Belly Up (#249)

I used to play volleyball with a big group of women. About half these women were Japanese Nationals, living in the Los Angeles area while they or their husbands were working for Toyota, Honda, or other Japanese corporations.

These Japanese women never played volleyball professionally. Many hadn’t played since their school days. And yet they were amazing. They could run down and set a ball like pros. They never gave up on a play, wearing down and demoralizing the strongest, biggest, hardest hitting white women (like me). 

The only way to beat their defense was to use my superior height and wingspan to block their hits straight down. Even then, they learned to cover their hitter and slide a pancake hand under the ball just before it hit the floor.

We had amazing rallies that would go a minute or more. Those games were so much fun. Even when they lost, our Japanese players would bow and congratulate the winner of the point. 

They didn’t hi-five as much as the American or Asian-American players, they didn’t celebrate as much as our Scandinavian players, and they certainly didn’t hug and cheer as much as our Latina players.

In fact, these Japanese women were even less touchy feely than me, and I’m your basic “I will awkwardly return this hug you are insisting on if I must but then I’m retreating across the room ASAP” White Anglo Saxon Protestant. 

But on the day my pregnant belly became unmistakable, the Japanese players mobbed me.

“Autumn! You are pregnant?!” 

“Girl or boy?”

“When?”

“You need to stop putting up the net!”

“I cannot believe you are still hitting!”

“Do you have a name?”

These formerly restrained women could not get enough of my bump. They patted, admired, and hugged. It was such a shift from their usual reserve, I was unprepared to fend them off.

“Uh, er, um, due in a couple months,” I told them, fighting the urge to slap away their hands. “My doctor says I can still play. The ladder is fine. And we’re naming him Dalton, it’s a boy.”

“A boy!” shrieked Ako. She pressed her belly against mine. “For luck! I want a boy, too.”

“Wha—” I tried to back up. 

Miyuki pressed her belly against mine from the other side. “Yes! I want a baby, too.”

Next thing I knew, there were four Japanese stomachs pressing against Baby D, as if the transitive property applied to uteruses as well as math. 

I wanted to run. But a) that would be rude, and b) these lithe Japanese women would catch my big pregnant self easily. 

Besides, clearly some of my Japanese volleyball comrades were not only struggling with fertility issues, they didn’t have many places where they could talk about their struggles. I hadn’t even known any of them wanted to be pregnant. It hardly seemed fair that I, who had been so very ambivalent about children, got pregnant easily while they, who wanted babies so badly, did not. 

If there was a superstition anywhere that could make these women feel better for a few minutes or give them hope, I’d be a real asshole not to go along with it. 

So while my reserved WASP soul cringed internally at every touch, I smiled, thanked them, and wished them all luck getting pregnant. 

From that day forward, after they greeted my bump with their bellies, we talked about more than volleyball. I recounted various pregnancy horrors, like puking, anemia, and my maddening father-in-law. They shared their feelings of failure and the familial pressures that seemed to make it more difficult to conceive. Those discussions evolved into conversations about cultural differences. I gained a lot more insight into everything from Japanese family life to their viewpoints on having a standing army. 

I never did find out what the origins of the pregnant belly rubbing superstition were, however. 

And of course I don’t believe in superstitions in any culture.

But you know what?

Miyuki had a healthy baby girl seven months after Baby D was born.

Cool shirt from Amazon.

The Itch (#248)

I didn’t have an easy pregnancy.  There were six months of puking. There was weight loss, weight gain, anemia, and cankles

Pregnancy was miserable, but I didn’t think you could actually become allergic to being pregnant.

Turns out, you can.

My arms started to itch. I looked for bug bites. Nothing.  Just light redness.

Continue reading The Itch (#248)

Don’t (#247)

Elizabeth Warren, Presidential Candidate, has claimed to be Cherokee for years.

After Trump questioned her claim in about the most racist way possible, Warren took a DNA test which shows a possibility of Indigenous ancestry 8-10 generations ago.

The Cherokee Nation was very unhappy with Warren’s claim and her DNA test.

White people everywhere said, “I don’t get it?”

So here’s a super abbreviated primer for my fellow white people, culled from recent real-life conversations, Facebook battles, and Twitter discussions.

Continue reading Don’t (#247)

To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

I’ve never been fragile. Born into a large family of semi-feral children, I learned to guard my food and my stuffed animals early. I mowed lawns, lifted weights, and fought dirty with siblings when necessary (also when unnecessary).

Sympathy and coddling were in short supply. Like most young women, I powered through feeling like crap when I had cramps, headaches, and nausea.

The “I can endure misery” mindset was helpful when I was pregnant. I continued working out and playing volleyball, since the endorphins helped me not puke all the time. I still walked my rescue dogs for miles. My only concession to pregnancy was lighter weights and no squats.

This astounded people.

Continue reading To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

Continue reading Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Amen, Girlfriend (#244)

When I was seven months pregnant, my Chinese-American father-in-law insisted on coming to visit. Jay insulted me personally and women in general. His ceaseless efforts at home improvement culminated in disasters and emergency home improvements for my husband and me. Jay refused to desist. I lost my temper and yelled some mean things at him (all the meaner for being true).

A good hostess never yells at a guest, no matter how trying. A smart wife sucks it up and stays on speaking terms with her in-laws, no matter how insane they are. And a decent mom-to-be will put the needs of her future child ahead of her desire to throttle her maddening father-in-law until he drops the screwdriver of doom forever.

Continue reading Amen, Girlfriend (#244)

New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

A few years ago, a thirty-something couple moved into the house behind us. They had two girls under age five and another baby on the way. When the mom told me that her husband once danced and sang on a table, I assumed she was indulging in nostalgia rather than foreshadowing.

Until festive lights went up in the backyard. This was followed by a disco ball, loud music, and the chanting of “Drink, drink, drink!”

Another neighbor called and asked where the frat party was.

“At the newborn’s house,” I replied.

Continue reading New Year’s & All That Noise (#243)

The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

When I was a little girl, my mother organized caroling and a party on Christmas Eve. We sang our way around the block in Washington D.C. We were met with universal delight. Those were magical times

My Ex-Stepmother carried on the tradition in the suburbs of D.C. and then New England.

Until I dated a guy from rural Tennessee over the holiday season, I never thought some people might find caroling…odd.

Continue reading The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

Snapped (#241)

My ex-debutante mother trained my siblings and me to be good hosts. She also trained us to be good guests. We brought bread and butter gifts. We found something to compliment in every home. We ate whatever food was placed in front of us without complaint and insisted on helping with the dishes. 

We were groomed to make social occasions run smoothly, with nary a scene. White Anglo Saxon Protestants (i.e., WASPs) with social pretensions avoid conflict and HATE scenes. They are a symbol of ugliness and failure. 

And so common.

Continue reading Snapped (#241)

Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

A woman’s home is her castle. Until her father-in-law shows up.

I’m white woman raised by a former debutante. My racist Southern grandma ran a charm school. As liberated as my mother tried to be, she was still stuck on Rules of Acceptable Female Behavior.

One such rule was “Be an Exemplary Hostess.” When friends came over, they got first pick of snacks, toys, and sleeping bags. They chose the games we played.

When my parents entertained, we children took coats. We handed around hors d’ oeuvres. We got adults drinks. If there was a shortage of chairs, we offered our seats to adults and took the floor. We cleared the table and did the dishes, too. My mother took immense pride in the praise guests heaped upon her for her adorable little helpers.

She shared their praise with us. And since we were many, and desperate for attention, we got a little warped.

Continue reading Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)