my better-late-than-never entry into the “what _____ think I do” meme–for SAHDs

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an end and a beginning (hopefully)

For another forty minutes or so, it is still November 30, 2011, and thus the last day of NaBloPoMo and my little experiment to try to get myself blogging more and into the habit of daily writing practice. Including this post, I wrote and posted on 28 of the thirty days of November (one missed day due to technical difficulties, one due to tiredness making me totally forget about it). I only copped out with one “wordless” post, and looking back at my output, I’d say that there were only a couple egregiously craptastic examples of my stream of consciousness dribbling into nonexistence. All in all, I am pleased.

This was all about pushing myself past my usual walls: my aversion to keeping up daily habits; my tendency to choose sleep over writing; my propensity to not write unless I have a definite topic in mind on which to hold forth in essay-ish fashion; and my directly inverse inclination to seize upon a timely subject and then let time pass by with nothing written because of any combination of laziness and perfectionism and fear until I convince myself that it’s too late and thus excuse myself for not writing. I think I’ve attacked each of these over the past month—my output, my tired-to-the-point-of-hurting eyes, and my wife, with whom I have rarely gone to bed at the same time, can attest to that. Again, I am happy.

Now, of course, is the hard part. So I met this little artificial challenge, so what? Am I gonna keep writing daily, now that I have no self-imposed time-limited obligation over my head? It’s far too easy for me to say yes, and it’s far too easy for me to do the opposite. I know, because it’s happened before. So let’s just say this. I will try to write as often as I can, more than I did before. I will try to write even when I don’t know what I’m going to write about when I sit down at the keyboard. I will try to write even when part of me says that I need to “think about it more” or that it’s too late, the topic’s past or the moment’s gone.

Scratch the “try.”

I will write.

And if I don’t—if this blog goes on hiatus for unseemly amounts of time for no good reason—the handful of you reading this, you call me on it. Don’t say, “How’s that writing thing going?” or “Are you still blogging?” Say, “Hey, lazyass, you said you were gonna write, so write!”

I might not appreciate it when you say it (and notice I’m going with the worst-case scenario of “when,” not “if”), but I’ll need it. And thank you, in advance.

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giving and receiving

It’s less than a month until Christmas, and that means, of course, that I need to get my gift-giving ass in gear. I still haven’t even made out our list of who needs to be given stuff and what yet, so I’m feeling a little behind. But I’m not too worried. I think that, overall, I’m a pretty good gift-giver. It’s how I was raised.

My parents, my dad especially, like to give presents and celebrate occasions and holidays. I was taught to give greeting cards to close relatives on holidays from Valentine’s Day to Halloween. My my mom would give both me and my dad presents on Japanese Boy’s Day, and my dad would give her a gift on Japanese Girl’s Day. [I still get a card, if not a present, from them on Boy’s Day, though I’m way past boy—this past year was an awesome origami Starship Enterprise made out of a dollar bill—and now my girls are happy to get presents from Grandma and Grandpa on Girl’s Day.] And I’m still scarred for life from the time my dad thought it would be hilarious to give my mom and me presents on April Fool’s Day and have me open the gift meant for my mother—lingerie. Yeah.

Anyway, I enjoy giving my loved ones presents, thinking about what they’d like that they might not have thought of themselves, or finding that special match, or just giving them something they’ve wanted but haven’t gotten for themselves. Sure, I’ve given my share of mismatches or duds, but that’s just how it is. It all evens out in the end.

But receiving, that’s another story. I supposed one might call me “difficult to shop for.” And the main reason is that I don’t really like to say, directly, what I want, especially when asked, directly, what I want. It just feels weird to me, somehow, even thoughI know that those asking really want to know so they can get me something I’ll like. Sometimes, I’ll give titles of books and CDs I want, that’s easy. But it’s the higher ticket items, or the “special” presents, that I sometimes balk at specifying. [And I can hear my dad laughing and pointing out that I had no trouble telling him when we “needed” a new stereo or DVD player or TV or even car—but somehow my strange mind categorizes things for family differently than things for just me.]

