By Rachel Schinderman
We bid on a little green house on Franklin Ave and went about our lives. We weren’t going to get it anyway. I could do a tour of Culver City and point out all of the houses we tried to buy and were out bid on. No matter, put it out there and then forget about it, there were other things to tend to. There was a new baby coming in a month and a half. This apartment in Santa Monica had been good to us. It would still be good to us.
But still I really wanted a house. I grew up in an apartment building in New York City. I loved it. I rode my bike though our hallways and went on adventures up and down our elevator. I didn’t know anything else. I didn’t know that children played outside until their parents called them in. And now knowing it, seeing it right in front of me, I wanted it. It seemed so adult, like the thing to do. The truth was, my son would not know anything different, just like me on West End Ave, where fun was when the mailman let me help him. But if I’m honest, I wanted a yard for the ease of having my son just run around in the back so I would know exactly where he was and would’t have to schlep him to the park constantly. The park, the park, I was a little over the damn park. I wanted laundry at my fingertips, not down a flight of stairs and a pocket full of quarters. I wanted to paint a room or scratch a floor and not worry what someone else might say. In short, I wanted to be a grown up. Even with a husband, a son and another child on the way, homeownership seemed like it would validate my experience. I wanted a place that would serve as the other character in the stories of our children’s childhood.
Two days after seeing the little green house on Franklin Ave, after dropping my son, Benjamin, at camp, my water broke while I was getting a mani/pedi. I waddled with the paper still in my toes to check in the bathroom and then hurried out the door nervously calling my husband.
I was only 34 weeks. When I arrived at my OB’s office, she checked me and tested the liquid slowly dripping from my body. It was not a big gush, more a constant drip. It did not test positive for amniotic fluid.
“Perhaps the baby punched your bladder,” she said with all seriousness. This is a woman I trust wholeheartedly. This is a woman who saved our son’s life 4 years earlier when my placenta hemorrhaged, who comforted me through three miscarriages. This is a woman who when my husband sees her in the neighborhood at Whole Foods comes home and tells me about it as if he has seen a movie star.
This is a woman where when she says the baby punched your bladder, I believed her.
“Come back if it keeps happening.”
And so I went to get Benjamin at camp and sitting in our Subaru Station Wagon I continued to leak through my pants onto the front leather seat. Benjamin and I headed back to my OB, where this time it did test positive for amniotic fluid. I was admitted to St. John’s Hospital that night.
I settled into a room and Jay and Ben headed home leaving me there by myself. It had been a long day. In the quiet of the night I could hear through the walls the loud joys of a family welcoming a baby delivered in the next room.
They held off my labor and gave me steroid shots to develop the baby’s lungs, and determined I had enough amniotic fluid despite the leak to cushion the baby, deciding we could wait a few days to deliver. But once water breaks for fear of infection, you can’t go much longer than that.
Jay took Ben to his day camp the next morning, but Ben had woken up with a swollen eye. After telling me about it over the phone, like a Queen dictating orders from her throne, but really her hospital bed, I said, “Go back.” So Jay headed back to Temescal Canyon and retrieved our child and brought him to our pediatrician. I don’t remember what she said it was, but there was talk of infection and something scary and she prescribed an antibiotic. Somewhere in here my mother arrived from New York (because mothers are good like that and will hop on a plane last minute when you are about to have a premature baby). I started googling the awful thing our pediatrician had thought Benjamin’s swollen eye could be and called Jay waking him from a much needed sleep to worry together about infections going to the brain and I worried about losing two children in one day. Somewhere in here I felt so very alone and so very far away from my family just down the street from this hospital. Somewhere in here, Benjamin woke up screaming at three in the morning, his eye swollen shut, unable to open it. My mother and Jay rushed him to the ER to learn it was only a bug bite and they treated it with Benadryl after the doctor had to pry it open. And now Jay had a wife and child at two different hospitals all over Santa Monica. Somewhere in here Jay looked as if he might collapse. Somewhere in here, we received a counter offer for the little green house on Franklin Ave. We bid back but not at what they wanted, even though we heard there were two other offers. We were tired. We were cooked. The house had gone down to the bottom of our to be concerned about list.
I joked that because we didn’t really care anymore of course we would get the house.
And so on Friday as they wheeled me in a few days after my water broke at Main Street Nails to have my C-section, Jay received a text from our realtor.
“Looks like you bought a house today,” it read.
