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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?”

In fact, Andy always remembered my birthday, damn him. He made me a cake the first year we were together. The year we got married, he planned a surprise party—only to have a guest wreck the surprise. After Baby D was born, he’d give me flowers and a break, taking the toddler to McDonald’s playland or the park. As Baby D got older and disappeared down the block to play with friends, my birthday morphed into a day where Andy would make my favorite foods.

One year he made a super luxurious, expensive spa appointment weeks in advance.

That was the year Andy’s mom decided my birthday would be the perfect time for her to visit.

“Don’t worry, honey!” Andy said.  “You can go to the spa and I’ll still make you poutine and I’ve ordered a cake—”

“No, no. It’s not a big deal. Cancel the appointment and the cake. Don’t do anything. We’ll just pretend it’s not my birthday. This year, it’s just all about Baby D getting to see his Nai-nai again. And it’s Easter anyway and we’ll celebrate that.”

Andy eyed me warily. “Is this a trick?”

“No! These days, it just doesn’t matter. Besides, celebrating my birthday feels silly when I haven’t accomplished anything.”

“Baby D is still alive. That’s something.” (Our energetic child was a regular at the local Emergency Room for X-rays, glue, and staples.)

“I guess, but it’s depressing getting older, especially since I no longer have an agent and rarely get a chance to write. Also, you know how my birthday goes. If we make plans, bad shit happens. So what I want for my birthday is no birthday, okay?”

“I still feel like this could be a trap.”

“It’s not a trick! I don’t want a birthday. I’ve grown to hate my birthday. Think of me as the freaking Grinch of Birthdays. NO BIRTHDAY!”


One of my younger sisters had her first baby that March. Social Worker Sis was having a rough time of it. With our mom deceased, my sisters and I tried to step in and give each other “Mom” help whenever possible.

When Social Worker Sis asked if I would come help if her husband used his miles to arrange a ticket, I said of course.  She said, “Even though it might run into your birthday?”

“Even better,” I told her. “I’m not having a birthday this year.”

Within 24 hours, my Bro-in-law sent me an electronic ticket. He’d scheduled my flight home on my birthday, leaving NYC at 5 AM with a five-hour layover in Houston.

“Really?” said Andy. “He couldn’t get you a better ticket?!”

I laughed. “Honey, he’s got a newborn and a wife who is a postpartum wreck. I’m impressed he got the week right. Besides, we’re skipping my birthday, and I will be skipping town before your mom arrives. It’s perfect.”

I went to NYC. I took the baby on walks so my sister could sleep uninterrupted. I made the dinners I knew by heart (all 3 of them). I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom. I vacuumed with a shop vac, which was what Bro-in-law apparently bought when sent out for a vacuum.

I sang a lot of lullabies. It was all about the baby, and I was happy to forget about my birthday.

My sister didn’t. She surprised me with NYC’s fanciest cupcakes and insisted on singing “Happy Birthday.”

My BFF arranged a visit to NYC. She surprised me with dinner out and cake and presents and a whole Harlem restaurant singing “Happy Birthday.”

My five-hour layover in Houston coincided with part of another sister’s layover on her way back from Costa Rica, which meant more presents and her kids singing me “Happy Birthday.

When I got home, my mother-in-law presented me with a red envelope full of lucky money for the first time since the Daughter-in-Law Tea Ceremony. “Happy Birthday!” she said.

Baby D and Andy presented me with a cake from a local bakery.

“Honey,” I whispered through gritted teeth, “I thought we agreed no birthday cake.”

“It’s not a birthday cake!” Andy insisted. “Read the writing!”

The cake said, “Happy Unbirthday.”

I pasted on a happy face for my husband and kid. But as they sang “Happy unbirthday toooo youuuuuu,” I stewed over being thwarted yet again.

This birthday Grinch hadn’t stopped her birthday.

Somehow or another, it came just the same.

Oh, hell. Oh, well. At least came with cake.


Sunny, with a Chance of Travel (#303)

Many readers have requested more “when the in-laws visit” stories.

I see you, sadists.

