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. Not long after he gave up, I got pregnant. Like many couples, we kept the pregnancy quiet, due to the risk of miscarriage.

Even after we saw the fetal heartbeat, we only told my Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister and a few others.

About two months into the pregnancy, Andy knocked on the bathroom door and asked, “Can we tell my parents yet?”

For once I was spending more time in the bathroom than my husband. So far, pregnancy had been one long vomit-fest. It did not make me cheerful. I yelled back, “You aren’t telling your parents ANYTHING. Until we get the ultrasound that tells us whether it’s a boy or a girl, your parents know nothing. If we tell your father I’m pregnant, he’ll start calling again, asking if it’s a boy. So forget that.”

“What if my aunt figures it out and tells them? We’re supposed to see her and my uncle and cousins tonight and if you’re carrying around your chum bucket, they’re gonna figure it out.”

“Dude. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Yeah, but if I go and tell them you’re sick, they’ll tell my mom and –”

“Tell them I’m off on a girl’s weekend or visiting a sister.”

“Which one?”

“Any of them! Pick one or make up a name. I have so many sisters I can’t even keep track of them. There’s no way your relatives will remember them. Now go away and let me puke in peace!”

When Andy returned from seeing his family, I was on the phone with my father and Current Stepmother. Out of eight kids, I was the only one who lived within driving distance. They were hoping we’d come to visit over the summer.  Their invitation forced me to reveal a) that I felt too awful to travel, b) I din’t know when I’d stop feeling awful, and b) the reason for feeling awful.

Dad was pretty low-key, typical of a man who had eight kids and multiple grandchildren: “That’s wonderful.”

Current Stepmother, who had only 2 kids of her own and no prospects of grandchildren in the near future, was not low-key. Her lengthy shriek of delight had me holding the phone at arm’s length.  Even Andy winced.

“Oh my God, oh my God that’s so exciting!” she gushed. “That’s just the best news!”

I said, “It’s nice that you’re so excited, since this is the sixth grand baby.”

“Yes, but we’re actually going to get to see this one!”

Invitations/ demands for visits at Thanksgiving and Christmas were promptly issued.

“Well, that was gratifying,” I told Andy after I hung up the phone.  “I had no idea Current Stepmother was such a baby hog.”

Andy said, “Huh.”

“How were your cousins?”


“How was your aunt?”


“What’s the matter?”


“You’re mad that I get to tell people and you don’t, right?”


“You can tell your friends at work.”

“It’s not the same. And some, like my boss Frank, can’t have kids and that’s awkward, you know?”

“Yeah,” I told him with a sigh. “You really wanna tell your mom, don’t you?”

“I want to tell my grandma,” Andy corrected me.

“Can’t you just wait a little longer? Until we at least know the sex of the baby? Then they don’t get their hopes up and then get all disappointed if it’s not a boy?”

“But Popo’s almost ninety.”

“Okay, how about after the first trimester?” I pleaded.

“But what if something happens and I never get to tell her?” Andy argued, sniffing and wiping away a tear.

My husband’s words hit harder than he knew.


The Christmas I was fourteen, my then Stepfather gave my mother the ugliest, creepiest newborn baby puppet on the planet. He laughed and said, “You said you wanted another baby!”

My older siblings  and I eyed Creepy Baby, said “Ewwwww,” and recoiled in unison.

Baby Singing Sister, who was three, screamed and ran out of the room.

Mom pretended to snuggle Creepy Baby, telling Creepy Baby it was adorable.

She saw my appalled face and said, “Hey, if this is the last baby, I have to make the most of it. You know too much about childcare. I’ll probably never get any grand babies.”

She was right. Mom died unexpectedly the following spring.


Twenty years later, I handed my husband the phone. “Go on,” I said. “Call Popo.”

He did.

Popo was thrilled. She told him to call his parents.

He did.

Andy’s mother was overjoyed.

Andy’s father? He let out one excited shout, before lapsing into speechlessness.

Which lasted about a week.

West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

In my childhood house of a thousand siblings, there was only one day more exciting than Christmas.

My birthday.

On my birthday, I got to sit at the head of the breakfast table and preside over a plate of powdered doughnuts with candles. Powdered doughnuts might not seem very exciting compared to the Krispy Kremes and Voodoo doughnut delicacies of today, but back then they were a huge treat. Especially to a kid in a big family on a budget.

I also got a pile of presents (i.e., three). If there was a birthday cake later (or brownies, in the leaner years), I got the first piece. And I got seconds.

I got the front seat in the car.

For an entire day, the overlooked middle child was seen.

And I was queen. And it was good.

This is how I thought all birthdays should be. But as Australian-Asian blogger Mabel recently pointed out, every culture and every person is a little different when it comes to birthdays.

My husband Andy came from a Chinese-American family. He was the oldest boy, which meant he got most of the attention and food. As his family actually practiced family planning, he had enough food, too.

