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Thanksgiving Smorgasbord

If you’re traveling today, or just need to read something turkey-related, I’m serving up hot holiday helpings right here.

Are you far away from your family this Thanksgiving? Do you miss them even though they are dysfunctional as fuck? Here’s a post for you: Sunny, with a Chance of Thanksgiving.

Are you bringing a significant other home for Thanksgiving? Are you worried that they won’t fit in? Try this post: Hearts & Turkeys.

If you’re gonna play it sane and do a leisurely little 5K Turkey Trot, I’ve got a post about people who chase turkeys for 2 miles.

If you’ve been training hard to kick someone’s ass in a 10K Turkey Trot, you can read about my one — and only — 10K attempt.

If you lost hours slaving over a Thanksgiving dish that a) got eaten by the dog, b) got burned when your husband accidentally set the oven to “broil”, or c) got dropped on the floor, here’s a post from last year’s baking disaster.

Wishing all my U.S. readers safe travels and loose pants this week!

Top 10 Reasons To Have Babies…Refuted (#204)

My husband wanted a baby.

Meanwhile, I literally had a whole list of reasons NOT to have a baby.

But in the interests of fairness, I interviewed and studied various parents. I came up a list of reasons why (other) people want children…along with reasons why those reasons are screwed up.

#1. RELIGION. Various religions have spent centuries insisting it’s God’s will that their congregations reproduce like rabbits. In Utah, for example, Mormon Elders are horrified when women talk about putting off marriage or childbirth. “But what about the poor souls in Heaven?” they ask. “You’re not thinking of the poor little souls just waiting for a body!”

Why, sure, Mr. Elder. And you’re not thinking about how the more your congregation procreates, the more money their progeny’s 10% tithes generate. (Fun fact: The LDS Church will actually bill their members based on their W2 forms.) And the evangelicals? Don’t get me started on how those pastors actively seek to expand their flocks and their control of their flocks by insisting on 19 kids and homeschooling.

Since I don’t believe in God or Heaven, though, I am unmoved by the supposed horror of spiritual traffic jams. Next.

#2. SECURITY (i.e., Medieval Social Security). This one is especially big in Chinese families. It’s expected that the son will take care of his aging parents, physically and financially. Even my Chinese-American husband Andy, who has a 401K, a pension, and a social security check waiting for him, has made comments about how a child would care for him in his old age.

But depending on your children is questionable. Even in a rule-following, age-respecting society like Japan’s, adult children dump their aging parents. Some grandparents even seek imprisonment to get shelter and food.

#3. SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS That Motherhood Is the Highest Calling and All Women Shall Aspire to That Pinnacle of Womanhood. More medieval logic — the kind that coincides with keeping women away from the corridors of power and sometimes financial autonomy.

Modern women, armed with modern birth control, can pick their own pinnacles. Everyone else, shut up.

#4. LONELINESS. I know women who can’t stand being alone. They think that having a child will mean never being alone again. They have a point. A demanding child means you won’t even go to the bathroom alone for about 5 years.

Yet how entitled and repulsive to make your own child’s small presence responsible for your happiness. I suggest therapy instead.

#5. A SENSE OF PURPOSE. This was my mother. She was addicted to being pregnant and shepherding new life into the world. It’s a little (OR A LOT) like today’s conservatives, obsessed with the survival of All The Zygotes — until they leave the womb.

Once Mom’s kids were born, though, we grew up moderately feral, as she was too busy shepherding in the next new baby to get her kids to school. Or the doctor. (Notice again the parallels with the GOP’s slashing educational funding and medical insurance for children.)

#6. ENTRAPMENT. I hate, hate, HATE that I have to mention this one, because it wounds my liberated female soul, but I’ve seen it firsthand. One of my dance partners – an independently wealthy one – had a hookup deliberately get pregnant and get child support.

What a special scenario. Someday the kid asks, “Mommy, how was I made?” and she’ll get to answer, “Through greed, child.”

It’s never too early to ready your child for the major leagues.

#7. GLORY DAYS. There are parents who’ve realized that their own dreams of greatness will never be realized. So these Sports Dads and Dance Moms live for the successes of their progeny. Sometimes, the progeny succeed. Mostly, though, these children wind up in pain or even suicidal.

