Mother’s/Father’s Day promotional email “opt-outs” and triggers

I have one email account that I use almost completely for mailing lists, whether that is news summaries, shopping, food blog reading, and the related. I noticed that this year for the first time, I got a lot of suggestions for different businesses I follow that if I don’t want to see Mother’s or Father’s Day-related emails that I could just do a one-click opt-out for these specific promotions. My social media seemed to be peppered with how “triggering” Mother’s/Father’s Day can be for various reasons, whether it’s because you have a less-than-ideal relationship with your own mother or father, your children, or if you’re struggling to conceive, etc. All of the above can be true for many people, so I understand why businesses are trying to be more empathetic about what promotions they are pushing, and to whom.

I always get annoyed by Mother’s and Father’s Day when I really think about them. But I think the crux of my annoyance is that my relationship with both my parents is quite far from ideal, and it’s certainly not from a lack of trying on my part. I think about all the years when Ed and I tried to do nice things for our parents, and it was met with indifference or open dislike. Sometimes, we got scolded at and told we spent too much money. Once, my mom flat out rejected this cashmere sweater my brother got her and yelled, insisting that he return it because it cost too much money. Ed was so upset at this response, but he obediently returned it. In some cases, we gave gifts that were literally left on a table for months on end, never opened and barely even acknowledged. Even when it happened repeatedly, and you would think after a while we’d get used to it, it still always hurt. These responses, and sometimes lack thereof, always made us feel as though our efforts went unappreciated. NO ONE likes to feel unappreciated for the efforts they make to please another human, particularly partners, spouses, and children.

My parents just don’t appreciate gifts or when people do nice things for them. When people do things like treat them to meals or buy them gifts, my mom immediately feels “guilt,” and compelled to return the favor as soon as humanly possible. It was always infuriating to watch. So I always hate giving them gifts unless they are things they explicitly ask for, like skincare for my mom.

This year for Father’s Day, which was this past Sunday, I decided to go the “safe route” and get my dad something he could easily consume with little effort on his part. So I got him some hibiscus flowers to steep for cold hibiscus tea (it’s good for blood pressure, so I figured that would resonate with him), plus some chai concentrate, to which he’d just have to add his choice of milk. My dad rarely says thank you unless my mom reminds him to because he’s an overgrown child, so I usually have to prompt him with a message like, “Just checking to see you got (name the gift)/wanted to see if (X gift) arrived?”

Eventually he will respond to the text or email. This time, this is what he wrote:

“Hi Yvonne,
I received the hibiscus
Yesterday. Thank you. Whatever happen to the Kaia’ videos? She is very depressed so can you resume sending them?”

The underlying message here is that I am basically fueling my mom’s “depression” by not sending regular videos of their grandchild. This is not the first time my dad has sent me a message like this.

I have very little patience for people like my mother who do nothing to help themselves. My mom is hardly in a dire life situation: she gets a pension check and a social security check in the mail regularly. She doesn’t have to work or support/raise anyone. She has a roof over her head, one that was fully paid off decades ago by her in-laws that has the teeniest property tax known to the average person. She gets regular free, prepared food and produce from Meals on Wheels (how valid this is that she qualifies for this program is another story for another day). She’s in reasonably good health. What exactly is she “depressed” about?

As I’ve learned the hard way with Ed’s ongoing depression, no one person can save another person from the pit that is depression. It really starts with the person in question. When a person who is depressed refuses treatment or therapy, there’s not much that can be done, as sad as it is. I told my dad that if she’s really depressed, then she can seek a psychologist referral from her doctor. My dad simply responded, “She doesn’t want it.” Well, then, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink. Nothing I do can “cure” her depression. And if she chooses to have no relationship with her only grandchild by never doing any video/phone calls with her, by not even interacting with her when she’s right in front of her face, then none of that is on me.

The relationships you have (and don’t have) with your parents

Yesterday, my friend came over for dinner, and eventually the topic of our parents came up. While her relationship with her parents is not as fractured as mine is, she definitely has strained relationships with both parents and wish it could be better. In her family, she somehow always gets labeled the “selfish” one who needs to be accommodated, even when she actually bends over backwards to do the exact opposite. And her older sister, in her usual pattern, always plays “victim” and has both parents feeling sorry for her and blaming my friend in the end. It makes no sense, but what does in a dysfunctional family?

