This early afternoon, I hauled Chris over to Nordstrom so that we could test out some strollers and car seats. The sales assistant was quite helpful and showed us some of the limited models on my list, and we further narrowed down the strollers that we wanted. In addition, I’m pretty set on a specific infant car seat to get, as well. We immediately eliminated the super popular and bulky Uppababy Vista and Cruz strollers. They are far too big, and the Cruz is pathetic in that it doesn’t even close up all the way. The Cruz itself would take up the bulk of a car trunk’s space, which is ridiculous when you think about it regardless of whether you own a car or not. The sales assistant was pretty blunt about the strollers: if you are the kind of person who doesn’t take a car or public transit or leave your own neighborhood, and all you want to do is push your stroller around your own neighborhood, then the Vista or Cruz is likely for you. If you actually plan to go on trains and other boroughs and travel, you will hate these Uppababy models. So that was an easy decision. Since they didn’t have all the models I wanted to see in person, I have to do another visit to a different baby store uptown to get a better sense of finalizing what we end up getting. We’re getting closer to the end of this decision making process!
If Ed were alive today, he’d be turning 42 years old. It’s a sad thought every year when his birthday comes. I wonder who else thinks about him on this day. Do my parents actually think about him and think about him deeply? Or do they just think he wasted his life away as they always did say and think while he was alive?
Throughout this pregnancy, I’ve thought about him a lot, but I was especially grief-stricken when I went to visit him at the Columbarium when we went back to San Francisco last month. I “showed” him my pregnant belly, and Chris snapped a photo and video of the moment. And I just felt empty and blank. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel resentful. I just felt nothing. My brother is never going to meet his little niece. If I ever have any other children, he will never meet any of them, either. He will never have the chance to be an uncle, and we will never have the chance to spend time as a family ever again. After staring blankly into his niche, I went into the bathroom and just cried.
I wish he could be alive and healthy. I wish our parents were more supportive of him. I wish they hadn’t antagonized him so much. I was chatting with my therapist about Ed a few weeks ago, and she suggested that it may not be fully fair to have lingering anger against my parents because some people, regardless of how much support they have, still end their lives. That is true, I admitted to her, but she and I have not spoken about the exact extent to which my parents antagonized, bullied, and made my brother suffer.
At the end of the day, “you feel what you feel.” I’ve made enough peace with my parents about Ed’s passing as I could, otherwise I would no longer have a relationship with them. But it should go without saying that he should still be here today.
My mom loves babies. She especially loves the chubby, fat-cheeked ones that drool and smile all the time, regardless of who they are staring at. As soon as she sees any baby that is remotely cute or chubby, she always squeals, “Awwww, I want to hold!!”
She called me today to tell me that while at a grocery store recently, she saw the cutest little girl, probably somewhere between 3-4-years of age. She was extremely cute and had rosy, chubby cheeks (“her mother must have eaten an egg every single day of pregnancy to have a daughter with cheeks like that!” my mom exclaimed), and for whatever reason, was wandering around the shop unattended by a parent. As soon as she made eye contact with my mom, she smiled, and then started walking up to her. My mom said hi and waved, but didn’t want to do more than that in the event the parent showed up and got mad. My mom turned to walk away, but the child was so intrigued by my mom that she just kept on following her around the shop. My mom turned around to interact with her a few times, but didn’t get too close, though she said many times she wanted to. Finally, the mom of this little girl appeared out of nowhere to gather her child, and she shot my mom an unfriendly glare.
“It’s fine that she wasn’t friendly with me,” my mom said, gleefully. “I don’t need to hold or kiss her child because I have a grandchild on the way!”
While I am happy that my mom seems happy about my pregnancy, I’m not sure how much time she will actually spend with her grandchild once she is born. Who knows how much time any family member will be able to spend with her given the distance. So that’s always why it’s a bit comical to me how excited they are about babies.
