Waiting for Baby Button

April 3, 2013

The baby is due to arrive any time now. Technically, April 2nd, which was yesterday, but apparently only about 10% of babies are actually born on their due dates. The majority just pop out anytime two weeks before or two weeks after that date. Jameelah and I are just waiting. She is on maternity leave now and has started doing stuff to prepare for his arrival, such as vacuuming and dusting and removing things that could potentially be harmful to the baby—toxic cleaners and rotten foods and that DVD of Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay.

Now that we are going to be parents, everything is potentially lethal. For example, our neighbors downstairs have started smoking even more pot than usual since it became legal in Washington State. They like to do it in the bathroom and turn on their fan, which transfers all the pot smoke up to our own bathroom. Immediately I got indignant, thinking of our baby having to endure this during bath time, probably getting the munchies for breast milk, the poor kid.

I am on edge, unable to concentrate at work, waiting for the phone to ring any time now to announce that contractions are starting. It is exciting and stressful, and I am trying not to snap at people. In attempts to be supportive, they ask questions like, “Are you nervous?” or “Are you ready to be a father?” Of course I’m nervous, you fool! This is another human being we’re talking about; only an idiot wouldn’t be nervous! And am I ready? Who cares?! Whether or not I’m ready, this baby is coming and it would be uncomfortable for everyone to try to put it back inside, so stop asking me ridiculous questions!

Then I calm down, remembering that people are just trying to be helpful. The most helpful person, however, was a friend who brought me several mini bottles of alcohol. He is a father and knows what it’s like to go through this beautiful and stressful time. I tucked them into my jacket pocket.

For a father, this period can be difficult. Last week, I attended a workshop specifically for first-time dads. There were only four of us dads, and a facilitator. We were each given a fake baby and taught how to hold it, how to change it and swaddle it (babies love being in a strait-jacket hold, since they’re so used to a small space). The facilitator, Chris, had a tough-love sort of approach to his teaching.

“Make sure you have everything when you set your baby down to change,” he said, putting down his fake baby, “because when you put him down, that’s it. You can’t leave the baby alone. Never leave the baby alone!” Duh, we all thought. “As soon as you do,” he continues, “what happens?” We were afraid to say it. “That’s right,” he said, sweeping the baby doll off the table. It landed with a hollow thud on the ground. He picked it back up. “Now, some of your changing pads have harnesses. You’re going to tie your kid to this thing? What do you think will happen?” We were silent. “This!” He swept it off the table again, resulting in another sickening thud. “Your baby just fell off the table, and harnessed in, so maybe he can’t breathe either.”

I looked across the table at Tom, a sensitive biker type. He was heavily tattooed on both arms, and was yet so gentle holding his doll baby. He looked paralyzed with fear. Even though it was a doll, we all cringed every time it fell on the floor.

“Now,” continued Chris, “make sure you keep one hand on the baby at all times, and pay attention, or you might be combing baby poop out of your hair and the baby’s hair.” We learned newborns may need to be changed 10 to 18 times daily. Hearing that fact, Tom the sensitive biker sighed heavily, looking like he was going to faint. “I need a beer or a shot about now.” And I remembered something. Hey, I did have a shot of vodka in my jacket pocket! I reached inside, grabbed the tiny bottle of Absolut, thinking I would be supportive of this new father, since we were in the same boat, and I could feel his pain.

Then thought, Oh hell no, I might need this for myself.

Despite the anxiety and stress, I think I am ready for this little guy, and I hope he gets here soon. If anyone needs me, I’ll be waiting quietly in the bathroom.


Baby arriving soon. No more college-style?

March 13, 2013

funshineThe baby is now 37 weeks, which means he can arrive at any time now. Sometimes I put my hand on Jameelah’s stomach and can feel him moving around, a feeling that is both exhilarating and emotional and also very creepy. It’s like that one movie where the alien bursts out of that woman’s stomach, but instead of an alien, just replace it with one of the Care Bears. Maybe Funshine Bear.

For the past few months, we have been getting ready for this little critter. We sat through a three-hour class on breastfeeding, which detailed the horrors or nursing. For example, there is such thing as “inverted nipples.” Plus, if not regularly released, mammary glands become impacted and rock hard, resulting in horrible pain in both the mother as well as any partner who decides at that unfortunate moment to say something like, “Wow, I’m glad men don’t have to do that; I’m going to go watch Iron Chef now.”

We have also been dealing with well-meaning relatives, many of whom grew up and birthed babies in a much different era, thus they are not always up to date on the latest practices. My older sister, for example, is horrified that we are giving birth in water (Since it’s Seattle, it’ll be organic, gluten-free artisanal water poured in small batches). Of course, she grew up in Vietnam, and we certainly do not do that.

