Sunday, February 18, 2018

I Am Chinese

My mom has always told me I’m Chinese.  Not American despite being born here.  I have always rebutted her assertion with the fact that I am actually Chinese-American.  She usually thinks about it for a few seconds, and then gives me this dismissive look of disapproval before agreeing to accept it.  I guess it’s better that Chinese is still a part of me. 
But when I tell her it’s too hard to speak Mandarin to my kids all the time when my husband doesn’t speak it, she turns into a raging Chinese mom, reminding me that I am Chinese!  Do I not know that?  She has once said, "if you cannot teach your kids Chinese language, then you have failed as a mom." Ummm, excuse me?  So, it's not enough that I love them and nurture them, cook for them, take them out, do fun things with them, because well, if they don't speak Chinese, then I have somehow failed regardless of any other efforts?!  It's infuriating!  
I just don't understand her sometimes.  Is she saying this stuff because she hasn't thought it through and she thinks her threats of failure still mean something to me even though I'm an adult with my own opinions now?  Does she still think I'm a teenager refusing to agree with her, only to tell her she was right later on?  I'm not sure!  "Well, I did it, so why can't you?!"  I mean... honestly, this is not my first time hearing that (because unsolicited parenthood advice is so popular), but STILL!  Come on!!!  It is not apples to apples, both my parents spoke Chinese first, English second.  Both my parents lived in America while still holding onto their Chinese identity, culture, and traditions, refusing to fully assimilate with the American culture.  It's so different for them and for me.  The challenges we face may be similar, but at the same time, they're also different!  I appreciate my parents sacrificing all that the did to come here, to this foreign land of too much cheese, but I wish they would realize, along the way, I kind of became American.  
Of course, all the strangers who stop to ask me where I’m from would suggest otherwise.  Why can’t people just say, “what is your ethnicity?”  Is that so hard?  You don’t really care where I am from and if you want to know where my ancestors are from so you can figure out what I am ethnically, just ask what my ethnicity is!  The next time someone asks me where I’m from or what I am, I’ll tell them I’m from my mom’s tummy and I am a human. 
In reality, I guess it's safe to say I’m lost somewhere between American and Chinese.  I learned to speak Chinese before I learned English, but I was never in ESL.  I ate Chinese food before I ate American food, but I am a sucker for both now.  I even watched Chinese soap operas before I watched American ones, though it's rare that I'd watch a Chinese movie or show these days.   
The good news is I’m not alone.  There are a bunch of us ABC kids who were raised by our Tiger Moms, sent to Chinese school, taken to dim sum every weekend, and taught that we were Chinese, not American.  The symptoms of such classifications consist of large Chinglish speaking abilities, ridicule by anyone in Taiwan about how ABC dark and large we are, harsh judgment from white people in the 90’s about the Chinese food we consume whilst in America (because these days, all Chinese food, fusion or not, seems to be trending and hip), and belittled laughter from Chinese people about our weak stomachs when we can’t quite hang with the authentic street food when we visited Taiwan. 
It took quite some time for me to fully realize we just didn’t celebrate American holidays like true Americans.  In school, I was taught about how the Indians and Pilgrims celebrated that momentous meal that began the tradition for all future Thanksgiving meals.  This meant a meal full of corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce would make everyone giddy with excitement.  We had turkey just like everyone else, but ours was always stuffed with sticky oily rice and our sides were always stir fried bok choy, noodles, mushrooms, and lettuce wraps. Cranberry sauce or stuffing?  That was a myth in our household.  I never had either with turkey until I was in college.  Meatloaf?  What the heck is that?  I didn't have my first meatloaf until I was married and having dinner with my husband's family a few years ago.  
I remember spending weeks on end during our designated craft time at school carefully using a pencil to stick brown tissue paper all over a newspaper filled paper bag to make a grand master turkey centerpiece.  I remember taking it home to my mom, telling her it was supposed to be a used for our Thanksgiving dinner, and then coming home one day and finding out she had thrown it away.  I remember another elaborate craft project tying red and green tissue paper around a wire hanger that we had molded into a circle to make a red and green and very festive wreath for our front door.  I remember the excitement of bringing it home to my mom who told me it was cute but that it wouldn’t fit on our door.  I wasn’t devasted.  I wasn’t even sad.  I just accepted it as a reasonable explanation and moved on.  And then, when we used 6 pack can plastic ring to make another wreath, I did it with very little effort, knowing my Chinese mother would just throw it away afterwards.  It didn't bother me, at least I don't think it did... just holding onto these memories might suggest otherwise.... but on the onset, I don't think it bugged me, I just knew this was life, and made a mental note to be a bit different with my own kids' future crafts.  
As a Chinese immigrant child, I didn’t have anyone reconcile the American and Chinese traditions to me, I just appreciated what we did have.  Chinese New Year.  Lucky red envelopes with money in them.  Chinese fireworks to scare off the monster, Nian.  Grand dancing lions and dragons.  Burnt incense and food offerings for the ancestors who had passed before me.  I eventually stopped wondering when Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny would come, and started to focus on what mattered – grades.
While American mothers were teaching their kids how to make chocolate chip cookies, I was rolling glutinous rice balls for our red bean soup.  I don’t recall ever baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom.  We always purchased baked goods from the American grocery stores for bake sale donations.  Sometimes, we even stuffed them into ziploc bags to look more authentic and homemade.  When I first discovered cake box mix and learned that those scrumptious cupcakes room mothers brought to us for holiday parties was easy to make at home, I was in pure heaven.  I could not believe my lucky stars, and began making boxed cake mix ALL. THE. TIME.  I even bought the little sugar crystals and store packaged frosting to go with it, so I could relive my favorite part of the elementary school holiday parties: the cake box mix made cupcakes the room moms brought us!  
There were just a lot of things my mother didn’t care to adapt to when it came to the American culture.  She never said I couldn’t do what the white kids were doing, she just didn’t bring it up if I didn’t.  Girl scouts.  Soccer.  Pretty much any sport for that matter, which is a shame, because I am one tall girl!  And because she didn’t really understand the American pop culture of the time, we were essentially fresh off the boat (“FOBs”).  I looked like I was a byproduct of Taiwan, not America.  My mom dressed me in shirts with awkward improper English phrases, and blouses and skirts adorned with unfamiliar Chinese cartoon characters.  My mom put my hair in pigtails with big fluffy balls instead of neon shoelaces and anything of American trend in the 80’s.  I longed for crimped hair, curled hair, or big bangs.  Instead, I had flat straight Chinese hair tied up with fobby hair ties.  And yet I had a fantastic childhood… one filled with Chinese expectations and American struggles and Chinese American happiness and success.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Mickey Mouse Bar Story

