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.

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)

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)

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)

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)

Snapped (#241)

My ex-debutante mother trained my siblings and me to be good hosts. She also trained us to be good guests. We brought bread and butter gifts. We found something to compliment in every home. We ate whatever food was placed in front of us without complaint and insisted on helping with the dishes. 

We were groomed to make social occasions run smoothly, with nary a scene. White Anglo Saxon Protestants (i.e., WASPs) with social pretensions avoid conflict and HATE scenes. They are a symbol of ugliness and failure. 

And so common.

Continue reading Snapped (#241)