Homemade (#351)

As I mentioned in previous posts, my husband had a grudge against all the gifts I got from ex-boyfriends. Not an angry, “burn them ALL” kind of grudge, but the kind where stuff disappeared. Mainly, I found it amusing (I’m not much for jewelry anyway), but I did fight to keep my favorite purse.  Also, I lied about the provenance of a few other items and I still have those, so HA!

I’m not sure why some? All? men are like this. Is a woman wearing the clothes or jewelry a man bought her the human equivalent of a dog peeing on something to make it his own? If so, karma already got back at Andy; the first time we took our rescue dog Woofie to the dog beach, the dog had a blast, playing in the waves—only to return to us, lift his leg next to Andy, and pee on my husband.

I laughed so hard, I nearly peed my own self.

I’m too busy living that exhausting SAHM life to even look at other men. Andy hasn’t got the slightest reason to be jealous.

Of men. (Or women)

The only thing I drool over now is food. I grew up on very bad American staples like Hamburger Helper and TV dinners. McDonald’s was exciting to us. Gourmet or even homemade food with seasoning and spices? Heaven.

My brother-in-law once made a fabulous beef Wellington for Christmas dinner. Half the kids were asleep at the table when it was finally served at 9 PM, but I raved about beef Wellington for weeks.

Next Christmas, Andy made beef Wellington.

Andy’s beef Wellington

A French-Canadian opened up a restaurant near us that served poutine. I hadn’t had poutine since a visit to Ottawa years ago. I dragged Andy there and made ecstatic noises as I scarfed down French fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.

Andy told me it was a heart attack on a plate.

I said, “At least I’ll die before the dementia gets me.”

Andy got a fryer and perfected his doubled-fried French fries, along with giblet gravy.

Andy’s fries, back in the days of our first small fryer.

Cheese curds are very hard to find in Los Angeles (which makes me so jealous of Midwest Mark My Words), but Andy found some garlic cheese curds at the Farmer’s Market. Now he makes poutine for my birthday and Mother’s Day. (And he even has some, too, without a single comment about cardiac arrests.)

On one visit to Utah, Current Stepmother made prime rib with Yorkshire pudding. That Yorkshire pudding, covered in jus? It was the bomb.

British Sunday Dinner!

Guess who got TWO Sunday dinners with primes rib and Yorkshire pudding before her husband tore a ligament in his dominant hand?

I did.

When a new burger place featured an Impossible Burger with chipotle aioli, I only had to get take out twice before Andy started making me Impossible burgers with homemade chipotle aioli and homemade buns.

After dinner with friends at The Melting Pot, Andy got a fondue pot, raclette cheese, and made his own. He even makes baguettes from scratch.

Andy’s pizza.

We don’t do takeout pizza anymore, because it can’t compare to Andy’s homemade crust and tomato sauce. But then I oohed and ahhed over an Italian chef who showcased his fried pizza on Netflix. Andy fried up a wedge of pizza dough with mozzarella, arugula pesto, and tomato on the inside and it was to die for.

Sometimes, I’ll suggest going out to dinner. Andy will shrug and say, “But I make it better at home and it’s much cheaper.” And he’s not wrong.

Perhaps Andy upstaging all other chefs is about saving money. The man is very frugal.

Perhaps he merely enjoys making delicious food for an appreciative audience.

Perhaps it’s just male insecurity channeled productively.

Whatever the reason, all I can say is, “Well played, sir.

“Tonight we’re eating in.”

Fondue Night!

The Fire Is Out (#350)

Once upon a time, I was good at dating. Like, fire emoji good. If I didn’t have a serious boyfriend, I was usually dating several different guys (and very open about that fact, don’t be thinking I was a serial cheater or something). I was always on the lookout for potentially new, more interesting boyfriends. Every place I went, I automatically assessed the men:

Like every other woman in the world, I sometimes ignored my own assessments and made some Very Bad Choices. I also dated some very nice men where our timing, our religion, or our goals just didn’t work out. By the time I met my future husband Andy, I had accrued quite a few gifts from those exes. Plus a bunch from the messed up ones, too.

Once Andy and I were dating, those gifts not-so-mysteriously disappeared (i.e., Andy broke them or threw them away). The only survivors were jewelry I hurriedly gave to my younger sisters.

After we got married and Andy heaved my box marked “Romantic Correspondence” into a dumpster, he declared victory. (What? Doesn’t every writer keep a box like that? It is was potential material!)

Andy hasn’t been jealous or competitive with other men since. Not that he had reason to be. Other men? An affair? When the fuck would I even have the time, let alone the interest?

Baby D and his army of plushies. Wars staged daily.

 I was (and still am) too busy with our pets, raising our tornado of a child WHO NEVER NAPPED, running our household, volunteering at school/ soccer, and trying to squeeze in writing to even think about men. Except in a smash the patriarchy kind of way.

