Check out this video of a story I told about the effort it takes to stay in a city you love despite the financial forces driving you to leave. #ilovesf #sfforeva
I was thrilled to wrap up 2016 with an appearance telling my Chrismakkah story at the Moth storytelling event!
It’s 3am and I just finished nursing my son. I look up at the ceiling and I see our chandelier. I am sleeping in the dining room. It’s my bed and all, but I am in the dining room because we had to make this our bedroom after our daughter took our master bedroom and we prepared the closet for its second round at hosting a child in it.
It wasn’t always this way. When we moved into that apartment 10 years ago we were newlyweds. Coming from NYC this apartment felt palatial…and cheap! Besides the rent control, we loved the spacious kitchen, the classy dining room with two sets of French doors where we had lots of parties. But I loved the walk-in closet. I was always the room mate who was broke and was relegated to the broom closet to put my stuff.
One day our life of fabulousness took a turn when we got a surprise…We found out that we were expecting. At that time it was the great recession and we were looking nervously at two bedrooms and the charge for full time child care was a $2,000 a month charge we weren’t used to as new parents. So we decided to take all of our clothes out of the closet and build external closets and put Giuliana in the closet.
Much to our neighbors chagrin, while our large eyed child with a full head of hair with a natural side part was as adorable as could be, she kind of sucked because she had colic. Suddenly we were getting notes under our door from the neighbors about the crying. I was leaving care packages with wine and chocolates and massage gift certificates on our neighbor’s welcome mats.
The emails and notes under the door continued for a few YEARS until one day I saw moving boxes in the hallway. Something happened that we never thought would. Our sweet little girl caused our next door to neighbor move out. Suddenly our spacious apartment seemed a bit smaller.
Next thing we knew, we were pregnant again, and by this time the housing market was even worse. Now paying for two childcare costs, we felt like remaining in our one bedroom was the only way to stay in San Francisco. We thought about moving back to Jersey, but by this time, 9 years later, we had really assimilated into the culture. We now had Joey from Clifton ogling over canvas shopping bags and cooking mostly vegan with only locally sourced ingredients.
Our beautiful dining room, the one with the fancy square table and classic French doors closed to what then became our bedroom. That’s right we moved our daughter into our actual bedroom, set up our new son’s crib in the closet (and hoped that our new neighbor wouldn’t move out.)
Funnily enough, everyone got a time in the closet. When the baby was new, he was next to my bed for feedings all night so my husband slept on an air mattress in the closet to get sleep before work. Then when I had mastitis and needed rest, I took a night in the closet. In addition, when the grandmothers visited, where do you think they slept? The closet. Basically any visiting house guest slept in the closet. It wasn’t a 1 bedroom, let’s be real it was a 3 bedroom. When the baby finally went in the closet, the only person who complained about his crying was his sister and she couldn’t move out.
Well all good things must come to an end. The walls closed in more when our son became an unusually Olympic-fast runner at 2 years old. To put it in perspective, his teacher at school said that a kid would be playing with a toy, they’d blink and the next thing they knew they were looking at an empty hand and little Jo Jo was already in the corner playing with it.
We knew it was time to leave and somehow we found a 3 bedroom apartment with great rent that I fully think came from the angels. Instead of a line of 17 people at the advertised open house, Joe and I were the only ones who showed up. We found a unicorn affordable 3 bedroom 1.5 bath with a backyard for the kids and a fairly newly done kitchen and bathroom.
You can really learn a lot about your spouse from living in a one bedroom. If there were any three people I would want to share a one bedroom with it would be my family. My husband with his McGuyver-like storage ideas, my daughter with her ability to weed out crappy neighbors, and my son with his easy going disposition are among my favorite people.
Raising a daughter in San Francisco is unlike raising a daughter anywhere else in the US maybe the world. I don’t know if it’s the amount of wealth here, but everyone wants their daughters to grow up to be a Hillary Clinton or an astrophysicist or the first woman to find the cure for cancer.
