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.

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)

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)

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)

They’re Coming (#238)

When my white family reunites, we plan. A year in advance, a cascade of emails about wedding beach houses, Christmas in New Hampshire, or running a 10K at Thanksgiving begin.

And then there’s my husband’s Chinese-American family. Near the end of October, Andy said, “So we haven’t seen my parents in a while.”

“Yes,” I agreed, smiling. And then stopped smiling. “Wait. Are you saying to want to go see them? Before your brother’s wedding next summer?” (Yes, Denny was finally getting married! But that’s another post.)

“Well…” Continue reading They’re Coming (#238)

Rules for Trick-or-Treating (#237)

I have exactly one rule when it comes to Halloween.

Rule #1: Everyone who comes to my door on Halloween gets candy.

I have these rules because I had a racist Southern Grandma. The worst Halloween horror story I ever heard was about that grandma. My mother once told me how her mother would keep two bowls of candy by the door on Halloween. One bowl was filled with Hershey Bars. That bowl was for the neighborhood kids.

The other bowl was filled with candy corns and cheap lollipops. When truckloads of “poor kids” came in from “more rural areas,” to trick-or-treat, they got the crap candy. Continue reading Rules for Trick-or-Treating (#237)

Something Is Under the House (#236)

I thought I’d made peace with the freaky-assed crawl space below our house in Los Angeles. It’s not a nice, solid basement, but makes sense to have easy access to plumbing and the electrical lines for our drip system. And after multiple years, the only scary thing lurking under our house had turned out to be our own mischievous dog.

Until recently. Continue reading Something Is Under the House (#236)

A College Story (#233)

(Trigger warning for sexual assault.)

My father once told a less than suitably deferential Homecoming date, “Bring her home safe, early, and happy, and you’ll stay in one piece.”

I was mortified. I was also home safe and right on time.

I went to college thousands of miles from home. Continue reading A College Story (#233)