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?
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.
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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.
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.”
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!
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!”
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 RSVPed—including 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.
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.
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.
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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…”
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.
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.
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?”
“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”
“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.
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?”
“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?”
“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.”
“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”
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 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,
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My amazing chef of a husband crushed the competition for years, starting with the salsa competition. Until he foolishly got tired of me micromanaging the presentation of his dishes: “My poutine does not need to in your grandmother’s cut crystal bowl! It’s fine!”
“But the flyer says you get judged on taste AND appearance.”
“I’m using the pie dish! You want to use crystal, make your own contest entry!”
I’m a baker, not a chef, but I figured out how to sneak potato flakes into a chocolate cake and won. Because everyone likes chocolate AND I put it on a pretty crystal platter.
I shook my head over Andy’s loss and opined, “It’s kind of on you, babe. If you aren’t going to modify the taste to suit the neighborhood, you gotta at least TRY to win for appearance. Those kids have never had real buttercream and some of them spat out my frosting because they expected the usual sacrilegious American mixture of powdered sugar and shortening. But my piping and display were pretty, while you tossed your wings into an aluminum pan and stuck your blue cheese dip into a takeout container. Appearance matters!”
“No one cares about how it looks, Mom,” Dalton interjected, with an eye roll.
“YOU don’t care how things look,” I shot back, with an eye roll of my own. “You don’t even comb your hair. Other people care. If it doesn’t look good, they might not even try it.”
“Good,” said Dalton. “Then it will be all for me!”
Dalton, a growing boy who was growing more ravenous as he played more soccer, now wanted ALL the food. My chocolate chip cookie recipe made about 85 cookies. 24 hours after I made those cookies, they were gone.
I stared at the empty cookie cannister and asked Andy, “How many cookies did you have, honey?”
“I had maybe five yesterday and two this morning.”
“And I had three, meaning…Dalton!” I yelled. “Get your butt in here!”
Dalton dribbled his soccer ball into the kitchen, eyes wide and innocent.
“You ate SEVENTY-FIVE cookies in twenty-four hours, young man!”
“But I couldn’t have, Mother,” Dalton answered. He lifted up his shirt and pointed to his trim midriff. “Where could they have gone? Not in this belly—look, nice and flat!”
“You’re hilarious, skinny boy. Go wash the empty container.”
I began modifying recipes in an effort to slow the child’s rate of consumption. I used whole wheat flour. I added oatmeal. I tried an orange and cranberry modification when we had oranges on our tree. I finally settled on an oatmeal, coconut, chocolate chip cookie with toffee.
It wasn’t the prettiest cookie. It was more high maintenance than my other drop cookies, since it had to be baked on parchment paper or the toffee bits would stick to the baking sheets. But Dalton couldn’t eat them all in 24 hours and he declared it his “favorite cookie.”
This year, Dalton had a soccer tournament over Labor Day weekend. We’d have no time to cook before the party started. We probably wouldn’t even get home until after the judging ended on Sunday afternoon.
I sighed and told Andy, “I guess the Ashbough-Wong winning streak is finally over.”
He shrugged and said, “It’s really too hot to cook anyway.”
Even at the coast, it was close to 100 degrees. On the turf soccer field? 110 degrees. (The players were dumping ice on each other when subbed out.)
Saturday evening, the cooking competition hostess texted the neighborhood: It’ll be 100 degrees tomorrow at noon. Should we move the party to tomorrow evening or Monday?
I texted back immediately: Monday! We can definitely make it on Monday!
The neighborhood voted for Sunday at 5 PM.
“The fix is in,” Andy joked on our drive home.
“I can make something, but it doesn’t give me enough time to make the golden butter cake with the diced almonds and raspberry buttercream frosting,” I fretted. “What pretty dessert can I make in two hours or less? With ground, diced, or minced ingredients?”
“Cookies!” yelled Dalton from the backseat.
“But they aren’t pretty. And they don’t have ground, diced or minced—wait. I do use the stone-ground wheat flour…”
I made “D-Fav” cookies.
Andy threw together spicy Thai tofu. We made it to the party with fifteen minutes to spare.
This year, there were more kids at the party than food dishes. Families would bring one entry…and three children. Our hostess was thrilled to see my enormous platter of cookies.
“Thank goodness,” she exclaimed. “So far there is only the one apple-bread-cake thing and some lemon bars on the dessert table.”
Andy’s tofu was competing against Persian kebabs, homemade naan, smoked pork belly, meatballs, caprese salad (with no ground anything that I could see), shrimp ceviche, a chicken dish with shredded carrots, and various other forgettable dishes.
I liked Andy’s dish the best, but he wasn’t optimistic. “It’s tofu. Nobody votes for tofu.”
“Well, at least you brought something. I don’t think there’s enough food.”
Sure enough, almost every serving dish was empty by the end of the judging—including my massive platter (much to Dalton’s dismay).
The teens tallied up the votes and handed the results to the hostess.
She announced, “In the savory category, pork belly wins for taste and the kebabs win for appearance!”
“Told you,” Andy whispered as folks cheered. “It’s meat for this crowd.”
“And for the sweet category,” the hostess continued, “the winner for taste is the D-Fav cookies, and the winner for appearance is—wait a minute. Kids, I told you the same dish can’t win in both categories!”
The teens gave the hostess blank stares. One youngster muttered, “But the cookies won both categories. And they were the best.”
The kid’s mom gave her an elbow in the ribs and said, “You should know, you ate ten of them.”
To the teens, a lumpy appearance didn’t matter. Neither did arbitrary adult rules.
The kids are all right.
But the hostess still wouldn’t give me two prizes.
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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.
Andy enjoyed the novelty for a few years. But after we moved to a smaller house with hardly any storage space, he began grumbling over my six boxes of holiday decorations. The cost of our first Noble Fir sent him into sticker shock.
And when I pointed out how all the pepper trees around our house would be perfect for a white light display like this?
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)
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When Dalton was in first grade, he was assigned to Miss Queen. She was old, she was white, and she was known for being “strict.”
“But what does that mean?” I asked a Korean American mom who also had a son in the class.
“My daughter had her, she’s a great teacher,” she assured me. “Dalton will learn so much.”
A mom on my block told me the same thing. “Some parents can’t hack it. We started out with nearly thirty kids in the class, and by the end of the school year there were only twelve. But my son needed that structure.”