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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… Continue reading Food Fight, Part II (#269)

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. Continue reading Taste Test (#268)

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. Continue reading Pretty Binary (#267)

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)