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Hostess with the Mostess…Dysfunction (#179)

I’ve had a lot of comments from incredulous readers over the last few months. Apparently, no one believes that I have not lost my shit yet with my provocative Chinese-American in-laws. Not even when they nearly burned down the house and never apologized.

Spoiler alert: I have, indeed, lost my shit. In as spectacular fashion as any of you could want. It just wasn’t on my in-law’s first visit, the one I’m blogging about now. (Yes, my reward for surviving the first visit was a second visit! Whoo-hoo!) If you’re waiting on the East Dates West version of The Real Housewives, check back in a few months.

But for those of you who can’t believe it took me years to blow my stack, a little background:

In the White Anglo Saxon Protestant culture of my youth, girls did not make scenes. From day one, girls learned to be kind, to share, to not make people uncomfortable. Teachers rewarded us for being forgiving, no matter how many times Entitled Dickhead Donnie jerked our pigtails around, pretending they were motorcycle handlebars. We laughed along with everyone else in the class, being a good sport, because “You know boys! They’re so silly and they don’t know any better. Not like you girls!” We preened, and congratulated ourselves for being doormats.

Our mothers trained us to be good hostesses, downplaying any awkwardness or discomfort. We were also expected to be good guests, bringing wine and hostess gifts. If someone forgot a gift for us, we never said a word, lest we make them feel bad.

Many men wonder why women don’t immediately report sexual assaults, especially when we know the perpetrators.

I don’t. I know how hard it is to break training, to be confrontational. No one wants to be the bitch who wrecks everyone’s good time or a ruin the life of “a nice boy who just didn’t know any better.” We’re trained to endure our own discomfort, not to stand up for ourselves. We worry about ourselves last.

My Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister sees the “me last” patient all the time in her oncology rounds. These are the mothers and grandmothers who ignore their ovarian cancer symptoms to shuttle kids to sports practice or help out with someone’s new baby. By the time their pain is not ignorable, their cancer is usually terminal.

Some women avoid or escape the “good girl/ me last” dynamic, thanks to therapy, or enlightened parents, or more progressive schools.

On the plus side, I now have mad vacuuming skills.

For those of us from overcrowded families and critical parents, though, the cycle worsens as we try ever harder to win increasingly elusive approval. When my mother, in the midst of a divorce, lashed out at me for making a mess, I vacuumed the house. She smiled for the first time that day and told me I was a good girl.

I was six.

Sometimes a romantic partner or dance partner steps into that dynamic, with devastating results.

Sometimes the good girl becomes good student, taking extra credits and extra majors. The good graduate becomes excellent executive assistant, coming in early, working late, anticipating every need.

And when that excellent executive assistant marries into a family with demanding Chinese in-laws?

Does she smartly say, “It’s 4 AM, get your own damned tea, I’m going to bed because normal people are sleeping now,”?

No. She thinks, “I can do this! Not only will I make them tea, I will make sure they have toast and oh, they needed raspberry jelly? Nothing’s open except…Denny’s! It’s only five minutes away and I’m sure they’ll let me buy some jelly packets, won’t that be clever and impressive and oh, my in-laws will be so happy and they’ll tell me how glad they are that Andy married me and I will be the first white woman to win the Best Chinese Daughter-In-Law Award!”

In reality, of course, I only win a few grunts of acknowledgment and dishes to wash. (I’m sure my in-law’s praise would have been effusive if Denny’s carried raspberry jelly, but strawberry was all they had.)

Normal people would decide that their in-laws are impossible to please. Normal people would stop trying.

I am not normal. I am easily sucked into Over-Hostessing Syndrome.

After the jam setback, I decide I will impress my guests with my culinary skills.

I spend several hours making Spicy Thai Tofu with Fish Sauce Noodles and homemade chocolate pudding (this recipe is on page 1019 of “The Joy of Cooking” and I heartily recommend it over mixes).

My dinner prep is repeatedly interrupted. First by The Farting Dog Episode.

Then by my impatient father-in-law. Jay wants to know when dinner will be ready. I tell him 6.

“No! Dinner is at 5:30!”

“But probably Andy won’t get home until at least 6.”


5:30 it is. I don’t boil the pudding quite as long as usual, but it’s in the fridge, chilling, when dinner is ready at 5:25. I give myself mental bonus points for seeing to my father-in-law’s ridiculous demands the comfort of my guest.

At 5:30, Jay appears and announces, “It’s time to eat. Where is Andy?”

I check Andy’s location on my phone. “Still at work. It’ll be at least another half-hour.”

I’m wrong. It’s 45 minutes. A very loooong 45 minutes, peppered with repeated questions from Jay:

“When are we eating?”

“Where’s my son?”

“Why aren’t we eating?”

“Is Andy home yet?”

“Check your phone again.”

When Andy finally arrives, Jay is at the table, fork in hand. But now his wife is on the phone with her sister. Jay yells at her in Cantonese. She yells over him at Yee-mah in Cantonese. Andy sits down and starts eating.

I grab his hand. “You can’t start! We have to wait for your mom!”

“Forget that, I’m starving,” Andy shoves a bite into his mouth. “This is great, honey, thanks for cooking dinner.”

