Death In The Family

March 1, 2015 Comments Off on Death In The Family

My grandpa — 爷爷 — died this morning.

He was more than 90 years old, and his health had been declining for years. The most recent pictures I saw were of him lying in bed in some kind of hospice, curled up with his eyes tightly closed and a thin tube wrapped around his head going into his nose. He didn’t look comfortable.

My dad told me last month when he showed me the pictures that my grandpa was no longer able to eat or digest food, thus the feeding tube. 爷爷 wasn’t tall from what I remember, but he was still healthily hefty just a few years ago, but had wasted away to skin and bones.

He had dementia for the past number of years as well. He had started forgetting who we were even in 2008, the last time we went to China as a family. Grandma would admonish him to say hi to us. “Who?” he’d say. Dad would have to introduce himself. “It’s me; your son.” 爷爷 would smile and nod. “Ah, yes, good.”

I have a picture of him from when I visited Shenyang by myself in 2010, when he could still feed himself and get around slowly with his walker. “Sometimes grandpa remembers who I am … but usually not,” I wrote.

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Holidays At Home

December 25, 2013 § 1 Comment


I said in an earlier post that I wanted to start blogging more regularly, especially writing more about my day-to-day life just to have some sort of non-social-media record of it. Seems easy enough, but I realize now that it’s going to be harder than I thought.

When I blog now, I can’t help but try to make the content seem more significant somehow. For example, my parents stopped haranguing me about my appearance (now that I’m back down to a slimmer size and my skin has cleared up). I could just report it plainly, but I always end up going off on some tangent about the past or how this new development fits into society at large, etc. Then my brain gets tired and I don’t end up writing much of anything at all.

But I’m determined to try!

Doctor WhoThis winter break has been better than most. I finally, finally have a full-time job (on the horizon; if I haven’t told you about it yet, feel free to ask me in person!), which means that my parents can relax. They’ve probably been stressed out about it for the past three years…I feel bad. But now it’s all good! As I mentioned above, they have nothing to criticize about my appearance (Asian kids know what I’m talking about…no pimple is off limits). Plus, I already have a boyfriend I’ve been dating long-term and whom I’m basically moving to be with, so I don’t have to deal with who-or-when-are-you-dating questions. (Inquiries of marriage are a different story, though I’m still young enough to deflect them lol.)

So, for once there are no grey clouds hanging over our heads. (Unless you count my brother, who just locks himself in his room to play League of Legends.)

My parents have been busying themselves with cooking, especially dad. He’s definitely head chef in the family when it comes to dinner parties and such. My mom can cook too (I mean, what Chinese person from their generation doesn’t know how?), but she doesn’t enjoy it nearly as much as he does.

On Christmas Eve, we had my aunt’s family over as well as some “orphaned” Chinese kids (not really orphans; that’s just what my friends and I call people our age whose parents live overseas or happen to be on vacation elsewhere), which brought us to nine people total. Dad ended up cooking enough to feed at least 20. An impressive spread to be sure, but mother was displeased and remarked later that he could’ve done with making a bit less. He didn’t reply, but I could tell he was thinking woman, let me cook! It doesn’t help that everyone seems to be more aware of waistlines than before and tend to eat less than we would have maybe five or 10 years ago.

Sailor Moon gif

nom nom nom for 20 minutes before we all get full

Thus, we ended up with so many leftovers. Dad doesn’t have to worry about them because in a week and a half, he’ll be halfway across the country again for work. My dumb brother is incredibly picky and refuses to eat leftovers, which leaves poor mother to slowly graze through them (she’s tiny and doesn’t need much food to begin with).

Overall, though, things are fine in the Li household. Me finding a job lifted the tension considerably. My relationship with my parents has always been tumultuous, so my goal for now is to simply keep my parents happy. For today, that means DJing Christmas music (now playing: The Nutcracker Suite) and recommending mother movies to drag my dad to watch. Hehe.

Ode To My Mother

June 21, 2012 § 5 Comments

I have an uneasy relationship with my mother.

