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.”

Miserable March (#336)

In The Wasteland of T.S. Eliot, April is the cruelest month.

In my world, it’s always March.

Once upon a time, March was the best month.

March was my birthday, back when birthdays were awesome (and even if they weren’t, I got cake). It was my mother’s favorite season, which always put her in a good mood. She’d exclaim over crocuses and forsythia while we flew kites. There was St. Patrick’s Day, on which you were allowed to pinch annoying siblings (biting would have been better, but I made do). Sometimes Easter occurred in March, which meant egg dyeing and chocolate bunny rabbits.

Back then, even the annual horror that is Daylight Saving Time didn’t occur until April. Continue reading Miserable March (#336)

Christmas Cookies (#332)

First book of Cookies, by Natalie Haughton

Years ago, my friend JM bought me a cookie recipe book. I tried the recipe for cream cheese sugar cookies for a Christmas party. They were a hit. Sometimes I brought those cookies into work during the holidays, sometimes I took the recipe home and made them for whichever siblings/ parental units I was visiting on the East Coast.

My family started requesting those cookies—probably because the only other person who made cookies was my brother-in-law, Georgia Boy. His gumdrop cookies were a nostalgic holiday tribute to his grandmother. They were also awful.

But even Big Brother wasn’t tactless enough to say this to Georgia Boy. Instead, he and Doctor Sister would wait for Georgia Boy to go on a bike ride and suggest I make cookies and let their children “help.” It was a win-win for them—I’d be entertaining First Nephew, First Niece, and Third Nephew for hours and the kitchen would be unavailable. Continue reading Christmas Cookies (#332)

Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

I did not grow up gourmet.

I grew up excited about McDonald’s. This might have been because my parents’ ideas of cooking meant throwing protein and potatoes in the oven for an hour or two. Sometimes we had rice as a side, but mostly it was baked potatoes. With margarine. (I didn’t discover butter until I was in high school. Whereupon I ranted to my parents, “Why have you been keeping this deliciousness from us and giving us MARGARINE?!”)

My husband Andy is Chinese-American. In his family, rice isn’t a side, it’s necessity. The angriest I’ve ever seen Andy’s Engineering Cousin was when her Quite White husband went on the Atkin’s diet. “It’s ridiculous!” she ranted at Andy on Thanksgiving. “It’s all meat and fat! Not a grain of rice ever! How can you have dinner or holidays without rice?!” Continue reading Skirmish of the Sides (#322)

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? Continue reading Waiting (#314)

Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

Shopping for anyone from a different culture is tricky.

Shopping for your in-laws is tough.

Shopping for your Chinese-American in-laws?

You’re fucked worse than The Martian. Continue reading Gifting East: Christmas Edition (#311)

We Stan (#306)

Many folks grow up huge fans of celebrities. One of my sisters had the New Kids on the Block all over her room. We (her seven siblings) were forced to listen to NKOTB on all long car trips (actually preferable to my father’s choice of Johnny Horton).

Big Brother was torn between crushing on the red-headed neighbor girls and Princess Leia.

My Hollywood crush was Data from Star Trek TNG, because what’s better than a super strong, super smart, emotionally unavailable dude? In sports, I will always be a fan of Ed McCaffrey from the Denver Broncos.

Judgmental Genius Older Sister appeared immune to the allure of sports stars, movie stars, and rock stars. She was too busy graduating magna cum laude and crushing it in medical school to have time for crushes. At holiday gatherings, she had no idea who the celebrities de jour were, and she generally she fell asleep by 8:45 PM (sitting straight up, in the middle of the couch). Continue reading We Stan (#306)

Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

Over 70 million Americans have spent the week holding their breath. We remember how confident we were four years ago. How we arrogantly assumed that the rest of the country saw Donald Trump for what he was: a hateful, racist, incompetent, misogynistic narcissist who would run the country into the ground.

I watched the numbers roll in on CNN and compared it with the New York Times website. And by 7 PM PST, it was clear that Clinton did not have the votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. It was shocking, but true. Numbers don’t lie. The trend was obvious.

My Chinese-American mother-in-law was visiting. She didn’t understand why I was upset. “It will be fine,” she said.

“It will not be fine,” I told her. “With the Senate also Republican, there will be no checks on that man.” I fled to my bedroom. Continue reading Election Night: Then and Now (#305)

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?” Continue reading The Birthday Grinch (#304)