#8. THEY JUST LOVE BABIES. These persons are also known as “Baby Hogs.” Loving babies is sweet, sure, but remember that babies are much like puppies: cute and squishy when small, but destined to grow into less cute, more obstinate creatures with astounding destructive powers.

I suggest puppies or kittens instead, as they at least don’t have the opposable thumbs necessary for automatic weaponry. (Thank God, right? Imagine your hungry, pissy, sociopathic cat with a Glock.)

#9. TROPHY KIDS. Nope, it’s not just for wives. There’s a whole bunch of McMansion owners who, not content with having just one kid, use a second, third, fourth, or even fifth child to proclaim their status: “Look at us! We can afford the $250,000 necessary to raise an American kid 4 times over! Suck on that, Joneses!

#10. IMMORTALITY. People like the idea that a piece of them will live on after they’re gone. And the more kids you have, the more likely that one of them will survive to pass on your DNA. Once upon a Black Plague, this attitude was understandable.

Now that overpopulation is the greatest accelerator of climate change, a desire for immortality through multiple kids only serves to ensure that it’ll be cockroach DNA inheriting the earth — not yours.

*****

As you can see, I found not a single noble — or even rational — reason to bring a small human into being.

On the other hand, I did think of an amazingly noble reason to raise a child.

I thought of the millions of adoptable kids around the world. Children who lost birth parents to war, poverty, or disease. Their birth mother might not have had access to birth control. She might have been raped. Maybe she struggled with addiction. Whatever the reason, when there were so many existing children who needed loving homes, I found it difficult to justify creating new ones.

Maybe, just maybe, I could get my husband on board with that.


Shout out to adoptive parents around the world

and two particular Moms in Los Angeles.:

Well done, you.

Warning: Slow Cook in the Kitchen (#203)

My kitchen at the height of Baking Season: Christmas.

When we get new neighbors, I usually take them a plate of baked goods. If they’re lucky, the newbies moved in between October and December, which my husband dubbed “Baking Season.” Baking Season starts with cream cheese sugar cookies shaped like fall leaves and moves onto maple cream pie, apple pie, maple sugar rugelach, and candy cane meringues.

The new neighbors usually bring back an empty plate and sexist mouthful of compliments. “You’re a fantastic cook! Your husband is so lucky!

“Thanks. But actually,” I explain, “my husband Andy is the real chef in our house. You should taste his pot stickers or homemade ravioli. I only bake.”

“Uh, er, um, really?”

“Yep. I’m a whiz at the oven, but terrible on the stove top.” I tell them.

And off they go, perhaps contemplating their default assumptions about women in the kitchen. Or maybe they make the distinction between baking and cooking for the first time.

I, on the other hand, have been pondering the differences between baking and cooking for years.

Because while I can make a Devil’s food cake with poured ganache frosting to die for, I really, really suck at cooking.

And I hate sucking at stuff.

*****

If you don’t follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you should. While this blog is mostly a memoir, my Instagram account and Twitter feed are relatively current.

Currently, Andy is disabled (gruesome pictures on Instagram).

Two months ago, Andy tore his quadriceps tendon. Maybe he was trying to one-up my torn quadriceps muscle. Maybe Andy’s just got problematic tendons, since he already ruptured his Achilles tendon. Maybe all Chinese-Americans have problematic tendons, cuz look what just happened to poor Jeremy Lin.

Andy’s immobilizer.

Whatever the cause, the result is brutal: surgery involving drilling holes in Andy’s bones to reattach the tendon, then months with the knee immobilized, raised and iced. Once his knee returns to being orange-sized as opposed to melon sized, he can expect 6-12 months of physical therapy.

Worst of all, he can’t cook. (I say this is the worst part. Andy disagrees. You can probably guess what activity he can’t do that’s got him super upset.)

My siblings understood that the loss of the household chef was a calamity of the highest order. We all grew up with food issues; we all married people who are amazing in the kitchen. My sibs chipped in and sent a generous GrubHub certificate. Several of my girlfriends also dropped off dinner.

I picked up a lot of take out. But eating out is expensive and often unhealthy.

