Mother’s Day Musings (#321)

Content Warning: We’ve lost so many millions of mothers to COVID this year that even relentless jewelry-hawkers like Pandora are exercising a modicum of compassion in their Mother’s Day advertising. If you aren’t up for reading about the holiday, skip this post and consider yourself hugged.

My mom died when I was a teenager. I dreaded Mother’s Day every year after that.

I’d’ve liked to ignore the entire day. Or better still, the entire week.

Instead, there were celebrations for the other moms in my life. By the time I left home, I had to remember cards and gifts for my ex-stepmother, my current stepmother, my former stepfather’s current wife, etc. (My family is so complicated that my Big Brother finally made a PowerPoint presentation for those foolish enough to marry into it. My husband is still bitter Big Brother didn’t make it until after we got married.)

After I got married, though, Mother’s Day wasn’t so bad. Sure, I had to add my mother-in-law to the list of card recipients and badger my husband about getting her a gift, but this also served to remind him to start planning a celebration for the other mother in his life. Andy made sure that our dogs Fey and Woofie “remembered” Mother’s Day with gifts for me. He also made me beautiful breakfasts.

Once Baby D was born, every person I ran into on Mother’s Day weekend wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day.” I got cards, chocolates, and sometimes a babysitter so we could go out to dinner. Once Andy even sent me to the spa for a massage while he wrangled Baby D alone. ONCE.

By the time Baby D was three, Mother’s Day had evolved into A Most Important Event. Dozens of adorable, utterly useless crafts came home from preschool in my honor.

A paper plate “purse” with coupons for hugs, kisses, and chores that my child refused to ever let me redeem.

I also discovered that preschools and kindergartens went all in on “Mother’s Day Teas.” Children sang tear-inducing “I Love My Mom” songs while the teachers handed out tissues. Afterwards, kids served their mothers chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, and lemonade…and immediately ate the goodies themselves while the mommies were still blowing their noses. Since SoCal moms are constantly dieting, most moms didn’t care. Much to Baby D’s dismay, his mother ate her chocolate strawberries RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM and he had to wait until all the moms were served to get his own plate of treats.

Even youth sports recognized what a big deal Mother’s Day was. No games were scheduled on Mother’s Day. Which hardly seemed like a Mother’s Day present; the whole point of my ridiculously energetic kid playing sports was for SOMEONE ELSE to exhaust him on the field so I didn’t have to exhaust him at the park or in the pool or with Nerf gun wars. But instead of playing on Mother’s Day Sunday, corsages or flowers were given to all the moms in attendance at the Saturday games (the coaches warned you in advance to be in attendance).

While I might have preferred to celebrate Mother’s Day with more sports and less obligatory maternal celebrations, other moms relished the recognition. “At least I get this,” one mom told me, sniffing her bouquet.

Aghast, I said, “Your husband isn’t doing anything for you?! No brunch or dinner?!”

“Oh, there’s a dinner tonight—for my mother. I still have to pick up the cake and flowers and make the boys sign her card and get her present wrapped. And tomorrow, it’s a brunch for his mom. She can’t drive, so my husband will pick her up while I’m getting the house and meal ready a second time. By the time he takes her home, I’ll just have enough energy to put in a movie for the boys and retreat to my room with a glass of wine.”

With my mother deceased and Andy’s mother 3,000 miles away, I’d never really thought about Mother’s Day for the “Sandwich Generation” before. It sounded exhausting.

Yes, Mother’s Day without my own mom was always sad.

No, Mother’s Day as a mom wasn’t always what I wanted.

But it was mine. All mine.
Right down to the Nerf Wars.

Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

When you marry across cultures, there are bound to be a few differences.

Some differences are jarring at first—like my husband’s Chinese-American family openly discussing money. If you’re open-minded, however, you can learn to embrace coupons and brag about how much money you saved.

Other differences seem insurmountable, especially when much vaunted Western autonomy clashes with Asian filial piety. That’s when it’s important to distance yourself from the issue. I found that 3,000 miles proved effective. Mostly.

But every so often, a practice from another culture makes you say, “That’s brilliant! Why don’t we do that?!”

Like shoes.

*****

Most Asian-Americans don’t wear shoes in the house (no matter what you saw in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). Multicultural blogger Mabel Kwong has a great post on all the reasons why.

My husband grew up in Hawaii, leaving his shoes outside. I grew up on the East Coast, where the only shoes I took off before coming inside were snow boots. (In rural area with lots of winter snow and spring muck, some North American homes have “mud rooms” for outdoor shoes.)

When I moved into my husband’s townhouse, I left my shoes in the front hallway and never looked back. Sometimes my white guests looked at me askance when I told them to take of their shoes. One even commented, “No shoes? Weird.”

I said, “Dude. Weird is allowing people to track all the dirt on their shoes all over your house. As Vacuumer-in-Chief, I endorse the no-shoe rule!”

