Dirty Baby, Healthy Baby (#270)

Unless it’s in his garden, my Chinese-American husband doesn’t notice dirt. I’m the one who notices when there’s pet hair piling up and hauls out the vacuum—usually every few days. I like my house neat, especially if we have company coming over.

But once our high maintenance, non-napping Baby D arrived, the vacuum disappeared into the hall closet, sometimes for weeks.

We soon had two dozen dust bunnies to go with our two dogs and two cats. Dishes piled up in the sink. Andy, who was in charge of hungry Baby D’s supplemental bottles, washed dishes in order to wash bottles. Suddenly, my once-messy husband cared about clean sinks, clean bottles, and clean pacifiers.

Baby D did not care about pacifiers – clean or dirty. He didn’t want to suck, he wanted to chew.

Open mouth, insert tail.

Once Baby D figured out how to move, he put everything in his mouth. He didn’t care if it was alive or dead. People fingers. Dog tails. Cat tails. House plants. Dust bunnies.

After he chewed Andy’s thumb into an opposable bruise on one airline flight, we discovered that the bulb of an oral medicine dropper made an awesome, soothing chew toy.

Baby D’s preferred chew toy.

Unfortunately, Baby D dropped his dropper constantly. Andy, worrying over the amount of dirt the dropped dropper was collecting, attached the dropper to Baby D’s shirt with a pacifier clip.

Despite its proximity, Baby D often eschewed his medicine dropper in favor of other items. He especially enjoyed munching on toys at the YMCA, where we attended Mommy & Me classes or he went into Childwatch while I worked out (or just got a shower).

Once Baby D’s back teeth started coming in, though, the medicine dropper didn’t satisfy him. I spent several exhausting days with a fussy, angry toddler. Andy arrived home one night to find Baby D raiding Woofie’s dog bowl on our patio.

“Ahhh! Honey!” Andy yelled. “Baby D has dog kibble in his mouth!”

“Yep,” I told him. “He likes to put it between his back teeth.”

“But…it’s dog food! And he took it right from the bowl! Which has dog drool! Gross!”

“I. Don’t. Care. The kid is finally quiet. He can eat all the dog drool he wants.”

“But he’ll get sick!”

“No, he won’t. Woofie and Fey are fine. Think of them as, like, taste-testers for our little tyrant, okay?”

Andy was unconvinced. He tried to pry the kibble out of Baby D’s mouth. Baby D bit him. When Andy finally did extract the kibble, Baby D raided the dog bowl again and howled when it was empty. Andy finally gave in and let Baby D happily chew a piece.

I got a lot of dark looks and barely audible mumblings about how I was potentially poisoning our child.

Baby D did get sick, but that wasn’t unusual. He got various colds, like any kid. I didn’t really worry until he was diagnosed with hand, foot, and mouth disease. Poor guy had such bad blisters on his hands and feet that he looked like he’d been attacked by fire ants. For a day, the kid screamed every time he tried to swallow solid food (he had blisters in his mouth and throat).

Andy, of course, was convinced it was the dog kibble.

When Baby D was well enough to return to Childwatch, we discovered that the YMCA had been the source of the outbreak. The kid rooms had been sterilized, but the staff warned me that my child might get infected if I left him there.

I handed Baby D over immediately. “He’s already had it. And I haven’t had a shower in two days.”

I did wonder, as I washed my hair, if perhaps I was a little too blasé about dirt. Hand, foot, and mouth had been pretty horrible. Did Andy have a point? I did a little research.

Turns out, Andy did not have a point. Not in the long run. Human immune systems evolved with dirt—and lots of it. We have search and destroy cells called neutrophils. When these neutrophils can’t find legit problematic cells to attack, they go stir-crazy (i.e., become inflammatory ) and attack things like pollen. This attack triggers everything from allergies to eczema.

Seeding your child’s microbiome with dirt is also critical for the proper development of their endocrine system and their neurodevelopment. Kids who grow up with outdoor dogs and cats (especially more than one) are up to 44% less likely to have allergies and asthma.

I happily pointed all this out to my husband as soon as possible.

“So I should just let him eat dog kibble?” he asked. “It still seems wrong.”

