Monday, August 5, 2013

Omnia Causa Fiunt

Her name is April, and she’s beautiful.  Curly wisps of brown hair spring from her head, she has a button nose that scrunches when she grins and her legs are long and lean, just like her daddy’s.  She runs, not walks, everywhere, loves to show off her baby doll collection and when she giggles her white wings bounce up and down, sending clouds of tiny feathers floating to the ground.  She is the proud president of the Welcome Committee, and greets all of the newcomers to the Baby Ward with a warm embrace and a loving smile, taking their hand and leading them to the playroom, saying, “You’re really going to love it here…” At least that’s how she is in my dreams, my sweet April, and I can’t wait to hold her in my arms.

Steve met me in the city one hot Saturday morning; I had been helping a friend pick out her wedding dress, not realizing that down the street from the dress shop thousands of New Yorkers, gay and straight, were gathering to celebrate the Pride Parade and the legalization of gay marriage in the state of New York.  “Come on, it’ll be fun!” I pleaded to him, “I’ll meet you on the corner of 23rd and 6th.”  We found ourselves on one of the busiest corners of the parade, and climbed the scaffolding so that we could engage in some serious people watching.  It was an afternoon full of excitement, love, pure joy and inclusion, and I watched with particular interest the straight couples pushing their young ones through the crowd in strollers.  What a wonderful way to raise a child, I thought to myself, showing them by example what it means to love your neighbor.  I said so to Steve, who agreed but gave me the look I had been getting from him a lot that summer: Babe, don’t get too excited.

On the ride home that afternoon on the subway, I sat next to a young mom carrying her baby in a Baby Bjorn-like front carrier while Steve held on to the bar in front of me.  The baby, who couldn’t have been more than 6 months old, was excitedly hitting me on the shoulder and grabbing for my glasses.  I smiled back at the little guy, making those funny faces that we all make to small children. We got off at Union Square to transfer to the Q, and Steve and I got separated as we fought through the funnel that led to the stairs.  It wasn’t until I felt his hand grab mine and lead me to the side wall that I gave him a good look, noticing that he didn’t seem well.  He was breathing really heavy, beads of sweat forming at his brow and he looked me deep in the eyes.  

“Oh my God, are you ok?” I asked frantically, thinking he was suffering from a heat stroke.  

“Yes…Jackie…I’m ready.” 

Ready for what?? “You’re scaring me, what’s going on?” 

“Jackie, I’m ready to have a baby.” 

A month later, I sat in our small bathroom watching the clock tick through seconds like they were decades and counting the alternating black and white tiles on the floor.  I could only breathe in short spurts, and I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest.  I could hear Steve pacing the hallway on the other side of the door.  I should have left for work fifteen minutes ago, but work could wait.  This was the day I had marked in my calendar with one word: test.  I closed my eyes tight, saying one of those prayers that don’t actually contain words just fleeting thoughts, and had an overwhelming sensation wash over me: there’s no going back now.  If you keep your eyes closed, you can be lost in this moment for as long as you want.  The minute you open them, your life will change forever.  I don’t have a good track record of listening to myself, so I opened them…

I clamored to the doorknob, threw open the door and met Steve face-to-face in the narrow hallway.  “I’m pregnant!”   

The next few days were a blur of blood tests and Google searches - “Early pregnancy stomach ache”, “Pregnant coffee restriction” and “How to raise hormone levels”, among many others.  My blood tests had indicated that my hormone levels were really low, too low.  My doctor suggested we be “cautiously optimistic,” a phrase that still sends chills down my spine.  I was convinced this was just a small hurdle, something that we would look back on in 9 months with a chuckle and say how silly we were to be so worried.  Steve and I spent our evenings whispering gleefully about names, nursery colors and stroller preferences.  We had started a family, and our hearts were already filling to the brim with love.

A few days later I received the news from a nurse via phone call as I huddled in the elevator bank of my office building’s 12th floor - a follow-up blood test showed that now all of my hormone levels were really low, too low.  It wasn’t looking good, and she said I should expect to miscarry within the next few days.  “The embryo.”  My baby.  Our baby.  I still remember the grey tiles speckled with black dust and the sound of the service elevator opening and closing behind me.  The next day was August 5th, 2011, what I consider to be the worst day of my life. 

