Dads – then and now

My mom mumbled and ranted aloud multiple times while I was home. I’m pretty sure she meant for me or my dad to hear.

“I busted my ass off raising two kids nearly by myself!”

“I raised two kids with no help at all!”

“Now you have a baby. You know how hard it is!”

This one was meant for me to hear: “You are so lucky that Chris is so helpful,” she said, after observing Chris feed and burp Kaia multiple times, change her diapers, and organize her milk in the kitchen. “It makes it easier to have a family. Your dad… he was useless back then, and he’s useless now. You need to tell him what to do step by step, and even then he doesn’t do it right. It’s just easier most of the time to do it by myself.”

My mom always says she puts up with my dad because if it wasn’t for him, she’d likely already be dead in Vietnam decades ago. That’s probably true. She definitely owed her life to him. Unfortunately, he definitely has been an unsatisfactory husband and father. And with both their combined traumas, their marriage has definitely not been a happy one. It makes me sad for them, but it’s their life, and I can’t do anything about it.

I am grateful to have a supportive, egalitarian partner. If it weren’t for Chris having as much family leave as he had and being as supportive and progressive as he is, there is no way in hell I’d have managed exclusive pumping and likely would have just switched to exclusive formula feeding long ago. I’d likely be in a far worse mental state as a first time mother. But that’s the thing: as time progresses, people like Chris should not be the exception: they should be the rule. We need to expect more of fathers being active parents and expect mothers to do less than they historically had because they did WAY too much before.

An extra day… wasted

You would think that my parents would have been happy that our flight got cancelled, meaning they’d have an extra full day to spend time with Kaia. While my mom said she was happy because it’d mean she would see Kaia more, she didn’t take advantage of it at all. She spent the morning doing “chores” – sweeping the floor, scrubbing the back sink, cleaning out who knows what bins. Then, she went to her JW meeting and was out of the house for three hours. When she came back, she left AGAIN to take a walk for “exercise.” She was probably gone another hour. My dad? He was a lost cause. He was watching some WWII movie when we went out for a walk and to the Columbarium and back, and he didn’t make any effort to play with Kaia at all, except when my mom would force him to. “You need to spend some time playing with her. She’s going to leave soon. Play with her NOW!” My dad would make stupid excuses, “Well, I have to get ready to leave in 20 minutes.” Umm, that’s… 20 minutes from now.

My mom barely said much to me other than to suggest I eat or drink things, criticize what I was doing with Kaia, or to pick a fight with me this past Monday. My dad said even less to me. He just asked about random medications and supplements he saw I had in the bedroom, and that was really it. We had no real conversation at all during the 5-ish days we spent together. It was annoying, strained, and not enjoyable at all. My mom put up her usual act when my aunt was around to be cheerful and overly effusive. My dad acted like his usual childish self and constantly had to be told what to do by my mom and served food. It was the usual and expected stuff.

Yet somehow, despite all this, as she usually does after I leave, when I talked to her today, she said I needed to stay longer next time. Stay longer — for what? She finds it impossible to not pick fights with me and bicker over senseless things. She criticizes how Chris and I parent our child (which I expected, so I was barely annoyed with it). She and my dad barely talk to us at all. She kept telling Kaia that “your mother is bad! She doesn’t want you to eat (this)! She won’t give you a blanket! She won’t let you do (that)! She’s very bad!” But I let it all go because I really didn’t care, plus I know at this age, Kaia doesn’t totally understand what she’s even saying.

Even if there was no passive aggression, no criticism, no fights, and no hostility, and even if their son hadn’t died from suicide, the air would still be uncomfortable there because of all the clutter and junk they hoard and pile up. It’s physically uncomfortable being there. And I really do worry for their safety with all the junk, as they could easy fall and get into accidents… or worse, even die from a fall. They just don’t get it at all when I try to warn them and they think that I am the one who criticizes! My mom says to me, “Not everyone is high class like you,” or “not everyone lives in luxury like you do,” or “Just don’t say anymore!” Seriously?

