Man Without a Plan (#363)

My husband is good at living in the moment.

Planning? Not really his forte. Maybe this is because he lacks an internal monologue.

Sometimes I think it must be very restful in his head. He falls asleep much faster than I do. He plays on his phone in the morning and drinks coffee.

Meanwhile, I’m at my desk, writing out the day’s “To-Do” list amidst constant mental chatter:

If I can get through emails in ten minutes then the dog and I should start our walk where I can call Lawyer Sis and ask how to handle the insurance adjuster from hell and we will be back in time for me to do yoga so my back doesn’t go out again while doing laser pointer with the cat so I can wear cat out before locking cat up when the water mitigation guys arrive which will hopefully mean no more ripped curtains in the bedroom and I’ll make the kid breakfast in a to-go container because we will have no sink to do dishes and damn it, Andy still hasn’t talked to his family about Thanksgiving which I asked him about weeks ago maybe I should text his cousins myself—

As you can tell from the above monologue, it’s mostly sometimes irritating for a planner to live with a non-planner.

Andy drives the same way to the same destination every time he goes. He listens to podcasts.

I drive in silence, lest the noise interfere with the shifting efficiency flowchart in my head: If the light is red at Sepulveda, make a right and take it all the way to Maple before turning, but if it’s green, turn at Carson, unless that light is also green in which case turn at Torrance Blvd…

Andy does do a vague mental outline on projects that are important to him, like stealth building his garage gym. Or stealth landscaping half of the backyard into a vegetable garden. But the execution invariably reveals the limitations of said outline—as evinced by either a week-long trickle of supplemental Amazon boxes and/ or multiple trips to Home Depot.

Seems like, I dunno, creating a detailed list in advance might make the process more efficient?

Yet Andy doesn’t seem to mind. He sees multiple trips to Home Depot as part of the process.

I see wasted time.

The efficiency taskmaster in my head undoubtedly honed her skills when I worked as an executive assistant in Hollywood. She went into overdrive when I became a mom. Baby D hardly napped and had a ton of energy. Every day was a campaign to get household tasks done, pets cared for, a shower, and carve out scraps of personal time—all while teaching/parenting/feeding/playing with a tiny, irrational tyrant. If I got a half-hour to read or completed a workout, it was a victory.

Once Baby D went to school, I gained enough time to write again…only to lose chunks of it as Dalton’s soccer coach, school volunteer, etc. I had an agent—a white man, of course—who moaned about how long it was taking me to write the second book in a series and then asked, “What do you do all day?!”

Pretty sure I spent that day plotting his murder.

Anyway, while it’s sometimes frustrating to be a planner in the passenger seat, it’s probably not much fun to be the driver when your wife constantly offers alternate routes on long drives back from soccer games.

Or at least that’s what I figured when Andy told me to take the wheel one weekend. After checking both Google and Apple and getting us on the fastest route home, I asked, “Was I making too many suggestions?”

“You don’t make suggestions. You give orders,” Andy answered absently, scrolling through his phone. “Nah, I just wanted to check on my pension.”

Since I ‘d finally gotten into the carpool lane and we were cruising along at 70 mph, I did not slam on the brake and scream, “You have a pension?! Since WHEN?!”

I merely said, “So. You have a pension.”

Dalton called out from the backseat, “What’s a pension? Why is mom yelling?”

“It’s getting a regular paycheck after you retire,” I called back. “Usually only available to teachers, cops, and other government workers. Which your father isn’t. Which is why I never thought to ask him if he had one.”

Andy, in an Oscar-worthy performance, said, “I’m sure I told you I had a pension.”

“No, honey. You did not. How on earth do you have a pension?!”

“I got hired just before the current company merged with the old company,” Andy explained. “The current company doesn’t offer pensions, but the old company did. It was one of the reasons I took the job—a pension after 30 years. The new company had to promise to honor the old pension plan before the merger could go through.”

“So…you have a pension. All this time, and I never knew.”

I bit back all the comments I could have made about how much I’d stressed, for more than a decade, about not contributing to my 401k anymore, or how we would manage retirement.

Because, all along, the man actually had a plan.

Or at least an outline.

Guns, and Ships (#357)

I was never going to let my kid play with guns.

I hate guns. Guns make it far too easy to kill people (exhibit A: America). Yes, murder would exist without guns, but pointing and pulling a trigger is simple. Hacking someone to death with a weapon? At least a would-be killer has to work for it. And the time it takes allows potential victims the chance to fight back or escape.

My childhood playmate had no chance against a rifle. She was ten when she was murdered.

I let Baby D play with cars, trains, Legos, and stuffed animals. His screentime consisted of shows like “Thomas the Tank Engine” or “Bob the Builder” or documentaries about firefighters.

He still came home from preschool and promptly turned his Lego cars into Lego guns. He stopped using our dog Woofie’s tail as a fire hose and aimed it while making machine gun noises. When I put a stop to that, Baby D said, “Mommy, can we walk the dogs now?”

“Sure.”

“Yay! I can find some sticks and use them as guns.”

I took my worries about raising a warmonger to a therapist. She explained that most boys have a receptor site in their brain for weaponry (or something like that). Other studies show that “gun play” is important for childhood development and there is no correlation between kids playing with toy guns and criminal behavior.

Despite all the studies, parenting is the newest, least exact of all the social sciences. Parents must choose: ban weapons and risk making them even more desirable forbidden fruit or allow toy guns and risk them becoming a gateway drug to actual weaponry.

Baby D is as stubborn and contrary as children come. I opted for Nerf.