The traumatic experience that millions of us have gone through is simplified to two questions on medical intake forms: How many times have you been pregnant? Twice.  How many children do you have? One.

Steve has a beautiful tattoo on his shoulder: Omnia Causa Fiunt.  Everything happens for a reason.  Once you accept that into your life, you allow yourself the freedom to heal.  I’ve spent exactly two years pouring over in my mind the “reasons” that “everything” happened the way they did.  Those reasons are endless, and I have to trust in God’s plan.  That doesn’t make it any less painful.

A few times a week, as I’m changing Josie’s diaper she will stare up to the far corner of her room with a clear and alert look in her eyes.  Sometimes she waves, sometimes she giggles and sometimes she reaches her fingertips out as if to touch something.  A Guardian Angel, perhaps. 

Every once in a while as I’m quietly sitting by myself in the living room, one of Josie’s toys that plays a soft, hypnotic version of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” will spontaneously turn itself on.  I always smile and close my eyes.  That’s my favorite song too, April.      

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mom Seeking Mom - Strictly Platonic

I love my friends.  But as a new mom in a new city, I find that I’m dying to meet other young moms with similar interests who are available at 11:30 am on a Tuesday to push a stroller around the park or debate Aveeno vs. Burt’s Bees diaper cream.  Also, it would be nice to put my child next to another kid and just walk away, knowing that there is another competent adult nearby to intervene should my little one find the one magazine within a 10-foot radius, tear off a corner of the cover, moisten it with a healthy dose of drool and wind it far up her nostril.

I’ve already acknowledged (and am attempting to rehabilitate) my extreme awkwardness in social situations…but I’m still a weirdo when it comes to meeting new people.  I’m always so concerned with being cool and approachable and happenin’, that I often waaaay overdo it and come off as being a tool (evidence: I just said ‘happenin’).  Making new friends is really similar to dating, but I wouldn’t know because that’s something I haven’t actually done in real adult life.  Steve and I have been together for 8 years, and back when we met, “dating” went a little something like this:



“Want another beer?”


Hands me a Natty Lite and a beer bong with his fraternity’s name.

“You’re hot.”

“So are you.”

Starts making out.

Ahh, young love is so refreshing.  It’s obvious that I had some serious game back then, so I’m understandably baffled why, after 5 months in the Windy City, Josie and I are still ridin’ solo.  To be honest, we’re kind of tired of each other.  When she wakes up from her nap, I walk into her room and she audibly sighs, as if to say, “You again?”  Her first full sentence was, “Mom, you’ve told me that story 8 times already.”  We’re kind of running out of things to talk about, so we decided to beat the heat wave that’s crushing the country by heading to one of Chicago’s many fantastic free public pools.

Our public pools run on a very strict schedule, usually in 1.5-hour increments to allow different groups to utilize the cool waters.  For example, there’s Day Camp time (lots of yelling and splashing), Lap Swim time (obnoxious - stop exercising weirdoes), Teen Swim time (super hormone-y) and our slot, Parent & Tot time.  We’ve got three pools nearby, so every morning I check each of their schedules to find the Parent & Tot time that best fits within our day’s plans.  Yesterday, we headed over to the huge California Park pool, part of one of Chicago’s countless parks.  Once Josie has seen the pool, changing her into her swim diaper is like trying to hug a spider monkey, so I did the best I could and we jumped right in.  Cool relief washed over us as we giggled, splashed and played in the gleaming water.    There was another mom and her toddler playing nearby, and I immediately felt a bit of chemistry as we exchanged that brief knowing glance that says, You cool?  Yea, you cool? Hell yea, let’s chat.  They waded their way over to us, and we made small talk as our daughters splashed together.  Things were going really well, until she asked me a strange question.

“So, are you an opera singer?”

WTF. I started frantically flipping through the catalogs in my brain – had she heard my hurried rendition of “Itsy Bitsy Spider?” Does my new swimsuit make me look like a freckly Lady Macbeth?  Or maybe my lip fuzz was starting to sunburn.  On second thought, maybe I am a better singer than I thought I was.

(Ed. note: This is a perfect example of a situation in which I am best to just quietly shake my head and slowly swim away.)

