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.

Why I’m Now Having A Wedding

Inviting people into your home can be scary.

Inviting people into your home can be scary.

About half a year ago, I wrote about not wanting to have a wedding. And now, I’m sitting in my living room, texting friends about wedding after-party plans and trying to stop procrastinating on painting our wedding favors because my wedding is 21 days away. How did that happen? Well, besides the fact that I have a very special curse where the opposite of everything I say comes true, it’s a pretty long story. When I wrote that post, I didn’t mean that I didn’t want a wedding of any kind. It was more that I didn’t want the traditional, large, going all-out type of wedding I’d envisioned for myself as a little girl. I was more than okay with a courthouse elopement or backyard shindig. In fact, our wedding was going to be an elopement at first, with just Dan, me, and our photographer. The photographer was the only guest I knew I wanted to have for sure. But then, Dan and I started to think it would be nice to have a few close friends there. And then, we had to decide whether to invite family as well. Throughout this entire process, I’ve learned a lot about what weddings mean to other people. To me, a wedding is a private, intimate experience meant for the two people getting married and their future children. To a lot of other people, however, it is a chance to witness the event and prepare themselves to recognize the couple as a family unit.

Before this whole wedding process, I didn’t understand exactly why families wanted to be invited to weddings. Wouldn’t it be enough to invite them to a party later on? If what they really wanted was to witness our relationship and give us their blessing, it could happen anytime. If they wouldn’t believe we were married unless they saw it for themselves, we could send them photos. Videos, even. The wedding ceremony itself, whether it happened at a courthouse or in a stranger’s home, I wanted to keep for myself. I just didn’t know how I would feel to have family there on a day where I really just wanted to be happy. I didn’t know how to tell my father that I didn’t want him to walk me down the aisle. Even if my parents were perfectly supportive on that day, seeing and feeling their support would be more likely to break me down in tears than to add to my happiness. Especially with my dad, our relationship is fraught with so many years of missed life events, broken promises, and resentments that displays of affection from him make me want to cry and puke at the same time. I have always felt that the father I knew as a child died, and having him at my wedding would be like seeing a ghost. Not the greatest feeling to have on your wedding day.

Even with my siblings, I didn’t know if I wanted them there. I love them dearly, but they’re so used to being the center of attention. On my wedding day, I didn’t want to have to fight with them about what to wear, listen to them ask from the backseat “are we there yet?”, and worry about them eating enough at dinner. So that’s where I was a few months ago. The problem was that not inviting family didn’t seem to be a good option, either. We’d have our wedding day exactly as we wanted, it would be safe and worry-free, and the risk of my having a BPD attack would be decreased significantly. Both Dan and I knew what a BPD attack meant — that I wouldn’t like my own husband on our wedding day. But then what? Our family members would resent us, they wouldn’t feel included in our lives, and the family-only reception probably wouldn’t fix that. That option didn’t seem like a good idea unless we were planning to go low-contact with family in the future.

Giving kids jobs so they get out of your hair!

Giving kids jobs so they get out of your hair!

In life, there is always the safe choice. And then there is the risky option. But, like much else in life, greater risk makes for greater reward. Over the past few months, I’ve come to realize that this applies to my wedding. Maybe seeing his eldest daughter get married will touch the empty heart of my father and ignite in him the once-childlike spirit inside. Maybe the gravity of the event will hit my siblings on the day, and they will appreciate that it’s not about them. Maybe allowing my future in-laws to see me at my most vulnerable would invite them, in turn, to be more vulnerable in front of me. That is why I’m having a wedding. I’m having a wedding because I want to be hopeful and not risk-averse. I’m having a wedding because I want to have better relationships with my family and in-laws in the future. I even found a way to not have to tell my dad I don’t want him to walk me down the aisle. Now, I’m walking with both my parents. And I decided that if I have to walk, so does Dan. I’m making my siblings hold my bouquet and present our rings, so they feel just as awkward as I do. Also, I got a kick-ass Polish photographer who totally gets me and is, by far, the most important guest.

December 27th, here I come.

Teenagers

The stop sign says, "Stop telling me what to do."

Look carefully at the stop sign…that’s her slogan!

