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.

*****

Men are really, really good at taking care of their own needs. Women…not so much. Some argue that it’s sociological: women are brought up to worry about others first.

Maybe it’s evolutionary biology: a mother who is more attentive to her offspring is more likely to see them safely through the homo sapiens’ extended childhood (something like 13 times longer than any other mammalian species).

Even my hands-on, Chinese-American husband, who cooks and changes diapers, always sees to his own needs first. If a baby is crying or a dog is whimpering, or a cat is hairballing, I’m out of bed like a shot, soothing, letting them outside, or cleaning up the mess.

If Andy wakes up (usually after I’m already moving), he puts on his bathrobe. He walks past any creature in distress to the bathroom. He pees. He starts the coffee maker if it’s close to time to get up.

Then will he handle the issue…except there’s probably no issue any more, because I’ve already taken care of dog/ baby/ hairball. Only after everyone else is cared for will I use the bathroom.

Once Andy’s family leave was over and he went back to work, a pattern emerged. If Andy didn’t have to get up, he slept through early morning feedings. If he did get up and change Baby D’s diaper while I set up my nursing nest, Andy went right back to sleep.

I would feed the child, feed the animals, and handle multi-species pooping and clean up. On good days, I got to pee and wash my face while dogs and Baby D barged in and out of the bathroom.

Our morning walk

Then I took everyone for a walk to the park after (or as) the sun came up. The dogs would chase birds while Baby D explored playground equipment while hanging onto my hands.

Andy was usually awake and reading the paper when we returned home. He might have made eggs or sweet potato for Baby D. He would continue reading the paper while I fed baby. I’d get a break and maybe a shower when Baby D took his half-hour nap or when I took him to Childwatch at the Y.

Andy got used to sleeping in. He got used to reading the paper in peace.

I got used to taking care of everyone every day. I got used to minimal sleep; if Baby D or dogs woke at night, I’d get up so Andy could rest and not be a mess at work. I also got used to telling myself to be grateful for my hardworking husband who supported us financially. I was helping him be successful by taking care of everyone.

Until I lost my shit.

It was 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning. I’d been up since 4:30 and had just returned from the park with our menagerie. Andy was sitting on the patio, drinking his coffee and reading the Sunday paper. Baby D cruised his way over to Daddy while I unleashed the dogs and put the stroller away.

Baby D batted at the paper between him and Andy. Andy ignored him.

Baby D batted harder. “DA!” he yelled. “Da-DA!”

Andy closed the paper, irritated. “Stop it,” he said. He collected his coffee and went inside to read in peace, deserting his son—the very son that he insisted we have. Baby D shot me a betrayed look and said, “Da-da?”

I went from 0 to psycho in about .01 seconds. So psycho I had no words. (Hard to imagine, I know.)

I followed Andy inside, ripped the paper out of his hands, and tried to wrap both my hands around his throat.

I’m not in jail for manslaughter because Andy’s bigger than I am. (Also, as my husband later noted, strangling is only successful when done from behind.) He shoved me away and yelled, “AH! What’s wrong with you?!”

My powers of speech returned. “I have been up for 4 hours, taking care of your son and your dogs – the ones that YOU really wanted,” I hissed. “Same as every goddamned weekend. I have been to the park entertaining him while you slept in and when we come back, you ignore him in favor of a newspaper?! I haven’t even had coffee or breakfast and you push your son away before I can even go pee? You’re lucky I haven’t killed you!”

I tore that newspaper to shreds and threw it in the trash. “Get out there and be a fucking father. AND NO MORE NEWPAPERS EVER!”

Andy went outside. He played with Baby D.

I took some deep breaths. I knew I was going to need an extra therapy session. Or five. I knew Andy and I needed to have to have a serious talk about how “Autumn Handles Everything While Andy Sleeps In” would have to change if we were going to survive. But all that would have to wait.

Until after I went to the bathroom.

Alone.

Author’s Note: Some of you might be worried after reading this. Don’t be. Andy did indeed cancel the newspaper subscription.