At home this evening, we attempted to watch the live stream of Chris’s Nana’s funeral, but failed just a short while into it annoyingly. But Chris worked on the video and photo component of the program, so he had it uploaded to YouTube so we could watch it without the live stream. While watching it, I thought about the amazing, privileged, happy, and full life that Nana lived in her 92 years. I thought about her love for knitting and crochet, cooking, gardening, and her family. I thought about how beautifully and neatly she kept her home despite living on her own for so long. I still fondly remember all of the little trinkets and crystals she had so meticulously displayed on all her surfaces and cabinets everywhere in her home, and how much she relished her time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren. And although I felt sad knowing that our future baby will never get to meet Nana, I know from all the stories shared and the time I spent with Nana that Nana died with a true level of contentment in the life she led, likely with little to no regret. We are lucky to have seen her nearly every Christmas since 2012.
I thought about my mom while watching the different cousins share their Nana stories and listening to Nana’s children speak details of Nana’s life, and I wondered if my mom, hopefully one day a long, long time from now, would be on her deathbed, reflecting back on her life and what level of fulfillment she’d feel. Would she look back and see a life well lived, or will she simply see “constant pain and suffering” as she used to yell at my dad and Ed about all the time? Will she get angry at all the people she believes wronged her, or will she actually take the time to be thankful for all the good fortune and good deeds that others have done for her with no expectation in return, even if she was always so quick to exercise “quid pro quo”?
I kept my last full day free for my parents before going back to New York. While my mom is always happy that I do this, it always tends to be a point of contention with her and my dad, as they can rarely agree on what we should do together. My dad is a total homebody and hermit; if he could stay at home all day, every day, he’d likely do it. He has zero desire to explore the world or even socialize with anyone. My mom, on the other hand, would prefer to split time between home and the outside world. I honestly believe that if my mom had ended up with someone just a level higher in terms of adventurous spirit, she’d likely have traveled and seen more of this country and world, but nothing we can do about that now.
My mom usually will suggest going to Japantown or the conservatory of flowers; my dad will usually scoff at this idea with his usual grunts and sounds, indicating his clear displeasure. This time, though, my mom suggested we go check out the newest Asian grocery store that’s opened in the city that everyone has been either lining up for or trying to get into: HMart off of Alemany Blvd. It’s not only a large HMart that feels like it’s in the suburbs, but it also has a mini food hall component that has a good handful of tasty Korean dining options. My dad was interested and immediately said we should go to check it out and have lunch. I agreed. I mean, why not? I love supermarkets, especially Asian ones, and if there’s a food hall to add to that, that seemed good to me. This is what Asian families do, right — they get excited about new Asian supermarkets. This is exploration for them… and us.
So we went and ate in the food hall, and the food was quite good. My mom had Korean bulgogi fajitas. My dad had a generously portioned pork katsu, while I got a kimchi and seafood pasta that was extremely rich and satisfying; I could barely get through half of it before asking for a box. Then, we perused the HMart, and I noticed the sales on items that you’d never, ever see in New York. In fact, I do not believe I have ever seen ANYTHING on sale at any HMart in New York. The entrance had a huge display of massive seedless watermelons, which I noticed every family seemed to grab one of — $2.99 each — how could you beat that? It was almost reminiscent of what I saw at Patel Brothers about a year ago in New Jersey. The store strategically placed all the mango trays that were on sale right by the entrance, so as each family entered with their cart, PLOP! In went a tray of mangoes.
All I have to say is, while I enjoy watermelon, watermelon’s got nothing on mangoes. I’ll go with the Indian families vs. the Korean families on this one.
As of today, I have three more nights left in San Francisco, and these last three will be spent at my parents’ place. We purposely structured the trip this way so that I wouldn’t have to be with them for more than 2-3 nights at a time. Chris is only with me for another night, and he’s leaving tomorrow morning. He has to leave to preserve his mental health. I’m staying to see friends and also to attempt to spend more time with my parents. Yet I always feel conflicted about spending more time with them.
