Modern Hydra (#372)

I have a lot of siblings. How many is a lot? Depends on how you categorize them. I have some related through both parents, some related through one parent, some step-siblings, some ex-step-siblings, and some…whatever you call the children of a current spouse of an ex-step-parent.

One summer, when traveling to the East Coast (where all of the sibs live except for one), my son asked me how many cousins he had. I tried to list them and lost track around 20.

“Hang on,” I told him Dalton. “I’m gonna need a piece of paper.”

My husband Andy snorted and said, “What you need is Big Brother’s PowerPoint.” Andy is VERY SALTY about this particular PowerPoint. It details all the marriages, divorces, and offspring (super helpful in figuring out who is related to whom…and which parties should be seated on opposite sides of a banquet hall). Big Brother made the PowerPoint for Lawyer Sister’s boyfriend after Andy and I were already engaged. Andy never misses a chance to point out that HE had to learn my entire fractured family without the cheat sheet offered to all subsequent spouses.

“I don’t think Big Brother ever updated the PowerPoint with the cousins,” I told Andy, before turning back to Dalton. “Where were we? Baby L1 or Baby L2?”

Dalton waved me off. “Never mind. I don’t care that much.”

“I feel you, buddy,” said Andy. “Mom’s family is so much easier to figure out with a VISUAL AID.”

******

In recent years, Big Brother discovered something he likes even more than PowerPoint: group chats.

He started off small, with Doctor Sis, Lawyer Sis, and me. We would brainstorm for group gifts for various parental units. Sometimes we shared first day of school pictures for our kids or asked for book recommendations. Sometimes they would brag about how many miles they ran and I’d tell them they were all crazy, that the dog and I were currently WALKING a very sane three miles.

This is a pear liqueur lime gimlet. Or so I am told.

Then the chat morphed into pictures of their cocktails, where recipes were shared by everyone except me, because I hate the taste of alcohol. Sometimes I’d share a picture of a glass of green liquid. My siblings would be all excited until I told them it was Gatorade.

“I dunno why you lushes even have me on this chat,” I once said, after Doctor Sis shared a pink drink topped by chickpea foam.

“We just didn’t want you to feel left out,” my sisters insisted. Which was very sweet, since I often felt like I missed a lot living so far away.

I stayed in the chat, but muted it in self-defense once they started exchanging memes at 6 AM (which is 3 AM Pacific Time). Sometimes I would wake up to 37 messages sparked by Big Brother telling us how his dog ate his own poop.

Then Big Brother began creating other chats, adding more siblings or parental units. My phone would ding! relentlessly while I scrolled in search of the new chats and hit “hide alerts.” Then Big Brother would realize he’d forgotten someone, create another new chat, and ding! ding! ding!

I once got added to a group chat in 2023 filled with numbers I didn’t recognize and the message: “Welcome to Tuscany Cycling Trip 2024!”

I don’t even own a bike. I texted a number I knew in the chat—Dr. Sis—with “WTF?”

Which is how I found out that Dr. Sis, Big Brother, Ex-Stepbrother, and all their spouses were planning an epic biking trip to Italy. I probably would have been more excited for them if I’d gotten my morning cappuccino before the explosion of texts.

Text chats plateaued after that. Until their kids got older and Big Brother started adding in the cousins. Different cousins for different chats, of course. Yesterday alone, two new chats  groups were created.

Ding! Madness.

I’m currently hobbling around with knee injuries (another post!) and you might think I’d be happy to get interaction and see everyone’s holiday photos.

A nicer person might feel that way, yes.

I’m not nice.

I’m cranky. I can’t even walk 50 feet. There’s pain from the injury and pain from compensating. Andy has taken over my beloved morning walk with the dog. Dalton has taken over the evening walk. All summer plans are canceled. Aside from swimming laps (arms only!) I’m mostly stuck at home while waiting on a specialist to tell me how much mobility I can expect to get back.

So when Dr. Sis sent photos of her beaming with her bike after her 17 mile, pre-Italy ride, I did the unthinkable.

I LEFT THE CHAT.

But don’t worry.

I’m sure there will be another one tomorrow.

Wicked Weather Witchery (#367)

I usually like rain.

I mean, aside from the time it stormed during what was supposed to my outdoor wedding–with lightning and hail.  Or that time the out-of-season atmospheric river hit during Baby D’s outdoor baby shower. Or when my new car was destroyed by a hailstorm while driving across the country.

And no, I did not love the surprising hail (AGAIN) that hit us in southern England during our one vacation that didn’t involve visiting family.

Ominous hail clouds approach St. Mary’s

While we were sheltering in a church in Thornbury, we chatted with some locals.

“We expect rain,” one man told us. “Hail is rather…odd,”

“I’ve not seen hail before,” another agreed.

