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.

Dear People of Color, I’m Sorry

My previous post was one of my most popular to date, and the feedback I’ve received from people of color has convinced me that I should write more about race. I guess the first question is: why haven’t I written more about race? There was a time when I cared a lot more about the Asian American experience in white America, but my foray into thinking about race critically never got much deeper than that. For the past five years or so, my understanding of racism in this country has been completely stagnant. Why is that? Part of it is that I devoted almost all of my intellectual efforts to my writing, and I think it’s telling that I wrote about Asian Americans in all of my novels — I did want to be part of the Asian-American narrative. But I still didn’t think deeply about what racism meant to me or how the Asian American experience could be connected to the Black, Latinx, etc. one. I didn’t write about Black Lives Matter, I didn’t express outrage at the fact that white America voted Trump into power, I chose not to get involved in the people of color community at Yale.

To all my fellow people of color, I’m truly sorry. If you would allow me to explain myself, though, there is another reason for my lack of participation. I have been and still am self-racist. Well, that wouldn’t be the accurate term anymore, since there has been a movement in the academic and activist circles to redefine racism as prejudice plus power. When a person of color discriminates against a white person, that is racial prejudice, but it is only when a white person discriminates against a person of color that such discrimination becomes racism. So, since I’m not white, I cannot be racist against myself. Instead, what I have been is a participant in and a victim of white supremacy culture. Let me explain. White supremacy culture is the predominant culture in our society. Its traits are definitely not limited to white people or even to America, but those particular traits are used in our country to shut down minority voices and perpetuate the dominant status of white culture. All my life, I’ve grown up within white supremacy culture, and its effects have been lasting. When I was in high school, I wanted more than anything to have white friends. Unfortunately, white people saw me as a goody two shoes, as someone who spent all her free time studying and playing piano. They never saw me as an equal, and they would often look through me as if I didn’t exist. Well, not all white people. White girls. White guys, on the other hand, sought me out to talk to me, maybe because it gave them a thrill to lure a straight-edge girl into darkness, to see if they could crack my sexuality.

In high school, I cared about things like how many white people were in my Facebook pictures. The more the better. I highly doubt that white people have ever looked at their friends, noticed that they were all white, and wondered if something was wrong with them. I looked at Asian Americans who had mostly Asian friends with disdain. The few Asian Americans who had majority white friends, I looked at with awe and admiration. How had they managed to do it? How had they cracked the code? What did they have that I didn’t? Fortunately for me, in college I dated my first Asian American man, who patiently taught me to embrace my Asian side. And he was tall and handsome and charming, defying the American stereotype of the quiet, skinny, nerdy Asian guy. After dating him, I never saw Asian men the same way again. I developed a newfound attraction to and appreciation for Asian men, because they shared so much of my experience and my culture.

Despite that I started allowing myself to indulge in the Asian part of my culture, however, I was and still am very “self-racist”. I’ll admit, it continues to offend me to this day when someone comments on how Asian I am. I often claim proudly that I am interested in Asian culture the way white people are interested in it — I like the sightseeing and the food and the raw feeling of a developing country, but I’m not at all connected with Asian current events or pop culture or politics. I love visiting Asia, but only as a tourist, and I’m happy when Chinese people think I’m Korean because I fumbled so much asking for one coconut in Mandarin (I ended up asking for yige zhege). When I traveled in Asia with my dad, I let him do all the talking for me, even when I could easily have spoken up. I really struggle to speak to anyone except for my mother in Mandarin. That’s not something to be proud of at all! It’s shameful. If I really think about it, I am incredibly grateful that my mom forced me to speak Mandarin to her, and my Mandarin is good enough to communicate most things. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that my Mandarin was good enough that I translated an entire personal statement about my immigration client’s domestic abuse. If I really think about it, I’m really proud that I was able to overcome my fear of talking to Chinese people in Chinese when I was in China last, because my siblings depended on me.

I would be remiss to say that I have any real understanding of what it means to be a Chinese person. My experience of China has mainly been cheap massages in fancy massage parlors.

