They’re Coming (#238)

When my white family reunites, we plan. A year in advance, a cascade of emails about wedding beach houses, Christmas in New Hampshire, or running a 10K at Thanksgiving begin.

And then there’s my husband’s Chinese-American family. Near the end of October, Andy said, “So we haven’t seen my parents in a while.”

“Yes,” I agreed, smiling. And then stopped smiling. “Wait. Are you saying to want to go see them? Before your brother’s wedding next summer?” (Yes, Denny was finally getting married! But that’s another post.)

“Well…”

“Sorry, honey, no can do,” I said, smiling once more and patting my pregnant belly. “No flights after seven months. But you can go if you want. By yourself.”

“Yeah, but what if something happens while I’m gone?” Andy shook his head. “That’s no good.”

“Guess they’ll have to wait till June. Baby D will be about 5 months old by then.”

“But, uh, what if they came here?”

“When? Ex-Stepmother and First Newphew are coming in a few weeks to do Disneyland and visit Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister and her new man. Then we’re giving Baby Sister a lift to Utah for Thanksgiving with Dad and then we go to Utah at Christmas when my other siblings are also going to be there.”

“Well, Ma can never take off at the holidays anyway, but mid-November is pretty slow at the hotel.”

“But that’s when Ex-Stepmother and First Nephew are coming and our house is minuscule,” I objected “It’s been planned for ages.”

“I told them that and they insisted we can all squeeze in.”

“Honey, Baby D and I now take up entire rooms in this tiny house.”

“You know, we’ve seen your Dad like three times this year and my parents once.”

Andy doesn’t usually argue. It took me a minute to unravel why he was arguing now. I said, “They already bought tickets, didn’t they.”

“Yeah.” Andy had the grace to look sheepish. “There was a special deal and they had to buy right away–”

“Of course there was. If only there was some, I don’t know, FORM OF INSTANTANEOUS COMMUNICATION people in Hawaii could use to contact relatives in California and make sure it was a good time to visit before purchasing plane tickets,” I responded through gritted teeth.

Andy backed away, eyeing the exits.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “It’s not like your waddling hippo of a wife could catch you right now.”

“You can still throw stuff, though.”

“I could, but I don’t want to pay to fix another window,” I retorted.  “Can’t your parents stay with your aunt and uncle?”

“Ah, no.”

“Why not?”

“Because Dad says they are staying here. They always stay with me. Even when I didn’t have beds or furniture, they slept on the floor instead of staying with other relatives. Other relatives who had beds.”

“And of course a hotel is out of the question.”

Andy nodded.

“Is this a Chinese face thing?” I asked. “Like the father has to be with his son or people will talk about how something must be really wrong or his son must be poor or the daughter-in-law is a horrible person?”

Andy shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe they just don’t want to spend the money.”

“Ugh. Ugh. Ugh,” I moaned. And faced the inevitable. Once Andy’s parents were set on anything, they simply didn’t listen. They were like flood waters, flowing wherever they pleased, dikes and levees be damned. “Fine. When do they arrive?”

Multiple phone calls and a promise of Disneyland tickets later, Baby Sister and I had worked out that First Nephew and Ex-Stepmother would stay with Andy and me before my in-laws arrived. Once Jay and Sunny got here, our visitors would stay with Baby Sister’s New Man’s parents in Orange County. Andy and I would host a big BBQ in our backyard with Andy’s parents, local relatives, and my family on the weekend.

Hosting two sets of houseguests wasn’t ideal for a pregnant woman who’d just spent seven months puking and become severely anemic. First Nephew was a preschooler who went through my house and yard like a destructive dervish. On the plus side, though, he tired out my dogs so much that THEY didn’t have time to be destructive. By the time First Nephew left, I just wanted to lie down and sleep for a week. Instead, I had about four hours to clean the house, tidy the yard, and wash the sheets. I did it alone, too, because my husband was carefully hoarding his vacation time for Baby D’s birth.

Andy pulled into the garage with his parents just as I set a vase of flowers on the dresser in our guest room (also dog room, TV room, etc.).

I hurried waddled out to greet Jay, who walked into the house immediately. Jay isn’t a hugger, so I merely said, “Good to see you! Did you have a nice flight?”

Jay responded with, “You’re fat.”

“Your GRANDSON is fat, actually,” I retorted, pointing to my distended abdomen. “His last ultrasound shows he’s a big guy.”

Jay looked me up and down impassively and then shook his head. “No. You’re fat.” He marched to the guest room without another word.

I breathed and told myself that after an opening like that, surely my in-laws’ visit could only improve.

Nope.

 

Rules for Trick-or-Treating (#237)

I have exactly one rule when it comes to Halloween.

Rule #1: Everyone who comes to my door on Halloween gets candy.

