Post Father’s Day Post (#323)

Compared to Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is pretty recent. It only exists because certain politicians got all whiny about how dads in America were bereft of recognition. Instead of self-soothing with their higher wages, or their ability to assault women with impunity, or their success despite white mediocrity, they demanded their very own holiday.

President Nixon signed Father’s Day into law in 1972. Yes, NIXON, the most corrupt U.S. President until Trump demanded Nixon hold his beer.

Mother’s Day, at best, says “thanks for all the unpaid emotional labor of child-rearing, please have this one day off.” Ironically, it often means more work for a person who is already overworked and underpaid.

Father’s Day? Father’s Day is ridiculous. We live in a damned patriarchy. Every day is Father’s Day.

Every day the mom network has stories of moms managing kids, work, pets, and broken appliances while this husband went golfing or that husband was hungover from poker. Moms struggle to recover from things like surgery and childbirth, getting up when they should be lying down because their husbands are shit (and allowed/ expected to be shit) at coping with recalcitrant toddlers and teenagers.

As a society, we allow men to focus on their own needs (be it their career or their Crossfit workout) while expecting moms to always hold down a fort teeming with screaming children–even while they’re holding down their own job. Men’s wages even increase once they have kids, despite doing less around the house, while women get penalized. (The combination of pandemic and social media threw this disparity into high relief.)

The result? Less women are getting married. Less women are having kids. More women opting out of a shit system where even single moms have more leisure time than married ones.

Good call, women.

Now, there are some great dads out there. And we certainly hear about them! In fact, the very first state-wide celebration of Father’s Day in the U.S. was in honor of a widower who raised his 6 kids when his wife died—some 40 years after 200,000 widows had to raise kids alone after the U.S. Civil War.

The media is all over these good dads:

This dad learned to braid his daughter’s hair!

This dad coaches his daughter’s team and not his son’s!

This dad bought his daughter tampons isn’t that fucking amazing!

Seriously. How low is the bar for dads?

I mean, take Andy. No, don’t really take him, my husband is a great cook, can dance, makes decent money, and has solid health insurance.

But…Andy would also give our child 12 hours of screen time a day if I weren’t around so he could play Clash Royale or read the news in peace. Andy wouldn’t have done the work to get Baby D into swim classes, Junior Lifeguards, or any sports. Without my  badgering guidance, Andy definitely wouldn’t have volunteered to coach any sports, or signed Baby D up for Cub Scouts. There wouldn’t be father-son trips to McDonad’s Playland, let alone the beach.

Our kid would also be wearing clothes he outgrew 2 years ago.

Yet my fellow moms shrug off this standard dad behavior. Instead, they are in awe over the fact that my husband goes to the Farmer’s Market and cooks on the weekends. They repeatedly tell me how lucky I am.

Can you imagine being amazed if a mom went to the market and made dinner?

Other women tell me what a great dad Andy is because he goes to his son’s sports games—even though he’s missed a few while injured or out of town.

Meanwhile, my Surgeon Sister works long, unpredictable hours and misses some of her daughters’ events. When Surgeon Sis introduced herself as “A’s mom” at swim meet, a woman blurted out, “You’re A’s mom? I thought you were dead!”

The bar for moms is set so high you’d have to be an eagle to fly over it.

The bar for being a good dad is so fucking low a dachshund couldn’t get under it.

But don’t worry, I’m not a total monster. Yesterday we still celebrated Father’s Day in our house.

I walked the dogs early while Andy had coffee and read or played video games. Just like every other day.

I took Baby D to specialized soccer training while Andy relaxed, as I do every Sunday.

We gave Andy new bourbons to try and a few other gifts, plus his favorite doughnuts and apple fritters. Then I took Baby D and some friends to a pool for the afternoon, followed by pizza and frozen yogurt—handling my kids’ activities and social life like I do every day.

Cuz every day is Father’s Day.

Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

I did not grow up gourmet.

