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Saturday, January 12, 2013

We Gotta Get Outta Here!!!

In the middle of March, just as Pesach cleaning was getting underway, I started hearing mysterious, ominous scratching coming from the walls just behind my couch. It could only be one thing...


Or Minnie. Or their offspring.


My evenings became a nightmare. I would pound on the wall behind me to silence the mice. I was jumping out of my skin, terrified that any second I would see that disgusting creature flitting by silently like a shadow.

Our apartment had a vermin problem from day 1. We paid a lot of money every few years to mouseproof, only to have the mice show up somewhere else. We usually found the holes in the kitchen, behind the fridge. If you remember, we had a mouse sighting just four months earlier and we had spent money on an exterminator. So what on earth was going on?

I found out pretty soon, when I emptied my breakfront to clean it for Pesach.

The back of my breakfront had separated from the rest of it and apparently a mouse - or several - had found a home in the upper drawer of the breakfront, shredding papers and tapes. 


A quick call to the exterminator later, someone came over the next morning. He moved the breakfront but found no holes behind it. He did, however, smell mice in the outside hallway. Groan. That was my landlord's domain, and as always, they refused to mouseproof because it was too expensive. I shared that wall with a neighbor who also refused to mouseproof because it was too expensive. Translation: The mice migrated to my apartment. And there was nothing I could do about it, because the exterminating company would not patch the holes outside as it was not part of my apartment.

Actually, he did take pity on me ant patched a few holes. But he showed me how the staircase was riddled with holes and that was certainly my landlord's problem.

I still heard massive scratching and banging in the walls every night. We didnt catch any mice. So I knew they were still lurking in the house. It gave me the heebie jeebies.

When I Pesach-cleaned the coat closet, I found more droppings and a dime-sized hole, which I covered up. And when my cleaning lady moved away the 2nd freezer which lay against the wall I shared with the next house there was a massive, gaping hole and a ton of droppings there too.


One thing was clear to me - clear as the day.

I had to move out of there. Asap.

Let me tell you a little bit about that first apartment of mine.

When I first got married, we loved the place. We fixed it up literally from scratch - on my parents' dime, of course. It had a tiny kitchen, a spacious dining room, nice-sized hallway/foyer which had the coat closet, bathroom and laundry closet, and then an okay-sized master bedroom from which you went into the large childrens' room. We loved it for the first, say, ten years we lived there.

By now it was 15 years since we had moved in, and the problems with the house were multifold.

For starters, we lived three long flights up. That wasn't so bad before I had children. Or even when I had Chaim. Or even when we had Chaim and Dovi. But it was getting unbearable. Dovi refused to go up or down the stairs, and I found myself dragging him bodily up and down several times a day. There was a looooong, stone flight outside - 17 stairs - and I had to drag up the stroller with Dovi in it both ways. It was extremely exhausting.

Secondly, the apartment was pretty rundown by now. We had painted it 2 years before, but the walls were pretty banged up. The floors were very scratched up. The toilet was leaky, the toilet sink had no water... and of course, we had the ongoing mice issue.

Besides that, nighttimes were a nightmare. Dovi and Chaim shared a room, which was adjacent to ours, "railroad style", so if one of them woke up, so did the other. And so did both of us. All four of us were pretty severely sleep deprived. We needed a 3 bedroom apartment so we could separate the boys and get them both to sleep through the night - as well as us.

An additional issue was that we weren't getting along with the landlord. We had been really good friends with them for years - they were incredibly gracious people; they didnt raise our rent for ten years because they knew how strapped we were due to our infertility expenses, and even then, they only raised it by $100. We were paying well below market rate. Which then made us feel really guilty, and therefore we paid for all the home repairs ourselves - even fixing the rickety stairs when they didnt pass City Inspection. But for some reason, about 2 years before, we came back from the catskills to find the landlady in a pretty nasty mood, and that mood stayed since. I don't know if she was going through personal hardships or what, but she kept finding reasons to call me with complaints. The hallway was too cluttered (which was true; but I couldnt shlep up all my bags and coats and 2 kids at the same time, and I often forgot to go back down to get my stuff). They kvetched about having to abate the lead - as if it was my fault! If the toilet or sink overflowed we would get a call that it was mabuling all the way down to their basement apartment (how???) and on and on. I think they were getting tired of us.