“Dude. How many pets did you grow up with?”

“None.”

“I grew up with 5 different dogs, countless cats, 4 guinea pigs, 3 rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, and turtles. Family legend even has it that I ate one dog’s food when I was a baby.”

“Why would you tell this to a guy who has kissed your mouth?!”

“Now. Which one of us has asthma?”

“It’s only infection-induced asthma! It’s not every day!” Andy argued.

“True. But which one of us gets more infections and has to be on antibiotics at least once a year?”

Andy glared at me, but eventually conceded that—stomach flu aside—I had the healthier immune system. He gradually quit trying to police everything that went into Baby D’s mouth. Even dog kibble.

In fact, Andy may have relaxed a little too much. Once, when I returned from an event and asked Andy how his day with Baby D was, he told me it was fine.

Only hours later did he finally say, “You know, I know we’re supposed to let him eat whatever, but he did kinda gross me out today.”

“Really? What did he put in his mouth?”

“Cat food.”

I shrugged. “That’s no big deal.”

“Well, yeah. But it was after the cat had puked it up.”

“Ahhhhh! Disgusting! WHY would you let him eat that?!”

Turns out, even us microbe-pushing moms have a limit.

Food Fight, Part II (#269)

I am a picky eater with a sensitive gag reflex. My parents learned that trying to force me to eat Hamburger Helper would result in puke all over the kitchen. They turned a blind eye when I fed it to the dog.

My Chinese-American husband, on the other hand, is literally the embodiment of the Chinese saying, “The Cantonese will eat everything on four legs except the table.”

Andy is also immune to food poisoning and the stomach flu. I have spent days on the bathroom floor with both while he whistled and continued on his merry way. Never mind that we ate the same food and commingled bodily fluids.

Andy’s uncle has a theory that weak stomachs were weeded out of the Chinese gene pool ages ago, possibly because the Chinese eat quite a bit of undercooked food. If your stomach couldn’t handle it, you’d never survive to reproduce.

There is only one food so horrible, so hideous, that my husband gags at the very thought of it.

Are you ready?

It’s…

MINT. CHIP. ICE-CREAM.

Yes, the eyeball eater thinks chocolate and mint together are gag-worthy.

Peppermint Patties terrify a man who savors sweetbreads.

I, on the other hand, once stole and ate two boxes of the Andes Mints my grandmother was saving for her bridge club.

I found it strange that Andy hated my favorite ice-cream, but I understood and respected his hatred. I knew what it was like to loathe certain foods, after all.

Andy was less accepting of food intolerance, especially once we had a kid. Then he insisted that my picky eating was due to the processed food of my childhood, rather than genetics.

Our child proved him wrong (and made me proud!) by refusing to eat my least favorite food.

You’d think that Andy would have given up on trying to mold his son’s unmoldable taste buds after that.

He did not.

He kept insisting Baby D at least try a few bites of everything. Andy’s frustration was palpable when Baby gagged and spat out anything that was too bitter or too spicy. My husband would sigh loudly, arguing that there was barely any asparagus in the salmon tart and it was ridiculous that Baby D wouldn’t at least try another mouthful. Glares were exchanged across the table until I intervened.

Unlike my husband, I felt that Baby D was doing just fine. He loved all meats, especially bacon and ham, but he liked tofu, too. Indian and Mexican foods were fine (without onions). He didn’t clamor for soda or juice. He devoured mushrooms and eventually accepted broccoli as edible.

Of course, Baby D’s favorite foods were gummy candies. We limited his intake, especially after his dentist told us that Baby D had deep grooves in his molars.

“Go for chocolate when it comes to treats,” she advised us. “That’s less likely to get stuck and cause cavities.”

See’s Candies, all decked out for the holidays.

I immediately introduced Baby D to See’s Candies, an old-fashioned chocolate store where the staff gave out free samples. Baby D soon settled on a favorite. Every visit, I would lift him up to counter height and he would lisp, “May I have a miwk choc-co-wit peppermint, pwease?”

The staff behind the counter would coo some variant of, “Oh my gosh, you’re so adorable! And such grown up tastes! You can have FIVE peppermints!”