Jameelah’s grandmother, meanwhile, is also concerned. Nanna is a wonderful person who now has four grandkids, all mixed. This will be her first great-grandchild. She’s been concerned that Jameelah is turning “too Vietnamese” and our baby might be too. When told that we would be having the birth in water, she asked if that’s the customary practice in Vietnam. That’s hilarious. If I weren’t so fond of Nanna, I’d tell her that all the children are born that way in Vietnam. We take the mother to the ocean, where the baby arrives into the world and immediately swims to catch its first fish, which we use to make a symbolic fish sauce. When people live too far from the ocean, they just give birth in a tub, but they add lemongrass and star anise to the water for that delicious pho aroma.

As the days count down, I’ve been experiencing mixed emotions. Definitely strongest is this excitement about meeting the baby for the first time and holding him and singing him to sleep with a soothing lullaby rendition of No Diggity. I also start to realize that my life will be changed forever, and that the days of doing things college-style are numbered. No more clubbing. No more inviting friends over at 11pm to watch a movie. No more staying up to 4am playing video games while eating Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos, which are like crunchy morsels of happiness. It is bittersweet, knowing that I am getting older and that the things that make me happy may change. I must become more responsible now, since it is no longer just my life that I must look out for. I must become a better person.

But then I think, Oh helllllll no, as much as I love this baby and will do what’s best for him, I am not going to give up on everything that I love for his sake. What sort of message will that teach him, that once you’re a parent, your life is over? The key is balance. I’ve started lining up babysitters so that Jameelah and I can still go out from time to time. Friends can still come over; we’ll just need to move our booze to a higher location. We will find family-friendly bars. We are not going to be parents whose lives revolve around their kids, chauffeuring them around to karate and soccer games. We will provide love, lots of it, but I am not giving up my favorite TV shows.

I know, I am not a father yet, so I have little experience in how babies change people’s lives. But still, this kid is my son, and I have a responsibility as his father to teach him what I think is important for his happiness. “Huy Jr.,” I would say, “there is much awfulness in this world, but also so much joy and kindness and humor. Even when you have your own kid, give up on some, but never all, of the things that make you happy…Now, Nanna is coming to pick you up for the weekend, so go rub some lemongrass on your face.”


Eating the placenta, and other fun things to do in Seattle

February 18, 2013

butterflyJameelah and I are now on week seven of our eight-week baby birthing course. Each week that passes by is a week closer to the birth of our little one, which is awesome for two reasons. First, I can’t wait to meet him and hold him and show him off when he’s cute enough (newborns are usually not attractive the first two months, when they have conical heads and look like a combination of a potato and some insect larva).

Two, in her third trimester, Jameelah has been snoring with the intensity of ten, maybe twelve, helicopters. Ear plugs do not work, since the vibrations just cut right through them. I got nearly vibrated off the bed the other day. I can’t sleep. I look tired all the time. I can’t wait for the baby to be born, so that the snoring can stop and I can finally get some shut-eye.

But anyway, back to the classes. I’ve been amazed and really impressed by Seattle’s whole baby birthing thing. Jameelah plans to deliver in a birthing tub. Some women plan to give birth at home. In fact, Seattle is all about what feels natural. If you want to give birth in your back yard holding on to a tree, that would be fine. If you want your other kid in the birthing tub with you, no one is fazed. If you want a hundred monarch butterflies to be released as soon as the baby arrives, your doula can take care of it: “I ordered the monarch butterflies you wanted. They’re organic. They’re in the fridge hibernating. We just need to wake them up when you’re about eight centimeters dilated.”

For the past few weeks, we guys have been game, learning all sorts of stuff and trying very hard to be mature. We calmly ask intelligent questions like “How big exactly is eight centimeters? Is that bigger or smaller than a personal watermelon?” and “How much alcohol can the father take during the birthing before it’s considered insensitive?”

However, this last session, we couldn’t hold our composure. Someone asked about eating the placenta. “My friend froze hers, and just popped it on the grill.” We guys looked at each other, not knowing what to say. The women were discussing this as if they were talking about whether to use cloth or disposable diapers: “Almost all mammals eat their placentas, and when else are you going to create a life-sustaining organ? Why waste it?” The guys exchanged glances some more, trying to be mature and open minded and not scared.

“The reason why some women are eating their placentas,” said our instructor, and at that point, we guys couldn’t hold it in any further. We were nearly on the floor, laughing so hard. It was hysterical how calmly she said that. “Anecdotal evidence suggests it can lessen post-partum depression,” she continued.