When I was a kid, I had an obsessive love and attraction to ice cream.  I'm told one of my first words was, "aye-shwe" which my parents thought was me attempting to say love-water in Mandarin.  They would bring me water, and I would slap it away furious they couldn't decode my words.  They'd try with food, with toys, anything they could think of, and I would swat it away again and again, all whilst anxiously screaming out "aye-shwe!"  It would be a few days before they figured out I meant ICE CREAM, as I clapped my hands and screamed, "aye-shwe! aye shwe!" as they fed me some.

Some of my best memories come from ice cream.  Ice cream was almost always a happy time for me.  The sweet taste of cold dairy and sugar coupled with the toasty aroma of waffle cones was just so heavenly.  On top of that, ice cream was so lovely and pleasant to the eye!  I can still spend hours pouring over different combinations of sprinkles.  The perfect spirals and dreamy dollups pull at my heart strings.  The chocolate dipped and then covered with sprinkles waffle bowls or cones make my knees weak with delight. 

I loved the pink and brown polka dots from the 31 Baskin Robbins ice cream store, but I was consumed by the pink spoons and everything they embodied - which for me was the reminder of happy moments we had our ice cream trips with me as the only child.  I liked the pink spoons so much that a college boyfriend would attach twelve of them to floral wiring and stems for an anniversary present, one I would cherish the sweetness and look at it, and get happy with anticipation.  Even now, as a grown adult, whenever I see a pink Baskin Robbins spoon, I still get butterflies in my stomach.  The anticipation.  The giddiness.  The excitement.  The pure joy. 

