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. 

Are You Okay (#299)

Maybe you have an optimist for a partner. The kind of person who says, when his grandmother has a stroke, “She’s not going to die.”

And she doesn’t.

When his mother has an ovarian mass removed, your husband isn’t worried. “It’s not cancer,” he declares.

The biopsy proves him correct.

While you may agonize over bleeding while pregnant, potential pre-eclampsia, and spiking a fever during labor, your husband does not. “Baby D is going to be fine,” he tells you confidently.

Sure enough, your baby is born ridiculously healthy.

And yet you know catastrophe waits around every corner. When a family member you don’t speak to regularly calls, your first thought is, “Oh, no.” It takes years of practice and therapy to say, “Everything okay?” instead of blurting out, “Who died?” Continue reading Are You Okay (#299)

The Ultimate Thief (#298)

Both our dogs were rescues. Our second dog, Fey, was rescued from the streets of South Central Los Angeles and never forgot it. She was loyal, well-behaved, and obedient.

And then there was Woofie. Our first dog ran away repeatedly. He went to science class at the local school. He created bizarre insurance claims. He dug up the yard. He snuck up on the furniture, curling up in Andy’s preferred recliner.

But worst of all? He was an unrepentant thief. Continue reading The Ultimate Thief (#298)

A Coach of a Different Color (#297)

Blue hair makes practice fun!

I was my son’s first soccer coach. When various AYSO personnel made it clear that my job was to make soccer fun so the kids would want to keep playing, that’s what I did. Having racked up ungodly numbers of hours taking care of younger siblings and babysitting for cash, I understood that holding a child’s attention is not easy. You have to creative, flexible, a little silly, a lot encouraging, and just scary enough to keep the aggressive kids in line. If the kids weren’t improving or having fun, I figured that was my fault. I spent hours adjusting and agonizing over practices and games.

My Chinese-American husband had a completely different mindset.

Continue reading A Coach of a Different Color (#297)

Dead Asleep (#296)

My Chinese-American husband snored. I woke at the slightest disturbance. For years, it was a miserable combination. I survived on earplugs and every sleep medication known to man.

Then my ear canals got infected. The doctor told me I couldn’t wear earplugs anymore.

I told Andy we had to do something about his snoring. Like many snorers, Andy didn’t really believe he snored.

“And if I do snore occasionally,” he insisted, “it’s not loud.”

“I can hear it when I try and sleep in the living room,” I argued. “Sometimes it’s not even a snore—it’s like a snarl!”

“You’re just a light sleeper.” Continue reading Dead Asleep (#296)

Wide Awake (#295)

I was a night owl as a child and an insomniac as an adult. I stayed awake replaying the events of the day—especially everything I did wrong. Therapy and getting an insane amount of exercise cured me in my twenties. After a miserable pregnancy (with equally miserable sleep), I woke up for breastfeeding several times a night. Once Baby D dropped nighttime nursing, I woke up because I’d gotten used to waking up. The slightest noises woke me up because Something Might Be Wrong with Baby D.

Then I woke up because something WAS wrong with Baby D, either an illness or a scream of “Want dinner!” at midnight.

My husband Andy never woke up unless I punched him in the arm, which, as I slept less and he snored more, made me want to punch him even harder. Continue reading Wide Awake (#295)

Failing (#294)

My Chinese-American father-in-law harangued me weekly until I got pregnant. He believed my sole purpose in life, as wife to the Number One Son, was to bear him a grandson.

Once Baby D was born, Jay’s health deteriorated. Physical ailments led to mental issues. By the time Baby D was four, Jay was in a wheelchair and not always lucid.

As if he had only been holding on to complete his purpose in life—a grandson. Continue reading Failing (#294)

12 Step Program for White Women (#293)

 