For new moms to daughters, there’s a kind of required reading from a mom in Berkeley called, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. In it, the author explains that girls who like princesses are something like 80% more likely to be promiscuous and have plastic surgery by age 8 or something. It scared the shit out of us. But the book said if you get her to play with science sets and have her play with trains she will not have sex until she’s married (I’m paraphrasing).
We knew we could control the gifts she receives and what she’s exposed to, but not what others bought her. You see, my daughter is the 7th granddaughter for my mother-in-law. So my husband’s family is used to feeding the monster that is the young girl wrought with emotions and a desire to test out make up, wear dresses, paint with glitter, and role play with kitchens, hair styling tools and the like.
For many Christmases, my husband and I sent around a blanket email to our family saying, no princess toys, nothing pink, no glitter, sparkle, no shirts with crappy sayings, etc. We warned that everyone who did not abide would risk having their toys returned.
My mom and mother-in-law generously asked what they could get Giuliana for Christmas when she was about 3. We told them she would like a Thomas the Train set and maybe wooden blocks. This was sort of a bold move because the Thomas the Train is not cheap and my family isn’t like rolling in it and Thomas the Train sets START at around $75.
Christmas Eve 2013
Christmas Eve at my mother-in-law’s is when the incident happened. After dinner, the 7 girls gathered in the living room to open presents. The living room looked like the girls were playing Minute to Win it as they ferociously unwrapped their treasures. We heard happy phrases like, “Thank you for the make-up, thank you for the beads to make jewelry, thank you for the sparkly whatever.”
And there was my daughter surrounded by girly girl heaven.
She was a ripping open her package like her life depended on it. When she saw that it was Thomas the Train. Her face dropped like we had wrapped up a plate of brocolli. At the same time, my 5 year old niece was ripping off the last piece of Christmas wrapping paper on her brand new Baby Alive doll. It was like time stood still. Giuliana saw it from the corner of her eye as though she had seen baby Jesus himself appear right there in the living room. She immediately threw her Thomas the Train set aside as though it had caught on fire and lunged at the doll.
My niece was trying to get my daughter, who was now hyper ventilating, off of her. But no avail, Giuliana was ripping open the Baby Alive box, like a true fighter. You could see through the plastic that this doll looked like Chucky from that Child’s Play movie. Each of her eyes were like the circumference of a silver dollar and way too large for the proportion of her head like something that the Big Eyes artist Margaret Keane would draw. What made it worse was that the eyes opened and closed both mechanically and on their own when she was tilted. The selling point of this doll is that you feed her synthetic food and she actually poops it out. The last thing I felt that I needed was a doll who pooped when I had a toddler and a new born.
In both English and Spanish, this doll says things like, “I don’t want to take a nap, I’m hungry, where’s my mommy,” “Uh-oh! I made a poo-poo” or “I made a stinky!” or “Surprise!” She talks, sucks her pacifier and sings a discordant version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
My niece Lucia so graciously let Giuliana play with the doll for a bit on the contingency that my daughter return the doll at Lucia’s request. My mother-in-law, whom I adore, looked at me knowingly as if to say, “I have 7 grand daughters and you ask me to get a Thomas the train? This isn’t my first rodeo.”
Meanwhile my brother-in-law was trying to assuage the situation by offering Lucia a $50 Toys R Us gift card as a sort of hush money to get Lucia to give up the doll.
Just then my mother stood up and put on her coat and whipped her scarf around her neck and said, “I’m going to Toys R Us to get her the doll!” It was storming out and my husband and I pleaded with my mom to stay in. We didn’t want Giuliana to think that she could act like this and get what she wanted.
My mom said, “Ok. I have decided I am going to go home now. Bye!”
My mom braved the snow storm and drove to Toys R Us. Like a lunatic was banging on the store window bundled in a scarf, hat, and down jacket. They opened the door and she explained that she needed to buy this Baby Alive doll for her granddaughter who is having a fit. Sadly, they wouldn’t let her buy it. The store was closed until after Christmas.
The next morning, my husband and I set up the Thomas the Train for my daughter. For the five minutes that she was into it, I took a bunch of photos of her playing with it to be like “See! She loves it!” It was really the one time she touched it. She screamed for the doll the whole rest of the trip.
