Monday, April 28, 2008

It takes a Borough

The Woman who could well become our next President wrote a book famously titled, "It Takes a Village". Her premise being; a whole village raises a child. In my case, it may be a whole Borough and some of the outer boroughs too. One of the most incredible things that has happened to me since bringing Phoebe into my life is to see the amazing way people have rallied around me and this baby. The least likely people have become a part of Phoebe's inner circle. She is already blessed to have Grandparents up the block, and Aunt and Uncle across the street, an Auntie and her dog next store and a handsome guy named Jeff who answers to Dada these days. It must be said that his boyfriend skills are only exceeded by his parenting skills. He never tries to teach me anything, but I learn from him every time he's with us. (Phoebe and I are both very fond of him.)

But the surprising cadre of caring compatriots has come from the people I met volunteering at the Soup Kitchen on Monday nights. For the past three or so years, I have been spending most Monday evenings in the basement of All Souls Church (Unitarian- Love all serve all types :). I started volunteering at a low point in my life. I had spent years already trying to bring a child into my life, trying to get published, trying to live the dream of an New York writer, trying to be as successful as I had been in my earlier career in advertising. I heard a song one day whose lyrics said, "If you're feeling helpless, help someone." It's a fairly simple thought. I needed to stop wallowing in my defeats, I need to do something for someone other than myself.

The Monday night crowd is ever changing as volunteers come and go. But there is a core crew. Some work in the kitchen, cooking and prepping and washing dishes. The other group is out on the floor serving the over 200 guests who join us for a free meal. George Collins, who runs the program, is proud to tell new volunteers that we are the only Soup Kitchen in NYC that serves their meal "restaurant style" with table cloths and china and silverware. The same sets they use for Church functions. I always worked with the servers, preferring to be out on the floor chatting up the guests. There are regulars there too and over time, you get to know one another. It's a community in itself.

Many of the people who volunteered at the fundraiser to build Phoebe's school in Vietnam were from the serving crowd. These are people who are happy to put their hand up for a good cause, and they often do. Last Summer some of the Kitchen staff planned a picnic and invited some of the regulars from the Serving crew. Only 3 of us went, but it was the beginning of getting to know the Kitchen folk. Many of them have been friends for years and are well integrated into each other lives. They attend each others birthdays and charity functions and other events. They were all so excited for me when I revealed that I was adopting a baby from Vietnam. They became my cheerleaders. In fact, many people from inside and out of the kitchen at All Souls said they followed my blog when I was away and told others to read it too. Suddenly, there was this wave of good energy coming my way from people I had really only just gotten to know.

It was there I met Dan (a kitchen guy) and Candice (a server gal) , who have become two of Phoebe's favorite people. They offer their time to us and relieve this single mom for a precious few hours or an evening. Jessica and Priscilla have come by too and Annie who stopped by one Sunday after Church. The gratitude I feel towards these people cannot be measured- certainly not by conventional means. In the last couple of weeks, I had a stomach bug and two pinched nerves in my neck. It is the single scariest thing as a new mom and a single mom, to be sick when you have a new baby. No matter how much help you have, in the end of the day this little person only has you to count on and you want to be as healthy as you can be. You want to be there for her. But when life eventually gets the best of you and your digestive system, you have to learn how to ask for help. I'm learning. These amazing people in my life make it easier, but it is still hard to ask. You don't want to impose, ask too much, be too needy...

I do feel fortunate that Phoebe is such a good, socially adorable being. She is fun to be around. She's so responsive. You get back as much as you give. It helps us in the babysitting department :)

I have been lucky to also find a wonderful part-time babysitter who gives me some help during the week. Antonia is smart and engaging and Phoebe loves her. I have already seen a few caregivers come and go and I know that it is always fluid when it comes to hiring help, but right now, we are starting to find our groove. Phoebe is teething these days, but she is sleeping better than ever. I'm sleeping more too and realizing I have a network of people to help me raise this beauty. I may even get back to my writing and posting more often. Slowly, slowly, it feels like I'm getting the hang of this child raising thing. But yes, It takes a borough, indeed.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Candice, one of Phoebe's many admirers, was over today hanging out and giving me a much needed break. (My baby sitter flaked again, but child care issues are another post, another day...) When I got back, she said to me, "Phoebe has a hundred different kinds of smiles"
and boy, is that true. People often ask me if she's really this smiley all the time, and the answer is generally, yes. Like all of us, she has her cranky moments. There's the wet diaper and the overtired whine, the grimace whilst getting another spoonful of oatmeal shoved into her mouth. But for the most part, Phoebe loves to smile and laugh and giggle when you tickle her tummy or feet. She particularly likes to see herself in the mirror, always giving her reflection a big grin as if to say- wow, I AM cute! It is particularly wonderful to be one of the people she recognizes and knows. She always has a big smile for her grandparents, breaks out in a cheerful scream when she sees Jeff and nearly jumps up and down when Debbie stops by from next door. It's a fact, Phoebe loves to smile. Can she love it as much as we all do?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Power of the Phoebe

They come from near and far to see her. She is quite a wonder to behold, that is true. But I think it's what she brings out in others that is so amazing. They can't help but be happy. They smile without thinking about it. They are soon silly and singing and sometimes, no, quite often, there is dancing. She's like a drug that way. Friends have been known to stop by and see her after they have had a hard day. Kids in particular have been drawn to her. We have had so many wonderful visitors. Many of them between 6 and 12 years old. It made me so happy to see her held by Emily Greenberg and Carly Lieberman and Ruby FIne and Alex Nadel. I thought of these girls as an American version of what she had back in the Vinh Phuc orphanage. Every day, I was told, older girls from the Orphanage would come to see the babies after school. They would play with them and think of them as little siblings. I can not imagine how sad they must have been to see Phoebe go to a new home so far away. The girls here who have come to visit (and lots of boys too) seem so taken with her, it's lovely. Tomas Greenberg said, "if she had a super power it would be to make people happy." He's 8. That's a pretty good review from an 8 year old boy.

Perhaps her early interaction with so many different people is one reason why Phoebe is such a social animal, a true party girl. What I have learned about her in these few months is that she thrives on people, it's what makes her happy. This past Sunday, her fabulous Grandparents hosted 40 odd people in their home to celebrate and welcome their new Grandchild. Many of their old friends were there, people who have watched me grow up and come to this moment. My father got choked up before he even started to address the crowd. His words about me and Phoebe were so touching. Not a dry eye in the house. David Woolfe performed a lovely ceremony, honoring her entry into the Jewish world and into my special family. Jane came into town for the occasion. She says she has a special kinship with this child, that they both came into our family in the same way. How lucky Phoebe is to have Jane for an Aunt. A true circle of the family is being completed. The power of the Phoebe was seen all over that party. She charmed everyone, laughed and smiled on cue, then crashed hard when we finally got home. I practically had to wrestle her down from the high of that party.

When James Worner showed up last week from Sydney, I knew Phoebe's power was real. When Alana started talking about moving back to New York, I knew that this child had a magnetism few could match. Lucky me, I get to be with her everyday. And even if I'm sleepless, if I hardly have time to write, if I have new aches and pains from being a new Mom, she makes it all worth it. Just one smile and it's all good.