The Hoarder (#342)

As a child, the conversation at my family dinner table was always better than the food on the table. (I kid you not–Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best meal of the week.) My dad might have political anecdotes from Capitol Hill.  My stepmother might tell us how one high school gang tried to break into her classroom to get at another gang. Or we might get a story about our great-grandfather learning how to swim by diving off a piano in a flooded southern parlor from my mom.

My Chinese American husband’s family was all about the food. I learned the hard way that no one expected conversation at the table. Everyone concentrated on eating. This makes sense when the food is both tasty and served immediately (e.g., dim sum). It also makes sense if you’re eating a dish like chicken feet, which involves considerable mouth aerobics, ending in spitting out chicken toenails.

Young boy grimaces as he bites down on a fried chicken foot.
Baby D meets chicken feet.

Andy’s dad also wasn’t much of a talker, unlike practically every person in my family. My family told jokes, made fun of each other, and competed to get the best laughs. We all also like to show off share information.

Maybe this is why Andy’s a better cook than I am. He tastes as he goes and even plates artistically, believing the food should always take center stage.

I love good food, but I also want to hear about spouse/ spawn’s days. The breakfast/dinner table is the place where I find out what’s going on. I believe that communication is connection and sharing is caring.

Andy, on the other hand, hoards information. And he hoards it as long as he can.

I’d walk into the kitchen and say, “That smells good. Whatcha making?”

“Stuff.”

“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”

“Food.”

“Oh my God, would it kill you to tell me what’s for dinner one time?!”

Apparently, it would. Because not once did Andy actually volunteer to tell me what he was making. I had to piece together clues from ingredients and cookbooks on the counter.

Now, when Andy asked me what I was making for our Christmas party, my response was: “Oh, I’m going to do cream cheese sugar cookies with buttercream frosting with about one-quarter teaspoon almond extract, plus candy cane and chocolate meringues—and I’ll need the food processor for both the candy canes and to chop up the chocolate chips extra tiny so they don’t get stuck in the piping tips and also maple sugar rugelach and did you know that I had to order maple sugar from Ben’s Sugar Shack in New Hampshire this year?! I can’t find it ANYWHERE. Or and I’ll make those chocolate cookies with white chips that are your favorite, do you want coconut in them or not?”

It’s a point of pride that, when asked “why?,” by Baby D, I never once responded with “Because I told you so.”

Instead, I dumped elaborate reasoning and detailed explanations on my child until he either fled the room or could out reason/ argue me into changing my mind.

Storage containers and boxes crammed on wire shelving units.
Andy’s least favorite view

The only information my husband shared freely was how much he hated all the boxes in the garage. We had many boxes. That happens with a house less than 1200 square feet and minimal storage space. Heavy blankets, comforters, and winter clothing were stored in the garage in the summer. Window fans and tubs of light linens got stored in the garage in the winter. There were two bicycles, suitcases, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, the extra refrigerator, extra chairs, an extra banquet table, portable chairs for soccer matches, a team soccer canopy, a team bench, and 8 containers of holiday/ season decorations.

Every so often, when Andy got snarly, I cleaned out/ donated anything we no longer used. Andy’s grumbles subsided, especially when I pointed out we’re one of the only families on the block that actually put a car in our garage.

I kept tabs on all the storage containers with decorations, though.

Not long into the pandemic, packages started arriving for Andy. There were at least a dozen. Some were large. One was very heavy. A few were small.

“Gardening supplies?” I guessed.

Andy said, “Stuff.”

I rolled my eyes and let it go. The following weekend, Andy spent an entire day moving items around the garage. He went to Lowe’s and returned with giant mobile shelves—the kind that you can roll together so they take up less space but then roll apart for access once the car is out of the garage.

Also the kind of shelf energetic offspring will try and ride down the driveway when Dad is carrying “excessive” Christmas decorations to the garbage bins.

After rescuing child, shelf, and decorations, I planted myself in front of Andy and announced “That’s it. You’ve been bitching about the garage more than usual and there all these mysterious boxes. What are you DOING?”

“Stuff—”

“NO! No more bullshit ‘stuff!’ For all I know you’re setting up a fucking meth factory!”

Andy said, “It’s not a meth factory.”

I crossed my arms and inhaled. Deeply.

Andy hurriedly added, “We can’t go to the gym so I’m turning one of the bikes into a stationary bicycle so I can ride it to get cardio because I can’t run anymore on my bad knee and walking takes too long. I’m trying to make more space in the garage to set up the bike.”

“That’s…great. But…why wouldn’t you just tell me that?”

Andy shrugged.

“You know, mouths are for more than eating!’ I told him. “They’re for talking! For sharing information! If you’d just explained what you wanted to do, I would have helped you. I could have gotten rid of some boxes, consolidated a few things, figured out how to make more space.”

“Really?”

“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”

“Uh…”

And that’s when I realized that Andy HAD thought I’d say no. Just like his parents always said no—no sports, no extracurricular activities, no curfew extensions. Andy was so used to his family saying no, he’d learned to never offer information which could result in a “no.” It was maddening…but also understandable.

I consolidated a few boxes of decorations and donated some boxes of older blankets to charity.

Andy’s cardio area, with gardening/ soccer hat on bike.

Andy set up his bike. He rides it several times a week.

Sometimes, now, he’ll tell me what he’s cooking.

The other night, at the dinner table, Andy stopped eating long enough to ask Baby D, “So, little boy, what did you do in school today?”

Baby D replied,

“Stuff.”