That house is truly the house of terror, the house of misery, of suffering. I even felt weird bringing Kaia there and felt more paranoid about her potentially choking on food there just because of the bad omens. I was a lot more careful with preparing her food than I normally am because of the negative vibes. That’s how ridiculous that house is to me. Nothing thrives or grows in that house. Things only go there to die.

I guess I always futilely hope that something will change, that maybe they could have just a few moments of being happy. I suppose that’s why I keep going back. But I am always let down.

Redeye with a baby in business class

On Saturday evening, we received a frustrating notification that our flight on Sunday morning had been cancelled. Because we were booked on two separate bookings since my flight was paid for by my work, we also got placed on two separate flights to go back to New York, which was not good for many reasons, but especially because Kaia would be with us. So I called American Airlines and eventually changed both of our flights to be on business back to New York on a redeye flight Sunday night, which would return Monday morning. The last time I’d been on a redeye was when I had to come back to New York for Chris’s citizenship ceremony in 2018, and I felt miserable when I landed and for a few days after. It’s funny how our bodies change: I used to take red-eyes regularly through college to come back to Boston, as well as in my early to mid-twenties, and I’d always hit the ground running and never even needed to nap when I got back. Well, this time was very different: I’m 36 years old now (which means I have aged and my body cannot handle that type of travel anymore regularly), plus I’m traveling with an infant in lap, so a red-eye flight has a very different meaning now. Plus, everyone knows that a red-eye flight from California to New York is too short to sleep properly, even when you do have the privilege of a lay-flat bed in business class. Even privilege and money cannot get you the perfect red-eye flight back.

We got to the airport early so that we could get comfortable, get Kaia fed and settled to sleep as soon as possible, and so I could pump a little earlier so I would not need to pump in flight. And while she did fuss initially when we boarded the plane, mainly because of the sounds and bright lights, she did amazingly well throughout the flight. She slept soundly on top of me… which is good because at least one of us slept well. While I love having her on me, it made it impossible for me to sleep. I really just had my eyes closed the whole time. We came back early this morning and got back to the apartment relatively quickly, but I was so beat when we got back. I ended up having to take a nap in the afternoon just for a little rest. It still wasn’t enough, though.

It’s like now, my body is recovering from the red-eye travel, while my mind is recovering from being with my parents in their house of terror. So all of me needs recovery time now, which will likely take a few days at least.

Pumping in public

On Friday morning, we had access to the hotel lounge for breakfast, so Chris insisted we all go downstairs to eat together and try to feed Kaia some solids while down there. I had to keep my pumping schedule in line as much as possible, so I went downstairs with my Spectra pump on and connected, just with a shawl covering it. Occasionally while sitting and eating, I would remove my shawl from one of my breasts to do a breast compression or check the flow. The other times I’ve pumped in the hotel hobby in Poughkeepsie or Philadelphia, no one really seemed to notice anything I was doing. But here, alas, someone finally noticed! Some white guy eating breakfast and on his phone looked over at me as I was doing breast compressions, initially had a confused look on his face, which then changed to a frown with a little disgust, lingered looking at our table, and eventually minded his own business. Regardless of what he was really thinking, I could really care less.

The way I feel about pumping in public is the same way I feel about breastfeeding directly/nursing in public: I am allowed to feed my child as I see fit, and if someone has a problem with it, they can go fuck off. If he had tried to come over and say anything, I would have already pre-prepared a very aggressive response, but I’m happy to say he kept to himself.

Other than home, these are all the places I can now say I have pumped milk:

The roof of our apartment building

Hotel lobby and hotel room


Hotel lounge

In-flight on plane

Airport lounge and lounge bathroom


On the street


Central Park

Kid’s birthday party at a kids’ gym in Forest Hills, Queens

My parents’ house

It’s been almost nine months of pumping and providing nourishment for my baby, and I have no plans to stop yet. Every day, I’m proud that my supply has kept up, and I do not plan to wean down to three pumps until I hit 11 months… unless my menstrual cycle has anything to say about it. My body is a powerful machine, and I am grateful for the breastfeeding journey I’ve had thus far and the benefits my baby has been able to receive because of it. I have so, so much to be thankful for.