But birthdays and holidays? Nope. Andy remembers exactly one shocking Christmas with a tree and a ton of presents. He was sure Santa had made a mistake until his mom told him to open his gifts. Andy’s family never wasted money on pumpkins, turkeys, or Easter Baskets, either.

And birthdays? Andy’s grandmother, Popo, who grew up in China before the Communists took over, told him that it was better not to celebrate birthdays. “If you celebrate your birthday,” she explained, “evil spirits will take notice, realize you are still alive. Then perhaps they will remedy that situation.”

The first year we were a couple, I asked Andy want he wanted to do on his birthday.

Andy shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”

I was aghast. “It matters! It’s your birthday! You get to pick everything we do!”

“Really? I pick sex.”

I rolled my eyes and explained, “No, I mean, do you want to go out for dinner? Do you want me to surprise you or pick your favorite place? And what kind of cake do you want?”

“Uh, any cake that’s not from a grocery store,” Andy said.

“Are you kidding? I would NEVER! Who does that?”

“My mom. For my eighteenth birthday, she called me at work and told me to grab any kind of cake at Foodland on my way home.”

“I didn’t even have YOUR NAME ON IT?!” I screeched.


My horror was complete. That year, and every year after, I made Andy a cake. From scratch. I even bought a Wilton cake-decorating set so I could write “Happy Birthday Andy” on it in my own icing, rather than the bitter frosting tubes from the grocery store.

Leveling the layers of Devil’s food (about hour 3)

Andy’s favorite was the three-layer Devil’s food cake with poured ganache frosting. For short, we called it six-hour cake, because that’s how long it took to make the sucker. Every year, Andy would say, “No, no, you’re busy, it’s okay, you don’t have to!”

And every year, I’d think of his 18th birthday cake from Foodland and reply, “Oh yes I do.”

Post-crumb coat, mid-pour of ganache (about hour 5)

The first few years, I invited friends over to celebrate. Then I added his cousins and Aunt and Uncle. One year his brother was even in town, and he also joined us.

The following year, when I asked what he wanted to do, Andy asked, “Please can we have a party for just us?”

“You sure that doesn’t seem boring? You won’t get as many good presents.”

Andy snorted and said, “Their presents aren’t THAT good. And last year there was hardly any leftover cake!”

“Wait. It’s the cake? You just don’t want to share your cake?!”

Andy mumbled, “Well, it’s really good cake. And it’s not THEIR birthday. They don’t deserve that cake.”

Now we celebrate Andy’s birthday alone and Andy eats his cake for a week.

And he is king.

And it is good.

Pets Versus Dinner (#176)

Christmas Bunny, just prior to attacking a confused cat.

My family has always had a multitude of pets. I grew up with dogs, cats, turtles, rodents, and more. We even had a very special Siamese rabbit named Christmas. Yes, Christmas. Normal people have bunnies named Peter, but, hey, my little sister was only five when she found him in a New Jersey parking lot. Christmas was a New Jersey street tough masquerading as an adorable bunny. He spent ten happy years terrorizing the family Labrador and several cats while eating the antique Italian Provincial dining room set. Continue reading Pets Versus Dinner (#176)

A Tale of Two Immigrants (#173)

My maternal great-great grandfather was the most recent immigrant in my family tree. Enraged and disgusted by the rise of German nationalism in the late 1800s, the German patriarch came to the United States. He was so angry with the Fatherland, in fact, that no one in his household was allowed to speak German. Ever.

It wasn’t until recently that I understood exactly how he felt. Ever since the Inflated Tangerine Fascist took office, I’ve regretted not learning Cantonese. It appalls me that such a vile, morally bankrupt cretin is not only human, but American.

Maybe I’ll start speaking in pig Latin. Continue reading A Tale of Two Immigrants (#173)

The Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony (#100)

Not actual Tea Ceremony teapot. (Actually teapot under a house in Honolulu.)
Not actual Tea Ceremony teapot. (Actually teapot under a house in Honolulu.)

So this is my 100th blog post! Imagine confetti everywhere!

I’m shocked. I mean, not shocked I’ve written approximately 400 pages. All y’all know by now that I’m a loquacious monster with polysyllabic tentacles. Standard blog posts are apparently a page or less. Mine are more like 4. But that’s fine. I take pride in the fact that my blog is for people with above average powers of concentration (or possibly extra-long train commutes). Continue reading The Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony (#100)

Sunny, with a Chance of Thanksgiving (#98)


My in-laws lived in Honolulu. My husband and I went there for our first Thanksgiving together.

You’re probably having the same reaction as most new acquaintances and coworkers. “Your in-laws live in Hawaii?! How awesome is that?” Continue reading Sunny, with a Chance of Thanksgiving (#98)

Surname Siege (#80)

Knight looks elsewhere
Guess who’s the white pawn?

Last you heard, our interracial lovers got married and flew off into the sunsets of Playa del Carmen.

It should be the end of this blog, right? I mean, West met East, fell in love, got engaged, and got married, and lived happily ever after. End of story.

In fact, the battles had only just begun. Continue reading Surname Siege (#80)