Make Room for Baby


By Marjorie Ingall

Published October 22, 2004, issue of October 22, 2004.
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We New Yorkers are givers. By choosing to live in apartments the size of veal pens, and paying so much in monthly rent or mortgage that we could afford an entire herd of veal, we give people who live elsewhere something to feel superior about. You’re welcome.

Josie and her possibly-born-by-the-time-you-read-this sister will be sharing a room. I have no idea how well this notion will go over with Josie. She seems to like the idea of becoming a big sister, talking incessantly to the baby through my belly button (she seems to think it’s some kind of walkie-talkie), telling us how she’ll help out once the baby arrives (teaching the baby to eat a cupcake, poop in the potty and sing the alphabet song), expressing eagerness to have Uncle Andy and Uncle Neal sleep over if I have to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.

She hasn’t expressed much curiosity about how the baby will actually get out of my belly, and unlike some parents who seem unnervingly eager to share the facts of life with their unready and baffled young spawn, I’m in no rush to tell her. I did take her to meet my midwife recently, just as a way of allaying some of her generalized white-coat anxiety. I explained in advance what would happen at the appointment so that she’d be prepared. In the waiting room, she startled the assemblage by bellowing: “Mommy, do you like when Yael looks in your vagina?” (Ah, well. As my sister-in-law pointed out, better she should ask in the waiting room than on the subway.)

Anyway. The abstract notion of being a big sister delights Josie. We’ll see how that changes when there is an actual, red-faced, squalling, Mommy’s-lap-hogging infant invading her space. (There are hints. She suggested to Bubbe: “When the baby comes, we can send her to California!”) Fortunately, Josie won’t have to give up any of her space just yet. Our apartment is big by East Village standards — a two-bedroom duplex — but Josie’s room is pretty darn wee. The plan is to keep the baby in our bedroom for the first few weeks, then we’ll move the crib to the mezzanine/hallway space right outside our room; then once the little critter is sleeping through the night, she’ll share Josie’s room. And I hope by that time, Josie will have worked through some of her Issues. (That derisive laughter I hear is from more experienced parents, I know.)

I can’t make Josie love the idea of this interloper. But I do have a secret weapon for making the physical transition into our living space much easier. My friends Casey Ellis and Randall Koll, a design writer and famous interior designer, respectively, have a fabulous new book, called, “The Organized Home: Design Solutions for Clutter-Free Living” (Quarry Books). They very craftily circumvent my innate punk-rock hostility at being told to get organized (if you tell me: “Throw something out if you haven’t used it for a year!” I will sneer at you like Johnny Rotten) by framing organization as a fun, real-world decorating project. No boring plastic containers in this book; funky solutions abound, and so does a tolerance for human foibles and quirks. “Leave the perfect families to 1950s television shows,” they write. “They were boring then and would be boring now.”

Among Casey and Randall’s bits of advice: The smaller the space, the harder every piece of furniture has to work. Ottomans also can be storage cubes with lift-up lids; side tables need tiers or drawers; coffee tables should be major workhorses. Hang cabinets or individual cubbies from the wall, to keep as much floor space as possible free for playing. Get a big metal board and cute magnets (safer than a bulletin board and pushpins) to display artwork, posters, postcards and similar collections. For slightly older kids, battered vintage suitcases are often cheap at flea markets and can be stacked and filled with toys and collectibles: instant storage and hipster nostalgia! The dynamic duo also suggests a management system for kids’ artwork, which is already overwhelming us with just one kid. (If Josie catches any of her oeuvre in the recycling bin, she gives me this big-eyed grieving look like a Keane waif painting.) Randall and Casey suggest scanning children’s art onto a computer, then creating a “catalog raisonne” (art-speak for a comprehensive, annotated listing of the works of one artiste in a particular medium or in all media), including such MOMA-like phrases as “First work in McKenna’s Purple and Glitter Period.” The opus could live on the computer, or be printed out and stored in fetching bound volumes. (Of course, this would have to mean pruning our groaning bookshelves. Oy, another organizational task we’ve already failed at.) And for more tchotchke- and toy-corralling, we’re planning a jaunt to IKEA and to holdeverything. (We already have one of IKEA’s nifty LACK storage units — a wooden bookshelf or set of cubbies, depending on whether you set it vertically or horizontally — in the living room; we use it as a coffee table-cum-magazine storage unit. Randall helpfully flagged for me a picture in another design book of two LACKs stacked on top of each other. Ooh. We will be buying 182 of them.)

Sadly, I will not be able to top my favorite Mythic Moment in Home Organization. I was watching “MTV Cribs,” my favorite home décor show, which generally features football players and rock stars opening the doors to their ungapatchka bedrooms and purring: “This is where the magic happens.”

During one informative episode, I learned that rapper Missy Elliott is a fan of little Ricky Schroeder’s racecar bed in the abysmal 1980s sitcom “Silver Spoons.” So she copied it. With an actual Ferrari. The body of the actual Ferrari is now a queen-sized bed. When she pushes a button, a giant flat-panel TV rises majestically from the trunk. She pushes another button, and the hood lifts to reveal row upon row of snazzy kicks. (Kicks are sneakers. I know, I could not possibly sound more white than I do at this moment.) I must make sure that Josie never sees this show.

So why do we live someplace where we can barely fit two beds (let alone two racecar beds, even two crappy non-Ferrari ones) into one tiny bedroom shared by two kids? Because there are compensatory joys. I love our community. There’s our dry cleaner, who would not let me pay him to sew a crib bumper for Josie’s unusual-sized vintage bassinet. (“It’s a baby gift,” he insisted.) There’s Prakash at the corner bodega, who always gives Josie a little plastic egg with a toy in it. There are the Latino guys who work the flower stand out front, who save the slightly wilted flowers to give to Josie (she always beams and hollers: “Gracias, de nada!” not quite getting whose line is supposed to be whose). We have our vast community of Tompkins Square Park friends. We have fabulous free concerts every week at Madison Square Park; amazing zoos, botanical gardens and cultural centers; random film stars cooing over my offspring as we pass by on the street, and almost everyone, even the goyim, sharing a very Jewish, shrugging sense of humor about being crowded together like prickly siblings in a very small space.

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