I carried Jack in in a sling to his first big outing, a birthday party for his Grandfather’s 50th. He was 5 months old, and wearing a perfectly clean, beautiful little outfit that I had picked out for him shortly before he was born. I was nervous about bringing him around so many people, petrified of the germs that were surely abound. Convinced he would be contaminated, I packed an arsenal heavy with antibacterial wipes and lotions, and brought several clean pacifiers should one of them get dropped onto the filthy ground.

My stress level was higher than the alcohol content of the lotions I smeared onto Jack’s soft baby skin. Knowing I couldn’t get away with keeping him all to myself though, I did manage to let a few family members and friends hold him. It’s a rite of passage, I believe, getting through the initial few months as a new parent, making more important decisions than ever before.

I distinctly remember a friend coming up to Jack and I, and saying “It’s so difficult, isn’t it, having a baby. Isn’t it the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”. My response to her was swift. “Absolutely not. It’s a complete joy”. I was horrified by her assumption, and had never even considered for a second allowing myself to realize that yes, it had been less than easy. 5 months earlier, I had been crushed by my decision to get an epidural after 24 hours of prodromal labor. Such a failure I felt like to submit to drugs. Even when nursing was excruciatingly painful and I didn’t sleep for months on end, I never considered it “hard”. I was a mother, and this is what mother’s do.

When Zoe came along though the struggle to be a good mother to a 19 month old and a newborn changed me. I was confident this time around, yet I had never experienced that kind of conflict. Wanting to give 100% of my attention to two children, and learning in the process to divide that in half.

Quite honestly, I haven’t considered parenthood “hard” until recently, when my role as my children’s advocate out in the world has ramped up exponentially. Since moving to Manhattan, many things have been wonderful. It’s when basic necessity is challenged that I’ve run into real problems.

I need a pediatrician I can trust.

I need my kids to breathe clean air in their home.

Doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Yet time and time again, I’ve been called to task in defense of my children.

When we found out that Jack has a severe nut allergy, our pediatrician forgot to follow up with us after the emergency room visit and allergy testing. They forgot to give us an Epinephrine Pen for emergencies, should Jack ever come into contact with a tree nut again. They never even requested the kid’s records from our doctors in California. I stormed the gates and brought it to their attention, holding a personal meeting with the manager of the office. All I got in response was a less than sincere “sorry”. I held out on changing doctors until today. I called Jack’s doctor yesterday and left a message with the receptionist that he was “really struggling” and I needed to speak with her. I never received a return call.

I wish it stopped there.

Twice a day, every other day for the past three months, our neighbor down the hall has been smoking marijuana. The entire hallway fills with smoke, and drafts under our door into our living room and the kid’s bedroom. I’ve left notes under their door, begging them to fix the situation. I’ve called the manager of our building more times than I can count on all of my fingers. We’ve taped our front door, covered it in flannel, turned on fans-everything we can to keep the smoke out of our home.
You see, Jack was recently diagnosed with Reactive Airway Disease. He’s on a nebulizer twice a day to combat irritants in the air. Mostly it’s allergies, but he is quite sensitive and affected by many different things.
Two weeks ago, I demanded a meeting with the head-honcho to get this situation resolved. I walked into his office, clad in Grateful Dead posters (I kid you not) and he told me, with his feet kicked up on the desk, that he would “get to the bottom of it”. They called my neighbor and of course she vehemently denied it. I was told that there was no more they could do.

I’m frustrated. I am blindingly angry. We chose a respectable pediatrician in a city chalk full of renowned medical institutions. We moved into a safe community in Manhattan and pay more than I can even fathom in rent for a small, two bedroom apartment. I feel like no matter how hard I try to keep my children safe and healthy, it’s an epic battle that I’ve thrown on my chain mail for. Discouraged and disappointed, I’m ready to head into this mess with my guns ablaze.

I’m a mother and as a parent this is what we do. We protect our children as best as we can.

I only wish that my concerns were still lifted with a nice, thick layer of antibacterial lotion.

I’m open to any and all advice on this matter. I’ve drafted a letter of intent to our building management to release us from our lease due to the smoke situation, but that’s as far as I’ve taken it thus far.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandra October 29, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Sorry to hear about your situation. It’s a great article, and probably touches many mothers on some level. Good luck with you situation. I wish I had some advice for you, but you have already handled it better than I would have. I would have gone rouge by now.

