Brooklyn to England: Perks and Perils of Living in a Country Cottage

“Mama!” Trixie screams from her new bedroom. “There are loads of rolly pollies in my room. Loads of ’em!”

First I laugh at her phrasing. “Loads.” Not something she used to say, but a word that has nestled into her vocabulary since we moved to England two weeks ago. With a sigh, I put down my computer and climb two creaky flights of stairs to my daughter’s bedroom, grabbing a dustpan and broom along the way, and begin the nightly ritual of scooping up rolly polly bugs and throwing them out the window. One, two, three … seven, eight … twelve.

At least I got her to stop calling them wood lice, I remind myself, wincing when a particularly fat one squirms as he flips into the pan.

But alas, rolly pollies—or wood lice or pill bugs or butcher boys—are part of our everyday life now. I asked for it, as my mother-in-law likes to remind me. “There are plenty of nice flats in our town, but nooo, my daughter-in-law said she had to have a place with character, and that’s what she got.”

What can I say? It’s true. I decided that if I was going to move all the way from Brooklyn to rural England, I wanted a place with oodles of charm. No more seedy, brown-tiled foyers, no more broken buzzers or chain-smoking supers lurking in the basement. Been there, done that. And now, here I am, in paradise—a delightful three-story cottage built circa 1750. Dark wooden beams hold up the ceiling; quaint stable doors separate each room; vibrant pink roses climb the stone facade; and a swing-set perches on the edge of our flower-filled garden, perfect for our three-year-old daughter. Our neighbors are lovely, and my Facebook friends drool with envy over the bucolic setting. The whole thing is, well, perfect.

But it’s also an old house. Like, really frigging old. So old that it was built before the invention of wedged sneakers and high heels, back when people didn’t need more than 5’8″ of clearance to walk through a room. That’s okay though, I tell myself, because it’s beautiful here. The birds chirping outside our window are a hell of a lot nicer than New York’s police sirens or the guy yelling at his dog in the next apartment building over. Our cottage has character and history. The claw-foot tub is to-die-for. Come winter, I’m going to curl up in front of our very own log fire. And all those tucked-away cupboards and tiny latched doors that Trixie has found? They’re great! They’re charming, they’re fun, and they’re perfect for hide and seek—as long as I remind myself that these are not the same cupboards used in a horror movie I once saw about the vengeful ghost of a mistreated child.

Actually, helping Trixie acclimate to her new surroundings has been a lifesaver. Instead of shrieking at the sight of slugs and spiders, the two of us have become entomologists, grabbing butterfly nets and magnifying glasses as we embrace the great outdoors. After watching a little boy get nipped by one of the local horses the other day, we now know to lay our palms flat when feeding horses and stroking their manes. And even though I’d give anything for a yellow cab to swoop in and cart me up the Everest-like hill to our cottage, Trixie and I love discovering secret passageways home. Plus, it turns out, her scooter makes an excellent Mom-pulled chariot when she’s too tired to climb any further (nevermind that I’m six months pregnant as I schlep a three-year-old up said mountain).

All I have to do now is adapt—learn to duck my head around the wooden beams; smile at the sight of wood lice; and eventually stop worrying that evil spirits are using Trixie’s bath letters to send messages from beyond the grave. I’ll figure it out because my heart swells when I see Trixie and our six-year-old neighbor playing together on the swing-set, and I’m already comforted by the sound of her tiny feet pitter-pattering down the wooden stairs each morning as she jumps into our bed for a cuddle.

Maybe country life is going to be creepy, but it’s awesome, too. And, hey, I asked for it.

[Published at]

How I Got Out Of Another Boring Saturday

For me, every day moments usually include peddling snacks like a human vending machine; schlepping picture books in case boredom ever strikes; and crouching in public toilets to wipe a three-year-old’s butt. This past weekend, however, thanks to an American Express event at Brooklyn Bowl about EveryDay Moments, my humdrum Saturday got awesome.

First of all, anywhere with a red carpet and velvet ropes is tantamount to Buckingham palace as far as my daughter is concerned. “How do we get in?” Trixie asked, her eyes widening. “What do you think is going on in there?!”

“Let’s find out!” I said, and as soon as we entered Williamsburg’s funky, saloon-style bowling alley, the fun began. Wristbands: check. Bowling shoes: check. Raffle ticket: check (Okay, so we won an umbrella … but Trixie got to spin the prize wheel, and that was a thrill).

