Room to Spare.

*Apartment shown above is not mine — it’s from this gorgeous Tribeca loft designed by Jenny Wolf Interiors. But I have returned to it a number of times for inspiration on how to make small spaces sing.

My best friend delivered her precious daughter a month ahead of her due date last week. Amidst the thrill of watching her become a mother, the tenderness of meeting her daughter for the first time, motherly anxiety over my friend’s exhaustion, and determination to provide support but not be too intrusive, I also — selfishly — flung myself into an internal maelstrom of anxiety and sleeplessness as I pondered the very real possibility that I, too, could deliver my son early, though he is not due for another two months and change. For the next few days, I drew up list after list — general to-dos, what to pack in my hospital bag, even what to place in my cosmetics kit (!). List therapy, I suppose. (Observe my next-level anxiety in this tidbit: I ordered new gridded notepads specifically dedicated toward baby-readiness.) I ordered baby detergent. I emptied mini’s closet, sorted her clothes into “stow” and “donate” piles, and re-filled it more neatly (what this had to do with micro’s arrival is hazy). I organized micro’s clothes by size and then grimaced at how little space I have for anything else for him. I contemplated clearing out one of mini’s dresser drawers and then decided it would generate more stress than was due at this stage. I ordered micro some baby stationery. I laid out my hospital bag, claiming an entire square foot of free space for it on our bedroom floor, much to my own chagrin. I wrapped a gift for my son to give my daughter and placed it in the bag. I ordered a “big sister” dress for mini. I spent an entire afternoon agonizing over the baby’s coming home outfit: Should I splurge on an extravagance from Bonpoint? Go with the Kissy Kissy footie and Beaufort Bonnet Company jammies I’d already bought him? What if this is my last child? EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE PERFECT! I organized a separate Amazon shopping list with everything I think I need for him and for myself that I did not receive at my lovely sprinkle last weekend. I plagued Mr. Magpie with inane, too-specific details: “When should we bring the carseat up and out of storage? The bassinet?” I gulped at the thought of wrangling a bassinet into our already overstuffed master bedroom. In a particularly insane moment, I made a special trip to Duane Reade to pick up a loofah for the hospital. I took out all of mini’s toys and organized them into piles, separating out the items that she’d outgrown and that could therefore either be stowed or donated — all in the hopes of making a little more space for my son’s belongings. This proved a hopeless endeavor, as, after an hour of sorting, I’d somehow ended up with less room (?).

My exertions left me feeling mildly better in the sense that I’d gone from a position of inertia to one of activity, but I was generally flustered. It was as if I’d spent four full days attempting to carve out space for this new little human, only to have the hollow slowly backfilled by sand.

I glanced around the four walls of our Manhattan apartment and heaved a sigh. I love our apartment — Louise, I call her. She’s watchful and decorous and mildly cantankerous. She’s beautifully situated on Central Park West, a stone’s throw from our favorite playground for mini and a 13-minute walk from the Zoo, which we frequent close to weekly. She’s laden with vestiges from the past, like a pass-through from the dining room to the kitchen in the event that our kitchen staff need to be out of sight (har har har) and an old, defunct land-line phone bolstered to the wall that was once used by porters and doormen to alert tenants to the arrival of a visitor downstairs. (The building has since upgraded to a cell phone-calling system.)

But spacious she is not.

“How will we ever fit another person in this apartment?” I asked Mr. Magpie, pacing. “I feel like I’m just moving items from one spot to another and not actually making any progress.”

I was dismayed to find him nod in bewildered agreement.

“I don’t…know.”

“I wish I had a separate room for him. The space for him and just his stuff. I don’t think I’ve really taken the time to make enough space for him.” I found myself treading on the precipice of tears. The metaphor was too obvious too ignore: I was back where I was after that damned yoga class, when I’d realized I’d been off in forgetful la-la land, gliding through my pregnancy without taking the time to truly reflect on how I felt, how this pregnancy felt, what it might feel like to be a mother to two. I’d not afforded myself the bandwidth to fully accommodate the change coming our way. And I was suddenly grappling with the very real, very physical manifestations of this impending and enormous transition.

It dawned on me that Louise was doing me a solid, in a certain sense.