I told her that I hadn’t spoken with my mom since end of February after she accused me of being mad at her for not sending money to Kaia (and as for my dad, I haven’t spoken with him over the phone since right before our August 2022 visit with Kaia, when he (figuratively) fell off his rocker and called me a bitch for no legitimate reason). I think it should go without saying that I’ve never had a track record or any record of being a gold digger or seeking out my parents solely for their money. So it’s beyond insulting to think that she’d come up with this crap in her head. It’s just yet another sign to me of how poisoned my mother’s brain has become over the years. She once had so much promise and positivity about the world, but as the years have gone by and bitterness through her experiences has chipped away at her, now she is just a mentally unstable, negativity inducing old woman who chooses to see the worst in everyone. And when there is nothing “bad” to see, she decides, in her head, to fabricate lies about what some given person has said, done, or “thought.”

That just reminded me of my bad memories growing up, being frightened that my mom WAS actually the thought police, policing my thoughts and trying to tell me how to “feel” or even “think.” That was pretty awful, to say the least.

I’ve tried to give my parents nice experiences through vacations that they were never grateful for (and nitpicked over what they spent money on vs. what Chris or I bought for them). I’ve tried buying them nice gifts. I’ve paid for meals for them. I’ve tried spending time with them in various ways when I go back to San Francisco, which they have rejected, complained about, or in one case, where my dad just stormed off and said he didn’t want to go (on a stupid walk, of all things). I said very flattering and gracious things about both of them at my wedding during speeches. I think I’ve tried what I can do to in order to make our relationship better from my side. But it’s not fair for me to do all the work. It takes both sides of a relationship to make it better, and they just keep doing everything in their power to make our relationship worst, whether they are aware of it or not. They have pushed me away, so far that I don’t really think we’ll ever recover.

So, I think back to what my therapist told me two years ago. “It’s okay to mourn the relationship you wish you had, but don’t,” she said. I told my friend this, as well, and she agreed that it was a good thing to hear and be told, and even reminded of. My therapist reminded me of this a few times, and I probably really needed to hear it. Usually, I just brush it off and try to be strong about it. I hate feeling sorry for myself, especially when I know that all around, I’ve lived a very privileged, fun-filled life with rich experiences and good relationships. “Why do you have to say that?” she’d ask me. “So, what… because you have some privileges, you’re not allowed to be sad about what you wish you had or don’t have?” Okay, fair point.

But I have moments of real sadness, especially when I see and hear of other people around my age who have very healthy, loving relationships with their parents. I feel a bit envious and wonder why I got the shit end of the stick when it came to parents. They don’t even have a relationship with my only child, their only grandchild. It’s beyond senseless. And when I think about it really deeply, I just get incensed to the point where I want to bash their faces in.

So, that’s part of what my friend and I talked about last night, and I suppose it’s fitting since Father’s Day is this coming Sunday. I’ll send my dad a gift and probably barely get a response or thank you over text or email, and we’ll all carry on with our separate lives as we always do. I’ve made peace with it because I know in my heart that I’ve done everything in my power to improve our relationship… while they have done absolutely nothing because they continue to live in their own past trauma and lack the emotional maturity to treat their only living child even decently.

“Permission to Fail”

I’m making good progress reading the book Permission to Come Home by Jenny T. Wang. Right now, I’m on the section called “Permission to Fail,” which is exactly what it sounds like it’s about. In life, through big and small events, we’re constantly learning, and in learning, it’s inevitable that we will make mistakes, but that’s part of the process of living. When babies are learning to walk, they will stumble and fall — it’s not a mistake! It’s all work in progress! They learn from their fall, and then they persevere and try again and again until they can pull themselves up, stand up and stay there, then take one step, two steps, multiple steps. The tiny steps that are built into that process are around using arm, core, and leg strength. They are learning little by little how much of each to use to do what movements at which time.

I thought about the process of babies learning to walk when I was thinking about this section of the book. And I thought about the very damaging advice that my mom used to constantly give Ed and me: “One step wrong, and everything in your life goes wrong!” It was such a fixed (anti growth) mindset, a narrow way of looking at the world, putting ourselves in a situation where we’d basically have zero hope… unless we followed everything exactly as our parents wanted, and then, our lives would be perfect! And then, I comically thought of Kaia learning how to walk, stumbling and falling, and my mom yelling at her, “One step wrong, and everything in your life goes wrong!”

Everything, regardless of whether it was rooted in reality or not, was either a major success or failure growing up. If it was a failure, it resulted in my and my family having “no face.” When I got laid off at my first job out of college just nine months after I started (and during the worst financial crisis to date of my lifetime), my mom got angry at me. She said, “You have no face! No one respects you! No one will want to look at you to your face!” She advised me to immediately move home and start looking for jobs there. In the next month, my cousin was getting married in Las Vegas, and she tried to prevent me from going to the wedding. “The wedding isn’t important!” she yelled. “Why are you going to spend money to go to a wedding where no one will care about you because you lost your job? You have no income, so why are you spending money on travel? You have no face at this wedding! Don’t bother coming!”