At some point during Andy’s lengthy recovery, I would have to cook.

God help us.

*****

My first night in the kitchen, I burned the rice. In the rice cooker.

Andy fretted over the fact that he’d put off mounting the fire extinguisher in the kitchen. I rolled my eyes at him. “A fluke,” I insisted.

My second try was pasta Carbonaro. I underestimated the size of the pot necessary for the noodles and dumped them in the water too fast. Some flipped out of the pot, fell into the gas burner, and caught on fire.

I put out the fire with an oven mitt and the cat squirter bottle. Then I sheepishly got the fire extinguisher out of the garage.

I retreated from the kitchen for a few days, then returned with a meal I’d made before.

My spicy Thai tofu wasn’t burned or flambéd, but it wasn’t spicy.

“I don’t get it,” I groaned. “I’m using the same recipe! How can it not taste like yours?!”

“It’s fine, honey” Andy assured me.

“You mean it’s EDIBLE,” I corrected him. “Edible is not the same as fine. Especially not when your husband thinks edible includes everything from sheep’s brains to cold jellyfish.”

“I think maybe it’s not quite spicy enough.”

“But I used SO MUCH red curry paste!”

“Yeah, the paste sometimes lacks the proper punch. If it doesn’t taste spicy after simmering for a few minutes, I throw in a jalapeño.”

“Wait. You taste it? Before it’s completely cooked? Isn’t that unsanitary?”

Andy shrugged. “Maybe it’s unsanitary. But it’s necessary.”

“Easy for you to say! You have that cast iron Chinese stomach!” It’s true. The man never throws up. Partially cooked Cantonese cuisine weeded out weak stomachs centuries ago. Andy and I can eat the same questionable restaurant meal and I’m the only one lying on the bathroom floor for the next 24 hours.

“It’s only tofu, honey. Not raw meat.”

“But you taste the meat stuff, too, don’t you?! That’s why your food is so much better! You have an unfair advantage!”

Andy was unimpressed by the light bulb that was practically visible over my head. “All chefs taste as they go.”

I thought about this as I washed the dishes. I didn’t do much tasting when I was baking. Baking is chemistry, really – you carefully measure ingredients, add them in strict order, and heat to transform them. You can’t be tasting a cake halfway through the baking process and adding more sugar.

So if I was going to play to my strengths, I needed a style of cooking that was front loaded like baking. A style where there’s measuring, prepping, browning, and then the food gets shoved in the oven. Food is forgotten until a timer goes off, and then comes out delicious.

You know what that style is?

The slow cooker.

And here is the book that saved the day.

I’d actually gotten Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker for Andy after my brother-in-law made the Italian pot roast and served it over polenta. The meal was delicious. I wanted it again. In a fit of subtlety, I gave Andy the cookbook and a crock pot from Costco. A few times a year, Andy made the Italian pot roast.

He never tried any other recipes, though. Andy is partial to his pots and wok and gas burners.

The first recipe I tried was the split pea soup. I baked some homemade bread to go with it (i.e., so at least we’d have something edible in case of failure).

Andy said, “Huh. Not bad,” and ate his entire bowl.

Next up, was Tuscan bean soup (and more bread, in case the first success was a fluke). Andy had two bowls.

I branched out with beef burgundy. Andy eyed it with trepidation at first, but then had three helpings.

I tried chicken tarragon next. Only I realized partway through the cooking that tarragon smells like licorice, which I hate. So I replaced the offending tarragon with rosemary (which grows on our patio) and thyme. The chicken turned out well, with only a hint of licorice in the potatoes.

Did you know you can do pinto beans in the slow cooker? Once you have beans, you can do burritos or nachos, easy.

After pinto beans, I made Irish potatoes and plum pork.

We had Mr. Picky for dinner. Mr. Picky is a huge fan of meat and mushrooms. He’s also a huge fan of Andy’s beef stew. I’m pretty sure he wanted to bail once he figured out I’d be cooking.

I made beef burgundy.

He loved it. He said, “This is even better than Andy’s stew!”

I shall glory in those words forever and I shall never let my husband forget them. The slow cooker rocks.

Best of all, I haven’t had to use the fire extinguisher once.

Yeah, I made that beef burgundy. Nom, nom, nom.