One evening, Baby D offered some of his bounty to his father.

Andy recoiled. “Ew, God, no! Get that abomination away from me!”

Baby D was utterly perplexed. How could someone not like milk chocolate peppermints? Inconceivable! I sympathized, even as I explained how everyone’s tastebuds were different about a thousand different ways. Over a thousand different days, because toddlers.

Over the next few years, Baby D repeatedly offered milk peppermints to Andy, sure his father was just kidding. Andy declined every time (with extreme prejudice).

Baby D eventually realized the full potential of chocolate mints–as weapons.

One April Fool’s Day, he instructed me to buy two packs of M&Ms: one plain, and one mint.

The mint chocolate green M&Ms on the left, regular M&Ms on the right.

If you haven’t seen them, the green M&Ms in these two different chocolates look nearly identical. Baby D put two mint M&Ms on top of the plain M&Ms in the plain M&M wrapper. Then he waited, heroically resisting the urge to eat those M&Ms himself. For hours.

The minute his father came home from work, Baby D offered the pack of “plain” M&Ms to his father.

Andy, touched (and foolishly unsuspicious of this unusually generous gesture), tossed a handful of M&Ms in his mouth. He chewed.

And then bolted for the sink, gagging and spitting.

Baby D howled with mirth as his father finished rinsing out his mouth and said, “Why?! Why would you do that, young man?!”

“April Fool’s!” chortled Baby D. Eyes glittering, he added, “That is exactly how I feel about asparagus.”

Last weekend, Andy made a salmon and asparagus tart. But this time, he made a second tart with ham and mushrooms for Baby D.

Welcome to dinner table détente. Finally.

Taste Test (#268)

I am a picky eater. Take onions. I’ve hated onions with a passion since biting into my first McDonald’s burger and recoiling in horror over the raw, diced bites of bitterness wrecking my burger.

Unfortunately, onions are everywhere. No burger, sauce, or burrito is safe.

I’m normally a people-pleaser. Not when it comes to onions. I will quiz the wait staff before ordering a new dish. I will send that dish back if an onion shows up (very nicely and apologetically). And then I am NEVER going back to that restaurant.

My Chinese-American husband can and does eat anything. Animal brains? Check. Animal testicles? Check. Bitter melon? Check. Fish eyeballs, jellyfish, chicken feet? Bring it. The guy could have killed it on Fear Factor.

Because Andy adored me and wanted to keep me happy, he never said a word about my picking eating. He listened to me sympathetically when I ranted about how nasty diced raw onions are and how onions should not be standard on burgers. He kept track of all the restaurants that made it onto my “Banned Due to Onions” list and knew better than to suggest eating in any of them. Since Andy’s the cook, he modified all his recipes to either substitute garlic or puree any onions into oblivion.

Not until I got pregnant did he ever express any irritation if I didn’t eat his food. After he’d spent hours making brie-stuffed steak and I fled the house, gagging, he sulked. Ditto after he smoked pork.

“Dude. I can’t help it,” I insisted. “The smell of any meat makes me puke right now.”

Andy scowled. “It’s that bland white diet you grew up with. Your parents should have given you chicken feet.”

“Yeah. I bet I’d’ve thrown that up, too. It’s no good, honey. You don’t understand that it is literally impossible for some of us to choke down certain foods. Especially right now.”

“I blame your parents. Our child is going to grow up with vegetables. Fish. He’ll learn to eat anything. Even…onions.”

“Good luck with that,” I told him.

Baby D was a good eater from day one. He gained weight steadily. Andy made him pureed sweet potato for his first solid food and Baby D gobbled it down. Same with all early baby food.

Until we tried vegetables. Baby D declined. Sometimes violently. For years, the only vegetable he’d eat would be frozen peas, probably because he was teething.

I shrugged and stocked up on berries and frozen peas. When Andy wanted to insist that Baby D eat vegetables or not eat at all, I overruled him.

“He’s not gonna eat the goddamned kale,” I told Andy. “It’s a pointless battle. He’s got my tastebuds. If you insist he try, he’ll gag, and I have enough of his bodily fluids to clean up, thanks very much. Give him some peas.”

