Family proximity with a new baby

We had dinner with two friends tonight who are married and have been living here in New York for about two years. They were eagerly anticipating leaving New York to head back to Hong Kong, where they lived for about eight years. They are both originally from Melbourne and had fantasized about a glamorous expat life in Hong Kong, but it didn’t seem to work out job wise. That, plus they got pregnant, and now our female friend is five months pregnant. They both rationalized that despite the job opportunity not being in Hong Kong that it probably made more sense for them to move back to Melbourne to be close to family, anyway, especially in light of the little one on the way.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I don’t think I’d really love to have my parents “nearby” when I would have a baby. If anything, I think it would add to the stress, especially with my parents’ constant (wrong) belief that they are always right about everything. Not to mention the fact that despite my mom being a JW, she definitely has still kept a lot of her superstitious beliefs, so she’d probably tell me ridiculous things like, I can’t wash my hair for X number of days after the baby is born, or I can’t do Y activity until Z number of days after the baby has been born. Or, I need to drink all these Chinese tonics to cleanse my body (I’ve warmed up to some Chinese medicine ideas, but not all of them). I really could not handle any of that. I’m an adult now, and I don’t need to be told what to do. And when my mom is around, I’m no longer an adult and am of course treated as an eternal child.

Everyone comes from a different family. I accept that. Yes, it’s attractive to have family help nearby because well, it would be free. Childcare is expensive. You don’t have to worry so much about your parents killing your child as you would a total stranger you’ve paid. But still, the idea does not sit very well with me.

Monday, July 29th, again.

Ed died on Monday, July 22, 2013. In this year 2019, six years have passed since his untimely death, and with Leap Year in between, it also meant that it was also Monday, July 22, just last week, which means that today, Monday, July 29, 2019, is also the same Monday as when we held his funeral. It made me sad to think about this last night, to think about the general somberness and misery in our parents’ house that week, how I edited my eulogy for him on the Sunday before, and even argued with our idiot selfish cousin the night before about some reprinting he wanted to do on the program that I refused.

But I also thought about how although time has passed, although my parents lost a child and my dad had heart surgery in this time, they’re probably even more miserable than ever before. You’d think that if someone had heart surgery, they’d rethink how they want to live life. You’d wonder if someone had something so gut-wrenching and tragic happen such as losing a child that they’d make some positive changes in their life, create a new start. But our parents really haven’t done anything like that at all; instead, they barely float in their day-to-day delusional life, my mom with believing Jehovah will save her if she continues her preaching with her Jehovah’s Witness acquaintances and friends (despite never having even converted a single person), my dad with believing that if he just keeps organizing his pills, pulling more cabinet doors apart and breaking them, and accumulating more clutter and junk in the house that everything will be just fine. But it isn’t. It’s like a big accident waiting to happen. And that freaks me out because we all know that if anything happens like that, I’ll have to suck it up and deal with it.

I like to think that a lot inside of me has changed since moving out on my own, losing Ed, leaving my dysfunctional and constantly angry and resentful family. I worry less. I’m still judgmental, but I judge a lot less. Frankly, I also “care” less than I used to about even the closest people in my life, but I think that’s for the better. I used to obsess about whether certain partners were the right fit for my friends, whether they were really making the right choices for themselves, if X action was really going to produce Y result like they’d romanticize… but then finally I realized that what I perceived as “care” (or really, what my mom perceives as “care” which she instilled in me) is really a disguised form of judgment. There’s an innate sense of “I know what’s better for you than you know what is good for you” message in that, and that’s not really right, is it? I am more patient about some things, like when my colleagues are telling me they’ve had a bad day and want to discuss their parents’ alcoholism or their dad’s abusiveness towards their mom. But I’m also a lot less patient at the same time; I have a higher tendency now than ever before to cut my parents off, tell them when I think they’re doing something thoughtless or stupid, and just to tell them that they’re wrong and going to cause their own premature deaths. It’s not very Confucian of me, but I kind of don’t care. What I will tolerate from them has changed quite a bit. They may never fully acknowledge they are wrong about anything because that’s just who they are and what they always will be. But that doesn’t mean I can’t let them know they’re screwing up along the way. The truth hurts.

Ed is gone. It’s really terrible. I feel the most hurt from it every time I go back to San Francisco and leave again. I think the other thing that always gets me is the lives our parents are living and how they do little to nothing to acknowledge him in any way. I’m sure our mom does some self reflection and self blame from time to time; she’s told me a few times. But with my dad, as per usual, I’m pretty certain he’s just blocked it all out of his head. He has no methodology for handling and acknowledging emotions. Instead, he chooses to spend most of his time talking to himself, yelling and swearing in all the ways he would have wanted to if he had more courage and confronting all the people who supposedly have wronged him… including Ed and me.