Being a parent is like having the hardest job in the world, with the most observant, demanding, and judgmental boss — your kid. Well, I should clarify…being the parent of a teenager. Sometimes, I feel like an actor on a stage and my every action, reaction, expression carries it with the implicit message: this is how you do things. The scariest part to me is not that your teenager might disagree with you, but that they might subconsciously internalize your message and carry it with them for a lifetime, withstanding even the most expensive therapy. Now that is frightening. Though less daunting, it’s not a walk in the park when they disagree with you, either. Every time Billy Bob says something, I’m always wondering what judgment underlies her comment. A few days ago, she mentioned that we eat out most nights. Immediately, I was like, “What? I cook three to four times a week. You’re delusional, child.” And then, as my mind raced, I thought, “Well, shit, maybe that’s not a lot. Is that not enough? Am I feeding her garbage?”

Teenagers resemble narcissists in a variety of ways, I’ve found. The obvious one is that they think the world revolves around them. The less obvious is that they are extremely good at drawing out your guilt. Their questions are the worst. Yesterday, after hauling my ass to and back from New Haven, cooking a four-course dinner, and clearing the table, I was on my way upstairs when Billy Bob stopped me. “Are you going to build the sofa table and bookshelf and set up the projector?” she asked. And, even though all I wanted was to retire to the study and play video games, I grabbed a hammer and headed for the basement. Yes, I felt guilty, but I didn’t do it just because I felt guilty about putting it off. I also did it because everything I do is an example to her. I did it because I have to teach her how to get things done around the house, even while working or studying full-time. I did it because setting up furniture while Billy Bob does her homework on our new couch is better family time than sitting in front of a computer screen.

The early stages of our basement project. It looks even better now!

The early stages of our basement project. It looks even better now!

Raising teenagers is a truly altruistic task. Everything you do for them is for their future benefit and for the benefit of those around them. I think it’s hilarious how teenagers think you give them chores or ask them to clean their rooms solely to antagonize them. Ha ha. It is way easier and less work for me to just clean Billy Bob’s room myself than to constantly nag her. But what happens when you clean up after your kid for 18 years? They turn into a lazy slob whose spouse divorces them for leaving dishes in the sink. What I worry about the most is making sure that Billy Bob grows up to be able to have intimate, healthy relationships with others. So many grown-ups, me included, struggle with that. And those problems stem from your relationship with your parents and their relationship with each other. Since Billy Bob joined us, I’ve felt the scrutiny on my relationship with Dan. From the simplest things like her asking why Dan drives most of the time (answer: I don’t like highways and the law school commute is enough driving for me) to more difficult things like figuring out what is the optimal amount of PDA, I’m always acutely aware that we are teaching her about romantic relationships with every interaction we have.

Recently, we’ve been watching Mad Men as a family. It’s not necessarily age-appropriate for a 14-year-old, but given that Billy Bob has already watched the whole thing and says it’s her favorite show, we wanted to take the opportunity to gauge what she thinks about the characters. She often asks me who my favorite characters are (so far: that kick-ass gay guy cut Peggy’s hair and Joan) Once, she asked if all men were bored of their wives. I chuckled at that one — I didn’t really think she believed that. We discuss themes like sex, marriage, family, and sexism, but only when it comes up naturally. Sometimes, I tell anecdotal stories from my past. I commented that Jane bothered me because she reminded me of my immature, pretentious 20-year-old self. Billy Bob asked if I slept with married men, and I laughed and said no. Thank God I never made that mistake, or else I’d have to lie to her now!

You might ask yourself why I signed up for this job, since I wasn’t the one who brought Billy Bob into this world. That’s an easy answer — parenting is hard, but it is honestly such a privilege. You get to shape and mold someone to be a happier, better person. You can make or break their future marriage. You can save or cost them years in therapy. Every time I look at the court order that grants me legal and physical custody of Billy Bob, I am struck with a sense of gravity. This is one of the most important things I will ever do. Plus, there’s the added perk of learning how to co-parent with Dan many years before we take on the ultimate taskmaster, the screaming newborn. How do I get out of that job?

I Love My Life, But…

My favorite earthly possessions.

