When I was pregnant, I had a certain idea about how my maternity leave would be. As the due date approached, my ideas got more and more fantastical. I imagined rocking my November baby to sleep while gazing out the window at a peaceful snowfall. I played out in my mind the time I would spend writing my screenplays while she slept away the hours. I would finish reading the novels I didn’t have the attention span to complete when I was pregnant. I would bond with this new creature the way only a mother could.
But things didn’t exactly turn out that way. My beautiful little daughter absolutely refused to sleep or let me put her down anywhere. Ever. I swear to you, at two weeks old, if her lids began to droop, she would take her tiny fist and bat at her eyes until they were once again wide open. Even when she did sleep, she made weird, farm-animal noises that had me convinced there was something wrong with her. So I didn’t sleep, but instead stared at her waiting for her to stop breathing. (The doctor didn’t seem to be concerned about farm animal noises, but really, what did he know.)
I ate in five-second increments, standing. At two months, there was still nothing that would entertain or console her. Baby swing – nope. Bouncy chair – no way. Crib mobile – maybe for five minutes, and she would only fall for that trick once a day. I scoured the internet, armed with advice from friends and family, desperately ordering equipment that might provide me a small window in which to get a drink of water or brush my hair or go to the bathroom. No. She wanted TO BE HELD. I actually developed carpal tunnel from having my wrists be in the same awkward position all day and night.
So why I generated similar delusionary fantasies about being a stay-at-home mom, I can’t explain. I actually pictured peaceful afternoon of writing brilliance while she napped. I imagined us having picnics in the park.
But guess what? She didn’t want to nap. She also didn’t want to eat, so picnics weren’t much fun. And at 15 months old, her advanced language skills consisted mostly of commands. So there I was, with a new job that didn’t pay a cent for which I was on-call 24/7, with a new boss that cried and screamed if she didn’t like my performance.
The first full week ended in me waiting by the door for my husband to come home and then guzzling a bottle of wine and passing out.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t regret my decision, not for a minute. Those days were still wonderful much of the time. I don’t need to go on and on about how brilliant and charismatic my daughter is because I’m certain you’ve heard it all in your own head about the children in your life. And all those character traits that I was struggling with – demanding, opinionated, stubborn – those things were going to develop her into being exactly the kind of woman I wanted her to be.
It was also a relief to have a break from corporate life. I remember pushing her stroller down Broadway in lower Manhattan and feeling sorry for all the people in business suit flooding out of taxis or out of the subway. The release from the intense pressure I didn’t even realize I had been feeling was exhilarating.
But I still needed a plan. Some order. So I did what any good mother who was preparing college applications for her one-and-a-half year old would do. I loaded up on the extra-curricular activities.
We lived in Manhattan’s Financial District, in a small neighborhood call Battery Park City. This area was perfect for us when we were both working, as our offices were blocks from the building where we lived. It was even better for mothers desperate to entertain children. There was a boardwalk along the river perfect for stroller pushing. There were parks and playgrounds everywhere. The Battery Park City Parks Conservancy put on activities throughout the year. These included children’s activities in the parks as well as concerts and fairs. Plus, in Battery Park City and Tribeca, there had been a large wave of families migrating into the neighborhoods. Which meant there were plenty of kids classes, etc.
A month into full-time motherhood, Sophia was on a regular schedule that included two walks a day along the river to lull her into naps, music class, ballet class, art class, gym classes, swimming class at the pool on the top floor of our building and of course, playground time. In the evenings when my husband returned home, we would have a picnic by the water or go and see a free jazz concert in the park or just relax on the couch in front of the television. A Whole Foods opened up in the neighborhood. It was a good life.
But it was an unsustainable fantasy.
It was not financially responsible for us to exist in this little world without my income. We needed to find a less expensive place. So we looked at apartments, we even looked outside Manhattan (ahhhhhhhhggggg). Eventually, we found a place on the east side of Manhattan near the East River and Gramercy Park. It was another little community, perfect for families, called Peter Cooper Village. Adjacent to it was its sister property Stuyvesant Town. This area also had numerous parks and playgrounds. It had a center that included a child’s playroom with a variety of classes for kids. It had it’s own movie theater and library. It had a lounge that held community parties and events. There was a bus, run by the property management, that would take my husband to the Financial District every morning. We had a newly renovated apartment on the top floor of one of the buildings for much less than we were paying in Battery Park City. We were still in walking distance of a Whole Foods, and now, a Trader’s Joes! It was great.
But somehow we missed the fact that we were renting ourselves into one of the biggest and most controversial real estate lawsuits in New York City history…