We learned that as much as we associated being a girly girl with promiscuity, being promiscuous is really about several factors; one of them is having good parents. Deeply inside of her, Giuliana was a real girly girl. We finally gave in and let her be the person she really is and she couldn’t be happier– and that is really what matters, right? We learned that you just have to “let it go.” As long as we are good parents and provide her with a good foundation, she will most likely turn out alright (fingers crossed!).
Photo: Google images
“This is 1010 wins. You give us 10 minutes, we will give you the world. In midtown Manhattan today, a flustered maid of honor named Sharon is in a lurch. She is late for her best friend’s wedding at the Plaza Hotel because she is unable to locate a key piece to the bridal party—her white mink stole. She was required to wear the stole as part of her wedding duties. It might be in a New York City taxi, it was last seen at the rehearsal dinner last night. Have you seen it?”
This is a true story.
My childhood best friend asked me to be the maid of honor in her February wedding at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Without hesitation, I said yes! She had been a good friend to me since she moved to my town in north Jersey when we were seven. Her family regularly took me on vacations and included me in everything. They were like my second family. So I felt like this was a great way to sort of repay her for taking care of me. She was there when I had my first kiss, she was there behind the door coaching me how to use feminine products; you know the typical teenage best friends.
The scene of the incident
Well the night of her rehearsal dinner came. This is where the incident happened. The rehearsal dinner was at a beautiful venue on Fifth Avenue with high museum-like ceilings, pillars galore. We were greeted with champagne. It was a big deal for me as a 20-something trying to make it in New York as a PR exec by day and a waitress by night. I started to warm up a bit after a few glasses of that bubbly though!
Half way through the night, my friend pulled the bride’s maids aside and gave us all our bride’s maids gifts. In most cases, the gifts are simple thank yous for being a part of her day like a little necklace or a bracelet. I opened the large, perfectly wrapped box. Inside was a beautiful, thick, white, furry mink stole with a black satin ribbon to match our dresses. It was really exquisite.
She warned, “Now you have to take good care of these because you need to wear them tomorrow.” By this point I had a few cocktails in me and was feeling no pain. In fact, I was having a great time mingling and put the stole aside and went back to hang out at the party.
I woke up the next morning a little hung over with a start not long before I had to show up at the Plaza for make-up and hair. SHIT. I thought, I don’t think I came home with my mink stole last night. I ran out of my tiny bedroom and into my tiny New York City living room and I saw my dress on the floor crumbled up along side of my shoes and purse, but the mink stole was nowhere to be found. I am not the most organized person so I tore through my apartment in case I put it somewhere.
With not much time left to spare, I tried to focus on piecing together my night. I thought maybe I left it in a taxi cab going home. So in a desperate attempt, I called the NYC taxi cab commission as though I was calling 911. I told them the entire story… how I needed the mink stole for a wedding that I was the maid of honor for and asked if anyone turned it in. They probably thought I was crazy. They encouraged me to call the New York City Police non-emergency line.
The dispatcher on the other end with a thick New York accent said, “Can you describe the stole? White? Mink? Ok got it. We will put our best people on it. Yeah sure.” They obviously didn’t know the predicament I was in!
As time was counting down, I gathered myself, and called my friend’s mom. She said the stole was custom made so we couldn’t just buy another one and we were running out of time with the wedding starting soon. She did mention that on the upside, it was 0k to have one a different color since I was the maid of honor, but not ok to have none at all. So we started to call any store in the city that was open and that would carry a stole. I let her know that I understood that I was covering the cost of the new stole. The cost was probably what I made in a month.
In the meantime my roommate came out of her room and said she had heard on the story on the radio that a girl named Sharon lost a mink stole and needed it for a wedding at the Plaza Hotel the next day. It was MY story! They changed my name to protect my innocence. I couldn’t believe it! My story had made the news. That only increased the severity of the situation
I hadn’t even showered from the night before and my makeup was still glued to my face. All of the other bride’s maids were at the hotel already when I hailed a taxi to Bergdorf’s to purchase the new stole. I was about to buy it with my credit card, when one I got a call that the stole had been recovered. One of the bride’s maids was leaving the venue at the end of the night and saw it….and failed to mention it to anyone as I was flustering like an idiot.