When the iPod first came out, and I was asked if I wanted one, I balked, demurred, said no, I didn’t need one, didn’t want one. If they really wanted to give me one, they could just give me a generic MP3 player, that was fine. And then when I finally admitted that it wasn’t enough and needed to upgrade, I said, still balking at asking for more, that an iPod Shuffle was fine. Even though they were asking, they were wanting and willing to give me the more expensive and state-of-the-art item. [And writing this I feel even more ridiculous, all #firstworldproblems, LOL.] Finally, I said yes, I would like a real iPod. The reason my wife had an iPhone for a long time before I did was, again, me saying no, really, it’s okay, I don’t need one, I don’t want one. And then, when I finally do go ahead and say, yeah, sure, give me one of those, and make it the big/top-of-the-line/most-expensive one while you’re at it, I feel like karma bites me in the ass—when my folks gave me a new computer for my birthday and asked what size monitor I wanted, I said, sure, why not, get the big one, which of course will not fit inside my desk hutch by mere eighths of an inch, but which I didn’t know until I unpacked the thing. It now sits where it always sits, just in front of the hutch.

So, if you really wanna give me a present, don’t be discouraged if you ask what I want and I say “I don’t know” or “I don’t need anything, it’s okay.” Just as I like giving, I like receiving. I just don’t like to admit it. [Heh.]

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second-child dinner-prep-time-neglect-induced tantrum syndrome

We used to talk all the time about how easy a baby The Button was, about how she never cried without a reason. Even now, strangers remark on how outgoing and happy she seems to always be. And really, for the most part, most of the time, she is. But let there be no doubt that, as her third birthday creeps closer and closer, she is most definitely a full-fledged toddler, with full-fledged toddler emotions and full-fledged toddler tantrums.

These mostly come out when she’s frustrated about something (and probably tired at the same time)—she can’t do something she wants to do, can’t decide if she wants help or doesn’t want help, something isn’t happening or doesn’t turn out the way she expects it to and can’t explain it to anyone else. It’s understandable. And so, down on the floor she’ll go, or maybe she’ll hit a chair in frustration, and she’ll cry, and scream, repeating the same syllables over and over, the pitch getting higher and higher.

And I do my best to calm her, comfort her, help her, redirect her. But sometimes, I just can’t, and it seems that, like today, her frustration-related tantrums and need for attention happen just as I’m trying to cook dinner, with my hands covered in meat or something hot needing stirring on the stove. And poor thing, she just doesn’t get my just-a-minutes. And why should she, really?

This is yet another instance in which the difference between raising a first child and a second child is underscored, the unearned inequality of treatment of the second child who did nothing to deserved such inequitable treatment. When The Pumpkin was a baby and I was at home with her, her mother wouldn’t get home until 7:30. I’d start cooking dinner between 5:30 and 6:30, and so as to occupy her while I was in the kitchen, I’d feed her in front of the t.v. Later, when I was working outside the home and la dra. changed jobs, she had both of us home to juggle dinner prep and toddler entertainment.

But things have evolved differently with The Button. With la dra. getting home around 5:30, I usually start dinner between 4:00 and 4:30. Once we get home from picking The Pumpkin up from school, the afternoon’s packed with her doing her homework and me checking and helping her. By the time she’s done and off to doing whatever she wants (mostly) independently (like today, when she read a whole Magic Tree House book in an hour in the playroom), it’s time to get cooking. I don’t turn on the t.v., which had been The Pumpkin’s dinner-prep-time babysitter, for The Button, in part because I know if I do, her big sister will just sit there too, and I don’t want that. So I turn on the stereo and let The Button dance around to Recess Monkey or Elizabeth Mitchell, and I try to get dinner on the table.

The Button’s always been very busy and independent, moving around the house without a care and finding toys and stuff with which to amuse herself. But lately, she’s been demanding more and more attention. She wants to play dress up—”Help me, Daddy!” She wants to read a book—”How about this one? Again!” And I try to give her as much attention as I can, because she deserves it, but I also want to get dinner done and not burn anything. And so I find myself telling her, “Just a minute, honey,” more than I’d like, more than I should. Saying, “What’s wrong, sweetie?” to her screeches of frustration in the next room where she’s trying to put on another costume that won’t stay put, when I know already exactly what’s wrong, that she needs help and I’m not giving it to her. And I know I sound selfish and neglectful and begrudging.

I’m an only child. I never had any experience on any side of this before. And it seems to me that the second child is made to live life around other people’s schedules and other people’s priorities, through no fault of their own, whether they like it or not. And it’s not fair. And some part of her toddler brain knows it’s not fair. And so, the crying and the screaming and the flailing.

And so I try to wash my hands and turn down the flame as fast as I can, scoop her up and help her in or out of her second or fourth layer of costume and read her the same book for the thirteenth time that afternoon. Because she’s my baby, and I’m her daddy, and along with getting the family dinner cooked and ferrying her big sister to and from school and deciphering second grade math, that’s my job.

