The way our family lives now has completely changed from ten years ago—but not necessarily for the better. Ever since New York City started work on a subway for Second Avenue—where unfortunately our nest is located—our quality of life has gone downhill. Even with the windows closed in our apartment, we’ve been relentlessly bombarded by noise: jack-hammering and blasting from the subway construction, along with the tooting horns from snarling traffic caused by closed off lanes. Perched 9 stories above 2nd Avenue, our formerly pleasing “city view” has been transformed by ugly trailers, white metal cylinders and a hodgepodge of tools and large orange and white cones framing an endless traffic tangle. Up until recently, some of these structures spewed gas fumes, dust and mysterious microscopic particles. Have these emissions shortened our lives or increased our risk for lung disease? Who knows? Sometimes I feel like I’m in a revival of “Prisoner of Second Avenue,” Neil Simon’s black comedy about a middle aged couple trapped by circumstances….
While external environmental changes have impacted our nest, internal changes have also profoundly affected our family dynamic. Perhaps most importantly, when our twins left home for college in 2009, we all began to live semi-independent lives. Now that Sarah and Max, 23, have both graduated from college, we ALL yearn to live on our own. What was once a relatively comfortable nest for a family of four, now feels crowded and tense. There are no longer high school curfews or restrictions, but our young adult kids are less than delighted about keeping their parents informed of their whereabouts and, for example, whether (or not) to expect them for dinner. Other than showing up for classes and turning in papers with due dates, Sarah and Max have gotten used to doing everything—eating, sleeping, laundry—whenever they felt like it. But now that they have returned to the nest, that kind of spontaneity no longer works. Half the time I don’t know whether to plan a meal or file a missing person’s report.
Nevertheless, we have all embarked upon our separate-yet-overlapping lives. Since neither twin has secured full-time employment or become self-supporting, both have moved back into their childhood bedrooms. Five nights a week Sarah sleeps in her lavender twin bed with a moon and stars carved into the headboard. Friday and Saturday nights she sleeps at her boyfriend Jake’s house, (and so far she has managed not to bring home any bedbugs.) During the day, Sarah is almost never home, but out and about: at the gym, with her friends, or at Adaptations, a program for young adults with disabilities at the JCC. Not wanting Henry and me to worry (or for us to “bother” her by calling), our daughter has been kind enough to provide us with copious texts on her comings and goings. Next month these news bulletins will be less frequent. During July and half of August, our daughter will be volunteering as an assistant teacher at the Learning Spring, working with kindergarten kids on the autistic spectrum. After that, maybe she’ll be filming her movie, (and maybe not). What will she do in September? It’s anybody’s guess.
It’s also anybody’s guess what our son will be doing. Currently Max is working on a script and hoping his agent can help him find a writing position. He sleeps at his girlfriend’s house most nights and comes home in the mornings when she goes to her job. Reclining on his twin bed (green with fish carved into the headboard), he types on his laptop and guzzles Coke Zero. Clothing spills out from his drawers and fills up a giant laundry bag.
I try to tolerate the mess until Wednesday when the housekeeper arrives. (God bless that hardy soul.) There’s no use fighting with Max, I’ve learned. A much better strategy is to close the door to his bedroom and pop a few Tums.
Simpler, but more painful, has been our separation from Sparky. Our beloved Norwich Terrier moved out forever six months ago. (See “For Love of Sparky, “1/31/14). We have given away most of his stuff—doggy toys, treats, bowls, bed, clothing—to neighbors with pooches. Of course we saved the two sweaters he had as a pup and a few other mementoes. Although we tried to extend his life with chemotherapy, Sparky had other ideas. After two treatments, our pooch departed for canine heaven. Hopefully, he is enjoying endless treats and resting in peace.
Speaking of peace, how much longer can we all stand to live together? When I was in my early twenties, I couldn’t wait to leave home. The moment I earned enough money to scrape by—at 24—I moved into a tiny studio and thought I’d reached nirvana. Shortly thereafter, my parents sold our coop and downsized to a smaller rental. After I left, they didn’t need the extra space, and the money from the sale of the apartment was very helpful since my father was older and slowing down. I still remember how much fun my parents had finding and decorating a new “love nest.”
Hmm…Maybe Henry and I should move to a two bedroom and escape from Second Avenue? Our lease is up at the end of the year; the rent is already pretty high; and completion of the subway is still light years away. We’ve lived in the same nest for 23 years, while watching our building go steadily downhill. Nowadays one of our two elevators is always broken. A permanent sign in English and Spanish warns tenants to be careful because the elevator doesn’t always “level.” Every summer the antique air conditioning system breaks down more often, usually during the hottest days. Instead of replacing the whole system—as the super recommended years ago—the owner prefers the cheaper solution of ordering a new part and letting the tenants sweat until it arrives.
Once upon a time, when we moved into the building, there was furniture in the lobby. Nothing fancy, mind you, but there was a table with chairs, and a bench. If the elevator was slow or the bus was late to pick up your child, at least there was a place to sit. Not anymore. When the furniture wore out, it was simply removed. What happens now to the old people with canes, the working people waiting for car pick-ups, or moms waiting for their kids to get off the school bus? We are all are out of luck. Tenants who don’t like the minimal services are welcome to move out. The landlord will be happy to rent the vacated apartment for hundreds more than he previously received.