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

29 thoughts on “The Hoarder (#342)”

  1. I can sympathize with Andy. In my house, if you said anything, it got used against you later… by a nosy brother who wanted to know every detail of your life, or an angry parent in the middle of a marital battle. I’m working on it, but it isn’t easy.

  2. It may also be a partly male thing. My husband will spend 2 hours with a friend and when he comes home I’ll ask, “So, what’s new with them?” He’ll say, “nothing” but over the next 2 weeks little bits of information come out and it’s not trivia. I do eyerolls but in 20 years I haven’t figured out how to fix this!

  3. I think if you can get your car in the garage, that’s pretty good.

    Communication! I’m seeing that it’s an ongoing thing to figure out in relationships, I guess no matter how long you’ve been together. It’s amazing how much time and digging it sometimes takes to learn how someone else thinks.

    1. We just have to hope there’s no earthquake while the car is in the garage. It will be smothered in boxes.

      It is. And sometimes I forget everything I learned about my spouse and have to relearn it.

  4. I’m with Kate in that I think it’s a male thing. My husband can get squirrel-ly about deets of what he’s doing, especially when it’s innocent stuff. I think he fears being judged, so he keeps his plans to himself.

  5. Ah, communication! My hubby and I have been married 36 years and *still* have problems communicating at times.‍♀️As for Kraft mac and cheese – I still love it and it’s a staple in my oldest grandson’s diet.

    1. I still love Kraft Mac & Cheese, too, as does my son, but we try and make it a fun treat rather than treating it as a weekly dinner.

      So do both of you have trouble communicating, or would you say that one of you communicates more than the other? And congrats on 36 years! That’s 12 Hollywood marriages.

  6. Like father like son? Haha! To be fair when I was young and my dad asked me how school was I would usually give one word answers.

    I do agree with the constant “no” response from Chinese families. It’s amazing how they acquiesce to their parents and fear them to the point where they don’t even ask them anything!!

    Like you I also had a more lively dinner table because of my dad. When I have dinner with my husbands Chinese parents it’s so quiet and awkward. I know small talk isn’t the best but I prefer it to silence!

    1. It’s hard to say home much is genetic or environmental for Baby D. I think he is far less taciturn than his father, but he is more cautious about saying something that might get him criticized than I or my siblings would be. But he’s starting to make jokes–even puns!–which both his parents enjoy.

      Does your husband talk more when his parents aren’t around?

  7. Great story and loved how you pieced it together. It’s great you can fit a car and stuff in the garage – and boxes labelled and you sort of know where everything is. Communication is so important, in that it stops problems from snowballing and helps set boundaries. Maybe Andy really does think you’d disapprove as you mentioned. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to risk riling you up by saying anything. I know some people who don’t like saying much because they feel that what they know is no one else’s business.

    I think in Chinese cultures, not sharing information directly with others stems from how common ‘reading between the lines’ is as part of the cultures. At least that is the case in my Chinese family and friends in Asia. They can be very blunt and direct with their words. But when it comes to sharing something important, it’s more subtle.

    1. That’s true, my in-laws are VERY direct. And utterly baffled when I wouldn’t do as told. And they clearly had done whatever their parents told them. But Andy developed ways of working around them, rather than becoming like them as he got older. Mostly.

      Possibly because he grew up seeing other ways of familial interaction. It’s hard to be the one who breaks a cycle.

      1. It’s interesting how when someone is direct to you all your life, you sort of want to avoid becoming like that. It really is hard to be the one to break the cycle. But really sometimes you got to be direct to get to the point and stop wasting time.

        I’m having issues with WP not notifying me of comments on some blogs. I didn’t get a notification when you replied – had to come on here to check. Hope it resolves itself.

        1. There are ways to be direct and not be a jerk. But it takes practice! Some people appreciate direct feedback, while some can dish it out, but not take it.

          Glad you came back to check! Your comments are always thought-provoking.

  8. Oh, this is sooooo Himself. I have to keep reminding him that when he’s planning stuff, I am in blissful ignorance as I can’t read minds, so when he says “shall we…?” I need time to get ready to do it. And I’m no high maintenance girl, just need time to make sure I’m wearing the right clothes, have the right camera lenses with me, have paid a visit to the ladies room before going out etc. He’s getting better, but I still only know what’s for dinner because he’s become wedded to his new slow cooker!

    I absolutely roared at Baby D doing an Andy *to* Andy. It’s not what you tell ’em, it’s always what you show ’em! 🙂

    1. Andy did start telling me when he was ordering things or starting projects, finally.

      Baby D has unfortunately started to hoard info on friends and school work with me as well. I’ve pointed out the concept of reciprocity, but I’m also trying to be respectful of his boundaries…while still knowing enough to be able to intervene if necessary. It’s a hard line to walk, and one very unfamiliar to me. I’d have loved having a parent who cared what was going on in my life, while Baby D, contrary child that he is, probably longs to be ignored. For a little while, anyway.

      1. Ah, he’s entered *that* time. It’s a tricky one but, just by being around and being the taxi service, you’ll get to pick stuff up that other parents will totally miss. And yes, to wanting to be ignored, except when he magically needs you to know that he wants you not to. But you’re respecting his boundaries, and have the wisdom to know how important it is that you’re around listening out for stuff – that’s more than half the battle.

          1. I hate to make sweeping gender-based generalisations, but yeah. It was easier for me having a daughter. Still, you’ve got all that lurking and listening going on, so you’ve surely got this.

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