The apartment was getting pretty cramped. Dovi needed lots of wide open space to run around, which this apartment did not provide. The kitchen was tiny - it didnt motivate me to be a good housewife when there was barely any room to do anything. We only had 2 kids, but we were in our mid 30s and were clearly outgrowing an apartment of this size. We were eating home most Yom Tov meals already, and we needed a bigger kitchen.

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We had also outgrown our location. We lived on one of the "older" street and didnt have many neighbors in our age range. There were only four kids on my street around Dovi's age. Most of the families on our block were either middle aged couples or really young couples. Families in their 30's lived in the newer parts of town, in larger apartments. I had a very hard time finding babysitters when I had go to out at night, and Chaim had very few friends to play with.

Besides all that, it was high time to move - period. We had been through so much in that apartment - it was almost as if the place had a bad luck vibe to it. We had been through numerous miscarriages, years of infertility, a preemie, struggling with Chaim's issues, and now Dovi's. Enough was enough.

On Pesach we made our decision. We were going to start looking. I knew that we were not going away for the summer that year so that Dovi could start attending The ABA Center. I could not for the life of me envision us living in that high, cramped apartment all summer long.

We had tried to move before - twice. But Divine Intervention kept us living in the old place.

The first time we tried, we didn't have children yet. A good friend and relative of ours had recently moved from her first apartment after ten years of marriage. Lo and behold, a year later they were blessed with a child. We were energized with the idea of meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazel - Change your place, Change your luck. So we looked, and we looked, and we finally settled for another 2 bedroom apartment around the corner. My heart wasn't quite in it though; I was sad to leave our cozy first apartment childless. We had just signed the lease when my father-in-law advised us to buy rather than rent - he would help us with the down payment. We canceled the lease and started looking for apartments to buy. Unfortunately, the housing boom in my neighborhood had just ended; no one was building anymore and apartments were scarce. We looked at 2 apartments and they excited us greatly. Until I realized just how much a mortgage would cost us, and we simply couldn't afford it.

Putting the idea of buying an apartment behind us, we B"h had good news a month later - we were expecting. I guess just the attempt at changing our location had been good enough. I was secretly very excited at the prospect of raising my first child in my first home.

Our second attempt to move came when Chaim was 2 1/2 years old. After 14 years of waiting patiently, our number came up as eligible for housing assistance. We received our voucher and decided to look for a larger, 3 bedroom apartment. We saw place after place, but everything was either too high up, too far out of the neighborhood, or too expensive. We finally almost settled grudgingly on something slightly out of our budget and slightly out of the neighborhood but only 1 flight up, when I realized that there was no way I could handle a move at eight months pregnant. Dovi was born a month later, then I was sick, and then the voucher was almost expiring. We applied the voucher to our old apartment and suddenly we were only paying a hundred or so dollars in rent. It was worth it. We stopped looking at apartments after that and were happy to be saving lots of money in rent.

Until now.

Yes, our rent would jump drastically. And moving is expensive. But peace of mind is worth more than that. We HAD to get out of there. We just couldn't handle the vermin, the height, the cramped space. It was time.

A day after Pesach, our search began in earnest. I signed up for an apartment listing - a company emailed all their new listings to me daily, and we saw quite a few places. I documented it all on Facebook.

Apartment 1:

Disappointed :(. that house has TWO flights - one outside, and one inside. Too much for my aching feet. My whole point is moving is not to climb stairs. It's also REALLY far out, the neighborhood isnt so good yet. The rooms arent that huge either, nor are there that many closets. Too many chisronos. But hey, you gotta see a few before you find the real one...

Apartment 2:

:( apartment hunting is like a shidduch. This one has SO MANY amazing maalos: lots of closets, large rooms, huge porches and it's next door to a cheder so Dovi would LOVE to sit on the porch and watch the buses & boys come & go! But.... the kitchen itself is very stupid! It has fewer cabinets & counter space than my old tiny one here. what were they thinking? When you move already, you want a nice big comfy kitchen. Plus, of course, a LARGE flight of steel stairs to go up. I do face a long line of competition for this apt it'll probably be rented in a jiffy, but I might have protekzia, the owner is my motehr's first cousin. I'm really torn. And this'll happen with every apt! Do I wait a little longer to find something better? it's hard to overlook the non-kitchen.

Apartment 3:

Pretty decent kitchen, elevator building, excellent block. Problem? it only has side and back windows. It's like being in a prison; you never get to see human faces, can't check up on the kids playing outside, or if your kid's bus is already coming. Disappointed, but not for me.

