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Routines: Drinking, Eating, Parenting,Writing
When I first moved to NYC in August of 2001, I didn’t know that what would matter the most to me about the city was not the adventure of it, but the routines embedded within that adventure. But it didn’t take long to figure out. Quickly, my freshman year roommate, Ambika, found Caffe Reggio on MacDougal street, a short block from our Washington Square Park dorms and it became not just a place we went sometimes but THE place we went. I liked to order cappuccinos and mozzarella sandwiches and read while Italian waiters navigated the tight space. There was a sign— or maybe it was written on the menu?- that it was the location of America’s first espresso machine. I don’t know if this is true. Please don’t tell me if it’s not. This idea— that I was sitting in the first place in all of the States to have an espresso machine— made the place seem precious and important and worthy of my obsession.
It was part of what made me fall in love with NYC. And with routines, which were somewhat new to me, a person both hemmed in by routines I hated— like attending my high school where I was miserable, and also caught in a chaotic unpredictable mess of dysfunction. In the city, I had escaped both things.
More routines followed. At 19 and 20 I liked to go to Fuel on 4th Street, a bar that accepted my fake ID and played music my then roommate Julie and I could dance to and usually there were cute boys- men really, with real jobs in the real world— to flirt with or kiss.
At 22 I liked to visit my model-actor-bartender friend Leah at No Idea Bar on the Lower East Side and my actor-writer-waiter friend Mark at the French bistro Camaje on my beloved MacDougal Street, where I’d drink red wine and sit for hours and feel connected to the past, which seemed distant, then, and seem absolutely ancient now, from my almost-forty perch.
My best friend, Julia and I used to meet at an Upper East Side bakery below her apartment on weekday mornings. My post college roommates, Julie and Honora and I liked to order from Odessa diner on Sunday nights and get brunch at Cafe Orlin in the East Village on weekend mornings. Their French toast was perfection. I think they’re closed now. I think Odessa is too. Routines, even the most mundane of them, are fated to vanish, a fact that I hate and I am witnessing my daughter struggling to accept as well.
There were chocolate croissants with Jerry when I was 28 at a place that’s now closed, and ordering in from the diner at 2am for mozzarella sticks and 11am for eggs and bacon with my now-husband when we were first dating in my early 30s.
There’s always been Brookvin in South Slope—- Monday nights by myself with their happy hour red and their tuna tartare. It’s not on the menu anymore. But the backyard still feels familiar, the bar too, though so much else has changed, and there’s no space in my routine for regular visits to my favorite wine bar.
I wish there were in the same exact breath that I don’t miss it at all.
Then there are the baby routines which come and go— music class with Jess on Thursdays, then Fridays with Jess and Caela, then zap it’s gone in a Covid flash. There were meet ups at Elk in Windsor terrace with new mom-friends who are fast becoming old mom-friends, when singers would perform for kids in the backyard and I’d worry about how many bottles of milk I’d brought and how to get home in time for nap. There were nap routines. Sleep routines. Bath routines. Morning routines. They work, then they seem to break apart without warning, unfairly, and I have to invent new ones.
And woven into all of it— the drunk nights and hungover mornings and relationship tent poles and calculations of when the baby last ate or slept—is the writing.
As a kid, it was journals addressed to a non-person named Beth, who I wrote to in my small walk in closet, on a stool passed down from my grandmother. In college, I liked to write at the Astor Place Starbucks, the unbelievable bustle of Manhattan life on full display. When I moved uptown, it was a Starbucks in the 80s with an upstairs area that I found charming even though I now know Starbucks can never actually be charming. I loved the predictability of Starbucks. My chai latte would always taste the same.
I couldn’t write in a Starbucks now if you paid me. Routines. They are everything and then they fit all wrong, the way a sweater goes out of style, or you have a baby or go through a pandemic, or both, maybe, and everything in your closet is the wrong size and shape and functionality of who you are now.
When I moved to Brooklyn in 2010, it was Red Horse Cafe. It was darkly lit and filled with other writers. It closed unexpectedly one day and it was hard to recover. What was the point for writing if it wasn’t there? Later, it turned into Muse Cafe, which was more sterile but became routine anyway, the same writer-pals showing up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my old writing days when my kid was only in part time daycare and my life had the perfect rhythm to it.
Until it was March of 2020 and it had no rhythm at all.
When cafe writing had to end in 2020, my writing time turned to early mornings in my office before my quarantined family awoke, a new routine that grounded me. Then sometime in 2021, Fia moved from crib to bed and started waking up at the crack of Dawn and it simply didn’t work anymore. I couldn’t wake up much earlier than her, and trying to made me angry. I’d start the day in a terrible mood, feeling robbed of my precious time, forced to grieve the end of yet another prized routine.
One of the things parenting left me most unprepared for was how often I would have to change beloved routines— in my parenting, yes, but also in my WORK, in my friendships, in my marriage, in every aspect of my life. I loved that early morning writing. It was mine. And then it was gone, and there wasn’t much I could do about it but wait.
