Wide Awake (#295)

I was a night owl as a child and an insomniac as an adult. I stayed awake replaying the events of the day—especially everything I did wrong. Therapy and getting an insane amount of exercise cured me in my twenties. After a miserable pregnancy (with equally miserable sleep), I woke up for breastfeeding several times a night. Once Baby D dropped nighttime nursing, I woke up because I’d gotten used to waking up. The slightest noises woke me up because Something Might Be Wrong with Baby D.

Then I woke up because something WAS wrong with Baby D, either an illness or a scream of “Want dinner!” at midnight.

My husband Andy never woke up unless I punched him in the arm, which, as I slept less and he snored more, made me want to punch him even harder.

Chronic sleep-deprivation is torture and it makes you psychotic.

In a perfect world, we’d have had a house with an extra bedroom where I could sleep. Our world is not perfect and housing in Los Angeles is expensive. I could sleep with the snoring husband in the super expensive comfy bed or the snoring dogs on the not-so comfy couch.

I mostly slept in the bed, using earplugs and Benadryl. My sleep improved. It might have improved more if Andy ever heard Baby D crying before I did, but I always woke up first–even with earplugs. Whatever super-critical psychological quirk made me notice dirt, crooked pictures, or anything out of place also woke me up if there was any unusual noise at night.

I swapped Benadryl for all kinds of different sleep meds, some of which I learned were also anti-psychotics, (possibly why Andy is still alive). Other medications made me appear drunk (Andy is a huge fan of Ambien for just that reason).

Sleep drugs helped, except on the nights when a cat hairballed, Woofie puked up purloined cabbage, or some idiots decided to use our lawn as a toilet.

One night, though, I woke up to…nothing. Baby D was asleep. The pets and husband were snoring softly. Yet something had gotten through earplugs, Ambien, and NyQuil: a faint whiff of smoke. I prowled the house, opening windows and trying to see if someone was smoking outside on a late walk. The street, sidewalk, and backyard were empty. Yet the smell of smoke remained.

Because I will always err on the side of caution (or maybe because I was pissed he was asleep while I was awake AGAIN), I finally shook Andy.

“Thanks for not punching me,” he muttered groggily. “What’s up?”

“I smell smoke, but the house isn’t on fire and there’s no one around smoking—”

“Oh, shit!” Andy was out of bed and out the backdoor before I finished talking. He  dragged the garden hose to the dog run on the far side of our detached garage. I trailed after him, utterly confused – until I saw that our trashcan was spewing smoke.

Andy flipped back the lid and turned on the hose. In seconds, the small fire was out. Aside from the melted rubbish container, there was no damage.

After heaping praise on my quick-thinking firefighter, I asked, “How on earth did you immediately know what was on fire?”

“Well, um, you know, if it wasn’t the house or garage, then that was a logical place, and um…also I put the coals from smoking that pork butt in the trash tonight,” Andy finally admitted. “They must not have been completely extinguished.”

“Ohhhh. All is explained,” I answered. “Except—why am I up instead of the dogs?! I took Ambien AND NyQuil. They’re supposed to have a great sense of smell and they haven’t even left their dog beds! Slackers!”

“You know that Fey goes off-duty at night.”

“But we could have burned up!”

“No, honey. We will never burn up. No one will ever break in undetected. When Baby D is a teenager, he will never be able to sneak out at night. But not because of the dogs. Because you will always wake up.”

“Is that why everyone else in this house sleeps so soundly at night? Because I’m on guard?!”

Andy patted my shoulder. “That’s why I married you.”

It was a near thing, but I did not punch him in the arm.

Failing (#294)

My Chinese-American father-in-law harangued me weekly until I got pregnant. He believed my sole purpose in life, as wife to the Number One Son, was to bear him a grandson.

Once Baby D was born, Jay’s health deteriorated. Physical ailments led to mental issues. By the time Baby D was four, Jay was in a wheelchair and not always lucid.

As if he had only been holding on to complete his purpose in life—a grandson.

My mother-in-law, Sunny, was younger than Jay. Even so, she had trouble caring for Jay at home. During one of our visits to Hawaii, when I picked Jay up off the floor for the third time and put him back in bed, I told Andy his family needed to think about putting Jay in an assisted living facility.

“Your Dad isn’t that big, but your mom isn’t getting any younger. How is she going to manage without us?”

“I don’t know. No one wants to talk about it.”