The two of us wandered over to our very own bowling lane and on her FIRST turn Trixie got a strike! My daughter, the bowling prodigy! Well, further evidence would prove otherwise, but we still had a blast on the darkened lanes, surrounded by ecstatic kids, and adults with ice cold margaritas.

Bowling quickly lost it’s allure when the TriBeCa Film Festival-sponsored movie began to play on every screen in Brooklyn Bowl (of which, I now know, there are many). Kickin’ off our bowling shoes, Trixie and I meandered over to the overstuffed beanbags to watch Moon Man, an imaginative, colorful and trippy animated flick about the man in the moon getting bored at his post and hitching a ride to Earth on a passing comet. I snuck off to the buffet to load up on chicken wings, mac n’ cheese, and hummus, but when I got back, Trixie was riveted (though she didn’t actually understand the plot, and would not respond to my questions for love nor money).

To be honest, before we got there it had been a rough, naughty-girl morning, and I wasn’t at all surprised when The Meltdown began. In fact, if we hadn’t had such a unique event to attend, Trixie probably would have been given bread and water and a lump of coal for dinner. However, when given the choice between stubborn tantrums at home or free food and bowling, it wasn’t a tough decision to make. So, as the frown deepened and my daughter’s body became more and more spaghetti-like as I tried to move her from the beanbags to the crayon/drawing station, I knew I was pushing my luck by staying another second.

As I struggled to contain my flailing child and whisk her out of the building before we could cause a scene, a perky, badge-wearing brunette came over to say hi and make sure we were enjoying ourselves.

“We wanted it to be a memorable, family-friendly event, you know? Easygoing. Just like childhood. Pizza, mac n’ cheese–it’s just so fun, you know?”

“Fun. Totally,” I grunted, gripping Trixie’s windmill arms with all my strength.

“Aw, your daughter is so cute!”

At that exact moment, Trixie slammed my body hard against a table full of crayons.

“Oh my!” the woman said, jolting back.

Humiliated, I pulled myself upright and tucked Trixie, kicking and screaming, under my arm. “Just another every day moment,” I said, and made a beeline for the coat check.

**published at**

Preschool Procrastination

It started almost a year ago. I was on a playdate, and one mom-friend said, “So, where are you sending Trixie to preschool?”

At the time my daughter wasn’t even two. I thought, “Um…huh? Preschool is for three-year-olds, right? Am I really supposed to figure that out now?”

The answer—much to my surprise and dismay—was, yes.

Now, I have a lot of mommy friends and, to be honest, I let them do most of the dirty work. When one friend went on a tour of a pristine Montessori oasis on Brooklyn’s gritty Third Avenue, I sat back and waited for the report—that’s how I heard about every other reputable school. There was still some heavy lifting on my part though. Turns out if you want to apply to preschool you have to visit the school yourself first.

First up, we went to a slightly hippie, play-based school for our tour (and by “tour” I mean “interview”). All I knew of the school, in addition to the hefty price of admission, was that each parent had to volunteer seventeen hours per semester. Seventeen hours! And pay tuition! Yeah. Still, we gussied up and set out to wow the admissions staff.

Wow them we did not. Trixie spent most of the time picking her nose, but I was the screw up. I was nervous. I talked a lot. Tried too hard to be funny. At one point I randomly blurted out, “You don’t let the kids go outside, do you?” The woman looked at me like I’d asked to bum a cigarette. Like, maybe I lock my daughter in the basement—which might’ve explained why Trixie was standing in the corner of the office screaming, “Don’t look at me!” That’s what she does when she’s making a poop. (And who doesn’t like a little privacy when they’re pooping on a preschool interview?!)

Needless to say, we didn’t get a letter of acceptance. Still, I couldn’t blame it all on the interview. Like most preschools in the neighborhood (city? country?), this particular establishment had guidelines. Checklists, forms—weeding tools, if you will. They wanted to know what we, as parents, could bring to the program. What were our family’s goals for preschool? What were our child’s strengths and weaknesses? Ultimately, they were looking for children who would “bring something” to the two’s program. So I guess we didn’t bring what they were looking for—a diaper full of sh*t wasn’t it.

Another nearby school along a tree-lined block in Park Slope had a pleasant, eclectic vibe. I went on the tour—sans nose-picking daughter—and the school seemed great. Except…then I started asking friends about it. One mom told me parents often begin lining up at 1 am the night before registration to get a spot. And I’m talking bone-chilling February here. Seriously? I mean, I’ve never even queued up for a concert, let alone preschool.

