New Year’s Eve spent packing too many things

I looked at all the stuff scattered on the bed, floor, and across multiple bags with a high level of anxiety today. I couldn’t believe how much stuff we were bringing back. Granted, everyone who gave Kaia a gift was very thoughtful and made sure to get her small things, ranging from clothes to smaller toys and books. But despite that, the volume really added up quite quickly. Her clothing and toys were spread across two checked bags, and along with all the snacks and alcohol Chris insisted on bringing back, it ended up being three checked bags, one backpack for each of us, one diaper bag, one pumping bag, one stroller to fold up, and one car seat. I had no idea how we would manage this, especially with a five-day stopover in Southern California (what visibility would he have, even with an SUV, with that many bags?). But looking at it all made my head hurt. It’s not like we have an entourage to help us cart all this stuff everywhere. I just had to hope and pray that nothing would get broken or lost, especially the bottles of liquor and wine we were taking back with us.

When your brother-in-law whines, and you roll your eyes at his privilege

Because Chris’s brother was scheduled to fly back to Sydney tonight, Chris’s parents suggested that we have one last meal out together as a family of six for lunch today. They proposed a trendy modern Indian spot in Melbourne’s CBD that they had visited before and enjoyed called Daughter-in-Law. I thought it sounded really good from the menu, so I said it would be a fun last meal together. Chris’s brother, on the other hand, did not agree.

“I don’t WANT to eat out again!” Chris’s brother whined this morning. “There’s too much food! Eating out is SO BAD for you! I just want to eat at HOME! ALL we have been doing is constantly eating unhealthy food the last several days, and I don’t want to do it anymore! I am NOT going!”

I couldn’t believe it. There I was, sitting at Chris’s parents’ dining table in their lounge with my nipples connected to my breast pump, pumping milk for my baby while my husband’s 37-year-old younger brother was whining like a baby himself.

“The Christmas season is meant for indulging — that’s what people do!” I insisted. “You don’t eat like this all year long. Do you even hear how whiny and over privileged you sound, protesting eating out at a nice restaurant with your family with your parents paying the bill??!! I asked him. Some people would absolutely love to be able to dine out as regularly as he did. Not everyone has the bank account to fund dining out. Not everyone has parents who have provided such a comfortable life for them to come to expect… YES, EXPECT.

First, it was their parents almost allowing Chris’s brother to use one of their two cars for an hour-long gym session just minutes away and foregoing an entire fun day out in wine country. And now today, it’s Chris’s brother’s whining about how he refuses to have one last meal out together, on his parents’ dime, at a nice restaurant. And if I had to count everything in between, I wouldn’t have enough face-palm emojis to thoroughly depict how ridiculous and spoiled he was acting. And the thing was: Chris’s parents, while unhappy with this response, didn’t seem to think this was spoiled behavior at all. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would have been like if that were ME with my own parents.

In the end, though, he ended up going. And in the end, he enjoyed it and even posted photos about how good the food was on Instagram. Of course.

Shrimp curry: made selflessly with love

Today, we went to Chris’s mom’s sister’s home for lunch to see her, her husband, their sons, and their son’s wife, plus their corgi. Going to their home is a bit of a good and an annoying thing: it’s good because they usually make delicious food and have a beautiful backyard with lots of fruits, vegetables and flowers growing; it’s annoying because the sister and husband can be a bit too stiff and formal, and it’s always dark in their home. Chris likes to complain that his parents don’t keep the shades open when he’s home and that he needs natural light; well, at this house, the shades ALWAYS seem to be completely drawn regardless of how sunny or grey it may be outside. On top of that, if we want to call my parents’ house or Chris’s parents’ house full of clutter, this house is on the opposite end of the spectrum: there is pretty much nothing hanging on any wall; no adornments are on any tables, countertops, or surfaces; literally nothing that resembles anything decorative, even a single picture frame, has ever, ever been up when I have come to visit. Sometimes, I wonder if this family is on the run from whatever the Australian equivalent of the CIA is and wants to escape at a moment’s notice, and perhaps that’s why their home is so bare bones. If you walked in, you’d think this was some rental property where nomads came and went, not where a real family lived their day-to-day lives.