Extended family meets baby Kaia

We had a family dinner this evening so that my cousins and uncle could come over to meet Kaia. My aunt and parents had obviously already met her earlier in the week, but this was meant to be an extended family gathering. Not much was talked about, as per usual: my parents barely said anything to my uncle or cousin outside of greetings and if he wanted more food. They even left right after dinner and didn’t even want to sit around to eat the mango mousse cake I got. My mom insisted that she had “chores” to do. My aunt’s roommate had a chair to sit on at the table, but instead she declined, eating on top of a tall stool away from us instead. She spent most of her time hiding in the kitchen and cleaning things and doing dishes. It was a weird family dinner without much talking. I think the only people who really talked were Chris and my cousin.

My mom gives me such a hard time about the short time I stay at the house, and even more so now that Kaia is here. But the time she actually does get with her, she barely spends any time with her. She finds reasons to sweep the floor, scrub the sink, make excessive food that we’ll never eat, sort through the compost pile; the list goes on. And my dad? He gives Kaia maybe five minutes of attention, then proceeds to say he has other things to do… like scroll aimlessly on his phone (with his phone literally about 4 inches from his face), or watch YouTube videos. I wanted to give them time with her, but they don’t even use the time they have to spend time with her properly. It’s like this constant lose-lose situation. Nothing ever satisfies them, and they cannot enjoy any moment at all.

Sometimes I wonder if I really should get annoyed by this at all. Maybe it’s just my choice to get annoyed. Maybe I just need to accept that they are mentally incapable of being happy and enjoying the moment. But can you blame me for wanting my parents to have at least a few moments of happiness?

Ed turns 43

This may be the first time I’ve been in San Francisco for Ed’s birthday since he passed, and how funny it is that this time when I am in town for his birthday, Kaia is now here with us. Coming back to San Francisco and leaving have never really been easy for me… pretty much since forever. When Ed was around, I always felt guilt that I was leaving him in the abusive environment of my parents. I always wanted to support him more, but never knew how to. Then, he died. I always have lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings around coming and being home– mostly because of Ed and how he should be here but isn’t; my parents’ mental health; the hoarding and clutter and dilapidated state their home is in. To me, the house is cursed. I still occasionally fantasize about burning it down. But I realize it resembles hell to me only downstairs. As soon as you are on the third floor where my aunt and her roommate live, it actually feels warmer both temperature-wise and in terms of its ambiance. It feels brighter; there is more light. She actually decorates and maintains her home so that it feels pleasant to be in.

In my parents’ home, it does not feel welcoming at all. It feels dark, desolate, and there is literally a cold draft running through the house that you can feel if you are walking barefoot. It comes from the sunroom. The level of clutter and hoarding always seems a little worse every time I come home. In my mind, there are a few times when it’s gotten heightened: the first time I really noticed it was my first visit home a year after I graduated from college; every subsequent visit there has been more accumulation of junk. And it really skyrocketed after Ed died. It’s almost like to make up for Ed’s presence, my dad started hoarding more things and having most surfaces of the house that are meant for sitting… not sittable, if that’s even a word (it doesn’t look like a word). The breakfast table seats have perpetually been covered in food stuff, cans, and appliances. My mom said that my bed and Ed’s are always covered with piles of paper and other random things when I am not there. The physical clutter always makes me feel more stressed and annoyed every time I am there. And when I say even the slightest thing about it to my mom, she gets mad and tells me I am causing trouble and to just stop talking about it.

