Are you a hoe?

We are homeowners. If you aren’t a homeowner, I will let your mind at ease. You don’t need to be a homeowner. If you are currently living in a swanky rental where someone else takes out your trash, replaces broken things, and worries about insurance and other random things, you are doing a-okay. I never really understood the economic incentive of homeownership– and truthfully I’m not sure I do now– but sometimes you crunch some numbers and you’re feeling all American-dreamy and POOF! you end up with a home that’s all your own.

Don’t mistake my honesty for dissatisfaction; I’m having a gangbusters time owning a home. (It’s a condo. I don’t want to lie to you.) But I know that there is not always a reason to own. In all fairness, we bought a new conversion condo that was almost as turnkey as they come. There are some #firstworldproblems, like I don’t like the blond wood of the bannister and the cherrywood of the cabinets aren’t what I would have picked out myself, but whatever. Cry a fucking river, Caroline.

But when you’ve lived in apartment rentals– especially in the city– for almost 15 years, there are things about homeownership that can be a real beast. Never mind taking out the trash myself and sorting my own recycling, I’m getting pretty good at that, and I’m even ramping up to changing my own lightbulbs and remembering to lock my own front door, but as the summer approaches, things begin to emerge. Homeowner things. Like tiny toothed monsters hiding in the shadows.

We did not want a yard. In some ways, it made us the perfect buyers. Yard? No thank you. I hear yard and I am tormented by the years I spent slaving as my mother’s stand in Indonesian factory worker, her personal weeder and earth whisperer. Saturday mornings spent hunched uncomfortably in a dirt bed riddled with dog shit, praying to every known deity that I wouldn’t find an earthworm or beetle of some kind. Because then I would die. And while I understand the desire for a green space to… do whatever you do on it… I’d rather a nice slab with a patio table and some twinkle lights. As for the child, he’s fine. He has a park, a room of toys, colors, tables, and whole city. He’ll live without a yard.

But we didn’t get away totally scot free. There’s a patch of earth. It’s about 3×2 feet on the side of the driveway. My initial thought was that we should buy some nice shiny rocks and fill it up. I was ignored. There was real enthusiasm for planting, which I was not UNenthusiastic about, but I was a little indifferent. When the snow melted, it revealed what I thought was a bunch of dead shit. Turns out, they were something called “annuals” and they weren’t actually dead, just holding out. If I ever look like that while I’m “holding out,” just take me out.

We had a Very Official meeting of our condo association. (Me, Corey, the downstairs neighbor, some cheese, two bottles of rose, and Author running up and down the hall.) We decided to get ready for summer by hiring some students to clean and paint the patio furniture and “prep the bed” for some planting. We made a list of items we’d need to pick up:

• Rustoleum Primer

• Rustoleum Black Enamel Paint

• Phosphoric Acid Prep and Etch

• Rake

• Hoe

• Shovel

• Wire Brushes

• Hose

• Hose mount

• Broom

• Hose Nozzle

• Compost Soil

• Mulch

I think that was everything, all of which would be available at Home Depot. I volunteered to go get the stuff during the week so that the students could hit the ground running on Saturday.

What should have been a quick trip to the hardware store quickly spiraled into a hot spot of self actualization and doubt. Do you have any idea how many different kinds of hoses there are? How many lengths, styles, colors, and types? Do you want a rubber hose or a vinyl hose? Do you want it to coil or spiral? Green or black? Expandable standard? Will you be using it to trickle beds or spray flowers? I DONT HAVE ANY IDEA. At this point I hadn’t even made it to the Home Depot. I was at the Target. I asked a couple who was passing by if they had any knowledge of hoses, to which the man, who had thick tattoos all around his neck and upper chest, responded, “They spray water. What’s there to know?” I explained that I was buying my first hose and he looked at me incredulously. I explained that he might be surprised how little use one has for a garden hose in downtown Boston and he looked at me like I’d no sense at all. He pointed at a plain green hose about 30 feet long. “Just get that one.” He started to walk off, but I knew I needed him to direct me to the correct nozzle. “Are the nozzles universal? Like can I use any one with any hose?” This time his wife/girlfriend responded. “What are you doing with the hose.” I wasn’t trying to be an asshole, but it just came out. “Getting water out of it.” She explained that there were different settings for different kinds of watering and I should be sure I was getting the right settings. After a somewhat exhausting back and forth, I realized that the most expensive nozzle in all the land was only $9. “Oh. Well this is dumb. I’ll just buy a few.”

