Oh, Boy (#232)

My Chinese-American husband grew up to be a successful engineer with two advanced degrees — and a disappointment to his parents. If he got a 4.0, his father Jay would grunt and his mother Sunny would mention a cousin graduating with honors. When Andy got a job at large company, Sunny told him that a government job would be more secure and have better benefits. When he started running and working out, Sunny praised his other cousin for losing twenty pounds. When Andy brought home a video of his awarding-winning dance routine with his girlfriend/ dance partner, his father Jay shook his head and said, “Oh, she’s pretty. You’ll have a hard time hanging onto her.”

When we did get married (cuz that pretty dance partner was me), his parents threatened to disown their son over the wedding location, the invitations, and hyphenating our last names. When we opted not to have children right away, Jay made angry, weekly phone calls that consisted of yelling, “Where’s my grandson?!” and then hanging up. For years, Andy was subjected to sigh-laden conversations about how his “obedient sister” presented his parents with a granddaughter nine months after getting married. (In vain did I argue that this surprise niece was clearly a sign that both doctor parents should have flunked out of medical school.)

When we did decide to have a child – after many years and much negotiation – I didn’t want to tell Andy’s parents until we knew if Baby D was a boy or a girl. The last thing I wanted was for Jay to get his hopes up for a boy and then vent his sexist resentment on a granddaughter. But Andy was unable to keep a secret, and Jay started thinking up Chinese middle names immediately – long before we knew the baby’s sex.

Our baby did his best to hide from the ultrasound specialist, but we learned it was a boy at seventeen weeks. Andy had wanted a girl, but adapted to having a boy immediately.

I did not. I cried the whole way home.

Andy, bewildered, said, “I don’t get it. You’ve been saying forever that Baby D was a boy. Why are you upset?”

“Because this means I’ll never have a girl. All the stuff it took me forever to learn, I won’t be able to pass on. She won’t carry on the fight against the Patriarchy! Now I have a boy and he’ll be the Patriarchy! Wahhhhh!”

“Um. Pretty sure no boy raised by you will ever be the Patriarchy. You’ll teach him to clean, I’ll teach him to cook, and if he ever calls a girl ‘bossy’ or tells her to hush, you’ll…you’ll…”

“Come down on him like a ton of bricks,” I finished, and immediately felt guilty for being disloyal to my future feminist son by wishing he was a daughter. How was I any different from my father-in-law, favoring one sex over another? I sifted through my sorrow, sniffed, and told Andy, “I think it’s because I know we’re only having one kid. Either way, there’s a loss in knowing you’ll never get to experience raising the gender you didn’t have.”

Andy looked slightly less bewildered. Slightly. “You mean you’d be sad if it was a girl, too? Because then you wouldn’t have a son?”

“Exactly!” I agreed, and cried some more.

Andy patted my leg and wisely said nothing.

As soon as we were home, he called his parents. Of course I listened in.

Andy: “Ma? Get Dad on the phone, too.”

Sunny: “Why? What’s wrong?”

Andy: “Nothing’s wrong. Just get Dad.”

Sunny: “Then why you need to speak to both of us?”

Andy: “Can you just get Dad? Please?”

Sunny: “Is it about the baby?”

Andy: “Maybe. Just get Dad.”

Sunny: “Is everything okay with the baby?”

Andy: “It’s fine, Ma. Just get Dad.”

Sunny: “Okay, okay, Jay! Hurry up! Andy wants to speak with you!” A flurry of Cantonese followed, with Jay questioning the need to hurry and Sunny  haranguing him to get his butt to the phone.

Jay: “What?”

Andy: “We found out the baby’s sex today, Dad.”

Jay: “What? Is it a boy or a girl?”

Andy: “Guess, Dad. Guess!”

Jay was silent for a moment. Then he sighed, exhaling a lifetime of disappointment and five thousand years of Chinese fatalism: “It’s a girl.”

Andy shouted, “NO! You’re wrong, Dad! It’s A BOY! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!”

Jay couldn’t speak.

Sunny yelled, “It’s a boy?! Are you sure?!”

Andy laughed again. “Absolutely, Ma.”

“How do you know, they can’t always tell so early!”

“He was playing with his penis, Ma!”

Sunny laughed delightedly. “Hamsup! My grandson is hamsup already! Hahaha!” (Note to white people: hamsup is the Cantonese word for “randy” or über masculine.)

Jay whispered, “Boy. A boy.” His voice trailed off while Sunny told Andy how now she knew how her own mother felt when Sunny had Andy.