I grew up excited about McDonald’s. This might have been because my parents’ ideas of cooking meant throwing protein and potatoes in the oven for an hour or two. Sometimes we had rice as a side, but mostly it was baked potatoes. With margarine. (I didn’t discover butter until I was in high school. Whereupon I ranted to my parents, “Why have you been keeping this deliciousness from us and giving us MARGARINE?!”)

My husband Andy is Chinese-American. In his family, rice isn’t a side, it’s necessity. The angriest I’ve ever seen Andy’s Engineering Cousin was when her Quite White husband went on the Atkin’s diet. “It’s ridiculous!” she ranted at Andy on Thanksgiving. “It’s all meat and fat! Not a grain of rice ever! How can you have dinner or holidays without rice?!”

Since I’d never seen rice served at Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter or 4th of July until I met Andy’s extended family, I could easily imagine holidays without rice. There would be mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, or potato salad. Rice had never made an appearance at any Ashbough holiday EVER.

I was fine with that, because rice is boring. Like tofu, it’s great for soaking up the flavor of any sauce, and when it’s fried into crispy rice with some spicy tuna on top? Divine.

But plain rice alone?

“It’s only good for keeping your mouth from burning up after spicy food,” I informed Andy. “Why don’t we have more potatoes? They are healthier than rice, with more vitamins and antioxidants. Plus, you can make a potato into anything: hash browns, home fries, potato skins, scalloped potatoes, potato pancakes, and even French fries! Or you can just have a potato baked with cheese and sour cream.”

“Potatoes are only healthier if you eat the skin,” Andy retorted. “And all the potato dishes you listed are not healthier than plain rice.”

“But way yummier. I miss potatoes. The only time we have potatoes is when I make pot roast.”

With no small amount of side-eye, Andy said, “When you make the food, you can choose the side.”

Not long after that statement, Andy was injured and couldn’t cook for months. Which meant I had to. The only fringe benefit was potatoes. Lots of them. Potatoes went into the oven and the crockpot. (Especially after I burned the rice. In the rice cooker. Yeah, it’s a mystery.)

Our son Baby D was my ally—at first. He liked pot roast potatoes smothered in gravy. He didn’t bat an eye at the little purple potatoes in the chicken rosemary. And Baby D devoured baked potatoes loaded with bacon and cheese.

Andy’s scrumptious eggs Benedict with home fries.

Once he healed, Andy grudgingly added potatoes to the weekly shopping list. He made hash browns and home fries for weekend breakfasts. He would occasionally toss in a potato galette to go with his beef Wellington. He made potato skins for the Superbowl every year.

IT WAS A CLEVER DIVERSION.

At the same time, Andy introduced Baby D to sticky rice and musubi (rice wrapped in seaweed). Baby D would have sticky rice with dinner and then eat a bowl with sugar after dinner if he was still hungry. He’d often beg his father for a quick snack of musubi. Andy would oblige, of course.

All part of his master plan.

Only I was surprised the weekend Baby D glared at his breakfast burrito instead of eating it.

“Not hungry?” I asked.

“It has hash browns in it. Don’t want hash browns.”

“What?!” I practically screeched. “Who doesn’t like hash browns?!”

“I can make it without hash browns,” Andy quickly offered, trying not to smile. “I could even put in—”

“Don’t say it!” I interrupted. “It would be a TRAVESTY.”

“—rice,” Andy finished.

While Baby D declined the rice, opting for an egg, cheese, and bacon breakfast burrito, the hash brown incident heralded the resurgence of rice in our household. With the exception of pot roast potatoes, Baby D had to be reminded to finish any potato dish on his plate. He’d even eat his vegetables first. (Unheard of!) When we had our quarantine/ birthday/ Thanksgiving last year, he was particularly bitter about mashing potatoes.

“Why can’t we have rice?” he whined. Repeatedly.

We might have been physically alone that holiday, but Andy’s family was definitely with us in spirit.

No rice, only mashed potatoes because Baby D’s mother is so mean.

