What Is Love?

Every time I have a conversation with my mother-in-law about love and the nature of love, I come away astounded. For some reason, she thinks that she is not a loving person because she is not affectionate (eg: she doesn’t hug, kiss, or whatever) and doesn’t really think of the kids too much or worry about them when she’s not here. She claims she is a cold person because she is not like my mother, nor is she like the grandmothers and mothers on television.

Each time she says that, I respond with, “You know that television isn’t real, right?”

I know. I’m an ass.

It pains me to hear my MIL tear herself down this way. Not because I’m such a great daughter-in-law (I’m not. I’m utterly terrible.), but because it’s such a lie!! Despite what she thinks, my MIL is a very loving and kind person. For example:

1) She dutifully attends birthday parties, etc. even though she HATES dealing with people and strangers. She is very self-conscious and absolutely CANNOT STAND being at the parties – but she comes anyway. After a few years of this torture, I’ve finally relented and have ceased to force her to attend. We end up having a smaller, family party that includes her, and have a bigger party for ME. (Let’s face it, it’s not really for the kids.)

2) She goes out of her way to come visit us from LA every few months or so. I mentioned how she hates being in public, right? She also has a veritable menagerie at her house and it’s difficult for her to be away that long from all her pets. This is a BIG DEAL.

3) Every time she comes up, she brings a small little toy for my kids. I used to hate the toys she would bring. (Mostly because they were all made in China and you know, the toys would likely be radioactive or full of lead or something.) But I got over it when I realized every single toy she has brought is always the toy that all the kids who come over to our house fight over. ALWAYS. She is the toy whisperer.

4) Every time she comes, she plays with the kids, tells them stories, brings them stickers, and the kids adore her and adore playing with her. She walks with them to the park, shows an interest in their lives, and is generally present.

My MIL says that because she is not physically or vocally affectionate with the children and isn’t exactly like my mother, that she’s a bad grandmother. But that is so stupid because no one is asking her to be MY mother. We’re asking her to be present with my kids – and she IS. I try to explain to her that I don’t care about what she says or hugs, etc. It’s what she DOES that is most important. It’s her TIME with the kids that is conveying love to my children – and vicariously, to me.

You see, on the outside, my father seemed to be a very loving person. He was effusive in affection, always hugging, kissing, holding hands, calling me (and my mother) his sweetheart, his love, his precious. He bought presents – sometimes very lavish, and threw big romantic gestures. All the while, he was unfaithful to my mother multiple times with various women. He abandoned our entire family for years at a time. He stole and lied and physically threatened our family. He robbed my uncle and my cousins of their inheritance (not to mention my brother and I). He paraded his mistress in China around to his family, telling them she was his new wife (he was still married to my mother), claimed God blessed him with another son (did I mention he was still married to my mother?), and tried to convert his family to “follow Jesus” and become Christian. (I find that the MOST foul.)

Despite his many proclamations of “love,” I had never felt more unlovable in all my life.

This is why I don’t care about flowers or gifts or romance. I mean, it’s nice. I’m not stupid. But to me, I find most of these gestures meaningless. I far prefer my boring, day to day love with Hapa Papa. I know we mock each other all the time and pretend we don’t want to spend time with one another. (Ok, that’s not so much pretend, but it’s not unpleasant to spend time with him.) But ultimately, I know, deep in my cold, dark heart, that Hapa Papa is utterly devoted to me and the kids and the rest of his family (including my own). I know, because every day, he proclaims it in all the tedious minutiae of working, washing dishes, and taking care of the kids. Every day, he is present and HERE, sacrificing his time and energy for us.

Do you know that Hapa Papa has no free time for himself? He is always working or with the kids. His free time is his daily 2-3 hour round-trip commute. Even though he loves sports and would love to watch all the various games on TV, when he comes home, he focuses on the kids and plays with them, gives them a bath, reads them stories, and puts them to bed – even during playoffs. After which, he does more work.

His two indulgences? Sports stats and watching Suits (of which there are only thirteen 1 hour episodes a year).

Even when I give him free time to do whatever he wants, he usually naps or gets a haircut. (See, I’m not entirely cruel.) Every now and then, he hangs out with his friends. Sometimes, I practically have to force him to get out of the house.

I think he’s crazy. I practically beg to go out and play with my friends or spend hours reading books without any thought at all.

He never complains.

Now, I realize that just because someone doesn’t have a life doesn’t mean it’s love. Nor does having a life mean it’s not love. My main point is that love is not so much the sweet words and romantic gestures. Love is time served and hard work. You know, like prison. But a prison made of love.

And now, your earworm for the day. (How is that for a segue?) You know it was already in your head just from reading the title. You’re welcome.

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Naming Babies “Ethnic” Names

You know what I find curious? Why do Asian families tend to name their kids mainstream “American” names while Indian/Pakistani (I use both because I can’t tell just by looking at a person whether or not they’re Indian or Pakistani) families tend to name their kids traditional “Indian/Pakistani” names? And not only do Asian families name their kids (what Hapa Papa calls) “white” names, they go for the trendiest, “elite” names (eg: McKenna, Mason, etc.).

