25

Me at 18, looking at snapshots of my future. Can’t believe this was more than six years ago.

Today, I turn a quarter of a century old. It’s reasonable to think that I’ve only lived a quarter of my life. When you put it that way, I feel incredibly young. To think that I might have to live my life three times over makes me feel like that’s too long! I’ve had so many experiences in my short life — sometimes I feel that if my life were suddenly taken away from me, I would be okay with that. Life has been plentiful and beautiful and exhausting. Looking back, I don’t have any regrets, and I feel like I’ve seen most of what life has to offer. I always say that the one hallmark of the human experience I haven’t known personally is profound grief, but perhaps I’ve felt that in my own way. Death isn’t the only way you lose somebody. Of course, I still have a lot to learn, and there is plenty that I don’t know, but I don’t feel the way I used to when I was younger, when I was so afraid of missing out on some unique, once-in-a-lifetime feeling. I used to picture scenes of my future life, where I would make hot chocolate and look out the balcony of my New York City apartment on Christmas Eve. Where I would travel across the world and meet a stranger and exchange our life stories. Where I would show up to my very important job in a suit and converse with colleagues in foreign languages. Gradually, each of those scenes unfolded in real life. It always surprised me how much they were exactly as I had envisioned, and then, how little I needed to have them again.

Maybe I’m jaded, or maybe I’ve just grown up. Sometimes, I wish that I could have grown up in this way later, but perhaps it’s for the best. I don’t want to end up having a mid-life crisis later and realize that everything in my life was meaningless. The truth is that I still have dreams, and my life has so much meaning. My dreams are simply different, and the things I find meaningful now are also different. I just think 99% of what society says is important is bullshit. People might think I’m crazy, and I certainly doubt my sanity at times, but I can’t change how I feel. This past semester, after taking a puppy maternity leave, I realized that staying home with my puppy and protecting him from the dangers of this world and being there for every new sight and sound trumped any law school lecture. I love my dog more than I ever thought I would, and his wellbeing is paramount to me. Besides my fur baby, my human child AKA Billy Bob also means everything to me. This time in her life is so important, and it’s an incredible privilege and responsibility to be in a position to change her life for better or for worse. Every day, I think about how I can better prepare her to live a happy and fulfilling life once she no longer has us. That’s your job as a parent, isn’t it?

Instead of continuing to wax poetic about an arbitrary birthday, I’ll leave you with some things I’ve learned in my 25 years:

  1. You don’t have to be a Good Person™. I feel like there’s so much judgment in academic and liberal circles (cough, Yale) about what you choose to do with your career and whether you’re helping to change the world. Let’s be real — not a lot of jobs actually better the world. Some just appear to change the world more so than others. A lot of jobs that aren’t saving lives or protecting human rights can have an enormous impact on others. More importantly, your job doesn’t have to be the primary way in which you help other people. Personally, I believe that the people who always treat others with empathy, compassion, and kindness are the truly rare good people in life. I have one Facebook friend who takes an interest in others’ lives without expecting anything in return, just leaving positivity wherever she goes, and I aspire to be more like her. In contrast, another Facebook friend has a PhD and is always traveling to Africa for some humanitarian reason but ignores my attempts to connect with her.
  2. Money matters. Again, I feel like there is too much judgment about people who value money. Money freaking matters! Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy freedom. Freedom is one of the most valuable things in our short lives where we are often stuck in an office 40+ hours a week. Money means you don’t have to work more than 40 hours a week. Money means when you leave the office, you don’t have to think about work anymore. Money means you can invest in hobbies and self-care and the things that truly matter in life. Money means you don’t have to choose between healthcare and putting food on the table.
  3. Relationships matter. Even more than money, relationships matter. I mean family, friends, and romantic partners. Not everyone needs or wants to be married, but I think the vast majority of people benefit from a stable, long-term romantic relationship. That kind of relationship, a good one, is so much harder to find and maintain than anyone ever lets on. Contrary to popular advice these days, which is worry about your career first and then your dating life, I would tell my kids that they have their entire lives to figure out their careers, but they only have a decade or two to figure out the most important decision of their lives — who to marry. Assuming that they want marriage and kids, of course. I would tell my kids to take dating as seriously as their calculus homework.
  4. Enjoy pre-adult life. You will never, ever, ever have this much time ever, ever again! Also, you’re not an adult until you’re living on your own and financially independent. I think you’re not really an adult either until someone else is dependent on you.
  5. People suck. I used to think that adults had their shit together and people were generally nice. Nope. People are selfish and vain and irresponsible. This has become abundantly clear to me since getting a dog. You would think that dog people would be better than the general population, but I’ve had dogs attack Juno while their owners were nowhere to be found. I’ve had owners bring their aggressive dogs to dog parks. I’ve had to catch runaway dogs and bring them back to their owners because their owners let them off-leash. They’re the same people who don’t train their dogs and then yell at them for being poorly behaved. Ugh, don’t even get me started on backyard breeding and the people who dump their dogs on the street. Now, I’m sure that there are good dog people and good people in general, because I’ve seen them on the internet (I love, absolutely love, the reddit community). But seriously, I never meet them in real life. I really hope that people are nicer to their kids than their dogs.

