Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Much Can They Hear, Anyway?

As I write this, I'm researching Craigslist for a new place to live, despite the fact that I really like the interior set up and size of my apartment very much. The aesthetics of the exterior don't bother me too much, as I don't have to look at it as much as the inside...but out there, unfortunately, are my neighbors.

When we looked at this apartment, I was 8 months pregnant, and very desperate to find a place without mold and water leakage that a baby could grow healthily in. The landlord didn't seem as smarmy (over the phone) as others that we'd met, and really sold us (again, over the phone) on the friendliness, "condo style remodeling", and quality of tenants. Due to our good credit, he said we could have our pick of the beautifully redone apartments. We viewed it, liked it, and committed to paying $125 more a month to go from a HOUSE in Hammond to an APARTMENT in Highland. That was on a Monday, we signed the lease by Thursday, and moved in on Saturday, thanks to some really great friends.

While it was still colder outside, all was well and good. No one lived above us or to the side of us, and we existed blissfully with our newborn baby and the windows closed. Flash forward to this summer.

I think it started when some friends were visiting the baby in the early evening and there were ambulance lights in the parking lot. Three times in one week. Turned out there's an elderly gentleman who always thinks he's dying and calls 911, but now 911 wont come out anymore. Ok. I can deal with this. It's not very intrusive in my life, and obviously, I can show compassion for someone who is ailing. Done.

Another friend who lives in a similar set up assures me that nicknaming the other residents is a normal pasttime in apartment living. The "smokers" stand outside the front doors of buildings and talk until the wee hours of the morning. Inconsiderate, yes, but unbearable, no. Until the smell of cigarettes wafts into my windows and I start worrying about secondhand smoke. Close my windows, you say? I like the breeze! I'm trying to save on energy costs! It's not that hot out! Ok. I can deal with this. I can close the windows if it gets too bad. Done.

Then someone moved in upstairs. Honeymoon over. Putting together their funny accent and name on the downstairs mailbox, I've ascertained that they are German. If they, and their obese child, continue to stomp around up there, I've got a few words to share with them, and one of them is "goosesteppers." Ok. I can deal with this. It's like dorm life all over again. Just shut it out, Sally. Even if her hopping around shakes our ceiling fixtures and rouses Raffi from his naps?

The final straw however is the cursing, obscenities, and general domestic disputes that occur, sadly, frequently. You can say that Lou and I haven't been married that long, or that we know better than to argue with the windows open, but I can honestly say that I would NEVER use the language I've heard (and learned) living in this apartment complex. We really love each other, double yes, and have no interest in our life becoming one of those episodes from COPS. I shouldn't joke, but "scary guy" has now had 3 COPS show worthy episodes in our complex.

June 12th: I am nursing the baby at 4a.m. and hear a man calling a woman all kinds of names- let's just say, names a trashy person would use to call someone who they think is cheating on them. The woman is screaming, crying- so I wake up Louie. He goes to call the real cops, but in his hesitation, a car pulls up, a guy in boxer shorts and no shoes gets out, and into his cell phone says, "I'm here, where are you?" Woman gets into car and the man escorts her away. Thank God for her safety, yes, but then "scary guy" comes out in the COPS episode uniform: no shirt, no shoes, camoflauge shorts, lots of tatoos, beer belly...SCREAMING in the dead of night- more obscenities. We tried to brush it off; spoke to the building manager who assured us that "scary guy" was drunk and "that's not the way we like to do business around here". He promised us that any more similar offenses would equal the eviction of said "scary guy". I didn't like it. I wanted him to be evicted right away. This is the same guy who HAS SMALL KIDS that I've heard him yell "shut your a** up" to, but I don't think they live with him. I'm worried for this families safety, and my own. Imagine, if this is the way he treats people he 'loves', imagine how he treats those he does not? Lots of lights were on in our complex that night. It wasn't just us that were pissed.

I assure you that I'm not a nosy neighbor. Small apartment building + windows open + home daily with a baby= I hear everything. But even if my windows were closed, I'd experience a lot of this.

So, flash forward, last week. Monday night/Tuesday a.m. I'm awoken by "scary guy" on his phone outside the building. I cannot, and will not, repeat the words he yelled at a woman- which woman, I do not know, but they involved vile slang for the female genitalia. I kept thinking, why doesn't she hang up? Eventually, she must have. He went inside cussing, and one of "the smokers" shook his head. I didn't wake Louie, but figured this would be "scary guy's" final strike.