Ed would be sad to see them today. Even though his relationship with them was tumultuous, I think inside, he just wanted to them to be healthy and happy; towards the end of his life, he used to tell me that he’d pray for our mom’s health every night. But we both always knew that was pretty much impossible.

When everything is filled with drama

I had plans this morning to meet my friends for brunch and some time at the botanical gardens, and given timing, I told my parents that I would meet them at the Neptune Columbarium, where Ed’s niche is. I said I would leave the Golden Gate Park area at around 2 to meet them. Somehow, despite telling both of them this twice, they both “heard” me say that I would meet them at the Columbarium at 2pm. My mom called at 2pm as I was waiting for an Uber to pick me up, and she was panicking as she always days, asking me where I am and why I am not there. I repeated again what I originally said, and I can hear both her and my dad in the background claiming that I never said that, that I said I would meet them at 2pm. I told them that they both didn’t hear me correctly and that I was on my way.

Then, as I spent time at Ed’s niche, they both left me alone and wandered around, getting their free coffees from the front office as they always do, and sitting in their car. It’s a great way to bond with your dead son, making sure you are always getting free refreshments from the place that you spent tens of thousands of dollars on his niche at.

I got back into the car, and they immediately started arguing over where to eat for dinner. I told them that I didn’t mind, that they could choose; it wasn’t a big deal to me. My mom gave me an icy tone, saying she wants to “show respect” to me and have me choose. That’s her not-so-thinly-veiled way of saying that I should choose and “care.” I truly do not have a preference, so I said she could choose since she ate at these places more. Then randomly, my mom started marveling over the visit they had with us to the Salesforce Tower roof yesterday with Chris, and she said she really enjoyed the oat milk latte we ordered for her. Dad said out of nowhere that the free latte was tasteless and bland, and he had no idea how anyone could drink something like that. I told him he rarely drinks lattes and doesn’t know what they are supposed to taste like, plus he probably just had the oat foam. In his usual childish and defensive tone, he said I was wrong. Then, he continued to talk to himself and repeat the word “tasteless” about 10 times on our ride home.

Even after we got home, I could still hear him muttering “tasteless” over and over. This is after he not only had a free and beautiful visit at the tallest building in San Francisco to get a 360-degree view of the city, but he also got free coffee and food there, plus a gondola ride and a walk through the Salesforce Park with me, which he got annoyed about within ten minutes of walking around and said he wanted to leave.

I’ve read so many books and articles about mourning, about parent-child relationships, about death. One of the topics that seems to come up repeatedly is that once someone is dead, you start realizing that you end up missing all the things they used to do that would annoy the hell out of you and increase your blood pressure when they were living. For Ed, this could mean asking me really basic questions that I felt given his age, he should be aware of, or asking me the same question three times over the course of 30 minutes. In my parents’ case, it could mean… hey, one day, when my dad isn’t here anymore, I might actually miss how childish he is and how much mothering he needs. I could end up missing how he needs to ask you the same question three times in three different ways in an hour just because he probably wasn’t listening to your answer the first or second time when he asked. I could possibly end up longing for how ungrateful he is for experiences that I expose him to and how little appreciation he has of pretty everything in the world, whether it’s a beautiful view or a free coffee drink (that someone else is ultimately paying for, one way or another). For my mom, I will probably end up missing how she panics over my safety every second of the day, how she insists on packing me oranges or kiwis in my luggage even though I could easily buy these same fruits in New York, how she is overly critical of me and pretty much every human being on earth.

So when I get annoyed, I have to step back for a second and say to myself, maybe I should be grateful they are pissing me off right now and showing a complete lack of gratitude for how kind and generous Chris and I have been with them. Maybe I should be thankful that they are sitting here, able to complain and criticize everyone. Maybe I should be grateful because of the fact that they are actually still alive, and not everyone is as lucky as I am to have one or both parents still alive.

Annoying family meals

Chris and I planned to have dinner with my parents tonight, but my mom told me last minute that she wanted to bring one of her good friends, as well. I think we all know the reason she wanted to do this: she loves being able to brag about how well her daughter is doing, whether it’s explicit or implicit. I really do not like it, but her friend is actually not the most boring of the people she spends time with, as she actually talks and seems somewhat cultured, so I figured it would be okay.