What she heard was, “I’m an elitist hose whore who thinks money grows on trees and will simply surround myself with solid gold nozzles and scoff at other, nozzleless persons.”

I made it home with a hose and a nozzle. So about a 10th of my list. I wasn’t deterred. The problem was Target. Not me.

The rest of the items I knew wouldn’t give me a problem. Couple of cans of spray paint, bag of dirt, rake. I ran to the Home Depot to pick up the items after dinner.

Now look. I am not suggesting that the employees of the Home Depot are not helpful, as in, they desire to help you. But I can read labels just like the next guy. What I actually need is some expertise. Some knowledge that goes beyond what the hapless copywriter was able to get on the label. (Believe me, as a copywriter I know the drill.) When I suddenly realize that compost and soil are not interchangeable, and that there’s been a lot of fucking around with dirt since I last bought a bag of it, I need someone with some real information. There was no one. I wasn’t about to go home without dirt and try to explain that with all my brains I was actually dumber than dirt, so I stood in the nursery section for a solid 45 minutes reading bags. I learned nothing. I would have to just pick.

When I finally made my way to the gardening utensils section, most of my smugness had faded. I was glad to be able to grab the last few things and go on my way, but of course that didn’t happen. Because something happened to hoes since 1997 and it turns out I can’t pick one out of a line up. Hoes have changed. Hoes are in a whole new league.

The part that still makes me laugh is how I allowed myself to become convinced that I was being punked. Even though the display said “gardening hoe” and I was holding a thing with a “gardening hoe” label, I refused to believe that it was actually a hoe. Why did it look like that? And because I don’t actually know what a hoe is used for, I couldn’t accurately decide whether this nouveau hoe would work for my needs. My phone battery was getting too low for an extensive research effort so I did what I do best, gave up.

Hoeless and pushing around a bag of dirt, I finally found the spray paint. (The expert at Home Depot told me it was “halfway down aisle four.” What she meant to say was “it’s all the way down at the end of aisle four. Like the very end. Before you hit the bathtubs.”) I may have made an involuntary whimpering sound when I looked up to find 3790032 different kinds of RustOleum. I know that I said, “you’ve got to be shitting me” out loud. My hoe problems were the least of it. There was no way I was going to be able to figure out what kind of paint to get. And how much did I need? I deferred to the friendly Home Depot expert who read the label and then stated, “well, it says here you can get 50 sqft from one can so I guess you can get about 50 square feet.” I really didn’t feel like being bitchy because it occurred me that she really did think she’d just done an incredible job servicing me.

“Oh great. That’s awesome. I’ll get two.”

i.e. I don’t have the energy to point out to you how useless that information was to me. I’d try, but I’ve been beaten by hoe and a bag of dirt and have nothing left to give. I’m just going to get these two cans and if they aren’t enough, I’ll huff them in my car before coming back to talk to you about getting more.

Two wasn’t enough. I should have gotten four.

When I got home, full of tales of the hoe aisle and dirt differences, the hubs gave me one of his usual smug responses. Something along the lines of “you weren’t asked to pick out a cure for cancer.” His smugness was short-lived, though, as I had compensated for my inability to find anything for us to use by buying miniature versions of everything on the list for A. There’s nothing that makes the hubs’ crazier than my facilitating the boy being all up in his shit while he is trying to get something done.

“…. and this tiny shovel so he can help you clear the beds! Oh! And did you see this ridiculous mini push broom?! How cute is that?”

Next stop, the plant nursery!

Why We Decided To Get Rid of Our Child

The decision to get rid of a child is a personal one and you should talk to your partner about what is best for your family. For us, after much discussion, it was clear that the right choice was to get rid of our child.

