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)

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)

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. Continue reading West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

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)

Baby Battle (#205)

My parents procreated like rabbits. Then they got divorced and procreated some more. Given that having children is pretty much the worst thing a regular person – not an Exxon Executive or a Donald Trump – can do to the environment, I figured someone in my family owed it to Mother Earth to NOT have children.

There was just one problem. My husband wanted a kid. Continue reading Baby Battle (#205)

Road Maps (#202)

There are some free spirits who eschew calendars and maps. They are content to see where the day and the road take them.

I don’t understand these people.

One such free spirit is my friend, JM.

I don’t understand her, either. Continue reading Road Maps (#202)

Color Me What? (#199)

My mother was blonde when I was a little girl – courtesy of Clairol. She had been white-blonde as a child, but her hair darkened as she aged. I don’t know whether she was dirty blonde or chestnut, though, underneath her cheap, brassy dye. Everyone assumed blonde was her natural color, however, since she was always surrounded by a horde of screaming towheaded children. We were the perfect camouflage for her unnatural hair.

I hated her dye job. I harangued her about being a natural brunette incessantly. She ignored me. I swore I would never, ever color my own hair, even though my own locks were brown by Junior High.

You know what’s coming, right?

Hellloooo, irony. Continue reading Color Me What? (#199)

White Silence (#196)

White Supremacists rallying in Charlottesville, courtesy of Molly Ruth

The first time I ever heard the n-word, I was in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was nine, walking with my mother and stepfather. Two kids ran past. One called the other a word I’d never heard growing up in Washington, D.C., despite having classmates and friends of multiple races.

My mother pressed her lips into a thin line, then said, “I hate that word.”

My stepfather agreed.

I asked, “What word?” Continue reading White Silence (#196)