Domesticated

July 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

This isn’t an open invitation to stalkers and burglars, but as some of you know, my parents have been in China for the past month, leaving me at home with my precious brother. I knew this month was coming for a long time, and I mostly looked forward to it. Babysitting my 15-year-old brother, whom I might add should be fully capable of babysitting himself, is totally worth getting mother out of the house for four weeks. And now that this pseudo-independence is coming to an end [my dad came home today], I’m taking the time to reflect on what I’ve learned.

Taking care of a house requires a lot of work — at least, much more work than 1/4 of an apartment. There’s trash to take out, laundry to do, food to keep from expiring, vacuuming, dishes, grocery shopping, piles and piles of mail to open, etc. And why do we have so many plants?! There are flowers both in the back and the front of the house that I have to water every day unless it rains, and the 15 potted plants in the house are watered weekly.

To be honest, housework wasn’t so bad. I generally enjoy keeping my own space clean, even if it means disinfecting the counters every night, which I’m pretty sure even my mother doesn’t do [I’m anal about counters, she’s anal about floors; we just never agree]. If my mom saw me cleaning this much, she’d probably demand to know why I don’t behave like this all the time. And I would tell her that I’m doing this because right now, this is my house, with my rules and responsibilities, and when she gets back, it goes back to being her house and responsibility. It’s rather selfish and ungrateful, but if she insists on treating me like a child, then dagnabbit, I’ll resort to acting like one.

Also, because my parents obviously take care of the bills, I didn’t have to worry about finances like a real housewife would. Does this mean I’m cut out for this kind of lifestyle? I don’t think so. It was fun for a month because I knew it was temporary: Eventually my parents will come home, I’ll find a job and move out to live my own life. I couldn’t imagine doing this kind of monotonous, thankless work for years and years as my main occupation. Then again, it was tiring enough to balance everything — house, brother, long-distance boyfriend — that it seems impossible to juggle a house, kids, husband and a full-time job. How do people do it??

Lately I realized that amidst all the errands and chores, it’s pretty easy to put myself last. Now, my experience was pretty tame, but I’m drawing connections here. I wake up and spend two hours tutoring a family friend. In the afternoon, I drive my brother to soccer practice. While he’s out of the house for two hours, I’d like to use the time to tan on the balcony or something, but instead I have to prepare dinner. After I pick him up and finish cooking, I devote an hour to washing dishes and doing miscellaneous cleaning. Then it’s a few hours on the phone with B. Sure, if I really wanted time, I could make time, but if I amplified all of these obligations by the magnitude of real life, it seems intensely exhausting. Like I said before, how do people do it?

I’ve learned a lot about my brother, too.

He has his good moments: saying thank you after I let him borrow my headband so he can wash his face properly. Mowing the lawn without me even mentioning it [though he did make a prior deal with the ‘rents]. The look of slight surprise when he realizes that the food I cook is actually tasty.

But those tender moments are only considered tender because of what I have to put up with the other 99 percent of the time. Larry is in this exasperating phase of life [fingers crossed that his character will improve one day] in which he respects no one and has enough arrogance for three people. Typical teenage boy, you say? Well, no. That doesn’t make it acceptable, and as all Asian parents know, comparing yourself with the average people in a group will get you nowhere.

I blame a lot of things on my mother because I’m an ungrateful and bitter daughter, but considering I’ve been gone at school for four years and my father is out of town five out of seven days a week for almost 52 weeks a year, I find that quite a few character flaws in my brother can be traced back to my mother, his primary caretaker. [Although I do know that my father bears an equal share of the blame for being absent for most of Larry’s life].

It’s safe to say that my brother is the most high-maintenance person in this family. Sure, I don’t go out without wearing makeup and I’m terrible at packing lightly, but my mother spoils Larry like he’s the heir apparent or something.

For example, he refuses to eat leftovers. If it makes it to the fridge, it’s as good as moldy. When she’s at home, she cooks something new for him every night. It might sound like typical parental labor, but it’s really not easy. Cooking dinner for five days straight this past week — more than I ever did for myself at school — was enough to make me swear it off for all of next week. My mother doesn’t even enjoy cooking that much, not like my dad does. [As fate would have it, Larry refuses to eat anything my dad makes.] I could tell when I got home from school that her cooking had become robotic, fit to a formula of the few foods that Larry will actually agree to consume. Food doesn’t taste good if there’s no love or creativity, and I think Larry could tell too. It’s tragic that the selfish little prick is sucking the life out of our mother, which is why I’m sure this vacation is just what she needed. The sad thing is, my brother treats our mother this way because she allows him to.

Another incident that flared my temper recently was on Friday night, when I was hanging out at LC’s house with her and XZ. At 1AM, Larry called me.
“When are you coming home?” he asked.
“Um, later…maybe in half an hour,” I responded. What the hell? Isn’t this a conversation I usually have with my controlling and curfew-enforcing mother?
“No!” he objected. “If you don’t come home now, I can’t go to sleep!”
“What the heck?? Just go to sleep, who cares?”
“You’ll make too much noise when you get back so I can’t sleep!” He was becoming irate. “Just sleep over there and don’t come back!”
Dumbfounded, I was certainly not going to be kicked out of the house by my teenage brother. “I’m coming home later, just go to sleep!”
“Oh my f***ing gosh,” he muttered as we hung up on each other.

I was pissed, but this was only one manifestation of a deeply entrenched and skewed attitude my brother has. What makes him think he’s the most important person in the house? What makes him think he has a right to give other people orders? What gives him the right to possess almost a negative amount of humility?

I realized once again that it’s because my mother allows him to be this way. She treats him like he’s the most important person in the house. She acquiesces to the majority of his requests. I could write another thousand words on why my parents are bad at disciplining my brother, but another factor is that Larry takes after my mother’s method of dealing with problems at home, which is to throw a loud and violent tantrum. When it comes to stubborn anger, she can’t win against him. And everybody in this house, including my brother, suffers from this mess.

I didn’t mean for this post to deteriorate into venting about my family members, but these are all things I’ve been learning. I can only hope — fervently, desperately hope — that when it comes to raising my own family, history doesn’t repeat itself.

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