I figured other moms felt the same. Until the fire department arrived.

Every year, a nearby fire department goes around our neighborhood, stopping at each hydrant to test new recruits on connecting hoses to the hydrant. Every year, the fire truck collects a mesmerized audience of toddlers, preschoolers, and their caretakers. The first year, I followed fire department aficionado Baby D in his little cozy coupe car, grateful I didn’t need to entertain him with stuffed animal wars or Nerf weapons for a whole 15 minutes. (All I had to do was listen as Baby D lectured me on the differences between the pumper truck, the aerial ladder truck, and the urban search and rescue truck.)

When the fire pumper truck finally drove away, one of the moms said, “Some of those firefighters were pretty cute, huh?”

I looked at her blankly and said, “What?” because I literally could not comprehend what she said.

She winked, laughed, and said, “Yeah, right” before spotting her kid scootering into the street. “Wyatt! Back on the sidewalk!”

I don’t know if those firefighters were all male, let alone “cute.” What men looked like no longer registered. One of them could’ve started dancing and stripping down and I’d’ve been like, “Hey, can my kid have your hard hat so he can pretend to be a firefighter and maybe entertain himself for 5 seconds?”

I don’t know where my neighbor mom got the energy to assess firefighter attractiveness.

Maybe little Wyatt took naps.

One Mom, Every Mom (#349)

My husband did (and still does) a lot of wrestling with Baby D. But our son’s main playmate, when there was no school, sports, or playing with the kids on the block, has always been me.

Baby D loves the water. Swimming is a good way to wear out any kid, even those of the inexhaustible variety. We’d always get to the pool at least a half-hour before lessons and play games. And by games I mean:

Baby D: “Mommy, let’s pretend you are Mommy Whale and I am Baby Whale!”

Me: “Can’t I be Mommy Shark?”

Baby D: “No! Because I am Baby Whale!” (Swims out to middle of pool, proceeds to spin and thrash.) “MOMMY WHALE! MOMMY WHALE! Baby Whale is caught in a whirlpool!”

I would sigh, ignore the sniggering lifeguard and go to “rescue” Baby Whale.

Golden Pond, Town Beach

When Baby D was older, but stuck with only me as a playmate at a New Hampshire lake, the games became more involved. They were inevitably based on whatever he’d read most recently:

Baby D: “Okay, this rock is Momdor and you have to defend it and not let me touch it!” (Baby D charges, freestyling like mad. I scoop him up and throw him a few feet back. Repeatedly. I tire out way before my kid.)

Me (mining blowing a horn): “Momdor calls for aid! Momdor calls for aid! Where are the Riders of Rohan?!”

Baby D (outraged): “Momdor isn’t GONDOR! It’s MORDOR!!”

Me: “Not a chance, Baby Sauron. I’m Gondor AND the Houses of Healing.”

I certainly felt like a besieged nurse on a regular basis. Andy had one of his lemon episodes soon after our beloved rescue dog Woofie was diagnosed with a terminal fibrosarcoma. Then our other rescue, Fey, injured herself shoving Woofie out of the way in order to claim attention from friends and neighbors who came visit Woofie one last time (Woofie had always believed everyone was his friend. Turns out, he wasn’t wrong.)

That month had a lot of trips to human and canine physicians. While sitting in yet another waiting room—don’t ask me which kind—I wrote the following (apologies to Tolkien):

Three X-rays for the denizens
In the house of sturdy brick
A canine with a cancer
And a skull that’s awfully thick
His wussy shar-pei sister
Yelps with compressed discs of three
And the man that ought to walk them
Had surgery on his knee.
One Mom to nurse them all
One Mom to chide them
One Mom to find those pills
Wherever doggies hide them.

I was not, however, the only poet in the family. The following Mother’s Day, Baby D’s class wrote poems about their moms. Baby D’s started off and ended as quite the ode:

My mom is hardworking
She always supports me
She lets me do soccer and
Supports me with glee…

…I love my mother truly
She is the greatest for me
Amazing she can see
What is the best for me!

But the middle? It contained this gem:

When my mother is resentful
I know to hide in my room
Else will come my doom!

Maybe Momdor is Mordor after all.

Or maybe every Gondor has a bit of Mordor in it.

Actual poem & picture. Baby D says it’s tree. Andy says it looks like our dog Fey up on her hind legs. I say words always trump illustration.

If you were hoping for a Christmas Post, here’s my husband’s first New England Christmas. If you want Christmas AND you got every single Tolkien reference in this post, here’s the perfect read for you: The North Polar Bear.

 

The Lemon (#348)

I wouldn’t trade my husband for anything.

I reminded myself of this last weekend when he injured his dominant hand working on the sprinklers. (That’s sprinkler injury #2, for those counting.)

But if Andy had been a car? TOTAL. LEMON. (For younger readers, “lemon” is slang for a car that is constantly breaking, usually due to shitty manufacturing.)