Andy muttered for months about how our child’s “genetically sensitive taste buds” were a crock and it was all parenting.

Until the day Andy returned from a trip to McDonald’s Playland with Baby D, sighing mightily.

“How’d it go?”

“I ordered him a cheeseburger instead of chicken nuggets.”

“Really.”

“He took one bite and spat it out and told me it was icky and peeled back the bun and pointed to the onions on it and told me they were terrible! And he refused to eat another bite!”

“Wow. If only we could have seen that coming.”

Pretty Binary (#267)

My son got a ton of hand-me-downs from his older girl cousins before he was even born. My Chinese-American husband’s frugality warred with his old-fashioned views on gender when those boxes first arrived.

“You’re not gonna dress him in pink, are you?” he asked.

“I dunno,” I said with a shrug. “We’ll see what fits in which season. Would you rather he wear pink or we save money?”

I let Andy wrestle with this dilemma for a while—because I am cruel like that—before telling him he wouldn’t have to choose.

“Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister was a baby clothes Momzilla with all of us before First Niece was born—especially her mother-in-law,” I explained. “The MIL is from Georgia. The MIL had two sons and no daughters. Judgmental Genius Sister knew that she would be inundated with pink frilly everything if she didn’t set some rules. So she sent out the directive ‘No pink ANYTHING!’ before First Niece was born.”

“And she never changed it?”

“Oh, she added a few modifiers, like ‘no dresses EVER,’ and ‘no fucking purple’ and ‘no goddamned hair bows.’

“Really?”

First Niece modeling her Christmas present.

“Why do you think I always give First Niece and Third Niece shiny blue track suits or books for Christmas?” I asked.

“Didn’t we give them drums last year?”

“Yeah, and a really loud talking school bus and their stay-at-home-dad told us we were going to hell. Good times.”

As I unpacked the boxes, Andy and I marveled at the infinite array of yellow and green clothes. There was no pink or purple anywhere. Even the car seats were in primary colored plaids. My sister’s Georgia MIL had been well and truly cowed. (As my relationship with my Chinese-American in-laws had recently devolved into a skirmish that ended in me brandishing a screwdriver, I was beyond envious.)

Our Baby D was born big and beautiful a few months later. Dressed in his neutral clothing, strangers rarely got pronouns right when commenting on his appearance.

“She’s adorable!”

“She—or is it a he?—is super cute!”

“Hapa girls are the prettiest!”

Unlike the moms who insisted on sticking pink bows in their infant daughters’ three hairs, I didn’t care whether Baby D was identified as a him or a her. I just smiled and thanked people. With one exception. When I saw my OB six weeks after delivery with Baby D in tow, she exclaimed, “Oh, wow, she’s so pretty!”

I replied, “She’s a boy!”

“Really? With those lips and eyelashes?!”

“You CIRCUMCISED him!”

Andy, on the other hand, bristled every time his son was called a girl. Once Baby D was old enough to be identified as a boy by haircut and outfit, he relaxed. Only to bristle yet again when friends, relatives, and strangers would insist on saying, “But he’s so, so pretty!”

Through gritted teeth, Andy would say, “No, he’s handsome!”

Later, when the person was out of earshot, I would say, “Oh, honey. It doesn’t matter. ‘Pretty?’ ‘Handsome?’ The gendered connotations are all societal constructs. Stop giving our boy a complex.”

“But—”

“No. Just stop. We have no idea who he’s going to be. Maybe he’ll like pretty, frilly things. He should be able to have a pink bike if he wants. Maybe he make friends who aren’t cisgendered or like pretty things. He should learn that that’s okay. Boys can be pretty. Girls can be handsome. Everything doesn’t have to fit into binary box from the fifties. It is NOT okay for you to insist he be stereotypically masculine.”

Andy sulked for a while and finally ground out, “Fine.”

“And besides, our boy IS pretty,” I told him. “There’s no getting around it.”

Andy glared, but stopped bristling—or at least arguing—with people who called his son pretty.

*****

Living in Southern California, we never bothered with winter clothes. When Baby D was two, however, we went to Utah for Christmas with my father. Rather than buy expensive snow pants for one trip, I borrowed some from a Mom friend with daughters.