When we moved into our little house, there wasn’t a convenient indoor space for shoes. We left shoes on the porch by the welcome mat or at our backdoor.

The first things to make me reconsider the no-shoe rule were our rescue dogs. When ninety-pound Woofie stepped on my bare foot, it HURT. Because the giant goofball neither knew (nor cared!) where his massive paws were, Woofie crushed my toes daily. Even seventy-pound Fey, who was far more considerate with her comparatively dainty paws, could draw blood if she made a misstep, thanks to her strong shar-pei claws. Furry leather slippers with suede exteriorI finally bought super sturdy (super expensive!) slippers and wore those even through the hottest summer.

Problem solved.

Then my old, white neighbors very considerately warned me that thieves in California targeted houses with shoes outside the house. Apparently Asian-Americans have a reputation (at least among thieves) for keeping a lot of cash in the house. I pooh-poohed this claim—until some would-be burglars tried to get by Fey the Fierce. (Spoiler alert: Fey was having none of it.) After the attempt, however, I found the perfect welcome mat/ warning sign to surround with shoes:

Welcome mat reading: "We like big mutts and we cannot lie" with silhouette of large dog.

No one has tried to break in since.

My child and his non-Asian friends, running in, out, and around the house with Nerf weaponry, often neglected to put on or take off their shoes. (The heat of battle has that effect.)  Many times I’d have to remind them that “no shoes in the house” was useless if they ran around in socks outside and then wore those same dirty, debris-covered socks inside.

Baby D, impatient child that he is, hated having to take the time to remove his sneakers when he had to go back inside for a single forgotten item. But as the Vacuumer-in-Chief refused to relax her no-shoe policy, he adapted. He skirted the no-shoe rule by hopping back into the house on one unshod foot—while holding his still-sneakered foot up high. The kid would hop through the entire house at least 3 times a week, hunting for his backpack or water bottle.

More than one coach has commented on Baby D’s extraordinary balance and leg strength. Credit the no-shoe policy. (You’d think the kid would eventually learn to do a mental checklist before going outside and putting on his shoes, but YOU’D BE WRONG.)

There’s one final issue with leaving shoes outside: critters. While SoCal lacks the over-abundance of insect life that characterizes the East Coast, we do have crickets, brown and black widow spiders, and lizards. I always warned Baby D to shake out his shoes before putting them on.

Lizard inside an athletic shoe
Lizard in my shoe. Not an uncommon occurrence at our house.

Unfortunately, the kid has to do things the hard way. Baby D returned from soccer practice last week indignant. “Mom! When I got to the field and put my foot in my cleat, there was a lump! So I reached in and grabbed it and it was a lizard!”

“Guess you won’t forget to shake out your cleats before you put them in your soccer bag again, will you?”

Baby D glared and said, “No, because I’m keeping them in my bag from now on! Inside the house!

And so it came to pass that the Vacuumer-in-Chief granted a special dispensation allowing soccer cleats in the house.

Because next time, it might not be a lizard.

Black widow spider
Black widow found in my watering can.

Consider the Dachshund (#315)

Comedian Sarah Cooper started a funny dog thread on Twitter with this tweet:

https://twitter.com/sarahcpr/status/1350622446848770049

Thousands of replies told Sarah all about dachshunds. About how they were bred to be small enough to fit into badger holes, but aggressive enough to drag badgers out of them. About how neighborhood and household dachshunds terrorized all other dogs.

Twitter, which never agrees on anything, agreed that dachshunds are assholes.

Even dog breeding groups, which put the best possible spin on all purebreds, concede that dachshunds are “more likely to be aggressive towards both people and dogs,” although the they do not specify more likely than what.

More likely than ANYTHING would be my guess.

My father had a dachshund. When two German shepherds tried to invade their yard, twenty-pound Ziggy Star Dachs attacked them. The German Shepherds fled, tails tucked between their legs.

So when Andy and I packed up our two big rescue dogs and went off to visit Dad, I had concerns. Not about Woofie; he could convince any dog to play with him.

Fey (orange) and Woofie (dark brown).

But Fey? Fey grew up starving on the mean streets of Los Angeles. While she was obedient for humans and would never start a fight, she’d sure as hell finish it–usually by biting an attacking dog’s ear with her sharp, almost serrated teeth.

Fortunately, Fey ignored well-behaved dogs. Most dogs ignored her right back.

But Ziggy Star Dachs wasn’t most dogs. Like many small dogs, Ziggy wasn’t well-trained. Or even remotely trained. Which is often typical for smaller breeds. If a small dog misbehaves, the owners simply scoop up the dog, removing him from any problem situation. When Ziggy tried to run off with the butter dish, all Dad had to do was take three steps and grab him.