  1. PUT DOWN THE PHONE. Yeah, I know you are in mid-text to the one Black woman you know from work five years ago, or the PTA, or from your kids’ dance class/ baseball team/ Girl Scout troop. STOP. Sure, someone on social media said “check in with your Black friends.” But you aren’t friends. You are, at best, acquaintances. If you were friends, you’d know she’s exhausted by all the other white women texting her. What you really want is to know that you are a “good” white person and she doesn’t hate you. Here’s the thing: a) you probably microaggressed the shit out of her because all of us white people do it, and b) you’re expecting more unpaid labor from a Black woman. Which brings us to…
  2. DO YOUR OWN WORK. Pretend you are back in school. You were probably a  good student and the teachers loved you because you were a white woman with an A+ in people-pleasing. You never cheated (although you undoubtedly gave an undeserving mediocre white male the answers at least once). So why are you now asking Black women for the answers? Come on. Think about how pissed off and resentful you are daily because your white husband automatically expects you to handle all the kids’ activities, schooling, and healthcare while keeping the house clean, providing meals, and serving as household counselor/ cheerleader. Now, imagine he comes back from a long business trip and says, “Hey, I saw this article about how women do all the emotional labor. I didn’t bother to actually read it, but give me a pat on the head for noticing it and explain it all to me, please.” If you weren’t so tired, you’d throw something at your idiot husband. And he’d fucking deserve it. Well, Black women are about a thousand times more tired than we are, which you will understand if you…
  3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  Read at least two books on the current New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List. Yes, the NYT is biased and totally cheats BIPOCs (when you your homework you will know what BIPOC means) by switching their criteria to favor white authors. However, the non-fiction section is currently dominated by Black Americans writing about race relations because the other 4.0 white people are finally doing their long overdue reading for Honors English.
  4. DO MORE HOMEWORK. Once your head stops spinning after you finish at least 2 books from #3, read The Hate You Give. It’s easier going and reading fiction is supposed to increase empathy. Yes, of course you are a very empathetic person, but crying over Subaru commercials and rescued animals is not the same as understanding the effects of systemic racism on a visceral level. Ask yourself why you were more outraged over the police shooting dogs than Walter Scott. Or De’Von Bailey. And then…
  5. ACKNOWLEDGE COMPLICITY.  We swallowed the white supremacist narrative that Black Americans deserve the violence meted out by racist cops. And yes, we should have done better. Get yourself some tissues and have a good cry, but do NOT, under any circumstances, call your Black acquaintance and sob over this epiphany. They’ve spent a lifetime surviving what we just learned. They’re too busy giving their offspring “The Talk” to give us absolution. Instead…
  6. TALK TO YOUR OWN OFFSPRING. Since you’ve done your homework, you now know that it is on you to cover all the material state textbooks leave out (some states more than others, TEXAS). There are statues of slave traders, Confederate generals, and Christopher Columbus coming down all over. Use these exciting visuals of destruction as a starting point. End with a comparison between the United States and Germany. (Hint: Germany apologized for the Holocaust, banned the Nazi salute, and DOESN’T have Hitler statues).
  7. CALL OUT YOUR PARENTS. Repeatedly. Don’t let them get away with perpetuating the “by my own bootstraps,” myth or any other racist crap. Overwhelm them with your homework facts. Use the parental controls on their remote to keep them from watching Fox News. Until they shape up, withhold grandchildren on the grounds that you do not want your children to be brainwashed into evil. Never excuse them with bullshit about “but they’re good people,” who would “give you the shirt of their backs.If they excuse the violence perpetrated on Black bodies, and/or putting kids in cages, they are white supremacists and fascists. Would you let your kid hang out with the KKK or Hitler?
  8. CALL OUT ALL THE RACISTS ALL THE TIME. This is probably the hardest part for us. We’ve been trained to be good hostesses. We smooth things over. We don’t create scenes. We’re gonna have to get over that–fast. If we aren’t making white people uncomfortable, we are not doing the work.
  9. PROTEST. THEN CHANNEL YOUR INNER KAREN TO COMBAT POLICE BRUTALITY. Policing is done at the local level. Instead of calling the police on Black Americans enjoying life, call your mayor. Call your city council, and your police commissioners. Attend their Zoom meetings. Identify yourself as a constituent and then, because you did your homework, point out how much goddamned money is spent on the police—especially their unnecessary military gear and their pensions. Since every city will be facing huge revenue shortfalls this year, there is no better time to demand a massive reduction in the police budget. Push for social services and education instead of police!
  10. DONATE. If you’re worried about being scammed, start here. Always, always google organizations. A little research can save you from financing some problematic activist’s failed mountain climbing expedition instead of a solid organization.
  11. FOLLOW BLACK WOMEN–especially on Twitter. (If you haven’t found them by now, you got an F on your homework. Go back to #2 and start over.) Staying current on events and the conversation is vital; it will keep you from embarrassing yourself or donating to the failed mountain climbing dude. Centering and listening to Black voices is even more important, and we’re really, really bad at it. WARNING: never, ever insert yourself in the conversation—Twitter will drag you deservedly and mercilessly. Just listen. Learn. Consider events and history from a non-white perspective. Retweet. Amplify. Repeat.
  12. NO TITLES. Maybe we did the work and feel like we deserve a treat. Resist. Never, ever call yourself “an ally.” Nor “an accomplice.” Why? If we only did the work to signal our virtue, we’re assholes, not allies. But most of all…

“Ally” is the one title no white person can bestow.

The Reluctant Coach (#292)

I thought that signing up my kid for recreational soccer meant all I’d have to sign up for would be snacks.

That’s how they get you.

AYSO always needed volunteers. They threatened to dissolve multiple teams unless parents agreed to coach. They promised the parents plenty of free training.

I gave Andy a hopeful look.

My husband said, “Hell, no. You’re the one who wanted him to play soccer.”

I caved and agreed to coach Baby D’s U6 team. Continue reading The Reluctant Coach (#292)