The Hoarder (#342)

As a child, the conversation at my family dinner table was always better than the food on the table. (I kid you not–Kraft Mac & Cheese was the best meal of the week.) My dad might have political anecdotes from Capitol Hill.  My stepmother might tell us how one high school gang tried to break into her classroom to get at another gang. Or we might get a story about our great-grandfather learning how to swim by diving off a piano in a flooded southern parlor from my mom.

My Chinese American husband’s family was all about the food. I learned the hard way that no one expected conversation at the table. Everyone concentrated on eating. This makes sense when the food is both tasty and served immediately (e.g., dim sum). It also makes sense if you’re eating a dish like chicken feet, which involves considerable mouth aerobics, ending in spitting out chicken toenails.

Young boy grimaces as he bites down on a fried chicken foot.
Baby D meets chicken feet.

Andy’s dad also wasn’t much of a talker, unlike practically every person in my family. My family told jokes, made fun of each other, and competed to get the best laughs. We all also like to show off share information.

Maybe this is why Andy’s a better cook than I am. He tastes as he goes and even plates artistically, believing the food should always take center stage.

I love good food, but I also want to hear about spouse/ spawn’s days. The breakfast/dinner table is the place where I find out what’s going on. I believe that communication is connection and sharing is caring.

Andy, on the other hand, hoards information. And he hoards it as long as he can.

I’d walk into the kitchen and say, “That smells good. Whatcha making?”

“Stuff.”

“Sooo…what’s for dinner?”

“Food.”

“Oh my God, would it kill you to tell me what’s for dinner one time?!”

Apparently, it would. Because not once did Andy actually volunteer to tell me what he was making. I had to piece together clues from ingredients and cookbooks on the counter.

Now, when Andy asked me what I was making for our Christmas party, my response was: “Oh, I’m going to do cream cheese sugar cookies with buttercream frosting with about one-quarter teaspoon almond extract, plus candy cane and chocolate meringues—and I’ll need the food processor for both the candy canes and to chop up the chocolate chips extra tiny so they don’t get stuck in the piping tips and also maple sugar rugelach and did you know that I had to order maple sugar from Ben’s Sugar Shack in New Hampshire this year?! I can’t find it ANYWHERE. Or and I’ll make those chocolate cookies with white chips that are your favorite, do you want coconut in them or not?”

It’s a point of pride that, when asked “why?,” by Baby D, I never once responded with “Because I told you so.”

Instead, I dumped elaborate reasoning and detailed explanations on my child until he either fled the room or could out reason/ argue me into changing my mind.

Storage containers and boxes crammed on wire shelving units.
Andy’s least favorite view

The only information my husband shared freely was how much he hated all the boxes in the garage. We had many boxes. That happens with a house less than 1200 square feet and minimal storage space. Heavy blankets, comforters, and winter clothing were stored in the garage in the summer. Window fans and tubs of light linens got stored in the garage in the winter. There were two bicycles, suitcases, pet supplies, cleaning supplies, the extra refrigerator, extra chairs, an extra banquet table, portable chairs for soccer matches, a team soccer canopy, a team bench, and 8 containers of holiday/ season decorations.

Every so often, when Andy got snarly, I cleaned out/ donated anything we no longer used. Andy’s grumbles subsided, especially when I pointed out we’re one of the only families on the block that actually put a car in our garage.

I kept tabs on all the storage containers with decorations, though.

Not long into the pandemic, packages started arriving for Andy. There were at least a dozen. Some were large. One was very heavy. A few were small.

“Gardening supplies?” I guessed.

Andy said, “Stuff.”

I rolled my eyes and let it go. The following weekend, Andy spent an entire day moving items around the garage. He went to Lowe’s and returned with giant mobile shelves—the kind that you can roll together so they take up less space but then roll apart for access once the car is out of the garage.

Also the kind of shelf energetic offspring will try and ride down the driveway when Dad is carrying “excessive” Christmas decorations to the garbage bins.

After rescuing child, shelf, and decorations, I planted myself in front of Andy and announced “That’s it. You’ve been bitching about the garage more than usual and there all these mysterious boxes. What are you DOING?”

“Stuff—”

“NO! No more bullshit ‘stuff!’ For all I know you’re setting up a fucking meth factory!”

Andy said, “It’s not a meth factory.”

I crossed my arms and inhaled. Deeply.

Andy hurriedly added, “We can’t go to the gym so I’m turning one of the bikes into a stationary bicycle so I can ride it to get cardio because I can’t run anymore on my bad knee and walking takes too long. I’m trying to make more space in the garage to set up the bike.”

“That’s…great. But…why wouldn’t you just tell me that?”

Andy shrugged.

“You know, mouths are for more than eating!’ I told him. “They’re for talking! For sharing information! If you’d just explained what you wanted to do, I would have helped you. I could have gotten rid of some boxes, consolidated a few things, figured out how to make more space.”

“Really?”

“What, did you think I’d say no?! To something as important as you being healthy?”

“Uh…”

And that’s when I realized that Andy HAD thought I’d say no. Just like his parents always said no—no sports, no extracurricular activities, no curfew extensions. Andy was so used to his family saying no, he’d learned to never offer information which could result in a “no.” It was maddening…but also understandable.

I consolidated a few boxes of decorations and donated some boxes of older blankets to charity.

Andy’s cardio area, with gardening/ soccer hat on bike.

Andy set up his bike. He rides it several times a week.

Sometimes, now, he’ll tell me what he’s cooking.

The other night, at the dinner table, Andy stopped eating long enough to ask Baby D, “So, little boy, what did you do in school today?”

Baby D replied,

“Stuff.”

Decisions at the End (#302)

Content Warning: this post deals with burial arrangements. Given that over a million people have recently died due to COVID, alone, and with their families often unable to follow the deceased’s religious or personal wishes regarding their remains, you may want to skip this lighthearted post. If so, I understand. I am sorry for your loss and I hope that your memories of your loved one become more comfort than sorrow.

My Chinese-American husband never worried about death. His only end-of-life plan was purchasing life insurance.

When we had Baby D, I got life insurance, too, and insisted that Andy increase his coverage. Because I am always braced for catastrophe and death, I asked him, “What do you want me to do if you die?”

Andy snorted and said, “What do I care? I’m dead.”

“No, seriously. Do you want to be buried? Cremated?”

“Whatever you want.”

“How about a memorial ceremony with your favorite foods and beer and bourbon?”

“If that’s what you want. Because I don’t care. I’m dead.” Continue reading Decisions at the End (#302)

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)

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)