My favorite earthly possessions.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is so not me. This morning, I woke up and picked up plastic wrap off the floor of the study and shredded tissues off the carpet in Billy Bob’s room. I opened the curtains in the study even though no one was there. I checked the dryer to see if the clothes were dry. Then, I came downstairs and turned on my espresso machine and ground some fresh beans. While waiting for the espresso machine, I refilled the Brita pitcher and started to clear some dishes from the dishwasher. In the midst of clearing, I discovered that Billy Bob had put all my pretty wooden Fiesta spatulas in it, and they had been damaged. I spent five minutes fuming about how she had done it knowing that we wouldn’t be happy, because we’d told her at least five times not to. I spent another five minutes collecting my thoughts before I texted her. What I really wanted to say was: “You knew not to do that! We told you not to! It’s our spatulas! Once you have your own spatulas do whatever you want with them, but these are ours! RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE’S PROPERTY.” What I actually said was, “Hey what did we tell you about putting the wood stuff in the dishwasher? Some of them look a little damaged, so please don’t do that again.” And she apologized, and I said that it was okay, have a nice lunch.

Parenting comes in steps, and it’s much more about achieving the result you want than teaching your kids Moral Lessons. Billy Bob is stubborn as hell and doesn’t take no for an answer. She doesn’t do things just because it’s the way it’s always been done; everything must have a reason. In this case, she didn’t trust us when we said bad things will happen if you put wooden spatulas in the dishwasher. But now, she’s seen for herself, and we will never have to remind her again. Her irreverence will take her far in life, and it’s my job to foster it, not punish it.

That aside, there are so many things wrong with the scene I painted above. I’m the person who moved out of my apartment in Ann Arbor a little more than a year ago and threw away all my kitchen utensils. They were old, cheap, and beaten up, and I didn’t want to haul them across the country. I barely fit all my belongings in my tiny Civic coupe anyway. There was only one problem — I had one spatula that was fairly new and expensive, and I’d purchased it at an artisan’s market in Taiwan. By the time I remembered it, I was already in New Haven, and it was off in a dumpster somewhere. I mourned it for a few days, and then I moved on. It was something I’d always prided myself in, not having earthly possessions. If a fire burned down my apartment, so be it. If a burglar stole all my stuff, whatever. I could move across the world with one suitcase, and I liked it that way. The only thing that was irreplaceable to me was my cat Blueberry. I don’t think I’ve ever been so panicked as the time my mom called me, saying they’d lost Blueberry.

My first trip to the DMV without my mom. Wait, did I mention we also bought a car?

My first trip to the DMV without my mom. Wait, did I mention we also bought a car?

Somehow, I went from that to slowly accumulating things of real and sentimental value. I shudder to think about what will happen when we move out of this house someday. We have a freaking piano! We’ll have to take the kitchen pendant light out of the ceiling, the entryway shelf out of the wall, the towel rack out of the bathroom. Besides all the furniture, there’s the lawnmower, the fire pit, the golf clubs. Worst of all, we haven’t even used any of those things yet. Our neighbor has been helpfully mowing our lawn, we haven’t had time to set up the fire pit, and I’ve never been golfing of my own volition in my life (Billy Bob joined the golf team and convinced me to get clubs). When will we ever have time, though? This weekend, Dan and I are flying to San Francisco to visit friends and attend the League of Legends World Championships. Next weekend, we’re going hiking to see some New England fall foliage. The weekend after that, we’re heading to Six Flags with one of Billy Bob’s friends.

When your life changes so completely in the span of a year, how are you supposed to recognize yourself? Why is it important to do everything the “right” way? When is it worth it to take care of your possessions and fret over them instead of living a carefree life? How seriously are you supposed to take it when your child tells you she has “arm cancer”?

I have so many questions and so few answers.

I’m a Sister

My siblings are my world. When I first found out my stepmother at the time was pregnant, I was filled with a flurry of emotions. Having been my father’s only child for nine years, I didn’t know what a sibling would be like for our relationship. They told me that I would have to get rid of the family cat, since she might hurt the baby. I remember feeling sad and anxious. From the moment my brother was born, though, it was easy to love him. I adored him, I marveled at everything he did, he couldn’t possibly disappoint me. One of the proudest moments of my life is when he learned how to say jie jie, sister in Mandarin. When my sister followed a year later, I was apprehensive again. I was the only girl in the family…how would her birth change that? Things actually didn’t change much once she was born. While my brother was a goofy, outgoing toddler, she was just a blob. She was always crying, and she didn’t seem to like anyone very much. It took me much longer to bond with her than with my brother. Even as she grew older, she wasn’t fun the way my brother was. While my brother and I threw coconuts at the house, trying to dislodge the boomerang that was stuck 20 feet high, my sister was crying a dozen times a day. I didn’t really know my sister until we both grew up a bit.

Back when we all looked like dorks.

Back when we all looked like dorks. We’re 14, 4, and 5.