I have these rules because I had a racist Southern Grandma. The worst Halloween horror story I ever heard was about that grandma. My mother once told me how her mother would keep two bowls of candy by the door on Halloween. One bowl was filled with Hershey Bars. That bowl was for the neighborhood kids.

The other bowl was filled with candy corns and cheap lollipops. When truckloads of “poor kids” came in from “more rural areas,” to trick-or-treat, they got the crap candy.

When I first heard the story, I was outraged because I thought the poorer kids should have gotten the Hershey bars. I figured they would have appreciated it more than the wealthier kids. How happy would that have made a hungry child? (I was a hungry child, I could empathize.) And what was Halloween for, other than making your chocolate dreams reality?

It took me years to realize that “poor/ more rural” probably also meant “not white.” Even on Halloween, even with children, Grandma went to great lengths not to share with those she felt didn’t belong in “her” neighborhood. I suspect the woman probably congratulated herself on being progressive enough to give those Halloween invaders any candy at all.

Decades later, in Southern California, I have white neighbors with ridiculous rules for trick-or-treating. I’ve heard them berate any child they think they’ve seen before and refuse to give them candy. (How ludicrous is that, in an age of mass-produced costumes?) I’ve heard them tell the teenagers in jeans and masks that they can’t have candy because of their half-assed costumes.

These are not poor neighbors with a limited candy budget, either. They’ve put additions on their houses. They get new cars every two years. They even complain about their giant bowl of leftover candy on November 1st.

They just want an excuse to enforce White People Rules. Like my grandma, those rules are “I must keep someone from getting something I don’t think they should.”

Our neighborhood has gotten very popular with trick-or-treaters in recent years. We have sidewalks and less hills than surrounding areas. We also have a few original owners from the 50s and 60s who give out full-sized candy bars. Plenty of people will drive in with families, park at the nearby school, and go through the neighborhood.

There are kids in strollers, adults in costumes, and masked teenaged boys sprinting from house to house. Undoubtedly some boys hit my house more than once. I still give them candy every time they come up my steps.

Because it’s Halloween. We’re giving out candy, for chrissakes. Regulations have no place in an orgy of free sugar.

Last year, a family came by with a five-year-old ninja and a toddler fairy. A woman in her sixties or seventies, dressed as a witch, followed the children carefully up my steps. A set of Latinx, thirty-something parents watched anxiously from the sidewalk as I let the children pick their favorite candy. The old woman held out a bag also. I put some candy in it and wished her a happy Halloween.

She smiled and followed the kids down the steps.

The mother on the sidewalk called out, “Thank you!” and beamed at me.

I must have looked confused.

“Thanks for giving her candy,” the mom explained. “A lot of people won’t. They say she’s too old. And she doesn’t understand.”

It took ME a minute to understand. The elderly woman had some form of dementia. She thought she was a little girl again. She wanted to go trick-or-treating because what little girl wouldn’t?

And my asshole neighbors refused to give her candy. Because the rule about White People Rules is ultimately that Rules trump compassion.

I wanted to run after that seventy-year-old little girl in the witch hat and give her ALL the candy. But I had other little witches waiting. I waved good-bye to the anxious mother/daughter shepherding her family down the block.

I hope the rest of my neighbors gave her candy instead of judgment.

Something Is Under the House (#236)

I thought I’d made peace with the freaky-assed crawl space below our house in Los Angeles. It’s not a nice, solid basement, but makes sense to have easy access to plumbing and the electrical lines for our drip system. And after multiple years, the only scary thing lurking under our house had turned out to be our own mischievous dog.

Until recently. Continue reading Something Is Under the House (#236)

Weary of Boys (#235)

I always knew my husband and I would have a boy. An ultrasound at 21 weeks proved I was right.

Usually I love being right.

Not this time. Continue reading Weary of Boys (#235)

The Weight of Pregnancy (#234)

I love food. So do my siblings, probably because there wasn’t quite enough of it to go around when we were kids. Free Candy Night — i.e., Halloween — was my favorite holiday. I dreamed of being able to eat all the Little Debbie Snack Cakes I wanted.

Once I grew up and had money, though, I discovered that I could not, in fact, gorge on Little Debbie. Not if I wanted to fit into my work clothes. And if I wanted to fit into the skin-tight costumes for competitive dance? Hell, no.

Some people are blessed with the kind of metabolism that allows them to eat a lot, exercise moderately, and not gain weight.

These people are called men. Continue reading The Weight of Pregnancy (#234)

A College Story (#233)

(Trigger warning for sexual assault.)

My father once told a less than suitably deferential Homecoming date, “Bring her home safe, early, and happy, and you’ll stay in one piece.”

I was mortified. I was also home safe and right on time.

I went to college thousands of miles from home. Continue reading A College Story (#233)

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. Continue reading Oh, Boy (#232)

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. Continue reading Gender & Preference (#231)

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)