My mental health took a big hit during the start of the COVID pandemic. My anxiety was at an all time high and I was on the verge of spiralling into depression. I wrote this during those dark days when I was overwhelmed with fear and struggling with tough lockdowns. I’m in a better place now so please don’t worry about me.
This poem has been in my drafts for a long time because I was scared of revealing a vulnerable piece of me. But to the hell with it, this is me.
Mothers. They always think they know better. Why is that? I’m almost forty-years-old, and my mother still thinks she can boss me around. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t visit my parents as often as I should. Every time I see my mother, it inevitably ends in arguments. It doesn’t help that we have a dysfunctional relationship. But I try for the sake of my children. I want them to have a relationship with their grandparents and by extension, have a link to their Vietnamese culture.
So on New Year’s Day, our family drove over to my parent’s place for a barbecue lunch. The plan was for my husband to leave afterwards and for the rest of us to stay overnight. My husband would get a small reprieve, and the children would get some quality time with their grandparents. I would get a headache, but it was a small sacrifice for everyone else.
As my mother over-caters for every occasion and has no reason or rhyme to anything she does, I suggested she organise drinks, bread and chicken wings, while I organised salads and barbecue meats. With only four adults and two children, we didn’t need too much food.
We arrived mid-morning to find a box of squid and a bowl of prawns defrosting on the kitchen counter. Next to them were a bowl of marinated chicken wings and a plate of enoki mushrooms and cabbages. On the stove top, a pot of chicken stock was on the boil as my mother was preparing rice paper rolls.
“I got the kids fried chicken drumsticks so they don’t get hungry waiting for the barbecue,” she said, pointing to a takeaway container filled with chicken from the nearby chicken shop.
There was no point arguing with my mother when her mind was set on something so I let it slide to focus on getting her to put away the excess food into the fridge.
“Uh, you might want to see what your dad’s doing with the barbecue.” My husband nudged me towards the backyard to investigate.
My dad was burning charcoal briquettes on a metal cooling rack on the stove top before dumping them into a miniature Weber Smokey Joe.
“Dad, do you have any fire lighters?” This man was a hoarder. He should have had a box of fire lighters somewhere among the junk in his garage.
“Nah, this will work just fine,” replied my dad, as he grabbed the leaf blower and started airing the briquettes in the barbecue.
We left him alone to deal with the barbecue and prayed the fire brigade wouldn’t be needed for any wayward fire sparks.
By the time the food was ready, the children were full from all their earlier “snacks”. My mum refused to eat as 1 pm was “too early” for her. It was up to my husband, my dad and I to eat the half kilo of barbecued lamb meat, sausages and salads.
Just as we were about done, my mum brought out the chicken wings, corn and sweet potato to go on the barbecue.
“Everyone is full! Why are you cooking more food?!” I exclaimed in horror. There were already enough leftovers to last for days. I didn’t relish the idea of eating barbecue leftovers for three days straight.
“People might get hungry later. Might as well cook it!”
She was wrong. No one was going to be hungry later. This always happened. In fact, I’d go as far as to say she never learns from her mistakes.
My husband left to avoid witnessing further chaos and my dad sat down with the children to teach them how to play Dominoes.
“You have to strategise. Think about what everyone might have. Think about what you need to play to win! Okay?!”
The children have a hard time understanding my dad’s broken English most of the time, so they look to me for translations. I usually tell them what I think he’s trying to say in a more tactful and children friendly way.
My dad proceeded to lose every single game to my four-year-old son. I’d wager he was actually trying to win too! It was rather embarrassing to watch a grown man lose to a child who had just learnt how to play Dominoes.
That night, my son and I slept in my brother’s old room on his double bed. My daughter didn’t want to be squished between us, so she decided to sleep with my mother. My parents have separate rooms.
At half past three in the morning, my daughter crawled back into bed with us. My mother had sent my daughter off running with her loud snoring, so I ended up sleeping at the bottom of the bed with my body half hanging off. It was a sleepless night for everyone.
At half past six, my children woke and were sent to my dad’s room to watch TV. My dad was already up and preparing them breakfast. I rolled out half an hour later to see them with a bowl of salted air-fried potato fries on their laps.
“Why did you feed the kids fries for breakfast?!” I couldn’t believe my dad thought fries were an appropriate breakfast option for children.
“It’s fine. It’s a sometimes food.”
The deed was done. I couldn’t do anything about it, so I gathered the children to the kitchen to make them something healthier to eat.