“Oh an opera singer?  Ha ha…um…yea of course…singing is…me...good in the shower! Actually, in first grade I was in the school choir, but then they let us choose to either stay in the choir or play the recorder, and I was totally like ‘mom, buy me a recorder!’  Come to think of it, it was the first time I felt personal dissatisfaction at the decisions I had made for my life.  I always wondered what would have happened had I stayed in the choir…would Jay Z have discovered my Gaelic electro-rap video on YouTube and offered me a $150 million contract to tour the country with Rihanna? No one ever offers the recorder player a contract.  Or a party invite.  Hashtag life fail.  Ha ha ha.  Ha.”

“Wait, what?  I don’t even…get it.” she responded.

“Oh, no. I’m not an opera singer, why do you ask”…a sane person might have responded.

She said, “Oh, I’m sorry.  I only asked because you have Ave Maria tattooed on your back, I just assumed…” as she grabbed her child’s arm and ever so conveniently found the nearest ladder, mumbling something about a sunscreen allergy.  See you never.  Another one bites the dust.

I’m sure we will soon have an extensive network of mommies and babies to call on for all of our play date needs, and a year from now we will have a social calendar to rival Malia Obama.  You’re right, I should enjoy these unscheduled and stress-free dog days of summer, because before I know it my little nutjob will be too busy to read a book on my lap, have an impromptu dance party whenever Robin Thicke comes on Pandora or politely listen to my whistled version of the opening theme of West Side Story.  More friends will come with time, but precious moments are brief.  For now, we’ll just enjoy each other’s company – the ultimate mommy and me playtime!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Would YOU Do?

My life is a never-ending episode of ABC’s social experiment “What Would You Do?” If you haven’t seen it, it’s a full hour of bored producers staging controversial situations and recording bystanders’ reactions.  Is that middle-aged woman going to interfere with that mom giving her toddler a Capri Sun?  Will that high schooler stop that elderly man from buying a bootleg version of “Very Best of Cher”?  It always involves some sort of commercial break cliffhanger, and it never fails to leave me on the edge of my seat.  Damn you ABC and your quality programming.

Unfortunately, if I had a team of television producers following me around (call me?), they wouldn’t need to hire actors and write scripts to portray awkward, uncomfortable scenes of people in situations requiring a stranger’s interference, because that is my life.  All day every day.  Awkward.  Intervention.  Strangers.  I can hear John Quinones in my head…

“What would YOU do if you saw a pale, 20-something mother with bad highlights spill her latte all over her Old Navy t-shirt while she tries, and fails, three times to plow her stroller over the front door’s threshold of her apartment building?” The answer is – nothing.  You would do nothing. 

Then there’s-

“What would YOU do if you saw a young mom in loafers marketed for ‘active seniors’ walking back and forth, back and forth past you in the mall looking for the elevator, and when she realizes it was right in front of her and that she was making a scene, pull her phone out and act like she was looking for her husband?” Again, you would, and should, do nothing.        

I don’t always get overlooked, though.  There was a recent incident where a kind, old Latino man had to help me parallel park my car after I spent 15 grueling minutes accomplishing nothing but inching it further away from the curb, a curb that was in front of a yard hosting a family gathering.  It was done more out of pity than a sense of duty, and because traffic had started to pile up.

I’ve realized since moving to Chicago a few months ago that this is perhaps a city in which I don’t want a stranger’s helping hand.  New York City has the deserved reputation of being a tough, callous sea of anonymous faces, but I think we underestimated Chicago’s crime epidemic.  I had heard stories of gang violence and drug raids, but for realz - this city is no joke!  And while NYC’s crime seemed to be localized to a handful of neighborhoods, it seems that in Chicago we are never far away from the breaking news. 