I showed up to the brides maids room Plaza Hotel to get ready for the wedding and there I saw my friend looking ravishing with her up do and silk robe getting her lashes put on surrounded by the other bridesmaids who also had they perfectly coiffed dos and make up as I show up sweaty with a dry mouth and slightly hung over from the night before. By then my friend had found out what had happened. She was pretty calm about it. I think her something blue was a Valium.
After I hurriedly got my act together and looked the way an MOH should look, I stood up on the alter at the beautiful 5th avenue cathedral with her that day. I was holding her very heavy bouquet of red roses smiling, remembering why she chose me… because someone needed to hold the flowers. Just kidding, we had a lot of goofy child hood memories too. It’s always an honor to be asked to be the maid of honor… and that was the last time anyone asked me to take that post.
Living in major cities most of my life, I feel I am at a disadvantage for taking care of livestock…specifically in the equine category.
I learned this a few years ago. I received a call from my brother about a family emergency. My niece was ill and needed to spend time in the hospital. I decided to fly out to Boston to help out.
Getting to work
When I arrived at his home, he sent me right to work. I can’t say that I have any special skills that would make me a shoe-in for any specific job at his house. But he must have had some faith in my horse feeding skills because he asked me to take on that task. I will tell you that my niece ended up doing ok, but I can’t say the same for his wife’s horses while under my care.
He drew me directions on how to unlatch the gate and feed the horses. This is where his idea fell short. He is the “Let me draw you a map” type guy and I am the, “I will take written turn by turn directions with major landmarks inserted” type girl. However this was not the time to nit pick!
I grabbed my sister in law’s size 10 mud boots and hobbled over to the paddock. With each step, the boots were inserting themselves deeply in the mud as my feet were slipping out. I finally got to the paddock. That is where I saw Snow Flake the white Shetland pony, Justin, the retired race hose and Floyd your run of the mill four legged, hungry horse. Referring to the directions, I unlatched the gate and proceeded to feed Floyd first.
Escapees on the loose
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white figure flash by. I look up and my sister in law’s white pony had escaped the paddock. It was not easy to run in these boots of hers that were both big and not made for running. To top it off, the horses didn’t have the gear on their heads to grab them from. I was panicked. After the white pony came Justin, who is a thoroughbred and a retired race horse. They were roaming free in the back yard. Hey, what do you want when you ask a San Franciscan to come to your house…we want everything to be free and peaceful. Namaste, you’re welcome!
These horses are my sister in law’s pride and joy. I would say, its her kids first and then the horses and her other animals on the same plain. She told herself that when she made partner at her firm, she would buy a big house and have property big enough to house them. And here I was letting them go. Like an angel from above- albeit a very upset angel, my brother appears yelling profanities at me.
He grabs some food and gets the horses to come into the paddock. Speaking of horse food, my brother saw the food I had for Floyd and freaked out about how much I had given him. He relegated me to laundry and I went inside like a dog between its legs.
Warning: A horse was harmed in the taping of this blog post
Several hours later, I was building forts with my nephew when my brother came home from the hospital with a look of disbelief on his face. He exclaimed, what the hell did you do to Floyd? At first I tried to remember who Floyd was and then I realized. “Nothing.” I said, “I just followed your directions, why?”
Floyd is DEAD he said with an umpire-like “you’re out” movement. Oh shit I thought.
He brought a vet in and they confirmed it, before the burial which was done on their property, my brother cut off a lock of Floyd’s mane and brought it to the hospital to deliver the bad news to his wife, a horse lover, who had been in the hospital with my niece for 12 days. She should not have to hear bad news like this…
I decided it was time to go home. The next time I came in contact with a horse, it was with a pony on a rope at the Marin County Fair. My daughter, who was four at the time, was a top of it.
As a work from home mom, I was surprised at how easily I fell into the habit of wearing my work from home uniform—yoga pants occasionally stained with avocado from making kids lunches, a V-neck shirt (bra optional), a black The North Face or Burton fleece, and a cap in case my hair was a little crazy. If it was cold, I would wear a North Face vest over the fleece. On any San Francisco playground, it might have been difficult to pick me out of a crowd.
