Story time

This afternoon, I went uptown to my cousin’s place to drop off a very belated Christmas gift for his son and to spend some time with his son. He’s just over five years old now and in kindergarten at the autistic school in the neighborhood. It’s been really trying for my cousin and his wife to be a parent to this little innocent child, and for the short time I was there, I was already feeling a bit impatient and tired being around him. You can’t really help what kids end up with, and so as I am trying to interact with him, play, and read with him, I can tell his focus isn’t quite there. I’m having a hard time gauging what he wants. He’s interested in me one second, then physically pushes me away another, and his eye contact is still poor. One minute he wants me to read him a book, and the next, he takes the book out of my hands, throws it against the wall, and wants to play with his toy guitar. It finally took some coaxing from his mother to get him to sit on the couch properly with me and read together. It was short-lived peace, though.

I felt terrible as I was leaving. I don’t think the best of my cousin or his wife. But I do feel sorry for them. I was barely there an hour and already felt frustrated. How do they probably feel every single day? 

Family tiffs

I think that no matter what time of year it is, some part of my family is having some disagreement, some dispute, some argument. And no matter what happens, no one will ever make up. No one will ever admit they are wrong. No one will ever apologize. And the cycle continues.

At least this time, it doesn’t have to do with me or my parents. It actually doesn’t involve my parents at all – thank god. It just involves two of my cousins’ wives having a spat with each other. It all started with an e-vite that went out for my cousin’s son’s birthday next month. For whatever reason, the e-vite was sent only to my cousin and not his wife. My cousin asked his brother’s wife if she could send the e-vite to his wife, as well. She got angry and asked why his wife didn’t just reach out to her herself. And so the battle ensued with passive aggressive messages on text and Facebook, accusations of disdain and “getting up in my family’s faces.” It’s clear this anger has been budding for a while based on the messages I saw. Our instigator cousin-in-law has never been liked in our family because she has a princess personality and has had the nerve to tell my cousin, her brother-in-law, to say “please” and “thank you” to her, and has made etiquette suggestions to my mom, her aunt, in her house. That type of personality is rarely widely accepted.

As I am reading these messages and seeing screen shots of texts back and forth in my cousin text group, I am laughing in my head, so fully amused at the idea of how stupid all this is and how my family not only is dysfunctional, but even chooses to willingly marry dysfunctional people, thus expanding the dysfunctional family tree. Oh, goody.


I met my parents for dinner tonight. Even though I’ve been here since Tuesday, given that our company had our kick-off in Napa, I wasn’t actually in the city much at all until today. I met them at a restaurant we used to go to all the time, and I hugged both of them in greeting them. My dad pretty much looked the same as he did in late November when I was here. My mom on the other hand… I don’t know. I just feel like her appearance has been going down hill for the last few years. The bags under her eyes have gotten worse, and her complexion is just haggardly. She increasingly does not care about what she wears and how she carries herself, so nothing seems to match anymore, and she doesn’t mind. She just throws clothes together and goes out. Most of what she has doesn’t even fit her. It doesn’t help that she’s naturally a hyper worrier and is paranoid about everything. Her paranoia has only increased in the last five or so years, and her distrust has increased exponentially of pretty much everyone.

I feel terrible and want to help her. I try to encourage her to buy clothes she likes that actually fit. She is always cheap about buying things for herself so rarely does unless they are on sale. I buy her fancy face creams and cosmetics because I know she’d never spend the money on them herself, and she always used to like these indulgences because she would never treat herself. She doesn’t seem to be using them much anymore. I noticed them in the bathroom barely touched.

I don’t know how to help. I just look at her and feel sorry for her. I’m powerless to do anything to improve her life or help her outlook. There really isn’t anything I can do to help.

Well… that’s a familiar feeling, one that terrifies me.

Family dinner planning

I’m packing my bag tonight to head to San Francisco for the rest of the week for my company’s annual kick-off in Napa. I suppose it will be a change-up from my usual routine, but I don’t feel particularly excited about traveling right now and would rather stay in New York if I had the choice. This is clearly a “first world problem” issue, as I’m expressing slight negativity about being in wine country. “Woe is me.”