So why does a part of me still believe that being a white-washed Asian American is a good thing? Let me tell you why: white supremacy culture. Dear white people, racism isn’t just the KKK or your senile anti-semitic grandma or Donald Trump and his supporters. That kind of overt racism is certainly harmful and can lead to death. But subtle racism can have more long-term effects, simply because it’s easier to recognize and reject overt racism, but subtle racism unknowingly changes how a person of color sees herself. Dear white people, every time a person of color writes about her experience with white supremacy culture and you are offended and imply that she shouldn’t write like that, that is racism. Every time a person of color writes about racism and white privilege and you call her racist and deny having white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to argue with a person about the definition of racism and white privilege, that is racism. Every time you try to flip the conversation and accuse people of color of making you uncomfortable, that is racism.

Every time a Jewish person makes a joke about eating Chinese food on Christmas, that is racism. Jewish people may think that Chinese restaurants are open for Christmas because, like them, Chinese people don’t celebrate Christmas. That’s not why. Poor, uneducated Asian Americans are among the most underprivileged groups in the United States. They do not benefit from the model minority myth. Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas because they’re open on every holiday, including the Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Day, National Day. They’re open on every holiday because they need the income and now, because of white supremacy culture, they’re expected to be.  You are essentially making a joke about people who are a cut above slave laborers and victims of human trafficking. I know for a fact that some of them are literally mail order brides, because I’ve represented them in court. Instead of making jokes about Chinese food on Christmas, try avoiding Chinese food on Christmas. Go on another day. If you must go, instead of laughing about it, try expressing sympathy for the workers who, unlike you, have to work on Christmas.

Dear people of color, I’m sorry. I’ve been silent too long for fear of upsetting my very white community, for fear of uttering the two words “white people”. I’ve been ignorant too long of how white supremacy culture has affected me. I’ve been too slow to join my fellow people of color in the fight against oppression. But I promise to be better. I have to be better, because white America is so, so racist and it’s only getting worse. I have to be better, because my children will grow up surrounded by racism, and it’s highly likely that they will be racist themselves. Can biracial children be racist? I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out.

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.

The Things You Have Not Done

One of my first trips to Florida. I will never understand how you can leave your kid. I’m going away for a week this summer, and I’m already freaking out about leaving Juno.

On my Facebook newsfeed recently, I saw a quote that went something like this: “You can’t destroy someone else and decide how hurt they get to be.” Like most things on Facebook, it’s a little overdramatic and it’s an overgeneralization. But the idea behind it is something that everyone should know — you can’t hurt someone else and then dictate how hurt they should be or how long it should take to get over that hurt. To me, this quote also means that no matter how many things you do to try to make up for it, it is up to the victim to decide when to forgive you and whether the offense is forgivable. Over the past week or so, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. In general, I like to think I’m a forgiving person, especially when it comes to family. As long as I see any possibility for improvement of our relationship in the future and that person is putting in as much effort as I am, I am willing to forgive past transgressions. But when the offenses are so great and the hurt so deep, and the person shows no sign of changing, what then?

This question is made more difficult by the fact that he and I come from such different cultural backgrounds. Which is right? If I asked a Chinese relative about this, they would tell me that I’m being ridiculous. He doesn’t beat you, he doesn’t show preferential treatment to his sons over his daughters, he visits you when he can, he brings you gifts, he paid for your education. What more can you ask for? Of course he left you when he and your mom got divorced. What could he have done, taken you with him? A child needs her mother. Of course he moved away to Florida and then to China in search of better career opportunities — that’s what a man does. Can you imagine your life if he hadn’t done that? Could you have attended the universities you did? Have you thought about how much better your life is because you don’t have student debt? Plus, many fathers who divorce and remarry don’t even stay in contact with their children from previous marriages. He went above and beyond. Now you owe him your gratitude and hospitality as long as he lives.

