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.

My mother-in-law, Sunny, was younger than Jay. Even so, she had trouble caring for Jay at home. During one of our visits to Hawaii, when I picked Jay up off the floor for the third time and put him back in bed, I told Andy his family needed to think about putting Jay in an assisted living facility.

“Your Dad isn’t that big, but your mom isn’t getting any younger. How is she going to manage without us?”

“I don’t know. No one wants to talk about it.”

Andy’s older sister is a doctor. Her specialty is geriatrics. Yet when I pointed out that Jay was a lot for her mother to cope with and suggested moving him to a home, Betty burst into tears and said, “Oh, Autumn, no!”

Sunny refused to even consider the idea. “Too expensive,” she said.

“Not if you sell the rental house,” I argued.

“There’s too many taxes,” Sunny said.

I steeled myself and asked, “What if you sell both houses and move near us? We could help and your sister is nearby.”

“No, no, I will stay here and be fine.”

Sunny, of course, wasn’t fine. She had her own medical issues cropping up now that she was in her sixties. When she needed various surgeries, one of her kids had to fly 3-5,000 miles to take care of Jay. Same thing when Popo, Sunny’s mother, had a stroke, and Sunny needed to care for Popo.

Guess which of the three children always had to fly out in an emergency?

My husband. We were the closest, with the most flights from LA to Hawaii. Andy had the most stable job, with plenty of PTO. But mainly, Andy had me—the stay-at-home-mom who could, of course, always put her writing on hold to manage the one kid and everything else for a few weeks. His sister, married to another doctor and with two kids, was either on call or her husband was on call. Andy’s brother had a new baby (and then another new baby) while he and his wife worked in tech in San Jose.

For years, all of Andy’s vacation time went to trips to Hawaii. All our extra money went for his flights to Hawaii.

When he ran out of vacation, Andy took some Paid Family Leave (thank you, California!). It wasn’t his full salary, but we got by.

I got bitter. Single parenting The Boy Who Wouldn’t Nap, especially during Spring Break and Summer vacation, was mentally and physically exhausting. When, inevitably, I got injured while trying to walk 2 big dogs and chase Baby D on his bike, I had to keep going. I powered through baths on bloody knees, walks with back spasms, and several delightful noroviruses.

Plus, Baby D hated my cooking and missed his dad. He had no compunctions about telling me this hourly.

In vain did I remind my husband that he was now the unofficial Chinese-American Patriarch. “Just take charge! Put your foot down! Tell your mom she needs to move or move your dad into assisted living!”

Andy could not. He had spent too long deferring to the wishes to his parents. Which was, as always, hard for me to wrap my head around. Not once have my sibs and I shied away from battle with any parental unit—especially not when we thought our cause was just. (As it always was!)

But Andy would not argue with his mother, not even when Jay’s physical abilities deteriorated to the point where he needed a feeding tube. Despite Jay’s earlier instructions NOT to prolong his life, Sunny had one inserted. By then, Jay could no longer speak to protest.

I ranted to Andy about how wrong it was. Jay was stubborn and opinionated. He enjoyed laying down the law. Maybe, because of our skirmishes over everything from cheesecake to screwdrivers, I was the only one who could see how much Jay would have hated being overruled. Or maybe I empathized because I was the only family member who could fully relate to the old man’s bossy, judgmental personality.

Andy agreed that his father would not want to be kept alive, but had no idea where Jay’s old instructions were. Even if he had had them, he would never have fought his mother over his father’s care.

So I ranted to my Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister, an oncologist who deals with hospice issues daily.

“I know,” she sighed. “There are so many times when I have to explain to the grandchildren who can’t bear to let grandma go that there are things worse than death. Sometimes, you have to take them into the room and let them see the suffering. But to go against someone’s explicit wishes when they are no longer in their right mind? If only he’d been in assisted living! Or the hospital! They would have already had his wishes on file.”

“I know,” I ground out.

“Disregarding them is monstrous. Listen, if I ever lose my mind to dementia, you take me out, okay? I’ll be sure and leave you some morphine or a shot of potassium to make it quick.”

“I will,” I promised. “And you’ll do the same?”

“Don’t worry. If it comes down to it, I’ll kill all y’all.”

More comforting words were never spoken.

Belated Chinese New Year (#275)

My husband is Chinese-American.

I’m so white looking, I make a point of assuring any new neighbors of color that I did not vote for Trump.

Our son took after me.

Occasionally, an Asian-American woman would ask me if Baby D’s father was Asian, but no one ever appeared to be surprised that I was his mom.

It was different for my husband. He took Baby D to the grocery store when Baby D was about 2. An old white man got in Andy’s face and asked, “Is that your son?”

Andy said, “Yes.”

The old white man snorted and said, “He don’t look a thing like his daddy!”

Andy replied, “That’s because his white mama traded up races.” Continue reading Belated Chinese New Year (#275)

Food Fight, Part II (#269)

I am a picky eater with a sensitive gag reflex. My parents learned that trying to force me to eat Hamburger Helper would result in puke all over the kitchen. They turned a blind eye when I fed it to the dog.