Six weeks had passed from when we had started apartment hunting. In three weeks the city was going to empty out, and we were still stuck in our old place.

Then... something incredible happened. It was during the holiday of Shvuos. I was feeling a little blue about Dovi's impending third birthday and I started to cry.  The boys were sitting together eating cereal, and they looked so normal together. It was so surreal, I started feeling sad about what could have been, about the two normal brothers they could have been. Chaim asked me why I was crying. I told him, "In a few weeks, Dovi's long hair will come off, and I won't have any babies anymore..." Chaim looked at me innocently and said, "But Mommy, that's a good thing, because Dovi will learn Torah!" "But Chaim - Dovi can't talk," I replied. "So - he'll get speech therapy!" Chaim said matter of factly. Then he said, "Mommy, it's Yom Tov - you're not supposed to cry on Yom Tov." I hugged Chaim tightly. This was the boy I thought would never grow up - the kid that we had suspected that he was on the autism spectrum? Here he was, two years later, talking like a big, grown-up boy, with his issues mostly resolved. Who said the same thing couldn't happen to Dovi?

I started crying again and began to pray. "G-d", I said, "My 'cold war' with you is now over. I am not upset at You anymore. But I will fight this bitter decree to the end. You are going to overturn this! You are going to make Dovi normal - I don't care what! I'm not giving up! You've done bigger miracles for us before - this is nothing for You to do!"

And with that, the healing process entered the next phase. I had begun working on the healing process months ago when I heard that wonderful song - but now it was time to move it to the next phase. I was now challenging HaShem to help us out of the mess He had put us in. I was no longer laying around, crying and complaining. I was pretty close to acceptance - but I was in fighting mode, in  a good way. No more cold shoulders.

It was a breakthrough moment for me. I began feeling that I had opened myself up to G-d's blessings and was ready to embark on the next phase of Dovi's battle.

A day later as I was walking on the street I had a sudden epiphany. HaShem is not going to let me spend the sweltering summer on the top floor of the tiny apartment. He just won't. HE WON'T! 

I repeated that mantra to myself over and over.

Five days later, there was another new listing. It was PERFECT. 3 bedrooms. 2 bathrooms. 1 flight up. Porch. Elevator. Backyard. Excellent block. Manageable rent. I called and left a message. The call was returned a day later. The landlady was an old family friend, only 3 years older than me. I was her third caller. The other two were coming to see the apartment, and she would call me back if neither of them wanted it.

The apartment had one major drawback: it had a 3 year lease. I hesitated. Why spend money painting and freshening up the place and on a mover, only to start looking for new place 2 years later? Having spent 15 years in one apartment, I wasn't ready to become the Wandering Jew.

My ever-brilliant sister put it in perspective for me: Right now, I was absolutely desperate to move. If the apartment was in near-move-in condition and I didn't have to put too much money in it, it would be like living in a summer home for 3 years before moving on to a permanent place. It definitely paid to go have a look-see.

A week later the landlady called me back. The previous tenant had moved out, and we could come see the place.

The minute she opened the door and let me in, my knees buckled.


The apartment was in such excellent condition we could have moved in the very same day. The kitchen was huge, there were TONS of closets, lots of living/running space for Dovi, an elevator, many excellent neighbors, a tremendous porch, a large shared courtyard, two FULL baths, three bedrooms - I couldn't dream of anything better. And it was in such perfect condition, that all it needed was a coat of paint, a buffing job on the floor, and we could move in. The move would hardly cost us.

Later that day my husband went to see it, and so did my mother-in-law. I was blown away and was ready to sign the lease that very minute.

We could finally live like human beings??? Was this real???

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'further downt he hallway.'

There was, however, a small legal problem connected to our move and I had to iron it out first. It was very stressful and involved many phone calls to different people and jumping through some uncomfortable hoops - and the landlord was pressuring me to sign the lease or give it up, as she was leaving for the country in a few days and wanted to know she had a tenant. My youngest sister's engagement was that very night, and I couldnt even talk to my mother to figure out what to do . I was a bundle of stress and was ready to just give up and let the amazing apartment slip out from our hands. My husband finally convinced me to call my incredible therapist Linda, who was able to talk me through the debilitating anxiety and make me realize that the legal issues were a lot smaller than I thought and it could be worked out easily.

Two days later we signed the lease.

And our lives changed - forever.

I learned a very powerful lesson.

No matter how difficult and bleak things look, you just have to have faith. And things usually  fall into place.

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