Continuing family dysfunction and passive aggression, with some love somewhere in between

My mom told me over the phone earlier this week that she sent me a letter, and she wanted me to let her know when I received it. She said, “you know I don’t celebrate Christmas or birthdays, but you still get something.” That’s her way of saying…. it’s still a Christmas or birthday gift, but we’re not calling it that, simply because the gift wasn’t given on those days. Okay, whatever you say. I’m not sure what Jehovah Witness loopholes exist, but she certainly takes advantage of all of them, and then some.

So my mom sent me a little note with two checks, one for Kaia and one for me. Kaia’s check was double my amount, not that I really care, but I thought it was funny. And the note began: “Dear Yvonne: How are you and Kaia?”

The note said a few other things, had some good wishes, etc. But for whatever reason, even though she does this all the time, it annoyed me for a second that she asks how Kaia and I are doing, but she doesn’t bother asking how Chris is. What, am I suddenly a single mom now? Why doesn’t she ask about her son-in-law? It reminded me of how whenever we’re in Australia or we come back from Australia, she insists on asking how Chris’s uncle and aunt are doing, but never asks about how Chris’s actual parents are doing. She does this deliberately, and it’s so passive aggressive and petty. Once, she even overtly said, “You know what I say and don’t say, so you can take the hint.”

The truth is: I don’t really care about her hints. I don’t care about who she likes and doesn’t like for whatever irrational reasons she has. I don’t have the time, energy, or desire to care or even ask anymore. I just let it go because the effort is not worth it anymore. It took decades for me to finally grasp this, and now, I truly just do not care. She’s never going to change no matter what I do or say, so I’ve just given up. And that actually has lifted a lot of weight off my chest because finally, I feel okay about it. It’s not ideal, but she just is who she is. And I need to accept her… in the small doses I expose myself to her.

If nothing else, I can count for my mom to get mad at something, or anything

I called my mom during the week we were in Southern California. She asked the usual questions, like how we all were doing, how was work, what the weather was like, and if I was planning to see my cousin who lives down here. And then, she said that my aunt who lives upstairs from her knew I was in Australia and asked if I told her.

“I may have told her,” I said nonchalantly. “I really can’t remember who I told.” I genuinely did not remember, nor did I care. This was all inconsequential to me.

“She said that (your cousin) told her,” she said, insistently. “You told him you were going?”

Here we were again, another pointless conversation about a nothing topic that I really did not care about. This is why I didn’t bother to call my mom at all while in Australia. What was the point? She would always find something to get frustrated or angry or jealous about. All we had to do was sit there and vegetate, and she’d find a reason to get mad.

“Yeah, I probably did tell him,” I responded. I still didn’t know where this was going. But the underlying message was: don’t tell anyone where you are going or what you are doing, ever.

“So did you tell her you were going, or did he tell her you were going?” she continued on.

Doesn’t she have anything else better to do with her time than obsess over something so dumb?

“I may have told her, and I definitely told him, but who cares who told what?” I said, getting audibly irritated. “I don’t care!”

If there are trigger phrases to piss my mom off, they include this short list:

“I don’t care.”

“Who cares?”

“No one cares!”

So she immediately launched into attack mode: “You need to talk NICE to me! I told your father the SAME thing. You don’t say ‘who cares’ or use that tone with me! I don’t deserve it! I can’t take it! I won’t take it anymore! I am depressed and have anxiety and am resentful!”

It was her usual rant once again, post Ed’s death. So then I said some brief things to counter her, tried to keep my tone level, and eventually hung up. I’m almost 37 years old. I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with her constant dysfunction, self victimization, or verbal abuse anymore.

Water pressure in the bathroom down under

Chris’s brother is now back in Melbourne for Christmas from Sydney. He got back on Thursday night, so the family house is packed with all six of us now for the very first time. The family house has four bedrooms and four bathrooms, so all of us comfortably have our own bathrooms to use. Chris’s dad told us that they had recently had the water pressure reduced across the house, which was most notable in the shower heads. The reason they did this was that they were advised by their plumber to reduce it, otherwise it may cause future problems for all their machines that use water (washing machine, dishwasher, etc.). Everyone in the family loves their water pressure in the shower; in fact, Chris says that one of his absolute favorite things to do when he gets back to Melbourne each year is to simply turn on the shower head in his bathroom and let the water stream down on him… because the water pressure is optimal, and he loves that feeling on his skin. When their dad mentioned the water pressure had been reduced, I hadn’t noticed it at all in the shower we used; it still seemed quite strong to me, other than the fact that the shower head is different in this bathroom given we switched bathrooms with his brother, as his brother’s bathroom has a full bathtub, which makes it easier to bathe Kaia.

Well, Ben noticed the shower pressure had changed immediately. He asked his parents what happened, and they explained. Yet somehow, oddly enough, the shower pressure in their parents’ master bathroom had not changed much, if at all. So now, instead of using his own shower, Ben is now going to continue using his parents’ shower while he is here! His dad had asked me if I had noticed a difference, and I said no.