    A page out of a book called Adulting that gave me a good laugh. I know a lot of people who should read this book. 😉

  6. People won’t understand. Along the same vein, people are judgmental and mean and critical. They don’t understand mental illness, chronic but invisible illnesses, the effects of sexism/racism, etc. People will always judge you, so stop caring what they think. Treat others the way you would want to be treated, and then simply walk away.
  7. Just be happy. This one is the #1 piece of wisdom I hope to pass on to my kids. Nothing, absolutely nothing, matters if you’re not happy. I don’t care if you’re smart or dumb, pretty or ugly, successful or not, single or married, rich or poor. The most challenging and the most important task of your life is to find your happiness. I’ve seen so many smart, attractive, successful, married, and rich people make horrible life decisions that lead them to depression, addiction, and worse. I’ve watched someone who was all of those things die a little inside until he wasn’t even the same person anymore. Nothing matters if you’re not happy.

When You’re Married to a White Guy

My white guy.

The fact that I am in an interracial relationship isn’t something that I think about a lot. It helps that I am as white-washed as Dan is yellow-washed…if you took away the color of our skin and the people we know, you would have a hard time telling us apart. When we travel in Asia, I often forget that Dan isn’t Asian. The other night when Dan, Billy Bob, and I were at a Vietnamese restaurant, Dan commented that we were the only white people in the place, and I laughed at him. Since when have you self-identified as white? I asked him. But the truth is that Dan will always be white, even when his Mandarin is better than his English. And I will always be Asian, even though my English has always been better than my Mandarin. Since we’ve gotten married, I haven’t really thought that much about being in an interracial marriage, but I have begun to realize what it means to be married to a white guy. When I say white guy, I don’t mean any Caucasian male. I mean white, upper-middle class, American, possibly Jewish guy who was born to a mom who baked and a dad who raked the yard and who had 1.5 siblings.

I never thought that I’d end up with a white guy. In fact, Dan is the only one I’ve ever dated. Back when I was single, I thought white guys were boring. Compared to the guys I dated, who were the product of statutory rape, whose parents didn’t speak English, whose families were constantly getting evicted, those white guys and their privilege were a turn-off to me. What did they know about suffering? When had they ever truly felt like an outsider, their white skin making them stand out in a bad way, not good? How would they know how to raise a biracial child? I stayed away from Taiwanese Americans and Chinese Americans like me, though. They always seemed too similar to me, like I was dating a sibling. As a culture junkie, I loved dating men who spoke a different native language than me. If I hadn’t found Dan, I probably would’ve ended up with a Korean American — it’s easier when you both speak English fluently, and Korean culture is just different enough from Chinese/Taiwanese to be interesting. When Dan and I started dating, I didn’t mind so much that he was a white guy, because he seemed to be an exception. He had lived in enough foreign countries and dated enough crazy girls that I assumed he had suffered. What I wasn’t prepared for was the amount of white privilege I would gain solely by virtue of being his wife. And how much, at times, I would hate being a part of it.

