The Birthday Grinch (#304)

Starting at age 15, my birthday has gone…poorly. I mostly tried to ignore it. This got easier once I had a child. The focus inevitably shifts—as it should—to various kid milestones, kid holiday stuff, kid birthday parties. Also, your memory sucks when you’re sleep-deprived.

When Baby D was just a little more than 2, a friend called and said, “Hey, where do you want me to take you to lunch for your birthday?”

“My birthday? It’s not my—oh. Wow. I guess it is my birthday on Friday. I forgot about it.”

“You forgot your own birthday?! Isn’t that your husband’s job?”

In fact, Andy always remembered my birthday, damn him. He made me a cake the first year we were together. The year we got married, he planned a surprise party—only to have a guest wreck the surprise. After Baby D was born, he’d give me flowers and a break, taking the toddler to McDonald’s playland or the park. As Baby D got older and disappeared down the block to play with friends, my birthday morphed into a day where Andy would make my favorite foods.

One year he made a super luxurious, expensive spa appointment weeks in advance.

That was the year Andy’s mom decided my birthday would be the perfect time for her to visit.

“Don’t worry, honey!” Andy said.  “You can go to the spa and I’ll still make you poutine and I’ve ordered a cake—”

“No, no. It’s not a big deal. Cancel the appointment and the cake. Don’t do anything. We’ll just pretend it’s not my birthday. This year, it’s just all about Baby D getting to see his Nai-nai again. And it’s Easter anyway and we’ll celebrate that.”

Andy eyed me warily. “Is this a trick?”

“No! These days, it just doesn’t matter. Besides, celebrating my birthday feels silly when I haven’t accomplished anything.”

“Baby D is still alive. That’s something.” (Our energetic child was a regular at the local Emergency Room for X-rays, glue, and staples.)

“I guess, but it’s depressing getting older, especially since I no longer have an agent and rarely get a chance to write. Also, you know how my birthday goes. If we make plans, bad shit happens. So what I want for my birthday is no birthday, okay?”

“I still feel like this could be a trap.”

“It’s not a trick! I don’t want a birthday. I’ve grown to hate my birthday. Think of me as the freaking Grinch of Birthdays. NO BIRTHDAY!”


One of my younger sisters had her first baby that March. Social Worker Sis was having a rough time of it. With our mom deceased, my sisters and I tried to step in and give each other “Mom” help whenever possible.

When Social Worker Sis asked if I would come help if her husband used his miles to arrange a ticket, I said of course.  She said, “Even though it might run into your birthday?”

“Even better,” I told her. “I’m not having a birthday this year.”

Within 24 hours, my Bro-in-law sent me an electronic ticket. He’d scheduled my flight home on my birthday, leaving NYC at 5 AM with a five-hour layover in Houston.

“Really?” said Andy. “He couldn’t get you a better ticket?!”

I laughed. “Honey, he’s got a newborn and a wife who is a postpartum wreck. I’m impressed he got the week right. Besides, we’re skipping my birthday, and I will be skipping town before your mom arrives. It’s perfect.”

I went to NYC. I took the baby on walks so my sister could sleep uninterrupted. I made the dinners I knew by heart (all 3 of them). I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom. I vacuumed with a shop vac, which was what Bro-in-law apparently bought when sent out for a vacuum.

I sang a lot of lullabies. It was all about the baby, and I was happy to forget about my birthday.

My sister didn’t. She surprised me with NYC’s fanciest cupcakes and insisted on singing “Happy Birthday.”

My BFF arranged a visit to NYC. She surprised me with dinner out and cake and presents and a whole Harlem restaurant singing “Happy Birthday.”

My five-hour layover in Houston coincided with part of another sister’s layover on her way back from Costa Rica, which meant more presents and her kids singing me “Happy Birthday.

When I got home, my mother-in-law presented me with a red envelope full of lucky money for the first time since the Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony. “Happy Birthday!” she said.

Baby D and Andy presented me with a cake from a local bakery.

“Honey,” I whispered through gritted teeth, “I thought we agreed no birthday cake.”

“It’s not a birthday cake!” Andy insisted. “Read the writing!”

The cake said, “Happy Unbirthday.”

I pasted on a happy face for my husband and kid. But as they sang “Happy unbirthday toooo youuuuuu,” I stewed over being thwarted yet again.

This birthday Grinch hadn’t stopped her birthday.

Somehow or another, it came just the same.

Oh, hell. Oh, well. At least came with cake.


Sunny, with a Chance of Travel (#303)

Many readers have requested more “when the in-laws visit” stories.

I see you, sadists.

The only good thing about my Chinese-American father-in-law’s decline was that he could no longer visit. (This is why I am not in prison.) Instead, Andy flew to Hawaii to help his mom with Jay’s care.

The one time Sunny briefly left her husband for her niece’s wedding, I told her how pleased I was that she had gotten away. (Jay was in the hospital for tests and procedures.)

“I feel terrible,” Sunny told me. “So guilty.”

“Why? You should get a chance to see your sisters and have a break. Jay’s fine, with round-the-clock care.”

“But he always said it was my job to take of him. And now I’m not.”

How was it that a man who could no longer speak was still imprisoning his wife with words? Continue reading Sunny, with a Chance of Travel (#303)

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)

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)

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)

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)

They’re Coming (#238)

When my white family reunites, we plan. A year in advance, a cascade of emails about wedding beach houses, Christmas in New Hampshire, or running a 10K at Thanksgiving begin.

And then there’s my husband’s Chinese-American family. Near the end of October, Andy said, “So we haven’t seen my parents in a while.”

“Yes,” I agreed, smiling. And then stopped smiling. “Wait. Are you saying to want to go see them? Before your brother’s wedding next summer?” (Yes, Denny was finally getting married! But that’s another post.)

“Well…” Continue reading They’re Coming (#238)