiniest of tinies, he would sit through long books with complicated stories, and now he asks thoughtful, intelligent questions about the stories we read, which never ceases to amaze me. He tries to hide behind me if a book is scary, and has the sweetest nature ever, which surprises me sometimes, since both his father and I are often huge grumps. He also has a particular enthusiasm for attempting to use things in ways they are not supposed to be used, and to interpret the word ‘No’ as ‘Try again when no one is looking.’ Cian considers finger paint for a moment, then prefers to experimentally dip a stick in it, then may or may not decide to use that stick to paint. Food, not so much, but Cian is a true Bangali baccha. He wants his bhaat, mach, and bhuna goru mangsho. “Give it to me makhay dibe.”
That’s us! There are more family members, tied to us by marriage, or blood, or choice. They will appear often, and we would be lost without them. But this story here is going to be mostly about the four of us. Well, maybe five, we shall see. But more on #5 later. I hope you enjoy our stories.