I always hoped that as my parents aged that they would finally do things to enjoy life and be more comfortable: renovate the kitchen and have it be easier to use instead of having all these random tables and stools everywhere with paper bags and old newspapers everywhere; create fixtures in the bathroom that would make it easier to bathe and shower in; actually make use of all the space they have in their house, which actually is a LOT of space for two people. But instead, they do nothing and seem to only make it more uncomfortable as time goes on. The amount of time my parents spend separating out compost and trash is completely insane. My hope is based in just that: hope. It’s not rooted in anything they’ve ever indicated they wanted. I really don’t know what they are doing with their lives. I wonder what Ed thinks looking down at all this, wondering what the hell our parents are doing. I have no idea what they live for. My mom loves to talk about how depressed she is, but she doesn’t do anything to help herself, and this was even before Ed died, so it’s not just because of that.

I wish our parents the best. I really do. I just wish they’d learn to stop and enjoy life and all the privileges they had instead of picking fights about stupid, senseless things. It probably won’t happen, but I still wish it would.

I wonder if Ed were still alive today if he’d still be at home. It would be an even worse hell in many ways if he was still living there with them, likely getting tortured alive. My mom was never going to be at peace with Ed, alive or dead, as awful as it sounds.

Happy 43rd birthday, Ed. I am happy you are free from the hell that is that house on 20th avenue and that you are enjoying yourself truly, somewhere out there. You are free… free from all the pain, suffering, torture of that miserable house. You are free. But our parents are not and likely will never be.

When baby Kaia comes to the office

It’s amazing what a baby at an office does. Chris dropped Kaia off at my office at around midday, and when I could barely get the third floor doors open to our office, an entire group of about 15-20 Korean-speaking, female visitors descended upon her, cooing and making baby sounds, playing peekaboo with her, and gushing over how cute she was. Then, our CEO came over and started gushing over how sweet she looked. When I rolled her stroller over to the lunch area, all my teammates gathered around her to admire how sweet and well-behaved she was. One of my colleagues was so obsessed with her that she held her for what felt like ages, and after a little crying and fussing, Kaia felt comfortable with her, too. Some colleagues warned that we may have a babynapper on our hands…

Babies can soften even the hardest, most serious people. Some colleagues who I never thought would care about any baby took a liking to her and tried to interact with her. And Kaia is clearly good in office environments, as she barely cried at all and just seemed to want to stare at everyone (and eat all their lunches, too). I had pre-ordered a falafel salad for lunch, and while chatting with some colleagues, I could not get her to stop trying to grab my plate of falafels! I’m proud that she’s so interested in food, but still do not want her exposed to too much salt too early on.

As we left the office and went back to the hotel, I felt so happy to finally have met all my colleagues, been at a “real office,” and had my colleagues meet Kaia. I kept looking down at her giggly, smiley face, thinking how lucky I am to be a working mother — her working mother. Each moment with her is like a gift to me. While I have many colleagues who are now pregnant with their first or second child and complaining about it, and I get why they are complaining, I’ve never once complained about being pregnant with her or having her because I will always remember my road to have her was not an easy one. I don’t for a second take any of it for granted. And while working does take me away from her, I always remember why I am working — it’s to make sure she’s taken care of and is comfortable and has everything she needs.

At the office in an endemic

The last couple of days have been fun, intense, and tiring at the office. With team offsites, it’s always socializing on steroids, but with this specific offsite, given it’s our very first time all meeting in person, and many of us have been colleagues working at this company for nearly two years, it was even more intense. We were all trying to make up for lost in-person time, and it felt like almost every minute I wasn’t talking with one person, I was talking to another or getting tapped or waved at by yet another person. It felt almost surreal to finally meet all my colleagues I’ve worked with closely over the last two years… finally in person and not in a Zoom box on my computer screen. It was also funny to see how some are much taller or shorter in real life than I had imagined!

I always knew this before, but this week has made me more aware of it: nothing can ever replace in-person meeting and interaction. While Zoom, Google Hangout, and FaceTime can bridge the gap when in-person interaction is not possible, there is nothing more refreshing or revitalizing as people being in the same place and talking and laughing together. I almost felt like I was a new employee here meeting everyone for the first time even though that was clearly not the case at all. Our team has a really good, healthy vibe, and I’m grateful to work among people where toxicity does not even remotely exist, and where we actually do all have good intentions and support each other both in and outside of work. This is the healthiest, most balanced workplace I’ve ever been in for the last 14+ years of working. It feels good to be an employee here.

