Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

When you marry across cultures, there are bound to be a few differences.

Some differences are jarring at first—like my husband’s Chinese-American family openly discussing money. If you’re open-minded, however, you can learn to embrace coupons and brag about how much money you saved.

Other differences seem insurmountable, especially when much vaunted Western autonomy clashes with Asian filial piety. That’s when it’s important to distance yourself from the issue. I found that 3,000 miles proved effective. Mostly.

But every so often, a practice from another culture makes you say, “That’s brilliant! Why don’t we do that?!”

Like shoes.

*****

Most Asian-Americans don’t wear shoes in the house (no matter what you saw in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before). Multicultural blogger Mabel Kwong has a great post on all the reasons why.

My husband grew up in Hawaii, leaving his shoes outside. I grew up on the East Coast, where the only shoes I took off before coming inside were snow boots. (In rural area with lots of winter snow and spring muck, some North American homes have “mud rooms” for outdoor shoes.)

When I moved into my husband’s townhouse, I left my shoes in the front hallway and never looked back. Sometimes my white guests looked at me askance when I told them to take of their shoes. One even commented, “No shoes? Weird.”

I said, “Dude. Weird is allowing people to track all the dirt on their shoes all over your house. As Vacuumer-in-Chief, I endorse the no-shoe rule!”

When we moved into our little house, there wasn’t a convenient indoor space for shoes. We left shoes on the porch by the welcome mat or at our backdoor.

The first things to make me reconsider the no-shoe rule were our rescue dogs. When ninety-pound Woofie stepped on my bare foot, it HURT. Because the giant goofball neither knew (nor cared!) where his massive paws were, Woofie crushed my toes daily. Even seventy-pound Fey, who was far more considerate with her comparatively dainty paws, could draw blood if she made a misstep, thanks to her strong shar-pei claws. Furry leather slippers with suede exteriorI finally bought super sturdy (super expensive!) slippers and wore those even through the hottest summer.

Problem solved.

Then my old, white neighbors very considerately warned me that thieves in California targeted houses with shoes outside the house. Apparently Asian-Americans have a reputation (at least among thieves) for keeping a lot of cash in the house. I pooh-poohed this claim—until some would-be burglars tried to get by Fey the Fierce. (Spoiler alert: Fey was having none of it.) After the attempt, however, I found the perfect welcome mat/ warning sign to surround with shoes:

Welcome mat reading: "We like big mutts and we cannot lie" with silhouette of large dog.

No one has tried to break in since.

My child and his non-Asian friends, running in, out, and around the house with Nerf weaponry, often neglected to put on or take off their shoes. (The heat of battle has that effect.)  Many times I’d have to remind them that “no shoes in the house” was useless if they ran around in socks outside and then wore those same dirty, debris-covered socks inside.

Baby D, impatient child that he is, hated having to take the time to remove his sneakers when he had to go back inside for a single forgotten item. But as the Vacuumer-in-Chief refused to relax her no-shoe policy, he adapted. He skirted the no-shoe rule by hopping back into the house on one unshod foot—while holding his still-sneakered foot up high. The kid would hop through the entire house at least 3 times a week, hunting for his backpack or water bottle.

More than one coach has commented on Baby D’s extraordinary balance and leg strength. Credit the no-shoe policy. (You’d think the kid would eventually learn to do a mental checklist before going outside and putting on his shoes, but YOU’D BE WRONG.)

There’s one final issue with leaving shoes outside: critters. While SoCal lacks the over-abundance of insect life that characterizes the East Coast, we do have crickets, brown and black widow spiders, and lizards. I always warned Baby D to shake out his shoes before putting them on.

Lizard inside an athletic shoe
Lizard in my shoe. Not an uncommon occurrence at our house.

Unfortunately, the kid has to do things the hard way. Baby D returned from soccer practice last week indignant. “Mom! When I got to the field and put my foot in my cleat, there was a lump! So I reached in and grabbed it and it was a lizard!”

“Guess you won’t forget to shake out your cleats before you put them in your soccer bag again, will you?”

Baby D glared and said, “No, because I’m keeping them in my bag from now on! Inside the house!

And so it came to pass that the Vacuumer-in-Chief granted a special dispensation allowing soccer cleats in the house.

Because next time, it might not be a lizard.

Black widow spider
Black widow found in my watering can.