Of course, after learning that the hormones in the placenta may be helpful in preventing depression and thus even suicide, we all felt like jerks. Insensitive jerks. We calmed down. “Some women turn it into art,” said Jameelah, “they dry it and make it into a bracelet, for example.” The dam burst a second time. Bracelets! That’s hilarious! A change purse, someone suggested, starting another round of chuckles.

“You can also get the placenta encapsulated,” said our instructor. Encapsulation entails hiring someone to take the placenta, dry it, pulverize it into a powder, and turn it into a couple dozen pills. That doesn’t sound so gross, we decided, and if it could help the mother, why not? I didn’t want to think about what sort of machine this person would be using. A spice or coffee grinder, maybe?

After the placenta eating discussion, we learned how to swaddle a baby. Everyone had brought in a teddy bear or doll to practice on. We don’t have many stuffed animals, so we brought our penguin Pillow-Pet and learned to swaddle that. Looking down at the penguin all bundled up and resting in my arms, I had a sudden burst of fatherly joy. Soon I’ll be holding a real baby. My tiny baby son. It made me want to order some monarch butterflies.


The joys and horror of birthing babies

February 4, 2013

For the past few weeks, Jameelah and I have been attending childbirth classes, because we don’t know nothing about birthing no babies when it comes to baby birthing. These classes last 3 hours each, and there are 8 sessions. At first I was resistant. I mean, look, the human race has been giving birth for millennia. Do I really need 8 weeks of training for something so natural? Especially when it is smack in the middle of new episodes of Arrow? But after much consideration for my wife and unborn son…I was still resistant.

But as I’ve stated, there is little arguing with a pregnant woman, so seeing her reach around for a tortilla chip or some other sharp pregnancy snack to injure me with, I acquiesced. The class is held in a midwife’s living room, a cozy place surrounded by lanterns and new-age art depicting chakras and rainbows and crap like that. There are eight other couples in the class. The women, all in maternity clothes, sat next to their partners, who looked around in a state of stunned hyper vigilance.

We have been learning all sorts of fascinating and educational stuff. And by fascinating and educational, I mean gross and horrifying. At first, it wasn’t so bad. Our instructor threw around horrible sounding concepts like “bloody show” and “mucus plug” and “meconium.” Luckily there was also a plush placenta, which was soft and looked snuggly. We had to learn breathing techniques and how to massage our partners during contractions, which I am imagining as bouts of the baby running a jackhammer inside the uterus in an attempt to break free.

“All right,” said our instructor, “now using downward motions, rub your partner’s back, melding with her rhythm…excellent. Now move on to her feet and massage them as she breathes.” We learned several different techniques, and my arms got tired. “So when do we reciprocate?” I asked, “between contractions? Because this is not fair that only she gets a massage.” The guys nodded in agreement, but the instructor was obviously sexist and only wanted to focus on the comfort of the women.

By session two, we had gotten the breathing and massages down pretty well, and I was feeling confident. “Bring on the bloody show,” I was thinking, which I immediately regretted. They put on a video. We guys could feel something was happening and instinctively covered our groins. I remember watching one of these videos in 8th grade health class. It was traumatizing and for a month the boys and girls stayed away from each other. Much older now, I thought I could handle a simple video of the beautiful miracle that is life.

It was awful. The miracle of life is horrifying. It was like witnessing a hole opening in the fabric of time and space, and some alien creature emerging from a different dimension. The baby’s head was huge and chalky white, and the woman looked like she was in unbelievable pain. I know pain; I stubbed my toe on a couch leg once. The baby’s shoulders and the rest of him came, all asbestos white, covered in goop, so, so much goop. The lights in the delivery room started flickering, objects started levitating into the air, and a priest held up a cross and screamed “Back! Back to the abyss from whence ye spawned!”

OK, I might have exaggerated that part a little. But then, just when you thought it was over, the placenta came! The only image more horrifying than a baby being born, is the placenta. It was nothing like the snuggly plush demo placenta. It was blood red and pulsating like a slab of raw venison.

During the break after the video, we guys stood around the snack table to support one another. We looked at each other and felt a sort of bond experienced by soldiers who went through a battle together. These classes are quite an ordeal, but we fathers-to-be are learning a lot of important stuff about the baby birthing process. Mainly, that we are glad we’re not the ones doing it. And also, that we’ll be taking turns bringing hard liquor to these classes.