Perhaps this is true of many people, but among my close friends, I always seemed like the odd one out. I envy the people whose mothers are their confidante or close friend or basically anything that doesn’t involve disapproval 90% of the time and indifference the other 10. I’ve tried confiding my romantic interests in her ever since the first crush, but she usually manages to use that information against me (“He’ll never like someone like you,” “You’re not allowed to date,” “He’s not good enough by my standards and I don’t care what you think,” etc.), so I put an end to that just this week.

Recently, I figured that 99% of the criticism toward me in my life has been from my mother. I think that’s the main reason why I take criticism very poorly, especially from female teachers/professors. Even the most neutral constructive criticism from an older woman can feel like a personal attack, because that’s basically what I’m used to. It sounds harsh, but most of my friends who have grown up with me know how scared I am of my mother. (It’s weird because at approximately 5’1, my mother is the shortest person in our family, yet I’ve learned that usually short women are the feisty ones.)

I don’t know when it started. Perhaps it was after my brother was born. (I was 7.) Perhaps it was after I entered middle school and it became clear that I wasn’t going to reach my mother’s expectations, a shortcoming she has frequently reminded me of. There have been so many emotionally destructive instances over the years that when my mother actually acknowledges my wish to be a writer and urges me to write some kind of memoir, I just chuckle wryly to myself and think, yes, but I wouldn’t allow it to be published until after you pass, because you’ll probably be horrified by my memories of you.

She brought up this memoir thing again last week, and after once again exhorting me to pitch something to Reader’s Digest or our local newspaper (“Do you think journalists only get paid to write about themselves?!” I asked), she said, “You know, if I had the time or ability to write well, I would do it, and I bet I could get published easily. I have a lot of life experiences to write about.”

And that made me pause. Yeah, I bet my mother, who grew up in communist China and immigrated to the U.S. 21 years ago, does have some interesting stories to tell. The sad thing is that I don’t know any of them, because we basically never talk. The majority of our exchanges, while I was a teen, were one-sided lectures. My mother’s not the kind of person to ask how I’m feeling. And in college, I only spoke to my parents once every few weeks, and though it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, those conversations only lasted 10 minutes or so. (It flabbergasts me that B talks to his parents on the phone for at least 30 minutes almost every day. I can’t even imagine doing that in person.)

I always thought to myself, well, we’ll get closer when I get older. When I have a job. When I’m successful. When I’m good enough. Then, maybe, we can talk. But what if it’s too late? The mother of a guy at church was in a horrible car collision last week that put her in a coma and required emergency brain surgery. She’s recovering well now, but life is just that fragile and unexpected. As a journalist, my goal is to tell other people’s stories — what if I never hear those of my mother? Her own mother died of lung cancer when I was 2.

It’s a pity that I never got to know my grandmother. I have one photo of her, which I keep on my bookshelf. She looks like a kind woman, and as the youngest of four girls, my mother was most likely as spoiled as anybody in the lurches of Mao’s Great Leap Forward could be. My mother always spoke fondly of her mother. I imagine that they were close, and I wonder if and when I’ll be able to experience that kind of relationship.

Grandma and me

A friend once asked me if I have daddy issues because my father has traveled for work for as long as I can remember, around the world for maybe months at a time. I was surprised, because that was the first and only time anybody had brought it up. After thinking about it, my answer would be a resounding no. I’ve never been boy-crazier than the next girl, and I’ve had healthy, functional romantic relationships so far. I’ve always known that my father loves me. What I have is just the opposite: mommy issues.

For most of my life, I just wanted my mom to like me. It might seem like an exaggeration, but I rarely got any hint that she did. There are a few positive memories, such as her coming to my badminton games or taking me prom dress shopping, buried in the mountain of why aren’t you good enough why aren’t you good enough recollections. (At this point, you might be inclined to think that I enjoy victimizing myself a bit too much, and I might agree with you, but traumatic memories are hard to rewrite.)