Andy’s older sister is a doctor. Her specialty is geriatrics. Yet when I pointed out that Jay was a lot for her mother to cope with and suggested moving him to a home, Betty burst into tears and said, “Oh, Autumn, no!”

Sunny refused to even consider the idea. “Too expensive,” she said.

“Not if you sell the rental house,” I argued.

“There’s too many taxes,” Sunny said.

I steeled myself and asked, “What if you sell both houses and move near us? We could help and your sister is nearby.”

“No, no, I will stay here and be fine.”

Sunny, of course, wasn’t fine. She had her own medical issues cropping up now that she was in her sixties. When she needed various surgeries, one of her kids had to fly 3-5,000 miles to take care of Jay. Same thing when Popo, Sunny’s mother, had a stroke, and Sunny needed to care for Popo.

Guess which of the three children always had to fly out in an emergency?

My husband. We were the closest, with the most flights from LA to Hawaii. Andy had the most stable job, with plenty of PTO. But mainly, Andy had me—the stay-at-home-mom who could, of course, always put her writing on hold to manage the one kid and everything else for a few weeks. His sister, married to another doctor and with two kids, was either on call or her husband was on call. Andy’s brother had a new baby (and then another new baby) while he and his wife worked in tech in San Jose.

For years, all of Andy’s vacation time went to trips to Hawaii. All our extra money went for his flights to Hawaii.

When he ran out of vacation, Andy took some Paid Family Leave (thank you, California!). It wasn’t his full salary, but we got by.

I got bitter. Single parenting The Boy Who Wouldn’t Nap, especially during Spring Break and Summer vacation, was mentally and physically exhausting. When, inevitably, I got injured while trying to walk 2 big dogs and chase Baby D on his bike, I had to keep going. I powered through baths on bloody knees, walks with back spasms, and several delightful noroviruses.

Plus, Baby D hated my cooking and missed his dad. He had no compunctions about telling me this hourly.

In vain did I remind my husband that he was now the unofficial Chinese-American Patriarch. “Just take charge! Put your foot down! Tell your mom she needs to move or move your dad into assisted living!”

Andy could not. He had spent too long deferring to the wishes to his parents. Which was, as always, hard for me to wrap my head around. Not once have my sibs and I shied away from battle with any parental unit—especially not when we thought our cause was just. (As it always was!)

But Andy would not argue with his mother, not even when Jay’s physical abilities deteriorated to the point where he needed a feeding tube. Despite Jay’s earlier instructions NOT to prolong his life, Sunny had one inserted. By then, Jay could no longer speak to protest.

I ranted to Andy about how wrong it was. Jay was stubborn and opinionated. He enjoyed laying down the law. Maybe, because of our skirmishes over everything from cheesecake to screwdrivers, I was the only one who could see how much Jay would have hated being overruled. Or maybe I empathized because I was the only family member who could fully relate to the old man’s bossy, judgmental personality.

Andy agreed that his father would not want to be kept alive, but had no idea where Jay’s old instructions were. Even if he had had them, he would never have fought his mother over his father’s care.

So I ranted to my Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, an oncologist who deals with hospice issues daily.

“I know,” she sighed. “There are so many times when I have to explain to the grandchildren who can’t bear to let grandma go that there are things worse than death. Sometimes, you have to take them into the room and let them see the suffering. But to go against someone’s explicit wishes when they are no longer in their right mind? If only he’d been in assisted living! Or the hospital! They would have already had his wishes on file.”

“I know,” I ground out.

“Disregarding them is monstrous. Listen, if I ever lose my mind to dementia, you take me out, okay? I’ll be sure and leave you some morphine or a shot of potassium to make it quick.”

“I will,” I promised. “And you’ll do the same?”

“Don’t worry. If it comes down to it, I’ll kill all y’all.”

More comforting words were never spoken.