When we made the decision to move to Chicago, we decided that since the cost of living was somewhat cheaper than NYC, we would ideally like to cut our rent in half, socking the rest of it away in a savings account that would some day help us buy our first home.  Great plan, right?  We consulted a real estate agent in one of our target neighborhoods and he assured us that, regardless of our humble budget, he would absolutely, certainly be able to find us a nice apartment to rent.  Fast forward a few months when we called upon this agent to help us secure promised apartment and his response was, “No way, your budget is too low and I will never, ever be able to find you a home for that much.”  WTF, thanks for nothing dude.  So we were understandably stressed this past winter when, on the single day we allowed ourselves to find an apartment and sign a lease, the appointments with realtors that we had set up were not producing any acceptable living spaces.  Sure – the pictures were gorgeous!  City living, popular neighborhood, renovated apartment right at our budget!  Well…those pictures seemed to exclude the kitchen with no refrigerator, or the air ducts that hung so low in the living area that Steve had to duck to get under them.  And then there was the one beautifully renovated 2-bedroom in Wicker Park that failed to mention that the second bedroom would also need to be the living room, because the only open space was turned into a kitchen.  Oh yea, and we would have to trade our queen-size mattress for bunk beds.  As that dreary day in December came to a close, we were FREAKING OUT, and seriously rethinking our decision to leave our spacious, comfortable and familiar NYC lifestyle.  The realtor that we were with said she thought her partner might have a place available, had we heard of Albany Park?…follow her to the highway and she would text us the address.  Once off the highway, we drove through tree-lined streets with well-kept single-family bungalows and the occasional large U-shaped apartment building.  We were let into the second-floor unit and our eyes scanned the gleaming hardwoods, stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops.  When she told us the price, we gave each other a knowing eye twitch and simultaneously shouted, “We’ll take it!”  Within an hour we were turning over a cashier’s check and signing the papers.    

We knew absolutely nothing about the area when we decided to live here, and there’s no denying the fact that we look different than most of the residents of this neighborhood – our zip code is known as one of the most diverse in the nation and hosts both the Irish American Heritage Center and the Cambodian Association of Illinois, among many others.  We’ve always liked surrounding ourselves with diversity, though, and being able to walk down the street and not feel like we got caught in the middle of a casting call for the L.L.Bean winter catalog.  Considering we found this place practically by accident, we consider ourselves very lucky.  Within walking distance of our building, you can eat Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, McDonald's (Americanese?), Chinese, Mexican and Cuban.  You can get Starbucks coffee, smoke a hookah, learn to salsa dance or shop at a store that always makes me giggle called “Sexy Girls of the Hollywood.”  It’s the freakin United Nations over here, and we’re enjoying experiencing all that our neighborhood has to offer. 

While everyone in this diverse neighborhood has been kind and welcoming, I don’t know if they were ready for our particular brand of unique.  I do view it, though, as a fresh new audience in front of whom I will surely embarrass myself on a regular basis.  I’m proud to say that my daughter will grow up around kids from countless different countries and backgrounds, yet will always be known as the little girl with the kooky mom who forgot her headphones weren’t fully plugged in when she was blasting “Mmmbop” by Hanson.  So what would YOU do?  You would hopefully do nothing but mock me silently in the confines of your own mind, unless I also had spinach stuck in my teeth.  In that case, please intervene.     

Friday, May 17, 2013

Skin Cancer = Not Good

This increasingly warm weather has me daydreaming about sunny beaches and rum-spiked frozen drinks.  Perhaps it’s because I just uncovered a folder on our computer of pictures from our honeymoon in St. Lucia, and after looking through them close to 100 times I have subconsciously scraped, “Shut up, skinny bitch” on our desk with my fingernail.  But that doesn’t concern you - back to our discussion about beaches.  Luckily, we have a preference for cities that are situated on large bodies of water, so we’re never a far subway ride and/or car trip to a sandy urban getaway.  Back in Brooklyn, it was as easy as packing our day bag and hopping on the Q train, and in 20 minutes flat we were arm wrestling “curvy” Russian men in speedos to plant our beach chairs in the last remaining strip of sand without any visible hypodermic needles.  God I miss Brooklyn.  Our last summer there, however, I was hugely pregnant.  HUGELY pregnant.  A fond memory comes to mind of our July 4th trip out to Brighton Beach: windblown and sunkissed, we had all packed our things and were assembling on the boardwalk as we each, one by one, rinsed our feet and shook the sand pebbles from our towels.  We decided it was a perfect time for a group shot, so we lined up prom-style while a stranger snapped the picture.  Then, the dear friend behind whom I was standing alerted me that I was “creeping him out” because I kept “putting my baby on him.”  I miss you guys.    