Mother’s Day Musings (#321)

Content Warning: We’ve lost so many millions of mothers to COVID this year that even relentless jewelry-hawkers like Pandora are exercising a modicum of compassion in their Mother’s Day advertising. If you aren’t up for reading about the holiday, skip this post and consider yourself hugged.

My mom died when I was a teenager. I dreaded Mother’s Day every year after that.

I’d’ve liked to ignore the entire day. Or better still, the entire week.

Instead, there were celebrations for the other moms in my life. By the time I left home, I had to remember cards and gifts for my ex-stepmother, my current stepmother, my former stepfather’s current wife, etc. (My family is so complicated that my Big Brother finally made a PowerPoint presentation for those foolish enough to marry into it. My husband is still bitter Big Brother didn’t make it until after we got married.)

After I got married, though, Mother’s Day wasn’t so bad. Sure, I had to add my mother-in-law to the list of card recipients and badger my husband about getting her a gift, but this also served to remind him to start planning a celebration for the other mother in his life. Andy made sure that our dogs Fey and Woofie “remembered” Mother’s Day with gifts for me. He also made me beautiful breakfasts.

Once Baby D was born, every person I ran into on Mother’s Day weekend wished me a “Happy Mother’s Day.” I got cards, chocolates, and sometimes a babysitter so we could go out to dinner. Once Andy even sent me to the spa for a massage while he wrangled Baby D alone. ONCE.

By the time Baby D was three, Mother’s Day had evolved into A Most Important Event. Dozens of adorable, utterly useless crafts came home from preschool in my honor.

A paper plate “purse” with coupons for hugs, kisses, and chores that my child refused to ever let me redeem.

I also discovered that preschools and kindergartens went all in on “Mother’s Day Teas.” Children sang tear-inducing “I Love My Mom” songs while the teachers handed out tissues. Afterwards, kids served their mothers chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, and lemonade…and immediately ate the goodies themselves while the mommies were still blowing their noses. Since SoCal moms are constantly dieting, most moms didn’t care. Much to Baby D’s dismay, his mother ate her chocolate strawberries RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM and he had to wait until all the moms were served to get his own plate of treats.

Even youth sports recognized what a big deal Mother’s Day was. No games were scheduled on Mother’s Day. Which hardly seemed like a Mother’s Day present; the whole point of my ridiculously energetic kid playing sports was for SOMEONE ELSE to exhaust him on the field so I didn’t have to exhaust him at the park or in the pool or with Nerf gun wars. But instead of playing on Mother’s Day Sunday, corsages or flowers were given to all the moms in attendance at the Saturday games (the coaches warned you in advance to be in attendance).

While I might have preferred to celebrate Mother’s Day with more sports and less obligatory maternal celebrations, other moms relished the recognition. “At least I get this,” one mom told me, sniffing her bouquet.

Aghast, I said, “Your husband isn’t doing anything for you?! No brunch or dinner?!”

“Oh, there’s a dinner tonight—for my mother. I still have to pick up the cake and flowers and make the boys sign her card and get her present wrapped. And tomorrow, it’s a brunch for his mom. She can’t drive, so my husband will pick her up while I’m getting the house and meal ready a second time. By the time he takes her home, I’ll just have enough energy to put in a movie for the boys and retreat to my room with a glass of wine.”

With my mother deceased and Andy’s mother 3,000 miles away, I’d never really thought about Mother’s Day for the “Sandwich Generation” before. It sounded exhausting.

Yes, Mother’s Day without my own mom was always sad.

No, Mother’s Day as a mom wasn’t always what I wanted.

But it was mine. All mine.
Right down to the Nerf Wars.

Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

Holidays were huge in my white family. We wore green, pinched each other anyway, and listened to the Irish Rovers on St. Patrick’s Day (despite being Protestant or atheists). Small gifts appeared on Valentine’s Day morning. There were Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. Our birthdays began with presents and towers of doughnuts. Christmas magic (and excesses) went on for days.

