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!
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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