I called my mom tonight since I’d be seeing her soon, and she asked me about the family dinner plans this coming Saturday. She went down the list of people she wanted to know were coming (and especially did not want to come). She gave a nervous chuckle after naming the ones she particularly did not like. And then I realized… this happens every single time I come home. An awkward family dinner gets planned where no one really wants to see each other, but they’re all gathering for the good food (because it’s San Tung, so it has to be damn good) and for the excuse that I am home.

I’m seriously contemplating planning a trip where I tell no one and just show up. Then, there would be nothing to plan or schedule. And then, there’s be no dreaded anticipation and no awkwardness.

Updates without getting updates

My parents don’t really keep in touch with anyone in the family other than my aunt, who they are kind of forced to keep in touch with because she lives right upstairs from them. So pretty much every time I talk to her on the phone, which is averaging about twice a week now, she goes down the line of my aunts and my uncle and each of my cousins to see how each is doing, as though I talk to to them every day (I obviously do not).

“What about your uncle?” my mom asked today. “Have you talked to him lately? How is he doing?”

“I haven’t been in touch with him since he wished me a happy birthday earlier this month,” I mumbled, disinterested. “Why do you always ask me about everyone in the family? If you want to know how they are, you can easily ask them yourself. You live closer to almost all of them than I do. You can call them and go visit them.”

My mom laughed. “No, I don’t want to talk to them. I just want to ask how they are. There’s nothing wrong with asking how someone is doing, is there?”

Then you clearly don’t care enough, so why don’t you just stop asking to make annoying small talk?

Homemade birthday cake

I was at work today, getting all frustrated by these manual tasks I had to do in this new application we’re leveraging at work to document all our tasks. What a great birthday, I thought in my head. This application really sucks.

And then my colleague pulls me aside and tells me I need to go to the kitchen ASAP. Hmmm, do I get CAKE?!

Our office manager organized a birthday surprise for me and had everyone (who actually showed up to the office, that is, since it was snowing today) sing me “Happy Birthday,” and also made me a cake — it was a two-layer red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting. It looked so professionally done that I honestly thought she bought it and was joking, but apparently she wasn’t.

“No one has ever made me a cake before!” I exclaimed. I was truly in shock and so overwhelmed to know she had actually spent the time to bake and decorate this cake just for my birthday. “Actually, someone did bake me a cake once… it was when I was five. But that was a long time ago!”

And then the memory hit me  — the first time I could actually remember my mother getting jealous. My aunt, who lived upstairs from us, always used to bake with me. She’s the reason I got into baking and ultimately cooking. She said we were going to bake my birthday cake together, so we actually baked a cake together and decorated it, complete with vanilla frosting and rainbow-confetti dot sprinkles. I was so excited to have this as my birthday cake.

My mom crushed it by telling me she’d already bought me a cake and that would be the cake I’d pose with for my birthday photos. I told her I didn’t want that cake, that I wanted the cake I had made with my aunt. My mom refused and said her cake was the cake we’d put the candles on. I was not happy, but I didn’t say anything. At the time, I didn’t realize it was jealousy. But looking back, it was very clear that was what this was about.

If you were to look at the photos from my fifth birthday, you can see that the cake I made is off to the side, without any candles. The candles are on the chocolate cake my mom bought me… which I actually didn’t like because it had some weird cherry flavoring that was too strong for my five-year-old taste buds.

That was the beginning of the jealousy and irrationality. I just didn’t know it yet then.

But anyway, isn’t it funny how these random memories get triggered from so long ago?

Eroding patience

In a few days, I’ll be turning 32. That means it will mark 32 years of constantly being guilted for living a “privileged” life during which I always had a roof on my head and food on the table to eat. It will mean 4.5 years since losing my brother, who had not only that guilt daily, but our parents’ constant criticism that led to his untimely death.

It’s always the same repeated issues with them. I found out when my mom called today that the doctor had told her that some of her recent x-ray results were in, so they presume she had pneumonia, but they’re still unsure. To see if it is this, they’ve prescribed an antibiotic specifically to attack the potential pneumonia. She has a five-day course, and hopefully she will be better. Assuming this all works and helps her, she’ll be fine. What I told her today was not fine was that my dad failed to answer the phone and purposely avoided answering the phone when she had made it clear that there was an “emergency” yesterday. That’s not acceptable. Here I am, on the other side of the country concerned, and he just ignores me. And THEN he tells me to ‘quit calling’ over e-mail, which is just stupid.