We had a son in August of 2013. Like most new parents, we were excited. It was a new adventure, one that was sure to be full of ups and downs. When our baby arrived, he looked like most new babies: like a saggy, sunken, squashed old man. And a genius, of course. He came into the world quietly, scoring poorly on the APGAR tests because he simply refused to cry. He stared with wide eyed wonder at the buzzing delivery room, refusing to give any medical professional the satisfaction of a peep. Like Jesus hanging from the crucifix, he stared forward, forgiving, but knowing. He would not cry out. He would endure the shame of public nudity, shocking temperatures, and unfathomable cruelty silently. The battle would not be lost without his consent.

We should have known then that he was willful. We should have guessed that his silent entree to existence was a marker, not of his serenity, but his commitment to doing whatever it took to be contrarian. “You want for me to scream?” he said. “Beg. Beg and might consider it. Tomorrow.”

As the months wore on and he grew from a tiny babe into a sparkly eyed infant and then into a toddling smidge of wonder, his small personality began to emerge. Laughter, joy, and small acts of premeditative evil were his hallmarks. Eventually we began to tire of his pint-sized bullshit, but we pushed through. We continued parenting because we believed it was what was right. It was what society expected. You don’t just give up. You can’t throw in the towel.

We talked with friends and loved ones. We agreed that he was slightly too old to be a candidate for adoption and the risk that he would run off from the fire station before they found him was too great. Sometimes our decision would be delayed. It would seem that he had turned a corner and we would allow ourselves to believe, once again, that we could be parents. That we could have this life that society wanted from us.

But we were wrong. We were naive. In the end we could keep up the charade no longer. So we got rid of our child. We wanted to help others in our position by sharing our experience. We hope that by seeing that others are struggling you will be helped. We’ve documented for you what led us to making the right decision for our family. We hope it helps.

Fuck You and the Shit Stain You Rode in on. 

The poop is unfathomable. The poop is so present, so pervasive, that you find yourself becoming desensitized. Poop on your clothes? Meh. Poop smear on your wall? It happens. Accidentally left a poop diaper in the diaper bag for an indeterminate period of time? Bummer. But okay. And then they start eating real food. And what was once just alien enough to be fascinating instead of full on horrifying becomes human. It becomes Poop.

And then they’ll shit in the tub. If you’re lucky they have some sort of bath game that has a net, or– though not ideal– some sort of scooping cups. If you’re not lucky, you’ll spend ten minutes fishing turds out of the tub with a water logged paper towel before you regain your sensibilities and scurry off the find your kitchen gloves. And you won’t even throw them out afterwards.

Poop seeps. It creeps onto organic cotton pajamas with tiny bears on them and ruins any chance those $45 pajamas have of seeing a second life with a friend of cousin. Poop hangs out on the crib sheet and no matter how much you wash it, Poop stains.

We lived like that. We communed with Poop until one day we realized we were slaves to fecal matter. He shit, we wiped. And the cycle repeated as we became less human and his Poop fiercer and less forgiving. And then we said, “STOP! We are humans with college degrees and HORN RIMMED GLASSES FOR GOD SAKE!” And we knew. Goodbye, child; Goodbye, Poop.

“Mine” is Not a Complete Sentence. It’s a Lie. 

One day his tiny voice rose above the nonsense babble. “Mine!” it said. And we laughed and repeated the word over and over, encouraging him. “Mine!” we’d say and then laugh. “Mine!” We were fools.

Not everything is his. Truthfully, nothing is his. Not his room or his bed, his clothes, or his shoes. Not even that godforsaken piece of shit-smelling filth he passed off as a lovey was really his. We built this empire. This kingdom was built with our sweat and our tears and watching a two-foot-tall life terrorist run around like Christopher Columbus yelling “mine!” at every chair, book, and picture was not only inaccurate it was offensive. Not so much as one summer job or after school grocery gig of his went into the creation of this home.

And then it became about the food. God forbid the parents, the masters, be allowed to eat their pork tenderloins and nice cheese in peace. “MINE!” we would hear bellowing from the high chair, a nice bowl of pasta and sauce hitting the ground. “MINE!” he would squeal until someone parted from their moist pig meat. And then he would giggle. He would actually giggle. Because to him, this torture, this inhumane pageantry was funny. And then I found myself standing at the Whole Foods, picking out a piece of organic, wild caught, Coho Salmon and it occurred to me. “This is MINE, dammit! And I do not have to share it with you!” I felt liberated. I felt free. I knew that I was being treated unfairly and there was something I could do about it.