It was such an awful, demoralizing, terrorizing thing to say to a 23-year-old who hadn’t even been in full-time employment for a year: because I got laid off and had no job, I was not worth seeing. I had no self worth. I was not worth socializing with. It’s never anyone’s “fault” when they get laid off, especially during a financial crisis where everyone, left and right, is losing their job, the economy is unstable, and companies are cutting costs left and right. But she tried to make it seem like it was my fault, as though I did something wrong. That’s why she kept on saying I had “no face.” To my parents, if you were working, you were a “worthy” person. If you didn’t work, if you had a low-paying job, or if you were unemployed/stay-at-home parent/partner, you were “nothing.” That’s how my parents measure value in an adult.

I’ve lost my job a couple times since that first layoff. It was never easy, but I’ve grown a lot along the way. It was never my “fault.” I never saw them as “mistakes,” but as situations to learn from — because that’s what all of life is ideally: continual learning, growth, and personal evolution. But one thing I did learn from that period? I would never, ever tell my parents if I ever got laid off or fired — ever again. They would never provide a safe space for me. They would never be supportive of me in my down moments and instead, would just push me further down. I didn’t need the constant criticism or judgment. I was already such a harsh critic of myself already, so why did I need two other people judging me?

It’s sad to remember these times, especially since these types of interactions were not isolated. But I think the biggest thing here, as the title of the chapter indicates, is giving yourself permission to fail, even if those who are supposed to be closest to you won’t. Who cares what other people think? You have to give yourself permission to fail, to grow, to move forward. C’est la vie — or at least, that’s the life worth living.

“Reclaiming mental health as Asian Americans”

After I got the advice from a friend to re-join a second library system, I used my Manhattan address to confirm access to the Queens Library last week, which I hadn’t accessed since 2012, when I lived in the borough. I always had Queens Library access and New York Public Library access since I first moved here, as it was one of the very first things I did once I got set up in this new city; Queens covers just the borough of Queens (since it’s so freaking huge!), while New York PL provides access for Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. As an avid reader, I figured it would be wise to continue getting access to books that my tax payer dollars were covering. Until 2018, I was borrowing hard copies and picking them up/dropping them off at the nearest library. But since then, I access the library fully electronically via the Libby app. This then allows me to either listen to audio books directly from the app, or send the electronic book from the library directly to my Kindle. It’s been amazing: I cannot even count how many books I’ve read this way, and I’m obsessed.

The first book I got off the wait list for in Queens Library that NYPL did not even have in its catalog was Permission to Come Home: Reclaiming Mental Health as Asian Americans, which is written by psychologist Jenny T. Wang (who I actually started following on Instagram during the pandemic!). I already knew by page 2 that this was going to be a good book after I read this line:

“Our suffering and well-being do not exist solely in overcoming major crises or managing diagnoses, but also within the conversations held behind closed doors, in the tears we shed alone in the shower, and in the deep emotions that we cannot ignore despite our best efforts.”

I think when the average person thinks about mental health, they do define it based on crises and diagnoses; they don’t think about the everyday interactions and how they have such an impact on us. I think that is especially lost on older Asian generations like my parents, who think of “mental health” being a concern just for people who are “psychotic,” “crazy,” or “mental.”

I’m about halfway through the book now. It’s an easy to digest read, but it’s definitely extremely triggering, especially once we got into the section called “Boundaries.” So I can’t read too much of it at once and need to give myself breaks, which is what the author actually suggests, along with questions to stop and ask yourself. Other than the sexual and physical boundaries subtitles, my parents have basically violated every other boundary of mine:

They regularly would go through my belongings, from reading letters addressed to me without my permission to my school binders and notebooks to my closet/drawers; my dad has even gone into my electronic files on the shared computer, which resulted in quite the family drama.

They eavesdrop on my conversations and then would gossip about it later/yell at me for what I discussed with others.

Whenever I come home, I’m constantly being asked to do this, do that, with zero regard for what I might be in the middle of doing. I get yelled at if I don’t come right away.

When I come home, I’m expected to drop any plans I had made with any friend/relative so that I can spend time with them… most of the time doing nothing, just being under the same roof. She used to insist that, “(Insert name) is not that important… tell them you are sick and can’t make it,” or, “You already saw (insert name) a couple days ago. Why do you need to see them again? WHAT IS SO IMPORTANT OVER YOUR FAMILY?” And, if I don’t cancel the plans, then I’m “disobedient and against my parents, which means you’re against Jehovah!”

When I was in middle and high school, my mom used to regularly call my friends and ask them to be spies, to “report back” anything “inappropriate” I might have been doing. A friend I used to go hang out with after school at her house was one of these people. She told me my mom would regularly call her to “make sure” I really did go to her house.