There are things that Dan knows because he’s a white guy. When we try to do a crossword puzzle together, he starts saying things that sound like a foreign language. Every time someone old dies and everybody cares, I’m like who the hell is that and he’s like you don’t know who Chuck Berry is? Although I know more words than he does, he knows how to pronounce them — words like “stability” and “macabre” and basically anything that English borrowed from French and then butchered. These are the small things. And then there are the things that Dan knows to do, like getting lawn and leaf bags to fill up with leaves from the yard. I had so many questions. Why are there bags specifically for leaves? Will trash bags not suffice? What is the point of raking anyway? And then there are the big things. Like yesterday, when Dan accompanied me to my doctor’s appointment and the rheumatologist spoke directly to him about my health. Of course, there was a good amount of sexism involved there, but I get the feeling that the doctor wouldn’t have been so chummy with Dan if he hadn’t been white.

Everywhere I go with Dan, white people like me more because I’m with him. He understands them and he knows how to play his role in their song and dance that is small talk. Whereas me, I’m just baffled by small talk. If you’re not one of my closest friends, I have zero interest in hearing how the customer service was on your last transcontinental flight and how your toddler is coming along in his potty training. Even with my closest friends, I would not expect them to listen to me talking about something so mundane, unless it was somehow relevant to their life. What do I prefer in place of small talk? Silence. Or normal introductory questions that you ask when you don’t know someone. Where did you grow up? What did you study in school? What’s your favorite color? Since I was introduced to Dan’s world, I have had to learn small talk, which is probably an important skill for me to have professionally. To be perfectly honest, though, I hate it. I hate that people who love to small talk force themselves on others, content to blab on about their lives without regard to whether the listener is enjoying the conversation. I hate that they use small talk as a crutch to never say anything personal, never show any vulnerability, never actually get to know someone.

Maybe this post is about how I hate white, upper-middle class American culture — the nepotism, the elitism, the egocentrism — and how I hate that I married into it and am now enjoying the benefits of it. I hate that my doctor takes me more seriously because of my hedge fund Jewish husband dressed in Gant and Cole Haan (I take full responsibility for the clothing…and I guess his job too). I hate privilege, and I hate that I have so much of it, but I don’t know what to do with it, short of throwing it away or moving to another country. I feel incredibly conflicted about the reality that I now have more white privilege than I ever did before, and that my children will have more white privilege than I ever will. How do you teach incredibly privileged children, who have received that privilege through sheer luck, to have perspective? What if they grow up thinking that having a full-time nanny and a cleaning lady and a luxury vehicle is normal?  I’m already raising one spoiled brat — Juno has no idea whatsoever that other dogs don’t go to the dog park every day and consume $500 of raw meat a month. What if I raise many more? Shudder. These are the things that you think about when you marry a white guy.

Dreams

My dream is to look out my front porch and see something like this.

Today I want to write about something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently — what a career means to me. I feel super strange to say this, almost ashamed, like I’m betraying my parents, generations of feminists, and my own intellectual ability. Here is my confession: lately, I’ve been pondering if a career in the traditional sense is worth it to me. This is coming from someone who had the stereotypical Tiger Mother, was convinced that my job would mean everything to me, and did what I had to do to get accepted into Yale Law School. For many years, my ambition defined me. My self-worth was comprised of 4.0s, academic honors, and prestigious internships. When I arrived at Yale, I was such a stereotypical first-year that I look back and cringe at myself. I wanted to practice international human rights law and save the world, I wanted to clerk on the Supreme Court, I wanted to become a federal judge. Slowly, as I looked around and saw people who were further along those paths, I began to question why I wanted these things.