The reason this is even a topic for me is that all it reminds me of is exactly how weak and terrible my parents’ water pressure is in their shower. In fact, I know, for a FACT, that it’s gotten weaker by design over the last 10-15 years, as my dad has not only changed the shower head multiple times, but he’s actually reduced the water pressure. He did not do that because it was too strong, but rather because a) he wanted to save money on water, b) there was a drought which advised all residents of California to reduce water usage… but hey, it ended!, and c) he insisted it was just better for the environment. It was never a discussion. He just did it and didn’t even tell my mom. No one else’s opinion or comfort mattered. It was his executive decision, and it was never going to get reversed no matter what.

The water pressure is so weak in that shower that my showers likely take a longer time there because the water feels like it’s just dripping out — slowly, painfully, meekly. Yet the few nights I actually do spend at my parents’ house nowadays, because my dad is so cheap, he occasionally will try to lightly ask me to shorten my showers. My showers are actually quite short when I am not washing my hair, and given I am only there for at max three days at a time now, it’s truly amazing that he would even ask me to do this.

The other reason this is so triggering for me is that it doesn’t seem to matter what it is, whether it is day to day living, traveling, once in a blue moon events… my dad’s cheapness seems to apply to everything. In some way, it’s almost like he wants to prevent himself from truly enjoying the experience of anything… at seemingly all costs, not just financial. He cannot even learn to enjoy the simplicity of a good shower head and water pressure. Part of me wonders if it’s just because of his upbringing, because his parents had so little and thus he had so little, and so he really grasps at every last penny he has as a result of that childhood in fear it will all disappear into thin air suddenly, despite the fact that he has more than enough now. But there are plenty of immigrant stories of families who had nothing, yet when those kids grew into adults, they managed their finances well and were able to enjoy. So the more I think about it, the more I think he just has a mental block that prevents him from enjoying or liking anything.

“Do you think your parents are capable of being happy?” my therapist once asked me.

“I suppose that depends on how you define ‘happy,'” I responded back.

It seems the older I get, the less I can give a straight “yes” or “no” answer to ANYTHING, which is so aggravating sometimes.

Because perhaps for some people, “happy” means always complaining about the most minute things; maybe it means doing the exact same things in the exact same routine every single day and not veering away from it. It can be sameness all the time. Maybe it means always comparing your kids to other kids; maybe it means always looking at people who have far, far less than you (read: are truly living in poverty) and using that as a reason to not make your own life a fraction more comfortable. And if that is the case, then there’s not much else you can say or do for them. But then… if I really wanted to know, maybe I could just flat out ask my dad the simple but very loaded question: “Are you happy?”

Well, to be honest, I am not sure I want to hear the response to that.

Total amnesia of dysfunction

With my parents, while they like to hold grudges against pretty much everyone, the convenient hypocrisy of all of this is that they always seem to forget all the dumb things they do to upset and annoy everyone, including me. And when you try to bring it up, they react with such horrid shock and disbelief that it seems that you are doing something to offend them just by mentioning that they could potentially be imperfect beings who do imperfect things. The audacity!

It’s been about four weeks since we were in San Francisco, and it’s been feeling really good not only to be in an uncluttered, choking hazards-galore space, but also to be free of their constant dysfunction. My mom called this week and said how much she and my dad have been enjoying the baby videos I’ve been sharing. Well, it’s good that they enjoy the videos because they aren’t going to get to see the baby much in person for who knows how long. And frankly, I think my dad may prefer to see videos and photos of Kaia rather than see her in person; he barely interacted with her at all other than a few funny and kissing faces.

“When are you coming to visit again?” my mom asked. “You should come back soon and stay longer.”

She always says this as though the last time I visited, it was just… simply marvelous. We loved every moment of each others’ company and found each other so damn enriching. But that could not be any farther from the truth as we all know. The constant passive aggressive comments. The uncalled for and totally out-there outbursts. The constant criticisms. She has total amnesia and seems to prefer it that way. In her head, she is the perfect mother. My dad is the perfect father. We have some perfect family where everyone gets along. That is not true.. at all. It never was, and it never will be true. We had zero conversations about anything. My dad and I barely spoke. I would say good morning to my dad, and most mornings, he didn’t even respond. What joy at us all being together!

“When Chris comes for work, you and Kaia should come, too,” my mom went on. “Then we can all spend more time together. And I can look after her.”

I reminded her that she’s not fit to be a caregiver for anyone. And she insisted she could simply “watch” her, and when she needed to be fed or changed, then I could do it. Wow, what a great offer to babysit!

It’s always going to be this senseless with my parents until the very end. There’s really no end to the delusion, amnesia, dysfunction, or tyranny.

A calm weekend – different from last weekend

It’s a long weekend for us here in New York with Labor Day tomorrow. Yesterday, we went to the Bronx. Today, we’re mostly at home and in the neighborhood. I vacuumed and cleaned a lot, cooked a few things, and enjoyed some time on the roof. I was productive, but I also felt very relaxed. I felt a lot more relaxed this weekend than last weekend in San Francisco, even though I did get to see my friends.