Everything is a trigger for me here, from the endless building clutter to the thick layers of dust on everything to how most things seem broken, dirty, or mistreated. This afternoon, I attempted to dust off the cabinet and desk surfaces in the dining area, and when I rinsed out the sponge, the color wasn’t the usual pale grey I see when I dust at home; it was a dark black color. When I tried to open the front door from the inside, the knob fell off. In the kitchen, the faucet leaks unless you turn the knob to an exact angle. Most of the pantry drawers and doors are not closing properly. A door stopper wasn’t installed on the back of the bathroom door, so someone must have slammed the door against the wall, which resulted in a big hole the size of the bathroom door knob on the wall behind it. That hole, while hastily patched up, is visibly still there. The paint in nearly every room is conspicuously chipping away; in the basement, all the walls have chipped away and peeled so much that they are nearly all grey. In the room leading to the backyard, my dad must’ve taken down all the curtains… and for whatever reason, been too cheap to replace them. Instead of curtains or shades, large pieces of scrappy black torn cloth cover the windows. Being in that room really feels like living in tenement housing.
And last weekend, I noticed humongous cob webs developing in all the front windows in the living room behind the mini blinds. These cob webs were so thick and hairy that they resembled the types of cob webs you typically see in abandoned homes or attics. I had to take out the vacuum cleaner to remove them because they were grossing me out so much. That should give you a sense of exactly how dusty and unclean this place is.
The clutter and dirt of this house is one thing. The other trigger is the fact that Ed isn’t here anymore. And for me, unsurprisingly, his presence is always strongest to me in this house, a place where he was treated like a second class citizen and never given the love he really deserved. Being pregnant while here, I am especially cognizant of how sad it is that my growing baby will never get to know her sweet, generous uncle. Every time she moves, I wonder if she can sense how I am just a little bit more tense while here.
And the last thing is that while here, I really have no idea when my mom’s fuse is going to blow and what will make her start screaming and yelling or throwing a fit about. While waiting for the laundry to finish so we could separate what to pack in my luggage vs. Chris’s, she asked me to sit and talk to her on the couch. She asked me all kinds of basic questions about Chris’s work and office, and I asked her why she didn’t just ask him while at dinner. All she does is sit there like a statue, saying absolutely nothing to him other than asking him if he wants more food. She has zero awareness of how unenjoyable and annoying she makes the experience. But my mom disregarded all of that and said, “Why can’t I ask you this questions? Why do I need to ask him?” And yet, she always wonders why Chris leaves earlier than I do.
Then, she proceeded to launch into a series of complaints about her friends, and it suddenly dawned on me which friends she claims are “true” and “honest” vs. those who are not: all the ones who are true and honest, in her mind, are all the ones who materially have far, far less than she does. These are the ones who can barely make their rent payments, who have been out of work for a number of years, who rent a single room in a house from another homeowner who needs company but not the money. These are the people she has nothing to be jealous of.
And when I say she complains, it’s not just a sentence or two. She will literally go on and on for five to ten minutes and not shut up unless I tell her to stop or change the subject. So when she called one of her friends a hypocrite, someone who I know has always been good to our family, I had to interject. “Why are you calling her a hypocrite? You also do hypocritical things.”
Her face turned, and she was obviously pissed. “When have I been a hypocrite?”
I told her that she said she refuses to go out to eat because she’s scared of the Delta Variant, yet she’s happy to offer to go to restaurants when she or my dad choose it, even going as far as San Jose to eat, which made zero sense to me. She got even more angry, insisting she never said that. “I said I didn’t want to eat with your relatives! They are all freeloaders and treat me like an ant! When we go out, I just want it to be the four of us! I can’t stand those people!”
That actually wasn’t true…at all. I asked her to eat out with Chris and me during the weekdays, and she refused multiple times. My dad repeatedly refused and said he didn’t feel safe, especially having had heart surgery just 7 years ago. And she insisted she never said she didn’t want to go and that instead, we just never invited her. There was no point in arguing further; she was going to believe the lie she told herself and make herself out to once again be a victim, with the other person (in this case, me) being the aggressor.
