Jul 11 2013

The Kindness of Neighbors, Not Strangers.

We are, you know, not living in our home this summer. So we are not, you know, with our neighbors and community. We love Oak Park, the community and friendships and co-ops and goodness. I wrote about the powerful impact of a neighborhood a little over a year ago and stand by every sentence in that post (minus the upkeep of the soup exchange).

It’s hard to leave for a month. To have the playgroup talking about outdoor concerts, to have Loie ask about her beloved music teacher, to know our garden will (again) be shriveled up and sad because we’re gone for so long. We miss an annual BBQ at a friend’s, marching in the July 4th parade, and at least two of our beloved tot’s birthdays. Saturday donuts at the Farmers’ Market and all those summery delights.

It can be hard, too, to figure out our place with our temporary neighbors when away.

But leaving and coming are both part of the process, both important for us and both processed and talked about.

I love when a good anecdote brings those concepts, or any concepts, into high relief (especially when it comes with relief at the end of the anecdote).

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And thus:

Noise travels in our San Francisco home. We have next door neighbors who are in the same building, as opposed to the next house, here. We try to keep jumping, crashing, and cavorting to the second story to spare our downstairs neighbors. Instead, we reserve that space for sleep. Because sleep should be quiet.

Lo’s had a few rough nights this week were she’s woken up at 3:55 on the dot and yelped. A quick back rub, snuggle, and song gets her back to sleep fast but I’m incredibly sensitive to disrupting the sleep of people who call this building home. For one, I have a terrible time falling back to sleep so I empathize with the jolt of a toddler pre-dawn alarm clock.

And (more importantly) two, we’ve not yet been able to prove our worth as neighbors and likely won’t have time to in our brief stay. We can’t get anyone’s mail while their away or feed a fish, pour a hefty glass of wine while watching Mad Men or bring something over in celebration or comfort.

The give and take, back and forth, relationship piece of neighboring is harder, maybe impossible, when it’s a temporary measure.

So yesterday, when a downstair’s neighbor passed me on the street it took me a moment to recognize and place her: Ah, YES, a neighbor.

When she said “Oh! I have a note I’ve been meaning to drop off at your door,” it took me less than a moment to fully panic. To brace myself for the comment about being woken up, the question about what I was going to do about it, the sigh that implies “You are not my neighbor, I am allowed to be only annoyed with you, not compassionate.”

Blood rushed to my ears (and I imagine my cheeks). I squeaked an “Oh! Really?” as Lo hopped up and down next to me.

The note?

It came with two children’s books. And kind words about being a grandparent and a correct spelling of Loie’s name.

The neighbor had a book about San Francisco and a book about Chicago she thought Loie and the children of our friends might enjoy. She though that Loie might like seeing things familiar and be introduced to things she’ll meet. And she wanted us, as Chicagoans, to take that book home with us.

I damn near wept on the sidewalk. With relief, yes. But also with a sense of the power of neighborliness and a wee bit of shame that I assumed the worst.

Might she be frustrated with the yelps? Sure, she wouldn’t be the only one.

Might I need to keep a more open mind about how long it takes to build a dash of community and neighborliness? Sure, and it seems like I’m the only one.

 


Jul 9 2013

Six Ways to Work While Traveling

This year, we’re trying a few ways to work so that Brett gets as full of a day as he needs and I get to get my stuff done as needed and we can try to do some things during the week so the weekends don’t become insane pressure cookers of do-do-do.

The fact that the kid won’t nap forever is not lost on us, please sweetgods let it linger. So, this is what is working for work this year.

All of these schedules give Brett +/- 8-9 hours of work time. Because he is part machine, he will be focused and productive for approximately all of it. Dude is a beast. These give me 3+ hours of work per day, plus nights as needed.

Opt 1: The Long Haul
This has been our Mondays.

Brett gets up between 5 and 6. He works till 9ish when I might steal a few minutes to write an email, guzzle some coffee, or load up laundry. But for the most part I’m on duty and Lo and I keep ourselves busy with storytime followed by playgrounding at the Marina branch library.

Lunch together, kid goes down for a nap, I work for a few hours, Brett does too.

After nap, say between 3:30 and 4, we all go do something somewhere.

Post bedtime is a focused period of work for me and hopefully Brett relaxes and reads a book. Or works some more.

 

Opt 2: Break It Up
This is our plan for Tuesdays.

Brett works from 6ish-9ish.
We head out to do something as a family around 9:30, most stuff seems to open around 10.

Lunch is on the go, today we went to Yerba Buena Gardens so Lo chowed on peanut butter tortillas (they don’t get squished like bread) on the bus home.

Till dinner is work for him, nap and post-dinner is work for me.

You’d be surprised how much can be done in a few hours, even using public transportation. When traveling with a toddler it’s not like a 14 hour day is possible anyway. Breaking it up into a half day of doing is doing enough.

 

Opt 3: Not My Morning!
On Wednesdays, Brett & Lo are taking swim classes in the morning.

They are off by 9ish, home by noonish. He might or might not have gotten up earlier to work. Hopefully I am too asleep to notice.
In this scenario, I get a morning to work, perhaps a bit of a later snooze, too. Yahoo!

Brett then works from lunch till dinner, 12ish-6:30ish, or a bit later. We both clean up any remnants of our day post-bed.