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. Fey was half-Chinese Shar-pei, half German-Shepherd. She grew up on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, never sure where her next meal would come from. She warned Woofie off her food when she first arrived, though she did learn to share toys and bully sticks. Fey believed her job was to guard her yard from skateboarders, her mortal enemy the street sweeper, and even human would-be burglars. She was very good at her job.

Fey never bit humans, but she held the gas meter man at bay more than once, barking until I arrived and told her it was okay. Occasionally, she’d issue a soft, warning growl when a human she didn’t know tried to pet her. And although she behaved well with the schoolchildren who hung out on our front steps, Fey only adored a handful of humans.

What would Fey do with a baby?

While I languished in the hospital for days after my emergency C-section, Andy snuck home Baby D’s used swaddling blankets to get the dogs used to baby’s smell. Fey got in two sniffs before Woofie seized the blanket and tried to convince Andy to play tug-o-war.

When Baby D came home, both dogs were very interested. For about five seconds. Then Fey returned to guarding her yard while Woofie begged for tummy rubs.

The cats were more curious. As soon as they discovered Baby D was basically a miniature heating pad, they snuggled up next to him and purred.

Until they discovered the heating pad could turn into miniature banshee, screeching in frustration if he didn’t get enough food. They bolted for their actual heating pad.

Woofie was impervious to Baby D the banshee.

Fey was not. The night five-day-old Baby D went ballistic, Fey appeared next the rocker where I tried in vain to calm the crying baby. Frustrated and crying myself, I found Fey at my side, ears flatly submissive, staring at me.

“Go to bed, Fey,” I sniffled. “Go to bed.”

Fey did not go to bed.

She stayed with me for the next hour or two, until we figured out that yes, our newborn really needed three ounces of formula in addition to breastfeeding. Not until Baby D quit crying did Fey go back to bed.

So it went for the next few months. If Baby D howled at night for more than a few minutes, Fey appeared at my elbow, her eyes big and pleading. She never barked or growled. She never lay down, either. She just sat.

“What do you think she’s doing?” I asked Andy. “Is she worried about the baby?”

Andy shook his head. “I dunno. She always sits with you. Even if I take Baby D.”

I thought of Fey’s imploring eyes, and how her tiny ears were always pulled back. “Oh my God. It’s me. It’s always when I’m angry and frustrated. It’s like she’s coming in all submissive, in order to placate me. ‘Don’t kill the baby, Mom! I know he’s not behaving, but I am! Look, look how submissive I am!’”

From then on, every time Fey came and sat next to me with her worried eyes, I told her, “Don’t worry, Fey. I won’t kill the baby.”

Fey’s presence was helpful. She distracted me from seemingly overwhelming emotions. Her submissive pose always reminded me that I was sending out angry vibes that were impacting others.

Baby D couldn’t tell me that.

Luckily, he had a canine big sister looking out for him.

A very tolerant Fey and Baby D a few months later.

Savory vs. Sweet (#260)

Our neighborhood holds a cooking contest every Labor Day. My amazing Chinese-American husband Andy won for many years—until I figured out how to sneak chocolate baked goods into the competition.

Then I won for many years. The hostess finally created two categories, Savory and Sweet, in an effort to mitigate my chocolate dominance. Andy, sulking over repeated defeats, refused to enter again until last year.

Then he jumped categories and trounced me soundly with his homemade ice-cream and sugar cones. My miniature eclairs did not even place.

This year, the contest’s theme was “picnic food.”

Andy threatened to make ice-cream again.

I threatened to withhold sex unless he returned to his proper “Savory” category. Continue reading Savory vs. Sweet (#260)

Don’t Whine, Ditch That White Boy (#259)

There’s plenty of whining on social media.

My favorite GOP whine, which I find hilarious as a former Washingtonian, comes from current Trump/ Republican staffers in D.C. The Trumpers complained that they are harassed and ostracized by locals; instead of touting their proximity to power as Obama staffers did, they vaguely mumble about working for the government when asked about their jobs. (I love you, D.C.!)

