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.

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)

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)

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)

Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Once upon a time, my future husband gave me thoughtful, expensive presents. On one of our early dates, we rode an elephant together (before we knew better, sorry, wildlife defenders everywhere). Elephants had been my favorite animal as a child, in part because “elephants never forget.” Not being forgotten is the childhood fantasy of every middle child in an enormous family who has been left at school, ballet, or the Trailways bus station.

Andy didn’t forget why I loved elephants or our date. Andy got me a gold and emerald elephant pendant for Christmas that year.

Andy learned I liked old-fashioned, unique jewelry. He found an Edwardian ring design and worked with a jeweler to have it modified and cast in platinum for an engagement ring. 

I said yes. Eventually

Continue reading Andy’s Guide to Gift-Giving (and Marriage) #245

Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

A woman’s home is her castle. Until her father-in-law shows up.

I’m white woman raised by a former debutante. My racist Southern grandma ran a charm school. As liberated as my mother tried to be, she was still stuck on Rules of Acceptable Female Behavior.

One such rule was “Be an Exemplary Hostess.” When friends came over, they got first pick of snacks, toys, and sleeping bags. They chose the games we played.

When my parents entertained, we children took coats. We handed around hors d’ oeuvres. We got adults drinks. If there was a shortage of chairs, we offered our seats to adults and took the floor. We cleared the table and did the dishes, too. My mother took immense pride in the praise guests heaped upon her for her adorable little helpers.

She shared their praise with us. And since we were many, and desperate for attention, we got a little warped.

Continue reading Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

I was raised by a liberated woman and a man who believed his daughters should mow lawns, change tires, and have the same curfew as their older brother.

My sisters and I crushed in academics no less than my brother. We were better singers, better dancers, and better athletes. Also more popular. (Sorry, Big Bro!)

NASA came to my schools seeking women astronauts. They told us women had better reflexes than men, handled G-forces better than men, and coped better in close quarters better than men and please could we girls consider being astronauts?

I never understood why a person should be more valued because they were born with a penis. I mean, having a penis means you’re kind of fragile and likely to die earlier than a woman.

Continue reading Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

In my childhood house of a thousand siblings, there was only one day more exciting than Christmas.

My birthday.

On my birthday, I got to sit at the head of the breakfast table and preside over a plate of powdered doughnuts with candles. Powdered doughnuts might not seem very exciting compared to the Krispy Kremes and Voodoo doughnut delicacies of today, but back then they were a huge treat. Especially to a kid in a big family on a budget. Continue reading West Versus East: The Birthday Edition (#219)

Year of the Dawg (#212)

It’s Chinese New Year, and it’s also my third blogoversary! I bet y’all think I’m gonna do an uplifting or informational post about the Year of the Dog today, right?

Nope. Today I’m gonna talk about just how much a new mattress can improve your life. Continue reading Year of the Dawg (#212)