Road Maps (#202)

There are some free spirits who eschew calendars and maps. They are content to see where the day and the road take them.

I don’t understand these people.

One such free spirit is my friend, JM.

I don’t understand her, either.

What one of my daily lists looks like.

I’m a planner. I have a Daily “To Do” list. I have a monthly “To Do” list, with 3 different categories: Regular Work, Writing Objectives, and Miscellaneous (dates bills are due, household repairs, upcoming birthdays needing cards/ gifts, etc.) I even have a yearly “To Do” list that involves travel.

Before a road trip — before smart phones and Google Maps — I had road atlases and computer printouts ready. Last time I drove across the country, I had carefully mapped out interstate routes and made hotel reservations. It took me three days.

My friend JM? She drove across the country on back roads and only ate at non-chain restaurants. It took her a week.

Once upon a college football game, she drove us to San Diego.

As we approached the city, I asked, “What’s our exit?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “The stadium is at the university, right? So we’ll exit there.”

We exited at the university. We drove around the university. We found an overgrown stadium that hadn’t been used in years. We asked students for help. Given that we were wearing the opposition’s colors, we got very little help.

The help we did get nearly landed us in Tijuana. I think we made it to the game for the fourth quarter.

Our friendship went on hiatus after almost-Mexico.

But we reconnected about the time I started dating Andy. JM helped me find my perfect wedding dress. She even threw me a bridal shower.

Only she hadn’t accounted for 405 traffic and was an hour late. She was also driving my friend KL (co-bridal shower-thrower), so KL was late, too.

But that was okay. Because I am a planner. I’d dragooned Andy into making killer Martha Stewart hors ‘devours that morning. The day before, I’d baked several dozen cupcakes.

As she left — with leftover cupcakes — JM laughingly noted, “Wow! You threw yourself a great shower.”

*****

I’m a planner because stress makes me psychotic. I lose my temper and I’ve been known to throw things. Long-term planning alleviates stress. Long-term planning also helps you get good deals on airline tickets and pet-sitters, though climate change is now making a mockery (and a misery) out of air travel.

Most of my siblings are also planners. Maybe it’s how we coped with all the divorces, deaths, and upheaval in our childhoods. We’ve been known to organize B&B takeovers during weddings more than a year in advance. We have the food responsibilities for Thanksgiving broken down by September. Secret Santas are set by Halloween.

And yet I hadn’t planned out the most important life choice of all.

Having a child. Or not.

Andy and I had done premarital counseling. I knew he wanted two kids, but would settle for one. He knew I was on the fence about having kids, but one was possibility.

Andy thought I’d change my mind and want kids.

I thought Andy would change his mind and want to keep having sex.

Andy started pushing for kids.

I pushed back.

He sulked.

I bitched about it to JM over dinner one night. “Kids are so much work,” I groused. “And it would be me staying home with the kid, doing all that work. I’ve already got two dogs and two cats that interrupt my writing for food, bathroom breaks, and attention!”

“So no daycare for you guys?” asked JM. “No nanny?”

“Huh. We never really talked about it. I guess it seemed premature to hammer all that out before even getting pregnant.”

“Really? Stevie Hollywood and I did.” JM had recently married a TV producer. She still oozed unbearable newlywed smugness when she gave relationship advice, all prefaced with phrases such as: “Stevie and I think,” “Stevie and I would never,” “Stevie and I already solved that issue by…”  Which was a bit much, given that JM met Stevie at the beginning of college football season and they were engaged by the Rose Bowl.

I made a rude noise and said, “You did not talk nannies and daycare during your whirlwind romance. You never had time, you sanctimonious liar.”

“No, really! We did!” JM protested. “Because my family doesn’t have your family’s ridiculously fecund record. I asked Stevie, ‘Do you want kids? Because my ovaries have issues and I might not be able to have one. If you must have kids, you have to be okay with IVF, or a surrogate, or adoption. And so we agreed we’d try them in that order, because he really wants kids and is partial to his own sperm. And then I said, ‘Okay, who is going to stay home with the kid?’ and he said, ‘Oh, we’ll do daycare or a nanny.’ To which I replied, ‘The hell we will. Why have a kid if neither of us is raising it?'”

