Culture and Some BBQ Chicken: A Return to Familiarity

The Eng Dynasty: Missy’s Family (center) and My Uncle’s Family (right)

By Matt

In the mid-1990s, my uncle and his family moved to their current house in Silver Spring, Maryland. My grandmother and great-grandmother, both alive back then, also lived with them in their sprawling tri-level house in Montgomery County. As a result, my father would often load my mom, sister, and I on a Friday after school and drive up to the D.C. area to spend the weekend. We would inevitably spend most of our time in the house, running around and exploring the basement with my cousins and sister. My dad spent his time with his mother, chatting with her in Cantonese in the kitchen as she worked diligently and methodically on our dinner all day. In truth, every trip to see my grandmother was a gift, one I took for granted too late in life. I often find myself lamenting about those days. Even if I was an awkward kid with few friends, the feeling of family always made me feel safe and secure, whether I realized it or not. These feelings make the pill harder to swallow because Zelda never got to meet any of my grandparents, including those on my father and mother’s side.

Just like dad

Zelda got her first chance to see the house I spent so much of my youth in this past weekend. My uncle Sam and aunt Anna invited our family out to Maryland for a BBQ with some other family members and friends. I was admittedly nervous to go back. The last time I came to the house was over a decade ago when I drove up and stayed there overnight to pick up my then-girlfriend from BWI Marshall Airport. I’ll never forget their hospitality, even if the relationship I had back then was a bit forgetful—we were together in Baltimore and broken up by the time we got back to Virginia Beach.

We got to the house around 12:30 pm. My sister and her family arrived shortly before us. Walking behind the back of the house where the grill was set up, I immediately smelled delicious grilled BBQ chicken and spare ribs. After some brief hugs and messages of greeting from my grillmaster uncle, we stepped inside the house, which might as well have been a time machine.

I was transported to my childhood as I stepped into the living room. I was a 13-year old with a growing forest of acne across my forehead, brace-faced and full of energy, running around the living room. I was no longer a 33-year old out of shape father of one. I was young, decisively idealistic, and pitifully naïve. I caught myself from falling too far into the nostalgia trip when I realized that Zelda had been tugging on me to let her down to run around.

I sat her down into their living room, and she immediately moved toward the fireplace. Atop it, the ornate Chinese decorations are the same. On the wall in the living room, I am nearly overcome with emotion as I see the paintings and pictures of my elders: My great-grandfather and great-grandmother, grandmother, and grandfather.

Zelda with second cousin Marie

The couches are the same. Zelda played for a while on the banister that connected the kitchen and living room. I had to stop and think: that was me, twenty years ago.

But this time, the smells were different. There was no oxtail soup simmering on the stove. Instead, a giant platter of hot dogs and hamburgers covered the burner my grandmother used to make her long noodles and Chinese green beans. There was no crispy fried whole fish to feast on—just deviled eggs and potato salad. The BBQ smells, albeit intoxicating on my grumbling stomach, were a sad reminder that time is always cruel and passing. Hell, I think Zelda grew a few inches in the trip from Alexandria to Silver Spring.

We all made a plate and joined my sister and her family in the dining room. It was nice for Zelda to play with her cousins, who immediately abandoned their meals and sought out the smell of sandalwood incense burning in my uncle’s study. My cousin Marie spent much of the afternoon playing with Zelda, which brought warmth to my heart. I can remember when Marie playing in the same house all those years ago. Now, Marie walked Zelda around the house, showing different heirlooms and trinkets from her Chinese heritage.

Portraits of my grandmother and grandfather

Before we left, I broke from the action for a second. My official story was that I had to go to the bathroom. I didn’t. I walked upstairs to look at my grandmother’s old room. The old mahogany chest, originally from China, was still in front of her room. She wasn’t there. In fact, her room wasn’t her room anymore. It was something entirely different. But I shed a quiet tear as I closed my eyes and remembered the love she had for me and my sister, her grandchildren. She could give us that transcendental warmth without ever speaking a word of English beyond our names. It’s the full kind of love you can only get from somebody who dedicated their lives to the pursuit of a happy home. It’s the same love my mother and father have for Zelda.

If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times. Family is everything. We want Zelda to experience as much of them as she can. I don’t want her to go somewhere years later and reminisce about a forgotten past. I want there to be smiles. Thankfully, my uncle provided the perfect introduction of Zelda into the Maryland side of our family.

I showed Zelda her elders as we walked out the door. I told Zelda that they loved her very much. She pointed up at my grandmother and spoke some nonsense. In my mind, I’d like to think they were chatting about my awkward years I spent there wearing Jordache jeans and B.U.M. Equipment t-shirts. It must have been because Zelda had a giant smile on her face as we got in our car to leave. I can’t wait to go back again.

Infant to Toddler: I Get it Now

By Angela

My last post was about coming to grips with the fact Zelda is changing. I couldn’t quite articulate it last post, but the change can be summed up in one sentence:

Zelda is no longer an infant, but a toddler.

