My home . . . in jeopardy?

December 19, 2013

Stuyvesant Town is my home. It is a haven in the big city. But something nefarious has been seeping into my oasis: Big Business. Stuyvesant Town was built for the middle and working-class. The first tenants were soldiers returning home, nurses, firefighters, police officers, families.

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For most of its history, Stuyvesant Town kept a list for potential residents. One had to qualify by falling into a certain income level – not too low, not too high – just to get on this list. When your name came up, it was like winning the lottery.

After our first baby was born, we could not afford to stay in Manhattan, so we moved to Westchester County. I pined for my beloved gritty streets, the convenience of walking everywhere, the cultural diversity. I moved to New York from North Carolina with dreams of raising little urbanites.

The day we got the call that our name came up on the list, I danced the ultimate happy dance. The ten months in the “burbs” confirmed my desire, my need to be in the Manhattan. With our ten-month-old daughter, Rob and I set up home. The playgrounds, particularly Playground Twelve is where I forged deep friendships and made acquaintances. The laundry room is where Mrs. O’Connell watched Phoebe and Chloe grow. She would share stories of being one of the original tenants as we slipped quarters into the washers and dimes into the dryers.

I lost weight, making laps around the oval with Gina and Louise. We also swapped stories and consoled each other through life’s ups and downs.

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We discussed the controversy of opening up the lawn for people to walk on. Yes, we lived here, when the oval was fenced off and only maintenance workers dared step upon the green. We watched families grow, and we watched some families move away.

The grounds of Stuyvesant Town are where my children learned to ride scooters and bikes, to run on asphalt through sprinklers on sticky summer days and to build snowmen on snowy winter days. Our family grew here.

When we discovered, we were having a third child, Rob and I switched rooms, gave the kids the larger bedroom. Two daughters and a son sharing a room work to a certain point. But the suburbs are not an option. We have deep roots here.

We noticed that through various transitions, Stuyvesant Town tried to compete with the ever-growing luxury housing. Shifting and murky laws made it so that our middle class oasis was morphing into a temporary crash pad. I actually heard a rep for Stuyvesant Town showing a prospective renter say, “this is a good place when you’re single before you have kids and move to the suburbs.” My jaw dropped. This is a place for families. Where you can walk to work or take public transportation. No long commutes. A couple of bookshelves gave privacy to our oldest. But she needed more. Rob hung a door between two of them. Light spilled over the shelves but no little brother could play peeping tom.

During an inspection in late September, I was told verbally that the shelves and door were fine. They were less structural than the walls Stuyvesant Town puts up to chop up the apartments for NYU students and new, young residents.

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A few weeks after our inspection, we found a letter slipped under our door stating that we were in violation of our lease. They said our options were to 1) Terminate the lease and move (giving them the chance to cosmetically renovate and dramatically increase the rent) or 2) Rectify the violation. We removed the door and had a certified architect inspect the room to confirm we are in legal rights of our lease. We photographed this, copied it and sent all of this to Stuyvesant Town management via an attorney.

We never heard from Stuyvesant Town Management until Monday December 16th where during dinner, a loud knock jolted us. Our buzzer had not been rung. Our eight-year-old son and I answered the door. A stranger called out my name, handed me a package of paper, which included a lease termination for December 31st.  This Notice of Termination was dated November 25, 2013. Where was it all this time?

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Today copies of this letter came via USPS certified as well as in my mailbox.

We have contacted the ST Tenants Association, Garodnick’s office and various attorneys. We have been assured that we cannot be kicked out of our home of nearly two decades. Still, the stress of having to be faced with this menacing behavior, particularly during the holidays is unconscionable.

I have not slept well this week. I am spending time away from my children, my clients, last minute Christmas shopping and preparation.  The spaces of my mind are preoccupied with this bullying.

I know the original developers of Stuyvesant Town never had this intention. This was created as a sanctuary in the big city, a place to call home, to raise children, to walk to the butcher, the baker, the sandwich maker.

I hope that our new mayor will push for affordable housing for the middle class. I hope that whomever is in charge of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village find a soul and some sense of humanity and stop harassing long time tenants.

For many women being pregnant with her second child is a wonderful occasion while for others it is a time of inner conflict. Yes, she wants this new baby but how could she possibly love anyone as much as she loves the little person here. Will the first child be abandoned? How will she stretch herself anymore than she already is? How can she create equality within her family?

It is important to realize that the learning curve with the first child is incredibly steep. When you are already in the role of parent bringing a new baby home is not as frightening.

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Remember this baby is born into a family unit. We do not mother each child separately. Yes, we have different relationships with each child but we can never divide ourselves equally. There are times when one child requires more time and focus. Yes, they will fight for attention. The mothers I have spoken with who feel that they do not abandon one child for the sake of another seemed to have similar attitudes: “We are a family, a unit.” One mom who refers to her family as “The 12th Street Gang.” I love this.

You know the Sister Sledge song “We are Family?” “I got all my sisters and me”

My mother loved The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. I picked it up recently and it made me realize how much his words spoke to her.

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On children he wrote:

Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s

longing for itself.

They come through you but not from

You,

And though they are with you yet they

Belong not to you.

 

Children are individuals but they do not exist alone. We are here to guide and love them. They will model what they see. Let them play well with others and work through natural conflicts?

My freshman year of college I had an acting teacher who asked me which of my siblings I loved best. Without missing a beat my reply was, “I love them equally but differently.” That was my Mama’s work! She created that.

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(My siblings and me)

It is helpful to have strategies to be able to mother more than one child at a time.

Here are some ideas that can help:

~ wear the baby – get a sling, wrap or other carrier to keep the baby close and keep your hands free

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~ include the older child in caring for his sibling, do not force it, rather give him the opportunity to help, keep diapers and baby’s clothes within reach of him so he can get these things

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~ do not overindulge either of the children

~ ask open ended questions and really listen to him

~ acknowledge his feelings 

~ let go of things – dust, material objects

~ ask for help with the house and food – when people ask what you need tell them you need food and a clean house

 

You can never create true equality! Ask anyone with siblings – they will tell you stories. Go easy on yourself.

By keeping your family together the older child sees how he was cared for. By separating the two you teach them that you cannot love them together – that each child is just one unit, creating more competition. By including the new baby you are modeling love, acceptance and patience.