Andy asked, “Ma? Is Dad okay?”

Sunny: “Oh, Daddy’s fine. He’s just walking around the house saying, ‘Oh, boy! A boy! Oh, boy! A boy!’ over and over again. I think that will be all he can say for a while.”

My husband is an American success story. The child of refugees who didn’t learn English until elementary school, Andy achieved advanced degrees, learned to cook, learned to dance, bought a house, and had a happy marriage. Yet the only accomplishment that ever rendered his father speechless was the one thing that a) he had no control over, and b) took the least effort of his entire life.

Oh, boy, indeed.

Gender & Preference (#231)

Parents always say they don’t have a favorite child.

Everyone eventually learns that’s bullshit. I knew it earlier than most. I have four baby siblings, born anywhere from 9-12 years after me. And hell, yeah, I had a favorite.

Pretty Space Cadet Sister spat up on everything as a baby. She was not my favorite.

Obviously, Baby Screaming Sister was also not my favorite.

Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister began her life of crime early, starting with my stuffed animals. Definitely not my favorite.

My favorite was Baby Brother. Despite his rocky beginnings in the NICU, he was the easiest baby. The surgeons did such an amazing job putting his innards back where they belonged that the kid never spat up. (When he threw up, it was projectile vomiting on a Exorcist like scale, but that was rare.) He laughed easily, rarely cried, and thought I was the bomb.

Heck, with him I was the bomb. We built helicopters out of giant tinker toys. We shot each other with flashlights. We turned his cozy coup into a race car and won the Indy 500, crushing Future Lawyer Sister and Baby Screaming Sister. When I threw a comforter over my head and pretended to be “Amoeba Man,” (7th grade science had its uses), Baby Brother shrieked and giggled hysterically as I engulfed him. He would say, “Tan we pway Amoeba Man?! Pwease?”

Baby Screaming Sister, on the other hand, had screaming nightmares about Amoeba Man. By order of my mother, Amoeba Man was forcibly retired. Paramecium Man suffered a similar fate.

Baby Brother was all fun and no drama. I knew I didn’t want kids — not then, maybe not ever — but if I had to have one, I wanted a little boy just like Baby Brother.

Until I started babysitting for other boys. Seven-year-old boys, to be exact. They didn’t listen when you told them not to touch/ eat/ step on stuff, then broke/ ate the stuff that you told them not to touch, and then lied to their parents about having broken/ eaten the stuff. One seven-year-old boy locked my older sister in the basement so he and his younger brothers could pour chocolate milk all over the kitchen floor and make milk pictures.

After that, we only babysat for girls. Girls colored nicely. Girls played with My Little Ponies and liked to do our hair. Girls were positively restful, at least in our neighborhood. The only danger with girls was being burned by a curling iron. (Future Lawyer Sister learned that lesson the hard way.)

When Andy and I got married, our nieces smiled adorably and behaved perfectly (aside from the six-month-old who puked on my dress). Our nephews? Not so much. Pretty Space Cadet Sister’s son commandeered a bellhop cart and ran amok, overturning the water for the bouquets on my wedding dress (damn, that wedding dress took a beating). The other nephew had to be hauled out of the ceremony for yelling just before I walked up the aisle.

Years later, when I got pregnant, my Chinese-American husband upended thousands of years of cultural misogyny by declaring he wanted us to have a baby girl. I told him we were destined for a boy. He argued that I could not possibly know this, and angrily accused me of not wanting a girl.

“Of course I want a girl! I am a girl, and girls are awesome, and I feel like there’s so much I could teach a girl to counteract the harmful messages she’d get from the patriarchy and the media,” I explained. “Also, it would really piss off your dad.”

“Then why are you so sure it’s boy?!” Andy practically yelled. As if not having a girl would somehow be my fault, which was ridiculous since it was HIS SPERM that decided our child’s sex.

“Because I just know, is all. Because boys are exhausting and that’s just my fate, all right?”

“I don’t believe you,” Andy grumbled. “Baby D could be a girl.”

Secretly, I hoped I’d be wrong. Like Andy, I wanted an adorable, amiable little girl like our nieces. We both went into my seventeenth week ultrasound anxious to learn our baby’s gender.

Baby D had other ideas. Baby D curled up like a little cannon ball, hiding its genitals.

“Well,” said our special ultrasound doctor, “the good news is that everything  else appears to be developing normally. Maybe next time we’ll be able to see if it’s a boy or a girl.”

Andy gave a massive sigh.

