Cousins: East & West Edition (#301)

When I was a kid in the Dark Ages, we wrote letters instead of texts. My first pen pal was my cousin in Florida. She was a decade older than me, but she was kind enough to write back and not point out all my spelling mistakes. In third grade, I was a flower girl at her wedding. It was the first time I ever met her.

I wanted my son to have a closer relationship with his cousins—even though we were an entire continent away from them. Whenever my siblings gathered for weddings, holidays, or birthdays, we flew across the country to join them.

Though we used miles whenever possible, my frugal Chinese-American husband complained about the cost, or about how it wasn’t a “real vacation” if we were visiting family.

Baby D & Cousins, Winter Edition.

Until he realized that Baby D would literally disappear for entire days of Nerf Wars, fort-building, sledding, swimming, and exploring with his older cousins. With so many playmates, we no longer had to entertain our child. We could, in fact, read books or watch a movie or talk to other adults. Heck yeah, that’s a vacation.

Baby D & Cousins, Summer Edition

The same was not true when we visited my husband’s family. Andy’s parents were no help with childcare. They also decreed when their children would visit, and their children’s visit never overlapped (even though their house was huge). This way, Jay and Sunny got more help with household tasks by spreading out visits from their three children. This became more important—and also more understandable—when Jay’s health went downhill.

Unfortunately, this meant that Baby D saw his grandparents, but not his cousins. Only when Andy’s Earnest Christian Cousin got married did Baby D get to hang out with Cousin N.

Baby D & Cousin, Wedding Edition

Whenever possible, we visited Cousin N and Andy’s sister Betty in Iowa, but she took her kids elsewhere when they had vacations (like Europe and Japan).

Andy’s brother Denny lived in San Jose, but he married a Taiwanese-American woman from Los Angeles. They traveled to Los Angeles all the time—to see her family. Once a year, perhaps, Denny would give us a call when they were in town, and we’d invite them over. Their kids were a few years younger than Baby D, but the oldest boy adored his big cousin.

Yet, more often than not, we’d find out about their visits to LA after the fact. Denny’s Wife was all about seeing her parents and her friends.

The only way I could reliably get Denny’s family to visit was familial guilt. Andy’s birthday was at the end of November. Knowing that Denny always came to LA for Thanksgiving, I’d invite Denny and his family for a birthday dinner the day before or after Thanksgiving and say, “it would REALLY make your brother’s birthday if you and the fam would come.” They were usually late, but at least they showed up.

The funny thing is, Andy was ambivalent about seeing his brother. He’d agree that Dalton should see his cousins, of course, but he would have been fine eating the 6-hour cake, bread, and pot roast I made all by himself.

I couldn’t figure this ambivalence out. Was it because we came from different cultures? Was it because Denny and Andy were both men who go with the flow (i.e., whatever the wife wants)? Or was it because they had more interaction with their cousins growing up and never felt the lack?

I asked Andy, “Aren’t you bummed Baby D hardly ever sees those cousins, even though they’re here a lot?”

Andy merely shrugged.

Last Christmas, we left my family in Utah a day early in order to see Betty, who was in Vegas with Cousin N for his chess tournament. We drove through a brutal snowstorm at 5 AM in order to meet them for breakfast—the only time they had available.

Baby D and Cousin N were born less than three months apart.

But since they hadn’t seen each other in years, they eyed each other like feral cats after a brief hello. It was up to me to ask Cousin N about chess and keep the conversation rolling.

Betty would jump in with the occasional comment. “Baby D, did you know that you and Cousin N both like to sleep in your clothes?”

The boys would grunt, nod, and go back to the buffet.

Betty would try again, “Oh, do you hate milk, too, Baby D? My son does also.”

More monosyllabic answers and grunting.

On the drive from Vegas back to Los Angeles, Andy said, “That was painful.”

“Yeah. It’s too bad, too. They’re so close in age, and Cousin N, unlike Baby D, doesn’t have any cousins from his other parent. Just like your brother’s kids.”

A few days later, Andy arranged to meet up with Denny for dim sum. Denny’s Wife wasn’t coming. I dubbed it “Dad Lunch,” and stayed home.

An hour later, Andy and Baby D returned—with Denny and his three kids. I gave the younger ones some cookies and showed them how to play with the dog and cat while the dads had a beer.