It’s a bit tragic to admit, but one of my greatest fears is that I’ll turn out like my mother. (Pretty sure only deadbeat parents would enjoy hearing that.) Yet there are small things I’ve picked up that might not necessarily have originated from my mother, but make us alike nonetheless. For example, she has always liked painting her nails. I mean, she doesn’t do it to a crazy manicure addict’s degree, but she does like keeping a few bottles of pinks and reds around to decorate her toes. I remember being fascinated with her nail polish as a child, and once when playing with one, I accidentally dripped some onto the carpet. When she found out, she furiously forced me to kneel on the ground in the living room for an hour. (Never let it be said that my parents were particularly good at appropriate discipline.) So…yeah. There was that, but hey! Nail polish buddies!

My still-expanding collection

We both have a thing for cats — she has a penchant for tigers because she was born in the year of the tiger, while I tend to like all cats in general, though she’s pretty much afraid of all animals (even hamsters) and I’m allergic to cats, so we could never actually have one. And she basically loves the color red just as much as I am obsessed with hot pink, so we share some kind of…inclination/loyalty toward bold colors? (I’m trying really hard here.)

When I peel back her scathing layers, my mother has a lot of qualities I would find cute or lovable if I weren’t so damn afraid of her all the time. I think it’s cute that she loves Jennifer Aniston movies. I think it’s cute that she inexplicably cheers for Lebron James (“I like him and I think he deserves a ring.” Uhh okay). I think it’s funny that she thinks 3D movies are “great.” (You mean money-grubbing and pointless??) I think it’s funny that now that she has a Facebook, she asks my brother and me for advice on things like tagging the photos she proudly posted. And I’ve always thought it was funny that she loves animal print and will sometimes wear clashing ones to church.

But I’m barely scratching the surface of who my mother is. And as this is (God willing) my last summer at home before I go off to NYC and find out more about who I am, I hope to find the courage to hear my mother’s stories while I still can. Today, on my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary, I want to thank my mother for everything she’s given and done for me.

Stolen from mom’s FB

Family Flying In, pt. II

October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

I wrote this post a month ago but got sidetracked until now. In this two-part series, I’m breaking down the experiences of having my cousins visit our home from different states. Part I can be found here.


Tian is the daughter of my mother’s second oldest sister [my 二姨]. I think Tian is about four years older than me, though I don’t know exactly. Having just come [immigrated?] from China this past July, she’s currently doing grad school in Houston. This family history is a bit more complicated simply because I’ve spent a lot more time with her family than Jerry’s family. I might get a bit too honest in the following writing, so I sincerely hope that any family members who read this can forgive my unkind thoughts.

I don’t recall ever actually meeting Tian’s biological father. For as long as I can remember, my aunt has been married to my least favorite uncle [step-uncle?], somebody to whom I’m thankful not to be related by blood. This uncle was always a chain-smoker and somewhat heavy drinker, which repulsed my conservative 11-year-old self, but it was his personality that always struck me as most vile.

He always had an air of arrogance [as well as a slight resemblance to Hitler in my paranoid 11-year-old mind]. As a pretty successful English teacher, he made more money than most of my other relatives in China. One time during a meal at a restaurant when I was rather young, my relatives wanted to see who had better English, me or my uncle. So he threw out a word, which I’ve long forgotten, and I probably didn’t know the meaning. After some thought, I responded with “golden retriever.” Ha! That definitely stumped him as he attempted to draw some kind of sports connection out of it. I remember being pleased with my small victory but also annoyed at having to play this kind of stupid game with an adult.

My abhorrence of this uncle meant that I hated visiting their apartment. Unfortunately, this particular aunt has a personality very much like my mother’s: very, very pushy. Like my mother’s other two sisters, she adored my brother and me and would always insist on spending time with us whenever we visited our hometown of Shenyang, which meant going to their home. Last summer when I traveled to China by myself, I realized that I was pretty helpless to stand up to my more demanding relatives without my mother around to protect me. LOL.

Some relatives.

Tian is very much like her mother, which meant that I’ve always been somewhat intimidated by her. I have three other older cousins in China, and Tian was the only one with whom I rarely felt a close, sisterly bond. See, she and her mother are almost exactly alike except that my aunt has mellowed out with age while Tian still needs to soften her sharp edges. At this point, it gets hard to describe her personality because I feel like there’s too much to say; I wanted to write all this last year after visiting my relatives but never got around to it. It’s also a pretty harsh analysis of the people who love me and probably don’t deserve this kind of treatment. So there isn’t much justification I can give other than saying that I just need to get it out.