Let’s call my sister Billy Bob. That’s my nickname for her. She calls me Bear. Billy Bob is my best friend, and she has been for years, even though she’s only 14. We understand each other in a way that I’ve yet to find in anyone else. Somehow, despite growing up in completely different families, we have the same morals, values, likes and dislikes. We both enjoy painting, knitting, and mocking hipster trends despite secretly liking them. She is a lot like me when I was 14 — she has her own ideas about how she wants to live her life, and she doesn’t listen to anybody. In other ways, she is different. She is more stubborn than me, which I didn’t think was possible. She is so stubborn that peer pressure doesn’t seem to have any effect on her, which I find admirable. Billy Bob wears what she wants, eats what she wants, listens to what she wants. The only way to get her to do anything at all is to convince her that it’s what she wants for herself. I love that about her, her independence.

She is also different in that she’s a child. When I was 14, I had retired from a competitive individual skating career only to get into a competitive synchronized skating career. I had helped raise my siblings and served as my father’s therapist. What I wanted most was to grow up, so that nobody could tell me what to do ever again. Billy Bob, on the other hand, wants to be a kid for as long as society will let her. Just a few years ago, she was still crawling into my lap. She’s had a tough transition into puberty. She doesn’t know what to make of this world that places so much emphasis on a girl’s looks. Why do I have to cover up my shoulders in school? she says to me. There is nothing sexual about my shoulders. She is naïvely and genuinely unaware that she could become someone else’s sex object. At 14, I wanted to become someone else’s sex object. I wanted to be wanted, and I didn’t care who it was that did the wanting. It’s a miracle that I came out of my teenage years and early 20s relatively unscathed.

Happy about her Christmas present.

Happy about her Christmas present.

Since Billy Bob became a teenager, I’ve seen changes in her. Some of them have scared me. I’ve seen that innocence fall away from her, and I’ve seen anger replace some of her naïveté. I’ve seen her struggle with society’s expectations, and I want nothing more than to be a role model for her. To show her that you can be a woman who likes to be sexy for herself, and nobody else. Being a role model for my siblings is something that I’ve always taken very seriously. Until recently, though, there was only so much I could do. I flew down to Florida every Christmas, and I tried to bring Christmas with me. I flew to China every summer, and I tried to entertain my siblings while my dad was at work. As their parents went through a messy divorce, I tried to explain to them what was going on and to shield them from it. Through the years, though, I often questioned my role in their lives and whether I was making a difference. I loved that every time I asked my brother about his favorite memories, he always picked a time when I was there. I know that he did it unknowingly, because that boy is dead honest.

Last month, I had the chance to make more of a difference than I ever have before. And I took it. I fought for it with everything that I had. I’ve never wanted anything so badly. Next week, I have a court date. It’s just a formality, since both parents have already signed the consent forms. As of next Friday, I will be my sister’s legal guardian. As of today, I’m already a full-time mom to a teenager. In the past week, I’ve taken my “daughter” to the dentist, cooked a dozen pescatarian dinners, helped her with her math homework. I’m doing her summer reading for Honors English with her, so we can discuss the novels together. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Last night, Billy Bob already had to remind me: “I’m not going to be here forever, you know?” I know. But four years is enough memories to last a lifetime.

Girls just want to have fun.

Girls just want to have fun.

Why I’m Not Having a Wedding

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter...

My dream wedding venue, despite that it has no trees and is only accessible by helicopter…

This isn’t about how I have something against weddings, or the institution of marriage. In fact, I very much plan on getting married. Recently, a close friend and her boyfriend have been at a crossroads — she wants to get married and he doesn’t. While giving them advice about their relationship, I’ve found myself really thinking about marriage and what it means. In the past, when I was young and idealistic and enjoyed writing essays on Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, I liked to tell people that marriage was meaningless. It was a piece of paper, and it represented nothing. Instead, it was the bond between two people, choosing to be together, but not forced to be, that was truly beautiful. Over time, my view on marriage changed. As a law clerk at an immigration legal aid center, I saw how much marriage meant to the government. Just to apply for naturalization, we had to list all of the applicant’s prior spouses, including their birthdays and dates of marriage and immigration statuses. My clients would never remember, obviously. They would have to call up their ex that they hadn’t spoken to in years before they could apply. Not to mention, if you were married, your spouse could be automatically attached to every kind of application for immigration status. Often, our Latin American clients liked to refer to their long-time boyfriends as “mi esposo” or “mi marido”, and we would have to ask them to clarify: ¿están casados o no? Are you married? Though clearly not to them, to the government, there was a huge difference.