On the other hand, if you asked a random American off the street, they would probably disagree with my Chinese relative. You would be perfectly justified in never speaking to him again simply because he cheated on your mom and left you with her, they would say. Even if you were to forgive him for that, what about the fact that he married someone you despised and didn’t invite you to his wedding? What about the fact that while you lived in Ann Arbor, he visited you twice in your entire childhood? What about the fact that he didn’t come to your high school graduation? What about the fact that he openly dated his girlfriend (while he still had a wife) for more than five years before he admitted that she was his girlfriend and he has yet to formally introduce her to you? What about all the times he has lied to you? What about the fact that you’re doing him a huge favor raising the child he neglected and he questions whether it was the right choice because now that child is resentful of him? What about the fact that he comes into your home, leaves the toilet seat up wherever he goes, and complains that there are dishes in the sink and not enough food in the fridge? What about the fact that when you went to visit him as a child, there were cobwebs in the bathtub and the toilet was clogged and the house hadn’t been cleaned in a decade? What about the fact that when your high school boyfriend went to visit his house, you were the one who had to vacuum dead lizards and cockroaches out of the guest bedroom?

What about the fact that he congratulated you on your engagement and then turned around and said that he didn’t think your marriage would last? What about the fact that, two days before your wedding, he said he thought you were too unstable to be married? What about the fact that his excuse for not knowing anything about you is that he never lived in the same house as you? What about when he was getting a divorce and he made you tell your siblings about it? What about when he was hacking his then-wife’s computer and he made you create a spreadsheet of her properties? What about when he was too tired from staying up all night talking to the private investigator he hired to stalk his then-wife so he threw the car keys at you and told you to re-park his car? What about the fact that all he’s ever said about your blog is that he wishes you wouldn’t air the family’s dirty laundry? What about the fact that every time you try to tell him about your work he says that artificial intelligence will replace your job in a few years? What about the fact that he cannot remember anything you tell him because he is never listening to you? What about the fact that he never smiles or responds to anything you say to him? What about the fact that he can barely offer a grunt when you talk to him about the things most important to you but he will turn around and laugh and joke with a business partner?

This is one of the last times I saw Billy Bob smile like this — openly, vulnerably. Your kids don’t smile anymore. I wonder if you’ve noticed.

To my father, I would say: it’s not the things you have done, it’s the things you have not done. It’s not my fault that Billy Bob doesn’t want to talk to you anymore and hides in the next room to avoid sitting next to you. I never told her how to feel about you, and I almost never talk about how I feel about you. The only time I spoke negatively of you is when she asked me why I thought she needed therapy. And I was honest. Because she was neglected for years. I have simply encouraged her to work through her feelings about you in the safety of a therapist’s office. She has run away from those feelings for years. When I let you stay in my house, it is for her benefit. I invited you to her choir concert, to her golf lesson, to her therapy session, even though she did not want you there. Why would I do those things if I wanted to sabotage your relationship with her? Her anger and disgust towards you is hers alone. If I were her, I would hate you, but she is her own person and she forms her own opinions. Maybe you should think more about why she acts the way she does towards you instead of blaming that on me. She talks to us all day and all night but she doesn’t have more than two words for you. Trust me, I don’t have anything to do with that. As for me, I refuse to be another minion in your life that you take advantage of. Your ego is the size of a planet and until you stop blaming others for all your problems, you will never repair your relationships. I’ve been your therapist and life coach and nanny since I was ten. I quit.

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.

My Fairytale Story

First photo together. We both look like babies.

First photo together. We both look like babies.

There are eight days left until I’m no longer single, unattached, free to roam the world. Eight days until I will never be alone again, except by choice, until I get to tell everyone I know that I’m sure this is what I want. Short of either of us developing a brain tumor that changes our personalities dramatically, I’m not getting divorced. People may think that I’m naïve or delusional, but I’ve spent my entire life studying other people and trying to understand them. That comes with being a writer. I follow all kinds of blogs and all kinds of wives, from the former teen mom who got married to her childhood sweetheart after dating for 18 days to the young Mormon student who got married and had two kids before graduating college. I believe that, as long as you have a good understanding of who you are and who your spouse is, you can predict the success of your marriage. With a certain degree of compatibility, you can make a marriage work with anyone. Staying married becomes a choice. It’s been a while since I had real doubts about my relationship, which is an actual miracle, if you know me at all. Once I’m married, though, I won’t allow myself to even consider the alternative. This is what I’ve chosen.