The Spousemobile has had five surgeries on his knees and ankles (two ruptured tendons, two torn menisci, one giant cyst removed). He’s got compressed discs in his back. He’s broken his tailbone (not his fault, the poor Spousemobile got rear-ended by a texting idiot). Andy also has infection-induced asthma; normal winter colds regularly led to bronchitis until he got his CPAP machine (because he also has sleep apnea). He’s got retinas that would like to detach and has had holes in them soldered up by lasers regularly.

Luckily—or perhaps smartly—Andy picked a sturdy wife that can soldier on through pretty much all ailments. Torn quadricep? Watch me scoot around on the floor to clean! 6 months of nausea while pregnant? Let me just take some puke bags with the poop bags when I walk the dogs. Flattened by a dog while walking my dogs? I’ll leave a trail of blood, but I’ll get us all home. Familial vasovagal response that makes me pass out when I donate blood or see someone injured? Don’t worry, I’ve gotten very good at either not passing out or figuring out how to do it with minimal fuss/ bother. (The secret is to make a lot of jokes and talk to nurses to keep your blood pressure up. If that doesn’t work? Lie down ASAP. No matter how dirty, the floor is your friend.)

A man with tools and a bathroom sink
Andy being handy

Despite his issues, there’s no way I’m trading in the Spousemobile. Like most men, Andy tends to automatically put his own needs ahead of his pets and spawn, but when I lose my shit calmly explain that ideally one prioritizes one’s child over reading a newspaper, Andy makes adjustments. He works at a job he doesn’t love in order to keep us fed and medically insured. He cooks 30-50% of the time (he cooked more before child and injuries). He’s handy around the house (despite the demon sprinklers).

He wrestles with Baby D and even grudgingly coached youth sports.

A man and a boy with matching ice packs
Of course, wrestling with Baby D sometimes means ice packs for all.

Meanwhile, no small number of my Gen X mom friends have traded in their undented Chevy Novas (all white models). Some have decided there’s no point in having an extra car that just sits in the driveway with XM Sports Radio blaring while they are madly driving to work, school, the store, practices, the doctor, and the vet. Younger women, seeing all the trade-ins (and crashes) are opting to avoid the marital car altogether. Those that do get married are opting against having children.

I don’t care what the Boomers say: the Millennials are all right.

And Gen Z? They believe in voting, unions, universal healthcare, addressing climate change, and better public transportation.

May they never know what a vehicular lemon is.

Countdown to Christmas 2.0 (#347)

Gift-giving and holidays were huge in my family. Life wasn’t necessarily great the rest of the year, but looking forward to holidays and birthdays got us through.

In Andy’s Chinese-American childhood? There was no emphasis on holidays or gifts. If he was lucky, there was lucky money in a red envelope when he was young. When he was older, if he was lucky, his mom might tell him to stop at Foodland and pick up a random cake for his own birthday.

Andy did a great job with gifts when we were first together. But after Baby D arrived, he slacked off.  He forgot about items such as stocking stuffers, which was no big deal when we were with my family, where stuffing stockings is a competitive sport and I got plenty of items from my dad’s current wife or various siblings. But our first Christmas at home alone?

I got nothing. Which was unfathomable to me, the person who spent hours picking out Andy’s favorite candies and bottles of bourbon (big and small).

Gilded calendar in white and purple decorated with owls , deer, and wintery woodland scene.
Original Advent Calendar from Vosages (with chocolates on the inside).

Andy rallied after that, but he has never spent anywhere near the time I do picking out gifts. Occasionally, though, he hit the jackpot. Like the time he found out how much I love Advent Calendars and got me the ultimate adult one from Vosages. Every year after that, he faithfully ordered a refill and restocked my calendar with high class chocolates.

Probably because Vosages sent him a yearly reminder.

For our last anniversary, I got Andy Whistle Pig bourbon, plus a second bottle for 5 cents, because Bevmo was having a sale. (Andy loves getting a bargain. He’s not truly happy with a gift unless I outline the great deal I got after he opens it. This is an absolute anathema to pretentious white people, but I’ve learned to roll with it.)

Unfortunately, when I was wrapping the bottles, I realized they were WHISKEY, not bourbon! I went back to the store had to argue with an employee about exchanging the unwanted whiskey.

Huffy Bevmo Employee: “Well, you should have known better. Whistle Pig doesn’t make a bourbon.”

Me, whipping out my phone and hitting the Google app: “Yes, they do.”

“I have never seen one!”

Picture of Whistle Pig BOURBON

Me, holding up phone: “Now you have!”

Huffy Bevmo Employee: “Well, still, you shouldn’t have—”

Me, interrupting: “Trusted that Bevmo would only put BOURBON in the one locked BOURBON case?”