The one thing that struck me about this visit, though, other than the delicious food overall, was the shrimp curry that the dad made. The curry was absolutely delicious; it was a deep, dark, brownish-red color, spicy, well seasoned, and so, so good, especially with the appams that he made. The shrimp was a bit overcooked and rubbery, though, which seemed uncharacteristic of Chris’s uncle, who was a very particular cook and relished different techniques and being very precise. I remarked to Chris’s aunt how good the shrimp curry was, and she said she was happy I liked it: her husband was actually allergic to shrimp and could not eat it, but he insisted on making it for special occasions because both their sons loved it so much. Because the uncle was allergic, he could never taste test or try the shrimp himself, but he always hoped for the best. Well, that explained why the shrimp was overcooked and he probably didn’t realize.

I was really touched when I heard this. Chris’s aunt and uncle are of my parents’ generation. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to imagine my dad doing this same thing for Ed or me. If he couldn’t eat it himself or didn’t care for something, there’s really no way he’d ever make it for us. But I suppose this is how Chris’s uncle shows his love through actions for his sons.

Working away from your usual desk setup: not ideal as you get older

The last time I came to Australia in December 2019, that was before I started getting tingling in my fingers and hands from mild carpal/cubital tunnel syndrome. Back then, I had no idea what “cubital tunnel” even meant and that it was supposed to be carpal tunnel’s lesser known cousin. Then when I came, I just brought my laptop for work, and that was it. I had no special need for an ergonomic keyboard or a vertical mouse. But now I do. The only issue is… while the vertical mouse may be easy to transport, it’s not that simple (or a space saver AT ALL) to carry around an ergonomic keyboard. So I packed my laptop and vertical mouse while leaving the keyboard behind.

It makes a world of a difference to have the right keyboard and also to use the correct mouse. Out of laziness this month, I’ve just used my track pad. But my fingers, hands, and elbows really feel the difference. Even with wearing wrist splits to bed each night, I can feel significantly more stiffness and numbness/tingling in my hands than before this month, and it’s all because of having an inappropriate work setup. And since I’m at a computer less, I’m also at my phone more. And we all know that phone use is really want drove my cubital tunnel syndrome over the edge.

Even though I am not particularly looking forward to going back to winter or New York for the daily grind, I am looking forward to being in less tingly/numbness/pain in my hands/arms. It also doesn’t help my arms that I have more childcare responsibilities while here, but hey, I signed up for this, so I get what I asked for.

I told Chris’s mom that the tradeoff to having kids a little older is that although we don’t worry about money as much, more things hurt. When you have kids younger, you have less money but are less likely to get injured as much. She insisted it didn’t matter: she had kids in her 20s, and everything ached before they were even born. What joy.

Lost items while traveling with baby

I have rarely lost anything while traveling. Okay, let me rephrase that: before I had a baby, I never lost anything while traveling. I prided myself on being organized and having everything together. And I knew once we had a child, we’d probably take a while to get into a groove of how we travel and get from point A to point B. And in the end, that’s resulted in a few lost things along the way.

Just on our way from Melbourne Airport to the car park to meet Chris’s dad on arrival in early December, Chris was pushing our trolley of luggage, in which my sweater/ open jacket was in the front pocket. Somehow, some way, that piece of clothing fell out, and was never to be seen again. We didn’t realize we lost it until the day after when I was looking for it. Chris tried to contact the airport lost and found, but to no avail. The most vexing thing about that was that I rarely care much about any of my clothes, but that specific piece I really loved because it was versatile, could be casual or dressy, and could transition easily from warm to cool weather. Plus, it was lightweight, not bulky at all, and had pockets. Ugh. I hope I can find a replacement for it at some point soon. I already checked the J. Crew website and they are out of stock. At least I got just over two years of use out of it.