Looking like a “before” picture of a mommy make over was my own fault as I prioritize caring about my appearance somewhere after…squeezing in 8 hours of work into 6 hours, tidying up the house, going for a jog, researching kindergartens, trolling houses for sale in bay area neighborhoods I can’t afford, and picking up the kids early enough for a playground run before dinner.
My rotating line up of athleisure did not reflect who I am—a happy, career driven mom who, underneath it all, looks pretty darn good. Luckily my almost six-year-old is too young to be embarrassed of my Kramer from Seinfeld hair or that I occasionally sneak wearing pajama pants to drop her off. If it came to the point where I needed a new job, would a parent at school refer a harried yoga pant wearing mom, or a mom who looked like she had her stuff together?
Time to see a professional
I can do many things well, but styling myself is a challenge. I had enough money saved up for new clothes and decided to get a personal stylist at my local Nordstrom store where they have a free stylist to help in situations like these. Before my appointment, I gave her my parameters:
- Casual clothes (a.k.a alternatives to yoga pants) to wear to school, playdates, after school sports, the zoo, etc.
- Must be easy to wear while chasing after a very fast 2.5 year old.
- Don’t want to look like I am trying too hard.
- Don’t want to break the budget.
- Must include alternative jackets to fleeces.
Entering my dressing room felt to me how going to Joe’s Ice Cream Parlor must feel to my kids as they see all of the yummy, sugary flavors and assorted colors of creamy icy goodness. The three way mirror only accentuated my outfit choices: colorful tops, soft stretchy jeans, sassy jackets, casual sneakers, and great alternatives to the yoga pant and v-neck top with optional bra.
All of the items were classic and not trendy so they would last a while. She added a few “out of my comfort zone” pieces like a fedora for the sun and a chambray romper. I purchased almost all of the items she picked out.
Extra pep in my step
Donned in my new outfits, I left the house with an extra pep in my step. It was similar to the feeling I had in middle school when I first started wearing contacts instead of my thick, brown-rimmed glasses. Back then, walking down the halls of middle school, I felt like I owned the world. Similarly, I noticed that people, including my husband treated me the way I felt on the inside, which was undoubtedly due in part because of the way I looked on the outside.
Part of my issue before was that I had office-wear and then athleisure with no in between. Not wanting to wear high black Cole Haan boots to the zoo (which I have done), I would default to the yoga pants and running shoes. With my new choices, I no longer toiled over what to wear to the Giants game, the zoo, gymnastics class, or book club because I had my go-to outfits that looked effortless.
I hit a snag in my new outfits
However, after the novelty of my fun outfits wore off, I longed for the cozy soft cotton with lycra blend pants with the stretchy waist. No one wants to put on skinny jeans and a button down soon after a 5:45am wake up from a toddler. Similar to the time I gave up sugary sweets for 30 days… I decided to focus on “Everything in moderation.” So I made an adjustment to the plan. I let myself wear yoga pants at least to school drop off. To keep myself on track, I make a point to wear one of my perfectly assembled outfits for the after school part of the day; especially if I am taking the kids somewhere after school.
With my youngest starting activities, I am finding that friendly moms approach me more readily when I am dressed in clean, well-put together outfits. No surprise there. At school, when I am dressed neatly I am mostly met with smiles and more energetic “Hello!” type responses instead of the commiserating, exasperated parent looks.
What I learned from this experience is:
- You are what you wear
- Yoga pants are fine in moderation
- Busy moms need to think of themselves and their appearances sometimes
- Comfortable clothes don’t always come from the active wear section
Without sounding like a 1960’s housewife, I think caring about your appearance and having a positive outlook is always a helpful component to a good marriage and important over all. In addition, I like my daughter seeing me making myself a priority.
I still believe in “Dress the way you want to be treated” and “Dress for the job you want,” even though I rarely head to the office. There’s nothing wrong with making a good impression any day and dressing the part is just one component of it.