I think we were really too shocked to care or respond. But it felt like our world had been elevated, to family of four, homeowners.
Soon enough our baby, our son, was out of my body.
Isaiah for Jay’s father Ivan who had died just before I got pregnant with Eli and would not know him but knew of the struggles we had had trying to have him. And Eli, a name not for anyone in particular, just a name we liked and where when as a teenager, I would walk down the streets in Fire Island listening to my Walkman to Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming” and feel free and alive in a way I had not always felt. And I remember at 16 thinking I will name a son Eli someday. And then someday was now, as if the beat of that song would carry through each of my days from now on with this Eli by our side.
And then he was off to the NICU, respiratory distress, typical in preterm babies. But he was a good weight, 6 pounds, 9 ounces. The exact same weight I was when I was born 39 years earlier. The next morning he ripped out his intubation cord, like ‘I just don’t really need this people.’
And then soon enough we were all home, all four of us, healthy. Home in Santa Monica, but not for long, as we were in escrow now, about to move all of ten minutes or so southeast to Culver City.
And then the keys were ours. Six stressful weeks later, after loan applications and inspections, the keys were ours. We headed over to Franklin Ave to test out paint swabs.
I sat on the empty living room floor and nursed Eli in my arms. Jay headed out with Benjamin in his orange Bob stroller to explore the neighborhood and bring back food.
I sat there with our baby in our new home and though I worried briefly, “What have we done? It is so small,” I felt blessed and accomplished.
Within moments the front door burst open and Benjamin came bouncing into the home, followed seconds later by Jay. My husband paused where the dining room table would be and began to cry, to sob.
“What? What?” I asked. He could not speak.
I knew Benjamin was okay. He was wandering around the new house somewhere.
But he could not talk. His arm covered his face and I knew something terrible had happened.
This is not a man I have seen cry a lot. When we were home after having Benjamin and he was still in the hospital, I told him how I had a flash of the future and saw a little blond haired boy rushing through the door frame by the kitchen. I saw it so clearly, he would survive and be home with us soon. It was then after all we had been through that Jay broke down weeping in my arms. And here he was again, weeping in the threshold of our new home, at the threshold of our new life.
“What!? What? Who died? Did someone die?” It was my go to response.
And he proceeded to tell me how he had been pushing Benjamin in his stroller taking in the shops and restaurants of Sepulveda. He stopped to read the menu in the front window of a noodle shop a block or so away. Suddenly he heard a man yell, “Stroller!” and he turned to see Benjamin, oblivious, rolling backwards down the cut out into the crosswalk of busy four lane traffic on Sepulveda. He had forgotten the brake. He leapt and grabbed Benjamin’s foot before he could make it past the parked cars, before moving cars would have had to have swerved to miss him, or worse.
Jay could not contain his fear. He could not contain his guilt. I couldn’t make him feel better, couldn’t reassure him that Ben was just in the other room, happily picking out green paint for his room. I knew that guilt. I knew how I felt when my body failed each of my pregnancies, each of my children. As we went to bed, for many weeks to come, I would think of that moment and how it would have destroyed us. We would never have moved into that house. We would have sold it and moved on. And then I thought of all the other moments that could have gone other ways and destroyed us. But they hadn’t. We were still here – hemorrhaged placenta, miscarriages, prematurity. We had arrived at this place, this home despite all of that.
Life is fragile, can bend and break in a moment. There was a time when I thought a home could shield us from that which we cannot control, would answer all of our hopes and wishes in one fell swoop. I was wrong, but perhaps having a home, this home, this little green house on Franklin Ave, is not our shield to the outside world, but perhaps this is our anchor. This is where Eli said his first word, “Ball.” This is where Benjamin took up Violin and then promptly quit it. This is where we have block parties and delight in our place in this community, where neighbors watch our dog or bring us eggs from their chickens or flowers from their garden. This is where we are living our life fully, not wishing for something more, or something better to come along. We are not naively cocooned here together ignoring the world outside, but hopefully enriched and fortified as we battle the storms that may come our way, as they will.
Rachel Schinderman is a writer, teacher and mother living in Los Angeles. As a teacher she runs writing groups for moms to document their experience of parenting under the name Mommie Brain (www.mommiebrain.com). As a writer has had her work appear in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, The LA Times Magazine to name a few and had an ongoing column about parenting in The Santa Monica Daily Press. As a mom she had two sons, ages 5 and 9.