I was allowed to make an exchange. (Note: Most other Bevmo employees have always been helpful and not pissy while being flat out wrong about liquor. I got the Dunning-Kruger special that day.) Still, I prided myself, a non-drinker, on knowing more about bourbon than a liquor store employee—even though the only reason I know anything about bourbon is because it’s one of Andy’s favorite things. When gift-giving is important to you, you learn as much as you can about what the recipient likes so you can get them a good gift. And you take it back the minute you realize it’s NOT a good gift.

Many of you are probably insisting, “It’s the thought that counts.”

No.

That’s a lie told by shitty gift-givers to absolve them of guilt.

Gift-giving is all in the execution.

Take Andy’s anniversary gift to me: a package from an international chocolatier. I was pretty excited…until I opened it and found nothing but solid dark chocolate. I’m a milk chocolate fan, unless the dark chocolate surrounds nuts or caramel (or both).

Andy: “You don’t like it?!”

Me, sobbing dramatically: “Solid dark chocolate? 70-80% cacao? We’ve been married for more than a decade and it’s like you don’t even KNOW me!”

Andy: “But I thought it was a milk chocolate arrangement!”

Turns out Andy didn’t actually take the time to read through the product description (although he swears it was a bait and switch, like Bevmo and the bourbon). He immediately ordered some Ghana chocolates and apple cider caramels from Lake Champlain Chocolates and insisted they were my real gift.

Last week, the yearly advent calendar refill arrived.

Or so I thought.

When I opened the box, I discovered an entirely new “Chocolate Calendar for Advent” from Vosages. One I’d seen advertised on social media and adored, but quickly swiped away from, because I already had one.

The new Chocolate Calendar of Advent!

The second Andy and Baby D arrived home, I dragged them straight to the calendar. “Look, look! It’s awesome! When I press this button, it lights up! When I press this button, it plays the ‘The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ from The Nutcracker! And then you open it and there are lights inside and bigger chocolates than previous years and did you know it comes with its own charging cable?!”

Andy, looking somewhat dazed, said, “I did not know that. Wow. It has its own charging cable?!”

“But…you bought it. How did you not know?”

“I couldn’t get refills for your old calendar so I bought the new one. But I didn’t…”

“Read the actual product description? Yet again?

“Uhhhh…”

“So you didn’t actually intend to get me the amazing advent calendar I’ve been coveting?”

Luckily for Andy, Baby D, whose scowl had been deepening during this discussion, burst out with, “Where’s MY advent calendar?!”

“Dad got you a big Lindt one at Costco weeks ago.”

Andy said, “I’ll go get it!” and fled.

He didn’t need to worry. Andy might barely average a “C” grade in Intent.

But I only grade on Execution:
100%

T-Minus None (#346)

Today I am thankful that Andy’s Engineer Cousin is the one hosting Thanksgiving.

Hosting is hard. You have to coordinate, cook, and clean. And then be cheerful instead of resentful when everyone arrives to eat and party. If you don’t think hosting is hard, then a) you’ve never hosted or, b) you’re a white male with a wife who does all the damned work, and, c) you’re headed for a divorce.

But not hosting doesn’t mean we’ve got it easy.

Andy’s been assigned mashed potatoes (okay, this is not very challenging, I admit). I was assigned “some dessert with maple.” Quite White, Engineer Cousin’s spouse, was miffed last year when I unveiled my homemade chocolate satin pie and pumpkin cheesecake instead of the maple cream pie. Quite White moaned, “I was looking forward to the pie all day! It’s my favorite!”

Maple Cream pie, pre-piped whipped cream.

In vain did I throw Engineer Cousin under the bus explain that Engineer Cousin had asked for something chocolate, not maple.

Yesterday morning I made the maple cream pie, because no one is making the mistake of a maple-less Thanksgiving again.  Yesterday afternoon Engineer Cousin texted and told me that more folks had just RSVPedincluding Andy’s brother and his three kids. So last night I made about 120 cookies (Denny’s kids are partial to my cookies, possibly because his wife won’t let them have any sweets).

At 8 this morning, Engineer Cousin texted again: “I know it’s late notice, but could you bring some gravy?”

It was the moment Andy had been training for. Within minutes, he had all the chicken carcasses he’d been saving out of the freezer and boiling on the stove for stock. Carrots, celery, and onions were added, plus thyme from a pot on the patio.  Then he was was off to H-Mart for chicken livers.

Andy’s as good at whipping up emergency gravy as I am at emergency cookies.

The hardest part was protecting the emergency cookies from my own marauding spawn. Dalton is always hungry—especially for cookies. Andy bought Little Debbie Snack Cakes to serve as decoys. That worked for a bit, but by bedtime, Dalton had made several attempts to “liberate” the cookies.

What? You’ve never slept with cookies on your bedside table?

Last night the cookies slept in our room. This morning, Dalton made a beeline for them and had to chased away.

From the hallway, he yelled, “You have to go to the bathroom sometime!”

When Andy called Baby D into the kitchen later, Baby D ran in, expecting cookies. Instead, his father pointed to a stack of potatoes. “You can help me peel those.”