While at Main Beach in Byron Bay, I got caught in a wave while holding Kaia, and we both went under water for about three seconds, during which my prescription sunglasses, which were on top of my head, got washed away. Well, I thought to myself, I may have lost my glasses, but most importantly, I didn’t let the ocean take my baby away!!!! It took Kaia a few minutes to calm down, and then as though nothing had happened, she babbled and played in the sand.

In a grocery store while pushing the baby in the stroller, Kaia threw her pacifier in some aisle when I wasn’t looking, and I never found it again. That was really annoying, mostly because Chris is the paci police and made me go down every single aisle and check the floor everywhere to try to retrieve it. That was a futile exercise that yielded nada.

We were eating at a restaurant with Chris’s parents and brother when the wait staff cleared the table… along with Kaia’s reusable silicone straw. I didn’t realize this happened, as I had to get Kaia to the bathroom to change a huge poop nappy, so I didn’t see this happen, and Chris and his family were just trying to get out of the table booth. At least we have about 6 or 7 of them back at home.

You can try to control everything… but at the end of the day, you just have to let some things go. Oherwise you will just go crazy.

Ozzie Mozzies’ aggression: you will not escape

A few nights ago, we were at Chris’s friend’s house and spent time in his backyard because they were setting up a surprise basketball ring for his son’s Christmas gift. His friend warned me about how aggressive the mosquitoes or “mozzies” get out there, so he insisted that I put on mosquito repellent. I did this, but regardless, the mosquitoes always get you in the few spots you miss. So I left with four very itchy and uncomfortable bites, including on my left little toe and right by my left elbow. The bite on my left elbow swelled up so big overnight that it was nearly the size of a golf ball when I woke up the next morning.

The next day, we went to Chris’s aunt/uncle’s home, where I barely spent 10 minutes in their garden in the early evening. His aunt was giving me a garden tour of all the trees, shrubs, and flowers they had spent the last three years growing. I was wearing pants, yet somehow… a mosquito was so aggressive that it bit me right in the center of my left butt cheek! How the heck did it get through my PANTS and bite my butt??

The weird thing is that pretty much everywhere we travel, I have always been a mosquito magnet, but in Australia, I’ve never once before gotten bitten by a mozzie before this trip. The Ozzie mozzies, according to Chris’s parents and relatives, have gotten quite aggressive this season, and everyone seems to try to stay away from them in areas where they wait and feast. This year, they lurk outside the doors of homes, and as soon as you open them, they immediately fly in! They don’t even buzz the way they do back in the U.S., so you cannot hear them. And when they’re in, they’re IN. As of today, I’ve probably already killed about 17 mozzies just in our bathroom!

Nana’s tradition, in Nana’s honor

Today was Christmas day, our second Christmas as a family of three, our first Christmas back in Australia after three years; Chris’s 41st birthday; Chris’s second birthday as a daddy. And of the wider family, it was the second Christmas without Chris’s Nana, his paternal grandma. Three years ago when we were last here, Nana was still here. And that trip in December 2019, Chris had an eerie feeling that that would be the last time he’d see Nana. Sadly, he was right. Nana had a tradition every Christmas Eve of gathering all the grandchildren at the cemetery where Appa (grandpa) is buried to honor him, then hosting everyone for a meal at her house. Now that she’s gone, the cousins are trying to continue the tradition of visiting Appa and now also Nana at the cemetery on Christmas Eve. We missed it because we had to feed Kaia dinner at the time they gathered. So instead, Chris, Ben, Kaia, and I went to the cemetery to visit Nana for the first time this morning before heading to a relative’s house for Christmas day festivities.