So I told my friend that marriage means something. Whether it is antiquated or not, it means something to the government and it means something to our society. The LGBTQ community didn’t fight so hard for marriage just for a piece of paper. The legal benefits of marriage are many, though almost all of them you can achieve through roundabout ways. Personally, I believe that the most important benefit of marriage is societal respect. The words boyfriend, fiancé, and husband have very different connotations. You can move across the country for your fiancée or your wife, but girlfriend? That sounds ill-fated. You can take time off work to care for your fiancé or husband, but your boyfriend? He should be able to take care of himself. Marriage legitimizes your union to the public; it’s something that almost everyone can respect.

Anyway, I’ve gone off on a long tangent. Back to weddings. Yes, when I was a kid, I always thought I would have a big, beautiful wedding. When I started dating my first boyfriend in high school, I fantasized about that wedding. I wanted a big tree, with lights strung up, and I was going to walk down the aisle to Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields. My first dance was going to be Leanne Rimes’ Unchained Melody. And then, because I have a morbid sense of humor, I wanted Creep by Radiohead. And You Know I’m No Good by Amy Winehouse. I’ve always found the saddest songs the most romantic. More recently, I’ve added details to my dream wedding, like riding down the aisle on horseback, against the backdrop of the Canada’s Torngat Mountains, while the first snow fell.

And now? I’ve realized that I don’t want any of it. What happened, you might ask? Moving in to my first house happened. Well, technically I haven’t moved in to it yet, but I’ve been virtually moving in from 1,000 miles away, which is infinitely more stressful. I want my first house to be perfect in every way; I want every corner to give me a little joy when I pass by. For the past few weeks, I’ve been stalking Amazon, Zulily, Craigslist, and estate auctions for the best deals for everything ranging from custom-made club chairs to steam mops. I learned what valances are and how many panels of curtains you need for different sized windows. I bought diffusers and essential oils and two bird feeders for Blueberry. Most of these things I bought were 30-50% off. The few pieces of furniture we picked up from the auction are more than 80% off their original retail prices. Dan is obsessed with his Italian leather recliner. I’ve told him that it’s gonna have to go in the basement, but for now he’s put it in the living room and has been enjoying it in all its glory. The fabric on our club chairs is softer than a baby’s bum. We have crepe makers and Korean stone bowls and a fire pit. How could I be anything but insanely happy?

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don't worry -- those valances are coming off.

The beginnings of our library/piano room. Don’t worry — those valances are coming off.

Let me tell you why — I can’t get over the one thing I lost. I had my eye on a stunning distressed white solid wood table at the auction. Full retail price would be in the thousands. The final bid was $225. And I lost that motherfucker because I entered my credit card information wrong! Since then, I’ve been devastated. I really needed that table to come home with us, not only because it was the best deal we could have gotten, and I can’t find any table that I like better than that, but because holy crap I need this process to be over. That would have been by far the heaviest piece of furniture in our place, and it would have gone a long way towards making me feel like we’re almost done. Instead, there’s still an empty space in the dining room where that table should be. The only other tables I like as much as that one are custom-made and cost around $1000. Dan says we should just get one, but I don’t know if I can spend that kind of money. That’s what all of this comes down to, money. Well, not really money, but feeling like I don’t deserve to spend money on myself. I never let myself buy anything at close to full retail price, even when I could easily afford it. When I get something more than 50% off, I feel better, because technically I saved more than I spent, which means that I almost didn’t buy anything for myself.

In her book on anorexia, Peggy Claude-Pierre wrote about her own daughter’s experience with the disease. One of the most painful scenes to read was the one where she drove her daughter for hours and to a dozen grocery stores in search of the “perfect” banana. To her daughter, the perfect banana was the one that was bruised, black, nearly rotten. To her daughter, that was the only banana she was good enough to eat. This anecdote resonated with me. Though I’ve never withheld food from myself, I’ve withheld almost any kind of guilty pleasure. My version of that disgusting banana is 80% off furniture. Buying all of these things that I love hurts me, because ultimately it’s an act of love towards myself. I’m creating the home that I’ve always wanted and never had, full of everything that will make me happy. And I still don’t believe that I deserve it. I still don’t believe that I deserve to love myself in that way. So I’m coping by holding myself to the highest standard — buying the “perfect” things at the “perfect” price. When I fall short of that standard, I torture myself.