What followed was nearly a year without a routine that felt good. There were other routines- a weekly walk, ordering in on weekend nights, going to Southside every morning for a latte and a baked good. But my writing had no routine. Or no good one. Still I didn’t really know that that was the problem. I was unhappily writing words, wringing 800 words from an 8 hour day with so little access to joy and so much effort it felt nearly impossible.
It can be hard to investigate the ins and outs of creative process when trying to parent a spirited toddler. So I didn’t. I expected the writing to come. And I catered to my daughter’s need for routine, a true twin to mine, the two of us so relentlessly alike it wears us both out. On Saturday mornings we play Zingo, then the Unicorn game, then Candyland. We go to the playground after gymnastics. Dad walks her to school. Mom picks her up.
There used to be a 45 minute long bedtime routine. It took nearly a year to unwind her from it. I can already feel her trying to build one anew, to take its place.
This past weekend, we decided we would go to the diner. We hadn’t been in ages— Covid numbers and laziness and just being out of the routine of it. (For a while in 2019 and early 2020 we would go with friends before art class and order eggs with cheese and bacon and toast. In late 2020 we would go and sit outside after her outdoor school program, making the same order, chatting with the same waitress.) When we suggested it on the weekend, she lit up, so excited about her old friends, cheesy eggs and bacon and the remembered routine.
Then the diner was too busy and we told Fia we had to go to another diner, and she cried the big wet tears of a person who loves routine and has to mourn when the routine and the expectation of engaging in the routine is forced to change. It broke my heart— for her, for me, for all of us who love routines and the simple perfect pleasures they provide.
The other diner, of course, met her expectations, had cheesy eggs and bacon available, and made her happy. It was the same but different. It was the promise of routine that felt good, like the old one, but worked for this new time.
The thing about raising a kid who is unsettlingly similar to yourself is that you relearn yourself in incredible ways. I needed a routine. Maybe not exactly the old one— my office is too close to Fia’s bedroom and she’s sensitive to sounds and light now, in ways she wasn’t back in 2020. But she’s sleeping later than 6am again, and I am enjoying writing again, getting up before her at last, eating sunbutter toast, lying on the couch and finding the words come easily, even without coffee (it is too loud to make coffee, it might wake her up, another adjustment to the old beloved routine).
The routines will vanish. I’m pregnant with another baby and the early morning writing will inevitably wane again, and I’ll mourn the simple ease of it. But with the help of Fia, I will remember that new routines can be created through the old. Maybe I can write on the couch, still. Maybe there will still be sunbutter toast. My latte at Southside. Maybe the old cafes will open again, in new variations and the new baby won’t mind being strapped to my chest while I sit in one of them, sipping something hot, writing something new, that I never would have thought to write before having one daughter, or two, before navigating Covid, before moving to Brooklyn, before giving up late late late nights at No Idea Bar, before graduating college, before leaving the misery of high school, before I became this person right here.
I will find it. I will, probably, fall in love with the new routine, the way I always seem to, something new becoming familiar faster than you expect.
Even this, today, I’m writing this very newsletter in the park, in the middle of a walk I am taking on my own with an audiobook of Anne Patchett’s THESE PRECIOUS DAYS. I have missed walking, so I am finding a new routine for it. And it is the same— the quality of light, the taste of the latte, the comfort of my legs moving, the watching of moms and kids and nannies and couples and people on phone calls and people meditating and the perfect mix of calm and busy-ness always right here, in the park. It’s different too, my writing already done for the day from the morning session, my brain buzzing with ideas, my aloneness more alive out here, than my aloneness at home.
By summer, I’ll be doing it with a stroller and a newborn. Or not, if the baby hates the stroller as much as Fia did. I can’t know what the new routine will be. So I’m enjoying this current routine as best I can, while hoping, knowing, that the new one that arises will feel wrong at first, will feel Fia-having-to-go-to-a-different-diner wrong. But then it will feel right. The booths just as comfortable. The eggs just as cheesy. Even cheesier, maybe! The writing, the writing, the writing, always there, eventually, to make sure I remember who I am, after all.
As noted, I’m pregnant, so in a state of constant bodily transition, and I am renting clothing through nuuly because most maternity clothes, I’m being reminded after a five year pregnancy hiatus, are the most boring colors and styles on the face of the planet. They do have some maternity clothes at nuuly, but mostly they just have the clothes I tend to like— whimsical and floral and more often than not if you are me, pinky-purple-mauve.
I made this salmon recipe the other night, and mostly I fail at making fish of any kind but it was fantastic. I did it as a rice bowl rather than a wrap, but otherwise I highly recommend.
I am, as always, enthralled by anything about cult-like enterprises that pull people in through the things they want the most— fame, money, friendship, security, or in the case of the Twin Flames podcast, true love. It’s a riveting podcast so far, about a subject I am always interested in.