Father’s Day dreams

I awoke this morning from a dream where I was in a large, eclectic market, one that is reminiscent of the beautiful markets we browsed and inhaled recently in Oaxaca. Only this time, instead of being with Chris, I was with my brother. I turned a corner into a brightly colored stall to see my brother sitting at a low, round table, painted pink. He had wax paper lining almost the entire table, and on top sat at least a dozen different Dominican pastries. Some were filled with guava. Other looked like rolls. A few others looked like cheese breads. But they all looked and smelled delectable. Ed peered up at me and asked me to sit down.

“Look at what I picked up from the market!” he exclaimed, clearly proud and joyful of his edible finds. Before I could even sit down and take a bite, though, our mother appeared out of nowhere and started yelling at him.

“Why did you buy all this junk?” she yelled. “We can’t eat all this. It’s not good for you. You should have asked before getting us this! What a waste!”

Ed’s face immediately soured, and I was put off, as well. It was like real life once upon a time all over again: Ed being happy about something, then immediately having all the happiness drained from the situation because our mother decides to ruin the situation and make everything negative. Then, my dad appeared out of nowhere and didn’t say a word. How typical.

It was like my reality but in another country. And well, it was a dream. Or was it?

And, a happy father’s day to you, too.

This used to be my garden

When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time in the backyard of my family’s house. Then, when I was wee tall, it felt like a big garden, a place full of mysteries and things to be uncovered. I played with different bugs, chased butterflies, smashed snails (no one likes these hideous things eating our plants), dug holes and buried things. I occasionally tried to grow plants. Some worked out (snow peas, cherry tomatoes, and some didn’t (endless variety of flower seeds that I cannot even remember all their names). I rode my tricycle in ovals around it, failingly attempted to learn how to bike in it (it was too small), and horsed around with my brother and our super soakers. When Willie, my incredibly intelligent pet parakeet, was around for seven years, he used to sun, sing, and take little bird baths out there and keep me company. Once, he even escaped from his cage and chased a hummingbird. That yard is full of fond memories for me. It was like my happy place in a not so happy home. My grandma made that yard into a true garden filled with gladiolus, birds of paradise, Chinese new year pink blossoms, her very proud apple tree (which produced dry and tasteless apples, but at least it looked good), Asiatic lilies, dahlias, and other gorgeous plants.

Once she died, the garden died. The entire place went into disrepair because my mom didn’t have the time to maintain it, and my dad didn’t care to take care of it even though he talked about caring about it. Weeds overtook the blossoms, and the flowers gradually stopped blooming. My dad occasionally tried his hand at things like rhododendron, lilies, hybrid tea roses, and star jasmine, but it never really stuck. The place of calm and beauty that was once a part of that house was gone.

When I came back home this morning after an early morning flight, I went downstairs into the yard. It just looks worse and worse every time I go home: the fences bordering off neighbors are chipping and discolored. Piles and piles of dirt are everywhere. It’s weeds galore no matter where you look. What was once grass is now a bunch of yellowed, hay-like crunchy stuff. But there are some hints of life of things my dad has tried and successfully grown, such as rosemary, English lavender, and a single Double Delight hybrid tea rose shrub that is managing to survive despite having most of its leaves covered in some speckled black disease. There’s even a beautiful cymbidium orchid that is now blooming in the corner of the yard, away from what you’d see when you take a quick glance around. It still looks like hell, though. This is certainly no garden or paradise, and I’m certain if my grandma were to be reawakened from the dead to see the state of her yard, she’d probably drop dead on the spot.

It’s strange, though, to think that this yard used to feel so big to me, and now it feels so small. Yes, I’m bigger and obviously an adult now; decades have passed since I used to spend long hours out here. But the way I look at it is so different, everything from the size to the scale to even the way the apple tree and the fences look. It used to be so comforting, a mini escape. But now, it’s not happy anymore. It’s depressing and not even a fraction of what it used to be to me.

It’s like that Madonna song “This Used to Be My Playground,” with the chorus that goes:

This used to be my playground (used to be)
This used to be our pride and joy
This used to be the place we ran to
That no one in the world could dare destroy
This used to be our playground (used to be)
This used to be our childhood dream
This used to be the place we ran to
I wish you were standing here with me

It’s all been destroyed.

Calling home

I didn’t call home at all last week. It wasn’t really a conscious decision; it was more that work felt very stressful and dramatic given all the changes that had happened in the last two weeks that at the end of each day, I felt very little energy to talk to anyone on the phone. And talking to my parents would not be an upside to the day given all the inane questions they typically ask. I’d also worry that my mom would sense my tense tone and think something was wrong, and the last thing I really need is for her to worry even more about me than she already does.

So tonight, I called home, and when my dad answered the phone, he didn’t even say hello in response to me; he simply handed the phone to my mom. My mom said he was in the middle of something and was busy; too busy to say hi to his own daughter?

That kind of thing is just ridiculous. How difficult is it to greet your child over the phone? Does that sort of thing need to be taught?

Dysfunctional relatives visit

So my aunt has been in town for the last several days, and she suggested that we meet up for lunch with Chris today. That lunch ended up never happening because she insisted on bringing her friend, who we will call Marie, with her. My aunt is constantly inviting random Jehovah’s Witness friends to pretty much every single family gathering we’ve had since before I can even remember.

I’ve never liked Marie. She’s a free loader, a gossip, and judgmental to the point where I highly question how “Christian” she really is. She’s a fellow Jehovah’s Witness, which is how she and my aunt met. To me personally, she’s said disparaging things about my brother (yeah, you really do not want to go there with me), made sweeping statements about my husband just because of his Indian ethnicity, and has made generalizations of what it’s like to be the wife of an Indian man and that I should “be aware” of those things. So, the last thing I want is to meet up with my aunt and have her insipid JW sidekick join me for a free lunch.

The worst part is that even though she’s fully aware that I dislike Marie, she still brings her to meals with me unannounced. So I don’t even get to decide whether I see her before I actually see her. This time, she actually told me via text that Marie would be coming, to which I said, “can you please come by yourself?” She then responded that Marie needed her help and that she could not leave her alone. Let me get this straight: she can’t be left alone because she’s supposedly unwell, but she can travel with you to a restaurant in the East Village to meet me?

There’s enough dysfunction in my family as is. I don’t need someone who is not family from the JW world to be brought in to annoy me and eat with me. When I told her I didn’t want to go if she would bring Marie, she simply responded that she’d see me the next time I’d be in San Francisco. I guess that’s the way it’s going to be, then.

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?