My Chinese-American husband, on the other hand, is literally the embodiment of the Chinese saying, “The Cantonese will eat everything on four legs except the table.”

Andy is also immune to food poisoning and the stomach flu. I have spent days on the bathroom floor with both while he whistled and continued on his merry way. Never mind that we ate the same food and commingled bodily fluids.

Andy’s uncle has a theory that weak stomachs were weeded out of the Chinese gene pool ages ago, possibly because the Chinese eat quite a bit of undercooked food. If your stomach couldn’t handle it, you’d never survive to reproduce.

There is only one food so horrible, so hideous, that my husband gags at the very thought of it.

Are you ready?

It’s… Continue reading Food Fight, Part II (#269)

Taste Test (#268)

I am a picky eater. Take onions. I’ve hated onions with a passion since biting into my first McDonald’s burger and recoiling in horror over the raw, diced bites of bitterness wrecking my burger.

Unfortunately, onions are everywhere. No burger, sauce, or burrito is safe.

I’m normally a people-pleaser. Not when it comes to onions. I will quiz the wait staff before ordering a new dish. I will send that dish back if an onion shows up (very nicely and apologetically). And then I am NEVER going back to that restaurant.

My Chinese-American husband can and does eat anything. Animal brains? Check. Animal testicles? Check. Bitter melon? Check. Fish eyeballs, jellyfish, chicken feet? Bring it. The guy could have killed it on Fear Factor. Continue reading Taste Test (#268)

The Hard Way: East & West Parenting Manual (#265)

When Baby D was an infant, my husband thought he was the easiest baby. Baby D was content to nap on Andy’s chest while Andy lay on the couch and watched TV. Entire seasons were binge watched during his family leave.

Once Baby D figured out how to move, it was a different ballgame. Baby D learned to crawl–solely for the purpose of cat-chasing.

Baby D learned to walk at 10 months. For five seconds. After his first three steps, he ran.

This was a rough learning curve for Andy. His once-lazy weekends were now about chasing his son, usually with food or band-aids. When Baby D wasn’t running, he was probably arguing. Continue reading The Hard Way: East & West Parenting Manual (#265)

Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

My husband had Chinese-American parents. Mine were white, uptight, and Anglo-Saxon Protestant/ Atheist.

Andy was expected to obey his parents without question. If his parents said his curfew was 10 PM, Andy was home at 10 PM. If Andy’s father wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV, Andy could forget about participating in Little League or any other sport.

I was expected to obey, but not without question. My mom was an attorney. Dinner table discussions in her house ranged from abortion to capital punishment. Everyone was encouraged to express their own opinions and defend them. If I could present a good argument for a curfew change or pierced ears, these items might be considered. (Lost on curfew, won on pierced ears.) Continue reading Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

The Good Dad (#255)

When Andy and I were skirmishing negotiating over having a child, I extracted certain concessions. First, my husband would have to take Family Leave for 12 weeks and help take care of Baby D. Since California only covers 6 weeks of paid leave (a partial rate), we’d use my saving to pay the bills.

The idea of not saving money was almost physically painful for the son of Chinese immigrants. Dipping into savings might as well have been a mortal wound. (He never did fess up to his parents.) But I was adamant. Andy reluctantly agreed. We had no helpful grandparents to rock babies, make dinners, or do laundry within thousands of miles.

Besides, if Andy wanted the baby, he was not going to saunter off to work and leave me covered in poop and spit-up. He was gonna help. Continue reading The Good Dad (#255)

Lost in Translations (#254)

I find names and the naming process fascinating. Giving someone a nickname is often a way of expressing affection—or dislike. My parents divorced and remarried so much that we sometimes had as many as three different surnames in our households, but God help the poor classmate who referred to my stepfather as “Mr. Ashbough,” (the name of my mother’s ex-husband).

God also help whichever sibling my father hollered at using their full name—middle name included.

When my husband and I married, we put a lot of thought into hyphenating both our names. Andy’s Chinese-American parents objected. Their arguments were illogical, hypocritical, and downright ludicrous, but I was forced to concede.

Years later, I was still pissed. Continue reading Lost in Translations (#254)

Amen, Girlfriend (#244)

When I was seven months pregnant, my Chinese-American father-in-law insisted on coming to visit. Jay insulted me personally and women in general. His ceaseless efforts at home improvement culminated in disasters and emergency home improvements for my husband and me. Jay refused to desist. I lost my temper and yelled some mean things at him (all the meaner for being true).

A good hostess never yells at a guest, no matter how trying. A smart wife sucks it up and stays on speaking terms with her in-laws, no matter how insane they are. And a decent mom-to-be will put the needs of her future child ahead of her desire to throttle her maddening father-in-law until he drops the screwdriver of doom forever.

Continue reading Amen, Girlfriend (#244)