I am pretty sure my parents named my brother and I with American names because they wanted us to assimilate (to a degree) and not stand out. We also had Chinese names and it was no big deal. I think that is part of what makes it so interesting to me to see I/P kids with their “Real” names. Not that my Chinese name is “Realer” than my American name. (I would actually say it’s the other way around!) I just assumed that I/P folks would have two names. Funny how our culture totally colors how we interpret things.

In a related vein, I am most impressed when I see I/P men and women wear their traditional clothing like it’s normal. I mean, of course it’s normal – but at the same time, it’s not in America. But it pleases me. I wonder if it’s because I/P folks come from a place that is already used to mixing Western and Eastern cultures, and that they are used to white people (due to being former colonies) being around and still being the dominant culture.

I don’t think there is any “traditional” Taiwanese/Chinese clothing that folks wear on a regular basis anymore. It does make me slightly sad, but at the same time, not really. It is just different.

Any I/P folks want to enlighten me? I would really appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Non-negotiables in Parenting

Every parent has a set of non-negotiables for their kids. Some more than others. I have very few because I am ultimately, a really lazy parent. It also helps me not to have an apoplexy every time my kids don’t do something the way I want it.

Here are my main non-negotiables (of course, I may discover more as both I and my children grow older):

1) Breakfast – They MUST eat a good breakfast (99% of the time, it is plain oatmeal with milk). The rest of the day may be shot to hell with snacks and stubborn toddlers refusing lunch and dinner and wanting only cookies, but dammit, they WILL eat a good breakfast.

2) Cleaning Up – Before my kids can pull out another toy, they have to put away what they’re currently playing with. Sometimes, the rules get lax when I’m tired or there is a playdate at my house (because can you honestly enforce that with 10 children running amok in your house?), but ultimately, I make my kids clean up their mess. Otherwise, it’s Time Out! (My Facebook friends can attest to my children’s constant Time Out statuses.) This avoids my house looking like a tornado tore through and prevents foot injuries from Legos and small dinosaurs.

3) Learning and using Mandarin – I try to speak to my children 90% of the time in Mandarin Chinese. It’s easy right now since their vocabulary needs are right in line with my abilities. But I do admit, I never knew I had to look up so many trucks and animals in Chinese (thank goodness for the iPhone app!).

I know it will just get more and more difficult to enforce when the kids get older and their vocabularies and interests expand. This is why I go out of my way to enroll my kids in Mandarin Mommy and Me classes, Mandarin preschool, (all provided by the awesome Po-Wen of Fun Learning Mandarin), Mandarin Language Playdates, buying Mandarin DVDs of shows, etc. I’ll likely also sign up Cookie Monster for Chinese School (12+ years of Saturdays gone – just like that!) next year when he is old enough. I am thinking of signing him up for some more Mandarin classes with other teachers as well.

If I were more hardcore, I would ban the kids from watching any shows not in Mandarin, but since I value expediency and convenience more than watching Chinese DVDs, I totally suck at this. I make the kids listen to Chinese songs and stories on CD and try to speak Mandarin and surround myself with Mandarin speakers as much as possible. But of course, we live in the real world and that will be harder and harder – especially when Cookie Monster goes off to Kindergarten in two years.

Sadly, Gamera speaks a lot more English than Mandarin, but she does understand both very well. She is also starting to speak more Mandarin so that makes me happier. Unfortunately, this is the consequence of being a second child. Cookie Monster pretty much ONLY spoke Mandarin until 18 months or so (and then I ruined it all by letting him watch copious amounts of TV and YouTube). Now, Cookie Monster and Gamera pretty much converse only in English. (Broken, Fobby English, but English nonetheless.)

When I read bedtime stories to them, I usually simultaneously translate the stories into Chinese vs. reading them in English. This does unfortunately ruin the rhythm of many children’s books, but I don’t feel bad because Hapa Papa obviously reads these stories to them in English so they’re not missing out on too much. They get both! I have a feeling this will fall by the wayside once the books advance. I’m not THAT good. hahah. Fortunately, I have a decent amount of Chinese books that my mother either saved for me, or that I have purchased – so I have that going for me.

As you can see by the length of this non-negotiable, it is SUPER important to me. I may have resented being sent to Chinese School for my entire K-12 life and missing out on so many Saturday morning cartoons and perhaps the opportunity costs of sports/arts/etc., but now that I’m in my mid-thirties, I am incredibly grateful to my crazy parents for sticking to it for so long.

And that, my friends, is the end of my non-negotiables. I think I have so few because it takes so much energy to focus really, really well and enforce them. Obviously, I have other rules, etc., but these are the things I MUST do every day. Other things can slide or fall by the wayside occasionally, but these things, I am adamant about promoting. I think that’s the only reason it’s stuck for 3.5+ years so far. After all, I am pretty flighty, and other than my goal of having four kids ~22 months apart (3 down, 1 to go!), this is the only thing I’ve ever consistently accomplished.

Ok, your turn! What are your non-negotiables? (And perhaps, why, if you are so inclined to expand in the comments.)