Hey, Halfpint, Where’d’ya Park Your Stool? 

Children are short; and while we as parents try to help them adapt to the world, can we really be expected to wash, brush, rinse, reach, and put away every single thing in their lives until they are able to see over counters or to the top of the laundry machine? It’s barbaric.

In the beginning it was sweet. A soft, pudgy baby perched in a laundry basket was Instagram gold. But the reality of expecting me to wash all those tiny shirts? Seriously? And the stain removal is a full time job. There’s no end to the amount of crap that ends up on the front of those Boden shirts when the wearer has the dexterity of a moose. And we were expected to reduce ourselves to the level of laundry mistress in order to make sure they are cleaned and returned to the drawer, where they will most certainly be tossed out carelessly? No. No, I say! We have choices!

I Am Not Moved By Your Crying. But You Will Be. 

Tears flowed like angry rain at any sign of even the slightest (fake) injustice. Just before our decision to get rid of him, our son had a full-on tantrum in the middle of a Toys-r-Us express at the mall because I would not allow him to take every.single.ball out of the ball bin and throw it down the aisle. To my credit, or rather, in my defense, I allowed it to happen three times before I realized what a schmuck I was. I actually thought I was picking out the wrong one and he what he really wanted was a very specific one. Rookie move. He wanted all the balls. All 8792 of them. And he wanted to throw them down the aisle of the store. And if I was going to try to stop him, I would live to be sorry.

He wailed and wailed and wailed. He did that slow, rocking, penguin/toddler walk where the arms don’t moved and the mouth is the size of a petri dish, the face flushed crimson. Photographed in black and white, it would have been captioned, “Young boy hears of his heroic father’s untimely death in a suicide mission to save a 342 Jewish children in WW2.” Photographed with the Nashville filter, it reads, “Entitled Barnacle Screams Over Loss of Balls.”

It wasn’t just the balls, though, or that specific tantrum. It was the inanity of trying to reason with the unreasonable. Did I mention my college education? How could I be expected to endure such ridiculousness?  I couldn’t.

You Lack Respect; We Lack You

Sane adults can only be expected to chase after an oily-fingered toddler headed toward a designer couch so many times before they have to make a choice. An Eames lounger can only endure so many close calls with a Sharpie before someone needs to prioritize.

As we conferenced in the living room, my husband in the Eames, myself stretched out on the Muskoka blue couch, the newest furniture arrival perched in our periphery. It would never make it. Between the razor sharp fingernails and the crayons, the mini muffins and the tiny 990s, our furniture wouldn’t live to see our 40s. What were we thinking bringing a child into this home? The upholstery preferences alone should have been enough to convince us that we were being stupid. But then we realized we’d put our furniture at risk and there was no choice left to make. The child would have to go.

College is a Mirage

The college education was really what pushed us over the edge. We don’t even know this kid and we were expected to squirrel away thousands of dollars a year to send him to a four-year, young adult, education and promiscuous sex camp? All my shoes and dinners and fancy cars are being taken away so that you can have a “bright future?” What kind of bullshit is this?

So far I knew he could wield a Crayola and draw semi-recognizable circles. What about that was supposed to warrant a $1000/month college education nut? I was insane. It shouldn’t. The idea that we should invest in the future of something we love is not only wrong, it’s irresponsible. It defies human nature. Enough with the selflessness and bed time reading and learning the alphabet. We wanted our lives and our finances back and when we really sat down and looked at it, we knew that there was only one way to get those back. We had to get rid of the kid.


We called around for someone who would take him. Grandparents were out, they’d already done that song and dance once. Friends and other relatives suggested some good orphanages in Upstate New York where they’d heard the foster care system wasn’t so rough for blue-eyed white kids. We had a few responses to a Craigslist ad we posted, but no one that was very serious. We did manage to pawn off an old A/C unit on one of them, though. So it wasn’t a complete waste.