In the morning, as Louie left for work, I told him about what I heard. Apparently, when I finally did get back to sleep I was in it pretty deeply, because Louie woke at 4 a.m. ("scary guy's" favorite time, I guess) to the same man/woman screaming at each other. This time, Louie called 911. Someone else had called as well. Louie said three cops came by, they took the woman home, and had "scary guy" close his windows. I was a little nervous this guy would find out it was us who called. Louie talked to both the landlord and the building manager. At first, they assured us that this was going to be handled properly, but within the week they had changed their story to "just drunk talk" that would be handled if anything "happened again".

How many warnings do these people need? It doesn't appear to be physical yet, but what happens when it is? What will it take? I can't deal with this. I'm D-O-N-E with dealing.

But then, as I rose to feed my erratic sleep scheduled son at 3:30 a.m., I tried to change his diaper and quiet his tears quickly. I realized, if I can hear all this outside stuff all night, what can they hear from inside our apartment? A baby crying is not as serious or life-threatening as these other encounters, but perhaps they're blogging, just the same, about ME.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Out and About

I read recently in a Parenting magazine article that there are 5 places a new mom should take her baby to get out of the house. They are, in no particular order: 1) the grocery store, 2) sporting events, 3) OB/GYN check-ups, 4) church, and 5) lunch with friends. If you’re a follower of this blog, you know we’ve pretty much covered number 1 below. The OB/GYN check ups are few and far between now that Raf’s met the 3 month mark, and Raf has attended some of my students’ baseball/softball games without incident. My experiences comparing church both pre and post baby will come at a later date (thanks for the idea, dear Brother). So, remaining from the aforementioned list is “lunch with friends” which I shall now address.

I suppose I jinxed myself when I was nursing Rafael this morning, cooing at him and telling him he is the "best baby in the world", and the "best lunch date in the world". This latter comment I would come to regret a few hours later. Meeting a college friend for lunch at a classic burger joint, I was excited to once again be out of the apartment and catching up on needed conversation. It started out well enough- sitting in his car seat, then my lap, bouncing him on my knee. Then he spit up all over my shoulder, a rarity even for Rafael. Soon after that, I somehow found a way to dump my pop- not all of it, thank God, in my lap, on my light colored khakis. The khakis that are one of the only pairs of pants that actually fit me post pregnancy- because despite their comfortableness, I refuse to still wear maternity pants.

In between several trips to the bathroom (two for him and one for me) Rafael started screaming hysterically (right when the food came, of course) and even I was caught by surprise. Should have seen it coming, I suppose: loud restaurant, playing quietly for an extended period of time…but I never do. My husband says that whenever I get worried over Rafael’s peculiar behavior it means he’s simply tuckered out- “the supernova burnout” as one friend calls it. Wasn’t until I rocked him standing up in the aisle outside of our booth that he drifted off to sleep and I held him close. This was followed by me eating a delicious, but lukewarm, burger and fries.

How many Diet Cokes did that waitress bring me? I should have kept track, as for a nursing mother, it’s almost as dangerous as alcohol. Perhaps that explains the 9 hour marathon Raf did this afternoon/evening of NON-sleeping. I don’t have caffeine very often, but when I do, I have a tendency to overdo it. Note to self: don’t load yourself (and kid) up with caffeine when your husband is away on a 2 day business trip and there’s no one to relieve your frazzled nerves when he wont go to bed.

Back at the restaurant, ahhh, at last- a sleeping baby. They have to be the most perfect creations in the world. My friend and I caught up on old stories and new dreams, and I once again, felt reassured about my perfect little lunch date.

Not so fast, Mom.

I overstayed my window, breaking the rule that I should have learned by now: start leaving while baby is asleep, or at least, transition out of restaurant. However, when you’re in the moment, enjoying yourself, you don’t want to let it end. So, Hungry Baby rears his ugly head, refusing a bottle and only wanting The Real Stuff. Not comfortable nursing in public, my friend and I gather our (mostly Raffi’s) things like pack horses and head for the exit. Not before I find out that the restaurant only takes cash, of which I don’t have, so my dear friend pays for our meal so we can stop the ongoing scene of the screaming baby. After being tipped, the waitress adds her two cents, "it's time." Ouch.

