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?

When you’re close but never see each other

People oftentimes make comments about how sad it must be for Chris and me to live so far away from our families. Our family members are all either in San Francisco or somewhere in Australia, neither of which is a quick car ride or flight away. Both trips take both money and time commitment, and outside of Chris’s parents, no one really wants to come visit us here regularly, as strange as it may sound since New York City is likely one of the most exciting cities in the world.

The thing about commenting on the distance is always funny to me, though. Just because family members or friends may be close distance-wise, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’d see each other more often. It might be easier or cheaper, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to more frequent visits or hangouts. At most, I see friends who live here in New York once a month, and that’s only very close friends. We all have our own lives and commitments, and it really does take a strong desire to commit to spending a day or evening with someone.

My aunt, who lives in San Francisco, texted me a some photos of when her middle child, his wife, and their two teenage children came to visit her at her house two days ago. I knew that they barely saw each other at all even though my cousin lives just a 30-minute drive away. When I asked my aunt when the last time they’d seen each other was, she responded, “at your wedding.”

Hmmmmm. That was in March 2016. So they literally have not seen each other in over 7.5 years, despite all living in proximity right in the Bay Area. That’s what happens when you’re close distance-wise to family – you can just tend to forget about them completely.

A “surprise” Zoom call that is met with dismay

This afternoon, my aunt texted me to ask if I had time at 7 tonight for a quick Zoom call. She said that she was able to get temporary unlimited call access on Zoom, so she wanted to surprise my mom with Kaia and me on video during their scheduled Bible study. She said it wouldn’t be more than ten minutes. 7pm is usually when we start getting Kaia ready for bed, so I agreed as long as it would be quick.

Honestly, I wasn’t even sure why my aunt thought this would be a good idea. A couple of times over the years, my aunt has brought the phone over to my parents when she’s FaceTimed me, and my mom has never responded positively to it. She always says video is unnecessary. She shies away from the phone and tries to hide her face. She waves her hand and says “No! No!” to get the phone away. She doesn’t seem to understand the value of video calls. I’ve suggested doing Zoom multiple times since Kaia has been born so she could at least see her live, but every single time, my mom has refused.

So predictably tonight, when we got on the Zoom, my mom was immediately unhappy. I sat Pookster in my lap, and as soon as my mom saw us, she didn’t even smile or say hi. Instead, she frowned and said, “No, this is unnecessary,” as though we couldn’t even hear her. It was so rude and awkward. Does she realize that we can hear everything she’s saying? Who acts like that when they see someone? She cannot handle surprises, and she never behaves well when people try to do these nice things to make her happy. Everything has to be some dramatic negative event for her, something that people “push” her into that she doesn’t like.

It was just so stupid in every way possible. I constantly get asked by friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances if my parents have any plans to visit, or if we do video calls. And I always say no because it’s the truth. You’d think that my parents would want some direct contact with their only grandchild, but no. They rather see pre-recorded videos of her rather than seeing the actual person in the flesh.

Dad’s 75th birthday

Yesterday, my dad turned 75. It’s quite a feat in our family that any male would live that long given that every man who came before him dropped dead at the age of 64. In my dad’s case, he had three things on his side: a job that required physical labor (meaning, he didn’t have a sedentary lifestyle), a higher awareness of health and nutrition than his dad and older brother, and double bypass surgery in 2014.

You’d think that he would do more with all this “extra” time he has, but I’m not really sure he’s doing more of anything or enjoying life at all. One of my biggest gripes about him growing up was that he always promised he would do things and would almost never follow through. When he actually did follow through on anything, it was because my mom yelled at him enough or my mom got angry and said she would pay for it (which is weird when you think about it because since they are married, all their funds are the same….). The house my parents live in is like a testament to a lot of broken promises: a peeling backside, a backyard in total disarray and covered in weeds; a basement that likely is covered in mold and has too much clutter; junk on top of junk everywhere. The room leading out to the yard looks as though a homeless person lives there; there are no proper window blinds or shades; my dad covered the windows in black tarp, which he glamorously taped up. Every time I think of that house, the place where Ed and I grew up, I just feel sadness and disgust.

I used to call to say happy birthday, but I decided he didn’t appreciate the effort, so I stopped. He never called on my birthday, and some years he never even acknowledged my birthday, so why should I give him a live call? I never enjoyed it; I did it out of obligation. I never felt like my parents appreciate any kind gesture I’ve done for them; if anything, they’ve insulted my gestures. But I still continue to do something.