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I’m tired.

It’s 10:30, and I just fell asleep on the floor while watching the premiere episode of Tony Bourdain’s new show, The Layover, on the DVR. La dra. knew I fell asleep because I had possession of the remote control to fast forward through commercials, and we were watching a commercial.

And while there’s nothing I’d like more than to go straight to bed, I’m here, at my computer in the dark, alone, writing something, anything, because it’s soooo close to the end of November and thus the end of this crazy-ass NaBloPoMo thing and I’m soooo close to finishing it with only two missed days. I’m so bad at keeping this kind of thing up, and so, for me to be this close to finishing so well, I need to keep going, even if all I write now is a bunch of random crap.

Visiting family, especially for the holidays, is nice, but it’s always nicer to be home. Especially after trudging through slow-moving afternoon-of-the-last-day-of-a-four-day-weekend traffic on the major north-south artery through suburbs and exurbs and rural mountainous terrain with half the driving population of California trying to get home in time to get to sleep so they can go back to school/work/their regular schedule tomorrow. Especially when both your 2-year-old and your 7-year-old, who are usually mostly happy and good, when pacified by your laptop playing a nonstop catalog of Fresh Beat Band episodes in your iTunes library, decide to freak the frak out at exactly the same time for totally different reasons while moving 2 inches at a time through the Grapevine Pass.

Yeah, good to be home. Good to be sleeping in my own bed, after three nights on the cot in my dad’s closet room. Well, it will be good, as soon as I press “publish” on this thing.

And so, I shall bid you good night, inspired by this afternoon’s long car ride’s soundtrack of both Sirius XM’s Muppet Radio and NPR’s Fresh Air Weekend interview with Jason Segel and “Muppets” co-writer, with the eternal question:

Are you a man or are you a Muppet?

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on the town

For the second time this NaBloPoMo month, I missed a post, and again it was while we were staying overnight at my parents’. Last night, I was so tired that I went to bed early (10:30), before my parents even, and totally forgot about posted. Didn’t even cross my mind, once we got home from our date afternoon/evening.

Yesterday, thanks to my parents’ watching the girls, la dra. and I got to enjoy a kid-free date night (that didn’t involve a larger organized event) in I don’t know how long. We got to be spontaneous (where we usually plan things out), and we got to go back to our old neighbhorhood, where we lived 9 years ago, before Bakersfield, before kids. It was, in a word, nice. Very nice.

We knew that, after meeting our dear friends from Bakersfield at Elite for a dim sum brunch in Monterey Park and stopping at our friend’s family’s landscape statuary business, Rosemead Gardens, for something for our relatively recently redone backyard, we needed to go to the optical department at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center for la dra. to order a new pair of glasses. My parents were already watching the girls—why not extend our outing?

La dra. did her her residency in family medicine at Kaiser Sunset (where also, coincidentally, I was born), and we spent those three years between Providence and Bakersfield living in a small one-bedroom apartment a mid-century fourplex in the nearby Los Feliz neighborhood. We loved exploring our neighborhood, and those on its borders—East Hollywood, Little Armenia, Thai Town, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater Village—its odd little shops and galleries, its coffeeshops and restaurants both upscale and lowbrow, walking its hilly, winding residential streets past very expensive Spanish Revival mansions and mid-century architectural masterpieces and middle- and working-class hodgepodges of Spanish/Mediterranean/Tudor/Craftsman duplexes and cottages. We dreamed of buying a home there, of returning after la dra. finished her med school scholarship repayment service.

Obviously, that never happened. But for an afternoon, we got to stroll, sans children, hand-in-hand through our old neighborhood, walking up and down blocks of charming, small old homes and multiplexes, looking in the windows of shop we’re too unhip to shop in, reliving, in a way, those old days. We walked from the new, gleaming Kaiser Hospital, started while la dra. was finishing her residency, to the vintage Egyptian-themed Vista Theatre to watch The Descendants at a very full holiday Friday afternoon matinee. After, we walked to the Los Feliz branch of Umami Burger, a chain started after we’d moved away, for a nice dinner of gourmet burgers in a space we once frequented often when it was home to the quirky and much-missed Hillmont steak house. We then drove closer to our old apartment, just blocks away, actually, to have too much cake and an artisanal cocktail for a nightcap on the heatlamp-strewn patio of Alcove Cafe and Bakery, which we would’ve been regulars at if it had opened before we moved. [It amuses me that Alcove, in a building which had been occupied by a real estate agent’s office when we lived there, is across the street from a Scientology center that had been another real estate agency and next to that is a Chabad center in what had been an upscale restaurant.]