As a child, we also frequented Thrifty ice cream about once a week when we went to the laundromat.  The weekend ritual would begin with loading our clothes into an empty washer, followed by my mom or dad walking me over to grab a Thrifty ice cream cone.  I was pretty basic as a kid, it was pretty much rainbow sherbet, because the flavor wasn't bad but really I liked to stare aimlessly at the swirl of colors, wondering what additional color I'd find with another lick.  My favorite licks were the purple and pinks, but a lot of times, pink would emerge as the leader.  I savored the delicious joy every week as I waited patiently for my parents to finish their laundry.  I loved this little tradition.

The only time ice cream didn't make me happy was when it became a teaching moment from my mom about how to be more filial.  I liked ice cream, but I also liked all things Disney, so when I saw the cute vanilla and chocolate Mickey Mouse ice cream bars that they sold at Disneyland in the local grocery store, I was ecstatic and begged my mom to get some.  She agreed, and I was the luckiest girl ever.  Or so I thought.  When we went home, I asked my mom if I could have a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar, and she said yes.  I opened up my bar, so amped up, carefully pulling apart the plastic wrap so that it wouldn't impact my precious Mickey Mouse bar.  Before I could eat it, my mom asked me for a bite.  "No, get your own," I responded like only a six year old could.  I mean, in my defense, the box came with more than one bar.  Without any warning, my mom swiped the bar from me, and ate it.  I SCREAMED in agony.  As I did, she continued to eat it, telling me that I deserved what I was getting and that I needed to be more filial and loving and supportive of my mother.  I yelled.  I hit the wood floors and pounded with my fiery fists on the floor, all while she kept eating MY MICKEY MOUSE ICE CREAM BAR!  She continued to repeat herself, that I should have just given her a bite, that I should have thought of her first.  What kind of a daughter was I?  Didn't I know how to be a good Chinese daughter?  Obedient and filial, and always thinking of my mother, who by the way, bought me this bar!  Ungrateful little spoiled American child.  She threw away the rest of the box.  At least that's what my memory tells me. 

From that day on, my mom always got offered a bite of whatever I was having, and if I failed to ask first and she wanted a bite, she would get a bite.

I tell my kids this story often.  They gasp at what a monster po po was, and then they tell me that I should have given her a bite first.  I remind them now that they must always offer me a bite, but then reassure them that I would never eat ALL of something the way their po po had.  They nod in unison and praise for their wonderful mother. 

When I tell my mom about this, she recalls that Mickey Mouse bar.  "It was so disgusting, I was so upset that I had to eat it all to teach you.  Oh the sacrificing a mom makes to teach her kids how to being the best." 


Monday, January 8, 2018

My Mom and Towels...

When I was younger, and we went on trips where a hotel stay was included, we ALWAYS brought our own towels.  We never used the hotel towels, because according to my Chinese mother, they could be dirty or not truly washed.  If we did use them, we never used them on our private parts, because heaven forbid stained disgusting towels disguised with bleach as clean be used on private parts!  But they wash the towels after the prior occupants Mom. "Yeah, do you think a single wash will wash away a stranger's private parts touching these towels?!"  Yes...?  "No! You don't know what the person who stayed here before did to these towels! Sometimes bleach not washing away dirty"  We didn't travel a whole lot, so this wasn't a regular occurrence anyway.  If we visited family friends, we always brought our own towels.  Always.

While I was working in Corporate America in my 20s and traveling for work, she would always ask if I packed a small towels for my work trips.  These were really nice five star hotels, the best the firm could provide to keep all its employees happy (as they worked us to death at night and overtime).  I'm disappointed to say I did lie to my mom, small white lies, little whispers of, "yes mom, I brought my own towel" when indeed I did not.  The luxuriously soft hotel towels were so different from the rough towels I had become accustomed to at home where we hung all our linens out to dry in the sun.  We lived in California, it just seemed fiscally responsible to hang dry all our clothes.  The lines my dad had carefully constructed between trees made it easier to "dry the clothes" outside.  I wouldn't ever learn how to use a dryer or that dryers made sweaters shrink until college, so I welcomed the soft plush towels from hotels, I might have even tucked a few away BY ACCIDENT! during that time...

