’tis the season…?

Xmas tree
My sister, Witty, and our “Christmas tree” circa sometime in the 1980s.

Thinking back on my childhood, I struggle to come up with something that I can consider a family tradition. Almost every Saturday night growing up, we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant in Alhambra – a steakhouse run by a Burmese man who knew all of our orders by heart, only faltering when it came down to what flavor ice cream my sister and I wanted at the end of the meal. I remember years where we spent our Christmas break taking long weekends in either Las Vegas or Big Bear – one year spent amongst the neon lights and boardwalk games, the next riding a plastic sled saucer down a mound of snow. We did Thanksgiving dinners, but only once my sister and I were old enough to insist on it and took on the work of cooking it for our family, inevitably serving our dry, overcooked turkey at 9p. For Christmas, we got real trees most years, until our mom insisted we get an artificial tree because the real ones were so messy and wasteful. My sister and I would decorate it with plain red and green ornaments, hanging strings of silver tinsel and candy canes from the branches. We even convinced our dad to put up Christmas lights on the house for a few years, and subsequently died of embarrassment when he failed to take them down before March.

But eventually, we grew up and got busy. The Christmas vacations fell off the calendar, and even the Saturday night dinners became less frequent. My sister left for college and went on to spend holidays with her husband’s family in Wisconsin. And eventually, I got bored of decorating the Christmas tree on my own, until finally, both the tree and the coils of green and red lights stayed in the garage gathering dust.

For pretty much all of my childhood my parents worked hard and had long, impossible hours – my father’s face lit by the glow of his computer screens well into the early mornings, week in and week out. Despite this, I know they did everything they could to make our childhood fun and memorable. Maybe we didn’t have a house decked out in Christmas tchotchkes and presents overflowing from under our tree, but we did have annual passes to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm and received red envelopes with cash for every birthday and Christmas.

Evita's first birthday cake
The beginning of my life-long relationship with cake.

So, where exactly does that leave me – a first time mom and second-generation Taiwanese-American, married to a second-generation Chinese-American, both raised by parents that didn’t pay all that much attention to the American holidays that are so emphasized by the culture we grew up in? How do I reconcile my practical, immigrant upbringing with my desire to create feeling and meaning around the holidays for Emmy?

Ugh, I have no idea. And honestly, like most parenting-related things, the plethora of options is overwhelming. There are personalized stockings I could hang and fill, Elves on Shelves, advent calendars, Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, deciding if we should pretend Santa is real, matching pajamas for Christmas Day…it goes on and on. So, instead of me obsessing as I usually do, we’ve decided to instead focus on a few basics this first year, and see where it takes us. After all, as I keep reminding myself, traditions take years and consistency to build – and at least in this instance, we have the luxury of time. There’s no rush for us to figure out exactly what we want to do every year for the rest of our lives, right this very minute (despite my innate desire to be “good” at Christmas NOW).

The year Alex and I got married, we hosted our annual Friendsmas at our apartment. We asked our friends to bring us ornaments for our Christmas tree since we had none that were meaningful. We have been married almost 5 years now, and it is still my greatest pleasure to hang them all, one by one, on our tree each Christmas. I had never understood how a simple ornament could be special until that year, and we hope to show Emmy how meaningful they can be too. This year, we will make an ornament from her hand print, and we hope that next year she will pick her own to place on the tree next to the tiny hand print she likely won’t register as her own until much later in life.

This year, I’ve also broken with my normal Christmas protocol with my parents and have requested an actual gift rather than the red envelope I would typically receive. I’ve asked for my own hot pot set. I don’t think we’ll ever be a spiral ham on Christmas kind of family, but I do think we could be the type of family that gathers around a communal hot pot, warmed by bubbling soup and each other’s company.

So, that’s where we’ll start. And I’m excited to watch Emmy experience the holidays as she grows, to see her look forward to the things we do as a family that will eventually shape her perspective of the holidays. Maybe someday she’ll even ask me for her own hot pot set – but, of course, that’s getting ahead of myself.