Celebration Mash-Up (#316)

Holidays were huge in my white family. We wore green, pinched each other anyway, and listened to the Irish Rovers on St. Patrick’s Day (despite being Protestant or atheists). Small gifts appeared on Valentine’s Day morning. There were Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies. Our birthdays began with presents and towers of doughnuts. Christmas magic (and excesses) went on for days.

Holidays were not big in my Chinese-American husband’s family. Growing up, he got a red envelope with cash, usually from his Popo, on Chinese New Year.

That was it.

Even though some Wong family members were very earnest Christians, there were neither Easter baskets nor Christmas stockings.

Birthdays might involve going out for dim sum. There wasn’t even a cake until Andy turned 18—when his mom told Andy to pick one up for himself at the grocery store. Andy had a job at that point; I suspect he even had to pay for it.

Since holidays were the highlight of my childhood, I was horrified every time I discovered a new one Andy had “missed.”

You never carved a pumpkin?!” I’d screech. “What did you DO on Halloween, then?”

“Went trick-or-treating.”

“Oh, good. At least your parents let you do that.”

“Of course. The candy was free.”

I was sad for all the fun things Andy missed, but, even though he was the child of immigrants, Andy had a more secure childhood than I did. He was the apple of his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—eyes, the first male in two generations. As the much beloved Number One Son, his mother and grandmother constantly pushed him to eat more. When they went out for dim sum, there were always leftovers to bring home.

I had years on free lunch tickets, plus I had to guard my food from my hungry siblings. My parents were terrible cooks. When we went out to Shakey’s Pizza or McDonald’s (a HUGE treat!), there were never leftovers. Probably the reason we loved holidays was in no small part due to the abundance of food, especially sweets.

Andy, in turn, was horrified that a) I grew up without quite enough food, and b) Kraft Mac & Cheese with Hormel Chili was my favorite dinner.

Over the years, I introduced Andy to holiday fun. He showed me that cooking meals from scratch was tasty (and, when it wasn’t beef Wellington, economical).

Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts.

This year, our child’s birthday, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day fell within days of each other. Piles of candy and gifts accumulated on the dining room table. At that same table, I watched Baby D devour Andy’s homemade mochi doughnuts, Andy’s beef Wellington, carryout from Din Tai Fun, about twenty shrimp dumplings from the local dim sum joint, and Andy’s homemade chili and cornbread.

Baby D’s homemade cake.

Meanwhile, Andy watched me make a six-hour chocolate cake and arrange a surprise birthday COVID car parade for our kid. He laughed as I swapped out birthday balloons for red lanterns and lucky money envelopes for Baby D’s favorite See’s Candies so our kid could fully enjoy each special occasion.

After Valentine’s Day dinner, Andy surveyed the accumulated culinary/ holiday debris and said, “Our kid is spoiled.”

“We’re just giving him everything we wished we’d had,” I countered.

“But it’s so much!”

“Maybe you’re right. But there’s one really important Ashbough tradition left.”

“Even your family cannot possibly do anything for President’s Day.”

“Hahaha, no, we’re not celebrating problematic old white men. It’s something else.” I raised my voice and called, “Baby D! Come here! We have one more thing for you!”

Baby D ran into the kitchen. “Is it a giant gummi worm? More hong bao?”

I placed a towel in his outstretched hands and said,

“It’s the dishes.”

Waiting (#314)

I am not a patient person. I was the kid in the car asking “Are we there yet?” every 10 minutes. My many siblings were equally impatient. Road trips were an endless chorus of questions about how long it was to the bathroom, restaurant, and destination.

Unsurprisingly, we didn’t go on many road trips.

My Chinese-American husband is patient (sadly, he grew up on Oahu, which is too small for road trips). I’m not sure if he’s naturally mellow, or if the tropical “hang loose” vibes worked on his personality the opposite way that the intense, political atmosphere of Washington, D.C. affected me.

Perhaps our different levels of patience exemplify the difference in our cultures. My Western mindset insists that I can control my destiny if I work, scheme, and worry enough. At the very least, maybe I can get someone incompetent fired if I document the crap out of his failings. But Andy doesn’t see the point; people are gonna be stupid and other people are gonna cover for them. That’s life, and you have no control over your own fate, let alone anyone else’s. Why exhaust yourself changing nothing?

Much of my experience reinforced my Western views. After all, if I argued long enough and logically enough with my father, he’d come around to my point of view on everything from childrearing to Black Lives Matter (though it usually takes about a year for him to process, do his own research, and then lecture me using my own arguments).

Andy’s parents? You can talk until you are blue in the face. They don’t hear a word you say if it contradicts their ideas.

