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