Though I’ve struggled with commitment issues all my life, I hope I can still say that I take commitment extremely seriously. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always taken commitment so seriously that it scared me. I want to be able to live up to my word; I hate letting people down. In fact, I was so adamant that things wouldn’t work out between Dan and me before we started dating that I kept telling him not to date me. Well, it was a bit more subtle than that, but I’d had four out of five relationships end because I couldn’t love my ex back the way he loved me. When I first heard this song on the radio, I laughed so hard — it was the soundtrack to my life. The one ex that escaped the unfortunate fate of my other exes, I couldn’t get over because I was so afraid that I’d never be able to love anyone else the way I’d loved him. He was the only living proof that I could fall in love. So yes, I warned Dan that I was 99% sure I’d break up with him and I’d ruin him for other girls because I was that perfect combination of emotional and crazy that guys often mistook for true love.

A happier moment in Chongqing.

A happier moment in Chongqing.

Not only was I sure I’d break his heart, I was sure that he couldn’t handle being with me. I tried to warn him what loving me would entail. I told him that I could say I loved him, cook him dinner every night, knit fuzzy socks for his newborn nephew, and then wake up one day six months later and realize that I’d never been in love with him. I told him that any day, I could wake up and want to leave. I told him that, if I wasn’t actively deluded by my desire to be in love, I might never be able to articulate what he meant to me. That I might never be able to admit, even to myself, that I cared about him. I told him that when things got overwhelming for me, I would run. That he might have to go searching for me in the middle of the woods. I told him that loving me would require giving me every ounce of love, patience, and life he had, leaving him nothing for himself, and the rest of his life would gradually burn out. I really knew how to sell myself, huh? A lot of my prophesies came true. There was the time I asked him why he couldn’t be more like my ex. There was the time we flew across the world and were eating ramen noodles in a mall in Chongqing and I told him I didn’t know if I loved him enough to do the rest of the trip with him. There was the time I told him that I would rather die than continue long distance with him.

But a lot of my prophesies didn’t come true. I only came close to breaking up with him once, and I took it back after five minutes. I’ve run away from him, but never to somewhere he couldn’t find me. Though it’s still hard for me to tell him what he means to me, in the first few months of our relationship, I wrote him poetry, something I’ve never done for anyone else. The poems spoke of the way he made me feel, the way he opened me up and brought out the child inside me and touched me and erased all of the pain. They painted a future that I envisioned for us, one with creaky floors and a drippy sink and a dog running in the front door. The poems told him more about how I felt than I ever could. I’m sure that, all the times I looked him in the eye and told him I didn’t love him enough, those poems were what he held on to. There was a lot more, too, that I hadn’t imagined were possible before we started dating. A month into long distance, I asked him to move across the country to be with me. A few months after that, I invited him into my childhood home for our first Christmas together. Then, I drove out to Norwalk by myself one weekend and found a house for us.

Our one-year anniversary.

Our one-year anniversary.

Our story didn’t end there. We said goodbye to long distance after a grueling year. Not wanting to give ourselves a breather, we decided to get married and adopted a 14-year-old. We even have a puppy on the way. Tonight, we are going to our kid’s choir concert. I plan to take many photos and videos and embarrass her for the rest of her life. That’s good parenting, right? The biggest problems in our lives these days are making sure Billy Bob grows up a happy, healthy individual and feeding my stupid stomach, which has decided it no longer tolerates wheat or soy. This isn’t exactly the creaky house I imagined; it’s even better, and soon we’ll have our puppy to complete the picture.

In eight days, I will get up in front of my family and friends and tell them that I’ve found what I was looking for. In eight days, I will show them my home in the hope that they recognize how much I’ve changed in the past two years. In eight days, I will share my life with them in the hope that they can be proud of me, knowing how hard I’ve worked for this. This may not be everyone’s fairytale, but it is mine.

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.