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  • Amy Stein-Milford

Going Bananas for Baby Soren



Warning! Reader discretion is advised. This post contains some truly awful fruit puns.


On the Spring Equinox, I visited my friends Courtney, Mattie, and their baby, Soren Grey Byrneheim, in Jackson Heights, Queens. What better way to celebrate this season of hope and renewal than by meeting a nine-and-a-half-week-old peach?


From Mattie and Courtney, I wanted to hear: what it was like to go through pregnancy and early motherhood during a global pandemic? Mattie, as always, was blunt. "I threw up every day, just about all nine months." Also, there were lots of Covid-related concerns. Courtney was terrified of contracting the coronavirus during Mattie's pregnancy. They could not have friends at their home when they wanted company and guidance. And it turns out that practicing infant CPR on a stuffed-animal elephant in a Zoom pre-birth class just doesn't leave you feeling confident.


Following the birth, it has been especially hard that no one from Courtney's side of the family, including her best friend, has been able to meet Soren in person or hold him. One Covid positive: No visitors at the hospital at a time when they were tired and stressed.



Pandemic aside, like most new mothers, their emotions run the gamut – they are filled with love and exhaustion, excitement and frustration. In the words of one of their close friends: new motherhood is like a sour patch candy, sweet but a bit salty.


One thing that has kept Courtney in good spirits during the pandemic is research for her travel and food blog courtneyinthemiddleseat. While she can't travel the world now, she visits neighborhoods throughout the city for her brilliant reviews of international packaged snacks. Some of Courtney's favorites: Oishi Prawn Crackers from the Philippines; Sindangdong Topokki, a rigatoni-shaped spicy rice snack from South Korea; and Terry's Chocolate Orange Bar, a classic UK treat that Courtney recommends as a Christmas stocking stuffer. I also feel compelled to include the Bananko, a chocolate and banana flavored snack from Croatia that is distinctly priapic and pretty terrible-tasting according to Courtney, but it does go with the banana theme.



One unexpected result of Courtney's forays into international snacking is that it became a way to process feelings about her mother who had passed away just months before the pandemic started. Her mom was a lover of oddball snacks, bringing home a variety of packaged goods for young Courtney, including hard candies wrapped in edible rice paper and jelly cups from Japan. The apple does not fall far from the tree, and Courtney is envisioning weekly snack expeditions with Soren when he is older.


I totally relate to the idea of connecting to a lost person through the things they loved – be it a food, article of clothing, music, or some other special object or pastime. And like Courtney, I hope to pass on these"legacies," both to my children and through my writing.



As for her All Dressed outfit: Courtney doesn’t give a fig what you think, she loves coordinating her look with Soren’s. For the day's outing, she opted for a Banana-and-Foliage theme. Courtney’s banana shirt was purchased at Han Market in Da Nang, Vietnam, where she was participating in a cultural-exchange program. Knowing her matchy-matchy mania, friends bought a mini version for Soren. Courtney also has a banana shirt for her cat. In fact, she shrunk her original banana shirt in the wash, and friends, recognizing her banana obsession, brought back the same shirt from Vietnam two years later as a replacement. (Photos above by Mattie Byrneheim.)


I knew I had to find something fruity and ridiculous, so I opted for a cherry-themed top, polka dots pants, flower-power earrings, and a Magic 8-ball necklace. Every one of these items was cherry-picked from my daughter Flora’s closet.



Courtney and I have known each other since 2012, when she was applying for a position at the Museum at Eldridge Street, where I was then Deputy Director. I have a very clear memory of our first meeting: I was struck by her cultural curiosity, strength of character, and deep sense of integrity – qualities that were evident even at that half-hour meeting. Courtney was the first of her family to attend college, receiving full scholarship to Brown University. She taught herself Spanish when teaching English in Guatemala, and learnt Hebrew by immersing herself in a language and culture that was entirely foreign to her. She is now International Grants Manager for JP Morgan Chase. An intrepid and brilliant human, I have learnt so much from her over the years.


I should add Courtney and Mattie are also just plain fun to be with, and that Courtney is the Queen of Corny Puns, thus my fruit-themed play. Courtney and Mattie, I a-peach-iate you and am so grape-ful we are friends!


For that glorious, one-in-a-melon first day of spring, we spent the day walking and talking and sipping coffee. Eventually, Soren was ready for his meal and nap. In other words, it was time for me to make like a banana and split.


What has kept you going during Covid?
Researching and writing my blog and, of course, the anticipation and arrival of Soren.
Courtney Byrneheim
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