In past visits, the cemetery visits were happy gatherings of the cousins altogether with Nana, honoring Appa’s life. This visit, though, was sad: it was the first time the three of us (plus Kaia) were seeing Nana’s grave. The inscription looked fresh, shiny, and new. I laid down my Santa headband, which she loved, along with Kaia’s Christmas hair clip on her grave, and took a photo of her and Appa’s epitaph. We took a few photos. We stood there for a while looking at the grave site and just didn’t say anything.

Staring at her grave, I thought of all the years we came to visit and how much I admired Nana for how strong and independent she was. To think that she lived independently, out of her own will, after her husband died for 20 years, until age 90, before moving into an aged care facility was just mind boggling to me. I thought about how she appreciated all the little things in life and always expressed gratitude for the tiniest things; if all we did was just visit her, she always said how happy it made her and how grateful she was. I also thought about how I wished my own parents could have a fraction of her happiness and the tiniest smidgen of her gratitude, as well. In an ideal world, yes, I would spend more time with my parents. We’d actually do activities together and eat meals together where I wouldn’t constantly hear them criticizing me and my life choices, where they weren’t constantly criticizing my in-laws, my cousins, my aunt and uncle, my friends. They wouldn’t pick fights with me during the limited times we have together, they wouldn’t call me a bitch. They wouldn’t do all the toxic things that drive me away and then afterwards, wonder why I don’t want to rush to book my next trip to see them; or even worse, wonder why I wouldn’t want to spend a month with them and work remotely. Even though my parents are a generation behind Nana, I always thought: why can’t my own parents be a little more like her? I suppose Nana didn’t have much intergenerational trauma to pass on.

She’s passed on now, which is so sad because I always thought given Nana’s strong mind (she literally remembered the most minute details of her life and recalled them with stunning accuracy) and relatively good health that she’d live until she was 100. She lived a long, happy, full, good life. No one would debate that. But per passing is a further reminder of how the time we spend on this earth is finite. And given it is finite, we should spend time with people we love who love AND treat us well. Who wants to spend time with people who make them feel bad about themselves or make their lives miserable? The moments we spend with the ones we love — at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters, as Nana always said. All the things we love and accumulate in our homes will eventually become rubbish that will be tossed or donated, as the things we cherish won’t be cherished by those who outlive us in the same way. Nana did love things a lot; she loved a LOT of things, resulting in a lot of donating and rubbish collecting after she passed. It felt so sad to hear about that as the siblings were sorting through all her things to distribute to family members and/or donate.

At the end of our lives, we won’t be wishing we worked more hours or earned more money. We won’t regret that work trip we didn’t take or working over a holiday period to meet some stupid deadline dictated by a corporation that looks at us just as another number. We’ll have wished we had spent more time with our family and closest friends.

Permissive parenting: what I am reminded of Chris’s parents every time I come down to visit them

Every time I come down to Melbourne and have a daily observation of how Chris’s parents interact with him and his younger brother, the more I am reminded of exactly how permissive they are in terms of their parenting style. “Permissive parenting” is also called “indulgent parenting,” where parents are not only warm, nurturing, and encouraging of their children, but also reluctant to impose strict limits. Granted, at this point, Chris is almost 41 years old, and his brother is 37, so it’s not like they are young anymore, but their parents still basically are fine with whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it, whether it’s in their house, with any of their random belongings, or with one of their cars.

Here’s what happened this past Monday: Chris wanted the three of us to go to the Yarra Valley, which is about an hour’s drive away from Melbourne. Since his parents didn’t have plans that day, I thought it would be nice for all five of us to go together, especially since they obviously want to spend as much time as possible with Kaia and us while we’re still here. So I suggested all of us go. The issue, though, is that we would need to take two cars; Kaia’s car seat takes considerable space, and so the middle seat of the back of the car would not be comfortable for a fifth person to sit in for more than a 15-20 minute ride. They didn’t want to take the second car because Chris’s brother Ben would need it to go to the gym, they said.

