Pants on Fire

I have a general rule that I will not lie to my kids – even white lies, lies of convenience, or statements to make my life easier. I do teach my kids about God and Jesus, so depending on your philosophical bent, that may or may not count as a lie. But since I do believe in God and Jesus, at least I am not technically lying to the kids (or at least, intentionally). The main reason I don’t, even when it would make my life considerably better, is because it breaks trust. And once my kids catch me in a lie (and they will!), they will start questioning everything I have ever told them in the past because hey, if I lied about this, what was stopping me from lying to them about that?

I even include Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. (At least it cuts down on fictional gifts I have to purchase!) I know. I’m such a killjoy. But Santa is an old white dude who rewards you for being good on Jesus’s birthday – and it sounds a lot like the stereotypical view of who God is – so no thanks! Now, my kids know ABOUT Santa. But they just think he’s in a costume. Like Spiderman. Plus, it is much easier to explain all the Santas that crop up during Christmas time.

In fact, not only do I try not to lie to my children, I try not to lie in general. After all, what’s the point of telling my kids not to lie, not lying to my kids, etc., if they just hear me telling people lies (white or otherwise) just to make my life easier? Of course, I have no problem lying via omission. For instance, someone brings a food that is not delicious. I won’t say that the food is yummy. But I will thank them for bringing the food or comment on the plate that the food is on, or whatever. I will try to say true things in as kind a way as possible without outright lying. Hopefully, my kids will absorb this lesson without me having to explicitly tell them not to lie. Aren’t the most important lessons in life learned this way?

I find that the temptation to lie is similar to the temptation to deflect all the questions my kids have about their bodies or stuff in general. I am very honest with the kids about their body parts and I have no qualms about Hapa Papa or my nakedness around the kids. This, of course, leads to some very awkward and hilarious conversations. I’ve had to explain to Cookie Monster why his penis gets big, what pubic hair is, what a vagina is, etc. My reward for all my non-euphamizing are these types of conversations (FB friends will recognize a good many of these stories):

1) Cookie Monster: Papa has a penis and a gagina! 
Hapa Papa: Papa just has a penis.
Cookie MonsterGamera has a gagina!
Hapa Papa: Yes, Gamera has a gagina. Cookie Monster has a penis.
Cookie Monster: Papa has a penis and a gagina! HAHAHAHAAHAHAH!

2) After a month or so, we finally figured out why Cookie Monster thought Hapa Papa had a vagina and a penis. He thought the pubic hair was the vagina. He also pointed at Hapa Papa’s face and said, “Gina face! Gina mouth!”

3) Gamera: My penis hurts, Mom. 
Me: You don’t have a penis, honey. You have a vagina. 
Gamera: My ‘gina hurts, Mom. My penis fell off.

Anyway, this post isn’t to make you feel bad or judged if you do teach your kids about Santa or The Easter Bunny or even if you tell your kids or other people white lies. This is just my personal policy. I think it comes from my traumatic upbringing of constantly swallowing my father’s numerous lies in addition to reinforcing his lies with lies of our own (many at my mother’s behest). My father wasn’t even a very good liar – that’s how insulting he was. He didn’t even think enough of us to lie properly and NOT get caught. He just thought we were too stupid to catch him.

Of course, telling the truth is not the same as being blunt or using the truth to bludgeon people. (Although, incredibly tempting.) I suppose the key to this is to tell the truth in love. (Often, an incredibly difficult task.) It helps that I don’t really have a good filter when I talk to people so I am usually a little too honest in general. It also helps that many of my friends also consciously choose not to lie to their kids so we can support one another. I’m curious. Do you lie to your kids? If so, what do you lie to your kids about? Tell me in the comments.

Beauty Before Pain and Other Lies

The other day, several of my friends and I were lamenting about our mothers (and to be fair, our fathers and society has certainly contributed to the conversation) and the fucked up things they say to our daughters about beauty (and I’m sure, our sons as well, but we are super sensitive about our daughters). I don’t know why we’re so surprised that our mothers say these things – after all, I grew up hearing them all the time. I’m sure this isn’t something only Chinese mothers do, but since I have only had a Chinese mother and am a Chinese mother, that is my main frame of reference.

Even though there were so many obvious lies my mother told me, I didn’t even realize how fully I absorbed them into my psyche until the last ten years or so. (Not with the intention of lying to me, I understand. It’s only because she believes these lies and thinks they are true. Also, it’s because she happens to have some of the characteristics she considers beautiful and for some reason, she can’t wrap her mind around the possibility that someone she birthed would have different features. I swear she is a loving and good mother.)