With so many upcoming hot days spent outside underneath the bright and burning sun, I implore you to please be sun-safe.  From someone whose skin is Swiss cheese from so many moles removed, I wish I had taken my own advice from a young age.  Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with 1 in 5 Americans developing it in the course of a lifetime (  And it so often effects young people - lots of them.  I cringe now thinking of the time I bought a membership to a tanning salon in college to “prepare” for vacation.  So. Dumb.  I have no doubt that those stupid mistakes, plus a large dose of heredity, have played a part in my current relationship with my dermatologist.  My former NYC doctor’s son is definitely going to college solely because of how much money I funneled into his practice.  Yep - that $29.99 membership to the Levee Laundry & Tan in West Lafayette was totally worth it...SYKE*! 
(*Yea, I’m still trying to bring that back...your support is appreciated.)

When we moved to Chicago, the first doctor I sought to find was a new dermatologist, knowing that I pretty much need to be in the constant care of a credible practitioner.  Also, believe it or not, having a baby does nutso things to your skin and many cases of skin cancer have been known to develop during and after pregnancy.  I found an awesome doctor associated with Northwestern hospital, and consider myself very lucky to have joined her practice.  However, to say she is “thorough” is an understatement.  You know that phrase, “where the sun don’t shine?”  Well she has obviously never heard that.  I’m no longer able to look her in the eyes, but I do feel...properly examined.  She decided that two spots on my body needed to be removed, “like...yesterday” so I bit another bullet and had that done.  Luckily, I got the call last night that the results from pathology were all clear (phew!), even though she said that of all the patients she saw last week, one of my moles was the one that she was sure was melanoma.  Damn.  Nothing will make you buy the family pack of sunscreen faster than a dermatologist dropping the ‘M’ word.  Thank the Lord it was ok.  

This doesn’t mean that I will stop playing outside at the park with my daughter or enjoying a leisurely afternoon in the sand, because those are some of my favorite things to do when the weather gets warm.  This does, however, mean that we should ALL be a little more sun-conscious, regardless of your family history.  If you take one of these tips to heart I will be a happy lady:

-Avoid tanning beds.  Seriously, this isn’t 2002.  They’re not cool anymore, so stop going. 

-Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out into the sun.  A lot of people wait until they’re on the pool deck to slather it on, but in order for it to be most effective and soak into your skin you need to do it before you leave the house.  This also helps you avoid that awkward leg-up-on-the-chair one needs to see you apply lotion to the back of your thigh.  Unless you’re David Beckham, and in that case - please, don’t stop.

-Find a dermatologist, and actually go see them once a year.  They’re not a bunch of weirdo freaks with a skin fetish (barf), they are highly trained and competent doctors who just might spot a spot (pun intended) that saves your life.  Trust me, the two days of soreness after having a mole removed is so worth it when you’re faced with one of the yuckiest cancers out there.  Real talk: having a hole cut out of you is less unattractive than having part of your leg removed because of an aggressive melanoma.  Scars fade, cancer kills.  Or I’ll be happy to remove any questionable lesions for a $25 gift card to Coldstone Creamery (PER MOLE).  Don’t worry, we have Wusthof knives and I’m handy with a sewing machine.

-No one is immune, regardless of skin color.  You’re probably saying, “Hey Jackie, quit killing my buzz.  I get really tan when I go in the sun, so there’s no way I’m going to get the melanoma that effects people like you, ghost face.”  First of all, rude.  Second of all, did you know that Bob Marley died of melanoma?  I didn’t either, I actually just learned that by Googling “melanoma”.  My point is that it can happen to anyone.  

-Finally, for God’s sake, if you see something “different” growing on your body don’t ignore it.  These here edumacated fisishans use a system called “ABCDE”.  A mole should be checked if it has one of the following:
A- Asymmetry
B- Border - uneven or notched
C- Color - two or more different pigments within the same mole
 D- Diameter - cancerous cells usually grow to be larger than a pencil eraser  
E- Evolving - any change at all

As you see, it’s really not hard to potentially save your own life.  Now go and frolic in the sun and sand (or clouds and concrete, because seriously, it’s only May.) And please stop sending me pictures of your moles.  That stuff grosses me out.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Remember That One Time I Quit Writing for Two Years?

