Missing photos and visits

During this visit back home, I noticed that a lot of photos that were in my bedroom were missing… actually, there are no more photos at all in my bedroom other than the big framed photo of Ed from his funeral service. I was wondering where they went, and then when I opened the drawers to my bedside table, I noticed the pictures and frames of my brother and me that I used to have displayed on the shelves. I pulled one of them out and put it on the bedside table, the photo that’s been up pretty much forever of me and my brother, posing in our backyard and smiling and laughing. I was probably around 2 or 3, which means Ed was 9 or 10. I was annoyed to see these mementos taken down; all the photos are all we have of Ed. So why are they taking all these things down? If anything, I know my dad did it because he thinks of photos as clutter, yet the irony is that there’s all kinds of real clutter literally all over the house, yet he’s fine to keep all of that all over the place and creating hazardous walking areas by default.

Yesterday, while at the Columbarium to visit Ed’s niche, I also ran into the new funeral director who I befriended my last couple of visits. We noticed that in Ed’s niche, the little smurf figurine had fallen over, so she kindly (and out of usual protocol) opened up his niche for me to fix it and dust it out (how does dust get into a fully sealed niche….?!). We had some small talk, and she lowered her voice to me. “You know, your parents never come visit Ed unless you are here now,” she said. “Do you know why that is?”

It’s strange to think about this. When Ed first passed away, my mom would force my dad to take her to visit him almost every single week, if not multiple times a week. I felt terrible for her because she was grieving, but I really thought it was excessive. So I told her that she needed time to grieve, but going that frequently would probably not help her and only make things worse. She’d likely relive his death every single time she visited, so I suggested that she not visit so often. Yet, I didn’t realize she’d take that advice and just never visit at all unless I came…?

I don’t really know what to think or say about any of this. It has always bothered me that they don’t really talk much about him or acknowledge his birthday or death anniversary. When I’ve brought Ed up in conversation with my mom, she comments and then quickly asks me not to say anymore, otherwise she will cry. My dad just avoids talking about Ed at all costs. I just hate the idea that they might be trying to pretend he never existed. It’s almost like a permanent insult to my brother.

 

Sack of rice

My parents, as they are getting older, have become hoarders. They tend to have too much of a lot of things, and as a result, the house is always filled with clutter when I come home. They don’t really see it as clutter, but anyone in their right mind would recognize all of this as a big cluttered mess as soon as they walked into this house. Endless odds and ends are stacked on top of each other, side by side, in pretty much every single room. I really don’t understand how they can live like this and luckily not trip and fall over a lot of this junk, but I suppose that’s what hoping for the best and praying is for.

One of the things I noticed in the kitchen was this very old, huge rice tin that my grandma used to use to store rice. It’s an item in the house that my grandma owned and used, so as a legacy of sorts, I suppose my mom also started putting rice in it, as well. Months before Ed passed away in 2013, our mom bought a sack of white jasmine rice that was about 40 pounds. And I remember when catastrophe struck and I came home, one of the things she lamented was the sack of rice. She bought it assuming he’d still be with them living at home, and that the rice would feed him, too. “Who is going to eat all this rice now?” she asked me rhetorically, in the midst of hysterics now that her son was gone forever.

That thought really stung today. And now that my mom is pre-diabetic and being told she should avoid white rice, it made me think even more about that.

The jealous mother persists

My parents knew I was spending Christmas with Chris’s family, but I had to remind my mom over the phone a couple days ago that we were leaving late this week. Work has been pretty busy over the last several weeks, especially since I’ve been trying to schedule all of next week’s external calls this week to save myself some odd working hours given the time difference. But nevertheless, my mother was annoyed and obviously jealous as she usually is.

“Well, if work is so busy, then why are you taking time off?” she said, clearly unhappy with me and wanting to find a reason for me not to go on this trip.

“I planned this in advance, and I’ll still actually be working while I’m in Australia all of next week,” I responded. It didn’t matter that I told her in a previous breath that I would be home for about 11 days in February, spending both weekends at the house with her. It’s never going to be enough, especially since she’s already deemed Chris’s parents the enemy. Yet, she happens to love Chris’s aunt and uncle on his dad’s side and insisted that I tell them she and my dad said hello. But very transparently, she did not say the same thing for Chris’s parents. How very subtle of her.

It really would never matter what Chris’s parents did or did not do; she’d find a way to vilify them and make them seem evil.

 

“Do I look like I belong to a cult?”

Our team’s leadership members were in town this week for their offsite. We had colleagues come in from our San Francisco, Amsterdam, and London offices. It certainly made for a more lively and boisterous ambiance in an office that is usually pretty quiet and empty given that people work from home frequently, especially on tail-ends of the week, and that people are also traveling for customer and prospect visits.