I guess you might be thinking DUH. I mean, she’s practically one and a half now (where did the freaking time GO?). I think the delay in that AH-HA moment is a combination of being a first-time mom and full-blown denial. I mean, motherhood is so subjective. That seems to include having blinders on when it comes to our own children. We’re so proud of how they grow, yet we’re so sad to see it happen. It’s more “I miss those baby snuggles!” than “Oh shit, she’s climbing the cat tree!” It’s when those two are reversed that you’ve accepted the inevitable truth: you have a toddler on your hands.

Here’s some other signs that snapped me out of denial:

1. I can’t stand the smell of her poo anymore.

I used to think, “Hey, the smell isn’t so bad. I can handle this.” Nope. It now smells like straight-up human feces.

2. Trips to Target/the grocery store/the mall are much more stressful.

“Let me out, Daddy. Carts are for chumps.”

We (well, let’s be real here, I) used to love the occasional spur-of-the moment tripto Target or the weekend visit to the mall. We’d take our time, stroll around, and push an indifferent Zelda around with us. Now she wants to walk EVERYWHERE and inspect everything. I honestly don’t mind it until she pulls a display off the shelf or tries to steal an item someone else is holding.

3. I start randomly singing songs from the shows she likes.

Right now it’s “Little Baby Bum,” a show from the U.K. We let her watch a little in the morning so we can get ready for work, and a little in the evening so we can get dinner on the table. And the song have penetrated our brains, even when she isn’t around. Just today I caught myself singing, “Oh Mr. Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on me,” when I was driving to the dry cleaners.

4. She’s discovered whining—and tantrums.

When Zelda cried, it usually meant she wanted something: a diaper change, food, a snuggle. Now she cries when she is denied something: getting picked up, a piece of food, or re-reading a book that’s been read twenty times. It’s not real crying, but it is loud, desperate, and pathetic. I now understand why parents will do anything to get them to stop doing it in public, because man o man you suddenly turn into the worst kind of nuisance. When she has a tantrum, she drops to her knees, then collapses forward on the floor until she’s facedown on the ground. It’s almost cute because it’s so dramatic. I usually tell her that life isn’t that bad.

5. Words are emerging from the baby talk.

Right now her vocabulary consists of up, dog, apple, mama, dada, and water. When I say “vocabulary,” I mean that she not only says those words, but knows the meaning attached to them. She’s starting to catch on to other words, so Matt and I really need to start watching what we say.

6. Eating is gross—and maddening.

I’m not a fan of mealtimes anymore. Food gets everywhere. Sometimes she chews up a mass of food and spits it out in her bib (we have one of the kinds that catch everything, which is a lifesaver). Sometimes she throws it over the side of her high chair, much to the delight of our dog. Sometimes she mashes it all up into goop and tries to offer it to me or Matt. It’s cute to watch her try to feed herself, but it’s no fun to clean up after. Especially on days she has fruit.

“I get my own chair now.”

7. Her rate of growing is speeding up exponentially.

She’s on the lower end of the percentile spectrum, but I suspect that will change soon. Her appetite is huge these days. Her body is filling out more, and her weight is noticeably rising. It’s to the point Matt will get her out of the crib one morning and will ask, “Did you grow overnight?”

8. She’s a master manipulator.

I like to joke that I have nerves of steel and that Matt is a pushover. Zelda knows how to play him like a fiddle. For instance, she knows when he’s irritated with her—like when she’s throwing food over the side of the high chair—and he tries to be stern, but she turns on the charm and acts irresistibly cute. If she cries at bedtime, Matt will always go get her, but she ends up with me. When I say, “time to go back to bed,” she starts acting charming, and Matt will say, “oh, look at her. Just a few more minutes.” I have to admit, it’s worked on me a few times as well.

She’s too much, sometimes.

9. Miss Independent

Zelda’s starting to forge her own path, and it’s becoming more and more apparent. When I’m pushing the stroller, she’ll get in front of me and push it from her much lower vantage point. Just recently, when Matt and I were at the MGM casino in Maryland, she had to go up and down the stairs with little to no help. She’ll bat away our hands if we try to hold hers, and she makes it a point to only indicate a need for help if she is stuck. As Matt is fond of saying, “She’s an independent woman who don’t need no man.”

Miss Independent on the stairs at MGM Grand, Maryland.

10. She picks things up FAST.

Zelda can now turn on the TV, get to Netflix, and navigate to the Little Baby Bum show. She can swipe on a phone to her Wheels on the Bus app and start playing it. She smashed her fingers in a drawer once by accident, and the next time she started to move her fingers out of the way when closing it. Matt’s dad got her a kiddie drum set, and she picked up how to change the beats and tones within a short amount of time. She holds the sticks and hits the pads, then shares one of them so Matt and I can play with her. I know every parent thinks his or her child is amazing, but her ability to learn straight up awes me.

 

I’m sure we have many more wondrous things in store for us, good and bad. Being a mom is so amazing, yet so heart wrenching at the same time. Nothing anyone says really prepares you for the journey.

Now what’s the phase after toddler? Full-blown kid? Heaven help us.