by Brian PJ Cronin, photo by Kristen Cronin
When you begin researching what you are going to have to do to get ready for a new baby, two things become clear: First, you are going to need a lot of stuff. And second, if you think you can get away with borrowing things from friends who are eager to give you their hand-me-downs, you are a monster who deserves to be locked in a steeple. Safety standards change fast. That $300 co-sleeper with safety approvals up the wazoo that your neighbors bought last year? It’s now considered a death trap, hell bent on crushing your helpless child inside its contemporary, stylish jaws. “It’s a good thing I didn’t save your old crib” my mom recently told me, “because apparently it’s a miracle that you survived it.”
Most books that claim to be helpful guides as to what you need to get in preparation for a baby don’t think there’s anything wrong with blowing your entire discretionary budget on things that will be useless and outlawed by the Geneva Convention in six months. On the contrary, they revel in it. “Rev up your Visa card, girlfriend!” was the first line of one such book. I’m not sure what the second line was, because by that point I had already set the book on fire.
When our travels recently took us by a big box store that specializes in baby gear, we decided that wandering the aisles for an hour or so would help us get a handle on what we needed and what we didn’t. This was a terrible idea. The stores are not designed to let you get a handle on anything. They are designed to overwhelm and break you, until you are a helpless pile of sobs and you put in your shopping cart whatever the nice people with nametags tell you you’re supposed to get. It looked like the last shot in Raiders Of the Lost Ark, if everything in the warehouse had a monkey on it and an MP3 jack (hope the baby likes drone metal as much as his old man!).
Wipe warmers. Shopping cart covers. Infant sleep positioners. I grew up without any of those things and, except for some mild pyromania, turned out just fine.
The problem is that as ridiculous as these things seem to me, there is the very real possibility that they are all incredibly useful. Some of you may have a wipe warmer. Perhaps you consider it a lifesaver. Perhaps you are laughing right now about the guy who has no idea what he’s in for, and during those first three months, when he hasn’t slept for days, will be down on his hands and knees begging for any sort of modern convenience to come and save him. Because you know, if that wipe warmer can buy me five extra minutes of sleep a day, then I will be so grateful for its existence that I will draw a face on it and refer to it as a member of the family.
And perhaps you are right. I have no way of really knowing. So all I can do is throw up my hands and be grateful. Grateful for generous friends and family members who are throwing us showers and getting us the things we truly need. Like a crib. Pretty sure we actually need that, unless the cats are willing to share their kitty beds for a few years.
And I’m grateful to be married to someone who feels the same way about all of this as I do. Who, after looking at hundreds of plastic mobiles with cartoon characters all over them that play 46 different songs, bought some yarn and Styrofoam balls and made one herself. Together, we hung it in the corner of the room in our house that we’ve stopped referring to as “the back bedroom” and started calling “the nursery.” I don’t know if the kid’s development will be negatively affected by the fact that it doesn’t play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but I hope that the fact that it was made for him by his mother, with love, will mean something to him in the long run. I know it does to me.
Brian PJ and Kristen Cronin live in Beacon with their four cats and a baby on the way. View more of their photos at www.flickr.com/teammoonshine.
by Brian PJ Cronin, photograph by Kristen Cronin
I was a lousy Boy Scout, more preoccupied with running through the woods after fox tracks than racking up merit badges. One thing that did stick was our motto: Be Prepared.
To this day, I begin preparing for a trip three months in advance. I try to memorize the guide books so that once I arrive I can stroll around town like a local, never checking a map, always knowing where the nearest cup of coffee is or the historical significance of whatever building I find myself in front of. I have a recurring dream in which I find myself walking the streets of a strange city with no recollection of how I got there. I look around and realize I have no idea where the best bookstores are, how the public transportation system works, whether the city was founded by uptight Puritans in the 17th Century or bloodthirsty Visigoths in the 8th. I wake up screaming, covered in sweat. “Didn’t have a guidebook again, did you?” my wife will mumble and then go back to sleep.
