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?” Continue reading The Birthday Grinch (#304)
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)
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)
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. Continue reading Cousins: East & West Edition (#301)
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)
There are delightful tea ceremonies in many cultures. There’s the British afternoon tea, paired with finger sandwiches and scones. There’s India’s chai tea, sold on every corner by chaiwallahs with the latest gossip. Russians invite friends into their homes for a brew called zavaka, traditionally served in samovars. Japan’s elaborate Tea Ceremony is famous for its green tea and tranquility.
And then there’s the Chinese Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony, which is none of those things. It’s all about putting an incoming bride in her place in the household hierarchy.
FYI, her place is at the bottom. Continue reading Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony, Part II (#258)
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)
I’ve never been fragile. Born into a large family of semi-feral children, I learned to guard my food and my stuffed animals early. I mowed lawns, lifted weights, and fought dirty with siblings when necessary (also when unnecessary).
Sympathy and coddling were in short supply. Like most young women, I powered through feeling like crap when I had cramps, headaches, and nausea.
The “I can endure misery” mindset was helpful when I was pregnant. I continued working out and playing volleyball, since the endorphins helped me not puke all the time. I still walked my rescue dogs for miles. My only concession to pregnancy was lighter weights and no squats.
This astounded people.
Continue reading To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)
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)
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)