Someone once said in a TED talk, pretty sure it was Alain de Botton, that if two jobs are equal to you and you are having trouble deciding between them, you should choose the less prestigious option. Prestige is nothing but the opinions of other people, he says, and will not bring you happiness. When I look at things that way, the world suddenly makes a lot of sense. Yale Law School is full of people chasing prestige, because it is full of people who care very much what other people think about them. There is nothing wrong with that, and many of them will go on to do great things, but it’s just not me. While it would be a lie to say that I’ve never cared what other people think about me, I think that I simply care less than others, and I value my own happiness over prestige. Yes, it would feel great to be a world-renowned lawyer or judge. A part of me would enjoy being that, and I would probably be good at it. But at what expense? International law is a romantic concept, and you have to be passionate about international law itself to enjoy it. If you actually want to make a difference in people’s lives, being a diplomat or politician or even Peace Corps volunteer would be more effective. At one point in my life, I considered all of those options, but I know myself enough to know that I don’t want a career that will relocate me every few years or require working more than 40 hours a week.

I think millions of lawyers just collectively laughed at me. Fifty might be feasible, but 40? Forget it. And you know what? They’re probably right that I won’t find a job as an attorney working 40 hours a week and making reasonable money. The only one I know of is in Omaha, Nebraska, and I’m pretty hesitant to move my entire family there. That’s why I’m starting to accept and even embrace the possibility that I will never use my J.D. The only kind of legal job that I would want is to start my own practice, which I haven’t investigated enough to say for sure I could do it. So what could I do if I didn’t practice law? Apparently, lots of things! I just applied for a teaching position that would pay $100/hour, allow me to make my own hours, and has offices all around the world (including Ann Arbor!). I loved teaching in college, and if I get this job, it would be extremely hard to turn down. I could work part-time, take months off to travel the world, move back home to Ann Arbor, and still make a better living than I could as an attorney. And the best part? I would have enough time to write, take Juno to the dog park every day, train my horse, and create new recipes. Recently, I was looking for a horse to lease, and there are so many of them owned by people who don’t have enough time to ride them. I don’t want that to be me. What’s the point of owning an animal that costs more than $1000/month if you’re not going to ride it?

I have many dreams. I want to keep a hobby farm full of chicken and goats and rabbits. I’m not sure if I could stomach raising livestock for meat, but I like the idea of it — they can have great lives while alive and you can ensure they are treated humanely. I feel like that’s the most ethical thing I could do as a meat-eater and owner of an obligate carnivore who consumes two pounds of meat a day. (At this point, you might as well classify me as an obligate carnivore too, considering my dietary needs.) I want to have land, enough land for a farm and garden and stable. There is nothing more important to me than to give my animals the absolute best in their too-short captive lives. And, when the time comes, I want my kids to grow up next to nature, away from technology, letting their imaginations run wild. I want to teach them to ride, to ski, to track deer. I want their idea of a fun Sunday afternoon to be a competition to see who can lasso cattle on horseback. Basically, I want to raise a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls. Who also speak four languages and have lived in four different countries. Who are confident in their identity and intimately familiar with their Chinese, Taiwanese, and Jewish heritage.

I’ve never felt more at home than when I put on my cowboy hat.

My dreams are so, so much more important to me than a job. I want a job that will not only allow but support me to do all those things. I’m not picky about what the job actually entails, as long as it’s not doing evil and it challenges me and fulfills me. If that means I never use my J.D., so be it.

Why I’m Not Ready for Kids

Putting together Juno's play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Putting together Juno’s play pen felt a lot like preparing a nursery.