We finally decided to drop him off at the fire station. We’d originally been nervous that he would not stay put until they found it, but we solved that by putting him IN the actual fire truck. They’re sure to have found him there.

And now we finally have our lives back. We’re thinking of turning his room into an exercise space. It’s going to be awesome.

There goes the small boy

About six months ago, the unthinkable happened. Relatively abruptly, the husband and I hit the “city wall.” We knew it would never happen to us. We loved the city. We would never leave the city. Living in the city defined us. We hate suburbs. We hate remote-ness. We hate peace and quiet.

Turns out, we hate child care induced poverty, cooped-up toddler tantrums, and April to November street cleaning more. We both woke up one day and it was as though a strange peace had settled upon our existence. We danced around it a little, at first. “So, um, I, eh… I was thinking… Well, nevermind.” Then it came out. We couldn’t do it. It takes a single salary of almost $50,000 a year to cover daycare costs in the city. Couple that with an even bigger haul on the rent and a salary of almost $100,000 a year was being eaten between childcare and rent alone. Worse, we were starting to outgrow our space. Small signs were appearing– temporary stacks of things were becoming permanent piles of “there’s not a place for it” or “I’ll call the storage people.” But more space meant more money. A lot more money.

New restaurants would open, bars would pop up, but we weren’t seeing them. At best, a Saturday stroll to a park or sandwich spot would give us the opportunity to walk by and talk about what it must be like. And we had babysitters; plenty of times, but when you have to make an executive decision about your one free Saturday night, you find yourself defaulting to what you know, what you’re sure won’t fail you. (And you’re tired and look old and haggard. And you no longer wait for anything. Not a table, not a spot on the dance floor.)

What seemed to be the real trouble was two fold. First, we didn’t know where to go. We felt like a family without a country. West of the city wasn’t right, nor was south. Truthfully, we’d never been anywhere else, really. Bigger than our inability to know where to move was the incredibly emotional experience of admitting that it was happening. Our identities were so tied to the city that everything felt like an asterisk-ridden compromise. One Saturday we decided to drive up north to visit Salem. My interest in the city was fueled ludicrously by the most ridiculous reasoning: a former client and his wife lived there. And they were cool. And they stayed cool. And they did cool things. And I was okay being like them. Especially if it looked like I couldnt keep being me.

So we went. We drove the 45 minutes to the seaside town of Salem, parked our Prius, unloaded our child, and stood there. I don’t know what we expected to happen, but nothing did. We had no idea where we were or where people went in Salem, so we just started walking. As we passed coffee shops, restaurants, and stores, optimistic (if not incredibly stupid) exclamations of “it’s just like the city!” or “they carry the kombucha I like!” began to emerge. We took the small boy to see a big ship. He ran in a wide open park by the ocean. His thin wisps of hair becoming wind blown and his nose red. He walked down the sidewalk and pointed at other kids and dogs. He laughed when a restaurant owner made faces at him through the window. We were fucked. Charmed doesn’t even begin to describe it.

We got back in the car a few hours later, knowing we’d be back soon, armed with our meager savings, ready to buy a real, grownup house. Driving back into the city was strange. On the one hand, we were both aware of the distance. It pained us to know that our new lives would be shrouded in commutes and schedules. As we hit every godforsaken pothole along 1A we willed one another not to say anything. For his part, Author looked out the window. He’d point occasionally at a sign or person or let out a squeal as we fell into another pothole. Maybe if he would have screamed all the way, the whole thing would have turned out differently. But he didn’t. Worn out from having his pants charmed off, he half dozed and mindlessly grazed on bits of food he’d hidden in the crevices of his carseat.

The short version is that we bought a condo and moved. Like most of these stories, it’s riddled with mortgage drama and near divorce, massive disagreements about Big Things and small things. But in the end, we became homeowners. The husband’s commute to work actually improved. Rather than walk to a train to take a bus and deal with weather and inconsistent schedules, he can now hop on the commuter rail. Four stops and he’s in the city. For me, life became dramatically different. My usual 8 AM wake up became 6 AM. Frantic showering, waking, feeding, dressing, and getting out the door is followed by a daycare drop off and an hour and a half of source-less traffic. Work now becomes an exercise in efficiency because when the clock strikes four, I’m out the door. Back on the road. And it repeats. Five days a week.