“They’re pink, though,” she told me dubiously. “You sure that’s okay?”

“Absolutely fine,” I assured her.

Andy didn’t say a word as we outfitted Baby D in his borrowed snow gear. After he was dressed, Baby D ran his hands down the pink bib and delightedly announced, “I look pretty!”

Without missing a beat, Andy said, “Yes. Yes, you do.”

Hand-Me-Downs & Halloween (#266)

There were two great things about being taller than my older sister by age five.

  • She couldn’t beat me up anymore.
  • I didn’t have to wear her hand-me-downs.

Instead, I got a new dress for the first day of kindergarten. My parents actually asked what color I wanted. I wore that dress at least twice a week until my growth spurts made it into a crop top. Continue reading Hand-Me-Downs & Halloween (#266)

The Hard Way: East & West Parenting Manual (#265)

When Baby D was an infant, my husband thought he was the easiest baby. Baby D was content to nap on Andy’s chest while Andy lay on the couch and watched TV. Entire seasons were binge watched during his family leave.

Once Baby D figured out how to move, it was a different ballgame. Baby D learned to crawl–solely for the purpose of cat-chasing.

Baby D learned to walk at 10 months. For five seconds. After his first three steps, he ran.

This was a rough learning curve for Andy. His once-lazy weekends were now about chasing his son, usually with food or band-aids. When Baby D wasn’t running, he was probably arguing. Continue reading The Hard Way: East & West Parenting Manual (#265)

Fun Dad (#264)

I was primary caregiver to our son. This meant that I was also primary disciplinarian, Sayer of “No,” Destroyer of Fun.

It’s no picnic parenting a headstrong, contrary child. Ideally a parent can redirect a toddler to a non-destructive activity. But sometimes, you just gotta say no. Then you have to back it up with consequences. Otherwise, you’re raising a privileged monster who flouts the rule of law and does whatever the hell he wants. (You know, your basic born affluent white man.) Continue reading Fun Dad (#264)

Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

My husband had Chinese-American parents. Mine were white, uptight, and Anglo-Saxon Protestant/ Atheist.

Andy was expected to obey his parents without question. If his parents said his curfew was 10 PM, Andy was home at 10 PM. If Andy’s father wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV, Andy could forget about participating in Little League or any other sport.

I was expected to obey, but not without question. My mom was an attorney. Dinner table discussions in her house ranged from abortion to capital punishment. Everyone was encouraged to express their own opinions and defend them. If I could present a good argument for a curfew change or pierced ears, these items might be considered. (Lost on curfew, won on pierced ears.) Continue reading Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

Autumn on the Edge (#262)

Nursing moms never sleep in. Not on holidays, and not on weekends. Even if you could sleep through a crying baby, you probably can’t sleep through aching, leaking boobs. So up you get at 4:30 AM, changing the baby, feeding the baby, and then maybe entertaining the baby if baby is suddenly wide awake.

After all, your poor partner works hard all week, providing for you and the child. There’s probably a stressful project at work, or maybe he had to travel. And since you’re already up, you take a last, wistful look at your comfy bed before closing the door and letting your husband sleep in.

You don’t know it, but you’ve taken the first step to divorce.

Or murder. Continue reading Autumn on the Edge (#262)

When Baby Met Dogs (#261)

We had two three-year-old rescue dogs and two old rescue cats when Baby D was born. Even though the dogs were well-trained (mostly), you never know how your pets are going to react to babies.

Well, in one case we knew. Beowoof (Woofie for short) loved everyone and everything. Especially kids and puppies. The greatest day of Woofie’s life was the day he escaped and went to Science class at the local middle school.  Half the kids were on their desks, shrieking, but, as usual, Woofie was convinced everyone loved him.

Woofie had been waiting for his own boy forever. He was gonna be thrilled…as soon as the kid was big enough to play.

I expected Bat Cat and Commando Cat to be utterly indifferent until Baby D was old enough to terrorize them.

Fey (orange) and Woofie (dark brown).

My biggest worry was Fey. Continue reading When Baby Met Dogs (#261)