A similarly entertaining whine comes from the 62% of white American males who voted for Trump: women hate them. Women won’t date them. Women will actually ditch them in the middle of a date, upon learning that they are GOP supporters. Women have divorced husbands who voted for Trump.

Meanwhile, on Twitter and Instagram, my fellow white women are also whining, especially those who are college-educated and have advanced degrees. It’s apparently quite hard to find a white partner who is educated, motivated, unthreatened by a woman’s success, shares domestic chores, and doesn’t cheat.

That squares with what I remember back when I was dating.

It also squares with what I’ve heard from other Mom-friends at book clubs or playdates: their white husbands suck. Continue reading Don’t Whine, Ditch That White Boy (#259)

Bottle Battles (#257)

Baby D was born hungry. Maybe because he’d stretched his stomach swallowing amniotic fluid. Maybe it’s that he was overdue and over nine pounds. Maybe it was just genetic, courtesy of parents who love food.

That kid could eat. I’d nurse Baby D for almost an hour in the hospital, and send him back to the nursery to get a little sleep. Within an hour, a nurse would bring him back, saying, “He’s hungry!”

Me, wailing: “But I just fed him!” Continue reading Bottle Battles (#257)

Salute to Stupidity (#256)

Growing up in Washington, D.C. means no other Independence Day celebration will live up to your childhood memories. For a relentlessly political, cynical city, they throw a heck of a party.

Photo by Ron Engle

First, there’s the National Independence Day Parade. This ain’t no small, hometown parade where the local horses and fire trucks are the stars of the show. This is A Historical Spectacle. There are hundreds of Uncle Sams (some  in balloon form or on stilts). Bewigged Founding Fathers abound, as do Paul Revere impersonators. Military bands–past and present–are pressed into service, sweating in wool uniforms and 100 degree heat. My sisters and I once counted seventy-five Betsy Rosses. (We would’ve liked some Deborah Sampsons better, but we cheered what female historical figures we could get.) Continue reading Salute to Stupidity (#256)

The Good Dad (#255)

When Andy and I were skirmishing negotiating over having a child, I extracted certain concessions. First, my husband would have to take Family Leave for 12 weeks and help take care of Baby D. Since California only covers 6 weeks of paid leave (a partial rate), we’d use my saving to pay the bills.

The idea of not saving money was almost physically painful for the son of Chinese immigrants. Dipping into savings might as well have been a mortal wound. (He never did fess up to his parents.) But I was adamant. Andy reluctantly agreed. We had no helpful grandparents to rock babies, make dinners, or do laundry within thousands of miles.

Besides, if Andy wanted the baby, he was not going to saunter off to work and leave me covered in poop and spit-up. He was gonna help. Continue reading The Good Dad (#255)

Lost in Translations (#254)

I find names and the naming process fascinating. Giving someone a nickname is often a way of expressing affection—or dislike. My parents divorced and remarried so much that we sometimes had as many as three different surnames in our households, but God help the poor classmate who referred to my stepfather as “Mr. Ashbough,” (the name of my mother’s ex-husband).

God also help whichever sibling my father hollered at using their full name—middle name included.

When my husband and I married, we put a lot of thought into hyphenating both our names. Andy’s Chinese-American parents objected. Their arguments were illogical, hypocritical, and downright ludicrous, but I was forced to concede.

Years later, I was still pissed. Continue reading Lost in Translations (#254)

17 Surprising Difficulties During Labor & Delivery (#253)

Around here, we do things The Hard Way.

  1. Let’s start with your baby not wanting to make an appearance. Like mine. He was late and big. Once the doctor made it clear that there was no benefit to Baby D remaining in utero any longer, we opted to induced labor.
  2. Turns out, if you’re having contractions already, the doctor isn’t allowed to speed things up with a little Pitocin. “How could you not notice you were having contractions?” one nurse asked me. “I dunno,” I answered with a shrug. “Maybe because I’m itching so badly that I want to rip off my own arms?”

Continue reading 17 Surprising Difficulties During Labor & Delivery (#253)