“Isn’t there anything I can do?” I asked. “We’ve been dying to know, and this kid has a couple of grandparents that won’t leave us alone until they know if their  Number One Son is having his Number One Son.” (This was — surprisingly — a complete lie. Andy’s father had only called once since learning we were pregnant. The man had apparently given up on his son ever having a child. Either our pregnancy had stunned him silent or he was afraid to jinx it by calling.)

The doctor — another man — took pity on us. He suggested that I jump up and down and touch my toes while he checked on another patient.

When he returned, I was sweaty.

Baby D hadn’t moved.

“Damn it,” I said. “Obstinate already.”

The doctor tried to cheer us up by pointing out a hand. “See that? Baby is waving! Hi, Mom! Hi…oh…no, not waving,” he said with a chuckle. “It looks like your baby is doing something else, actually. Baby is pulling on another appendage. This behavior almost always means that baby is checking out his penis…and yes, there it is! Definitely male!”

Andy stared at the screen as the doctor moved the cursor around, showing us more views of our child playing with himself. I patted Andy’s hand and heroically refrained from saying, “I told you so!”

Instead, I asked, “Are you okay?”

Andy laughed, turned to me with a huge grin, and said,

“That’s my boy!”

Custard’s Last Stand (#230)

Our neighborhood holds a cooking contest over Labor Day weekend. The hostess picks a different ingredient or theme each year.

My husband Andy is an amazing cook. He won until the year of the potato. I snuck in a potato flake cake from a 50s recipe. My chocolate crushed the competition – including my husband. The following year, the hostess split the competition, creating two different categories: one for savory items, one for sweets.

Last year Andy didn’t enter a savory dish. He says it was because it was a hundred degrees and there was no way he was turning on the stove. Continue reading Custard’s Last Stand (#230)

Not Dead Yet (#229)

Much like the Monty Python plague victim…

Yeah, I know I haven’t posted in a while. Thank you for your patience while I’m off having adventures in the Northeast, which is green and quiet and soothing and far away from the Chinese mother-in-law telling me that I should be eating celery to lose weight while also insisting that I should go to dim sum daily. (No, celery is not a dish served at dim sum. You see my issue.)

The rural Northeast is also soothing because cell service and WiFi are questionable, at best. More than once I’ve hiked 2 miles to get a decent signal for a phone call. Continue reading Not Dead Yet (#229)

A Night Schooling #(228)

When my husband and I decided to live near a school, we expected kids and traffic. We definitely got kids and traffic, twice a day for about a half-hour.

We also got a huge, empty field that our big dogs could cavort on at 6 AM on the weekends. The school was almost never locked, and no one else was up at that hour. I brought a chucker. The dogs had a blast chasing the ball, each other, and birds.

But there’s a problem with an unlocked school. Continue reading A Night Schooling #(228)

Not By Any Other Name (#227)

When I married my Chinese-American husband, we planned on hyphenating our names. Andy’s parents objected.

A multi-month battle ensued. In the end, Andy kept his name. I kept mine.

This means I lost. I don’t lose gracefully.

I lose grudgefully. I swore that if we ever had a kid, said kid would definitely be an Ashbough-Wong. Continue reading Not By Any Other Name (#227)

Red Flags (#226)

You know what I was excited about when Andy and I bought our house?

Putting up a flag pole. I couldn’t wait to fly seasonal house flags.

I envisioned a flag with flowers for summer, an autumn flag with falling leaves, a black cat for Halloween, and Christmas flag with a polar bear. Of course I would fly the Stars & Stripes for Independence Day. Continue reading Red Flags (#226)

Still We Reap (#225)

In my AP history class in Northern Virginia, we held an annual debate about the Civil War.

I know, right? What’s there to argue about? Slavery bad. Confederacy wrong. I thought captaining the team for the North would be a slam dunk.

I forgot I was in Virginia, Confederate flag central. Continue reading Still We Reap (#225)

Very Telling (#224)

No sooner had my husband and I returned from our honeymoon than my Chinese-American father-in-law called, demanding to know where his grandson was.

He called every week. In vain did I explain family planning and birth control to my husband’s parents.

After three years, Jay finally quit calling. Continue reading Very Telling (#224)

Try As You Might (#223)

I lost my mom when I was a teen. It was awful. It was untimely, a tragedy, etc.  She left six kids with a) a mentally unstable father/ stepfather and b) a ton of unresolved issues.

And yet.

I understood that it was better than the reverse. A mother should never outlive her children. Continue reading Try As You Might (#223)