I said, “Damn.”

JM continued, saying “And then I told him he could stay home, or I could stay home, but one of us was staying home or there was no kid and if that was not okay, then there was no marriage.”

It took me a few seconds to close my jaw. It took me a few minutes to finally admit the truth. “I can’t believe it. You fucking OUT-PLANNED me.”

“Only on the important stuff,” she said. “I’m still a mess on regular things. Like, can you pay tonight and I’ll get next time?  Because I left my wallet in my other purse.”

I was so flummoxed by her new, long-range planning skills that I agreed, even though it was a more expensive restaurant than our usual place.

Later, though, I wondered if she’d planned that, too.

 

The Matter with Kids (#201)

I’m convinced that most American parents didn’t realize how much work raising a kid was when they decided to have one.

 If they did, we’d have a negative birthrate.

Having a child changes your life irrevocably, in that you will have at least eighteen years with no life. A good parent prioritizes their child’s needs, especially during infancy. They endure a constant state of deprivation: sleep deprivation, cleanliness deprivation, time deprivation, and quiet deprivation.

If you think I know this because my parents were such awesome role models, you must be a new reader. I had a front row seat to the shit show Too Many Children, in which an angry, stressed father lashed out at the kids he never wanted. My siblings and I grew up overly competitive, judgmental, and mean. We were terrible at relationships and had eating disorders.

So of course there was a sequel after my parents divorced and found new spouses: Let’s Have More Children and Fuck Them Up, Too.

As needy teenagers, we were pressed into service, caring for baby half-siblings. We learned how to change diapers, prepare bottles, clean up vomit, and identify everything from strep to roseola.

College, even with 18-21 credits a semester, felt like a vacation. No cooking. No childcare. Only my own laundry to fold.

And my vomit stain removal skills made me popular.

I knew how much work babies were. Which was why I’d hoped to be making more money than my husband when his biological clock started ticking. Then Andy could stay home with the baby he wanted. Just like my Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and her husband, Georgia Boy.

But Andy’s clock started its final countdown while he made the money that paid our mortgage.

I tried to beat back that damned clock with a reality check.

“If we have a baby, there’s no more talk about quitting your job to run a Bed & Breakfast in New Hampshire,” I warned him. “Not for eighteen years or until I can make money. Babies need health insurance. You’ll have to max out your health care spending account. Baby proof the house. Turn the guest room into a nursery. Give up your dreams of making the extra fridge into a kegerator, even.”

“That’s okay,” Andy said. He hugged me and said dreamily, “A baby.”

I stepped out of the hug. “You know a baby is a screaming machine that only shuts down a few hours at a time, and spits out bodily fluids like the girl in The Exorcist, right? And you know we have to do it ourselves. Twenty-four seven. There’s no convenient grandparent to spirit the baby away on weekends or anything. My mom is dead. My other parental units are too far away.”

“Maybe my parents could come help—”

“Are you outta your goddamned mind?!” I shrieked. Normally I try to be diplomatic about Andy’s intrusive Chinese-American parents, but that kind of insanity had to be nipped in the bud. I chucked marital diplomacy under the bus and raised my voice several decibels. “Your parents treat me like a servant. They expect me to wait on them, how can I do that and take care of a baby?! Plus they nearly burned down our house on their last visit.”

Andy prudently opted not to pursue that tack. “Well, I can help. I can take 3 months of family leave.”

“Yeah, but it’s not paid leave, because the United States sucks,” I grumbled.

Andy, anticipating a delightful, three-month vacation from work — because he truly was clueless about babies — looked crushed. “We don’t have enough in our joint savings to cover that.”

“No. We don’t,” I agreed. Our lack of funds could have tabled all the baby talk. Only my husband looked so very sad. Also, I didn’t want to keep secrets that could be thrown in my face when Andy was fifty and moaning over mythical lost children. “I do, um, have some mutual funds that I could cash out,” I admitted with a sigh. “My grandparents started them when I was a baby. For college. I never used them all up.” Who knew getting a scholarship and graduating in three years would bite me in the ass a decade-and-a-half later?