I remember the first time I visited my now sister-in-law when Andy and I were dating, and I brought my own towel.  I had become so accustomed to bringing my own towel wherever I went, my mom had instilled it into me from my youth, so it just made sense.  It wouldn't be until after we were married, that she would ask me why I brought my own towel.  As I tried to explain it, I started by saying well sometimes there are different scents in towels so.... all of a sudden, I realized I was inadvertently offending others by bringing my own towel.  You don't like the way our towels smell?! Do they smell bad? No, it's just not the smell I'm used to.  What are you used to?  As I tried to explain the history of towels based on my upbringing, to chuckle at the "bring your own towel even to a hotel" mantra my mom would repeat, the new family I had just married into seemed to draw further and further away in disbelief and ridicule.  So I made a commitment to stop bringing towels wherever I went, if just to save face (more on that later) with the new American family I had married into. 

I am proud to state that change is possible!  I no longer bring towels with us on trips.  I occasionally bring kid towels (it's just easier because sometimes normal towels are so when we visit my parents, they still have the really hard towels because they hang dry all their stuff).  Alas, when my family visits us in Salt Lake (the few times they have... also more on that later), they still bring towels.  Old habits die hard for some. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Never Trust White Man

Despite my upbringing and the constant reminder from my mom and aunts that I was never to marry a “white man,” I never thought much of it.  
"If you marry a white man, you will have to have cheese at your wedding reception," my aunts told me, disgusted and shocked that such a thing existed.  
"Cheese makes your butt big!  Don't eat it!" another aunt of mine once said.  
I never thought much about the lack of cheese in our Chinese diets.  I did however notice white people all had large eyes.  Double eyelids, all of them!  Sometimes, I couldn’t really tell them apart from one another, but for the most part, they were nice.  The ones I knew at least.  And for the most part, I never really felt intimidated by white men.  Or so I thought. 

I was working at a large public accounting firm right out of college with a bunch of like minded young professionals.  I was living the American dream.  We went out to lunch as a team and as I was eyeing the American menu of deli options, I came across “rye bread.” 
 “What’s rye bread?” I asked another teammate, a genuinely innocent question I knew someone would answer.  To me, eating in a deli was foreign and new. 
“How do you not know what rye bread is?  Didn’t you grow up here?” he asked me.  It was a sincere question on my part, but he seemed to think I was making a joke.  I seriously had never heard of such a thing. American bread was white or wheat, if that.  At home, we only ate the soft white bread from Chinese bakeries.  Or, there were rolls, sponge cake, sweet, salty, sometimes with hot dogs, eggs, Japanese mayo, dried pork, and green onions. So what the heck was rye?   
I was the ripe age of 22, had just graduated college where I met him, a tall dark and handsome Jewish man three years my senior because he had gone back to school for a masters in accounting after working a few years.  He was tall enough to be a professional basketball player.   Even though I was 5’8, almost 5'9, and quite tall by normal Asian standards, I felt so little next to him. 
He was outgoing, funny, well liked by all the female clientele (especially the older ones who would immediately toy with their rings and sometimes turn the diamonds down…) well built, and had a dominating presence, but even then, I wasn’t attracted to him because he was just an intimidating white man, the kind my mom and aunts had warned me about all my life.  And in this moment, thought I had never felt threatened by him, he was suddenly the enemy, making me feel like I was fresh off the boat when I in fact did speak perfect English and was born in America!

