Pretty Binary (#267)

My son got a ton of hand-me-downs from his older girl cousins before he was even born. My Chinese-American husband’s frugality warred with his old-fashioned views on gender when those boxes first arrived.

“You’re not gonna dress him in pink, are you?” he asked.

“I dunno,” I said with a shrug. “We’ll see what fits in which season. Would you rather he wear pink or we save money?”

I let Andy wrestle with this dilemma for a while—because I am cruel like that—before telling him he wouldn’t have to choose.

“Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister was a baby clothes Momzilla with all of us before First Niece was born—especially her mother-in-law,” I explained. “The MIL is from Georgia. The MIL had two sons and no daughters. Judgmental Genius Sister knew that she would be inundated with pink frilly everything if she didn’t set some rules. So she sent out the directive ‘No pink ANYTHING!’ before First Niece was born.”

“And she never changed it?”

“Oh, she added a few modifiers, like ‘no dresses EVER,’ and ‘no fucking purple’ and ‘no goddamned hair bows.’

“Really?”

First Niece modeling her Christmas present.

“Why do you think I always give First Niece and Third Niece shiny blue track suits or books for Christmas?” I asked.

“Didn’t we give them drums last year?”

“Yeah, and a really loud talking school bus and their stay-at-home-dad told us we were going to hell. Good times.”

As I unpacked the boxes, Andy and I marveled at the infinite array of yellow and green clothes. There was no pink or purple anywhere. Even the car seats were in primary colored plaids. My sister’s Georgia MIL had been well and truly cowed. (As my relationship with my Chinese-American in-laws had recently devolved into a skirmish that ended in me brandishing a screwdriver, I was beyond envious.)

Our Baby D was born big and beautiful a few months later. Dressed in his neutral clothing, strangers rarely got pronouns right when commenting on his appearance.

“She’s adorable!”

“She—or is it a he?—is super cute!”

“Hapa girls are the prettiest!”

Unlike the moms who insisted on sticking pink bows in their infant daughters’ three hairs, I didn’t care whether Baby D was identified as a him or a her. I just smiled and thanked people. With one exception. When I saw my OB six weeks after delivery with Baby D in tow, she exclaimed, “Oh, wow, she’s so pretty!”

I replied, “She’s a boy!”

“Really? With those lips and eyelashes?!”

“You CIRCUMCISED him!”

Andy, on the other hand, bristled every time his son was called a girl. Once Baby D was old enough to be identified as a boy by haircut and outfit, he relaxed. Only to bristle yet again when friends, relatives, and strangers would insist on saying, “But he’s so, so pretty!”

Through gritted teeth, Andy would say, “No, he’s handsome!”

Later, when the person was out of earshot, I would say, “Oh, honey. It doesn’t matter. ‘Pretty?’ ‘Handsome?’ The gendered connotations are all societal constructs. Stop giving our boy a complex.”

“But—”

“No. Just stop. We have no idea who he’s going to be. Maybe he’ll like pretty, frilly things. He should be able to have a pink bike if he wants. Maybe he make friends who aren’t cisgendered or like pretty things. He should learn that that’s okay. Boys can be pretty. Girls can be handsome. Everything doesn’t have to fit into binary box from the fifties. It is NOT okay for you to insist he be stereotypically masculine.”

Andy sulked for a while and finally ground out, “Fine.”

“And besides, our boy IS pretty,” I told him. “There’s no getting around it.”

Andy glared, but stopped bristling—or at least arguing—with people who called his son pretty.

*****

Living in Southern California, we never bothered with winter clothes. When Baby D was two, however, we went to Utah for Christmas with my father. Rather than buy expensive snow pants for one trip, I borrowed some from a Mom friend with daughters.

“They’re pink, though,” she told me dubiously. “You sure that’s okay?”

“Absolutely fine,” I assured her.

Andy didn’t say a word as we outfitted Baby D in his borrowed snow gear. After he was dressed, Baby D ran his hands down the pink bib and delightedly announced, “I look pretty!”

Without missing a beat, Andy said, “Yes. Yes, you do.”

Snapped (#241)

My ex-debutante mother trained my siblings and me to be good hosts. She also trained us to be good guests. We brought bread and butter gifts. We found something to compliment in every home. We ate whatever food was placed in front of us without complaint and insisted on helping with the dishes. 

We were groomed to make social occasions run smoothly, with nary a scene. White Anglo Saxon Protestants (i.e., WASPs) with social pretensions avoid conflict and HATE scenes. They are a symbol of ugliness and failure. 

And so common.

Continue reading Snapped (#241)

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)

When the Cavalry Sucks (#181)

You know those big, dysfunctional but lovable white families you used to see in television and film? They were all about siblings being super shitty to each other. Yet when one member of the family was threatened, the family closed ranks and fended off the attacker.

I grew up in a huge, white, broken, dysfunctional family.

I thought those stories were bullshit. Continue reading When the Cavalry Sucks (#181)

We Are Not Water on the Floor (#178)

Would you throw this vase at the patriarchy? What if the patriarchy is your father-in-law?

I was fortunate enough to grow up with parents who didn’t have double standards for girls. No telling how much of this was due to feminism and how much was due to fact that the child labor pool in our house was only ¼ male (sometimes less). Big Brother had to do dishes. My sisters and I had to mow the lawn.

Our value was no less because we were female. Continue reading We Are Not Water on the Floor (#178)

When Your Asian Guy Won’t Fight For You (#157)

This spur-of-the-moment midnight post might not be for everyone. But a fellow Western Woman involved with an Asian Male is heartsick now. Maybe there are a few other women out there running into this same cultural clash.

Maybe I can help. So here I am, riding in on my white horse, with this post about one of the biggest struggles I face with my Chinese-American guy. Not every white woman’s experience will mirror mine, and not every guy with Chinese parents will turn out like Andy. But some of you might see just enough of the same dynamic to find our story helpful.

*****

In my white, American family, dissent was acceptable. Continue reading When Your Asian Guy Won’t Fight For You (#157)

Poker Face (#155)

If I had known that buying a new house would inspire inspired a visit from Andy’s parents, I’d have barricaded myself into our old townhouse for life. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to keep them away if we ever had a son (hence my ongoing lobbying to adopt a little girl from China), but I had no idea a new house would be such a draw. Given my father-in-law’s obsession with photos of the house, I should have known what would happen.

As soon as Andy and I finished our year-long, DIY remodel of our new house,  my Chinese-American in-laws decided they needed to make sure we’d done it right. Jay and Sunny informed Andy that they were coming to visit in April.

I was not consulted. Continue reading Poker Face (#155)

House Calls (#153)

img_0053Andy’s Chinese-American father is a bored retired civil engineer. He has far too much time on his hands and his only interests are his sons and on-line video poker. He’s also got the patience of a toddler. When Jay wants something, he wants it NOW.

The man called every week after we got married, demanding a grandson. Not a grandchild, mind you. No, Jay wanted a number one son from his number one son. And he wanted it yesterday. Continue reading House Calls (#153)

Calls From the Dark Side (#152)

img_0958Two weeks after our honeymoon, I made the mistake of answering the landline. (Yes, we had a landline. Yes, we didn’t pay for caller ID. Yes, my husband is sometimes a cheap bastard.) A gruff, low, male voice I didn’t recognize barked something about a son or a grandson.

I said, “Wrong number,” and hung up.

Ten seconds later, the phone rang again. I answered again.

The same voice muttered, “….my grandson?”

“Look, dude, there are no kids here, I’m not a kidnapper, and you have the wrong number!” I hung up.

Continue reading Calls From the Dark Side (#152)