I don’t know if there’s anything more self-loving than throwing yourself a wedding. As far as I know, there are no 80% off wedding invitations, photographers, florists, venues. If I had to have a wedding, I would probably buy someone else’s wedding from them for a discount and give up my big tree, my Torngat Mountains, my snow. I would stress over every expense the way I am now for our house. I would blame myself for not being “perfect”. And then, what would be the point? I’d much rather take a helicopter to the Torngat Mountains with Dan, 420 miles away from the nearest road, and see if our love can survive a complete lack of civilization.

I Love My Cat

Blueberry ModelingMy cat is my best friend. Until I ran into Blueberry at the Huron Valley Humane Society, I’d never really had a pet before. When I was a little kid, I distinctly remember my mother promising that I could get a pet once I was older and could take care of it. When I was a big kid, I asked her again about the offer and she claimed to have forgotten saying such a thing. She did say that she wasn’t going to go back on her word, but she added a condition: every single day for a year I had to clean for 30 minutes, and I had to pass my level 9 piano test at the end of the year. I kept up the cleaning for six months and our basement had never looked so clean, but soon it became apparent that I wasn’t going to pass the level 9 test. I’m not sure exactly why — I think maybe I had taken the level 7 the year before, so I was skipping 8. I ended up taking the level 8. As I stumbled through the sight-reading and music theory portions of the test, my dreams of getting a silver, amber-eyed Husky dissipated.

I sort of had a cat via my father and my stepmother. On a whim, my stepmother decided that she was going to get a purebred persian kitten. When it came home and she realized that it wasn’t just going to sit at her throne and purr all day, she disowned it and left my dad to take care of it. When I visited, I would rescue the cat from the walls of the sun room after she’d chased some lizard. I would carry her in my arms outside to breathe some fresh air. Once, I got too close to the pool, and she flipped out and scratched me. She was a smart cat. She learned to recognize my stepmother by the sound of her slippers — they would slap methodically across the tile floors and echo through the vacant halls. On the rare occasion that she allowed my stepmother to approach her, she would soon regret it. My stepmother enjoyed stomping on her tail with those slippers and laughing maniacally at her pain. One day, in a fit of anger, I stole one of my stepmother’s slippers and threw it down the vase next to the master bedroom that was as tall as I was. I’m pretty sure she never found it.

The summer I decided I was old enough to get my own pet, I was living alone for the first time. I had just flown across the country to see an ex that I still loved with all my heart. Leaving him, all the while knowing that it wouldn’t work out between us, left a gaping hole in my chest. I didn’t know who I was without him. The first week back, I felt as if the loneliness would drown me. I sought out a friend with benefits, even though I really only wanted the friendship and he only really wanted the benefits. And then I scrolled through the adoptable cats at the Humane Society, and one of them caught my eye. She was the prettiest cat I’d ever seen — it was love at first sight. I got in my car, drove to the Humane Society, and looked through every cage for a calico kitty named Blueberry. When I didn’t find her, I almost settled for another cat, but I mustered the courage to ask someone for her. The girl directed me to an individual room, and there she was, perched on a tree. I walked over. She let me pet her a few times before she batted my hand away. Inside, my heart was purring. The worker at the front desk let me know that Blueberry had petting-induced aggression and asked if I could handle that. Chuckling to myself, I wondered, Isn’t that every cat? Yes, I said.

Doggy BlueberryFrom that day on, Blueberry has been my greatest joy. She has never left my side, never let me down. I never fail to smile when I watch her do ridiculous things. She has a habit of laying like a dog, sitting like a fat old man, sleeping like a drunken frat boy. When I call her, she comes. When she relocates in the apartment, she likes to squeak to announce her movements. When I was in my old place, I had to walk Rebecca & Blueberrydown stairs to get to the apartment. Every time I came home, she would be waiting at the bottom of the staircase. She loves being close to me. As much as she hates the idea of water, when I shower, she’ll come and sit on the floor. When I cook in the kitchen, she’ll come and rub against my legs, at least until I turn on the fan. She is the biggest fattie ever. If I let her eat freely, she’d be obese. She’s been on a diet off and on ever since I got her, but she’s never once complained.

In return for her companionship, I exclusively feed her high-protein, grain-free wet food. When she’s a really good girl, I give her eggs, milk, or chicken breast. I buy her more toys than I buy myself. I make most of my life decisions in order to make her happy. If she’s not happy, I can’t be happy. Dan knows that he comes second to Blueberry. She’s my baby, and I love her so much.