With big dogs, training is crucial. I spent months training Fey and Woofie to “stay” and “come” when called (because if they decided to run, not even Usain Bolt could’ve caught them). I taught them “leave it” because I didn’t want to be dragged every time they spotted a squirrel, an aggressive Yorkie, or a fast food wrapper.

When we arrived at Dad’s, I had Fey and Woofie sit nicely for their introduction to Ziggy.

Ziggy charged ninety-pound Woofie immediately.  Woofie responded with a play bow, and followed up with a pounce. Ziggy darted under a table. Woofie bowed again and whined. Ziggy charged. Woofie danced back, then pounced again. Ziggy scooted under a different table. Woofie loved this new and awesome game.

Fey sat at my side and watched until the male dogs were tired. Dad brought out chewy treats to keep the canines occupied while the humans chatted.

Ziggy wasn’t content with his chewy. Bit by bit, the little dog scooted our way. Which would have been fine if Ziggy was after Woofie’s chewy. Woofie would have happily played chewy tug-o-war with for hours. But Ziggy had designs on Fey’s chewy. When he got within 2 feet, Fey raised her head and growled.

“Leave it,” I told her. She went back to her chewy.

Dad picked up Ziggy and put the dachshund on the other side of the room with his own chewy. Ziggy inched back toward Fey. Dad put Ziggy back on the other side of the room. Ziggy again began his inexorable crawl toward inevitable conflict.

Dad put Ziggy on a leash and gave him a new chewy. Ziggy ignored it, moving as close to Fey as the leash allowed. (Meanwhile, Woofie ate all Ziggy’s untended chewies.)

Dad kept the relentless Ziggy leashed until I took all the dogs outside for a potty break.

Outside, the dogs had a blast in the Utah snow. Woofie’s giant paws gave him enough traction that he could finally out-corner Fey. She chased after him, determined to take him down. Ziggy manfully ran after both large dogs, barking—only to dive into snow drifts when they changed direction and galloped at him.

While little Ziggy labored mightily to get back to the patio, I took advantage of his absence to feed Fey and Woofie their dinner. Woofie finished in seconds and took off again. Instead of playing with Woofie, Ziggy zeroed in on Fey.

“I wouldn’t,” I warned him. “Sit.”

Ziggy didn’t sit, of course. He continued stalking Fey. I stepped in front of him. Ziggy tried to scramble over my boots.

Fey turned toward Ziggy. Slowly, silently, she pulled back her jowls and bared her teeth.

Ziggy stopped. Fey returned to her food.

“Well,” I told Ziggy, “at least you’re not a complete idiot.”

Wrong. Ziggy zipped around me, heading straight for Fey.

Fey spun, snarled, and snapped her jaws a foot from Ziggy’s nose.

Ziggy dropped.

He rolled onto his back.

And then he peed himself.

Turns out there is an animal that can out-aggressive a dachshund.

The Los Angeles Ghetto Elk eating her dinner.

You’d think Ziggy would have learned his lesson.
Instead, he spent the entire weekend trying to steal chews and food from Fey. Because dachshunds.

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)

New Cat (#278)

When my husband mellowed on the subject of a new cat, I contacted the group that had rescued our dog Fey from the streets of Los Angeles.

“We have a big dog who tries to play with everyone and everything,” I explained. “We mostly trained him out of chasing our old cats, but Woofie’s not totally reliable. Do you have a cat that’s okay with dogs?”

The volunteer said, “Oh, do we have a cat for you!” Continue reading New Cat (#278)

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)

Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

Continue reading Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

A Night Schooling #(228)

When my husband and I decided to live near a school, we expected kids and traffic. We definitely got kids and traffic, twice a day for about a half-hour.

We also got a huge, empty field that our big dogs could cavort on at 6 AM on the weekends. The school was almost never locked, and no one else was up at that hour. I brought a chucker. The dogs had a blast chasing the ball, each other, and birds.

But there’s a problem with an unlocked school. Continue reading A Night Schooling #(228)

Problem Pet Owners (#213)

Some people shouldn’t have pets. Take my family. I had anywhere from 3-7 siblings when I was growing up. There’s no way a parent will notice a listless cat needs a vet visit when they don’t even know that child #2 has a chipped ankle because they’re busy bandaging the road rash of child #4, dragged an entire block by the dog they never had the time to train. Eventually, the ill-trained dog will be sent to the local doggie death center. The children will cry. The dog will be replaced by a bunny. Raccoons will eat the rabbit because it was left outside.

Welcome to the circle of life, suburban edition. Continue reading Problem Pet Owners (#213)

The Human Canvas (#145)

There’s a quote I keep seeing on the internet, especially on websites for gyms, tattoo parlors, and personal trainers:

“The human body is the best work of art.” — Jess C. Scott.

If this is true, my particular canvas has gone to the dogs. Literally. Continue reading The Human Canvas (#145)