The only good thing about my Chinese-American father-in-law’s decline was that he could no longer visit. (This is why I am not in prison.) Instead, Andy flew to Hawaii to help his mom with Jay’s care.

The one time Sunny briefly left her husband for her niece’s wedding, I told her how pleased I was that she had gotten away. (Jay was in the hospital for tests and procedures.)

“I feel terrible,” Sunny told me. “So guilty.”

“Why? You should get a chance to see your sisters and have a break. Jay’s fine, with round-the-clock care.”

“But he always said it was my job to take of him. And now I’m not.”

How was it that a man who could no longer speak was still imprisoning his wife with words? Continue reading Sunny, with a Chance of Travel (#303)

Decisions at the End (#302)

Content Warning: this post deals with burial arrangements. Given that over a million people have recently died due to COVID, alone, and with their families often unable to follow the deceased’s religious or personal wishes regarding their remains, you may want to skip this lighthearted post. If so, I understand. I am sorry for your loss and I hope that your memories of your loved one become more comfort than sorrow.

My Chinese-American husband never worried about death. His only end-of-life plan was purchasing life insurance.

When we had Baby D, I got life insurance, too, and insisted that Andy increase his coverage. Because I am always braced for catastrophe and death, I asked him, “What do you want me to do if you die?”

Andy snorted and said, “What do I care? I’m dead.”

“No, seriously. Do you want to be buried? Cremated?”

“Whatever you want.”

“How about a memorial ceremony with your favorite foods and beer and bourbon?”

“If that’s what you want. Because I don’t care. I’m dead.” Continue reading Decisions at the End (#302)

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)

When You Need Some Aid in the Kitchen (#300)

For more than a decade, our Labor Day weekend has been marked by intense kitchen rivalry, thanks to the neighborhood cooking contest.

Andy trounced everyone for years—until he got tired of me micro-managing the presentation of his savory entries and told me to make my own dish. I did, and he was sorry after I crushed him and our whole neighborhood with my baked goods. Two years ago, Andy staged a comeback and walloped me. Last year, we tied.

Some of Andy’s doughnuts.

This year was looking to be a showdown. Andy spent quarantine mastering everything from French bread to homemade doughnuts, prepping for a possible assault on my baking territory.

There have been casualties:

My waistline.

An immolated dish towel. Continue reading When You Need Some Aid in the Kitchen (#300)

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)

The Ultimate Thief (#298)

Both our dogs were rescues. Our second dog, Fey, was rescued from the streets of South Central Los Angeles and never forgot it. She was loyal, well-behaved, and obedient.

And then there was Woofie. Our first dog ran away repeatedly. He went to science class at the local school. He created bizarre insurance claims. He dug up the yard. He snuck up on the furniture, curling up in Andy’s preferred recliner.

But worst of all? He was an unrepentant thief. Continue reading The Ultimate Thief (#298)

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)

Dead Asleep (#296)

My Chinese-American husband snored. I woke at the slightest disturbance. For years, it was a miserable combination. I survived on earplugs and every sleep medication known to man.

Then my ear canals got infected. The doctor told me I couldn’t wear earplugs anymore.

I told Andy we had to do something about his snoring. Like many snorers, Andy didn’t really believe he snored.

“And if I do snore occasionally,” he insisted, “it’s not loud.”

“I can hear it when I try and sleep in the living room,” I argued. “Sometimes it’s not even a snore—it’s like a snarl!”

“You’re just a light sleeper.” Continue reading Dead Asleep (#296)

Wide Awake (#295)

I was a night owl as a child and an insomniac as an adult. I stayed awake replaying the events of the day—especially everything I did wrong. Therapy and getting an insane amount of exercise cured me in my twenties. After a miserable pregnancy (with equally miserable sleep), I woke up for breastfeeding several times a night. Once Baby D dropped nighttime nursing, I woke up because I’d gotten used to waking up. The slightest noises woke me up because Something Might Be Wrong with Baby D.

Then I woke up because something WAS wrong with Baby D, either an illness or a scream of “Want dinner!” at midnight.

My husband Andy never woke up unless I punched him in the arm, which, as I slept less and he snored more, made me want to punch him even harder. Continue reading Wide Awake (#295)