I felt so little next to him.  Tiny and insignificant and now, I felt stupid too.  He towered over me with height and confidence as he looked at me in disbelief.
“Umm… I dunno, am I supposed to know what that is?”
“Have you seriously never had rye bread?”  he asked me again.
“No…” I responded politely, hoping the conversation would end at that.  Of course it didn’t. 
“Didn’t you grow up here?  Aren’t you American?” he asked
What gave it away?  My not blonde but very jet black hair?  Or my not blue but very dark brown eyes? 
Now I know that having been born in America makes me an American.  I know that I’m not supposed to use the terminology “Chinese-American,” which is actually a little offensive given the melting pot that is our great American nation, but having been raised by immigrant parents who had journeyed to America to give their posterity a better life, having spoken Mandarin before English, having eaten rice almost everyday with Chinese dishes at home, I just didn’t feel truly American.  It wasn’t until college that I even experienced American meals or dessert.  At home, we had fruit after dinner, and we only had cake or something sweet for special occasions.  In America, dessert seems to be daily with cookies, pie, cakes, cobblers, or a combination of all of those even when it’s nobody’s birthday or a holiday (no wonder we have an American obesity problem).  I also had never encountered meatloaf or casserole, I had heard about it – it was the food that most children groaned about on the popular television shows I watched growing up, but I never had any.  The extent of exposure to American food for me was fried chicken, pizza, pasta, French fries and burgers, and most of that is Italian before it’s even American. 
The more my Chinese mind processed the information at hand, the more upset I became.  In fact, now I didn’t feel stupid anymore.  Now, I was mad! I clung tightly to all these unknown American ways as further indication that I was truly NOT American, and was simply mistaken for an American due to my perfect English untainted with a Chinese accent. 
“No … I actually have NEVER had rye bread!”  It was like I was back in the second grade, being ridiculed by the white kids about my seaweed and dried pork bento box only this time I wouldn’t go away feeling bad about myself, wishing my Chinese mother could make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.  This time, I would stand up for my Chinese heritage, which shockingly did NOT include rye bread!  We barely had white bread in our home growing up, why in the world would I know what rye bread was?   
I wanted to scream at his ignorance, dare him to tell me if he’d had chicken feet or pig’s blood or cow intestine or duck tongue or fried intestines (sprinkled with just the right bit of salt of course), but the Chinese side of me submissively fired the rage of thoughts in my head and remained calm on the outside, demure, silent and obedient, as I had been taught all my life by my Chinese mother.  Not to retaliate.  Not to talk back.  Not to cause trouble.  I gave a little smile, as if to say how amusing though I was really thinking how idiotic of you. 
“Well, thank goodness you finally know what it is.  About time.” he informed me. 
“Thank you” I said, meaning to drizzle it with sarcasm but of course restraining myself and instead conveying it with a genuine note of appreciation.
“You’re welcome”  he said, so proud of himself, and walking even taller and puffing his chest out even more than I remembered him normally. 

The white boy had helped the poor Chinese-American girl out.  Another win for the white man, I thought to myself.  Ugh.  My mom and aunts were right. Never trust white man. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Some Christmas Card Thoughts...

Growing up, we never received Christmas cards from friends or family.  It's a very American thing to do Christmas cards, kind of like thank you cards, which are entirely foreign to anyone with an immigrant parent (who has not adapted to the American culture), but just basic decorum in the American culture.  So when we started doing Christmas cards after we got married, my parents and family were a little surprised.  It was a good surprise, I'm sure, but surprised nevertheless.  It became even more of a necessity to update everyone as I slowly became more distanced from my extended family after we left LA for Washington and then Utah.  We go back about once or twice a year to visit now, but there's not always time to visit with the extended family, so like many things, it has become less and less and associated with my childhood more than my adulthood.

Every year, we send a little bit of an update on our family, what we've done, how our year's been, how and what the kids are sort of like.  Obviously, these letters don't tell of the true day in and day out that we experience, but we hope they shed a bit of light on our year and will give us some sort of context on what we did and what our kids did years later.  Because no letter could truly detail how mortifying it is when you go to music class with your sons and they lay on you like a big baby or how quickly it manifests into loving pride when they show some light has flickered and they get music theory.  Or the tangible cuteness of my baby's little bum high in the air as he bear crawls everywhere.  Or the level of joy that comes when my daughter tells me how much she loves the food I've cooked and gobbles it down patiently at the table like a big kid.

And I've thought about this a lot, about who I really should be sending our Christmas cards to, who even cares to read our letters, and what they mean to us and others.  I made the smart decision to send 100 actual cards to friends and family who want them or send us cards, and then I also send a bunch via email to old coworkers, old college buddies, and even old college professors.  The response from my emailed cards was above and beyond what I could have expected.  I got responses with updates from old partners I worked with, professors who expressed such zeal for an update and requested I make sure to include them on my annual card list every year going forward.  Old friends who are off the grid who told me they had new babies, I mean the response was overwhelming and absolutely amazing.  Bundled in with that group, my parents also received a soft copy of our card.  That might sound cruel or unthoughtful, but my parents mail is a pile of bills and notices lost, one that has grown too immense for them to adequately control, and I know better than to send them a card they will just read and then toss aside.  For them, the soft copy is almost better because they can store it and refer back to it whenever they want with a simple search.