As I was making my children a second breakfast, my mother thought it prudent to give me parenting advice on how to “fix” my naughty four-year-old son. She claimed the only reason my eight-year-old daughter was well-behaved and well-mannered was because of her.
My mother suggested my parenting choices and skills were to blame for my son’s unruly behaviour and offered to correct this. I just needed to drop him off for a short stay and she’d get him sorted out in a few weeks.
What really got my goat was her stating in a matter-of-fact way that my son was “naughty” because he was half-White and if I didn’t “reign” him in, he’ll likely become a druggie or a social degenerate.
I cracked the sh!ts. Obviously.
“Why are you so angry? It’s the truth!” reasoned my mother. My dad tried stepping into the argument but got shot down when he sided with my mother.
My parents insisted they “knew better” because they were elders and had the life experience to show for it. They didn’t realise their deep-rooted beliefs were shrouded in racism and bigotry. While I could ignore her criticisms about my parenting style, I refused to accept blatant racism against her own grandchild. It was a hard limit for me.
After schooling my parents on their social prejudices, I took my children and left in a huff. Luckily, the argument was in Vietnamese so while the children could tell we were arguing and I was upset, they didn’t know the reason. I didn’t want them to know that their grandmother was an ignorant racist. I didn’t want to ruin their relationship.
I haven’t spoken or seen my parents since New Year’s Day. While I still love my mother, I simply can’t be around her. I am just too angry. So for now, I’ll avoid her until I feel balanced enough to face her.
I can’t change my mother’s beliefs, only she is capable of doing that. And if she isn’t receptive to having open discussions where her worldview and beliefs are challenged, then that’s on her. BUT, I have control over whether or not I choose to listen to her biases. I can also limit my children’s exposure to that kind of damage.
Not all parents know better, some are ignorant fools that will never change.
For introverts, there is nothing worse than being forced into a situation where you have to meet strangers and execute small talk. Actually, there is… small talk with your partner’s family’s extended family. I’ve no doubt it would raise the hackles of any introvert.
It’s the worst situation for an introvert to be in because unlike with random strangers, you can’t remove yourself unless you run out of the house on the pretense of an emergency of some kind. For many of us, sitting through tortuous family gatherings, especially for special occasions like Christmas, is a must.
We travelled almost seven hours and stayed with my husband’s parents for Christmas 2020. On Boxing Day, some of his extended family came over for a visit. The in-law’s family room housed my husband’s two uncles, two aunts, cousin and her two children as well as the eight of us that were already there. Teas and sweets were passed around, and the small talk began.
True to form, as soon as the small talk began, I made excuses to leave to another room. I gathered the children and set up the Nintendo Switch to play video games. I stayed with them in the front room on the pretense of supervision. I was really avoiding the awkward small talk and uncomfortable feeling of having many sets of eyes on me while I tried mumbling my way through conversations. I didn’t need that stress in my life. Was it rude? Most definitely, but I’ve made no secret about my anxiety with small talk.
When the children had their fill of video games and decided to play a game called “Don’t Step In It”, I reluctantly returned to the family room where all the adults had gathered.
“Find a chair and stop looking like an outsider,” chastised one of my husband’s aunts upon seeing me lurk around the fringes of the room.
“I’m fine where I am,” I replied sheepishly. I hate being made a spectacle. I’d happily hide in the shadows if it meant no one asked me uncomfortable questions or expected me to converse like a grown adult. No thank you.
When the time came for people to leave, I stood around awkwardly, knowing that I had to say goodbye to them. I walked out with my husband and children, waved goodbye to one set of aunts and uncles then returned to bid farewell to the other set still inside the house. The aunt gave me a big hug and threw out my ‘I don’t really like to be touched’ rule. As the uncle made his rounds with his goodbyes, I stood there debating whether the uncle would expect a hug too because his wife just gave me one.
The aunt totally threw me with the hug. Now I was confused as to the appropriate social etiquette expected of me. So when the uncle turned to me, I gave him a hug and surprised the both of us. It was self-inflicted awkwardness and you know how I hate feeling awkward.
When everyone was gone, I threw myself on the couch near my brother-in-law and his partner and bemoaned how awkward the experience was for me. My brother-in-law’s partner, a fellow introvert, hadn’t enjoyed the small talk and mostly sat there listening to others converse instead.
Fellow introverts, what is the secret to small talk with extended family? Better yet, how do you avoid giving and receiving awkward hugs?