Sweary Mommy (#369)

It might shock some of you long-time readers to know that I did not actually swear in my youth. (Yes, I have been making up for lost time. Also, smart people are the sweariest.)

Pretentious white Anglo Saxon protestant families like my own don’t do anything that draws attention in public (très gauche!). And while my mom thought of herself as a liberated woman, she was also a recovering debutante. Losing your temper in public was unacceptable, especially if you were a girl. Swearing? Beyond the pale.

I also always had a bunch of baby siblings around. My father—master of emotional deregulation—averaged at least one profane eruption at the washing machine or vacuum cleaner a week. But if the elevator in Barbie’s Dreamhouse malfunctioned and a squeaky little soprano sang out, “Get your shit together, you goddamned sonuvabitch!” it was us tweens and teens who got smacked.

In college, my roommate was a Southern Baptist, which meant I self-censored for several more years.

Once I was in grad school and then working in the entertainment industry, I was free to indulge in all the swears. And I did. And it was fucking glorious.

And then I had a kid.

Damn it.

I mean, darn it. Or drat. Or some other very unsatisfying word.

Even though I don’t have a problem with cussing, plenty of other moms do.

Child scowling, but at least not swearing

Plus, I had a kid with the Ashbough temper who talked early. Baby D might be super popular with other kids if he shot out swear words like Nerf bullets, but he definitely wouldn’t be deemed playmate material by the moms. And my exhausting, super social child needed All The Playdates.

So I dug out phrases from my years as an English major. I borrowed words from or Baby D’s show “Thomas the Tank Engine.” I went from being “pissed” to being “cross.” When a pet misbehaved, they were dubbed a “foul beast” or a “wretched creature.” (My husband had it easier. He’d learned very bad Cantonese words when he was younger and muttered a lot of those. No one else in our house could replicate the tones.)

I don’t think I realized how much Shakespeare had permeated my son’s vocabulary until the day Baby D waved his hand imperiously and said, “Let’s away, Mother.”

There was still some swearing, but I thought I’d kept it to a minimum, either under my breath or only letting loose when the kid wasn’t around. I was proud of my sweary self.

Until the day when we were starting a long road trip and the DVR in the car stopped working. I wanted to swear, of course, as I pulled the car over. I did not.

And neither did my husband.

But as I dashed around the car and climbed into the back seat, three-year-old Baby D shook his head and said,

“Jesus fucking Christ.”

 

(Author’s Note: Just saw the post below on social media and am wondering why the hell I moderated my language for so many years.)

 

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.

East vs West: Camping Edition (#359)

Our only child was an extrovert. An extrovert with FOMO (fear of missing out). If his friends were doing an activity, Dalton had to do it. T-ball turned into Pony League. AYSO turned into club soccer. Going to the YMCA alerted Dalton to possibilities such as Jr. Lakers basketball, gymnastic class, kid yoga, and porpoise club. Porpoise club gave way to Junior Lifeguards.

There was also Cub Scouts. Dalton was all over that: “You build a miniature car! There’s races! And there’s a camping! And you get to spend the night on a Navy ship! Mom, please we have to join!”

“Sure thing, buddy,” I agreed. Visions of a night alone in the house danced in my chronically sleep deprived brain. “Seems like an excellent program with lots of father-son time!”

“Wait, what?” asked my husband, who hadn’t been paying attention.

“Yay!” yelled Dalton. “Camping!”

“Camping with Dad,” I corrected. “Poor mother will have to stay home with the pets.”

Andy reluctantly got a tent and sleeping bags. He also got air mattresses. I pulled out some old camping plates, tin cups, utensils, and a battery-operated light/ radio. Andy eyed my stash and said accusingly, “You’ve been camping before.”

“Haven’t you?”

Andy laughed and said, “No one goes camping when you grow up in Hawaii. It’s like road trips.”

“I saw campgrounds when we were in Hawaii.”

“Those are for tourists.”

“I bet other people in Hawaii went camping.”

“White people, probably. Everyone else is like, ‘I spent so much on this house, and you want me to sleep in a tent?!”

“Whereas my mom dragged us all out camping when Baby Brother was three months old.”

“Didn’t Baby Brother spend his first month in the NICU?!”

“Yep. I watched him while everyone else was setting up tents and swearing. But the wildlife programs at the ranger station were pretty cool. All about owls and how to avoid being attacked by the raccoons who got trapped in trashcans—”

“Attacked by raccoons? That’s a real camping thing?!”

“It is when they’ve been stuck in a trashcan for hours. And then in my twenties I did a kayaking trip in the San Juan Islands where we camped out every night.”

“Since you’re the one with all the experience, maybe you should—”

“Oh hell no.”

On their inaugural Cub Scout camping trip, Andy forgot the sleeping bags. He texted hopefully from the mountains: I guess we will have to come home.

I utilized the Mom Network and caught a mom before she left. She brought two extra sleeping bags.

Try to imagine Andy’s excitement.

Dalton had a fantastic time, relishing the abundance of activities and playmates.

Andy hated it. He complained about the food, the showers, the dust, the ill-behaved children, the crappy parents who ignored their ill-behaved children, and the hard ground (even with the air mattress).

They were home by 7 AM on Sunday morning. After a two-hour drive.

On all subsequent Cub Scout trips, they were also home by 7 AM. Andy would immediately go sleep in his own bed for 5 hours.

Camping Torture only lasted about 3 years. Once Dalton got serious about soccer, practices, weekend games, and tournaments conflicted with Cub Scouts. And as Andy was quick to point out, “We’re paying too much money for club soccer to miss a single game!”

That man sold the tent and air mattresses as fast as he could.

Several years later, Dalton asked, “Hey, Dad, why don’t we go camping again?”

Andy shot Dalton a reproving look and answered:

“Son. We are HOTEL people.”

Shoutout to Mark My Words for his inspirational post about indefinitely postponing camping.

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)

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)

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. Continue reading Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

Waiting (#314)

I am not a patient person. I was the kid in the car asking “Are we there yet?” every 10 minutes. My many siblings were equally impatient. Road trips were an endless chorus of questions about how long it was to the bathroom, restaurant, and destination.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t go on many road trips.

My Chinese-American husband is patient (sadly, he grew up on Oahu, which is too small for road trips). I’m not sure if he’s naturally mellow, or if the tropical “hang loose” vibes worked on his personality the opposite way that the intense, political atmosphere of Washington, D.C. affected me.

Perhaps our different levels of patience exemplify the difference in our cultures. My Western mindset insists that I can control my destiny if I work, scheme, and worry enough. At the very least, maybe I can get someone incompetent fired if I document the crap out of his failings. But Andy doesn’t see the point; people are gonna be stupid and other people are gonna cover for them. That’s life, and you have no control over your own fate, let alone anyone else’s. Why exhaust yourself changing nothing? Continue reading Waiting (#314)