Tian and my aunt are the kind of people who act like they know everything even when they don’t. If it’s clear that they’re wrong, then they’ll make some kind of excuse, shift the blame or change the subject. This kind of personality, I believe, is an attempt to cover up insecurities. While they’re loud and outspoken in certain, more comfortable situations [Tian has no qualms about prodding me about my weight], they immediately clam up in unfamiliar spaces. Tian’s youth allows her to get through events such as large family reunions with more social grace than my poor aunt [and her unsavory husband, whom I suspect my other relatives merely tolerate as well]. It might seem like a universal truth that people are less outgoing in strange territory, but honestly the only instances I’m talking about are the large family gatherings, where they as a familial unit seem awkward and out of place among my father’s more boisterous side of the family.

In observing these kinds of situations, I feel a mixture of sympathy and aversion, which I suppose isn’t an abnormal mélange of emotions regarding family. I want what’s best for the people I love, but at the same time, I know them a little too well and can see inside them a little too clearly.

I thought pretty deeply about their family during my visit last summer. I noticed that my uncle was drinking more than usual, staying out late almost every night to drink with his friends. There was almost zero affection between him and my aunt, and it made me wonder why they married in the first place. They’re so different — how could they end up liking each other, much less falling in love?

My secret theory was that after her divorce, my aunt needed someone to provide for her and Tian, and my uncle [he might have been a divorcee too, I don’t remember] needed a family to come home to and provide some kind of purpose for his money-making. It sounds heartless for me to be speculating about a situation of which I know nothing, but my mind often envisions the worst possible scenario in any given situation, so that’s how I ended up with that conjecture.

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve spent the past 900 words decidedly neglecting to talk about Tian’s visit to our home. This is because I barely spent any time with her. When my parents first told me that she was coming, I imagined staying up late talking about life and boyfriends and such. It probably took mere hours for that anticipation to be replaced with a slight feeling of dread as I recalled her abrasive personality.

As things turned out, I was unexpectedly busy during Labor Day Weekend and didn’t have much time to hang out anyway. I would be in my room working on a story and Tian would come in to ask me something or another, such as why my room was so messy [looked okay to me] and whether she could see my diploma [it was downstairs]. Each time, I would have to tell myself to be positive while immediately feeling bad for having to force it.

Family can be mind-boggling.

I knew she meant well, but I have a very low tolerance for inane questions, and some conversations we had were downright silly. So the second floor of our house has two bathrooms: one between my room and the guest room and one in my parents’ bedroom. On the first night, after my brother came out of our shared bathroom [which has two sinks], Tian asked me without a trace of jest, “If your parents have their own bathroom and your brother uses this one, which one do you use?” What? Obviously I bathe in the mud pit in the backyard. Duh.

Another time, my brother came home from school/somewhere and went into our bathroom while she was in her room, and she came out and randomly asked me who was using the bathroom. Well, if it’s not me and not my parents who have their own bathroom, then it must be the ghost who lives in the attic! What is it to you anyway? At the time I could only avert my gaze and give her a serious answer, but afterward, I was left scratching my head. And despite her stepfather being an English teacher and presumably being an excellent English student in China, she refused to speak any English to me or my brother while visiting. She could barely even recall the English titles of the American shows she asked me about. Maybe she was just self-conscious.

If I sound like a mean person, it’s because I am. I couldn’t be bothered to take time out of my “busy” schedule to hang out with my cousin who flew all the way from China then all the way from Texas, and it was simply because I didn’t love her enough, in feeling or action. I’ve realized that it’s often family members who best reflect your true self, whether it’s a deep love that causes me to do all kinds of random favors for my brother or the just-as-deep ambivalence that results in me not being able to help him with his more profound issues.

I hope I can make it up to Tian someday. Now that she’s in America long-term, maybe we’ll be able to grow close as cousins one day. Maybe.

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