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.”

Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

My husband had Chinese-American parents. Mine were white, uptight, and Anglo-Saxon Protestant/ Atheist.

Andy was expected to obey his parents without question. If his parents said his curfew was 10 PM, Andy was home at 10 PM. If Andy’s father wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV, Andy could forget about participating in Little League or any other sport.

I was expected to obey, but not without question. My mom was an attorney. Dinner table discussions in her house ranged from abortion to capital punishment. Everyone was encouraged to express their own opinions and defend them. If I could present a good argument for a curfew change or pierced ears, these items might be considered. (Lost on curfew, won on pierced ears.) Continue reading Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

Lost in Translations (#254)

I find names and the naming process fascinating. Giving someone a nickname is often a way of expressing affection—or dislike. My parents divorced and remarried so much that we sometimes had as many as three different surnames in our households, but God help the poor classmate who referred to my stepfather as “Mr. Ashbough,” (the name of my mother’s ex-husband).

God also help whichever sibling my father hollered at using their full name—middle name included.

When my husband and I married, we put a lot of thought into hyphenating both our names. Andy’s Chinese-American parents objected. Their arguments were illogical, hypocritical, and downright ludicrous, but I was forced to concede.

Years later, I was still pissed. Continue reading Lost in Translations (#254)

Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

I was raised by a liberated woman and a man who believed his daughters should mow lawns, change tires, and have the same curfew as their older brother.

My sisters and I crushed in academics no less than my brother. We were better singers, better dancers, and better athletes. Also more popular. (Sorry, Big Bro!)

NASA came to my schools seeking women astronauts. They told us women had better reflexes than men, handled G-forces better than men, and coped better in close quarters better than men and please could we girls consider being astronauts?

I never understood why a person should be more valued because they were born with a penis. I mean, having a penis means you’re kind of fragile and likely to die earlier than a woman.

Continue reading Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

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)

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)

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)

Thanksgiving with Jay (#97)

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The Treaty of the Religious Wedding Ceremony ended our War Over the Wedding Location with Andy’s parents. One of the conditions was that we would spend the Thanksgiving after our wedding with Jay and Sunny. During the week we were there, they would host a Chinese-style wedding banquet, mainly for Jay’s family members.

Andy’s parents called once before we left to get our flight information. Sunny asked Andy if there was anything we wanted to eat. He told her no, anything was fine. Which it was – FOR HIM. Andy can – and will – eat anything from animal brains (inaccurately, but oh-so innocently labeled “sweetbreads”) to Rocky Mountain Oysters (bulls’ balls). Continue reading Thanksgiving with Jay (#97)

Why Andy is Handy (#48)

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Andy installs his own tile floors and fixes toilets. For real.

My Chinese-American fiancé isn’t confrontational. As a child, if Andy so much as disagreed with his father, he’d get a knuckle in the head. Andy’s parents didn’t care what he thought, what he wanted, or whether he agreed with their plans. Jay and Sunny did what they thought was best. They expected their children to fall in line. Continue reading Why Andy is Handy (#48)