Lessons we should all learn from Subway

January 20, 2013

Good news, everyone. After my last column, I actually did write to Subway to complain about their stupid commercials with those idiots adults who speak with kids’ voices, commercials that have been haunting my dreams. Within one day, I got a response from a Customer Service rep:

“Hi Huy, thank you for contacting Subway® and thank you very much for your feedback regarding our advertising. Subway® has always valued our customers’ opinions and suggestions and we appreciate you taking the time to submit yours. Your concerns have been forwarded to our Marketing & PR Departments for consideration when planning future advertisements. Nalini Wilson.”

Aw, Subway is listening to my opinions. And how cute, with their little ®. Maybe, just maybe, the world will see an end to these atrocious commercials. One person can make a difference. My family is wrong! I can make a difference in the world!! I wrote back to them:

“Thanks, Nalini. It’s just such a weird image of these adults with kids’ voices, and what makes it worse is that poor Todd is being bullied by Samantha and Sally. Those women/girls should get their own Five-Dollar-Footlongs instead of stealing Todd’s sandwich.”

I have yet to hear back from them. It’s been two weeks now. WTF? Upon closer review, their email says nothing! It didn’t commit Subway to doing anything. It was just a bunch of words meant to appease and obfuscate while simultaneously allowing the customer service rep to feel like she has successfully addressed the issue without exerting much effort.

The whole incident has made me wonder how much of our everyday communications are like Subway customer rep emails. How often do we ask each other “How are you doing” and actually want to hear an honest answer? Never. In fact, while the person is saying “I’m fine,” I tend to start walking away.

We have become a society of sound bites and timeline updates. Our rare written communications are in the form of text messages; even holiday and birthday cards contain barely anything personal. Our thank-you cards, if we ever write them, are bland and generic: “Anna, thank you for having us over on Friday. It was great to see you and Jim. Happy New Year.”

We have become paradoxically more narcissistic yet less personal. For 2013, I am challenging all of us to “Make it Personal.” I don’t mean we should bare our souls to people or reveal our deepest secrets all the time. Or be whiny and self-absorbed. Making it personal is just about taking that extra step to connect to someone as a unique fellow human being. One way is to bring up memories: “Hey John, happy birthday. The porcupine on this card reminds me of the time we blah blah blah, got drunk, blah blah, broke into a zoo, got leg lacerated on some razor wire,” etc.

Another way is to show appreciation for something very specific: “Anna, thank you for having us for dinner on Friday. Thanks for making everything gluten-free also. I know bandwagon gluten-free people are very annoying; you were so kind for putting up with us.”

Life is too short of us to be superficial in our everyday communication. Next time you ask someone how they are doing, try to convey the message that you actually want to know. Take time to actually listen and connect. This can be difficult, to break out of this habit, but we must do it. Because if we continue to be superficial with one another, then we might as well all be speaking in squeaky, annoying voices, and Subway and Samantha and Sally have already won.


New Year’s Resolutions…for everyone around me

January 7, 2013

There are few things more American than making New Year’s resolutions. Each year, around this time, we individually create a list of promises in hopes of bettering ourselves and becoming more fulfilled. Then we ignore it. Three years ago, after I failed my resolution to write a book, do 50 push-ups a day, lose 10 pounds, and become the first Vegan Iron Chef, I have stopped making resolutions for myself. It just becomes frustrating to try to better yourself, then realize that you’re not better at all, and that in fact, for failing to achieve your goals, you are actually a worse person than when you started.

Instead, it is now my tradition to write a list of Resolutions for everyone else, and then try to change their behavior throughout the year. This is far more effective. This year, my resolutions are:

That person in a complicated relationship with a jerk who keeps calling people up to complain about the jerk: For 2013, you break up with this jerk and move on with your life, or you will stop talking to me about the jerk.

Gluten-free people: Seriously, only 1% of you guys have celiac disease. The rest of you are frauds. Knock it off. Yesterday, I was at a party, and this conversation took place: “We have to go, but I would love to try your mango-peach salsa. Are those corn chips gluten-free?” “I’m sure they are, since they’re just corn, salt, and water.” “Well, can I see the bag?” “Yes, here, I’ll dig it out of the trash.” My God! For 2013, gluten-free people will do some deep soul-searching and find out if they really are intolerant of gluten, or they’re just being annoying, and if they are just being annoying, they will stop it and act like human beings.

Web Designers who make slideshow galleries: Jesus! Do you have any idea how annoying it is to have to click repeatedly to get all the information on articles like “20 Things Your Waiter Doesn’t Tell You That May Cause You to Get an STD”? For 2013, just combine them all into one scrolling page.

People who owe me money: Unless I said “Pay me back whenever you can” when I loaned it to you, in 2013 you will pay me back my damn money!

