Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dear Fetus, you can come out of my womb if you promise not to lick the walls

In honor of our recent move, I wrote the piece below when it was still quite uncertain where on earth we were going to be living in the fall. I publish it as a musing on the absurd state of RWP (renting while pregnant) in Massachusetts. We do have a happy ending - we are now quite settled into our new apartment in Brookline, though we never did find a three-bedroom. I suppose it will richly prepare us for what we will shortly teach Fetus - you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get a third-floor walk up not far from Coolidge Corner, and you think, "I can live with this."

I see them everywhere. Happy moms pushing strollers and fit pregnant women jogging, preparing their babies for all the advantages Brookline has to offer. I have taken to looking jealously at these happy families, wondering, "Where do they live?" And of course, "Do they have any vacancies?"

Brookline, like many parts of Metro Boston, has much to offer young families. Excellent schools, library programs for tots, playgrounds, and the Box Office Babies program at the Coolidge Theatre. My husband and I would love to raise a child here. If only we could find a place to do it.

When I tell landlords and realtors that my husband and I want a three-bedroom apartment, they always ask dubiously "And it's just you?" While the law doesn't require mommies and daddies to disclose this, and actually forbids discrimination against kids and families, I don't feel comfortable hiding the 21-week old blob in my uterus that my husband and I have taken to calling "Blueberry". But I don't want to disclose Blueberry's existence either. To many landlords, our little bundle of joy is their little nightmare. They see my oh-so fashionable baby bump and expect that he or she will pop out and commence a lead-paint-chip-eating contest with some infant buddies.

When we made the mistake of telling one landlord that we were in fact hoping to move somewhere we could raise our future kids, she would not let us apply without a lead paint inspection - that we had to pay for. Many other landlords said things like "Ours is a building full of roommates - we're not sure a married couple would fit in."

Of course, the history of discrimination of any group is full of code words and insinuation. Many groups of people have been led to feel that people "like them" were not welcome, even if it wasn't explicitly stated. And though Craigslist proudly proclaims "Stating a discriminatory preference in a housing post is illegal," it's clear that you don't have to state something to enact it. Instead, parents turn into detectives, lying about having kids and scoping out a potential place to see if there are strollers by the front door and Pampers boxes in the recycling.

The countdown to the birth of our first child is T minus 19 weeks, but even less time remains until it will be patently obvious to any realtor that I'm pregnant, so my residential clock is ticking much louder than my biological one. Though I am confident I'll be able to put a roof of some kind over Blueberry's head, I'm worried that we'll have to settle - for something too small, too leaded or too far from our synagogue. If that happens, I know that in two years we'll be apartment hunting again, searching for a place to raise toddler Blueberry and any sibling whose debut may or may not be imminent. But regardless of how many kids we plan to have, without a culture shift here in town we'll just have to keep saying "it's just us!"

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