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.

Baby D & Cousins, Winter Edition.

Until he realized that Baby D would literally disappear for entire days of Nerf Wars, fort-building, sledding, swimming, and exploring with his older cousins. With so many playmates, we no longer had to entertain our child. We could, in fact, read books or watch a movie or talk to other adults. Heck yeah, that’s a vacation.

Baby D & Cousins, Summer Edition

The same was not true when we visited my husband’s family. Andy’s parents were no help with childcare. They also decreed when their children would visit, and their children’s visit never overlapped (even though their house was huge). This way, Jay and Sunny got more help with household tasks by spreading out visits from their three children. This became more important—and also more understandable—when Jay’s health went downhill.

Unfortunately, this meant that Baby D saw his grandparents, but not his cousins. Only when Andy’s Earnest Christian Cousin got married did Baby D get to hang out with Cousin N.

Baby D & Cousin, Wedding Edition

Whenever possible, we visited Cousin N and Andy’s sister Betty in Iowa, but she took her kids elsewhere when they had vacations (like Europe and Japan).

Andy’s brother Denny lived in San Jose, but he married a Taiwanese-American woman from Los Angeles. They traveled to Los Angeles all the time—to see her family. Once a year, perhaps, Denny would give us a call when they were in town, and we’d invite them over. Their kids were a few years younger than Baby D, but the oldest boy adored his big cousin.

Yet, more often than not, we’d find out about their visits to LA after the fact. Denny’s Wife was all about seeing her parents and her friends.

The only way I could reliably get Denny’s family to visit was familial guilt. Andy’s birthday was at the end of November. Knowing that Denny always came to LA for Thanksgiving, I’d invite Denny and his family for a birthday dinner the day before or after Thanksgiving and say, “it would REALLY make your brother’s birthday if you and the fam would come.” They were usually late, but at least they showed up.

The funny thing is, Andy was ambivalent about seeing his brother. He’d agree that Dalton should see his cousins, of course, but he would have been fine eating the 6-hour cake, bread, and pot roast I made all by himself.

I couldn’t figure this ambivalence out. Was it because we came from different cultures? Was it because Denny and Andy were both men who go with the flow (i.e., whatever the wife wants)? Or was it because they had more interaction with their cousins growing up and never felt the lack?

I asked Andy, “Aren’t you bummed Baby D hardly ever sees those cousins, even though they’re here a lot?”

Andy merely shrugged.

Last Christmas, we left my family in Utah a day early in order to see Betty, who was in Vegas with Cousin N for his chess tournament. We drove through a brutal snowstorm at 5 AM in order to meet them for breakfast—the only time they had available.

Baby D and Cousin N were born less than three months apart.

But since they hadn’t seen each other in years, they eyed each other like feral cats after a brief hello. It was up to me to ask Cousin N about chess and keep the conversation rolling.

Betty would jump in with the occasional comment. “Baby D, did you know that you and Cousin N both like to sleep in your clothes?”

The boys would grunt, nod, and go back to the buffet.

Betty would try again, “Oh, do you hate milk, too, Baby D? My son does also.”

More monosyllabic answers and grunting.

On the drive from Vegas back to Los Angeles, Andy said, “That was painful.”

“Yeah. It’s too bad, too. They’re so close in age, and Cousin N, unlike Baby D, doesn’t have any cousins from his other parent. Just like your brother’s kids.”

A few days later, Andy arranged to meet up with Denny for dim sum. Denny’s Wife wasn’t coming. I dubbed it “Dad Lunch,” and stayed home.

An hour later, Andy and Baby D returned—with Denny and his three kids. I gave the younger ones some cookies and showed them how to play with the dog and cat while the dads had a beer.

Baby D and the oldest cousin weren’t interested in cookies or pets, though.

They were too busy wrestling.

Baby D & Cousin: Full Nelson Edition.

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)

Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

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)

Salute to Stupidity (#256)

Growing up in Washington, D.C. means no other Independence Day celebration will live up to your childhood memories. For a relentlessly political, cynical city, they throw a heck of a party.

Photo by Ron Engle

First, there’s the National Independence Day Parade. This ain’t no small, hometown parade where the local horses and fire trucks are the stars of the show. This is A Historical Spectacle. There are hundreds of Uncle Sams (some  in balloon form or on stilts). Bewigged Founding Fathers abound, as do Paul Revere impersonators. Military bands–past and present–are pressed into service, sweating in wool uniforms and 100 degree heat. My sisters and I once counted seventy-five Betsy Rosses. (We would’ve liked some Deborah Sampsons better, but we cheered what female historical figures we could get.) Continue reading Salute to Stupidity (#256)

To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

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)

The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

When I was a little girl, my mother organized caroling and a party on Christmas Eve. We sang our way around the block in Washington D.C. We were met with universal delight. Those were magical times

My Ex-Stepmother carried on the tradition in the suburbs of D.C. and then New England.

Until I dated a guy from rural Tennessee over the holiday season, I never thought some people might find caroling…odd.

Continue reading The Dogs of Christmas (#242)

Snapped (#241)

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)

Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

A woman’s home is her castle. Until her father-in-law shows up.

I’m white woman raised by a former debutante. My racist Southern grandma ran a charm school. As liberated as my mother tried to be, she was still stuck on Rules of Acceptable Female Behavior.

One such rule was “Be an Exemplary Hostess.” When friends came over, they got first pick of snacks, toys, and sleeping bags. They chose the games we played.

When my parents entertained, we children took coats. We handed around hors d’ oeuvres. We got adults drinks. If there was a shortage of chairs, we offered our seats to adults and took the floor. We cleared the table and did the dishes, too. My mother took immense pride in the praise guests heaped upon her for her adorable little helpers.

She shared their praise with us. And since we were many, and desperate for attention, we got a little warped.

Continue reading Houseguest vs. Hostess (#240)

Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)

I was raised by a liberated woman and a man who believed his daughters should mow lawns, change tires, and have the same curfew as their older brother.

My sisters and I crushed in academics no less than my brother. We were better singers, better dancers, and better athletes. Also more popular. (Sorry, Big Bro!)

NASA came to my schools seeking women astronauts. They told us women had better reflexes than men, handled G-forces better than men, and coped better in close quarters better than men and please could we girls consider being astronauts?

I never understood why a person should be more valued because they were born with a penis. I mean, having a penis means you’re kind of fragile and likely to die earlier than a woman.

Continue reading Sex, Sorrow, and Costco (#239)