I always feel a little bad when I see my friends in San Francisco. I feel like they probably get a more tense version of me because I have to deal with the toxicity of my parents while there, which leads to my not being that at ease while with them. I’m not sure if they’ve ever noticed it, as no one has ever said anything. But I don’t feel like my normal self when there.

It seems like it’s impossible to be calm and at ease in the presence of my parents. Whether it’s my mom getting mad and making a big deal out of something senseless, accusing me of doing yet another “bad” thing I haven’t done, or my dad criticizing me or constantly talking to himself, nothing is ever “calm” there. He can’t help but nitpick and get mad about something when I am home. Despite the fact that he lives in a cluttered mess, he still feels the need to give feedback about things I do while in his home for such short periods of time. This time, he got mad at about how I didn’t tightly wrap up the baby’s pee diapers in the trash bin (that they were already going to take outside anyway), and then he got mad that I didn’t wipe down the bathroom tiles after showering (the long run issue here is that mildew buildup can occur). Is either the end of the world or going to cause massive problems? No. But he has to point them out anyway because when you do things that are “wrong,” then they are WRONG and BAD. If he does even half a thing wrong, it’s totally cool. And if Chris hadn’t been there, he likely would have raised his voice and been a lot more mean about it when addressing me. It’s exhausting, and I am always so relieved to finally leave that place.

When everything is suffering

“You want to be happy, and you’ve taken actions to make sure that you live a happy life,” a friend said to me this week over lunch. “You don’t want the same life your parents have, and that’s why you are cognizant of building a different life for yourself and not becoming them.”

I thought about this when I was thinking back to a week ago during my visit home. This time last week, I woke up on Saturday morning to pump in my parents’ house, and when entering the kitchen, my mom had a whole stove full of food she was preparing… at 6:30am. I had no idea why there was so much food and the need to get up so early for all this food.

“Why are you making all this food so early in the morning?” I asked her. “It’s so early.”

She had an angry look on her face, as though I was asking a stupid question. “Your aunt is having us upstairs for dinner tonight. Don’t you know?! You don’t just shove your way into a dinner like that. That’s not our custom! You have to bring something! You don’t come empty handed!”

That last part was basically like a snake hissing at me.

“I was planning to buy something today to bring it,” I responded simply. “There’s no need to make anything. I can just buy it today.”

“JUST DON’T! DON’T SAY ANYMORE!” My mom raised her voice, increasingly getting mad. “When I say something, just shut your mouth! I tell your dad this, too! Just STOP talking back! I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it! I can’t put up with it anymore! I suffer SO much!”

At that point, I left the kitchen. I wasn’t going to take any more verbal abuse that early in the morning. The whole conversation was just stupid and irrational. Plus, the tension could potentially hurt my milk output, which I didn’t need. She remained in the kitchen, “suffering” and cooking endless food that mostly would not get eaten, mumbling to herself about how she’s always suffering.

When I’ve gotten invited to meals or potlucks, I’ve always welcomed the opportunity to make a dish or bring something. I’ve never looked at it as “suffering” or “more work” that needed to be done. I suppose it’s because meals are social events, and I like both parts to them: I like the food (plus the opportunity to make something that would be fun for me to cook or bake), and I like socializing and being around people. But that’s the way my mom is: it seems like literally every single action she takes is “suffering” in her eyes. She sits in her room where everything in existence is all suffering and refuses to get out of it. She’s beyond help, and talking to her is of no use. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have kids to support or a crappy day job to go to: everything is miserable to her.

Decompressing after family visit and scrutinizing my brother’s nose

I think that by today, my body has fully adjusted to being back in New York on Eastern time. I always adjust right away, but with the baby sleeping on me plus the red-eye, this last flight was a real doozy for me. But more so, I think I am still mentally decompressing from my visit to my family. I was chatting with my therapist today, and she said that I need to work on a plan for myself where I can enter the family visit like it’s just any other day, and leave the family visit without any need to decompress. I told her that I thought that would be nearly impossible. Everything there is such a trigger for me — the hoarding, the clutter, the mess everywhere, the excessive amount of food that I know will inevitably rot or get thrown away; the dilapidation; the weedy backyard; even my brother’s old belongings that still sit around in the bedroom.

Before I put Kaia to bed last night, I was staring at the photo of Ed and me on my bedside table, scrutinizing his nose against mine and trying to figure out if we had the same nose… because if we do have the same nose, then that means Kaia also has Ed’s nose. But the more I stared at it, the more I realized that Ed’s nose was more like our dad’s, whereas mine was more like our mom’s. But Ed and I do share the same eyes. Kaia’s eyes seem to morph, and while sometimes they look like mine, other times they look ambiguous. I then tried to remember his voice, and for a split second I failed, and this deep feeling emptiness came over me. And then out of nowhere, I heard it again. I tried to remember his laugh and could not hear it, though. This is what time does. It’s been over nine years since he’s died, and now I suddenly cannot remember the sound of his laugh. That just felt so heartbreaking to me. Everything seems to fade away over time.

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.

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?