“What? I don’t want to peel potatoes!”

“Doesn’t matter,” I told him. “You’re eating dinner, you can help make it.”

“But I’ve been doing all the dishes!”

“Which is way less work than cooking or baking.”

“Besides,’ Andy told him, “You need to learn life skills.”

“I already know how to peel!”

“Great,” I told him. “Prove it. Whomever peels the most potatoes the fastest gets a cookie.”

Less than 10 minutes later, Dalton announced he was done. Sure enough, there was a big pile of peeled potatoes on the counter. Andy was still peeling, rather slowly, while listening to a podcast on his airbuds. I handed Dalton a cookie, just as Andy finally looked up.

“Hey,” Andy protested. “He dumped two potatoes back in my pile! I get the cookie!”

Dalton stuffed the cookie in his face and gave two chews. Then he turned to his dad, opened his mouth, and said, “Oh. You want dis? Here!”

And how is your holiday—or regular day —going?

Author’s Note: Don’t worry, I gave Andy a cookie, too.

Enough potatoes for 25 people?

 

To Prance, Perchance to Soar (#345)

Our rescue dog Woofie was a tough cookie. He ran headfirst into everything from a shovel to a Volvo station wagon without a single yelp. He took endless hits across the muzzle when playing with Boss Cat.

Maybe Woofie was extra tough because he had a back hock that was slowly disintegrating, due to an injury as a puppy. We’d explored putting in a plate and screws to fix the joint in place and provide stability, but that would still be painful—even after surgery healed. Woofie loved to stretch out his legs behind him, too, which he’d never be able to do again.

We tried to give Woofie enough exercise and play to keep him happy without further injuring the joint. He was on pain meds daily, but the vet warned us to be careful about how many we gave him, since longterm use can cause organ damage. Sometimes Woofie would play too hard and the next day we’d be icing his ankle until he was willing to put weight on it. He loved walking Baby D and the neighborhood kids to school. Unfortunately, the walk was over a mile and uphill, so I only took him once a week. When I took our other dog Fey instead, I had to hide pillows and stuffed animals, lest Woofie eviscerate them in fits of pique.

Fortunately, Woofie loved to spend hours basking in the sun as well as playing. When it was cloudy outside, he’d whine at me, as if insisting I personally push back the clouds.

Despite his injury, Woofie was a super happy dog who loved every dog and person he ever met. He was ninety pounds of prancing love, and universally adored.

So of course he got cancer. When he was nine, a bump appeared on his muzzle, . A trip to the regular vet led to a trip to the cancer vet which led to X-rays and a biopsy.

“It’s a fibrosarcoma,” I told Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, who was an oncologist.

She let out a sigh and said, “Fibrosarcomas are the badasses of the cancer world. Even if you remove it, it’s gonna come back.”

“Yeah, that’s what the vet oncologist told us. Woofie would lose part of his nose if they remove it, and we could try and keep the tumor in check with radiation, buy us some more time with him, but… What do you think we should do?”

“There’s no wrong answer.”

“I bet there is.”

“Really, there isn’t,” insisted the most judgmental person in the whole world.

“I know you think there is one, so just tell me.”

“You are not giving me enough credit, Autumn. You have to pick the option that seems best to you,” is all that Dr. Sis would say.

Which either showed personal growth or was good oncologist-speak, but also total bullshit. I knew there was a wrong answer. I knew she knew it. I just had to have the courage to face it.

While humans generally depend on our eyes, dogs take in the most information through their nose. Even canine hearing, while superior to human hearing, is not as vital to a dog as a sense of smell. Blind and deaf dogs have easily compensate with their amazing olfactory receptors, which can smell everything from a grain of cocaine to plummeting blood sugar.

Woofie was all about his muzzle. He poked dogs, humans, and cats with it to demand attention. He stole cookies, bread, and potstickers from the counter. He sniffed down every errant cheerio Baby D ever dropped in the house or the car. And he chewed everything from cow femurs to wooden Thomas the Tank Engine  train tracks. It was essential to his quality of life.

Radiation might give us more time with Woofie, but was it worth the pain he’d have to endure? Just because Woofie could take the pain didn’t mean it was fair to inflict it.

With a dog, you can’t explain the future or death (though maybe we can someday—some animals can communicate amazingly well with soundboards). You can’t ask dogs if they are willing to trade pain for more life. Dogs are creatures who live purely in the moment. How could I make any of Woofie’s moments more painful in order to postpone my own pain when he was gone?

I could not.

Andy, thankfully, agreed.

We opted for the quality of Woofie’s life over the length of it. Since we no longer had to worry about longterm damage, we loaded him up on pain meds and removed all activity restrictions.