Once I started working, I knew something was very, very wrong with my mom’s demand that I only take time off to come home and see her. If I took time off for a trip, it had to be with them. I was not permitted to take time off for myself, to take a trip with friends, or god forbid, a trip with a boyfriend/partner. So when I did take small trips to hang out with friends or travel to new places with them, I just didn’t tell her. The first time I finally admitted to taking a week off to go to Mexico with my then-boyfriend, the fireworks went on for two days. All she did was scream and yell. She said I was betraying her; I was not to supposed to take trips with a man I wasn’t married to; I wasn’t supposed to take time off unless it was to see her. How could I be so selfish…?

My mom has “tested” me by asking to me to write her checks for thousands of dollars… for dental and health procedures that she didn’t even need or follow through with. It was all a test to see how “loyal” I was to her. After sending her one of the checks (and after she cashed it), she told me she ended up not proceeding with that dental procedure. You can imagine how annoyed I was (and how infuriated my husband was…). She just wanted the money and likely had zero intention of ever getting the procedure done from the beginning.

My mom used to say to me regularly, “I control you until you get married, and then when you get married, your husband controls you.” That was fun to hear. I guess it’s no wonder why I made a goal during my senior year of college to get a job out on the East Coast, far out of her control and constant spying. And once I moved to New York, I vowed to never live anywhere close to my parents ever again.

She also used to tell me regularly that Ed and I “have no right to get angry at your parents! You have NO right! We do everything for you, and you get angry with us?!”

It took me a while to figure out that being angry at one’s parents, or at anyone, is completely fine and healthy. All feelings – happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, whatever – they are what they are. There is no such thing as a right or wrong feeling. It’s just a matter of how you deal with them and move forward with them that matters. To tell someone they aren’t allowed to feel is pretty inhumane… and quite sad, when you think about it.

My first therapist once asked me, “Do you think you will ever move back to San Francisco?” I paused for a bit, and then responded, “I’m not sure. I don’t think so? Maybe I could. But only after they’re both dead.” It sounds like a very harsh thing to say, but I really meant it. The truth hurts. I don’t think my mental health could handle being that close to them. They have no concept of boundaries or how to treat me (or really, anyone else) respectfully and with true kindness. And like any other human being, I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. I’m not asking for that much.

It’s hard to think about the fact that I will never have a good relationship with either of my parents. In an ideal world, we’d get along and be much closer. But it’s not meant to be. Ed was the same way. But his life has already ended. Mine hasn’t… not yet, anyway.

Good in-laws, bad in-laws

Today is my mother-in-law’s 67th birthday. Since she’s in Melbourne, time-wise, she is ahead of us, so we called her on Whatsapp video last night to wish her a happy birthday. Pookster was acting a bit faux-shy, and despite our practicing saying “Happy birthday, Suma!” the night before, Kaia didn’t really carry this through on the call.

Earlier in the day, I was rummaging through a drawer I rarely go into, and I found a bunch of random knick-knacks that Chris’s mom had gifted me over the years. Some were from travels, while others were gifts just-because. Amongst these items were a maple leaf painted case to store tiny items, a carved moose envelope opener, and an outdoor-themed notepad. She had also given me a number of kitchen items, ranging from a collapsible cloth bread “basket” she got in Portugal, cute character designed bag clamps from Korea, and a set of French cheese knives she picked up while in France. Everywhere she went, she seemed to think of me and get me something, even if it seemed completely random or impractical; it’s the thought that counts at the end of the day. She never had to get me anything, ever. I always thought it was cute… even if I never used most of the items in a practical way.

I told Chris about how I found the moose envelope opener. “It’s such a random thing to give!” I exclaimed, smirking and then laughing. “Who uses letter openers anymore?”

“Well, the drawer full of stuff I’ve gotten from your parents…. well, it’s empty except for one San Francisco hat,” Chris retorted.

Part of me chuckled when he said this, but part of me just felt annoyed. Chris and I have been together over 12 years now. My parents are really so divorced from reality that they have no idea how little regard they have had for their one son-in-law. My parents have never wished Chris a happy birthday or a merry Christmas. They have never given him any gifts whatsoever, other than the San Francisco Giants hat they gave him the very first time they all met. While they have paid for some meals for him, there was always a hidden cost: getting angry at me later for him NOT paying the bill, accusing him of “taking them for granted,” or insisting whatever Chris had paid for them was insignificant or “nothing” compared to whatever they’d made up in their head that they’d done for him. They never call, text, or email him to say anything at all, or even just to check in to see how he’s doing. Yet my mom remains delusional, saying that Chris’s parents “do shit” for me and that they treat Chris far better than his parents will ever treat me. Nothing could be farther from the truth: as far as I am concerned, Chris pretty much doesn’t have parents-in-law considering they have pretty much no interaction ever.