Jay eats, too. I give up and dig in. Sunny eventually joins us, and, wonder of wonders, my in-laws have no complaints and no criticisms. BOTH have seconds.

I’m sure I’m finally destined for the Best Daughter-In-Law Award, because I know my pudding is awesome (also made with expensive bittersweet chocolate). I even serve it with freshly whipped cream.

Jay has two bites before making his pronouncement: “It’s too watery!”

I say, “Really? You think it’s watery?” through gritted teeth.

“No, no, it’s not watery, honey, it’s perfect!” says Andy.

“Apparently not. Your dad says it is WATERY.”

Jay nods. “Yeah, too much water.” He has another bite.

I tap my fingers on the table and fume, wishing I hadn’t hurried the pudding’s boil. Maybe it is a tiny bit more watery than usual.

Jay devours his supposedly sub par pudding. He scrapes the dish with the spoon to get every bit of chocolate.

“Wow, Jay, that must have really sucked, that watery pudding,” I tell him triumphantly as he deposits the empty serving glass on my plate. I’ll pry some praise out him if it kills me.

Or not.

“It’s very dry here. Not like Hawaii. I need to drink lots water,” Jay explains as he leaves the dining room.

Despite my best efforts, there was no Best Daughter-In-Law Award bestowed that evening. There was no praise at all.

My only reward was dirty dishes.

But for those of you also recovering from Over-Hostessing Syndrome, take heart.

I left those dishes for my husband.

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)

Doggone In-laws (#177)

These yogurt-covered almonds don’t look like they produce a deadly gas, do they?

Our rescue dogs learned a lot of commands and tricks — sit, down, stay, roll over, etc. Their favorite command was  “vacuum.” Woofie, our Dane-Lab mix, would eat anything — even rocks. (He couldn’t digest rocks — or cabbage, or corn cobs — but he’d still eat them. And then throw them up, of course. Preferably on the nice carpet. Or my shoes.) Continue reading Doggone In-laws (#177)

Pets Versus Dinner (#176)

Christmas Bunny, just prior to attacking a confused cat.

My family has always had a multitude of pets. I grew up with dogs, cats, turtles, rodents, and more. We even had a very special Siamese rabbit named Christmas. Yes, Christmas. Normal people have bunnies named Peter, but, hey, my little sister was only five when she found him in a New Jersey parking lot. Christmas was a New Jersey street tough masquerading as an adorable bunny. He spent ten happy years terrorizing the family Labrador and several cats while eating the antique Italian Provincial dining room set. Continue reading Pets Versus Dinner (#176)

An Anti-Valentine for America (#175)

The roses are blackened
The violets are dead
Your liver is poisoned
By sugar and bread.

The news is disheartening
An Orange Cretin is King
Republicans gloat
And won’t do a damned thing. Continue reading An Anti-Valentine for America (#175)

Rules for Shopping with Chinese-American In-Laws (#174)

My Chinese-American husband loves Costco, the giant shopping warehouse. He had a Costco membership when I met him. Every Sunday morning, he did all the bulk-buying. I went with him. Once. Even though he insisted “it wasn’t that crowded, cuz church” there were still hordes of meandering, food-sampling shoppers in my way. I hated it. I’m a military shopper – my mantra is get in, get your objective, and get out. I revel in weaving among supermarket shopping carts with only a hand-held basket, like a sports car weaving through traffic. (And, like those sports car drivers, I probably get flipped off a lot.) Continue reading Rules for Shopping with Chinese-American In-Laws (#174)

A Tale of Two Immigrants (#173)

My maternal great-great grandfather was the most recent immigrant in my family tree. Enraged and disgusted by the rise of German nationalism in the late 1800s, the German patriarch came to the United States. He was so angry with the Fatherland, in fact, that no one in his household was allowed to speak German. Ever.

It wasn’t until recently that I understood exactly how he felt. Ever since the Inflated Tangerine Fascist took office, I’ve regretted not learning Cantonese. It appalls me that such a vile, morally bankrupt cretin is not only human, but American.

Maybe I’ll start speaking in pig Latin. Continue reading A Tale of Two Immigrants (#173)

A Morning with My In-Laws: Part 4 of the Visit (#172)

Orange you glad my in-laws came to visit?

There’s a whole horror show going on in America right now, but it’s time to take a break from protesting the Orange Pustule. Today we’re headed back to a time when my greatest worry was leaving my in-laws unsupervised.

My husband has limited vacation and sick leave. When he had knee surgery, we carefully scheduled part of his recovery to overlap with a visit from his parents. I had visions of them fetching food for Andy, or keeping him entertained while I worked, walked dogs, cleaned, did yard work, etc. Continue reading A Morning with My In-Laws: Part 4 of the Visit (#172)

Marching on Washington (#170)

In case you missed it, there was a Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. (No, I can’t bring myself to call him President. Since facts no longer matter, I guess I don’t have to.) The organizers had a permit for 200,000 anti-Trump protesters.

Over a half-million people showed up, with pink hats and hilarious signs.

I was one of them. Continue reading Marching on Washington (#170)