“You know, this just shows that you are against your parents, and do you know what Jehovah does to kids who are against their parents?” she sneered. Throughout this conversation, she repeatedly told me to stop yelling when I was speaking at my regular volume.
I stood up at that point and told her I didn’t have the energy to deal with her. If she didn’t want to own up to things she herself said, this conversation was done, I told her. While I could feel my blood pressure going up, I refused to indulge her in her delusional, dysfunctional nonsense. I refuse to let her try to emotionally manipulate me into thinking I was hurting her and “going against” her.
I went to get the laundry out of the dryer, and she literally pulled out the towels from my hands and ran off. Yep, here she goes again, I thought to myself while folding clothes, throwing her little tantrum in a “woe is me” moment; “my life is so awful, and you don’t care. I suffer from depression and anxiety, and you don’t do anything to make me feel better.” The only thing keeping her from yelling and slamming doors at that point was that Chris was sound asleep, and I purposely started folding clothes in the bedroom where he was so she’d leave me alone.
The hardest part about dealing with a paranoid, delusional, and mentally ill parent is that you have to realize that nothing you can do will really make them happy or save them. You can do literally everything on their checklist that they want you to do, but they will find some way to make it seem like you have done something to wrong them or “go against” them, and they will bitch and moan endlessly to make you feel bad or guilty about yourself. I cannot help someone who does not want to be helped; I’ve had to remind myself this numerous times, even with my brother when he was struggling. She doesn’t believe therapy or a psychologist could help; she’s never expressed her feelings to any medical professional. Instead, she hides behind an extremely fake veneer each time she’s in front of them. She throws “depression and anxiety” around to make us all feel guilty and kowtow to her every wish and need. And sometimes, it’s really hard to feel sorry for her when she’s attacking YOU. It’s why sometimes, I get mad at my dad for not being more sensitive and empathetic, but then on the other hand, he’s probably just so fed up with her constantly instigating.
It’s emotionally exhausting being here, sometimes even for just a day. If all goes well with my little baby in my womb, I don’t even know if I could stand one day in this house with them and the baby. That may just set me off and make ME want to jump out the window.
This afternoon, we received the sad news that Chris’s paternal grandma had passed away at age 92. Last year, she celebrated her 91st birthday, and about 20 years of living independently on her own in the house she once shared with her husband, who died in 2000 from cancer. Shortly after that, she suffered a fall at home and decided the time had finally come to move out of this home and into an aging care facility. She seemed to have been in good spirits about it all, and from photos we’d seen, she looked to be in relatively good health. But in the last couple of days, she had been hospitalized for a high fluid build-up, shortness of breath, and extreme fatigue. Her heart has a leaky valve, and so the doctors said she needed hospital care. Despite her fluid levels decreasing and her breathing becoming more easy, she didn’t make it. And after requesting a shower, she peacefully passed away on a chair in there, with the nurses finding her.
It is sad that this global pandemic prevented us from seeing her last year. It’s sad that she wasn’t able to see a lot of her loved ones as often as she would’ve liked last year due to COVID-19. Chris always said that each time he saw Nana, he feared it may be the last time he’d ever see her. And in December 2019, it really was the last time we’d ever see her in person again.
Since first visiting Australia with Chris in 2012, I’d seen Nana nearly every year, with the exception of 2017 when we went to Hamilton Island for a cousin’s wedding, and 2020, when we were prevented from going back due to the global pandemic. Every year, I marveled at how healthy, happy, and alert she seemed. Despite her advanced age, she was always so sharp. She knew where the smallest and most insignificant things were in her house. She shared very detailed memories from Malaysia and her time adjusting to living in Australia. She still cooked and cleaned and gardened. She had the help of a family friend nearby, plus all her family. She was fortunate and blessed enough in her 92 years to live in three different countries, raise three children, who each had their own children, and some of those children were able to give her great-grandchildren. She lived a full and happy life and was always so positive. She’s definitely an inspiration not just to her family and friends, but to those who knew her. Every time I saw her, I thought, wow. If I could grow old to her age and feel that accomplished and loved and full of life, I think that will be a life well lived.