The Girl I Used to Be

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

This is the house I will call home in a few short months.

WTF is adulthood? This question has been on my mind probably since I graduated college, but lately it’s become more and more apparent that I’m losing the struggle against adulthood. That sets off all kinds of alarms in my head. The reality is that, for most of my life, 22 years precisely, I was not an adult. The life skills that people tend to correlate with adulthood — paying bills on time, texting back your friends, washing your sheets, paying for parking — I lacked miserably as a teenager and college student. For years, I avoided getting a credit card for the sole reason that it made me nervous. Thanks to my hesitance, Dan now has a better credit score than me. That and he had 7 more years to accumulate good credit, so I’m pretty sure I win in the end. I’m still bad at texting back my friends. Washing sheets was not something my family did regularly growing up, and I still don’t know how often an “adult” is supposed to do that. Now, I draw the line when the sheets have been exposed to someone’s — human or cat — bodily fluids. In high school, I liked to arrive at school two minutes before class started, so I would park in the visitor’s lot and dash to the auditorium. Every once in a while, I would get ticketed, but it was worth the ten more minutes of sleep to me. Even now, I never pay meter parking on the street where my therapist’s office is because 1) I never have coins and 2) I’ve never gotten ticketed.

I guess what I’m really saying is that I’m irresponsible. But it’s more than irresponsibility. It’s hard for me to keep enough tissue, toilet paper, lotion, etc. around the apartment. This whole year, I’m proud to say that yesterday was the first time I completely ran out of tissue. This morning, I had to use a tampon as a cotton ball, which is what I typically use tissue for because purchasing cotton balls is way above my skill level. This year is also the first time I’ve started getting good about taking out the trash. Even then, it takes me several days to take out the trash. First, I have to notice that it’s getting full. Second, in a peak of mental strength, I gather up the drawstrings and set the bag outside my door. Third, on a day when I’m not rushing to class, I’ll take the trash down to the dumpster on my way out the apartment.

It might surprise you that my apartment is always clean. I can’t stand having tissue paper or dirty plates lying around. When the floors start getting dirty and I can feel lint sticking to my bare feet, I have to sweep it. I don’t mind having books, notebooks, shoes scattered around, but I contain them to various corners. The litter box gets cleaned every day because Blueberry deserves to poo in peace. This cleaning habit is also a recent development, though. The first time I even owned a mop was when I moved in to my own apartment after graduating. You don’t want to know how disgusting our apartment was my junior year when we didn’t clean the floors at all for a whole year. I’ll give you a hint: four girls, hair.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I'm the kind of person who leases a house.

I dressed up as an adult so that the realtor would believe that I’m the kind of person who leases a house.

Given my history, other things might surprise you. The past few weeks, I’ve gotten myself a job, found an apartment in Omaha, applied for rental furniture, drove out to Norwalk to sign a lease on a house for next year, set up my own health insurance for the first time, found out what my credit score was, bought Blueberry an airline-approved carrier, figured out how to certify her as an emotional support animal, and hand-washed all my bras. These things are all good, things that I want, but I can’t help but feel that they’re not me. I can’t help but feel that I’m falling down a slippery slope of adulthood, and the next thing I know I’ll have a mortgage and a husband and commingled finances. You might ask what’s wrong with those things. There’s nothing wrong with them — they are what I want for myself, eventually. But I can’t help but feel that by getting everything I’ve ever wanted, I’m betraying the girl I was for 22 years. It’s hard to move on, because the truth is that I feel so sorry for her.

She was irresponsible because she’d never been taught differently, because she was experiencing the onset of mental illness, because she was in so much pain. Let me say something to you that I’ve never been able to say before: I love her. I love her because she never gave up, she never stopped trying, she made it possible for her to finally cease being. But my heart breaks for her, that she will never be able to experience the happiness that I will have. I almost don’t want to be happy, because I feel so guilty. It’s not fair that she had to suffer so much. I hate that I have to leave her behind now, to move onto what she wanted so badly for me. I’m afraid that she will be forgotten. I want her to know that I haven’t forgotten her, and I will never forget her. Now, as I walk slowly down the path of adulthood, I’m stopping to cry, to grieve her. Maybe when I get up again, then I will get around to being happy.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.

Goodbye, 18-year-old me.