Woofie pranced the kids to school every day. On the weekends, I let him chase the tennis ball on the school field as long as he wanted. We went to the dog park, mud and kennel cough be damned. We took him to the park to chase squirrels. At home, without any twinges in his hock to stop him, Woofie countersurfed relentlessly, stealing tortilla chips, a corncob, and a pizza. Of course we let him have everything (except the corncob, which he had tried before and thrown up).

The bump on his nose kept growing, but Woofie didn’t seem to notice.

He was flying high.
Literally.

I Am Only Here for the Candy (#344)

I don’t like scary things. Not costumes. Not movies. Not books. Not TV.

There’s enough scary shit in real life. Why would you seek out terror?

I don’t understand people who enjoy being scared. Did they not have enough to frighten them in their childhood? I’d wake up with a full bladder and hold it until morning rather than risk running into a monster on the way to the bathroom.

I remember my father being exasperated with me as I child because I was so certain someone could get a ladder, climb up three stories, come in my bedroom window, and “get me.”

Dad explained how loud and difficult that would be. I was unconvinced. He sent me back to bed, but at least refrained from saying, “Jesus Christ, child, I probably couldn’t GIVE away you or your equally feral, troublesome siblings! Why would anyone go through the trouble of climbing a ladder to try and STEAL you?”

I loved Halloween, of course, but only because there was free candy and sparkly costumes. I was every Disney Princess imaginable (Leia included), and a fairy. Never once did I want to be anything scary.

My Chinese-American husband, on the other hand, enjoys scary, suspenseful entertainment. “The Walking Dead?” One of his favorite shows. He’s never met a Resident Evil anything he doesn’t watch. Meanwhile, I’m in the bedroom, yelling at him to turn the volume down because ANY suspenseful minor chord music will make me wonder who is being murdered. I tried to watch “Squid Game,” but had to run out of the room repeatedly. (Andy would patiently summarize the games and deaths for me later.)

Why are we so different?

I have theories.

Andy’s childhood was more secure than mine (though both our fathers were scary and strict). Andy doesn’t speculate or imagine scenarios as much as I do. Sometimes Andy will see me wiping away a tear and foolishly ask, “What’s wrong?”

“Well,” I’ll sniffle, “I was just thinking about what if one of those right wing crazies crashes into the Torrance Farmer’s Market while you’re there because he’s targeting Asians, and you get killed and then I have to tell Baby D and I was trying to figure out what to do for your funeral…”

Andy will hand me a tissue and remind me, “Remember, don’t spend money on a casket. It’s a cardboard box or nothing.”

I once asked Andy if he ever worried that something might happen to me.

He said, “No.”

“You don’t think about it at all?”

“No.”

“What do you think about?”

Andy shrugged. “Nothing, really.”

“You can’t think about NOTHING. No one thinks about NOTHING.”

Andy just shrugged again. I kinda thought he was lying, until I read an article about how some people don’t always have an internal monologue going. That was unfathomable to me (and everyone else who monologues). But while I couldn’t understand not constantly judging thinking, it immediately made sense that Andy was a non-monologuer.

I’m a little jealous. It sounds very restful and zen. My internal monologues go from 0 to DISASTER in seconds. Which means that when I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m immediately convinced that any unusual noise or smell means there’s a fire/ murder/ kidnapping happening.

This is one of the reasons I like having dogs. I’m pretty sure that my dogs will smell or hear any danger long before my comparatively weak human senses detect it. This comforting fact enables me to get back to sleep. Sometimes. (Of course, sometimes you have dogs that snooze right through impending danger.)

Throughout our son’s childhood, I’ve tried to keep him from scary stuff. I didn’t want him to have nightmares or wake up scared like I did. He would pester us to watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones and I’d think of how Darth Vader and melting faces kept me awake as a child. Baby D was on a strict diet of “Thomas the Tank Engine” until the older kids on the block introduced him to The Hunger Games.

And he was fine. Not a single nightmare, ever, not even when Baby D sneakily read the books at age eight (by the light of a ring that flashed red, white, and blue). He sailed through Harry Potter without fears of Dementors.

Baby dressed as a big orange pumpkin.

 

Toddler dressed as a skunkWhen he was little, I could pick the most adorable Halloween costumes for Baby D. Nothing scary, just pumpkins, bunnies, and fluffy skunks.

 

Once he hit preschool, Baby D insisted on being a ninja. For three years.

After that?

Kid dressed at the Grim Reaper, with skull mask and scythe

Kid is going to give me nightmares.

Cat on the Run (#343)

Some cats see an open back door, yawn, and go back to sleep.

Some cats bolt at the speed of light.

Our Boss Cat would bolt—and then stop in the center of the patio. She’d look back at the human in the doorway, tail twitching. If no chicken bribe appeared within 30 seconds, Boss Cat would climb a tree and disappear over the fence.

Her hapless humans would then circle the block with chicken, calling, “Here, kitty-kitty! C’mon, Boss!”