Ultimately, I decided not to worry. I skipped the midnight line and put my preschool-addled brain on hiatus. I saw the forest for the trees and realized we’d find something. A co-op, a playgroup, the preschool where they give out razorblades at snacktime—something would materialize. A few weeks later, I decided to call the school with the eclectic vibe. Once I’d missed the 1 am registration, why not? Maybe Trixie could be waitlisted. To my surprise, the program director said, “Oh, sure! We still have a few spaces!” I was floored. After all those visits and interviews and applications, we managed to get into a great school.

And so, with months to spare, the preschool craze came to an end. Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of summ–

Wait, what about kindergarten…?

[Published in New York Family Magazine]

Book Review: The Crazy Things Girls Do For Love

It took me a while to like The Crazy Things Girls Do For Love by Dyan Sheldon. The cover alone is annoyingly whimsical and I’m wondering if that girl on the bike has to pee or she’s just too wild n’ crazy to use the foot pedals.

But, once I got past that, the book was a lot of fun. The three main characters–Sicilee, Maya, and Waneeda–are as different as spandex and sweatpants, but they have one thing in common: Cody Lightfoot! Swoon. They will do just about anything to win over the gorgeous transfer student, even if it means eating tofu and recycling paper (which, to the detriment of the book, is a HUGE imposition on each of them).

It was both funny and frustrating to watch their quest to become passionate individuals. That process was a slow one (motivated mostly by jealousy and one-upmanship), but while the girls are waving their energy efficient light bulbs to get Cody’s attention, Sheldon provides great tips and facts on doing your part for the environment; most of which aren’t thrown in your face, but woven into the story and character development.

Making the characters ignorant and with no real interest in the environment was clearly a device but I found it exaggerated. NONE of their friends or families or townsfolk seemed to be aware of our deteriorating planet and the effect that we, as people, have on it. Maya’s friends ditch her slumber party when she suggests conserving electricity by not watching movies, and the mere idea of skipping pepperoni pizza nearly gets Sicilee kicked out of the cool clique. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but is the idea of vegetarianism that abhorrent to people?

In the end, The Crazy Things Girls Do For Love was a light, fast read. The characters were endearing (though Waneeda seemed like an afterthought), and I enjoyed watching them grow and learn to become advocates. If a book’s purpose is to inspire the reader (and her parents, and her friends, and her teachers) then I hope this one succeeds. Also there are some handy resources for relevant documentaries (Food Inc, etc), eco-groups, and other books that might encourage more people to start caring about the planet. I thought I was doing my part, but there is always more you can do–eco bulbs, Meatless Mondays–so read her book and get a glimpse!

I Never Thought I’d Do That …

5 Embarrassing (And Gross) Things I Do Now That I’m A Parent

The other day I was sharing my water bottle with my one-year-old, and when she handed it back to me the water was cloudy with food and spit and god knows what…but I drank it anyway. The fact that I was willing to overlook her backwash and cooties got me to thinking: What else am I willing to do as a parent that I never thought I would do?

  1. Eat food she has spat out of her mouth. Sometimes it’s just easier than finding a trash can, or trying to stuff the food back in her mouth for the tenth time. It’s a lot like drinking her backwash … only chewier.
  2. Sing and dance and embarrass the hell out of myself in public, (previously the most mortifying thought ever!) just to get a smile. As a child watching my own parents humiliate themselves (and me) in public, I swore I would never do this. I was wrong.
  3. Become a human teething ring. I’ve never had a high threshold for pain, but once those teeth came it was impossible to avoid my daughter’s lightning quick jaws! And I’ve got endless bruises to prove it.
  4. And a human furnace. In the cold winter months, I often put my daughter’s c-c-cold hands under my shirt to warm them up–I don’t even let my husband do that!
  5. Give my phone number to total strangers, simply because they have a kid the same age as my daughter. For all I know I’m handing my digits to serial killers and stalkers, but if their one-year-old likes my one-year-old, it’s a date!

The list goes on. But what’s worse is how oblivious I usually am. When you’re a parent you just do these things. It’s not until a friend, sibling or spouse starts making fun of you that you finally realize–”Oh my god, I really did just pick my daughter’s nose and wipe it on my jeans.” Gross! But to be honest, I look forward to many more years of gross-outs and embarrassing behavior. Moms are like that.

**As seen in New York Family**