As my friend and I take our leave, I cram myself in the passenger seat, unleash the mammary glands, and Rafael is sustained. The drive home is uneventful- clearly he wore himself out with all of the hysterics. It’s just as well- the drive home provided time to think: Why did the magazine suggest this again?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mission Field

Usually, I write about my experiences being a new mom. This essay fits, if you stick with it, I promise. And no poop or papoose stories this time.

A few weeks ago, I was back at St. Ann of the Dunes parish in beautiful Beverly Shores, Indiana for Father Lucian's annual Passionist Volunteers International mission. Believe it or not, I've been speaking to the parishioners there for seven, yes, SEVEN, years. As a "NWI local" in 2003, I spoke about my hopes in going to Jamaica, and in the following years, how the year impacted my life. It's funny, too; in 2006 I reunited with Father Lucian telling him all about "this guy" I 2007 "that guy" was my fiance Louie, in 2008 he was my husband. This year, baby Rafael was in tow, and I kinda felt like each year I add an accessory! Someone teased me that next year, kid #2 would be there, but for my personal sanity, I hope not. Truly, I always look forward to going each summer to reconnect with familiar faces who continue to support a service program that means so much to me, and most everyone is very welcoming.

This year, as I made my way to sit in the front of the church (yeah, take that other Catholics!), an older lady came up to me. She said, "Oh, I remember you- from that volunteer program!" I gratefully acknowledged her support and we chatted briefly. Then, glancing down at the baby, she said, "Well, I guess no more missions for you for a while!"

I don't know why that comment hit me like a ton of bricks, but it did. I laughed and nodded at her comment, but it nagged at me the rest of Mass. I suppose she was right in saying what she thought she was saying...with a new baby, it's not likely that I'm off to Africa again or to spend extended time in the Carribean. Sometimes, I challenge even these thoughts, and wish to have my children grow up as volunteers for the Church in the Developing World. But I can admit that these desires are probably not as realistic as the fact that the closest my kids will get to seeing the faith/struggle/poverty of Jamaica is on a week long visit.

The lady was wrong, though, in her perception of mission, and what it means to the Church. I was reaffirmed today at Theology on Tap, when the speaker was describing the Mass as a 'sending forth' to go and advance the Kingdom of God in the world around us. No, I'm not in a rural school at the top of a mountain, or visiting people in homes made of scrap metal. But we're all on mission. My mission now consists of raising a son to love, know, and serve God.
My mission consists of growing closer to my husband rooted in this faith we hold dear. My mission is to preach God's abundant love to those around me (hopefully without always using words). Not so very long ago, my mission was to bring God to 8 and 9 year olds in East Chicago. That lady was, and IS, wrong. I am on a mission. We all are. And if there's one thing God has truly taught me, it's that His missions are way better than the ones I plan and want for myself.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Is He a Good Baby?

When I was pregnant, the question I got most was, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Due to the fact we weren't finding out ahead of schedule, I always seemed to disappoint people with my answer. However, old skool type people usually had the reaction my grandmother did, "There are so few surprises left in this world- good for you!". That question was often followed with, "How will you decorate the nursery?" My thoughts hearken back to Jamaica, where kids share beds with multiple family members, and a baby most certainly would not have its own room. "Safari," I'd say, "inspired by a trip to Africa." Then they'd say, "What will you do if it's a girl?" Ummmm....last I checked, the appreciation of wildlife is neither masculine or feminine! Guess Raf cut it close on that one.

Now when I'm out and about, the question I get asked EVERY DAY is, "Is he a good baby?" This question puzzles me. Of course, I always answer with my usual, "Yes, he's great...", but it has led me to analyze this question repeatedly.

1) What IS a good baby? My mom assures me that if he were a 'bad' baby, I'd know it. Crying & screaming repeatedly, I suppose. But, since babies aren't really willful and with the capacity to do evil, I think this adjective is unnecessary.

2) Even if he WAS a bad baby, would I tell a complete stranger? There seems to be some sort of unspoken bond I have with my child. Poop stories, sure, I'll tell them. Breast milk leakage, I'll admit. But telling someone at the grocery store (note the theme- I get out once a week :) that my kid is "bad" is just not something I'm going to do.

Perhaps if he was a bad baby, and I actually told said stranger, I'd surprise them even more by saying, "Here- want to take him home?"