“I married an heiress!” Andy crowed. He kept crowing as he calculated the fund’s value, which would cover our mortgage and bills for almost exactly three months. Then he gave me a side eye. “Hey. Wait a minute. What other assets have you been hiding from me? ”

“They also gave me 100 shares of Kroger stock.” My paternal grandfather had been a successful tax attorney. My grandmother methodically divested various assets when financially prudent, usually before December 31st.

“Wow. All this stuff you never told me about.”

“Ahem. That’s all pre-marriage stuff and you’re not entitled to it and what if you’d turned out to be a dick and cleaned out our bank accounts and ran off with someone from work?”

Andy gave a shout of laughter. “Have you seen the women I work with?”

“No, because your work is top-secret, I’m not allowed in the building, and it has no windows,” I reminded him. “And how very reassuring that you’re not sampling the work buffet because the food there is so unappetizing.”

“Oh, c’mon, honey. We’ve been together for 5 years. When were you gonna decide I wasn’t a dick?”

“After maybe eleven years, I guess. My dad lasted ten years a couple times.”

“Geez,” Andy said, but he wasn’t really upset. He knew all about Dad and also it’s hard to be upset when your wife makes thousands of dollars magically appear. “We could really do this! And I could stay home with our newborn, too!”

I tossed a Hail Mary. “Or we could take the money and start that B&B you sometimes talk about.”

“No,” Andy shook his head emphatically. “Too risky. Let’s stick to the plan. You keep writing, we have baby, I keep working, and we use the company’s health insurance.”

“Then this is YOUR idea, okay? I just want to make that clear up front. You are responsible. I never want to hear any complaints. No whining ever about how it wrecked your life, okay? No complaining about how much it all costs, or how you had to give up your dream of a B&B. You chose baby. You never get to go back. Every sleepless night, every trip to the Emergency Room, all the costs of whatever sport this kid plays, the higher education costs – this is on you.”

Andy shrugged and said, “That’s fine. I chose baby. Baby!” He swooped in for another hug. I didn’t dodge this one, though I merely stood in his embrace, rigid.

Andy whispered, “Not your dad, honey.”

And then I hugged him back.

Little Latchkey Kids (#200)

You know what’s weird about walking dogs? Everyone talks to you. Not just dog-lovers and dog owners, either. People who shouldn’t even be talking to you suddenly become your best friends.

Wait a minute, thinks some judgy reader. (You know who you are.) What kind of elitist are you, Autumn? Which people shouldn’t be talking to you?

Chill, judgy reader. I’m talking about children.

Those small, terrifying creatures that most paranoid adults don’t even want to acknowledge, lest a helicopter parent attribute nefarious motives to a casual wave.

Those precious babies that all parents teach to absolutely NOT talk to strangers.

Parents, I’ve got some bad news. All that stranger danger that you tried to instill in your kids? And all your warnings about how not every dog is friendly?

Your kids forget it ALL the second they see me and my mutts. Never mind that my mutts are 80-90 lbs each.

The second my dogs and I step into a park, we’re mobbed by children.

“They’re so cute!” exclaims one kid.

“Can I pet him?” asks another, as he rubs Woofie’s tummy.

“Is she friendly?” says a third, already kissing Fey’s head.

“You’re so lucky, you have TWO,” another child tells me, trying to embrace a dog with each arm. “I don’t even have ONE.”

Woofie laps up all the attention. Fey merely endures it. I await an onslaught of angry parents, yelling at their drool-coated kids and dragging them away.

But there are no parents. This particular park is right next to an elementary school. Working parents drop their kids off early, or the kids walk to school. The kids hang at the park until the bell rings, then sprint through the school’s back gate. At least once a week, we’re engulfed by dog groupies. I tell the dogs to sit and lie down, so Woofie won’t knock any of them over. Woofie obeys.  Amazed kids are all, “Let me try!” “How did they learn that?!”

Next thing I know, I’m teaching basic dog-training to kids who should not even be talking to me.

“It’s a good thing I’m not a predator,” I tell my husband later. “I could have walked off with ten kids, easy, just by telling them, ‘Hey follow me to this windowless van where I keep my dog treats!’ The Pied Piper has nothing on the Dog-Walker.”