Ummm, what? His gym is about a 10 minute ride away, he’d be there for just an hour long workout, and his parents were willing to give up an ENTIRE DAY of fun and drinking in the Yarra Valley with us… JUST so that their youngest son could get access to their car and stay away from public transit or Uber?? I thought the idea was completely absurd.. they were being so lenient with him. And need I remind you: it’s THEIR car, not his!

I lightly suggested paying for an Uber to go to the gym, or even to take a bus. His dad didn’t want to ask and said just to let it go, and perhaps just their mom could come with us. It still did not sit right with me. Plus, I knew his dad would be sad about not going, and his mom would enjoy herself more if her husband came. I still thought it was dumb. I didn’t know this until afterwards, but Chris ended up going upstairs, saying a few choice words to his brother, and then his brother changed his mind and said he didn’t need the car anymore. I have no idea what words were spoken, but the goal was to guilt him into not insisting on using the car that day.

In the end, we all went to the Yarra Valley in two cars together and had an enjoyable day. But the impression still stayed with me regarding how absurd and permissive they were being. Their parents are WAY too good to Chris and his brother. I already know how this would have gone in my own family, and I can guarantee you: neither Ed nor I would have gotten the car, ever, regardless of the situation!

Observations of food naming in Aus vs. US

Some interesting things I’ve picked up over the years shopping for produce and food in Australia vs. the U.S. in terms of what different food items are called:

Australia: capsicum; U.S.: bell peppers

Australia: rocket; U.S. arugula

Australia: coriander (well, most of the world); U.S.: cilantro

Australia: wombok; U.S.: Napa cabbage ** (I just learned this one during this trip!!)

Australia: (meat) mince; U.S.: ground (meat)

Australia: biscuits; U.S.: cookies

Australia: soft drink; U.S.: soda (apparently, the term “soda” is never used in Australia)

Australia: tomato sauce; U.S.: ketchup (what is ketchup in Australia…? :D)

Australia: silverbeet; U.S.: Swiss chard (new finding!)

Home alone in a big house that isn’t my own

When I was little, like most of us probably imagined, I thought I would eventually “grow up” and own my own home. I fantasized about how each room would have a different theme: one would be Chinese themed with Chinese calligraphy and landscape paintings; another would be Vietnamese with Vietnamese imagery; another would be beachy; one room would have a Moroccan theme (I just liked the Moroccan decor in restaurants). My dream house had large windows overlooking a beach, was two stories high with a staircase, and had at least one balcony on the second floor. And even back then, I imagined I’d have a massive kitchen. In my dreams then, it was a very white kitchen with large granite counters. I’d have a huge king size bed with a canopy over it. It would be dreamy and relaxing.

Well, I’m almost 37 now, and I don’t own a house. I don’t live in a house and live in an apartment. The idea of owning a house seems very daunting to me, not just from a cost standpoint but from a daily maintenance standpoint — cleaning, dusting, making sure everything’s working and not broken, updates and renovations, repairs — it sounds completely exhausting. But the other thing I think about is: how much space does a family of three (us) REALLY need? In the U.S. over the last several decades, homes (in suburbia) have gotten larger and larger, but the actual footprint of where family members go in their homes is actually quite small. What that results in is a lot of wasted space (and way too much clutter that gets accumulated since the more space you have, the more you think you need to fill it).

I thought about this as I walked around Chris’s parents’ large house this evening, all by myself. Ben was out with friends. I don’t think I’d ever been at their house alone at night before. Chris’s parents went out for dinner with their friends. Chris and Kaia went to a relatives’ house for a catch up, and I decided to stay behind because I just felt exhausted and wanted some quiet, alone time. In some rooms, I heard an echo as I walked through. It felt a little spooky to be in this huge house with so many rooms and things all by myself. Is this house old enough to have ghosts? What bugs are lurking around trying to get me? Oh, I did kill a huge fly that was buzzing around and driving me nuts that evening, plus 2 mozzies. It would be really overwhelming to have to manage and maintain a house of this size for myself and my own family. The space and the comfort of the space certainly come at a cost.