Baby D and the oldest cousin weren’t interested in cookies or pets, though.

They were too busy wrestling.

Baby D & Cousin: Full Nelson Edition.

When You Need Some Aid in the Kitchen (#300)

For more than a decade, our Labor Day weekend has been marked by intense kitchen rivalry, thanks to the neighborhood cooking contest.

Andy trounced everyone for years—until he got tired of me micro-managing the presentation of his savory entries and told me to make my own dish. I did, and he was sorry after I crushed him and our whole neighborhood with my baked goods. Two years ago, Andy staged a comeback and walloped me. Last year, we tied.

Some of Andy’s doughnuts.

This year was looking to be a showdown. Andy spent quarantine mastering everything from French bread to homemade doughnuts, prepping for a possible assault on my baking territory.

There have been casualties:

My waistline.

An immolated dish towel.

A burn mark on our supposedly unburnable granite kitchen counter.

But worst of all?

My beloved Kitchen Aid.

Decades ago, I turned in my baking beaters for the smallest white Kitchen Aid on the market. The Kitchen Aid (KA for short) was big enough to mix dough for 5 dozen cookies, but not so loud you couldn’t talk over him.

KA in the background, holding more ganache for piping onto the six-hour cake.

KA was a work horse during baking season, churning out pumpkin cheesecakes and maple cream pies at Thanksgiving, followed by Andy’s six-hour birthday cake and over a thousand Christmas cookies. When Andy and I remodeled our kitchen, I had the cabinet maker design a special pull out drawer for my baby.

Then came Andy’s bread making obsession.

When I bake bread, I don’t use KA. I get a better feel for the dough and have more success kneading by hand.

My husband, however, believes in the dough hook.

Andy doing doughnuts with the cursed dough hook.

Unfortunately, he turned his back on bread hook one time too many, with perhaps one cup flour too many. The thickening dough created resistance. KA struggled and heaved…

…and rocked his way off the counter, crashing onto the kitchen floor.

Our tiny house reverberated with the impact.

I ran into the kitchen.

Andy lifted KA back up to the counter, bleating, “I, I, I just turned my back for a second and it fell off the counter!”

As if poor KA had a mind of his own and did it on purpose, rather than Andy not paying proper attention or filling KA’s mixing bowl too full.

Andy plugged KA back in and turned him on. KA churned slowly, groaning and wheezing.

“It still works,” Andy insisted triumphantly, because Andy hates spending money and Kitchen Aids are not cheap. “I mean, maybe not like before, but it’s been having trouble recently, and it’s old…”

Reader, I did not say a word.

Instead, I examined the five-inch dent/ divot that now existed in the kitchen floor and left the room.

Because I knew if I said a single syllable, I would be unable to stop until I pointed out every single mistake that had led to Andy nearly murdering my mixer and our kitchen floor and perhaps I might throw something at him.

*****

We had a heatwave not long after The Incident. Baking went on hiatus because no one wanted to turn on the oven. But the early heatwave morphed into a very cool summer. I pulled out KA to make chocolate chip cookies.

KA could barely cream butter, gurgling and grinding slowly.

“Oh my God,” I told Andy. “These are his death throes. You murdered him!”

“I did not! I told you he wasn’t running well even before he jumped off the counter—”

“You shoved your baguette dough down his throat until you killed him! MURDERER!”

“I did not—”

“Oh, no, do not even start! What do we tell Baby D when he breaks something and tries to shift the blame?!”

“But I—”

From the living room, a voice yelled, “You broke Mom’s toy! Take responsibility, Dad!”

Andy made a face. Then he looked at my face and promptly looked at the floor. “Sorry.”

Baby D yelled, “Sorry for what, Dad?”

“I’m sorry I broke your Kitchen Aid, honey.”

“I don’t hear you identifying and admitting your mistake!” Baby D called out, with no small amount of relish.

Andy gritted out, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t careful or paying attention and I broke your Kitchen Aid.”

“And how are you going to make amends, Dad?!” Baby D shouted gleefully.

Welcome, KA 2.0.

Ironically, the neighborhood cooking contest was canceled this year due to the pandemic. Andy sacrificed KA for nothing.