IMG_6948
It’s a Christmas miracle – we’re all looking in the same direction.
Advertisements

5 ways I understand my parents differently since becoming a mom.

momdad1
My parents after their courthouse wedding looking all kinds of fresh! (Circa 1979)

I’ve pretty much always been close with my mom and my dad. I never really went through a notable rebellious phase in my teen years, and my mom has always described my personality as a kid as “xi nai,” or “adorably affectionate” in Taiwanese (I may be adding the “adorably” part). So, of course, I’ve always known that they love my sister and me. But, since having Emmy and experiencing how my heart comes close to exploding on a daily basis, I suddenly realized THIS is how my parents feel about US. Whoa, mind blown.

As I’ve been grappling to understand my identity in relation to new motherhood, I’ve found myself seeing my parents through a new lens and thinking a bit more about what it must have been like for them to become parents and watch us grow from babies to women, to having kids of our own. Here are five things I’ve realized about my parents since becoming a mother myself.

1. They used to be young.

full-d48a3b02-dca2-425a-aac3-f6991274ceba
Newsflash, my mom was a total babe! And apparently did some moonlighting as a shampoo model.

My husband Alex and I were talking about how Emmy will always see us as “old,” but damn it, we’re still young(ish)! It lead me to think about my parents when my sister and I were babies, or kids even. My mom and dad had us young, in their early and mid-twenties, so it was startling for me to realize that in my earliest memories, my mother wasn’t even my age yet (32). They were really just kids having kids.

2. They had no idea what they were doing.
In my mind, my parents have always been all knowing and, prior to Google, my go to resource for random questions. How long should I boil this corn on the cob? Is there something wrong with my car? What is this rash on my arm? Honestly, I still call them with questions like these. But, let’s be real guys, when my parents became parents they were even younger than I am now AND they didn’t have Google, WebMD, Baby Center, iPhones, or lactation consultants to tell them what they were doing wrong. They were improvising and making up a lot of stuff along the way – and they did it free of the crippling fear we new mothers face today with the overabundance of information we have at our fingertips.

3. It hurts when they see us cry.
As I learned in the the first moments of Emmy’s life, as parents we are hardwired to respond when our babies cry and will go to great lengths to make sure they are happy and thriving. I am pretty certain that instinct doesn’t go away just because our babies grow into adults (or dramatic teenagers). I think back now to all those times my mom comforted me post-heartbreak, or how my parents must have felt when I absolutely fell apart when I didn’t make it into my top college choices. 
They assured me over and over again that everything would be fine, that I would survive this. But, when I didn’t come out of my deep blue funk, they pulled their ultimate trump card: since they had anticipated a private school tuition and I would be headed to a school with significantly lower cost, what if we used that extra tuition money for a new car? My parents are clever people.

4. It may be a little awful to be the firstborn child.
Since Emmy entered our lives, I’ve realized that the firstborn comes out of the womb carrying a world of expectations, unknowns, and all the new parent naivety, hope, and sheer wonder that subsequent children are maybe not expected to shoulder as much of. After all, your first child is the one that forged your new identity as a parent; prior to her, you were just some schmuck eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (or at least I was). I’m the youngest of two in my family and definitely noticed when we were younger that my parents could be a lot harder on my older sister than they were on me. As a kid, I figured it was because my sister was clearly the achiever and the brains between us two – there wasn’t a thing she wasn’t good at: she brought home top grades in super hard classes, she played piano, she could draw, write, dance, was popular in high school AND universally loved by every and any educator that met her. But, her achievements were always a given rather than recognized as something specific and special to her. It makes me wonder if your firstborn child, no matter what age they are, will always carry the weight of your expectations and wide-eyed hope from when you were a newly minted parent.

5. They have regrets.
My mom confided in me the other day that she regrets how much they worked when my sister and I were kids. My parents were immigrants in a new country, chasing the American Dream, so of course at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. At the heart of my mother’s regret is a simple thing though: if she could do it over, she would have made the time to be with us, ask more questions, and show more curiosity about our lives when we were younger. She didn’t realize how quickly those days would be gone. I’ve been struggling lately, wondering if I’m doing the right thing by putting my career on hold to take care of Emmy. While maybe I could take my mom’s regret as validation for the choice I’m making, I think what it actually means is that no matter what choice I make, there is no right answer. I will always have regrets, something will always have to give – but I’ll have amazing memories and experiences, no matter what road I pick.