Once the ban was lifted, Baby D went wild in the toy aisle of Target with the piles of Lucky Money showered upon the Number One Son of the Number One Son. Occasionally Baby D opted for other weaponry, such as the Nerf mace (now discontinued because Nerf miscalculated and that sucker can actually do serious damage). For the most part, Baby D chose the latest firearm: zombie shotgun, six-shooter, and even the machine gun (of course there’s a Nerf machine gun). His weapons basket grew into a garage armory. The older kids on the block assigned him the role of sheriff or security when they played town, since he always had a gun. Various visiting aunts, uncles, and cousins engaged in Nerf gun shootouts for days.

I’d like to say Baby D eventually got bored with guns. Instead, he requested a bootcamp themed birthday party in first grade. Then a laser tag party with inflatable tanks all over our yard in fourth grade. He proceeded to use everything he learned from reading The Hunger Games to form short-term alliances, shoot his friends in the back, and win the “Last Man Standing” round. I didn’t know whether to be proud or horrified.

Sometimes, when no other playmate was available, I would take up Nerf arms and play with Baby D. But I think he always knew I’d rather play a board game, or pit a plushie dog/bear army against his plushie cat army.

One day, Baby D grinned mischievously and said, “Hahahaha, Mommy, you’ll be so sad if your little boy grows up to be a soldier.”

I instantly countered with, “Oh, no, Dalton. Our family goes into the NAVY.”

“We do?”

“Absolutely. Your great-grandfather served on a warship at the Battle of Midway in World War II. Your grandfather was a Navy helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War. And my big brother went to the Naval Academy before serving on submarines.”

Dalton thought about this for a few seconds and then said, “But why?”

The real answer was probably because being on a ship is safer than being Army cannon fodder.

But parenting is a long game and mothers are crafty. I leaned down and whispered:

“Bigger guns.”

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.

 

Power Trip (#340)

I didn’t plan to take the summer off from blogging. Every day, I’d think, “I’m going to write the post about rescuing the cat! Or the one about husbandly information hoarding!”

And every day something would happen. Maybe an ant invasion. Maybe non-stop emails about soccer. Maybe another volunteer organization needed something handled. With the country opening up again (sometimes in very stupid ways), I had more visitors this summer than ever.

It was also summer vacation, which meant Baby D was home. I dread summer vacation. Yes, Dalton is more independent now that he’s older, but also more argumentative about chores. About screen time. About EVERYTHING, actually. Continue reading Power Trip (#340)

Candy Dispenser (#328)

Halloween candy is tricky. If you buy a bag too early, it’s hard to resist diving into it before doling it out to trick-or-treaters. Next thing you know (or at least the next thing I know, possibly my readers have better self-control) you have to buy another bag. Wait too long to buy your candy and all that’s left is the sweet orange wax (i.e., candy corn).

My Chinese-American husband isn’t a fan of holidays or spending money. We’ve compromised on the Halloween candy: one giant bag of the good (chocolate) candy from Costco. Except that twice Andy waited too long to buy it and Costco ran out. (Costco is like that. You’d better buy that ski parka in August if you really want it.) Andy was forced to buy several smaller and more expensive bags to fill my witch’s cauldron. Since then, Andy’s always gotten the candy at least two weeks before Halloween. Continue reading Candy Dispenser (#328)

Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

I know parents who can’t wait for summer vacation.

“No more making lunches!” a mom of three rejoiced on the last day of school a few years ago.

“We’re totally sleeping in,” said the mom with twins.

Another mom chimed in with, “No nagging about homework for 2 whole months!”

There were moms who had vacations planned, or had already purchased season passes to Disneyland. They were as giddy as their kids about the end of school.

I was never one of those moms. I dreaded summer vacations. My only child NEVER slept past 6 AM. Baby D was a restless bundle of energy (and if you let it build up it would explode as destructively as possible). Continue reading Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

Post Father’s Day Post (#323)

Compared to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is pretty recent. It only exists because certain politicians got all whiny about how dads in America were bereft of recognition. Instead of self-soothing with their higher wages, or their ability to assault women with impunity, or their success despite white mediocrity, they demanded their very own holiday.

President Nixon signed Father’s Day into law in 1972. Yes, NIXON, the most corrupt U.S. President until Trump demanded Nixon hold his beer.

Mother’s Day, at best, says “thanks for all the unpaid emotional labor of child-rearing, please have this one day off.” Ironically, it often means more work for a person who is already overworked and underpaid.

Father’s Day? Father’s Day is ridiculous. We live in a damned patriarchy. Every day is Father’s Day. Continue reading Post Father’s Day Post (#323)

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. Continue reading Mother’s Day Musings (#321)

A Sunny Visit (#309)

After my father-in-law died, my Chinese-American mother-in-law hunkered down at home for more than a year. Her children flew to Hawaii to visit her. Sunny, who had once longed to travel, only left the house for shopping and walks.

Until my brother-in-law needed help with childcare. Sunny decided to bookend her months at Denny’s house in Northern California with visits to our house in Southern California (and a side trip to Vegas with her sister, of course).

Having had my fill of in-law visits, I went to New York City during the first four days of Sunny’s visit. Don’t be thinking it was filled with shows or shopping, though! I cooked, cleaned, and helped my sister adjust to having a newborn.

When I got home, practically the first thing my son did was complain about eating out.

Now, maybe you think it’s normal for husband and son to eat out when the wife is gone. If so, 1) check yourself on the gender stereotyping and 2) you must be new here. Continue reading A Sunny Visit (#309)