(Tech) office work perks: snacks, printers, and more

At the last company plus my current company where I work, all the offices have had rotating snacks in every kitchen, ranging from healthy to very unhealthy to “I want to seem like I am healthy and also trendy and charge you a lot to eat me” snacks. Because beyond middle school, I haven’t really been a huge snacker at all. I’ve mostly discovered snacks I’ve enjoyed through work, my friend who works at Trader Joe’s, or Chris through his obsession for Australian Arnott’s and other snacks down under.

Well, today was my very first time being in an office in about 2.5 years — since the first week of March 2020, when the last company saw its very first COVID cases, and we shut down every global office. And since I work remotely full time, being in an office will continue to be a novelty for me as long as I work here. So of course, I took advantage of things I normally don’t get, like socializing time with colleagues I was finally meeting for the very first time… plus SNACKS. ENDLESS SNACKS AND DRINKS.

Lemonade that is lightly sweetened with local honey in the Southern U.S., cane sugar, and “not too sweet” in Mark Wiens’s voice? An entire mango dried, or a half pineapple dried into what looks like a strip of fruit leather, with zero additives, not a single preservative and no sugar? Chicken skin “chips” that resemble pork rinds? Endless types of Kind nut bars? I was even reunited with Tea’s Tea jasmine green tea in a bottle, which I used to always have at my last company when I was in the office full time. Going to the office is not only a novelty now to see and socialize with colleagues, but also simply to explore the snack selection to see what is on offer. A comedian I follow on Instagram recently joked that one of the biggest perks of working in an office was free printing; while that is definitely true (especially since we live in Manhattan with limited space where pretty much no one owns a printer) and extremely useful, what is also true is… who is going to turn down free food?

When mother’s box of bullshit is unleashed

I knew that when I told my dad he had to apologize, otherwise I’d never let them meet Kaia, that my mom would get angry with me for even the mere threat. So I was waiting for her to confront me about it, and conveniently and expectedly, she did just a couple hours after Chris left for the office this morning. It started with, “Do you have five minutes? I need to sit down and talk to you about something. Don’t get offended.” (This is a cue that she is going to unleash her anger). In my head, I told myself that it was definitely going to happen, so I had to mentally brace myself and not allow myself to get emotional, raise my voice, or do anything to show she had power over me. I had to own the conversation. Well, it didn’t matter if I raised my voice or not because of course to my mom, I was the bad tempered one. I was the ungrateful one. I was the bad one, the awful, disobedient, disrespectful daughter. These are just some of the things she said to me this morning as I was pumping milk. If I hadn’t been connected to an electric nipple sucker, I would have just walked out. These are just some of the things she said:

“How could you threaten to not let us see our grandchild? What have we ever done that is so wrong to you? You are wrong! It doesn’t matter how bad your parents treat you; you need to respect them from your head to your toe and obey them! Jehovah sees all, and he will punish you!”

“I have never hurt you or Ed in my entire life! I raised the both of you almost by myself! I did EVERYTHING for you! And you say that I hurt you! I HURT YOU? I HAVE NEVER BEEN ANGRY WITH YOU!” (I didn’t respond and continued playing with the baby. Not really sure how she should decide whether I feel hurt or not?).

“Your father already texted you to say sorry! What else do you want him to do? What do you want us to do? Why can’t you just forgive and not make such a big deal over everything? We paid for your college education and this is how you treat us! You want us to bow down to you and beg you for forgiveness?” (I said if she wanted to, she could).” Then, she started fake crying and literally got down on the floor to bow down and say sorry over and over. Then, she ran over to the window and started praying to Jehovah loudly, asking him to give her strength to deal with her ungrateful, “powerful” daughter with a bad temper. I didn’t say anything.