I’ve been flooded with observations and realizations over the last few months. I’m by no means getting old, but I am getting older. I can see the subtle changes in my wardrobe, choice of footwear, and tone of my skin. Though I am envious of those who are thinner, better put together, and more youthful, I find it harder and harder to muster the energy to give it much more than that. When I find myself driving Estelle (the Prius) around on errands, clad in a flowy top and skinny pants, my flat loafers giving away my over-thirty, motherhood status, I realize that all those years I spent saying I’d never become this or that or another thing was because I assumed those people had changed. They’d given up or given in. It never occurred to me that they’d finally gotten some perspective or found peace. Life is a lesson in living.

The boy has switched to a small in-home daycare. It’s quirky and imperfect and he loves it. They play outside all day. When it’s raining, they suit them up in their rain gear. When it’s snowing they bundle them. At his previous daycare, he spent four months staring out a window, never going for a walk. Never playing in the snow.

When I pick him up, he beams, running towards me with open arms, squealing and covered in dirt. He speaks absolute nonsense in great detail, pointing for emphasis and understanding. We pile in the car and he eats his snack, not letting the food get in the way of his senseless story telling. On Fridays we go for frozen yogurt. There’s a place to park and the college students who are there let him take bites out of their bowls and laugh at how seriously he takes spoons (“poons”). It’s a ten minute drive to our house. Sometimes we go upstairs and have some dinner, other days it’s straight to the park. “Pups” will eventually make his way through the park on his way home from the train station. The boy has a sixth sense for Pups’ presence, like a hound. He’ll stop look up, and repeat his open-armed running from daycare. We go home together.

The park is approximately 5 houses down from us. Our street is one way, so the boy can amble along, jumping in puddles and picking up sticks, while we keep an eye out. Cars rarely come down, but when they do, they smile and wave. They slow to a stop to let A make his way across the pavement. He usually waves and says “bye.” Even if “hello” would be more appropriate. He doesn’t know “hello.” Everything is “bye.” There are dogs, neighbors, and some strange sense of mutual understanding that I can’t quite describe. The boy isn’t just mine. In just a few weeks time, he belongs to the neighborhood. He’s the little boy who lives next door. They man down the street knows how much he loves balls. The lacrosse team that practices in the park knows to save him a tennis ball. The girls soccer team plans to take a few minutes out of practice to let him “shoot” some goals. They laugh and pass him around.

It’s not all idyllic and perfect, but it’s not the sad compromise I believed it would be my whole life. Strangely, I feel myself “coming to terms” with the idea that it can be easy to be happy. It’s okay to like the wine selection at the Bunghole. It’s okay to find out you’re not all that fancy, after all. It’s okay to park your Prius in your driveway and unload your Whole Foods grocery bags in your comfy mom shoes.

I still wear leopard underwear. I do my hair and put on make up. I haven’t given up. I think this is what it’s like to give yourself a break. To realize that sometimes the extra 30 minutes of perfecting doesn’t give you a 30% boost in happiness. There’s a point of diminishing returns on perfection and I’m learning that I can have a lot more with a lot less. I’m not going to ever live in a $6 million brownstone in the city; it’s time to move on. (Let’s be honest, I’m not ever going to live in a $1 million brownstone in the city.)

When I walk out of my new version of that brownstone in the city, past the house with the creepy number of dollhouses in the window, across the nicely painted crosswalk, and through the wrought iron gates of the Salem Common I’m already beginning to jog slightly to keep up with the increasing pace of the small boy. When the park comes into view, he strains against my metered pace. He runs ahead, sometimes disappearing into a playscape for a few seconds before emerging on the other side. He laughs wildly at his own liberating abandonment and makes a dash for the stairs to the slide, eager to get to the top, eager for the view, eager to slide down the other side.

In some ways I am eager for the same: eager to get to the top, eager for the view, eager to slide down to the other side. But in truth I only have one bittersweet thought after that small boy, throwing himself headlong into the crowd and chaos.

“There he goes.”