The conversation really just ended up being between her friend and me. We talked about her recent travels, her cruise, how well her husband, who is pretty much bed-ridden, is doing. And of course, she asked about when we were going to have a baby. She’s personally devastated because she has no faith that her oldest child, her son, will ever meet anyone and be serious enough to get married; then, her daughter, who has been married for over seven years now, seems to be facing some fertility issues. So as a result, she and her husband have decided they will not have children. And because she is so close to my mom, she claims she looks at me like her “second daughter,” so she has all eyes on me and a potential growing belly.

I told her she’d find out when anything new happened. I left it at that. But that answer apparently was not enough, as she asked a second time. “When will you have babies?”

I’m not really sure what kind of a different response you expect when ten minutes have passed, but it was not fun. And to add to the annoyance is my mom saying, “I’ve been waiting and looking forward, but I’ve heard no news!”

And then Chris, to stoke the fire, said, “We have no plans!”

I left to use the restroom. And Chris let me know afterwards that my mom and her friend proceeded to have a 1:1 conversation about why we were not having babies: they travel too much for fun, they travel too much for work, what are they going to do with travel once they have a baby; they might stop traveling; no, they will continue traveling.

When I hear conversations like these, I always wonder: are people choosing to have these pointless conversations because they truly have nothing else to discuss at all or look forward to?

Family dysfunction at the lunch table

Today, Chris and I met with my aunt, my cousin, his wife and their child for lunch. It was one of those predictable lunches where we’re not really having flowing, natural conversation, and it’s more fragmented with random questions and answers, the occasional interruption by the young child, and food or saliva flying in different directions. My cousin’s son, who will be turning 7 in about four months, is definitely maturing a bit, but he seems so much more infantile than I ever remember being at his age. When I was his age, I remember eating with regular sized forks, knives, and chopsticks, cleaning off my own plate, and never having any assistance with any food, with the exception of shellfish like lobster and crab. At that age, I was expected to eat chicken on the bone and get all the meat off them, too.

I looked at my cousin’s child, and I felt so sad observing him. I guess I feel sad in a lot of ways every time I see him because I remember being there when he was born, within the first year or two of his life seeing him regularly, and also noticing all the dysfunction around him. I can’t really spend as much time with him as I’d like because his parents are insane and helicopter-overing him. I used to always have these fun visions of taking him out on my own at around this age, bringing him out to the playground, treating him to ice cream. All those seemingly enjoyable images will never become a reality. This was never what I envisioned, but that’s the thing with family estrangement and dysfunction: you are rarely, if ever, always in control of how your relationships with your family go. If someone decides to be selfish, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to deal with it. Or, if someone randomly chooses to no longer respond to your texts, phone calls, and e-mails, there’s nothing you can really do to get them to care about you, is there? People do not think about this deeply when they judge others for not being close to family, particularly family who are nearby. Perhaps that’s just indicative of how shallow our society is. We want to imagine everyone has a happy functional family, and when we do not fit that expectation, we get blamed. But, to each their own stupidity.

Relatives in town

So my aunt is in town for the next week or so, and she asked to meet Chris and me for a meal. I called my mom today after work and told her that we would be seeing her for lunch, likely on Sunday. I could tell she was not happy.

“Well, it’s up to you,” she said warily, clearly uncomfortable and not wanting to me to see her. “You can decide for yourself if you want to see her. Who else is going to come?”

That’s my mom’s passive aggressive way of saying she doesn’t want me to go, and that she thinks lots of other people are going to join.

I told her my cousin (my aunt’s son), his wife, and their young son would likely join. She seemed even more annoyed.

“Well, I’m just going to tell you one thing, and then you can do what you want,” she said. (that’s how I know this is going to be annoying… for me). “Things are not the same with those people (THOSE PEOPLE? You mean my aunt and cousins?!). Things have changed. There are going to be more people from their side coming, so you and Chris shouldn’t pay. Just let them pay. But make sure to bring something like flowers or cookies for your aunt.”

My aunt and cousins are “other” now to my mom. She gets angry with them all the time when she barely sees them. She gets mad at my aunt for reasons that no one can understand, but my aunt can read my mom like a book. She always knows when my mom is angry with her, even if it’s baseless. But on the flip side, she gets excited when my aunt comes back from her travels so she can see her again. It’s a really twisted, screwed up dynamic.

I went home and told Chris about this conversation today. Now, he insists that we pay the bill. That’s my Chris for you.

But, on the other hand… It’s just so stupid that this always has to be a topic of conversation. And it’s always because of my mom.

Missing photos and visits

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

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

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

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


Sack of rice

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

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

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

The jealous mother persists

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

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

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

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


“Do I look like I belong to a cult?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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