“Your father said you called me a bitch and an asshole. Did you do this?” (I said he made it up, which he did because he’s juvenile). “Under Jehovah’s eyes, he said you did it! I am going to ask him to swear it!”

I told her she was wrong to accuse my friend of being dirty and loaning us a pack’n’play that was not cleaned. Her response? “So you are saying you favor Rebecca over me? You like your friend Rebecca more than me?” (very rational)

“Oh, of course it’s useless to talk to me! I’m stupid! I’m uneducated, stupid! I’m not like your mother in law who is a DOCTOR, so smart, so smart, so educated!” (My response: “Just stop.”)

“Do you know what your mother in law and brother in law did to me the night of your rehearsal dinner? Do you know how they insulted me?” (I cut her off and said she had no idea what she was talking about in a monotone. Also, how is this relevant to anything… this was 6 years ago?).

“Your in-laws and Chris would never treat you as well as I have treated you! NEVER! They don’t do a damn thing for you!” (Sure – classic abuser language).

“None of your friends ever went to private school! Only your parents sent you to private school!” (ummmm, false, and I simply cut her off and said “stop comparing” in a monotone. The monotone approach just infuriated her more and more as time passed, and she repeatedly accused me of yelling and raising my voice).

“Your Auntie Linda inherited Ms. Hazel’s house and never sent her kids to private school even with free money!” (“stop comparing,” I said over and over).

“Your husband treats me poorly because he learned it from you!” (No, Chris does not treat her poorly, but I don’t care what she thinks).

“He won’t let us see our own granddaughter on Tuesday and Wednesday! He’s so powerful, isn’t he? You two won’t even let us into your hotel! You won’t allow your own parents to see their grandchild!”

“When you are talking to me, you need to act CHEERFUL! Why aren’t you cheerful and always so mean faced?” (Gee, I wonder why?).

“I texted you and told you I was going to the doctor and my chest hurt, and you didn’t even text back or call. You don’t care about me! Now I know what you really are!” (She used that as a manipulation as she always does to get a response she wants. I don’t fall for it anymore).

“You will be so happy if I die! You will have a celebration!” (“No,” I said back).

“If I die, you and your dad will be miserable! You will have nothing!” (Not really true, but I didn’t say anything).

She loves to talk about her “health not too good,” “I’m disabled,” “I suffer from depression,” and that she could die any day now. She’s been saying these things for over 12 years now. Those are her favorite things to go back to in order to manipulate us and make us feel bad.

The private school theme always comes up again and again. She repeatedly has tried to use it as a weapon against me, as though I took something from them that was so valuable and wasted it. They make it seem like I owe them something. Considering they rarely paid for any extracurricular activities, I never had lessons of any kind, I had a pretty “poor” childhood relatively speaking. You would wonder what my parents would have done with that money if I had never gone to a private college. Well, you shouldn’t wonder too much. They didn’t starve or eat canned beans every day for four years because of it. They didn’t take out loans, refinance their home, or wear rags because of it. In my friend’s words, “They make it seem like because they paid for your college that you have to take their constant abuse and shit. That’s not the way it works.”

I was mad that this happened, but I expected it. I honestly didn’t even really get that angry because I just felt numb. I barely reacted. I never raised my voice, though my mom thinks I did and kept repeating over and over how bad and scary my temper was. I thought momentarily about not coming back this weekend to stay with them, but I realized that we would barely spend any time alone with them given the family meals, plus I’d be out with friends most of Saturday. Plus, Chris would provide a buffer as they’d never be their full, monstrous paranoid selves if he’s around.

After this trip, I have no idea when we will see them again, or when they will see Kaia again. To be honest, I have zero desire to see them again. They will only become more angry and paranoid as time goes on, and they will continue to think that their verbal abuse is acceptable. I can’t really tolerate their alternate reality anymore, especially now that I have my own child to care for and raise. I don’t want her exposed to their mental illnesses and abuse. It’s just a good thing she couldn’t understand the insanity coming out of my mother’s mouth today.