Andy maintains I’m exaggerating until the day I’m injured and he has to do the big dog walk. He returns breathless, eyes wild. “All these kids, they swarmed us! They know the dogs by name, they demanded that I put a milkbone on Woofie’s nose so he could flip his head and catch it, and wouldn’t leave me alone until I had Fey dance! And I tried to get away, but these two boys, they followed me to the edge of the park. I had to tell them the school bell was ringing!”

“Probably Chris and David,” I tell him. “They’re brothers, and they walk to school, and they want a dog so badly. Woofie loves them.”

Chris and David only live two streets away.

Chris and David quickly figure out where we live.

Chris and David come knocking after school. “Hi, can we play with Woofie?”

I’m flummoxed. “Uh…I…does your mom know where you are?”

“She’s not home, but she knows all about you and Woofie and she says it’s fine.”

Woofie’s already whining and wedging his head through the front door. I remember my own days as a latchkey kid, desperate for attention, and the two older ladies who were kind when I visited them. (I think I visited because they had candy bowls rather than dogs, though.) “Uh…okay? Just, um, go around to the back gate.”

There’s no way I’m letting those kids in the house. We’re staying in the backyard, in the light, where nosy neighbors can see us and testify that nothing creepier than Woofie trying to hump Chris ever happens.

The boys have a fine time playing tug-o-war and keep away with the ecstatic Woofie. They start showing up weekly. Eventually, I meet their mother. She’s a single mom, working long hours, and seems grateful that I don’t mind the boys visiting.

And I don’t. Woofie lives to steal a toy from a boy and be chased. Fey lives to ambush Woofie and steal the toy from him. After a visit from the boys, Woofie is too tired to dig up the yard and Fey only barks at the street sweeper twice.

The only unhappy creature is Andy. If he comes home and the boys are over, the man radiates resentment. After they leave, if I comment on his obvious disapproval, he says, “I just don’t understand why they’re in my house. With my dogs.” And his scowl deepens, no matter how many times I explain their situation or tell him to show a little compassion.

I complain about Andy’s complaining to my retired neighbor, Mr. B.

Mr. B used to be an investigator for a district attorney. Mr. B laughs at me and says, “You know, Autumn, that’s normal. If your husband was nice to those boys, I’d be worried.”

“What?! Why?”

“Because men just don’t like any kids that aren’t their own. Take lions — they’ll kill the cubs that aren’t their own offspring. If a guy without kids actually wants someone else’s kids in his house, nine times outta ten he’s gonna be a pedophile.”

“For real?”

“Yep.”

When I tell Andy this, he laughs and says, “See!”

“So it’s true? You just don’t want any kid that’s not yours around?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, Woofie loves those boys and they love him, so you’re just gonna have to suck it up for now, but I’ll try and send them home before you get home.”

“Fine.”

“Does this…does this mean you’re mad because they aren’t your kids? That you want to have a kid of your own?”

Andy thinks for a full minute and says, “I guess so.”

“Huh. You don’t sound very sure.”

“I’m sure. What about you?”

“You know I’ve always been ambivalent about kids,” I remind him. “I feel like I already raised five.”

“But you said you’d be okay with one, back when we were doing premarital counseling,” Andy reminds me.

“And you said you’d marry me even if I never wanted to have kids,” I shoot back.

And there we are.

Impasse.

Famous impasse from The Princess Bride (but everyone knew that, right?)

Color Me What? (#199)

My mother was blonde when I was a little girl – courtesy of Clairol. She had been white-blonde as a child, but her hair darkened as she aged. I don’t know whether she was dirty blonde or chestnut, though, underneath her cheap, brassy dye. Everyone assumed blonde was her natural color, however, since she was always surrounded by a horde of screaming towheaded children. We were the perfect camouflage for her unnatural hair.

I hated her dye job. I harangued her about being a natural brunette incessantly. She ignored me. I swore I would never, ever color my own hair, even though my own locks were brown by Junior High.

You know what’s coming, right?

Hellloooo, irony.

When I was sixteen, a friend French-braiding my hair stopped mid-plait. “No way,” she breathed. “Autumn, you’re not going to believe this.”