But still, my American side was apprehensive about what sort of response my mom would have.  I finally got on the phone with her after I had sent the card and she was so happy.  She told me how many times she had read it over and over, how much she loved reading the card, and how wonderful it was.  Then, she told me that when they had first moved to the US and were still living in Missouri, someone they knew was very "Americanized," and would send them a card every single year giving them an update on their family.  She referred to is as the most ridiculous thing she had ever read, so san-ba (a phrase that means foolish, and is a homonym with the number 3 and 8, so sometimes we say that's so 38! - don't be fooled by the Internet who refers to 38 as a female dog, that is definitely NOT the translation).  But then, she admitted, now that she's receiving my cards and understands the cultural impact of Christmas cards, she can't stop gushing over mine and will read it over and over again, because she loves hearing about her daughter's family.  I couldn't help but laugh, because maybe part of that struggle I had with whether or not I should do a card, how much to write, who to send it to, and how... was not so far from the fact that my own mom thought it a bit insane to send anything even resembling a family update.  So now I know.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

How Do you Feel About Santa?

When I was two years old, my dad dressed up as Santa.  Everyone laughed when I made the two year old observation that Santa sured looked a lot like my Dad.  I would remember it for years to come as the story would be retold time after time.  That was the last time Santa would be a thing for me as the believer.

When Christmas came around and I was no longer an only child, I felt the need to be Santa for my brother who was six years younger.  I always asked him about what he wanted and then made sure a gift under the tree was signed "from Santa" for him.  The look of joy on his face was so wonderful and since I had never experienced it myself, I felt so proud.  Sure, we didn't have stockings, and we didn't even put out cookies and milk for Santa at night but the knowledge that at least one of us got Santa, made it okay.

But a few years later, when he made the connection that jie jie (big sister in Mandarin) was the culprit behind his "from Santa" gifts, I came to the conclusion that Santa was the worst thing ever.  The mortified look of being duped for so many years, the way he faked that it wasn't a big deal when I could feel like it absolutely was-it just absolutely broke my heart.  I decided right then and there that this whole Santa thing was definitely a bad idea.  I became grateful that I never believed in it, and that my parents never played along.  At least there were some perks for being an immigrant child with parents who didn't buy into the American traditions.

After I graduated college, my cousin who was 16 years younger, would finally learn about Santa.  I'd get a phone call from my Aunt asking me what Pokemon was, because her daughter was crying the day after Christmas.  The only thing she had written to Santa asking for was Pokemon.  My Uncle had seen this letter and dismissed it, thinking it was just some sort of school craft she brought home.  They didn't know you actually wrote letters to Santa asking for something, or that parents were supposed to step in to keep the fantasy alive.  My brother and I quickly got a Pokemon and attached it to a letter explaining how Santa had gotten lost.  But that was about it for her, she would never believe in Santa again after that.

They say some bad experiences can mold a person, influence the way they think or act, and my Santa encounters certainly did that. I decided early on I'd never continue the Santa act for my own kids.  When I became religious in my late 20's, there was even more reason not to continue the Santa act.  For me personally, the fact that I now began to believe in something I once thought was just made up made all the difference.  I didn't want to encourage my kids to believe in something I knew ultimately would be unreal.

And now, here I am with kids, and Santa has become a bit of a misnomer.  Our kids don't believe he exists, at least not in the way he's portrayed as someone who magically comes with flying reindeer through chimneys to deliver gifts, rather they acknowledge his presence and the symbolism that comes along with him representing the consumer side of Christmas.  Mostly, we talk about Jesus's birthday as the reason for the big day, but then when we get to questions about Santa and if he's real or not, we just ask them questions, and then they come to their own conclusions about how presents never come from "Santa," or how reindeers can't fly, and how Santa is different everywhere they go.  A few times, my second yelled at strangers that "Santa is not real!" when asked what he wanted from the big guy.  That prompted a discussion about not ruining it for others, and that he is real in the sense of the idea of Santa and that parents can substitute for Santa.  When my kids got stocking stuffer items from their great Uncle Ike and great Aunt Jan, they celebrated with joy and thought it a little peculiar that their cousins got the same stuff from "Santa," but rather than inquire as to the difference, they just shrugged it off.  And I guess that's sort of where we are now.  We don't encourage or discourage, we don't lie, but we also don't tell the entire truth.