12 Step Program for White Women (#293)

 

  1. PUT DOWN THE PHONE. Yeah, I know you are in mid-text to the one Black woman you know from work five years ago, or the PTA, or from your kids’ dance class/ baseball team/ Girl Scout troop. STOP. Sure, someone on social media said “check in with your Black friends.” But you aren’t friends. You are, at best, acquaintances. If you were friends, you’d know she’s exhausted by all the other white women texting her. What you really want is to know that you are a “good” white person and she doesn’t hate you. Here’s the thing: a) you probably microaggressed the shit out of her because all of us white people do it, and b) you’re expecting more unpaid labor from a Black woman. Which brings us to…
  2. DO YOUR OWN WORK. Pretend you are back in school. You were probably a  good student and the teachers loved you because you were a white woman with an A+ in people-pleasing. You never cheated (although you undoubtedly gave an undeserving mediocre white male the answers at least once). So why are you now asking Black women for the answers? Come on. Think about how pissed off and resentful you are daily because your white husband automatically expects you to handle all the kids’ activities, schooling, and healthcare while keeping the house clean, providing meals, and serving as household counselor/ cheerleader. Now, imagine he comes back from a long business trip and says, “Hey, I saw this article about how women do all the emotional labor. I didn’t bother to actually read it, but give me a pat on the head for noticing it and explain it all to me, please.” If you weren’t so tired, you’d throw something at your idiot husband. And he’d fucking deserve it. Well, Black women are about a thousand times more tired than we are, which you will understand if you…
  3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  Read at least two books on the current New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List. Yes, the NYT is biased and totally cheats BIPOCs (when you your homework you will know what BIPOC means) by switching their criteria to favor white authors. However, the non-fiction section is currently dominated by Black Americans writing about race relations because the other 4.0 white people are finally doing their long overdue reading for Honors English.
  4. DO MORE HOMEWORK. Once your head stops spinning after you finish at least 2 books from #3, read The Hate You Give. It’s easier going and reading fiction is supposed to increase empathy. Yes, of course you are a very empathetic person, but crying over Subaru commercials and rescued animals is not the same as understanding the effects of systemic racism on a visceral level. Ask yourself why you were more outraged over the police shooting dogs than Walter Scott. Or De’Von Bailey. And then…
  5. ACKNOWLEDGE COMPLICITY.  We swallowed the white supremacist narrative that Black Americans deserve the violence meted out by racist cops. And yes, we should have done better. Get yourself some tissues and have a good cry, but do NOT, under any circumstances, call your Black acquaintance and sob over this epiphany. They’ve spent a lifetime surviving what we just learned. They’re too busy giving their offspring “The Talk” to give us absolution. Instead…
  6. TALK TO YOUR OWN OFFSPRING. Since you’ve done your homework, you now know that it is on you to cover all the material state textbooks leave out (some states more than others, TEXAS). There are statues of slave traders, Confederate generals, and Christopher Columbus coming down all over. Use these exciting visuals of destruction as a starting point. End with a comparison between the United States and Germany. (Hint: Germany apologized for the Holocaust, banned the Nazi salute, and DOESN’T have Hitler statues).
  7. CALL OUT YOUR PARENTS. Repeatedly. Don’t let them get away with perpetuating the “by my own bootstraps,” myth or any other racist crap. Overwhelm them with your homework facts. Use the parental controls on their remote to keep them from watching Fox News. Until they shape up, withhold grandchildren on the grounds that you do not want your children to be brainwashed into evil. Never excuse them with bullshit about “but they’re good people,” who would “give you the shirt of their backs.If they excuse the violence perpetrated on Black bodies, and/or putting kids in cages, they are white supremacists and fascists. Would you let your kid hang out with the KKK or Hitler?
  8. CALL OUT ALL THE RACISTS ALL THE TIME. This is probably the hardest part for us. We’ve been trained to be good hostesses. We smooth things over. We don’t create scenes. We’re gonna have to get over that–fast. If we aren’t making white people uncomfortable, we are not doing the work.
  9. PROTEST. THEN CHANNEL YOUR INNER KAREN TO COMBAT POLICE BRUTALITY. Policing is done at the local level. Instead of calling the police on Black Americans enjoying life, call your mayor. Call your city council, and your police commissioners. Attend their Zoom meetings. Identify yourself as a constituent and then, because you did your homework, point out how much goddamned money is spent on the police—especially their unnecessary military gear and their pensions. Since every city will be facing huge revenue shortfalls this year, there is no better time to demand a massive reduction in the police budget. Push for social services and education instead of police!
  10. DONATE. If you’re worried about being scammed, start here. Always, always google organizations. A little research can save you from financing some problematic activist’s failed mountain climbing expedition instead of a solid organization.
  11. FOLLOW BLACK WOMEN–especially on Twitter. (If you haven’t found them by now, you got an F on your homework. Go back to #2 and start over.) Staying current on events and the conversation is vital; it will keep you from embarrassing yourself or donating to the failed mountain climbing dude. Centering and listening to Black voices is even more important, and we’re really, really bad at it. WARNING: never, ever insert yourself in the conversation—Twitter will drag you deservedly and mercilessly. Just listen. Learn. Consider events and history from a non-white perspective. Retweet. Amplify. Repeat.
  12. NO TITLES. Maybe we did the work and feel like we deserve a treat. Resist. Never, ever call yourself “an ally.” Nor “an accomplice.” Why? If we only did the work to signal our virtue, we’re assholes, not allies. But most of all…

“Ally” is the one title no white person can bestow.

