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.

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