Ok, so I owe you an apology.  It’s not’s me.  You see, things have gotten a little busy.  First, we’re riding high in our New York City lifestyle - me: cooking (duh) and attempting to forge my way through my new culinary career; Steve:  Then all of a sudden, we have a few glasses of vino, “The Notebook” comes on TCM and before I knew it I was elbow deep in miniature clothes and saying things like, “Honey, is that poop or sweet potato ground into our brand new couch?”  So yeah, a lot of things have changed for the two of us, including but not limited to:

-We no longer have cable because my husband (who shall remain nameless) decided that he’d rather be a technology weirdo and wait for some dumb internet service to come to our city to provide television.  I have to watch “Teen Mom 2” online, and that makes me angry.  Also, the original “Teen Mom” ended.  I paced the house for a full week wondering if Maci and Ryan were going to work out their issues and raise Bentley with or without the help of lovable yet redheaded Kyle.

-My mom gave me her awesome old sewing machine.  Since then, I am constantly looking for things to repair and/or alter with a little wool felt, a carefully cut applique and polyester thread.  On a related note, I am not the one who keeps sewing purple hearts and ribbon to everything in our apartment.  That was someone else...  

-I have two new nieces since I last wrote about the idle dribblings of my life.  Nieces and nephews are the best!  Adorable little humans who kind of look like you (or your husband), yet you don’t have to worry constantly about whether or not they’re going to write an essay in college about the time you took a toy away from them when they were six months old, unintentionally creating a deep-festering sense of abandonment that can only be quelled with the compulsive hoarding of Coney Island memorabilia.  But hey, kids are great.  

-We travelled to Italy!  I can honestly say they were two of the best weeks of my life.  We went with my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law (pre-children).  I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to do those two weeks of complete heaven justice by attempting to discuss it here.  I’ll just say this: whenever I see a picture from our trip, or just Italy in general, I get misty eyed.  My previous experience with Italy was at famed NYC market Eataly (which you can read about here), but the real country is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.  The food, the people, the rolling hills and orange sunsets.  Ah.  Maybe some day I’ll make it back...God willing. 

-And finally, I gave birth to a baby girl, moved to Chicago, bought a car, got a washing machine, dryer, dish washer and central air, I became a stay-at-home mom (or if we’re being PC, a “homemaker”), I cut my hair, started a weight-loss program and got a new mug that says “I love you”.  Obviously you’re shocked to hear about the new mug, so I’ll let that one marinate for now.  But it’s important to note that my life, and my chosen place in this ever-changing world around us, is completely, COMPLETELY, different than it was even a year ago.  

So my dear friends, old and new, I hope you will join me on this next chapter of the “Getting Cooked” saga.  Some of you are excited, and were beginning to wonder if I’d given up writing, or worse, lost all my finger tips in a freak Bagel Bite incident (highly likely).  Alternatively, some of you are wondering why you visited this page, and are contemplating ways that you can ask me to compensate you for the five minutes you just wasted staring at incoherent black scribblings on your computer screen.  If that last one describes you: relax, those black scribblings are called words.  You should probably get out more.  J/K love you all! Smooches.  

Happy early Mother’s Day!


Meatloaf is one of those things that I consider a “kitchen sink” meal - you gather all the leftovers in your fridge, throw them into some ground meat and voila!  You have a gross pile of raw meat and old vegetables.  But after it’s cooked - a delicious and nutritious weeknight meal.

Serves 4

You will need:

-1/2 bell pepper, 2 carrots, 1/2 red onion or any other remaining veggie in your crisper drawer, all chopped finely or shredded

-2 garlic cloves, minced

-1 egg

-a handful of chopped parsley, or about a tbsp of dried parsley

-1 lb of ground turkey

-salt and pepper to taste

-1/2 cup (or a bunch of squirts) of barbecue sauce, preferably Sweet Baby Ray’s

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine the vegetables, garlic, egg and parsley in a large bowl by hand.  Mix in the turkey, salt, pepper and barbecue sauce, making sure all ingredients are well distributed and mashed together. 

Pile into a small, greased loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until an internal thermometer reaches 165-170 F.

Serve with additional barbecue sauce on the side.