The speed with which we found Boss Cat was inversely proportional to the time since her last meal. If she’d just eaten or already gorged on a chicken bribe, she couldn’t be lured home. Instead, I’d walk around, checking in with dog walkers.

Boss Cat liked dogs. She liked to play with them. She especially liked to hit them in the face. While out hunting for Boss with our dogs, I once ran into one outraged neighbor and his prized Basset hound show dogs.

The Champion Basset Hounds

 “Look out,” he warned me. “There’s a cat back there that’s followed us half a block and keeps trying to attack my dogs! I think it might be rabid!”

I sighed. “She’s not rabid. She’s mine. She likes to beat up dogs.”

The neighbor stared at ninety-pound Woofie and seventy-pound Fey. “Even those big dogs?”

“These dogs are her personal punching bags. She’s clearly bored and hoping for new targets.”

A neighbor across the street, one who didn’t have a fence but who trained her Labrador retrievers to stay on her property (mostly), flagged me down during another hunt for Boss.

“Your cat was sitting in your front yard a little while ago. My six-month-old puppy saw her and went on alert. I told puppy to leave it, but she charged across the street and straight up to your cat.”

“Uh-oh.”

“Your cat didn’t even MOVE until puppy got close. Then she smacked puppy right across the muzzle. It was so hard I heard it, clear across the street. Puppy ran back to me as fast as she could. I don’t think she’ll be leaving the yard to chase cats again,” the neighbor laughed.

Boss could clearly take care of herself, but I still worried. All it would take was a car or a coyote, and we’d have no more Boss Cat. Baby D would be devastated. I would be devastated. Even Andy would be devastated (maybe).

One evening, when my ExStepmother was visiting, I circled the block repeatedly, unable to find the cat—until a neighbor over the back fence finally pointed up.

Boss Cat was lying across the telephone wire above our backyard, a foot or two from the telephone pole. Maybe she got there while in hot pursuit of a squirrel (telephone wires are the squirrel highways of the neighborhood). Her perch was precarious, at best, with her belly straddling the wire and one front claw snagged on the wire.

I could see the problem. If Boss yanked hard enough to pull her claw out, she’d lose her balance and fall. She might even wind up hanging by that one claw.

Baby D turned to me, face full of alarm. “Mommy! You have to save her!”

“That’s twenty feet up!” exclaimed my ExStepmother. “Mommy needs to call the fire department!”

I shook my head and went to get the ladder, telling her, “I read recently that fire departments don’t do that anymore. At least not in big cities.” (ExStepmother is from a small town in New Hampshire.)

Now, no one knows better than I do that even if Boss Cat fell, she would probably be fine. Cats are built to land from great heights. Humans…not so much.

I climbed the ladder anyway.  I couldn’t stand to see Boss Cat stuck like that, especially not as nightfall approached. And I couldn’t let my cat or my kid down.

At the top of the ladder, I was still about 10 feet shy of the cat. I moved to the telephone pole, continuing upwards using the metal rods driven into the pole that utility workers use to access electrical and phone lines.

Which was when I discovered why utility workers always wear heavy clothing and gloves, even in summer. Those telephone poles are not smooth. They are splinter fucking central.

Close up of a never-been-sanded telephone pole.

It was like climbing a porcupine–and I was wearing light cotton clothing. I collected slinters on my stomach, chest, and hands. I gritted my teeth, continuing until I was high enough to reach the cat.

This was the part that worried me. Cats are not the most rational or trusting creatures. Boss might fight me, or try and flee. And how was I going to carry her back down? I had not thought this rescue through.

I was an idiot.

Luckily, my cat was not an idiot. Boss Cat didn’t fight as I unhooked her claw. She immediately crept across the wire and my arm, settling herself smoothly across my shoulders. Like she’d totally thought this through while I was climbing. Or like she rode human elevators daily. The cat stayed put until we were about 8 feet off the ground. Then Boss Cat jumped down and went straight to Baby D, who carried her inside and fed her chicken.

I put away the ladder and spent the following week removing splinters.

The next time Baby D’s Cub Scout troop visited the local fire department, I did ask one of the firemen, “You guys don’t get cats out of trees anymore, do you?”

The nice young fireman said, “Actually, we will if we aren’t too busy.”

SONUVABITCH.

Author’s Note: If your cat ever does get stuck in a tree, who you gonna call? An arborist. 

The Hoarder (#342)

As a child, the conversation at my family dinner table was always better than the food on the table. (I kid you not–Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best meal of the week.) My dad might have political anecdotes from Capitol Hill.  My stepmother might tell us how one high school gang tried to break into her classroom to get at another gang. Or we might get a story about our great-grandfather learning how to swim by diving off a piano in a flooded southern parlor from my mom.

My Chinese American husband’s family was all about the food. I learned the hard way that no one expected conversation at the table. Everyone concentrated on eating. This makes sense when the food is both tasty and served immediately (e.g., dim sum). It also makes sense if you’re eating a dish like chicken feet, which involves considerable mouth aerobics, ending in spitting out chicken toenails.

