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Nina In New York: How Does She Do It? Mostly, She Doesn’t.

Exhausted Woman

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

In college, I set about the monumental task of becoming one of those revered human-deity hybrid women known as the domestic goddesses. Call it something like a spiritual awakening: I obsessively pored over issues of Martha Stewart Living and read cookbooks like novels. I worked tirelessly to recreate Martha’s often unattainably perfect projects. Once, instead of throwing a post-finals kegger like a normal kid, I insisted on hosting a holiday cocktail party for which I would cook every single canapé presented in a ten-page spread on throwing an “international soiree.” It was a moderate success, given the fact that I was in my pajamas picking avocado puree out of my hair twenty minutes before guests were due to arrive. Undeterred, I spent my early twenties conquering increasingly challenging baking projects. I saw quite a few triumphs, and more than one unmitigated disaster. Perhaps I never attained the absolute height of effortless domesticity enjoyed by my idols like Ina, Martha and Nigella, but I was satisfied with how close I came.

And then I became a wife and mother. And it all went to pot.

As a stay-at-home parent living in a space larger than 700 square feet, I feel exceeding pressure to achieve finally the domestic dreams of my younger self. I should be floating through my airy, spotless home, which is appointed with the perfect mix of quirky, rustic, and modern accessories. I breeze into the thoroughly baby-proofed kitchen where my daughter is safely playing independently and I deftly whip up a homemade, organic, nutritionally balanced meal. By the time I am done cleaning up (a breeze!), it has cooled to the precisely ideal temperature and she is ready to eat. We sit together and eat like civilized human family members.

It’s sort of like that, I guess. Except instead of that woman’s home, our place is an under-furnished, mismatched mishmosh of bric-a-brac we’ve been accumulating since college, and there’s nothing on the walls unless you count the sweet potato flecks stuck behind the high chair. As dinnertime approaches, I frantically dart between the kitchen and living room, attempting to keep an eye on my baby lest she choke on dog hair or find yet another hole in our baby-proofing efforts (which are operating on an as-needed basis). Finally, I stick her, hungry and screaming, in the high chair and dump some Cheerios on the tray to occupy her while I defrost pre-made turkey meatballs in the microwave. When she tires of those, I begin haphazardly throwing bits of everything I can find her way—cheese, fruit, applesauce, banana, bread, ham, more Cheerios. The meal is over when I’ve accidentally let her eat half a pint of blueberries and she has begun yelling and hurling everything she can get her hands on. I have used an entire roll of paper towels. The counter is stained with berry juice and the sink is somehow now filled with dishes. By the time she is asleep, I’m exhausted and full from eating her scraps, so we collapse in front of the TV with a sandwich or bowl of pasta or something horribly greasy we ordered on Seamless.

Living the dream.

I feel like I’ve managed to move backwards, from domestic goddess to domestic mess. While no one expected me to do any of that fancy cooking or entertaining in my early 20s, I’m pretty sure I’m expected to do at least some of the homemaking things now. You know, like cooking and vacuuming and grocery shopping and laundry. You know, those somewhat normal adult tasks performed by normal adults, many of whom have families comprised of multiple children and two working parents? Right, those. . . are not happening here. Even after eleven months of child-rearing, the idea that I would be so organized, unfettered and in charge of my life seems laughable. Ha ha! It recently took me eight days to buy new dish sponges.

EIGHT. DAYS.

Despite doing all the things a theoretically maturing adult often doesmarrying, getting a dog, having a baby, sacrificing location for space and an attached garageI feel like I’m becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Or like I’m half in some sort of weird arrested development stage, except without all the carefree, teenaged fun and with way more responsibility and less booze and sleep and more . . . not booze and lack of sleep.

In many ways, having a baby forced me to transform into a real life grown-up overnight, which is particularly jarring when you are under the erroneous impression that you already were one. Playing house is fun and easy when you’re really little, and it’s still pretty fun and easy (albeit more expensive) when you’re a decade or so older than that. But at this point, I think I’m just no good at it. Or maybe I just watch too much television and read too many catalogs and celebrity baby/nursery reveal photo spreads, and most people are just faking it as poorly as I am. Maybe I’m not the only one stringing together tiny, barely passable daily accomplishments (dress the baby, clean the baby, feed the baby, feed the baby, clean the baby, wash a dish) and hoping they magically amount to a semi-functional household. Yeah. Let’s go with that.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!