For instance, I have always been sad that my feet were a size 8. My mother always commented about how my feet were so large and too big for my height. (She wears a size 6.) She said it so much and made me so self-conscious about it that for the longest time, I refused to buy sneakers because I thought they were too bulky and made my feet look even larger. And since sometimes, I could fit into size 7.5, I would often buy size 7.5 shoes out of total vanity but then not wear the shoes because they hurt like a bitch because, oh, hey! THEY WERE TOO SMALL. Then, I’d have to either not wear the shoes at all and waste my money or go back and return the shoes (which is a tough one if they’ve already been worn).

I think it wasn’t until maybe seven or eight years ago when I was returning a pair of gorgeous red pumps that I finally realized how stupid me trying to fit in a smaller size shoe was. Who the fuck cares whether my shoe size was 7.5 or 8? What really matters is wearing shoes that FIT. You know, because walking without pain is a good thing. So when my shoe size increased to 8.5/9 after being pregnant with Cookie Monster, the only reason I was upset about that was because I no longer fit in my awesome red heels. Once I stop pumping out babies and my shoe size doesn’t increase anymore, I’ll go back to buying hot shoes. You know, for all my hot play dates.

It wasn’t only shoe size that I was hung up on. I also would occasionally buy skirts or dresses that were a size down instead of my true size. Which of course, I could only wear comfortably before eating anything and then I’d be constricted or practically bisected after lunch so OF COURSE, I wouldn’t wear these clothes ever again, either. Another total waste of money.

I even suffered through having an engagement and wedding ring that were a size too small (and constantly stuck on my fingers and too tight) because I thought my fingers were too thick. It wasn’t until after I had Cookie Monster that I decided I was ridiculous and re-sized my rings.

Funny enough, it wasn’t until I started watching What Not To Wear that I realized my obsession with a particular size was so stupid. That didn’t change REALITY. Whatever my size was, that was my size. There is no value judgment about my feet or my body. It just was. Once I got over that and started buying shoes and clothes that actually fit, I stopped wasting money and being incredibly uncomfortable.

Another random thing I didn’t like about my body (again, due to my mother’s comments) were my fingernails. My mom has these long, tapered fingers with nice, long nails. My fingers are not quite as long and my nails certainly are not long. In fact, no matter how much I tried when I was younger, my nails never seemed to get long enough. It wasn’t until I had Glow Worm (yes, you read that right) and I saw that his nail beds were so close to the tips of his fingers that if his nails grew just one millimeter, it seemed as if he had nice, long nails that I realized it had nothing to do with my failure to grow nails and everything to do with genetics. My nail beds were further back. I would have to grow my nails at least double the length my mom or Glow Worm did to achieve the same look.

Did I just go off on a super long post about feet and nails? YES. Yes, I did. Why? Because holy crap, the stupid shit we absorb about beauty from our mothers and fathers and television and society really fuck us up. And all about incredibly stupid, meaningless things.

Anyhow, there are all sorts of articles about how we shouldn’t only comment on girls’ outward appearance such as what they are wearing or how they look, but quite frankly, I totally fail at this. And not only with my daughter. I fail at this with my sons. I am constantly telling them they are cute or pretty (equal opportunity comments on pretty girls and boys for me) or beautiful. Of course, I also tell them they are funny, silly, smart, kind, and wonderful, but that may be because I am a little bit biased.

At any rate, I’m sure I’m warping my children with an unnatural shallowness and obsession with their looks (like mother like child, I suppose). So, for our collective amusement (because if you can’t laugh at the utter fucked-uppedness of the following list, you will weep), here are some gems about beauty, straight from the mouths of our mothers:

Stay out of the sun because lighter skin is better. (Somewhat racist, but mostly classist because only peasants who worked in the fields have dark skin.) (Also, I am a stickler for sunblock and sunshirts and hats not because dark skin makes my kids ugly, but because skin cancer is bad.)

Stop furrowing your brow; you’ll get wrinkles. (My mother says this every now and then to Gamera. It’s annoying.)

Big eyes (especially with the double lid) are pretty.

Taller noses with a high bridge are pretty.

Dark, black eyes and hair are prettier than lighter brown eyes and hair.

Being thin is prettier. Being fat makes you look older.

Shaving your head makes you look sick and like you’re dying. Also, it makes you look fat. (Confer previous lie.) (My mother refused to talk to my brother all weekend one summer after I shaved his head. She was pretty pissed at me, too. She was convinced that my brother was having problems and feeling insecure and that’s why he shaved his head.)

If you don’t eat your vegetables, you won’t be pretty.

If you cry, you won’t be pretty. (My friend’s 2.5 year old daughter heard her grandmother say this to her and started to cry. Her mother proceeded to say, “You’re turning ugly!” What made my friend super pissed is that her daughter actually stopped crying.)

Another friend’s dad told her daughter not to run with a stick because if she poked an eye out she wouldn’t be pretty anymore. Forget the fact that she would ONLY HAVE ONE EYE.

GAH. I think I have to stop before I get mad. Or cry. Either way, I won’t be pretty.

What Is Love?

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 most recent 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.

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.)