While Chris gets annoyed by this, occasionally, his mom will text or email me directly to check in with me to see how things are going, how Kaia is, and how work is going for both of us. And she doesn’t just ask high level and generic “how are you?” questions, but instead, she asks specific questions, like about Kaia’s school applications, my work promotion and what that means for my job, or Chris’s job search. When people ask you specific, detailed questions about your life, it’s because there’s real concern and love; otherwise, why would they take the time to ask, or, why would they even care to hear about it at all? Chris gets annoyed because he thinks it’s a bit intrusive or nosy, but what he doesn’t seem to recognize is that his mom doesn’t have to check in with me… at all. She doesn’t need to reach out to me directly without him involved. She has no obligation to have a separate relationship with me. She does all this because she genuinely wants to and cares (plus, she wants in on information that Chris doesn’t willingly share, but that’s another story). These are all the things Chris’s parents do for me that my parents would never do for him. I think it’s something to be happy about and grateful for.

There are the good in-laws, and there are the bad in-laws. Chris’s parents are the ones to model behavior from. My parents are an example of how not to be an in-law.

Hidden, forgotten emails in your inbox reminding you of the past you want to forget

Before I switched over to Gmail in my mid-twenties as my primary email, I still used my Yahoo email address often. Now, it’s been relegated as my “shopping/email list” email address, aka sometimes junk, sometimes fun email. Back then, my Yahoo email was my primary email that I’d use to communicate with family and friends. Randomly today, I accidentally clicked on a folder called “Unread,” which didn’t make any sense because I had read all those messages. It was mostly a lot of messages that were (somehow) marked as “Unread” and still bolded as though they were never opened. And also oddly enough, a lot of these messages were between Ed and me. Most of them dated back to around 2006-2008, but the themes across the messages seemed to be the same: I would urge him to look for a new job or move out of our parents’ house. He would tell me in very short messages that our dad was constantly criticizing and putting him down, making meals out “very unpleasant” when it was just the three of them (our parents and him) to the point where he couldn’t enjoy the food. He repeatedly said he had no moment to himself in their house because once he was home and they were there, too, he was expected to be at our mother’s “beck and call.” If she called his name out and needed help with something, it was expected he would drop everything he was doing in that instant and come immediately to help her. It didn’t matter how trivial the task was. If he didn’t come in that instant, she would, of course, yell and talk about how “useless” he was. Our father, on the other hand, would just criticize him constantly during any interaction with him. When he wasn’t criticizing Ed, he’d be ignoring his very existence under their roof. When Ed would work late and sleep in the next morning, our father would barge into the bedroom, where the main house’s computer was, go online, and blast whatever random music, video, or news he wanted as though my brother wasn’t even there attempting to sleep. Sometimes, it would be as early as 7 or 8am — he just had no regard for my brother’s existence at all. Yet, our dad never did any of this when I’d come home and be sleeping in that same room. The difference? He actually respected me, but he had zero respect for his older son.

It’s sad to read these short exchanges that we had. It rarely was safe for us to talk on the phone with each other because one of our parents would inevitably be lurking in the next room, waiting to hear my brother say something negative about one of them and pounce on him. So, he’d usually wait until they were out of the house to call me. And if that didn’t work, he would occasionally call me from Macy’s, where he used to work, or just email me. In one of those emails, dated in April 2007, he wrote to me while I was in college with one line: “When are you coming back home?”

I stared at that email for a couple minutes today and just felt so sad. There was some deep sadness in that message that I detected, as though he was just wallowing and needed someone else there who he trusted who didn’t look at him like he was a piece of shit. No one should ever feel that way about themselves, especially by their own parents.

Then, my blood pressure went up again. And the wrath came back. You can forgive a lot of things. But these things can never, ever be forgotten.

Child rearing: the idea of raising a tiny human into an adult human, not infantilizing them

I first came across the term “infantilization” in my early 30s. The term’s meaning is pretty self-explanatory: it’s about treating someone as a child perpetually, even when they are an adult. For children, it could mean treating someone in a way that is too young for their current stage of development. Anyone is capable of infantilizing another person, but the most common scenario is when a parent infantilizes their child, whether that child is still a child or a grown adult. The main reason that parents do this to their children, regardless of age, is control: they want to maintain power over someone and prevent them from being a functioning adult so that they can have a “need” for that parent forever.