Kristen and I have been married for four and half years, and we take the term “family planning” very seriously. We have always had a checklist of goals to work through before we started a family (move out of New York City, buy an old home and fix it up), and as Fall began we realized that our checklist was shrinking rapidly. Did I prepare? Even worse. I prepared to prepare. I gathered books about pregnancy and child raising and stuck them on my nightstand in between Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams and Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands. I would read them and be ready well in advance.
On the night of October 1st, I was in the middle of making dinner when Kristen called to me from the upstairs bathroom and asked if I could come upstairs. She said it was very important. I replied that I was in the middle of making two parts of the dinner at once, and if I stopped now it would ruin the whole dinner plan. Two minutes later she walked into the kitchen, coughed to get my attention, and held up a pregnancy test.
My first thought? Oh god I haven’t even read those books yet.
So here we are 19 weeks later and I’m still running to catch up. Hence this new column, an ongoing effort to come to grips with the strange, terrifying and wonderful realization that we are going to be parents. Since I’m not going through the same physical changes Kristen is, it’s taking longer to sink in that life as the two of us know it is changing forever. You can think of this column as my morning sickness, my swollen ankles, my craving for a chicken pot pie at 2 a.m.
On my nightstand, Barry Lopez is still on an Alaskan glacier watching the narwhales swim by, as he has been for four months. In the here and now, we walk outside into freshly fallen snow, stepping over fox tracks by the Rose of Sharon tree. The tracks lead down the hill, disappearing in the afternoon sun. The way ahead is unknown.
Brian PJ and Kristen Cronin live in Beacon with their four cats and a baby on the way. Check out their blog A Rotisserie Chicken and 12 Padded Envelopes on this site, and view more of their photos at www.flickr.com/teammoonshine.
by Brian PJ Cronin, photograph by Kristen Cronin
Gone. Just days after we transferred three squash seedlings from our dining room to the garden, one of them was completely gone. No hoof prints, no sign of digging. The trellis was intact, but the seedling was missing. The perp may have not left any evidence, but it forgot the rule about not returning to the scene of the crime. As we looked out over the garden and tried to figure out our next move, a monstrous crow swooped down, plucked off two golden sage branches, and flew off.
The birds. The birds were against us. Well, it’s not like Hitchcock didn’t warn us.
We wrapped the trellises with twine, but still they found their way inside. We hung CDs from the trellises so that sunlight reflecting off of them would scare the birds away. It was nice to finally find a use for those terrible Wu-Tang side projects, but the crows were undeterred and the seedlings kept vanishing. It was time to unleash the big guns. We opened the front door and let Dusty out.
Dusty is our eldest cat. He is the only one we let outside because he is, to be blunt, the only one smart enough to find his way back. We had been trying to keep him inside since he has a habit of bringing back fleas and ear mites with him, but perhaps a Dusty-free yard was just the opportunity the crows had been looking for. We pointed him in the direction of the garden so that he could act as a living scarecrow. He took off for the garden, and the birds scattered to the trees.
We never thought he’d actually catch one, because birds can, you know, fly, which Dusty can not (last we checked). But the next day, he trotted up to us with a dead Eastern Kingbird clenched firmly between his jaws. Not a crow. We probably should have shown him a picture of the suspect before we hired him for the case. Despite the mistake, we petted him and praised him, which is what you’re supposed to do when your cat brings you a gift. If you scold him, your cat will interpret your displeasure as being unimpressed, and resolve to catch something bigger. The last thing we need is to find Dusty dragging a Chihuahua down the street.
We were not thrilled with Dusty’s gift, but getting upset with him would have been useless. He’s a cat. We pointed him in the direction of some birds. Our intention may have been to have him simply frighten the birds off, but it would have been naïve of us to assume that those were Dusty’s intentions as well.
We may pride ourselves in trying to grow organically and bio-dynamically, but sometimes in order to work with nature you have to fight back. If we did not have a fence, the deer would pick our garden clean in twenty minutes. The birds are just trying to eat and build nests, and our cat is simply following his natural instincts. We are all just trying to survive. All of our food, even the things we don’t grow, is at the expense of other life. Whether it’s the hungry deer that are fenced off from our CSA, the groundhogs who have their warrens plowed over by tractors, or the cows on our local farms who are destined for the slaughterhouse. They may be humanely raised and grass-fed, but they still have to die in order to feed us.