Maybe that’s how Andy learned to wait. He had to bite his tongue and bide his time until he got a job 3,000 miles away.

I left home at 18 and stayed impatient. Impatient with waiting for guys to ask me out—so I asked them out instead. Impatient with college—so I graduated in 3 years. Impatient with friends, which cost me more than a few relationships. And impatient with waiting for Andy to kiss me, so I kissed him.

It wasn’t until I was pregnant (MISERABLY pregnant) that I learned a modicum of patience. Unless modern science comes up with an artificial uterus, there’s no escaping 10 months of nasty pregnancy side effects. There’s no point in complaining, or crying, and it takes too damned much energy anyway (especially when you’re low on energy because you’re anemic).

I learned to endure nausea, hives, exhaustion, strict bedrest, and then the kid being weeks overdue.

As a reward for surviving pregnancy, I got to endure breastfeeding a growth-spurting giant baby. Welcome, cracked and bleeding nipples.

Followed by an energetic child who didn’t nap.

All the while, I would chant to myself: “Just a few more years until preschool. And then kindergarten.”

Call it patience, or call it endurance, but the ability to hunker down and wait out misery came in handy when Trump was elected. Even as I protested, donated, phone banked, or argued Trump cultists, part of me was simply counting the days, much like Imani Gandy’s thread of GIFs on Twitter:

Then came COVID. Which everyone who didn’t vote for Trump knew was going to be a nightmare, given that man’s ineptitude. There was no way we were going back to normal—and no way my kid was going back to school—until we had a vaccine. A vaccine would take at least a year. We were just going to have to wait out the horror, misery, and death. Which was maddening, because it was avoidable.

But if I thought about how much tragedy could have been averted by a competent, compassionate administration, I would spend my hours enraged. I would fantasize about head-butting Mitch McConnell into oblivion. Or putting up signs with the current COVID body count and the phrase “I’m okay with this!” next to my neighbor’s “TRUMP” flag.

Instead, as I waited, I gradually took heart.

Because we didn’t get COVID (yet).

Because Stacey Abrams created Fair Fight and Wisconsin took advantage of it.

Because Gen Zs is smarter than Fox viewers.

And because Treasonous Trumpers are stupid, and Black Capitol Police officers are smart.

And now?

Tomorrow, the waiting is over.

Fucking finally.

I hate waiting

A Sunny Visit (#309)

After my father-in-law died, my Chinese-American mother-in-law hunkered down at home for more than a year. Her children flew to Hawaii to visit her. Sunny, who had once longed to travel, only left the house for shopping and walks.

Until my brother-in-law needed help with childcare. Sunny decided to bookend her months at Denny’s house in Northern California with visits to our house in Southern California (and a side trip to Vegas with her sister, of course).

Having had my fill of in-law visits, I went to New York City during the first four days of Sunny’s visit. Don’t be thinking it was filled with shows or shopping, though! I cooked, cleaned, and helped my sister adjust to having a newborn.

When I got home, practically the first thing my son did was complain about eating out.

Now, maybe you think it’s normal for husband and son to eat out when the wife is gone. If so, 1) check yourself on the gender stereotyping and 2) you must be new here. Continue reading A Sunny Visit (#309)

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. Continue reading Cousins: East & West Edition (#301)

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)

A Coach of a Different Color (#297)

Blue hair makes practice fun!

I was my son’s first soccer coach. When various AYSO personnel made it clear that my job was to make soccer fun so the kids would want to keep playing, that’s what I did. Having racked up ungodly numbers of hours taking care of younger siblings and babysitting for cash, I understood that holding a child’s attention is not easy. You have to creative, flexible, a little silly, a lot encouraging, and just scary enough to keep the aggressive kids in line. If the kids weren’t improving or having fun, I figured that was my fault. I spent hours adjusting and agonizing over practices and games.

My Chinese-American husband had a completely different mindset.

Continue reading A Coach of a Different Color (#297)

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 Reluctant Coach (#292)

I thought that signing up my kid for recreational soccer meant all I’d have to sign up for would be snacks.

That’s how they get you.

AYSO always needed volunteers. They threatened to dissolve multiple teams unless parents agreed to coach. They promised the parents plenty of free training.

I gave Andy a hopeful look.

My husband said, “Hell, no. You’re the one who wanted him to play soccer.”

I caved and agreed to coach Baby D’s U6 team. Continue reading The Reluctant Coach (#292)