How do you feel about Santa?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Boyfriend Conundrum

My mom scrutinized my first ever boyfriend from head to toe before I was allowed to officially be his girlfriend.  Like a good obedient Chinese daughter, I let her, and waited patiently as she went about calling him before school (yes, she got the number from me) and setting up a time to meet with him afterwards.  The entire day of waiting and attempting to calm potential said boyfriend's nerves was an eternity of impending doom.

They met in a Chinese tea house, the ones who serve those delicious Boba milk tea (Boba are glutinous balls of joy that squish around in your mouth before becoming excessive calories reminiscent of my entire tween and teenage youth).  There, she would buy him a cup of boba milk tea, and sit down to drink and chat with him.  He was 17, I was 16, we were high school babies.  She evaluated the way he drove because she had him pick her up, and throughout the drive, she carefully determined if he could shuttle me around safely.  Then, she inquired about the details of our friendship, the courtship, and asked what he liked about me.  She found out about his college plans, his future ambitions, and gave him a long speech about how I was a diamond in the rough.  To say it was a mortifying experience for him and me is an understatement.

I would have two more serious boyfriends after that, one of which became my forever boyfriend.  I'd date a lot in my 20s, but I'd always be especially careful of those I considered "boyfriends," a title I knew would invite my mom into the picture and give her ample opportunities to get a little too involved.

As an adult looking back now, I am quite sure the apple does not fall far from the tree, and I will have no hesitation to do the same exact thing to my daughter and sons.  I just hope they allow me to do the same, because most of my other friends started dating at 12 or 13, behind their parents' backs, and never let their parents know who they were in a relationship with.  For some peculiar reason, I shared with my mom.  I didn't share every single detail of our relationship, but I felt it was important that she knew I had a boyfriend, and after waiting so long to have a boyfriend, I didn't want to hide it.

I try to think of what my mom did that made me so open with her.  Here is what I came up with.

1) She constantly told me about how dumb she was when she smoked as a teenager, and how mad my grandma popo was when she found out.  It made me feel I wasn't alone and assured me that my mom had been through the same stuff.  When I became  faced with those same life changing decisions of whether or not to take a sip of alcohol before I was 21, or whether or not to take a puff of a cigarette when everyone was saying how cool it was and you secretly wanted to hold on just because, I thought of my mom and who wants to think of their mom during those situations?!  I did... and I'd think twice and try to learn from her mistakes that she reminded me of SO OFTEN.

2) She drove us everywhere, she volunteered to be chauffeur whenever possible, and eavesdropped on every little thing we said.  We said a lot of stupid things in the car.  She knew very well who were the nice girls and who were the ones to be a little more wary of.  She knew who was dating who, and was just as invested in the teen gossip as I was.  But she never asked questions while driving or acted like she was listening.  She feigned indifference in front of my friends, and once they were gone, she was invested and interested and I didn't ever feel threatened and for some reason, wanted to share with her things about my friends.

3) Despite always yelling at me for doing things that might be du lian or loose face (loosely translated in English), known as inappropriate things a good Chinese girl does not do (like run through your sophomore dance class routine with your friends in front of the school while waiting to be picked up... seriously?) that are for some strange reason embarrassing to conservative traditional Chinese folk, and belittling my better judgment when detailing why receiving a "C" in PE is a disgrace (because it's confusing when your parents don't value exercise or sports or playing outside but suddenly a C in PE is all my fault) or giving me some serious body issues with her blunt "you look fat" comments, yes, despite ALL of that, my mom wavers between the horrendous critical difficult mom and the loving supportive, will always be on your side and continue to encourage you in a Chinese way.  That Chinese way might not always be nurturing or loving in a big embrace you kind of way, but it's more of a silent cheerleader on the side saying, "Duh, you can do this so you better!"  When self esteem was lacking and teenage insecurities inspired doubt, my mom would always tell me to do my best, and that I could do it.  When I failed the CPA for the sixth or seventh time and wanted to give up, she told me I would eventually get it and reminded me that not everyone passed right away.  She was full of motivational reminders that I might not be the smartest, but I also wasn't the dumbest.  That realistic approach helped me face a lot of disappointments in life and find the ability to keep on trucking on.