None of us like to think about this much. Joseph Campbell famously wrote that all primitive religions arose from this “shock of the food chain”; the realization that our ancestors had that without the death of others, there would be no life for us. Modern life has made it very easy for us to ignore this fact, as the majority of us are totally cut off from the production of our food. The dead bird at our feet was a potent reminder of this. Maybe that was Dusty’s real gift after all.
Brian PJ & Kristen Cronin live in Beacon with their cats and garden. Check out their blog A Rotisserie Chicken and 12 Padded Envelopes on this site and view more of their photos at http://www.flickr.com/teammoonshine.
by Brian PJ and Kristen Cronin
We were recently thumbing through the latest issue of a well-respected literary magazine we usually enjoy very much. This was a special food-themed issue, and tucked towards the end of one article was a line about how having your own vegetable garden, something that everyone did sixty years ago, was now a “vanity project for young hipsters.” It went on to note the irony of something that was the basis of human civilization now providing “the grounds for smug satisfaction.” Eventually the author was dragging up the image of history’s first hipster, Marie Antionette, tending to her peasant garden outside the gilded walls of Versailles.
It would appear the gardening backlash has begun.
It was bound to happen. People are taking a renewed interest in where their food comes from, as well as looking for ways to trim their grocery budgets. Last year seed companies reported record sales to home gardeners. It’s possible that many people are sick of hearing self-righteous screeds about how starting your own organic vegetable garden will improve your health, bring your community closer together, heal the planet, and reverse the second law of thermodynamics. But last year was a terrible year for first time gardeners (thanks to the wet, cool weather and late blight) and there was much gleeful speculation that many would throw in the trowel. The kids would move on to a new fad, one that didn’t involve quite so much back-breaking labor and icky dirt. And yet, seed sales continue to surge. So gardening is still hip, right?
Maybe “hip” has nothing to do with it. Maybe it’s just the chives.
We wonder how many other novice gardeners are, like us, currently enthralled by the spectacle of last year’s perennials coming back to life. A few weeks ago, our chives were a scraggly mess of roots and spindly threads. We wrote them off as dead. We blamed the ice storm, the climate, our own incompetence. We planned on planting new chives once the threat of late frosts had passed.
Then last month’s issue of Hudson Valley Mercantile came out, containing a recipe for a Spring Harvest Risotto from Gigi owner/chef Laura Pensiero, featuring chive blossoms. Sounded good, but where were we going to get chive blossoms? We wandered out into the garden and there were last year’s chives, back from the dead, sending up dark green stems topped with brilliant purple flowers. Their scent and flavor were far richer than they were last year, as if they needed to die back and grow again in order to ripen.
When you plant a seed, you are committing yourself to a daily embrace of the mystery. Some things will grow, others won’t, and it may not ever be clear why. This can be deeply infuriating, and surely drives many people away from continuing to do it. But if you open yourself up to the uncertainty, you may just find yourself on your knees one cool Spring evening, hunched over tiny purple flowers while a crescent moon rises over the mountains and into the sweet night air. In these moments, the concept of whether or not what you are doing is “hip” evaporates into the darkening sky as you are overwhelmed with a humbling sense of gratitude. It’s a feeling that you are not only a witness to this mystery, but part of it as well. If smug satisfaction were the only reason that anyone grew their own food we’d all still be squatting in caves, fashioning flint arrowheads and carving out a solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short existence.
Kristen & Brian PJ Cronin live in Beacon with their garden and cats. Kristen is the Communications & Marketing Associate for Safe Harbors of the Hudson in Newburgh, and Brian is the Development Associate for The Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson. Check out their blog A Rotisserie Chicken and 12 Padded Envelopes on this site, or visit flickr.com/photos/teammoonshine to learn more.