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.

But most of the world sees things differently. Men are more likely to be hired than women. Men make more money, even with less experience and education.

In the immortal words of Charlotte Whitton, Mayor of Ottawa: “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.”

And still ignorant, ill-mannered, racist misogynists are elected President over over-qualified women.

Misogyny is maddening. Like so many women, I discovered that despite all our strengths, we’re the underdogs. But that just makes me root more for all women. I cheered louder for the victories of Katie Porter and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than I ever did for my football teams.

I knew my husband and I would only have one child. I wanted a girl.

I didn’t get one.

It hurt. But I couldn’t mourn for the daughter I’d never have because my male fetus was super healthy.  I had many friends who had miscarried or weren’t fertile. I didn’t feel entitled to be sad.

I swallowed my sorrow.

Other people were ecstatic. My Chinese-American father-in-law had been loudly lobbying for a grandson since my husband and I were engaged. Not a grandchild, a grandson. Jay was speechless with joy when he found out I was carrying a boy. He insisted on coming to visit.

I think he suspected we were lying to him.

Jay arrived when I was about seven months pregnant.  He said two insulting sentences to me and nothing else until after dinner, when he insisted on a trip to Costco the following day.

As this was my in-laws’ second visit, I expected the Costco pilgrimage. I said, “Sure, I’ll take you and Sunny tomorrow, right when it opens.”

Jay said, “No. Andy will take us.”

In vain did I protest that Andy needed to work so he could hoard his precious vacation days until Baby D arrived. Jay was adamant. They were going to Costco tomorrow and Andy was taking them.

Post-Costco, Andy cornered me in the kitchen. His face especially expressionless, Andy said, “My dad wants to see you.”

Bracing myself for more insults, I followed Andy into the living room. Jay thrust a velvet jewelry box at his wife.

Sunny held it out to me and said, “This is a gift for you.”

“Aww,” I said. “That’s so sweet.” Jay and Sunny had never given me a gift. There were checks for my husband, and there had been a red envelope at the Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony, but in four years I’d never gotten a physical present. I figured the present was because my pregnancy had been so miserable. I was touched.

Until Sunny said, “Jay wants you to know that this is a special gift because you are carrying the baby boy Wong.”

Of course. It’s always about the boys. I struggled to smile through gritted teeth and opened the box.

It held a clunky sapphire and diamond necklace. On good hostess autopilot, I thanked Jay and Sunny.

Jay grunted. I carried my boy broodmare necklace back to the bedroom and closed the door. I glared at the box. For a long time.

Andy appeared eventually, asking, “You okay? I know, um, it’s not that pretty…”

“It’s ugly.”

“Sorry, honey.”

“I don’t care that it’s physically ugly,” I hissed. “That’s not the point. The point is that I’m not worthy of a gift as a person. I’m only getting it because the baby is a boy. Which was no doing of mine, Mr. BOY SPERM MAN!”

Andy gave a guilty chuckle.

I turned my glare on him. “It’s not funny. It’s awful. I’m just a vessel for carrying on the fucking patriarchy. If I were carrying a girl, your father wouldn’t even be here insulting me — which is just one more reason for wanting a girl!” I snarled.

Andy patted my back. He wisely said nothing. He’s good at that.

I grabbed his hand and stuffed the box into it. “Take it back. I never want to see it again.”

“Should I exchange it for something else? They have some nice flat screens,” Andy suggested hopefully.

“No! Whatever you exchange it for will be tainted. It’ll be like Anne of Green Gables and the money she won when Diana entered her story into the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder contest.”

“Uh…what?”

“Every time I’d look at whatever you exchanged the necklace for, I’d think of your smug father and his stupid ‘boy’ necklace,” I explained. “And I’d remember how much I wish I was having a daughter to kick his ass and smash the patriarchy. But I’m not.”

Andy took the box away. Much as he wanted that new TV, Andy exchanged the necklace for a month’s worth of food.

So I could continue to swallow my sorrow.
Literally.

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)

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)

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)

Lost & Found: Mom Edition (#221)

Every mother has secrets. Some are dark — a deeply buried history of domestic violence or mental illness. But some are light — generations of wisdom on everything from gardening to cooking.

My mother died before I was fifteen. As a “liberated woman,” she turned her back on domestic wisdom. She had no helpful hints to give me regarding makeup, stain removal, cleaning, sewing, or baking. She was, in fact, terrible at all those things. She had a hell of a green thumb with houseplants. Our neighbors exclaimed over all the hanging baskets of greenery in our D.C. dining room. At the time, I shoved errant leaves out of my hair and glowered. Now I wish I’d asked how she did it. Continue reading Lost & Found: Mom Edition (#221)

Wretch (#218)

My mother loved being pregnant. When I was 10 and she was pregnant with Baby Brother, she gave up alcohol and cigarettes without complaint. Same thing when I was 11 and she had Baby Singing Sister. She rarely threw up and was always cheerful.

My older sister, the Judgmental Genius Doctor, had miserable pregnancies. Continue reading Wretch (#218)

Not Your Ordinary Magic Wand (#217)

Finding out I was pregnant was anticlimactic. Because here’s the rule: you can’t tell anyone until you know it’s a viable pregnancy.

Actually, you can tell people, sure, but since 1 out of every 3 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, you run the risk of having to un-tell them later. Possibly while sobbing incoherently.

So I was stuck in this no-man’s-land of being pregnant – maybe – for two weeks while I waited for my obstetrician to officially confirm that a) my pregnancy tests weren’t liars and b) the embryo had a heartbeat. Continue reading Not Your Ordinary Magic Wand (#217)

Braced for Catastrophe (#214)

The cat asks, “Is the glass half-empty or half-full?”

Growing up amidst divorce, minimal resources, and tragedy, I learned not to be optimistic. I was always awaiting the next crisis. If my husband didn’t answer his phone, I was certain he’d been in a fatal car wreck. I sniffled as I planned that man’s funeral at least weekly.

When my husband and I agreed to try to get pregnant, I worried constantly about both having a child and raising one.

My husband had none of these fears. Continue reading Braced for Catastrophe (#214)