Andy nudged me and said, “It’s her. If she has an event or vacation, there will be rain, hail, or snow.”

“Shhh, honey, they used to burn witches around here,” I joked.

My Lawyer Sis, on the other hand, is the good weather witch. The day of her wedding, in Washington, D.C., (notorious for summer afternoon thunderstorms) not a drop of rain fell until she slipped indoors at midnight. Then it poured.

But just as my (admittedly imaginary) rain witchery is ultimately no match for Southern California’s dry climate, Lawyer Sis is stuck with D.C.’s cold and gray winters. In an effort to combat seasonal depression, she sometimes flies to SoCal for a visit in the winter. She spends days sitting on our south-facing patio, yelling, “No! Get away!” at me when I offer her hats, umbrellas, and sunblock.

This year, her trip was from last Thursday through the weekend. I had warned her about the incoming atmospheric rivers: one was scheduled for Wednesday-Thursday, the other for Sunday-Wednesday.

On Wednesday, as the rain fell, Andy asked, “Is she still coming?”

“Yep.”

“She’s counting on her sunshine witchery?”

“Yep. It’s a solid gamble. I don’t have any events and it’s not my vacation.”

But what we did have, hidden under the asphalt shingles on our roof, was a problem.

The rain was much heavier than expected on Wednesday. We got two inches overnight. As soon as Andy left for work on Thursday morning, I heard dripping. Water was falling on the hall bookcase, coming from an HVAC vent in the ceiling. I headed into our unfinished attic with my phone and a flashlight.

Sure enough, water dripped from the roof, splattering insulation around the ducts. I rigged a bucket to catch the water and dried up the wood and insulation as best I could. Then I set up a fan and called my husband.

“It’s leaking where they put in metal flashing and vent for the new furnace and AC three years ago,” I reported.

“Shit. Want me to come home?”

“Nah, nothing else to do here and you have to pick up Lawyer Sis. Her flight is early and I have to get back to cleaning while I file an insurance claim and call the roofer. But I’m behind schedule so DRIVE SLOW and pick up something for lunch!”

Since the rain, of course, stopped the second my sister’s plane touched down and Andy is firmly committed to breaking the “slow Asian driver” stereotype, they made it home while I was still cleaning. By afternoon the sun was breaking through the clouds when we walked the dog.

“Sorry it’s not as sunny as usual,” I apologized.

Lawyer Sis waved my apology away. “It’s just nice to be where the air doesn’t hurt my face. We had a whole week of twenty degrees or less!”

It rained again that night, but Friday was gloriously sunny. Saturday was also unexpectedly sunny.

“Looks like your sister’s weather witchery is stronger than yours,” Andy chuckled, after he’d climbed on the roof and applied some roofing patch to the flashing. (We have yet to hear back from the roofer and insurance companies are currently as inundated with claims as California is with water.) “I think we can get rid of the bucket!”

“Not for long,” I countered grimly. “Now that I have a hole in the roof, just wait…”

Sure enough, meteorologists began predicting even more rain, starting Sunday. Maybe more rain than SoCal normally gets in an entire year—in 2 days. They also predicted wind gusts of up to 40 mph.

Andy grudgingly put the bucket back. It was filling up again Sunday evening.

I sent Baby D into the wind and rain to take out the trash. Upon his return, he announced, “There’s a plant in our backyard.”

I envisioned someone’s airborne potted palm landing our yard. “Wind must’ve blown it there.”

I grabbed the flashlight, headed outside, and discovered…

…that my son is a master of understatement.

Our twenty-foot Ficus tree had been uprooted and lay across the backyard. Next to it was my beautiful fuchsia bougainvillea, its trellis ripped off our cinderblock wall.

The downed tree Dalton casually described as “a plant” in daylight.

Later, after Andy checked out the damage, he asked, “What kind of replacement tree do you want?”

“I don’t want a replacement,” I grumbled. “They had matured to the perfect height to block the view of Cop Neighbor’s ugly, oversized Chino Hills tract house. Plus, I wanted the bougainvillea to continue dumping leaves in his yard because it pisses him off.”

I glowered out the window, where the wind was driving sheets of rain nearly horizontal. “Stupid rain.”

Andy patted my shoulder and said, “At least your perverse weather witchery is stronger than your sister’s?”

“More like, at least there’s no hail.”

Yet.

Uprooted and de-trellised.

 

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)

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)

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)

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)

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)

Hand-Me-Downs & Halloween (#266)

There were two great things about being taller than my older sister by age five.

  • She couldn’t beat me up anymore.
  • I didn’t have to wear her hand-me-downs.

Instead, I got a new dress for the first day of kindergarten. My parents actually asked what color I wanted. I wore that dress at least twice a week until my growth spurts made it into a crop top. Continue reading Hand-Me-Downs & Halloween (#266)