Maybe in a normal family, my mom would acknowledge that my dad should have just answered the phone and was flustered, and he should have just told me about the x-ray results and just said not to worry. She would have said, sorry that we made you worry; we really didn’t mean to. He was just exhausted. Next time, we won’t do that again. That e-mail he wrote you was inappropriate.

But that didn’t happen. Because… My family isn’t normal. It is everything but.

Instead, she defended him, saying he does so much for her, that no one else has done anything for her while she’s been sick (including me, of course), that I need to be grateful for all he’s done for our family because neither of us would have anything without him.

“How would you like it if you called me 20 times and I never called back when something was wrong?” I asked her. “If I call and you don’t answer the phone, then I’m just not going to call anymore.”

She completely misses the point. “Well, no one is forcing you to call. If you don’t want to call, then you won’t call,” she responds. “And, are you saying that if something were to happen to me that you wouldn’t even call home? You know, you’re so Americanized. You always see things the way you see them. You need to learn to be grateful. Who do you think paid for your education?” (It always, always comes back to this, doesn’t it?).

“Have you forgotten that I’m not your only child?” I was steamed. “Do you think Ed should be feeling grateful right now? The two of you do all sorts of things and you never, ever want to admit you are wrong! You think you are always right! You’re not always right! He isn’t here anymore!”

It could have easily gotten a lot farther than that, but I managed to temper my words. “I can’t believe you would say that to me when I’m sick,” she said.

I’m just so sick of all their arguments, their immaturities, their lack of logic for almost everything, from the simplest situations to the worst emergencies like when Ed went missing. Nothing they have ever done has had any logic. It all followed some irrational thinking, some immature path that led to nowhere. In their eyes, I am always wrong. Everyone else is always wrong. They are always right. There is absolutely no other way it could be. The older I get, the less and less patience I have for all this.



What was so nice about the last two weeks was that I had nearly zero contact with my parents. It was so refreshing to not have to dread some senseless argument, listen to my parents accuse me of doing something else to hurt them or reject them, or really, any of their usual drama where they victimize themselves and make others out to be predators. The closest annoyance I had with them was when I had food sent to their house shortly after I came back, and my dad sent a pseudo-thank-you email. I call it “pseudo” because he basically said, ” Thanks for the food… But it arrived at 6:20, and we had already eaten at 5….” In fact, they usually eat at 4:30. Well, guess what? Delivery services for dinner usually start at 6pm — that’s considered a normal eating time. It’s not my fault that these restaurants don’t cater to his senior-citizen eating hours. And even so, they can eat the food the next day and the day after that. The food isn’t going to spoil. Why can’t they just express gratitude and leave it at that? Is it really so hard?

So the drama has to begin again once I get back into this country within a week. My aunt texts me to tell me that my parents hurriedly left the house in their car this late afternoon, and when my aunt asked my mom if everything was okay, all she said was, “It’s an emergency,” and ran off. That’s always a good way to make sure everyone is calm and collected. So immediately, my aunt is confused and tries to call me to let me know. I wasn’t immediately alarmed given the nature of my parents and their secrecy, so I called their house and their cell, and no response. Multiple calls later, still no response. My aunt then calls to inform me that they’ve arrived home, but my mom is resting according to my dad. So I figure, okay, now they are definitely home. So I called the house. Three times. No response. They can clearly see it’s me on the caller ID. Why is he not answering the phone?

I call my aunt again and tell her that they still aren’t answering the phone, so she suggests that I e-mail my anti-social dad. So I email him and asked why he wasn’t answering the phone, and that my aunt said it was an emergency. What was going on? Is everything okay?

Within a few hours, this is his exact response: “It is not an emergency. Quit calling so many times.”

So, I have a few thoughts on this response. 1) He failed to disclose what the issue was, 2) he’s completely deaf to the fact that my mom called this an emergency, and anytime anyone calls anything an emergency, with normal people who actually care, well, they might actually be concerned, and 3) maybe if he actually was going to be a mature human about this, he could have… I don’t know… just answered the phone and told me what happened so that I wouldn’t have had to call so many times?