I’m fairly confident I’d eventually have grappled with similar emotions were I still in our roomy Chicago home, with a spare bedroom for micro to occupy; in either case, our family would be growing and we would need to rearrange our lives to make space for this newest, sweetest member, whoever he is. I’m certain I’d still experience the mild panic that flares up when I realize that my Tuesdays and Fridays alone with mini are numbered, and that I must make the most of these remaining mommy-and-me times, even when I am cursing myself for walking twenty-two blocks at break-neck speed in the still-cold March mornings to get to the Natural History Museum, feeling like an enormous keg on legs as I huff and puff and try to ignore the need to pee every three seconds.

And even in Chicago, I’d have struggled with the thought that it might not be logistically possible to stick to our current morning and evening routines, as I might be nursing, or putting micro to sleep, or attempting to claim an extra ten minutes of sleep after a long night shift. The prospect of these changes — in our schedules, in our roles as parents, in our interactions with mini — fills me with, well, dread, though I don’t like the dismal sound of that word, because it is a thorny tangle of unknowns, and I am a creature of habit, and I worry with disproportionate angst about in any way upsetting mini or alienating her from the habits she knows and loves or accidentally injuring her out of forgetfulness, or survivalism, or the general shift in gears. Will she care if suddenly I am no longer the one bathing her at night? Will she wonder why I am no longer the first face she sees in the morning, bearing her milk, often in the pink sippy cup because it’s her favorite? Will she stand at the foot of my hospital bed and peer up at me with that little upside down “u” her lips make when she is scared and on the verge of tears?

Louise and her diminutive frame have forced me to confront these upheavals earlier than I might have were I still in Illinois, ensconced in the graciously-sized home we had there, easily able to convert our third bedroom (a guest room!) into a second nursery. Meanwhile: “Chop chop, toots,” says Louise, as she watches me scurry around her confines.

And I am grateful to her, in a way, for her tough love. Because after the frenzy, after the tearfulness invoked by my frantic musings, a kind of calm set in. I saw that I’d been over-precious and overbearing in my exertions. Mini will be fine and we will be fine and, yes, we will be bursting at the seams until we move in the fall, but life has a funny way of working itself out. It always has. And as I watched mini leap with unbridled glee from the marbled step of the small chapel to St. Mary in the vestibule of our Church last Sunday, something clicked open. I was reminded of how simple and uncluttered life is for her. How easy it is for her to propel herself into a fit of laughter with the sparest of materials: a small step to jump from, the shock and hilarity of the thump of her feet on the marble, the promise of my ready smile on the other end. How little she needs besides my loving onlooking. I nodded to myself: yes, we have room to spare.

Post Scripts.

+Love this girly drop-waist dress in the pink and robin’s egg blue. So chic. Love the idea of pairing it with pointed-toe white flats or loafers for spring.

+Into the scalloped trim on this printed sports bra!

+Speaking of athletic wear, have heard such good things about these inexpensive leggings, which come in a rainbow of colors.

+Just added this cardigan in the sky blue color to my cart. Such a pretty, fresh look for spring with white skinnies.

+Serena & Lily is running a 20% off anything promotion with code INSPO. A great time to snag this teak stool (which so many of you love, and which now comes in new colors), these counter stools (#foreverchic), and these side tables.

+Just discovered these genius breastmilk storage pouches, which screw into virtually any breast pump (you need to buy the right adapter, but still).

+This polka-dot dress is so fun and ladylike!

+Mini’s spirit animal was the giraffe; micro’s seems to be the lion. I can’t explain why. Though (for obvious, aforementioned spatial considerations) I don’t intend to buy many new books or toys for micro, I think I will buy him this and this.

+Thank you and un-thank-you to the reader who pointed me int the direction of handbag label Corroon. Coveting one of these bags something fierce.

+I am freaking out over this knit dress for mini. It is TOO CUTE.

+A great layering tee at a solid price.

+This feels like an appropriate post to book-end with this roundup of the best gear for small apartments.

12 Comments

  1. This is such a sweet post! I love the way you characterize your apartment, and linger on the lessons that your daughter has taught you — so beautiful.

