Holiday Lights (#331)

I’m an atheist, but I love all the pagan trimmings of Christmas. Holiday food and caroling are some of my best childhood memories.

In college, my roommate and I went all out decorating our dorm room.

When I met the love of my life, I introduced him to the joys of Christmas. As a Chinese American growing up on tropical Hawaii, Andy had never put up lights, had a stocking, or gone caroling.

Andy enjoyed the novelty for a few years. But after we moved to a smaller house with hardly any storage space, he began grumbling over my six boxes of holiday decorations. The cost of our first Noble Fir sent him into sticker shock.

And when I pointed out how all the pepper trees around our house would be perfect for a white light display like this?White holiday lights wrapped around a tree and dripping down from the branches

Andy responded with, “Are you kidding me? It would take hours to put those up! Think of our electricity bill!”

He had a point. I settled for putting the Christmas tree in our big front window. It wasn’t exactly the festive arboreal display I had in mind, but I set the timer so the tree lit up just as the school kids arrived on my front steps and were awaiting pick up. (Some of them would cheer.)

There were years when I didn’t put up a tree at all, though. If we were traveling back to the East Coast, I worried that the untended tree would either burn up or the dogs would knock it down. And after Baby D was born? No one wanted to spend weeks guarding the tree from the terrifying toddler.

Andy liked those tree-less years.

Baby D, however, did not.

A snowman lying on its side seductively.
Seductive Snowman

Baby D, like most kids, loved light displays. We were within walking distance of a “Christmas Lights” neighborhood that went all out every year (this is where I got my idea for white lights in the trees). There were houses with Santa’s workshops, houses with illuminated Ferris wheels, houses with enormous inflatables (sometimes in questionable poses).

“Why don’t we have lights like that?” five-year-old Dalton asked me. “We don’t even have a Christmas tree!”

“But there’s a Christmas tree at Nana and Granddad’s and that’s where we will be this Christmas,” I pointed out. “They actually have TWO trees, remember? One in the living room and one in the basement.”

“But my cousins all have Christmas trees when we go to their houses at Christmas.”

“Well, that’s because they are hosting us and home for Christmas.”

“Not true!” Dalton countered. “Auntie Lawyer’s house had one last year and then she drove with us to Auntie Doctor’s house!”

“Yes, but she was only gone a few days and we’re gone for at least a week.”

Dalton set his jaw and said, “I want a Christmas tree.”

“Me, too, buddy.”

“Then why don’t we have one?!”

I looked pointedly at Andy. Dalton followed my gaze. I could practically see the Christmas lightbulb go off over his head.

“You!” Dalton howled at his dad. “You’re the one who doesn’t want a tree! What is wrong with you?!”

Andy tried to defend himself; first by explaining the coast and hassle of getting a tree, and then physically when Dalton launched himself at his father.

Dalton fought valiantly, but the battle ended with him rolled up in a blanket, pinned under Andy’s superior mass.

Despite being muffled by fabric, Dalton’s voice was triumphant as he crowed, “Mom and me both want a tree! That’s two against one! We’re getting a tree!”

We did indeed get a tree that year. But that was just the first step in Dalton’s master plan.

Andy’s birthday is the last week in November. The following year, when I asked Dalton what present we should get Andy, his response was immediate: “Outdoor lights for the big Christmas tree.” (Our first Christmas in our little house, Andy and I got a live Monterrey pine tree and planted it in the backyard after the holiday. It grew over thirty feet tall. Dalton loved climbing it.)

Andy’s face fell when he opened his gifts that year: three giant rolls of big, bright, outdoor holiday lights.

Dalton laughed so hard he fell on the floor. As he rolled over to his father’s feet, he gasped, “Don’t…worry…Dad…I’ll…help…you…hang…them!”

Andy looked at me and said, “Did you put him up to this?”

“C’mon. I’d have gotten white lights, not those garish things. Do you see the size of those bulbs?!”

But I didn’t care. Not really. Not when I finally had an ally for holiday decorating.

No matter how questionable his taste.

A man and a boy 15 feet up a large outdoor pine tree.
Andy and Dalton prepping the outdoor tree.

Candy Dispenser (#328)

Halloween candy is tricky. If you buy a bag too early, it’s hard to resist diving into it before doling it out to trick-or-treaters. Next thing you know (or at least the next thing I know, possibly my readers have better self-control) you have to buy another bag. Wait too long to buy your candy and all that’s left is the sweet orange wax (i.e., candy corn).

My Chinese-American husband isn’t a fan of holidays or spending money. We’ve compromised on the Halloween candy: one giant bag of the good (chocolate) candy from Costco. Except that twice Andy waited too long to buy it and Costco ran out. (Costco is like that. You’d better buy that ski parka in August if you really want it.) Andy was forced to buy several smaller and more expensive bags to fill my witch’s cauldron. Since then, Andy’s always gotten the candy at least two weeks before Halloween. Continue reading Candy Dispenser (#328)

That Woman (#327)

When Dalton was in first grade, he was assigned to Miss Queen. She was old, she was white, and she was known for being “strict.”

“But what does that mean?” I asked a Korean American mom who also had a son in the class.

“My daughter had her, she’s a great teacher,” she assured me. “Dalton will learn so much.”

A mom on my block told me the same thing. “Some parents can’t hack it. We started out with nearly thirty kids in the class, and by the end of the school year there were only twelve. But my son needed that structure.”

My Chinese American husband shrugged off my concerns. “Some of those kids were out of control in kindergarten. They need some discipline. And,” he said wistfully, “it would be nice if Dalton did exactly what I told him.” Continue reading That Woman (#327)

Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

My neighborhood holds an annual cooking contest the Sunday before Labor Day.

The stakes? Bragging rights and cheese knives.

The contestants? Everyone on the block.

The outcome? My Chinese American husband dominated for years. Then I started entering chocolate baked goods and crushed him. The hostess finally created two categories, one for “Savory” and one for “Sweet.” Andy vengefully jumped categories and destroyed me with caramel pear ice-cream.

Two years ago, we tied. Last year, the contest was canceled because of COVID.

Two weeks ago, this showed up in my mailbox:

Continue reading Wings & Sweet Things (#325)

Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

I know parents who can’t wait for summer vacation.

“No more making lunches!” a mom of three rejoiced on the last day of school a few years ago.

“We’re totally sleeping in,” said the mom with twins.

Another mom chimed in with, “No nagging about homework for 2 whole months!”

There were moms who had vacations planned, or had already purchased season passes to Disneyland. They were as giddy as their kids about the end of school.

I was never one of those moms. I dreaded summer vacations. My only child NEVER slept past 6 AM. Baby D was a restless bundle of energy (and if you let it build up it would explode as destructively as possible). Continue reading Summer Vacation or Summer Purgatory (#324)

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. Continue reading Shoe In, Shoe Out (#317)

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)

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)