The Reluctant Coach (#292)

I thought that signing up my kid for recreational soccer meant all I’d have to sign up for would be snacks.

That’s how they get you.

AYSO always needed volunteers. They threatened to dissolve multiple teams unless parents agreed to coach. They promised the parents plenty of free training.

I gave Andy a hopeful look.

My husband said, “Hell, no. You’re the one who wanted him to play soccer.”

I caved and agreed to coach Baby D’s U6 team. Continue reading The Reluctant Coach (#292)

Burned (#291)

My Chinese-American husband is a fantastic cook. Andy can make any cuisine, from pulled pork barbecue to agedashi tofu.

Andy’s beef Wellington

His eggs Benedict are sublime. Pretty sure I joined Instagram just to make people envious over of his beef Wellington.

I am content to give Andy the cooking crown in our household. I focus on baking, which is my strength.

I stay in my lane.

Andy is NOT staying in his lane. Continue reading Burned (#291)

When It Ain’t At All About the Ball (#290)

Baby D walked when he was 10 months old—for 3 steps. Then he ran everywhere.

“Soccer,” I yelled to Andy as I chased Baby D around the yard with a cheese stick. “As soon as he’s old enough, he’s playing soccer. Maybe that will wear him out.”

Andy yelled back, “But, honey, he doesn’t care about balls.”

This was true. Baby D did not care about sports.

Baby D only liked imaginary games. Continue reading When It Ain’t At All About the Ball (#290)

When the Days Are Long, Again (#289)

There’s a common phrase about parenting: “The days are long, the years are short.”

The days ARE long when you have a baby. Especially when you have a baby that only takes a half-hour nap. And when you have a non-napping child and no handy relatives to help?

A day feels equal to a year.

When your baby is sick?

A day feels like a century. Continue reading When the Days Are Long, Again (#289)

Outlast the Lockdown: 10 Historical Mystery Series (#288)

Science Fiction and Fantasy books are my first love. They’re also the best escapism around, literally taking you to another world.

But maybe you don’t want to go to a new world with new rules. Concentrating right now is difficult (unless you’re fellow blogger Ms. Bean’s husband). Let me offer up my favorite historical mystery series, guaranteed to take you to a different time, multiple times.

As usual, I’m listing them by the first book in the series because starting in the middle is just wrong and the name of the series isn’t always helpful.

10. The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey. Continue reading Outlast the Lockdown: 10 Historical Mystery Series (#288)

Escapist Sci-Fi/ Fantasy Quarantine Reading (#287)

A few of you have been after me for book recommendations. It’s your lucky day. If you don’t count the world being on fire and shit.

I was filing out my nominations for World Fantasy 2020 Awards and realized I already had half-a-list, which means it’s also half-a-post!

I love efficiency almost as much as I love books.

I like biographies and history, but for quarantine reading? No. Just no. We need something that will take us from our current surroundings.

These are Chocorooms. They’re the devil.

We need books in exotic settings, as far away from the kid howling over the lack of soccer and Chocorooms as possible.

Since our heroics currently consist of sitting on our asses at home, we need to watch someone else save the world. Or the galaxy. Or the universe! Continue reading Escapist Sci-Fi/ Fantasy Quarantine Reading (#287)

One Smug Squirrel (#286)

There weren’t many squirrels around when Andy and I moved into our little house in Southern California. The native Western gray squirrel lives off oak trees and hangs out mostly in forests. SoCal isn’t big on forests.

The few squirrels we did begin to see weren’t natives. They looked exactly like the squirrels I grew up with in D.C. and Virginia. That’s because they were Eastern fox squirrels, brought to Santa Monica by veterans a century ago as pets. These squirrels are savvy little scavengers. They used telephone and electrical wires to colonize Los Angeles County.

They’ve bamboozled numerous elderly neighbors into feeding them peanuts daily. Continue reading One Smug Squirrel (#286)