I’m sad that this little baby that is growing in my body will never be able to meet Big Nana, and that Big Nana will never have the chance to meet her. But I know for sure that Nana has left quite a legacy behind that this future child will hear plenty about.
During our time up in the Sacramento area, we’re staying with my best friend from college, who recently moved here for work and also purchased a beautiful, spacious home. We had good timing in our arrival because in the weeks leading up to our visit, she was just starting to buy furniture for her guest bedroom. I was so happy for her to find out she was buying her own place, and in California of all places! After medical school, an interruption with medical school due to a sudden diagnosis of a rare lymphoma, treatment and recovery, restarting medical school, residency, and fellowship, she said she finally feels like an “adult” with an adult job and finally her own home. She’s been through so much personally. And now, she finally feels like she’s at a comfortable place in her life.
Well, sort of comfortable. Her brother was already living in Sacramento, and so when she secured her job offer up here, her mother immediately said she wanted to leave Arkansas to be closer to two out of three of her children. So her mom came out to live with her. Her brother ended his month-to-month setup at his apartment to temporarily move in with her while looking to buy his own home closer to the city center. And finally just this last week, her dad, after getting rid of the last items to give away or sell at their Little Rock home in preparation to close their house, flew out to Sacramento. So in other words, her entire family minus her sister and husband are now living with her with no definitive end. Her parents *claim* that they will be looking to buy their own home once their Little Rock home closes. And while I already got suspicious of her parents’ intention in coming out to settle in Sacramento before even seeing the house when she originally told me of this plan, once I walked into her house on Sunday night, I knew my suspicions were pretty solid: the dining area at the entrance was already set up with her mother’s Buddhist praying area and shrines. The walls on both floors were decorated as though it was a family home, with their individual graduation portraits, family and extended family photos. She even gave up the master bedroom with ensuite to her parents and took the smaller bedroom for herself next door! None of this was surprising to me.
At dinner this evening, I asked my friend about the setup, and she insisted it would be temporary and that things were fine now. But her body language said otherwise: her shoulders got higher up closer to her ears and she seemed tense. She also started speaking more slowly about it, as though she was trying to be very deliberate about each word she spoke regarding the matter.
I’ve always thought that her relationship with her family was a bit too suffocating and dysfunctional. And in return, she’s made a few jabs at me over the years for living across the country from my own parents, insinuating that I think about myself first before my family. But my main concern for her is that she will never fully have independence from them and live her own life. What would life be like if she ends up living with them forever, with her mom cooking for her until the day she dies and her dad sitting around, waiting to be catered to? How will she ever meet a potential life partner who would actually put up with this? We’re not in Vietnam; we’re living in a western country with western ways of living.
At the end of the day, we choose our life paths as individuals. We have our own values, our own beliefs about what is right and wrong, so I can’t really say much about her decisions. I just hope she actually gets to a place where she genuinely is happy and doesn’t feel a need to be so guarded about the way she speaks about her family or their relationship.
It doesn’t matter what time of year I come home or what the weather is like outside. I can always count on my parents’ house to be a complete ice box. It was pretty miserable and cold when we arrived yesterday afternoon, but if you can believe it or not, their house was even colder than it was outside. Chris remarked a number of times how cold he was. He would wake up extra early and take a hot shower just to warm his body up. There is zero insulation on the second floor, and while there is a relatively new and well functioning HVAC system, my parents rarely use it unless it’s during the dead of winter and they are desperate. I think the “natural state” of my parents’ house temperature is likely in the 50s. The concept of 68 degrees Fahrenheit being “room temperature” is completely absurd to my dad; he thinks that’s too hot. I still remember the annoying days shortly before Ed passed away when they would battle over the heat being on. All Ed would do is turn the heat on and set it to 68 degrees. Dad would get mad and turn it off. So it was a constant on-and-off fight all day and night long. I’m sure it’s also motivated by the fact that my dad doesn’t want to pay for heat because he’s cheap, but seriously: when you get to a certain age, don’t you just want to be… COMFORTABLE IN YOUR OWN HOME?!