I was thinking about infantilization this morning as I got Kaia ready for school. Almost a year ago, we had this routine of getting her ready each weekday morning for daycare/school. Chris would wake her, change her diaper, set her up for breakfast and go swim, while I would pack her lunch, make sure she was fed and dressed, and ready for Chris to take her to school once he was done with his morning swim and shower. About a year ago, getting her ready was a bit more challenging than now: then, she needed more encouragement and assistance in eating, whether it was with eating her Weetbix and milk with a spoon. It was harder to multi-task to feed her while also packing her lunch and cleaning. But now, she’s so much more self sufficient with her meals: she’s pretty much mastered eating cereal and milk with a spoon. She decides what she eats and in what order. I don’t have to watch her as carefully as I did a year ago with chewing food properly and swallowing. Nowadays while she eats breakfast in the mornings, I can usually get her lunch ready and dishes cleaned without much disruption (other than the occasional Cheerio or oat porridge strip flying somewhere…). Sometimes, when I’m really on an efficiency streak, I can even fully empty the dishwasher and wash, prep, and cut vegetables in preparation for dinner that evening. My little baby is maturing into an older toddler, and with that, she’s gaining skills that she will be using for life. While spoon feeding her occasionally is cute and fun, I do not wish to do it all the time, nor do I want it to take away from her learning how to use other utensils and becoming self sufficient as a growing human. I want my baby to grow and flourish and one day, become an independent (and hopefully thriving and confident) adult.

The sad thing that this triggered was the fact that I know my own parents infantilized Ed and me. In many ways, Ed never became a fully functioning adult who could make decisions for himself confidently and even talk about basic everyday topics because of how overly critical and controlling my parents were. They wanted to make all decisions for him, and when he was left to make decisions himself, he couldn’t: he just didn’t have the confidence to do it. They had us learn how to drive and get our drivers’ licenses, but then they never let us drive the car, saying “we had no experience” and “were too immature” to be trusted (how does one get experience… without experience?). Ed was never allowed to drive the car except to and from specific places (work and one specific grocery store). I was only allowed to drive the car if my parents were in the car with me. Whenever we didn’t do as well as they wanted us to in school, they always said we needed to be “more like the kids upstairs” (our older cousins, who were quite mediocre overall both in school and life) and said that if they got all A’s (this was a blatant lie), then we could, too, because they worked hard for us, so we needed to “work hard at school” for them.

There’s a lot of memories I’ve buried deep in my mind because they don’t do anything to serve me well in moving forward in life, and they only end up angering me. But I do get reminded of certain ones occasionally that I thought I’d completely forgotten about. But one that recently got dredged up because of some news article I read was how during my early twenties, my brother went back to the local community college to take math classes. He said he wanted to to try going to school again, and if he did well in this class, he’d continue enrolling in other courses, and maybe even use his credits to transfer to a four-year institution. It was such a shiny glimmer to me, that he could be taking a step in the right direction for himself and his own growth. And then, out of nowhere around the same time, someone either at his church or at work told him about a room for rent that he could consider. It was small but clean. He’d have to share a bathroom and living/dining/kitchen areas with another person, but he’d finally be independent and move out of our parents’ home. He called me multiple times and we talked it over. I insisted that he move, and the sooner, the better. But he was scared; he wasn’t sure he’d get along with the roommate. He was concerned with how small the bedroom he’d get was. He also told me multiple times that once our parents got wind of the idea, that they didn’t want him to move: our mom fought with him multiple times, screaming at the top of her lungs. She said that if he left, they wouldn’t help him with the move, and he’d have to move everything himself. He wasn’t allowed to remove “one single thing” from their house other than his clothes and his bed, even though Ed had spent a small fortune on pots, pans, kitchen supplies, and bedding and bath for the house with his small wages from Macy’s. It was so cold and threatening, so rooted in evil, hatred, and control. She just wanted to control him, and if he moved, she could no longer control him. She and our dad couldn’t put him down every single day — who else were they going to criticize daily if he left? At the end of the day, she was infantilizing him. Our mother felt threatened that her son, her oldest child, finally wanted to be an independent adult and not rely on her anymore, and that’s why she said these awful things to him. A normal parent would be thrilled that their adult child in his late twenties/early thirties would be moving out. But our parents aren’t normal. So Ed got even more scared, and he eventually declined the room for rent. And with that followed his downward spiral into a deeper depression and ultimately his suicide. He just kept believing that he was worthless, brainless, and stupid — just like our parents kept calling him to his face. Because when you get told you are something so many times, you eventually just believe it is fact. It’s like when very mediocre children get constantly praised by their helicopter parents — they end up thinking they are some gift from God and the best thing since sliced bread, and every single action they take must be perfection!