    Isn’t list therapy the best? I always find myself making lists in times I am overwhelmed. It always helps.

    Also, this made me laugh: “In a particularly insane moment, I made a special trip to Duane Reade to pick up a loofah for the hospital.” — such a ME thing to do! I am always running errands like this one when I’m feeling anxious. 🙂 xo

    1. Hehe – errands are the ultimate distraction / pretend-like-I’m-making-progress hack for me. Glad I’m not alone in that.

      Thanks for the kind words, as always 🙂

  2. Your writing is so beautiful. As a mother who recently experienced this transition from one to two children, I am verklempt reading this. It is such an emotional time (as is so much of parenting, I guess). There are growing pains, but the love in your family multiplies.
    Also, I love your description of your anthropomorphic apartment, Louise. How true that our homes have personas!
    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful reflection!

    1. Ahh Shannon — we’re keeping good company then 🙂 Thanks for writing in to let me know this resonated, and for the reassurances, too. And thank you for the kind compliments 🙂 xoxo

  3. I loved this post so much. You really nailed the many emotions that come with pregnancy (especially these final weeks!), motherhood and the whirlwind (both literally and figuratively!) that encompasses both of them. I remember when I was pregnant with my first and a friend said “it all seems so scary when you are pregnant because everything is theoretical, but once the baby gets here and you are holding him/her, you will just know what to do”. I have found myself coming back to this statement so many times in prep for #2. Even though you have done it before, there are so many different things this time around (whether it’s a new home, less space, new emotions, the change in family dynamic etc.). I love to think that when he arrives, it will all fall into place and it will be exactly as it was always meant to be 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Katie, for this. I’ll be lingering over this advice for a long while 🙂 Beautiful solace!

      xoxo

  4. THIS: “I was reminded of how simple and uncluttered life is for her.”

    Children truly have so many lessons to teach us, don’t they?

    So many other thoughts on this post, as I had similar experiences preparing for our baby’s arrival in our modest Bay Area apartment. I chuckled at the image of just moving things from one part of the home to another without having made additional space! This was me a year and a half ago, to a T.

    Major life transitions can really be a gift as they put things into perspective in terms of what is important! It sounds like you already have lots of room in your lives and hearts for micro, and the rest will fall into place, small apartment or not.

    And, there’s always Prime-ing! (stole that from you, ha!)

    1. YES! So glad you related to so much of this. The constant schlepping and moving of things from one room to another has got to stop. Ha!

      You are so right about how much my daughter has taught me. It’s incredible.

      Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

      xxx

  5. Loved this post! Makes me think of so many things…

    Not long ago “Louise” was the new kid in your family and now she is a place of safety and love! Interesting how time makes it all happen seamlessly. (Or maybe that’s God!)

    So you’re getting Louise in order for mini? You may deliver early as they say you clean like crazy right before you deliver! My first was 2 weeks late and my second was 3 weeks early!

    I remember like it was yesterday, praying over my first born as he slept in his crib oblivious to the massive changes we were about to throw his way, as I was on my way to the hospital. That sinking, unknown is what makes it all so tumultuous! But then I remember, that other women and families have been doing all these same things for years and the world has not stopped, so go boldly!

    Lots of love!

    1. I love this, Cynthia — what a solace: “But then I remember, that other women and families have been doing all these same things for years and the world has not stopped, so go boldly!” (I also maybe felt a twinge that I might cry, imagining you praying over your firstborn’s crib. Ahhh. Motherhood!)

      Thanks for writing in and keeping everything in perspective for me.

      xxx

  6. This post made me tear up and laugh at the same time. Love your characterization of Louise. I’m sure everyone will adapt just fine, but I know it must be scary.

    I love the Yogalicious leggings. I buy them at TJ Maxx or Marshall’s for $16.99 and like them better than Lululemon. Always the first ones I go for on clean laundry day.

    I also swore by those Kiinde pouches. They make pumping a little more fun. They actually come with a bottle attachment, too. So convenient and less mess!

    1. Aw, Sarah 🙂 Thanks for your sweet note and your empathy! So kind. Good to know about Kiinde and especially Yogalicious! Going to order some post-partem!!

      xxx

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