 

Opt 4: Two Step
This day would have both of us following a schedule like mine in Oak Park on Tuesdays or Thursdays (read: no child care).

If we have a friend to see or something special to do in the morning or afternoon, we’d both work during nap and at night but be off duty work wise and on duty parent wise the rest of the day.

 

Opt 5: I’m Scared to Do This
We skip nap. We do it on travel days partially to help with jet lag and Lo has skipped a few here and there but for the most part we’re all happier if she’s slept.

A full day, likely on the weekend, out of the house would make it worth the risk of everything post-5 pm sucking. Golden Gate Park seems a reason.

And, this isn’t really about work at all. But I gotta own the fear.

 

Opt 6: Same Old, Same Old
This would see B working a regular 8-10 hour day in a row during more normal business hours. I don’t know when/where/why this would happen but it feels silly to pretend we’re never going to just rock a regular old day.
So then…
Who knows which we’ll do Thursdays and Fridays or if next Tuesday will be totally wild!!!

I like having systems in place to then push against rather than just wing it every day or realize we both scheduled a call or a trip is implausible with the time we’ve allotted. We’re hoping that by being intentional about our work/life we can keep assessing how these trips work or need to work better. That, then, makes these trips more possible and smoother.

It’s also just smart business. My clients know I’m available from 3-5 Chicago time for phone calls, which correlates to nap time and gives them a sense of consistency when our departure looms. I can always schedule one for another time but even just presenting that we’ve thought about it and we know what we’re doing builds confidence (and, really, I’ve never gotten anything but supportive support from folks I work with).

It isn’t exciting or exotic or romantic but part of doing a trip like this is Boy Scouting it up and being prepared.


Jul 8 2013

Have you? Did you? Nope. Not yet.

Have you been biked across the Golden Gate Bridge?

Are you going to do the Exploratorium?

Did you eat at that restaurant I sent?

My answer is typically: Not yet. But maybe.

We get a pretty non-stop list of suggestions and must-dos and gotta-sees leading up to trips. I’m always happy to take suggestions and hear ideas, especially on traveling with a tot. And, I do heaps of research and make a Google map and doc before we go of stuff (places, tastes, things, kid friendly and not) nearby and far by (these are great to share with friends traveling, too). For San Francisco, I read up on everything and anything Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day shared, especially this post on urban hikes and this guest post for Alphamom. I googled and queried and dug around Yelp.

Over the course of a month, we’ll likely do some of the things shared and things I found. Maybe most. Maybe.

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But today, so far, the place we’ve been the most is the Cow Hollow Playground.

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It’s a small neighborhood playground tucked into a half-street a few blocks from our house in the Marina. It’s nothing fancy. Sun bleached communal toys, some much loved equipment. Lots of sand. But it’s exactly what we like to discover when we’re away. The things that make us feel connected to a new place, even if we know it’s (and plan for it to be) fleeting. In Iceland (pre-Lo) it was C is for Cookie. In Paris, it was the toddler playground at the Jardin de Luxembourg (man, I did a crappy job blogging in Paris.) And here, it’s a place like the Cow Hollow Playground.

It’s not all that different, in fact it’s a bit older and rougher, than our playground in Skunk Hollow (and no, we didn’t realize the name of our neighborhood here till we got here). And that’s why it’s both familiar and magical (because, no, we didn’t realize the name of our neighborhood here till we got here).

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Part of the challenge of explaining the whats (and whys) when we’re away involves sharing a philosophy that sounds overwrought and high handed and, ugh, pretentious or obnoxious. In fact, if one of you were to talk to me about something similar I just might (no, I would) make fun of you for being too earnest. But with reflection and hindsight on past trips and planning for this and future trips, one does, if one’s looking for it, start to coalesce ideas and approaches. And the neighborhood playground embodies much of our approach. It’s an immersion and a surrounding and an appreciation for being somewhere, not just visiting somewhere.

To do that sometimes means we de-prioritize all the places on the lists and recs and must-sees. It’s not a wholesale rejection, because I am wired to want to do it all. A focus on finding what we can do, honoring our work we both love, and the realities of the limits of CopperTop both limit and free us from accomplishing it all.

It’s trying to find the balance of the native New Yorker whose never been to the Statue of Liberty and the run-ragged tourist who’s been everywhere for the sake of checking it off a list. I want to be neither.

The thrill for us yesterday was discovering the path of least resistance. In San Francisco, that means the least hilly route from the playground home. It’s about as mundane a thrill as you can have. It’s just the thrill we are looking for on trips like this.

There will be moments like the Pride Parade.

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There will be trips to someplace exciting worthy of a skipped nap and a crappy night, I know and hope.

But for the most part, the most parts of the trip are simple pleasures. And those have changed, and stayed the same, since I first wrote about it in 2010 (oh, to spend a day reading!). Now, it’s Lo’s first swim class last week (at the wonderful JCC here) and seeing how songs like “Open, Shut Them” sound sung by a different librarian at story time. It’s tasting fresh strawberries and seeing what hills look like to a toddler from flatter lands.

It’s trying a puff pastry from the joint down the street.

Or even just chasing the rainbows on the staircase at the house. Because there aren’t rainbows on our staircase in Oak Park.

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It isn’t necessarily anything that would appeal to everyone. But we know we’re creating time and space with travel like this to let the mundane magic happen. It’s why we do what we do.