Our parents said and did a lot of awful things to us, but this specific event truly inspired a very deep-seated wrath in me against our mother, a wrath that occasionally gets ignited with specific memories and actions she continues to do. In this situation, as with others, she wasn’t helping a single person at all, yet she was so blinded by her desire for control of my brother. I kept trying to talk Ed out of his decision, but he insisted it was all done, as he’d already told the landlord he wouldn’t take the room. He eventually just told me to stop bringing it up at all. I suggested he look for other places, but he never did.

Our mom gets very sensitive when she hears we shared anything, anything, to anyone else about her and our dad outside our immediate family with others. The reason for this is clear: I think deep down, she realized what they were doing was wrong, and she feared external judgment and “losing face.” She used to repeatedly say that if we ever spoke about them to others, that we “talked against our parents, and God punishes disobedient children who go against their parents.” But, she probably never heard or believed the phrase, “The truth shall set you free.” But wait — didn’t Jesus himself say this?

I don’t want to infantilize Kaia. No well-meaning parent does. I do not want the environment my parents created for Ed and me replicated again. I want to watch her grow and be set free. I just hope she will always trust me enough to come to me and be herself. Because when you have parents who don’t trust you, who blame you for everything, who infantilize you, you will never be able to fully be yourself around them at all. My parents don’t really know me at all – they have no idea what I’m interested or passionate about, nor do I think they even care. They barely know my opinions on anything. But they made it this way, and there’s nothing I can do to change it.

And this is why I’m not close with my mother

Every day, I try my best to be patient with Kaia, to explain things to her as I had never experienced as a child growing up. I try to spend quality time with her and talk to her, sing and play with her, and play games to make her laugh and smile. I hope that I can be the mother that I never had — one who loves unconditionally and always makes that clear, and never compares or constantly criticizes. I want her to trust me and know that she can tell me anything. I want her to always believe I have her best interests at heart, even when we disagree.

A lot of these thoughts go through my mind every day, even just for seconds at a time, because I don’t want to replicate the relationship I have with my own mother. My mom has gone through her own tumultuous upbringing and surviving the Vietnam / American War. She had a mother who rejected her because she was a girl, denied her an education, and gave her scraps off her older brothers’ plates for food. She dealt with a nasty mother-in-law who treated her like a slave, and a husband who mirrored his mother’s attitude towards her, his own wife. She rarely had it easy in her younger years. And unfortunately, she’s held a lot of that resentment and anger in her forever, which meant that she took a lot of her frustration out on Ed and me. She deeply distrusts pretty much everyone, and sadly, that even includes me, her only living child. And so, to keep herself going, she likes to concoct false narratives in her head of what must be true and run with them; they are the “facts” of her life that apparently only Jehovah knows and has shared with her (it’s always fun when people weaponize religion, isn’t it?).

It had been a couple weeks since I last called, though I text her almost every day with photos and videos of Kaia (which never get a response; it’s like texting and sending files into a black hole). I called a couple times the last several days, yet no one answered; most of the time, it would ring once or twice and go straight to voice mail. I texted her to let her know I called a few times; no response. I called on Wednesday evening while I went to pick up Kaia, and she was NOT happy with me when she answered.

Mom: What’s going on?

Me: What? What do you mean?

Mom: You know what I mean.

Me: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Mom: You haven’t called in a long time (I tried to interject and tell her I called multiples times and even texted to tell her in the last several days; she responds by insinuating I’m lying even though her phone is crap, and she doesn’t really know how to use it). You know, I haven’t worked since 2001. I don’t have much money, just enough. I know you don’t say it, but I know the reason you don’t call is because you’re angry that I don’t send money to Kaia. I haven’t worked; what money do I have to give?

I could immediately feel my blood start to boil. It’s always fun when the people who are supposed to be closest to you, your parents, know exactly how to blurt out complete bullshit and lies to spike your blood pressure.

I genuinely don’t know what makes her think, based on anything I’ve ever said or done in my entire life, that I’m some money-obsessed gold digger who just wants her or anyone else in my life simply for their money. I have never asked for money, nor have I ever said anything about wanting it from her. I’m sure part of the reason she thinks this is that she’s still bitter that my parents paid for my college education, but you know what — what else were they going to spend their money on? They live like paupers now, in a house that’s completely falling apart, and always have; she clearly thinks she’s poor and is barely scraping by, even though she and my dad each collect a pension and a Social Security check each month, have rental income actively coming in, many investments, and are sitting on multiple pieces of Bay Area property that they could easily sell if they wanted to.

“It really hurts me that you would think that all I think about is money, and that’s the reason I don’t call that often,” I said to her. “If you truly believe that, your mind is disgusting! DISGUSTING!”

“I don’t want to fight!” she responded curtly. “I don’t have the energy! I have to take care of myself. My health not too good. Jehovah knows what is true. Maybe I am wrong. But Jehovah knows and sees all.”