So this year, I ordered some cupcakes to have delivered to the house. They were delivered yesterday, but apparently one of the cupcakes flipped over. All the cupcakes had “Happy birthday” written on the top. To let me know that he received my gift, my dad texted me a photo of the one disheveled cupcake and wrote: “One of the cupcakes was flipped on its side, rendering the message unreadable!” No “thank you.” No, “thanks for remembering my birthday.” No sentiment of gratitude. Just a complaint. That’s my parents’ typical style of communication. While in the background, I am sure they are both complaining about the fact they know I spent a whopping $39 on a measly four cupcakes to be delivered because there wasn’t an option for me to hide/conceal the receipt (what, Uber Eats delivery fees, taxes, and tips add up!).

When in-laws can see the bigger picture for the sake of their grandchildren

When my friend gave birth for the second time in May, both her mom and her mother-in-law came from out of town (Louisiana and Texas) to where they live in Atlanta to not only help out with their toddler, but also to help them out once they came home with the baby. My friend was having a planned second c-section due to her baby being breech, and so both moms wanted to come help support with the older toddler, cooking, cleaning, and general house maintenance. Both my friend and her husband were a bit worried about what the dynamic would be like. These two moms had never lived under the same roof before for even one night, so what would it be like for them to live together in the same house for two weeks straight? Her mother-in-law would be with them just for two weeks and would go back, but her mom would stay with them for about two months to help out. Let’s just add: both were not thrilled with the marriage to begin with. My friend is Bangladeshi Muslim, and her husband is third generation Mexican American, but from a very strict, conservative evangelical Christian family. He actually converted to Islam to marry my friend, which his mother was completely disapproving of and disgusted by. They both weren’t sure what they had in store for them, but they needed the help and support, so they agreed to let them come at the same time.

It ended up being a really fruitful, happy trip. Both moms were happy to tag team to help with the toddler, and when the two came home with the new baby, they took turns with different household chores, helped with cooking and cleaning, and of course, my friend’s mom made sure to cook her all her favorite foods and ensured she rested and recovered properly. Both moms actually got along really well; they both told their respective children that they enjoyed their time together and were even pleasantly surprised how well the trip went. There was no passive aggression, no back talking, no cheap jabs. They both did the adult thing and tried to make it work for the sake of their children and their grandchildren.

I could never see that happening with my parents and Chris’s parents. Chris’s parents would be completely fine. His mom would be overly careful and cautious, which would probably come to bite her in the butt. But my parents would find “hidden meanings” in every word and action said and done by Chris’s parents and find even more reasons to despise them. Passive aggression would constantly be present. And as Chris said, “I think I’d rather die” than have both sets of in-laws in the house for two consecutive weeks.

Plus, when I think of it, my parents did literally nothing to help me when Kaia was born. They tried to chalk it up to COVID, but the truth is that they were completely useless to us. They sent $300 (that was enough to pay for one night of night nurse support) as a gift. My mom made sure to call about every two hours to annoy me and get mad at me for not spending time to make the soup my aunt told me to make to help me heal from my postpartum wounds. I didn’t answer all the time because frankly, I didn’t have the time or patience to deal with her toxicity. She criticized the photos I’d send of Pookster and say that I was wrapping her too tightly in her swaddle, suffocating her, or not dressing her warmly enough. Other parents try to help their kids when they’re at this big next stage in their life. Even though my friend’s mom’s physical health wasn’t great and she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold the baby much, she still came to do light cleaning and to cook, which she knew she could do. My parents just tried to make things worse and more unnerving for me. My dad never even wanted to talk to me to congratulate me on the birth, or to ask how my healing was going. To this day, I cannot even remember the last time he’s spoken to me on the phone.

I think about what my therapist said during my pregnancy: “It’s okay to mourn the experience you wish you had but aren’t going to get. You should give yourself time and permission to mourn it. It’s not that you were not deserving of it. The people who are supposed to be key in your life to support you just are incapable of doing it. And that’s a reality for a lot of people in your position. You are not alone.” That’s just another way to say: find it in yourself to forgive your parents for failing you, in yet another way. She’s not exactly telling me to forgive my parents, but she’s saying, find a way to move on.

Going home?