One of my SF colleagues who I am friendly with asked if he would be expecting to see me back in San Francisco during Thanksgiving week next week, or during the Christmas period. I told him that Chris and I are planning to be in Portugal next week, and that for Christmas, we’ll be with his family in Melbourne. He gave me a puzzled look. “Wait, so you’re not coming home for either holiday?”

Here we go. Without even realizing it, it was being implied I was a crappy daughter.

“Oh, maybe I never told you,” I responded. “My mom’s a Jehovah’s Witness, so she doesn’t celebrate any holidays. This just means that these dates don’t mean anything to her, so it’s fine if I see her at other times of the year. I come back three to four times a year anyway, so it’s not a big deal to her or my dad.”

Another colleague overheard the “Jehovah’s Witness” mention and looked even more confused, borderline terrified. “Wait, Yvonne, are you a Jehovah’s Witness?” she asked, seemingly scared to hear the answer.

I laughed. “No, do I look dumb enough to belong to a cult?”

Burn. My colleague who asked gasped a bit, and she politely said that she didn’t think that I would be a JW, but would genuinely be shocked if I were. My other SF colleague looked shocked as the words came out of my mouth.

“You don’t have to be polite around me about this,” I responded. “I believe it’s a cult. I’ve told my mom I think the same thing, so it’s out in the open.”

Politics seem to come up at work more often than religion, but granted that I work in a blue state (and an even bluer city) and our HQ is in a blue state (in an even bluer city than New York City!), it really is just another way of saying that we spend a good amount of time hating on Trump. But religion rarely if ever comes up in a group setting. So in this case when it did, it was actually really comical to see how colleagues responded to my general thoughts around my mom’s “religion.” I’m happy to be open about it.

Vacationing with parents

I was having an earl grey latte tonight with a friend in town for a conference, and she was telling me about her next work “conference” she needed to attend, which happens to be in Shanghai. Unless I’m listening to someone tell me that they are traveling internationally on business for a specific customer or pitch, or to train some new hires/open a new office, I generally hear “international work travel” and immediately think it’s bullshit. I have a friend who started a new job earlier this year, and immediately he was asked to travel “for work reasons” to Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam. When he came back, I point blank asked him how much “real” work or training he did given that this trip was less than a month into his new role. He sheepishly admitted that it was a vacation disguised as a work trip, but no one internally wanted to admit it.

Well, all power to these people. They get to travel on their company’s dime and enjoy themselves. If they have the opportunity, why not? But the conversation immediately went a little sour (or at least, in my head, it did) when she said that her mother was also coming along, too, and that they’d be spending a week traveling in China together. I physically felt dread in my limbs, and this wasn’t even me traveling with my own parents.

To add to this, a colleague I’m friendly with just got back from a six-day trip to London with her mother, and she said that she felt like coming back to work was actually a vacation because it meant she didn’t have to listen to her mother complain about all the food and how expensive everything was, nor did she have to pose at each tourist site and take 20-plus different photos of her mom.

Chris says I just attract “mama-whipped” people in my life. “What is wrong with you — you just like spending time with people who take their mothers on vacations, don’t enjoy themselves, then come back and complain to you about it all!” he claims.

Well, I don’t really look at it that way. Maybe I just attract people who want to create the ideal “mother-daughter” relationship with their moms, but it never ends up turning how they’d like it to be? Don’t we all aspire to some better state of being?

The way that I look at taking family vacations with your parents as an adult is — in an ideal world, it’s time spent enjoying a different place in the world as adults in a family. If the child is paying for it, it’s a way of saying, “Hey, Mom! I’m doing well enough so that I can not only afford to take myself on a vacation, but I can take you on a vacation, too! Now, you can be proud of me!”

…..

Okay. I just re-read that statement, and I realize it’s almost like the child is trying to prove herself. Or potentially give bragging rights to her parents so that the parents can come back from vacation and brag to friends and relatives about it… which we all know is definitely going to happen. I guess at the end of the day, deep down, no matter what background you come from, no matter what your relationship is like with your parents, every child wants her parents to be proud and happy for her. That is what this is really about.

 

 

My uterus no longer belongs to me

As soon as we got married, I realized I had relinquished ownership of my uterus because my mother-in-law prepared her house in the southern hemisphere for little ones running around that December, and my own mother immediately asked within days when I would get pregnant. I was 30 that year, and to my mom, I was old to not have a child. It was as though the clock was ticking, and every second that passed by, my eggs were slowly but surely being depleted one by one, and the mothers were watching. Their eyes were upon me…. me and my belly. And when it didn’t grow, I disappointed people. When I said yes to a glass of wine, my mother-in-law would be deflated (while my father-in-law rejoiced at “another drop”). When I ate raw fish and they heard about it, they were unhappy. All eyes were and are on the uterus.