Holidays were not big in my Chinese-American husband’s family. Growing up, he got a red envelope with cash, usually from his Popo, on Chinese New Year.

That was it.

Even though some Wong family members were very earnest Christians, there were neither Easter baskets nor Christmas stockings.

Birthdays might involve going out for dim sum. There wasn’t even a cake until Andy turned 18—when his mom told Andy to pick one up for himself at the grocery store. Andy had a job at that point; I suspect he even had to pay for it.

Since holidays were the highlight of my childhood, I was horrified every time I discovered a new one Andy had “missed.”

You never carved a pumpkin?!” I’d screech. “What did you DO on Halloween, then?”

“Went trick-or-treating.”

“Oh, good. At least your parents let you do that.”

“Of course. The candy was free.”

I was sad for all the fun things Andy missed, but, even though he was the child of immigrants, Andy had a more secure childhood than I did. He was the apple of his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—eyes, the first male in two generations. As the much beloved Number One Son, his mother and grandmother constantly pushed him to eat more. When they went out for dim sum, there were always leftovers to bring home.

I had years on free lunch tickets, plus I had to guard my food from my hungry siblings. My parents were terrible cooks. When we went out to Shakey’s Pizza or McDonald’s (a HUGE treat!), there were never leftovers. Probably the reason we loved holidays was in no small part due to the abundance of food, especially sweets.

Andy, in turn, was horrified that a) I grew up without quite enough food, and b) Kraft Mac & Cheese with Hormel Chili was my favorite dinner.

Over the years, I introduced Andy to holiday fun. He showed me that cooking meals from scratch was tasty (and, when it wasn’t beef Wellington, economical).

Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts.

This year, our child’s birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day fell within days of each other. Piles of candy and gifts accumulated on the dining room table. At that same table, I watched Baby D devour Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts, Andy’s beef Wellington, carryout from Din Tai Fun, about twenty shrimp dumplings from the local dim sum joint, and Andy’s homemade chili and cornbread.

Baby D’s homemade cake.

Meanwhile, Andy watched me make a six-hour chocolate cake and arrange a surprise birthday COVID car parade for our kid. He laughed as I swapped out birthday balloons for red lanterns and lucky money envelopes for Baby D’s favorite See’s Candies so our kid could fully enjoy each special occasion.

After Valentine’s Day dinner, Andy surveyed the accumulated culinary/ holiday debris and said, “Our kid is spoiled.”

“We’re just giving him everything we wished we’d had,” I countered.

“But it’s so much!”

“Maybe you’re right. But there’s one really important Ashbough tradition left.”

“Even your family cannot possibly do anything for President’s Day.”

“Hahaha, no, we’re not celebrating problematic old white men. It’s something else.” I raised my voice and called, “Baby D! Come here! We have one more thing for you!”

Baby D ran into the kitchen. “Is it a giant gummi worm? More hong bao?”

I placed a towel in his outstretched hands and said,

“It’s the dishes.”

A Sunny Visit (#309)

After my father-in-law died, my Chinese-American mother-in-law hunkered down at home for more than a year. Her children flew to Hawaii to visit her. Sunny, who had once longed to travel, only left the house for shopping and walks.

Until my brother-in-law needed help with childcare. Sunny decided to bookend her months at Denny’s house in Northern California with visits to our house in Southern California (and a side trip to Vegas with her sister, of course).

Having had my fill of in-law visits, I went to New York City during the first four days of Sunny’s visit. Don’t be thinking it was filled with shows or shopping, though! I cooked, cleaned, and helped my sister adjust to having a newborn.

When I got home, practically the first thing my son did was complain about eating out.

Now, maybe you think it’s normal for husband and son to eat out when the wife is gone. If so, 1) check yourself on the gender stereotyping and 2) you must be new here. Continue reading A Sunny Visit (#309)

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. Continue reading Cousins: East & West Edition (#301)

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)