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Lisann Araujo October 29, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Uggg…sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time! Have you threatened to call the police on your neighbor? Or try 311, they may have some better advice. That usually solves the problem if leaving notes no longer works. Also I suggest keeping a diary of all the times you’ve reported the problem and to who.

Our doctors are at Manhattan Pediatrics, Dr. Gary Edelstein (212-326-3351). You have to be born in, but maybe he can recommend someone else at Columbia for you. They’re great and super attentive.

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Kristen October 29, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Jess, I am so sorry. That must be exhausting, as well as completely disappointing and maddening. I have such fears around my kid’s health, actually I have ISSUES around it. A has been sick for 6 weeks (with 3 different kinds of flu), and I am terrified for him and worried about EVERYTHING! I am so sorry you are going through this, but if any MOM can get to the bottom of this and persevere-its you. You with get through this. You are supermom, keep your head up friend. XOXO!

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Tracy October 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm

So sorry to hear about your situation with your neighbors – I’d be pretty upset in your situation too. It just isn’t okay to expose children to that and it’s incredibly frustrating that you can’t do more about it. I have had 2 similar situations in apartment complexes and when I contacted the building managers they basically told me there was nothing they could do.

If you do end up moving, are there any smoke-free buildings in NY? Is that too much to ask for?

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Sarah at the Stroller Ballet October 29, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Ugh. I’m so sorry you are still dealing with these problems. It’s so difficult when you live in close quarters and your neighbors aren’t respectful. In terms of the Pediatrician, I can totally relate. I’ve lived in three states with Peanut, now, and have found it difficult to find Pediatricians that are good. I’ve been asking around to try and find someone, and am guessing I’ll probably interview a few before making my decision. I agree with Sandra – maybe try calling 311? That may at least put some fire in the pants of the smokers.

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NYCPatty October 30, 2010 at 1:51 am

Definitely call 311 when you smell the smoke. Im sure they will send the cops. Its worth a try to at least make them see you mean business.

Have you tried these under door guards? http://tinyurl.com/29yecvw
They are supposed to stop drafts…may keep out some of that smell.
We use them in my parents apt because its so cold there!

I think the management company should at least let you out of your lease because its a health matter.

I sometimes get that cigarette smoke smell in my bathroom because of the vent in there. Sometimes it comes from the front window because the smokers stand outside the building and smoke. I swear one day I am going to through out a bucket of water! It drives me nuts!

Good Luck!

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Mary Kate @ Heels Optional November 1, 2010 at 2:48 pm

That’s a tough situation, especially since your neighbor is denying it. Is there any way to seal the doors when you’re home so that smoke doesn’t get in?

Your words on mothering are touching. It’s so nice to hear people speak about loving parenting, rather than bemoaning all of the responsibilities and loss of their youth. Your kids are lucky!

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jessica November 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Thank you so much for the input, you guys. I’m so pissed off at this point that I even have to DEAL with this. Secondhand smoke should be illegal! GEEZ.

I’m definitely going to call 311, the very next time I smell smoke. The problem I’ve now run into is they’ve switched to cigarette smoke, which is freaking awful too but it isn’t ILLEGAL like marijuana. So.

I appreciate the support and empathy, truly. Thank you.

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Flucky Mom November 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I am so frustrated on your behalf. I miss NYC, but those are the types of issues that remind me why we moved out (only 25 mins away, but still far away enough).

I’m sure you’ll have many pediatrician suggestions from fellow NYC mamas. Did you meet with the building manager or the sup? You have to meet with the management company. You can also call 311 the next time you smell the smoke.

Sounds like your next step would be to move to a different building — usually the newer constructions have better ventilation systems.

It’s really tough though. Trying to protect your kids is hard, especially when you’re in such close quarters.

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Candace November 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm

I’m so sorry for everything you have to face on top of little man’s health complications. Definitely send that letter to your building manager, and inform them that next time you smell that smoke in your apartment you will be calling the police (since they know about it and will probably catch the jerk smoking it might not be a situation they would like to have come on their property).
I am the same way about my little one so I totally understand!

CHANGE DOCTORS IMMEDIATELY!! No caring pediatrician should “forget” their job! Good Luck with all of this

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