Chinese Mom Envy (#7)

In which a suitable gift for a Chinese mother may never be found...
In which a suitable gift for a Chinese mother may never be found…

Three days into our trip, and I hadn’t really talked to the mother of my Chinese-American boyfriend. Sunny gave me a lei at the airport and promptly ignored me. She made sure Andy had his favorite foods, pressed Chinese herbs on him, and even insisted that he take an electric blanket back to Los Angeles, “where it is so cold.”

I gave Andy shit about that blanket until he gave it away, but at first I didn’t take offense to all the motherly attention. Sunny only saw Andy twice a year. She should be able to monopolize him for a few days. I was kind of wistful, actually. Envious. In a family with as many children as mine, you were lucky if any parental units remembered your name, let alone your favorite food. Hell, I would have settled for them remembering planned visits.

In fourth grade, I took a Trailways bus from Virginia (where my mom lived) back into D.C. (where my dad lived). My dad forgot, my mother didn’t remind him, overburdened stepmom #1 certainly wasn’t going to remind him, this was before every kid had a cell phone, and the rats in Near Northwest are freakin’ huge! I had no money and my penny-pinching older brother refused to accept at least four collect calls to my dad’s house. (Fun Fact: That brother is a VP at Bank of America now.) Luckily, while I was well over five-feet at age ten, I still played with my Polly Pocket dolls. Most people probably assumed I was an adult with special needs or a mental illness. Everyone at the station gave Polly and me a wide berth.

Don’t worry, my dad was not a total monster. He remembered me before the rats ate all the way through my suitcase.

So it was sweet to see Andy’s mom doting on him.  Until it seemed like maybe she was doting on him to avoid me.  I began to brood.  Here is my summary of Sunny and Andy bonding (and Sunny and me not bonding):

DAY ONE: We arrive. I give Sunny lotions and chocolates as bread-and-butter gifts. She thanks me nicely. No smile. Five minutes later, she gives Andy three boxes of Hawaiian chocolates to take home. (Never mind that these chocolates are actually made in Gardena, less than a half-hour from where he lives in California.) Dinner at Andy’s favorite restaurant. Went…poorly.  (See Post #4 for sordid details.) Note to self: talk less. (Note to readers: I wrote this long before HAMILTON, damn it.)

DAY TWO: Sunny and Andy hit a Chinese market and Food Lion. Meanwhile, I finish all the books I brought during their absence. Lunch at Andy’s favorite Dim Sum place. Ask Sunny about her work. She mentions a coworker Andy knows. Whole conversation in Cantonglish about people I don’t know during my battle with restaurant staff over The Fork. Sunny gives Andy electric blanket and dried Chinese mushrooms. Am not sure Andy’s suitcase will close.

DAY THREE: Woke early. Morning snack of chocolates, solely to secure successful suitcase closure. Breakfast at Andy’s favorite diner with Sunny and Jay. Ask Sunny about her childhood. Sunny tells me about Andy’s childhood, conversation devolves into “remember when.” Continues all the way home. Sunny brings out photo albums. Am much entertained by photo of an eight-year-old Andy in sombrero, scarf, and capri pants at school May Day Celebration. Sunny gives Andy all the photo albums, sees chocolate box in trash. “You eat already?” Stupidly confess guilt. Get scowled at. Was all in vain anyway. Suitcase will never close with photo albums.

DAY FOUR: Sunny gives Andy a replacement box of candy. Gives me a warning look. Flee to shower for wedding. Giving up on straight hair and securing parental approval.

 *************

The night of Day Four, I drove us back from the wedding. Andy had enjoyed the open bar a little too much to drive. He lounged in the passenger’s seat, fingering the bouquet I’d caught and hand-carved hurricane lamp I’d be awarded during the centerpiece lottery. “You won everything, honey!”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I’d trade everything in your lap to have your parents like me.”

Andy gave me a mock horrified look. “EVERYTHING?!”

“Ha, ha. Everything not attached to you, babe.”

“My parents like you.”

“Your dad won’t talk to me and your mom only smiles at you. She doesn’t even like the presents I brought her. It’s not fair. MY family likes YOU.” It’s true. Andy made them potstickers and hot & sour soup. Now they freakin’ worship him.

“My dad doesn’t talk to anyone and my mom likes you,” Andy insisted.

I didn’t believe him. Sure enough, Sunny was sitting right by the front door when we got home. Scowling. “Why you so late?!”

It was nine o’ clock. Andy only said, “Hi, Ma,” and gave her a tipsy hug.

In an effort at appeasement, I handed her the gorgeous lamp. “Here. I won the centerpiece. I don’t think it will travel home very well. Maybe you’d like it?”

Sunny set the lamp down without a word. Her eyes zeroed in on the bouquet in my other hand.

I responded to the unspoken question with, “Yeah, um, and I caught the bouquet.” I presented the bouquet to Sunny with a flourish.

Andy whispered, “No, honey!  Not the game ball!”

But Sunny finally smiled. A big, blinding smile. She giggled. And then she looked at me, smiled some more, and sighed, “Oooooh!  You gonna be next!” She carried the bouquet off to the kitchen.

The next morning, the bouquet was in a vase in the center of the table.

Sunny gave Andy an additional suitcase. And the hurricane lamp.

She gave me my own box of chocolate.  Maybe she liked me.  Maybe she just liked flowers more than lotions. Maybe it was an attempt to keep me from eating Andy’s chocolate.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Cuz the important thing is…I ate ALL chocolates.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

10 thoughts on “Chinese Mom Envy (#7)”

  1. ROFL. “Cuz I ate ALL chocolates” Brilliant! Why don’t I know you outside of this blog too, like in person? I’d have liked some chocolates too. XDDD

  2. If it makes you feel any better, my boyfriend and I are both Chinese American, and we have major trouble getting each other’s parents gifts. Also, every post makes me laugh and cringe more!

    1. Thank, Capy, for the nice comments on the laughing. And maybe the cringing, too.

      How do you guys resolve the gift issue? Did you find ANYTHING that works? Or have you given up entirely?

      A person could make a fortune on a universally acceptable gift for the Chinese MIL.

      1. We’ve come to the understanding that there is no perfect gift, yet you must continue gifting. No gift is worse than a mediocre gift. You never visit them empty-handed; that’s super taboo. I guess the closest thing to a universally acceptable gift is a box of good fruit, a canister of quality tea, or a bottle of Chinese Bai Jiu if they drink. Oh, and here’s a grain of salt to take with my experiences.

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