Gentle feet, gentle voices

Reluctantly re-taming my children to urban life

We moved to the Hudson Valley last year under the frantic circumstances of the pandemic, put in a real estate limbo that had to do with needing to move out of one apartment but having nowhere to go. Some of our things went into storage, some went to my parents’ house, and some went to a studio where Jacob stores his video production equipment. The dispersal of stuff is a true nightmare, the reclamation of this stuff even worse (PSA: Don’t hire Makespace); it’s the emotional vulnerability that storage businesses prey upon and allow them to thrive. 

In August 2020, we landed, still with too much stuff, at a small house we purchased long before children near the foot of Mohonk Mountain. The house itself is very, very tiny, with only one fully enclosed bedroom, and fortunately, a yard. The yard became our lifeline and an extension of the interior. I took up The Taming of the Weeds as a full-time endeavor, followed by planting bulbs in the fall, then in the spring, perennials. I ordered four cubic yards of mulch in the spring, which was dropped off on a tarp in our yard, embracing the catharsis of weeding, wheelbarrowing, and hauling the mulch. While I did these mundane but gratifying physical things, the kids made up games under the giant pine tree, or in the driveway with their scooters. They would bring out blankets and pop up a tent and exist in a seamless state of indoor/outdoor.

We would scoot or walk up and down our cul-de-sac daily, sometimes multiple times daily, and in doing so finally met the neighbors, including another five year old who lived down the way. We often made our way to his house, kids in bathing suits and scooting barefoot and would swing on his swing or catch tadpoles in the water that flowed in front of his house, sometimes even when he wasn’t home. 

During this time, Ada largely gave up shoes, and Julian decided there was no point in using a toilet. Animals pee outside, and when he finally potty trained, so could he. One of their favorite activities was sitting on the roof of our car, just hanging out, with books, toys, and various found objects, sunning, or doing whatever they did up there. 

They were often salty and sticky but baths seemed laborious, so they dunked themselves into the swim hole down the road or sprayed each other with the hose. Ada developed seemingly permanent knots in her hair from the sweaty stick of it, but refused to ever comb or cut her mane. As a result of heavy yard usage, our house was always messy with the residue of their play—mud cakes, flower petals from Ada’s various nature soups, and rocks. So. Many. rocks. 

After dinner we developed a ritual of the evening dance-off. Jacob would put some tracks onto the Sonos and Ada would immediately get going with some hair whips, rolling around on the ground, spinning for 5 minutes at a time. She loves Robyn and this 9-minute track by Todd Terje and Lindstrom called Lanzarote, and at some point we made it a competition. I was usually the judge and Julian never wanted to participate, so it was almost always a battle between Ada and Jacob, one upping each other with full post-dinner stomachs. There was stomping and yelling, and Ada would shriek, insisting on knowing if she’d won this very low-stakes sport. 

We had the great privilege of not thinking much about the noise we made or the impact of our heavy feet during a year of chronic barriers and confinement. (Read: “In the coronavirus crisis, who gets to be outside?”) It was a kind of freedom I didn’t knowI was looking for, and didn’t used to want, both because of the pandemic and because of living in NYC for 15 years before that.

We primed the kids that when we moved back to Brooklyn we’d be in a building where we couldn’t stomp or jump off the beds. When they had extra energy we could go to the playground. That they needed to wear shoes outside, and shouldn’t pick the flowers from the neighbor’s houses. That Julian couldn’t pee anywhere he wanted outside, because “nature pees” are not a thing in the city. (Or they are but we aren’t encouraging it). As I said it all, I was already mourning the loss of the thin barrier between inside and out, while simultaneously cherishing all our newfound proximity to things (i.e. food choices other than pizza). 

The first day here was the hardest, nothing unpacked, kids jet lagged, unaccustomed to walking down a city street without tripping or whining. A week later, they have settled into new rhythms and ways of feeling wild: riding on the back of a bike, scooting to the park, Ada taking the subway to me with camp in the morning and naming all the flowers along the way. This morning we walked past a blind man who we’ve crossed paths with three days in a row at exactly 8:25 a.m. “Why do we always see that man in the same place every morning?” Ada asked. “It’s probably part of his routine,” I said. “And taking the subway is our new routine too,” she said, quick to pick up on the new normal and not necessarily missing our old ways of romping about, loud and shoeless, at all. 

Recommendations for the kids:

Recommendations for the grown-ups:

That’s it for this week! There are many ways to support the continued creation of this free newsletter. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a friend, like it, leave a comment, and/or send me a note. On a professional beat, I also offer career coaching and Product Advising + Consulting. My specialty is around building products for kids + parents. And, If you like my children’s book recommendations, follow me @kidsbookrecs.

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