The Subway sandwiches marketing team: Those commercials with the adults who speak in kids’ voices are extremely creepy. Plus, with poor Todd being bullied by his helium-voiced female co-workers, who take his sandwiches, the whole thing is repulsive and slightly misogynistic and makes me not want to buy a Subway sandwich ever again. For 2013, you will hire the E*Trade babies and make commercials with them instead. They’re so cute, and hilarious.

People who make movies where there is some sort of bomb at the end and the hero has to sacrifice himself: That is a ridiculous new cliché that has appeared in practically every new superhero movie, from Iron Man 2 to The Avengers to Batman. In 2013, knock it off with the world-ending bomb plot, or at least have the sacrifice count by making sure the superhero doesn’t re-appear completely intact.

People with really long and obvious nose hairs: It’s distracting trying to talk to you. Usually you’re a really nice person, but I can’t see that because I’m fixated on your nose. In 2013, please clip your nose hairs so I can focus on what you’re actually saying instead of fantasizing about taking a weed whacker to your face.

Millennials: In 2013, you will, just…I don’t know, stop being so whiny and “me me me.”

The whole list is much longer and includes hipsters, people who don’t return food storage containers, really horrible parents who spoil their kids, spoiled kids, coworkers who don’t wash their dishes, T-Mobile, and others. I’m going to start working on achieving these resolutions by emailing Subway. Happy New Year.


Recapturing the magic of Christmas

December 16, 2012

For the past few weeks, as I drive past houses that are decorated with Christmas lights, I feel a pervasive sense of sadness and the rapidly burgeoning weight of mortality. This is arguably the worst opening line for a humor column ever. I can’t help it. This is supposed the most wonderful time of the year, but all I can do is think of work, of stocking emergency supplies in case of a snowstorm, of how irresponsible those people are who are wasting all that money and energy to light up their house. I hope they didn’t get injured. Every year, hundreds of people suffer decoration-related injuries.

It has not always been this way. I remember how awesome the holidays were when I was a kid. Everything was magic. From the food to the songs to the possibility for snow to the joyful spirit that took hold of everyone. We had just arrived to the US, and the coldness was not something we were used to. But it was all worth it around this time, as the houses lit up and the sounds of silver bells jingling and the scents of cinnamon and peppermint wafted through the air. One day, my brothers and I found a string of Christmas lights that someone had discarded on the curb. We dragged it home, plugged it in, and it was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen.

For the next several years, the overwhelming joy we felt for Christmas was still intact, despite the fact that the family leaned Buddhist. My parents would load up us kids in their rickety station wagon and drive around the neighborhood, and we would gaze, bright-eyed, at all those houses with their breathtaking lights. We grew up on a mountain village and never expected Santa to bring presents, so Christmas day itself was not nearly as special as those drives around the neighborhood.

Inspired by all the lights, we kids would beg our parents for a tree. Mom and Dad were extremely frugal, once denying me the purchase of a pen (“Do you really need a pen for school?”). And yet, Dad somehow found a plastic tree, and I went with my mother to the dollar store, where she was all too happy to spend four or five dollars on ornaments. I remember those tiny orbs, so shiny, so fragile, reflecting the myriad multicolored lights on our tree. It was so magnificent that we kids would wake up at midnight, tip-toe into the living room, plug it in, and stare at our amazing creation. We couldn’t sleep because this tree was so awesome, especially when the rest of the house was completely dark.

Now, sadly, those memories have begun to crumble, and I can’t summon those feelings any more. Last week, I flipped through some of the family albums and found a picture of that magical Christmas tree. In the picture, it is about 3 feet tall and looks scrawny, tacky, and pathetic. This was what we kids were so sleeplessly excited about?

I am starting to realize, now that I am becoming a parent, that the childlike innocence and magic that we once experienced, if we are lucky to have experienced them, cannot last forever. Luckily, this sort of magic is unlimited and unassailable, because it exists in our perception of reality. In the mind of a child, unencumbered by the increasing stresses of life, a crappy second-hand tree, for example, is a wondrous thing. As adults, we have a duty to ensure that the next generations experience what magic is available in the world. That was what my parents did. When we drove around the neighborhood, the joy that enveloped us kids probably never reached them through the countless worries they faced, but they soldiered on.

And now I know why. We have a five-old nephew who loves Christmas lights. Each year, we drive him around the neighborhood, and the joy I find now is not in the lights themselves, but in my nephew’s perception of them. We watch as his eyes light up, and it is a different sort of magic. Still, I get a little bit jealous that he can still experience this. I have to resist the temptation to lean closer and whisper into his ear, “You know, hundreds of people get injured putting on these lights every year.”


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