Family drama as always

On my last full day in San Francisco early this month, my dad caught a bad flu. I’m not sure how it happened, but he did. I really didn’t think much of it at the beginning. Everyone gets sick at some point during the year, especially during winter. And because my mom loves to mother him like crazy, she got too close to him and even drank out of his cups and bowls, and so she got sick, too. So the last nearly three weeks, they’ve both had terrible colds and flus. My mom has been asking me to come home to take care of them “if you have time.” That’s her passive aggressive way of saying, “if you care, you will come home and take care of us. If not, you’re a terrible daughter and don’t give a shit about us.” I’ve been calling regularly to see how they are doing, but that’s not enough.

My aunt who lives upstairs from my parents came home a few days ago from a long trip to China and Hong Kong, and of course, she realizes they are both sick. So she texts me to ask me if I know they are sick and if I’ve been talking to them. Well, obviously I’ve been talking to them. They’re my parents, and yes, I do talk to my parents. Then, to exacerbate the matter, my cousin then texts me the exact same question, phrased as, “I’m coming back to visit mom and see your parents (that really means… I’m coming back to see my mom, and your parents just HAPPEN to live downstairs, so, I guess I will see them too since I can just knock on their door). Mom says your parents are both sick. Have you talked to them lately?”

I don’t know if either of them realize this, but basically what they are doing is by asking that, they are implying or asking if I care that my parents are sick, and doubt whether I even talk to my parents. Because apparently, since I moved 3,000 miles away, I don’t care about my parents. Because I’m not like my cousin, who basically calls his mother (my aunt) a few times a day every single day to give her updates on stupid things such as what I ate today and how the temperature fluctuated in Sunnyvale and if I washed the dishes, there’s no way I care about my parents as much as he does. Because I’m not codependent like he is, because I’m not still attached at the umbilical cord, because I don’t wish my spouse were just like my dad, maybe I don’t think much of my parents.

What they all need to realize is that I left home to survive. Ed stayed home, and now he’s dead. I talk to my parents at least two to three times a week now, which is a lot given how dysfunctional they are; that’s more than most people around my age I know who have happy relationships with their families. I have done a lot for my parents, and I really don’t need my relatives breathing down my neck to ask me to do something so basic as to call my parents because I already do it, and I don’t need to be told.

Fire alarms all the time.

I spent this afternoon leisurely working on my scrapbooking project, which I’ve neglected since the summer time. While in my crafty mode, I was interrupted by my mom’s call. Her voice is grave, and I can tell she’s completely exhausted. In her words, “I have no juice left” (she likes to think she’s a battery). She’s been taking care of my dad’s every need since Friday when his cold started, and now, his cold has somehow blown into complete body aches and pains, as well as a fever of 101 F. She’s worrying, and of course, she thinks he’s going to die. “I need to share this with you because we’re immediate family, but no one else,” she says. Yeah, because the next thing I was going to do is email our entire family and extended family to let them know my dad has a fever.

Maybe a few years ago, I would have been a bit alarmed by this call, but this time around, I don’t really feel anything. My parents blow every situation out of proportion. It’s exactly like the cliche of “the boy who cried wolf.” If you cry all the time, no one will take you seriously.  My mom makes herself worry so much that she gets sick. But she also does that just by babying my father and making him seem like he’s incapable of even getting a glass of water. “You just don’t understand how weak he is when he’s sick.” Actually, I do. Unless you’re cripple, you’re not too weak to get off the couch and get a glass of water in the kitchen which is just about 30 feet away. He acts like a baby. And she loves to enable it and try to make me feel sorry for her, which I don’t anymore in these situations. You can tell she’s probably going to get sick in the next couple of days in the same way she did back in January when my dad was sick when I came home, and she worried so much that she had to take medication for her ailments and came down with the worst cold. Sure, he might have a fever today, but maybe it could be gone tomorrow. I’m sure I’ve had a fever at some point when I was really ill in September, but I don’t immediately think I’m going to die because of it.

And who knows. Maybe every time I post something like this, I am just waiting for the worst to happen. And then I’d write about that. I’m just so done with listening to all this worry for the sake of worry. And I’m sick of witnessing their vicious cycles of babying and whining.