So my mom has proceeded to fuss over whether I am warm enough, and now, when she fusses over whether I am warm enough or wearing enough layers, it’s also about whether “we” are warm enough — the baby and me. “Don’t let my baby get cold!” my mom would caution me, as she tried to cover up my belly with my long cardigan-coat that doesn’t have a zipper or buttons in the front. When we were eating dinner last night at the dining room table and I reached over to grab a plate, she raised her voice at me and said, “Don’t reach so far! That will hurt the baby!’ When I bent down later in the evening to grab a tupperware container from a low shelf, she yelled at me and told me that bending down isn’t good for the baby. “Do what I say! I know more about pregnancy than you do!”
She also believes in the old Chinese wives’ tale that when you are pregnant, you should eat one boiled egg and warm milk every day. If you do this, you will have a nice, healthy baby who will have rosy, chubby cheeks. She has proceeded to boil a number of eggs and set them aside for me in the morning. My aunt also told me the same thing: don’t forget to eat a boiled egg and milk every day until you give birth!
My dad has, oddly enough, gotten into hard seltzer. I don’t look at my dad as the kind of person who jumps on the band wagon when it comes to trends of any kind, so this was pretty amusing to me. He also rarely drinks any alcohol of any kind. He showed me the hard seltzer he got a case of in multiple flavors and said that after dinner if I wanted, I could have one. He rummages through a cupboard, stops, then hesitates and looks up. “Actually, maybe you shouldn’t have any alcohol now. No alcohol for you. You can have milk before bed.”
While my family drives me crazy, at their core, I know they love me very much and just have different ways of showing it. These are always the funny moments that make me realize their love.
After a very smooth flight from JFK to SFO today, we arrived about 40 minutes early at SFO into a newly built terminal, Harvey Milk Terminal 1. It felt pretty strange, as we normally arrive in Terminal 2, so when we landed, I almost felt like a foreigner going through this shiny but unrecognizable terminal. We arrived at my parents’ place a short while after that, leaving the sunny blue skies by the airport for the drab, grey, thick overcast of the Outer Richmond District of San Francisco. Yep, I had arrived home with a very cold welcome. Chris complained endlessly of the fog and dip in temperature.
As soon as I walked through the door, my dad greeted me. I attempted to hug him and was totally thwarted, as he backed away and awkwardly patted my shoulder. Thanks, Dad. Good to see you after over a year and a half, too. I also attempted to hug my mom, and she feebly just patted my back and asked if we had eaten on the plane. As per usual, the Asian parents’ love language is not through physical affection or said words, but through asking if your belly is full from nourishment.
My mom had already prepared baby clothes and diapers for us as gifts, and my dad bought two gallons of whole milk for our visit, even though I told him we’d only be at the house for a few days. My parents have stopped drinking dairy milk for a number of years already because cow milk has been giving my mom mucus, so she’s switched to almond or soy milk instead. But my dad is still okay having dairy, and he insisted that the baby and I need the fat from whole milk, which is why he got it. I was really touched by his concern and thought, but just thought, wow, that’s a LOT of milk to have just because I happen to be here!
My dad was unusually talkative while we sat and talked around the dining room table while my mom predictably was nervously rummaging through random things and fidgeting in the kitchen until I told her to stop and join us. I was happy to see that despite my dad’s usual negativity and complaints about rising costs of everything that he looked in pretty good health. He looked like he was about the same weight, and his skin tone looked good, plus his face had some good fat on them. My mom, on the other hand, always seems to look worse and worse when I come home. She looked even skinnier today than a year and a half ago, her hair even thinner, and her cheeks more sunken in. She told me that she’s physically gotten weaker over the last year and needs to rest more after cooking or cleaning and even walks, but her mental health just seems at its peak of nervousness, which obviously doesn’t do anything for her overall health. It also doesn’t help that she’s stopped caring about dressing herself well, so nothing fits her properly, which makes her look only more haggardly. I don’t know what I am going to do about my parents; it seems like nothing really helps them.