“It’s not lice, is it?!” I shrieked. “Tell me it’s not lice!” Lice in a household with five daughters and ten feet of hair is a goddamned nightmare, and one my family went through at least four times. If I brought home lice, I was toast.

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just…I think you have a grey hair.”

“What? No. Can’t be. It’s a leftover blonde one from my childhood.”

“Nope, it’s definitely not blonde. It’s kinda silvery, actually. Catches the light—”

“PULL IT OUT!”

She did, handing it to me immediately. Sure enough, it was a silvery grey hair.

I shared my news at the dinner table that night. “Can you believe this? Who gets grey hair at sixteen?”

Future Doctor Sister snickered. “Too bad. Grey will really show up with your hair being so dark.” She smugly patted her own golden locks.

Stepmother #1 tried to be comforting, saying, “I’m sure it’s just an aberration. You probably won’t get anymore until you’re forty.”

My dad cleared his throat. “Well, actually, she will. It’s genetic.”

“Is this why Mom dyed her hair?” Mom had died two years earlier, or I’d have run howling to her first.

Dad shook his head. “Much as I’d like to blame your mother for this,” which was true, Dad blamed his first ex-wife for everything from crap contraception to crap car selection, “it’s not her genes. My mom was completely grey by the time she was forty.” And then Dad smiled, like he was all proud of those prematurely old genes.

For the next several years, my mischievous baby siblings taunted me mercilessly about going grey.

When I turned twenty-one, my OCD boyfriend pulled out fifty silvery hairs before I insisted he stop.

When I was twenty-five, guys I met on the dance floor were guessing I was at least thirty.

After a particularly bad breakup, I decided to dye my hair. The stylist said, “What color? You’ve got some red highlights naturally, but blonde would be perfect– ”

I said, “Not blonde!”

Courtesy of Maryah Lily’s amazing updos/ before & after Instagram — SweetnDandyHair. (Yes, this is a “before” picture!)

“Then red,” the stylist told me. “It’ll be stunning with your green eyes.”

I became a redhead, which turned out to trickier than the stylist thought. Grey hair likes to grab the orange in most dyes, but orange highlights are only attractive on clowns (and even that’s kind of dubious). My original stylist had to hand me and my orange hair over to a master colorist. It took the master colorist several attempts to turn the orange into a more sedate auburn.

My red hair must have been a pretty good fit, because everyone I met as a redhead assumed it was my natural color.

As my hair got greyer, though, it got harder to keep the orange out. So I went brunette. My grey hair still tried to grab the orange, but my long-suffering stylist eventually tamed my hair to a nice light brown.

But as the grey won the scalp domination war, I wound up with stripe of silver roots between colorings — expensive colorings.

So I gritted my teeth and took the stylist’s suggestion.

I went blonde, which hides my silvery roots better, longer, and cheaper.

I’m an atheist, but you know what?

I still think Mom is laughing her brassy blonde head off somewhere.

Cooking & Competition (#198)

My neighborhood has an annual Labor Day cooking contest. The hostess decides on the type of food, the neighbors cook up their best dishes, and everyone at the party votes for their favorite. The year we moved in, the competition was for the best homemade salsa.

I’m competitive as hell, but I’m not a good cook. Luckily, my husband is an excellent cook, and he makes an amazing homemade salsa.

“Ha-ha,” I carolled. “They may as well hand over that prize now!” Continue reading Cooking & Competition (#198)

Poop & Poison (#197)

You know what’s great about having dogs? Especially big dogs?

I can walk any time without fear. If I’m restless (or pissed at my in-laws) at 10 PM, I grab my dogs’ leashes and away we go. When I’m flanked by 70-90 pounds of dog flesh, people will cross the street to avoid me.

You know what’s not great about having two big dogs when walking 6 miles a day?

Poop. Continue reading Poop & Poison (#197)

White Silence (#196)

White Supremacists rallying in Charlottesville, courtesy of Molly Ruth

The first time I ever heard the n-word, I was in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was nine, walking with my mother and stepfather. Two kids ran past. One called the other a word I’d never heard growing up in Washington, D.C., despite having classmates and friends of multiple races.

My mother pressed her lips into a thin line, then said, “I hate that word.”

My stepfather agreed.

I asked, “What word?” Continue reading White Silence (#196)