I Heart Competition (#335)

In BC times (“Before Child”), my Chinese American husband never missed a gift-giving occasion. Flowers were delivered on my birthday, or sometimes, “just because.” There were platinum earrings to match my engagement ring at Christmas. An emerald necklace was mine on Valentine’s Day.

It took me a while to realize part of Andy’s motivation was to overshadow—and in some cases replace outright— all gifts from previous boyfriends.

In AD times (“After Dalton”), Andy’s gift-giving prowess deserted him. One year he completely spaced on stuffing my stocking (a huge family tradition) or giving me any Christmas presents. Since that was the first year we didn’t spend Christmas with my family, that meant I had nothing to open on Christmas morning.

Our son actually stopped stuffing his face with gummy worms, looked over his giant wall of toys/crumpled wrapping paper, and said, “Mommy, you must have done something terrible.”

Andy, behind his own pile of wrapping paper, Kona coffee, See’s Candies, and bourbon bottles, looked everywhere except at me as I said, “Well, Dalton, sometimes people don’t always make good choices. And then they have to live with the consequences.”

I left them to clean up the mess while I took the dogs for a long, long walk and called my girlfriends. Since Andy didn’t grow up with a lot any holiday traditions, the gal pals felt that divorce or murder was a smidge premature. However, they agreed that it was completely reasonable that Andy should sleep outside on the patio, especially since rain was in the forecast.

Later, I had a long talk with Andy about his new sleeping arrangements the importance of men modeling caring and respect for one’s partner. This is especially critical when one has an only son that one does not want to grow up utterly entitled.

Andy was very contrite. He may have been allowed to sleep on the couch. With the snoring, farting dogs.

*****

Perhaps Christmas night with the dogs was an unforgettable consequence for Andy. I may also have dropped a few sharp, pointed comments reminders about modeling good behavior over the next month.

On Valentine’s Day, I found several gifts on my placemat when I got up: a tote bag that looked like an old school library card, a book, and some Vosages chocolate bars.

“Aw! What a cute bag! And a new book!” I exclaimed. “And which of you gave me the expensive chocolate bars?”

“Those are from Dad,” Dalton yelled dismissively, running into the dining room. He excitedly handed me a big red heart filled with at least a pound of See’s Candies. “This is from me.”

I hugged him and said. “Thank you! That’s so nice!”

“Dad took me shopping and I picked it out myself. And they gave me free samples.”

Andy appeared, presenting me with an even bigger red heart. This one was covered in red satin and held two pounds of See’s Chocolate. “And this one is from me. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“Wow. That’s huge.”

Dalton glowered at Andy for a minute before launching himself at his father. “You copied me! But you got the bigger one! How dare you!”

Andy laughed and tried to fend off Dalton. As the inevitable wrestling match ensued, Andy yelled, “Well, I couldn’t have my Valentine be outdone by my own son!”

That was NOT the message I wanted my son to learn about gift-giving.

But it was something.

 

Cold Wars (#334)

My Chinese American husband grew up in tropical Hawaii. When he moved to Los Angeles, his mom sent him with an electric blanket.

Years later, I laughed over that blanket before donating it to charity. I grew up on the East Coast, spending many holidays in New Hampshire. “Southern California is not cold,” I told Andy.  “Twenty below on a chairlift is cold.”

The disparity in our experiences was highlighted during vacations. I ignored Andy’s advice and ran up a sand dune barefoot on the island of Kauai, yelling, “How hot can it be?”

Answer: “Hot enough that you wind up whimpering with ice packs on your burning feet.”

On one trip to New Hampshire, our son woke up at the crack of dawn, yelling. We bolted out of bed and found him in the kitchen—unharmed, but convinced he’d seen a strange cat. Andy disappeared while I got Baby D back to sleep. It was only October, but the temperature had plummeted overnight. I found the very old school thermostat and turned the dial up before hunting through the house for my husband.

He was back in bed, shivering.

I patted his arm and said, “Don’t worry, honey. I turned on the heat.”

“Good,” moaned Andy, who is an engineer. “I couldn’t figure out how.”

The undecipherable thermostat had a dial like this.

The one time we went whale watching? Andy spent 30 minutes in the hotel shower afterwards. He drank hot coffee while standing under hot water, convinced he was hypothermic.

Before any readers start in on how cold it is watching the whales in Alaska or Cape Cod, please know that our ship barely made it out of the bay in SAN DIEGO.

So you’d think that my husband would be the first person to bump up our SoCal thermostat (which he finds easy to adjust because it is not “an archaic New England instrument powered by witchcraft”) to higher temperatures.

Wrong. Heat costs money. My husband, like many Chinese Americans, is very frugal.