On Monday when I talked to my mom, she asked how things were going, and I said I had a lot to do at work and was pretty busy. Then, when I talked to her again on Wednesday, she said, “You said you had a ‘lot to do.’ What did you mean by that? Are you pregnant?!” No, I AM NOT. She was not happy. “Well, you know you have the right to get pregnant, right? You’re married now!” Oh, really? I had no idea I had the “right,” nor did I remember I was married, but thanks for reminding me!

Today, I talked to her again as I was leaving work, and she pressed me about being pregnant… again. “Are you sure your belly isn’t growing?” It’s actually funny that she asked that because my entire core is sore this week because I’ve finally had four consecutive days of rigorous workouts for the first time since July due to my hamstring and back injuries. So if anything, it should not be “growing,” but it should be strengthened and tighter. So, no growing. She was not pleased.

These days, no “news” is good news to either mother unless a grandchild is on the way. This is the life I lead now. I am a constant disappointment.

“Please take care of her”

Chris flew into San Francisco today for the week for work, and so we met up with my parents and aunt tonight for dinner at one of the very few spots that my parents will not complain about when we go to eat. Dinner really did not last very long; we generally don’t have much conversation past “How’s work?” or “How’s the weather been in San Francisco/New York?”, so it’s not like we have any real catching up to do. It probably lasted just over an hour, even with five courses of food.

Chris noted at the end that my mom was being unusually friendly and warm to him throughout the evening. She was much more affectionate, touchy-feely, and she smiled a lot more than she normally does (outside of the period when she first met him, of course). At the very end, as we said our goodbyes and we headed back to downtown as they went back to the house, my mom says to Chris, “Please take care of her,” and does her little laugh.

Oh, that’s what this was about, Chris said. She’s scared I’m going to dump you the way my cousin and wife broke up just recently!

I’m still not sure that’s what that was really about, but maybe that is true? All parents’ worst fears are around their children getting dumped or left alone with a child, or being poor.

 

Anti-social to the max

It’s always a bit funny to me when people ask me how my parents are doing, especially the people in my life who have known me all my life or the majority of it. There’s nothing really that has changed about them, other than perhaps an increasing distrust of the world and people around them. Other than that, they are pretty much the same people, plus whatever number of years that have passed.

Today, my friends and I went out on a day trip and came back, and they dropped me off in front of my parents’ house. My dad was coming out of the garage onto the driveway, which really isn’t that far from where my friend’s car was stopped. My friends, being the friendly people they are who have known my dad as long as they’ve known me, so over 21 years, smiled and waved directly at him. He had a confused look on his face, as though he’d never seen either of them before, and says to me, “who’s that?” When I told him who they were, you know, people we’ve known forever and who were party of my bridal party, he simply says, “oh,” and walks back into the garage.

So much for being friendly and waving back.

 

Pending danger

I arrived home this morning in San Francisco to the astonishment that it was not only sunny at SFO, but also that the sun continued to remain out even as we traveled up 280 and into the Richmond District. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make these visits happier.

What wasn’t fun was listening to my parents bicker in the car ride home about everything from whether they were going to change Ed’s photo in his niche to something as simple as where a reusable bag was located in the house.

The house looks worse than it did the last time I was here three months ago. More piles of clutter everywhere. The downstairs’ windows are all covered in black blankets for only God knows what reason. The paint has peeled and flaked down there to the point where the Bowery Mission looks more glamorous than my parents’ basement. Looking at the walls,  I really think that this back room leading into the yard looks like it will collapse any day now. I spent about an hour dusting the mantles and cleaning off framed photos in the living and dining areas, and my bedroom. The dusting isn’t going to help a completely cluttered and dangerously piled-up cord situation in pretty much every room. Where does all this crap come from, and it’s not even being used?!

The fun just increased when after we came back from dinner with my cousins and aunt, we opened the front door and were greeted with a big gush of grey smoke and the unmistakable smell of burning. My mom had left a pot on the stove with the flame on unattended for a good two hours. The contents of the pot had completely evaporated, and the pot was burnt to a crisp. The stove top even has burn remnants now.

My fear is that one day, my parents are going to get killed in some accident that they caused, and I’m going to have to fly home and deal with all of this. These are the moments when I feel loneliness the most because Ed is gone from this world, and I have no one else in the world who fully understands the massive amount of stress and adversity our parents can inflict.

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.