Young boy grimaces as he bites down on a fried chicken foot.
Baby D meets chicken feet.

Andy’s dad also wasn’t much of a talker, unlike practically every person in my family. My family told jokes, made fun of each other, and competed to get the best laughs. We all also like to show off share information.

Maybe this is why Andy’s a better cook than I am. He tastes as he goes and even plates artistically, believing the food should always take center stage.

I love good food, but I also want to hear about spouse/ spawn’s days. The breakfast/dinner table is the place where I find out what’s going on. I believe that communication is connection and sharing is caring.

Andy, on the other hand, hoards information. And he hoards it as long as he can.

I’d walk into the kitchen and say, “That smells good. Whatcha making?”

“Stuff.”

“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”

“Food.”

“Oh my God, would it kill you to tell me what’s for dinner one time?!”

Apparently, it would. Because not once did Andy actually volunteer to tell me what he was making. I had to piece together clues from ingredients and cookbooks on the counter.

Now, when Andy asked me what I was making for our Christmas party, my response was: “Oh, I’m going to do cream cheese sugar cookies with buttercream frosting with about one-quarter teaspoon almond extract, plus candy cane and chocolate meringues—and I’ll need the food processor for both the candy canes and to chop up the chocolate chips extra tiny so they don’t get stuck in the piping tips and also maple sugar rugelach and did you know that I had to order maple sugar from Ben’s Sugar Shack in New Hampshire this year?! I can’t find it ANYWHERE. Or and I’ll make those chocolate cookies with white chips that are your favorite, do you want coconut in them or not?”

It’s a point of pride that, when asked “why?,” by Baby D, I never once responded with “Because I told you so.”

Instead, I dumped elaborate reasoning and detailed explanations on my child until he either fled the room or could out reason/ argue me into changing my mind.

Storage containers and boxes crammed on wire shelving units.
Andy’s least favorite view

The only information my husband shared freely was how much he hated all the boxes in the garage. We had many boxes. That happens with a house less than 1200 square feet and minimal storage space. Heavy blankets, comforters, and winter clothing were stored in the garage in the summer. Window fans and tubs of light linens got stored in the garage in the winter. There were two bicycles, suitcases, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, the extra refrigerator, extra chairs, an extra banquet table, portable chairs for soccer matches, a team soccer canopy, a team bench, and 8 containers of holiday/ season decorations.

Every so often, when Andy got snarly, I cleaned out/ donated anything we no longer used. Andy’s grumbles subsided, especially when I pointed out we’re one of the only families on the block that actually put a car in our garage.

I kept tabs on all the storage containers with decorations, though.

Not long into the pandemic, packages started arriving for Andy. There were at least a dozen. Some were large. One was very heavy. A few were small.

“Gardening supplies?” I guessed.

Andy said, “Stuff.”

I rolled my eyes and let it go. The following weekend, Andy spent an entire day moving items around the garage. He went to Lowe’s and returned with giant mobile shelves—the kind that you can roll together so they take up less space but then roll apart for access once the car is out of the garage.

Also the kind of shelf energetic offspring will try and ride down the driveway when Dad is carrying “excessive” Christmas decorations to the garbage bins.

After rescuing child, shelf, and decorations, I planted myself in front of Andy and announced “That’s it. You’ve been bitching about the garage more than usual and there all these mysterious boxes. What are you DOING?”

“Stuff—”

“NO! No more bullshit ‘stuff!’ For all I know you’re setting up a fucking meth factory!”

Andy said, “It’s not a meth factory.”

I crossed my arms and inhaled. Deeply.

Andy hurriedly added, “We can’t go to the gym so I’m turning one of the bikes into a stationary bicycle so I can ride it to get cardio because I can’t run anymore on my bad knee and walking takes too long. I’m trying to make more space in the garage to set up the bike.”

“That’s…great. But…why wouldn’t you just tell me that?”

Andy shrugged.

“You know, mouths are for more than eating!’ I told him. “They’re for talking! For sharing information! If you’d just explained what you wanted to do, I would have helped you. I could have gotten rid of some boxes, consolidated a few things, figured out how to make more space.”

“Really?”

“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”

“Uh…”

And that’s when I realized that Andy HAD thought I’d say no. Just like his parents always said no—no sports, no extracurricular activities, no curfew extensions. Andy was so used to his family saying no, he’d learned to never offer information which could result in a “no.” It was maddening…but also understandable.

I consolidated a few boxes of decorations and donated some boxes of older blankets to charity.

Andy’s cardio area, with gardening/ soccer hat on bike.

Andy set up his bike. He rides it several times a week.

Sometimes, now, he’ll tell me what he’s cooking.

The other night, at the dinner table, Andy stopped eating long enough to ask Baby D, “So, little boy, what did you do in school today?”

Baby D replied,

“Stuff.”

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