Some of our friends wondered aloud if we were having a shotgun wedding. I laughed and told them no, absolutely not. I was not at all offended, because if I were them, I’d probably wonder the same thing. After all, getting married at that time was super out of character for me. As some of you might know, commitment has been a longstanding obstacle in my life. Looking back, I’m still a little mystified as to why I chose to do it. But I am very, very certain that pregnancy — past, present, or future — had nothing to do with it! Before we got married, though, we did start to discuss when we’d like to have kids. On days when life was overwhelming, we’d discuss whether we wanted to have kids. I think we’re at the place now where we’re fairly confident we will want kids in 3-5 years, but we’re open to life taking us down another road as well. I certainly don’t think we would be devastated if we never had biological kids. We joke about continuing our trend of adopting 14-year-olds. You know how some people love the newborn stage and others love the little kid stage? We are teenager people. There’s something so amazing about your baby sister or your kid becoming your very best friend.

Before Juno joined our family, we were leaning towards having kids in three years. After we brought him home, we’ve been thinking more like five…or ten…or never. He has taught us so much about the sheer weight of having another living being depend on you. How paranoid you become of losing them, how you fear that death is around every corner, how you can’t sleep without re-calculating the nutritional values of his meals. He also made us face the fact that I have a sleeping disease. It’s not a real thing, but that’s what we call it. I absolutely need 9-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, or else I get really sick. I was on night duty for one night and I died the next day, passing out for 16 hours and developing bronchitis that lasted two weeks. After witnessing that, Dan never asked me to stay up again. Thankfully, Juno started sleeping through the night after a week. I’ve heard that babies don’t do that. There is absolutely no way we can have kids unless we can afford a nighttime nanny or Dan takes several months off from work. That might be financially feasible in a couple of years, but even then, I’m not sure I could handle it emotionally.

Taking care of Juno has been the most difficult task of my entire life. Most days, I don’t get a single break. I don’t have time to shower, eat, or talk to other humans. Every second that I’m home, I’m either potty-training, crate-training, walking Juno, cleaning, or reading everything I can about huskies, training, and raw feeding. Yesterday, I spent a few hours on Craigslist’s Farm & Garden looking at ads for Boer goats, black Angus cows, and roosters to take to slaughter. Ideally, we’d keep one mama goat for raw milk (goat’s milk is the closest thing to dog’s milk and helps put on weight), raise one buckling for meat, raise one doeling to replace mama and to breed, buy a bigger freezer, get a quarter of a cow, maintain a chicken coop for eggs and meat, and be set for the next year! The only problem is that we don’t have acres of land. Bummer. Anyway, that’s just one example of how crazy I get when I’m determined on finding the best things for Juno. I’ve never been so exhausted in my life, but thankfully every day it gets a little easier. I can’t wait for him to grow up so that I can sit back and relax, knowing that I’ve done my job. That takes anywhere from 1-3 years, I’ve been told. Kids (not the goat kind), on the other hand, take 18 or more. Jesus.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

How adorable is our kid? First day as a volunteer.

Even if I could handle having kids financially and emotionally, I don’t think I’m mature enough yet. I’m not strong enough or good enough or selfless enough. Since I was a kid, I had a vision of how I wanted to be as a parent. I wanted to volunteer at least monthly at the Red Cross or a home for the elderly or Habitat for Humanity. I wanted to donate 10% of my income to charity. I wanted to cook dinner most nights and pack yummy lunches with smiley faces and cute notes. I wanted to host exchange students from all over the world. I wanted to bake all sorts of goodies. Needless to say, none of that is happening right now. The idea of cooking for another potentially picky mouth is about as appealing as a root canal.

The best I can do now for Billy Bob is go with her to volunteer orientation at a nursing home, chat with her golf coach once in a while, and make sure we spend quality time watching Bachelorette reruns at night. Though I know she is happy, I want to be able to do more for my kids. Certainly, they will need more from me while they are young. What? You can’t just tell 5-year-olds to Uber home? 

I don’t want to have kids until I’m ready to be the best parent that I can be. I don’t know when that will be, but not anytime soon. To all of you twenty-somethings out there, I highly suggest puppies to train you for parenthood. They also serve a secondary function as birth control.