We were still home around nine, the girls already bathed and put to bed by my parents, and we went to be at 10:30. Party animals and night owls we are not, but then again, we never were. But for one afternoon and evening, we got to relive a little bit of our past, and it was nice. We always mean to have regular date nights, as “everybody” always says how important they are for a good marriage and a good relationship. Life, of course, gets in the way of the best intentions. But after last night, I know that I’m going to make a better effort to make more time for us to be us, together.

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I debated whether or not to write about this. This morning, thinking about what I’d write tonight at my parents’ computer after the girls went to sleep in my childhood bedroom, I figured I’d muse about how different it was to stay overnight with my own children in the house in which I grew up [including me sleeping on a cot in my dad’s spare room-slash-closet while la dra. shares the sleeper sofa that replaced the futon that replaced my old twin bed in my old room with our daughters]. This is not that post.

My family is not a large one. I am an only child. My mom has two siblings, and they have a total of four kids combined. My dad has one brother, and he has two kids and two step-kids. All of my first cousins are years younger than me, some decades. For a variety of reasons, the age gap being a big one, I am not as close to my cousins as I’d like. Holidays had always been a time for both sides of the family to gather at our home to share a meal and reconnect with each other. Throughout the years, there have been times when another family member would want to host, or one branch of the extended family or another opted out to do its own thing elsewhere, for whatever reason. But overall, holiday dinners at our house were a reliable constant. My dad would cook a roast or do his dad’s patented 2-hour-high-heat turkey and a bunch of traditional sides, someone would bring a dessert or two, and we’d spend the hour before dinner hanging out in the living room eating chips and slicing bits of cheese off a big block and and sticking black olives on our fingers. Relationships may never have been perfect and tensions may have been simmering under the surface and we may have been happy, at the moment, when everyone finally went home, but we were together. Food and family.

In recent years, our gatherings have gotten smaller. Families with kids starting their own traditions or getting together with other parts of their families, illness, work, a myriad of personal problems that would keep them from our table. Tonight, it was to be only my parents, the four of us, my dad’s mother, and my wife’s parents. But our table was brightened by the unexpected addition of one of my little cousins, now not so little anymore and a full-fledged adult, and her partner, who we hadn’t yet been able to meet.

Her family wasn’t joining ours this year, as they were celebrating with another side-by-marriage. For a whole convoluted history of reasons that I won’t go into here, she and her partner wouldn’t be attending that family event, and, not wanting to spend the holiday alone, she called to see if she’d be welcome here. A two-hour bus-and-subway ride later, they were here. We hadn’t seen her in a very long time (though we talk more now via social media than we ever did before)—in fact, I don’t think I’d seen her in person since long before she came out to me, sometime in the past year or so. Besides us meeting her partner for the first time, this was the first time our grandmother would be meeting her partner.

Except her partner was to be called her “friend” and her “roommate.” I don’t even know if my grandmother knew, before tonight, that she had a roommate, that she existed at all. Some parts of our family are very good at not saying things, at practicing omission as a survival skill. I should know—I’ve been one of them. Race, mental health, sexuality—these are all flashpoints that are better left ignored. And if some family members’ attitudes are less than progressive, well, you know, that’s just how they were raised, they’re products of their times, it’s better to just not say anything. Right?

I don’t know. I’ve played trouble-maker and I’ve played bystander. I can understand the need for truth and debate as much as the need for equanimity and a semblance of normalcy, even if that’s just what it is, a semblance. I’m not advocating picking fights at family get-togethers. And yet… And yet.

I look to the day when my cousin and, perhaps one day, my cousin-in-law don’t have to pretend by omission at a family gathering in order not to ruffle feathers or upset someone. I know that just by writing this, even being as vague as I am, I’m going to upset some people, make some folks think that this isn’t my business or that I don’t know what I’m talking about. [My name—our name—is on this blog, after all.] To watch how happy my cousin was, to be here, with family, tonight, to see how much she’s grown, to watch her and her partner play with my girls—I am thankful for that. And I am thankful, and hopeful, that my girls will imbibe, over time, the most important lesson of these gatherings—that family is family, no matter our disagreements or differences (and there will be disagreements and differences, that’s part of family too), and all are welcome at our table.

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