My mom has been saying her health “not too good” for the last twelve years, since the year before Ed died to guilt trip us constantly. She’s always saying she could die tomorrow. She also loves to say that I want her to die. She said it quite a number of times the last time I was home in August 2022 while I was tied to a breast pump, and Kaia was playing on the floor alongside me (talk about positive energy). I genuinely believe that my mom is so sadistic that she probably wishes she had a terminal illness just so that she could loom that over me and manipulate everyone around her to do what she wants.

I told her I didn’t have time for this stupid conversation and had go to, and hung up before I got into the daycare to get Kaia. The funny thing was – just hours earlier, I was working on a collection of framed and canvas photos of Kaia to send to her.

“I don’t know why you bother sending her these things,” Chris grumbled when I told him about the order. “She’s never grateful for anything you do.”

He’s right. And while I’ve completely come to terms that I am not responsible for my parents’ unhappiness, a part of me still wants to give them forms of temporary joy, whether that’s true a video or photo of Kaia, or food or flowers delivered. They always find a way to criticize all those, too, and sometimes, they don’t even say a simple “thank you.” But at the end of the day, it’s all futile. We are all adults who have a roof over our heads, financial security, and no worries of being in a war-torn country (anymore, at least, for my mom). Given these privileges, it’s our choice to be happy. And if they choose not to be happy, then that is 100 percent on them, and I don’t have to participate in their sick mess.

Mice in the old house

My oldest cousin, who lives in the Bay Area, had a quick work trip to New York this week, so I suggested that he come over for dinner given Kaia’s short window between daycare pickup and bedtime. I prepared dinner and used his visit as an excuse to bake a seasonal dessert, so I made my much-awaited pumpkin spiced mochi muffins (which I actually had on my list of things to bake two years ago right before Kaia was born, but I clearly lost track of time). After he landed, he dropped off his bag at his hotel and came up to our apartment. He also had Joe’s Pizza delivered, which somehow excited Pookster. She’s only had a taste or two of pizza in her entire existence, yet somehow she immediately knew this was pizza and that she needed to have it ASAP, saying “Want pizza! Want pizza!” over and over until I cut her a slice and removed most of the pepperoni. Oh, toddlers!

We talked about work, travel, and home. I asked him how the house was (the one his mom shares with my parents). And he told me something I had no idea about: there are MICE in the basement again! The last time I heard about mice being in the house was before the foundation was redone, so around the time our grandma passed away in 1995. He said that they hadn’t made their way up to the second or third floors but were in the basement. And my dad had told him that he’d already caught SIX of them. That completely grossed me out.

It annoyed me to hear that there are rodents in the house. The obvious thought is the lack of hygiene as a result of these pests. But the other thing I thought about was all the endless clutter that my parents and my aunt have stored in the basement. The more clutter and crap there is, the more places the rodents will have to hide and shelter and make the basement their home. All of this just makes for a worsening situation. And I am pretty certain that they are doing nothing to clear the clutter and prevent these issues since the entire basement is a filthy, disgusting, dilapidated disgrace. I feel embarrassed just thinking about how that space looks.

I’m sure my mom never told me because she knew I’d say all of this. And she’d use the excuse that she’s “disabled” and doesn’t have the ability to clean it up. Because of course, it’s all just on her to do these things. The never ending cycle of insanity, angst, and torment in that god-forsaken house.

When your dead brother dies again and has a second funeral

It’s a weird thing to think, but every time we approach Ed’s birthday, Ed’s death anniversary, or even the annual AFSP Out of the Darkness walk, I always hope or expect to see him in my dreams. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes, it does. Sometimes, it’s a happy, sweet dream. But in most cases, it’s a dream filled with anger and angst, usually directed at my parents.

About two nights ago, I had a dream that I was sitting in a funeral chapel, staring blankly ahead at Ed’s casket. The casket, for whatever reason, was closed. Flower wreaths surrounded the closed casket. But I was just sitting there, seething. I could feel that my blood pressure was soaring. My dad was chattering away to my mom mindlessly, talking through logistical things that needed to be done, such as accounts that needed to be closed, or checks that needed to be cashed out. More and more people I didn’t recognize were filling up the room. But all I could think was: how could we let him kill himself a second time? Aren’t people only supposed to live and die once? How did we resurrect him, and then he still managed to get away and be miserable enough to end his life a SECOND time? Did our parents not learn shit the first time around? Why were they so completely incapable of appreciating their first-born, their only son? It’s all I could think of while sitting there with my pulse racing. People approached me to greet and hug me and express their condolences, but it felt like I was just putting on an act and I wasn’t even really hearing them. All I could think of was: how stupid could our parents really be to allow this to happen AGAIN?