Our tiny house, which was built for hot summers (e.g., no basement, just a crawlspace with vents allowing cool breezes to circulate under the house) can easily drop to 55°F overnight during California winters.

Boss Cat sneaks under the covers. We cover up our short-haired dog with a blanket.

In the mornings, Andy will throw on a robe, slippers, and sometimes a beanie or wool leg warmers from Bolivia.

But he will not turn on the heat. Not even at 55°F.

Mark, a fellow blogger in South Dakota, wrote a whole post about how tough it was to get up when his household temp dropped to 59°F (though he immediately built a roaring fire).

Using oil for heating is prevalent in New England and expensive as fuck. Yet my ExStepmother in New Hampshire sets her winter thermostat to 64°F at night and 67°F during the day. So does one of my sisters in upstate New York.

And still Andy will not touch the thermostat, insisting, “It will warm up during the day.”

Which is often true. It might be in the forties in Southern California at 5 AM, but once the sun comes out at 7 AM, the temperature soars. Last Sunday we swung from 49°F degrees at dawn to 75°F degrees at noon.

Besides, most days Andy only has to last an hour before leaving for his warm office at work (in a car with heated seats).

Meanwhile, I type with fingerless gloves. Wearing a jacket, my own ski cap, fleece pants, a wool sweater, and a turtleneck. And wrapped up in a blanket crocheted by my friend JM.

But I’m not turning on the heat, either. Even though I have a history of sneakily turning up thermostats.

Because I’ve been on New Hampshire chairlifts in -20°F and no fucking way am I caving with the heat before someone who grew up in Hawaii.

Sometimes, though?

I regret not keeping that stupid electric blanket.

Sweetsgiving (#330)

I love sweets. But as a kid with a ton of siblings and not enough money, sweets only appeared in abundance for special events.

My parents’ weddings had cake. Birthdays began with doughnuts. Halloween had candy. Christmas had cookies.

Thanksgiving? A total letdown. My mom and stepfatherspent hours trying to get their homemade cranberry sauce to come out of a ridiculous antique rose mold. It molded properly exactly once and ALWAYS tasted bitter. And pumpkin pie? Could there BE a blander pie?

My dad made the only decent Thanksgiving dessert—apple pie. So of course our Labrador retriever Toffee got on the counter and ate it. Continue reading Sweetsgiving (#330)

That Woman (#327)

When Dalton was in first grade, he was assigned to Miss Queen. She was old, she was white, and she was known for being “strict.”

“But what does that mean?” I asked a Korean American mom who also had a son in the class.

“My daughter had her, she’s a great teacher,” she assured me. “Dalton will learn so much.”

A mom on my block told me the same thing. “Some parents can’t hack it. We started out with nearly thirty kids in the class, and by the end of the school year there were only twelve. But my son needed that structure.”

My Chinese American husband shrugged off my concerns. “Some of those kids were out of control in kindergarten. They need some discipline. And,” he said wistfully, “it would be nice if Dalton did exactly what I told him.” Continue reading That Woman (#327)

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?!” Continue reading Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

When you marry across cultures, there are bound to be a few differences.

Some differences are jarring at first—like my husband’s Chinese-American family openly discussing money. If you’re open-minded, however, you can learn to embrace coupons and brag about how much money you saved.

Other differences seem insurmountable, especially when much vaunted Western autonomy clashes with Asian filial piety. That’s when it’s important to distance yourself from the issue. I found that 3,000 miles proved effective. Mostly.

But every so often, a practice from another culture makes you say, “That’s brilliant! Why don’t we do that?!”

Like shoes. Continue reading Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

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. Continue reading Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

Waiting (#314)

I am not a patient person. I was the kid in the car asking “Are we there yet?” every 10 minutes. My many siblings were equally impatient. Road trips were an endless chorus of questions about how long it was to the bathroom, restaurant, and destination.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t go on many road trips.

My Chinese-American husband is patient (sadly, he grew up on Oahu, which is too small for road trips). I’m not sure if he’s naturally mellow, or if the tropical “hang loose” vibes worked on his personality the opposite way that the intense, political atmosphere of Washington, D.C. affected me.

Perhaps our different levels of patience exemplify the difference in our cultures. My Western mindset insists that I can control my destiny if I work, scheme, and worry enough. At the very least, maybe I can get someone incompetent fired if I document the crap out of his failings. But Andy doesn’t see the point; people are gonna be stupid and other people are gonna cover for them. That’s life, and you have no control over your own fate, let alone anyone else’s. Why exhaust yourself changing nothing? Continue reading Waiting (#314)

Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

Shopping for anyone from a different culture is tricky.

Shopping for your in-laws is tough.

Shopping for your Chinese-American in-laws?

You’re fucked worse than The Martian. Continue reading Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)