I spoke with my mom today after almost a month of not calling. With Chris’s parents in town and our travels both to Baltimore and South Asia, I didn’t think it made sense to call her, especially since I knew if I were honest about Chris’s parents being here that she’d likely be jealous and make a lot of unnecessary comments that would be unpleasant. My dad recently texted after I sent a Father’s Day gift to ask if I had plans to come visit. I was originally planning to come visit and overlap it with a work trip like I did last August, but given I recently found out that my company is trying to conserve funds and is cancelling our planned offsite in San Francisco, that canned my combined work/family trip idea. So if I were to go home now, it would have to not only be on my own dime, but I’d likely need to take some time off to take care of Kaia. My parents are not suitable babysitters.

The last time I went home, it was total hell leading up to the trip because of my dad’s uncalled for, childish, and toxic behavior. My mom only supported him and gave me endless grief when I was finally home, whether it was through making aggressive comments against me throughout each day I was at their house, or outright calling me out to tell me I had no right to defy them. It’s the same story every time I go home: I always hope that they will at least try to be a bit more pleasant, that they will treat me a little bit better and maybe do a better job of acknowledging Chris, but it’s the same crap every single time. It always gives me anxiety every time I’m about to come home, and it only gets exacerbated when I am finally in their presence. I logically know they will never change. But I also constantly get questions from relatives back home and my friends in San Francisco in regards to “when are you coming home?” and “when can we see Kaia again?” as though there’s something wrong with ME, and as though I’m the reason there is never-ending conflict between my parents and me. It’s also annoying when Chris’s parents try to feign ignorance of any family dysfunction and continue to ask me how my parents are doing and when I last saw them (and then, seem surprised that I’ve actually seen THEM twice since I last saw my own parents!). But I suppose I can see it from their point of view: Chris’s dad was a mama’s boy who told his mother literally every detail of his life; Chris’s mom was extremely close to her mom and had a good relationship with her. They’d likely only hope the same for every other person on this earth. I guess it’s always easy to shame the younger person. It’s emotionally exhausting. And then, once I leave, my mom acts as though nothing bad happened while I was at home, as though she treated Chris and me perfectly the whole time, and then eagerly asks when we are planning to come back… And always ends with, “Next time, stay longer, at least a month.” She’s gaslighting me without probably even fully being conscious of it. It’s the same stupid cycle over and over again. And I don’t want to enable it further. So maybe I just won’t go back this year. The other thing that always infuriates me is that I go through the same cycle of fury each year when I approach the anniversary date of Ed’s death, and his absence is just a poignant reminder of how screwy in the head both my parents are and how they will never change or see wrong in themselves, even after losing their own child.

At the end of the day, I believe they did they best they knew how to as most parents do, but they were just so limited in their ability to do better than what they were given as children growing up in their own toxic families. I’m hell bent on ending the intergenerational trauma that they willingly choose to inflict on me.

“When Kaia is a teenager”

I was on my way to pick Kaia up from daycare this late afternoon when on the phone with my mom. She was visiting an old friend from her continuation school days, who lives about 45 minutes outside San Francisco. My mom has not seen this friend in over ten years, which means that this friend has no idea that Ed had passed away. I’m sure she’s still saying that “Ed is fine,” and “not married yet.”

This friend had one child, a daughter, who had two daughters, both of whom are currently high school age. My mom was telling me this on the phone, and then suddenly laughed, exclaiming, “I’m looking forward to seeing Kaia when she’s a teenager!” My mom is always coveting what her seemingly better off relatives and friends have.

It’s both annoying and weird that she said this. Firstly, when we came to visit last August, not only did she almost completely ruin the entire trip, but the time she did have with Kaia, she barely interacted with her at all, and instead insisted on doing random household chores that weren’t urgent, or going on “walks for exercise” that would last over an hour. The only time she actually held her, it was when my aunt forced Kaia into her arms and sat her into a chair. How is she looking forward to seeing Kaia as a teenager when she barely sees her to begin with, and when she does have time with her, she doesn’t want to spend it with her?

Size 6 women’s socks for Kaia

Every few days, I’ll share videos of Kaia with Chris’s family and my parents. Chris’s parents are always praising Kaia, while my mom is usually giving me some criticism about something that yet again, she thinks I am doing wrong. It ranges from, “how can you give her fruit that big? She’ll CHOKE!” to her latest, “why are her feet not covered? She’s going to be too cold and then get SICK! Kaia is freezing!!”

So she decided that since she was sick of seeing Kaia’s feet naked in most of the videos in the apartment that she’d send Kaia socks…. that are size 6 women. Kaia is 15.5 months old. Her feet are probably just over 2 inches long. And my mom thought it made sense to send her size 6 women’s socks.

“She’ll fit these socks,” our nanny said, half in disbelief, half in total mockery. “Just save them for her when she turns 30.”

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.