Boston induced musings
Posted July 10, 2011on:
Boston vacation is going well, as always. This is my 6th time in Boston with An. I’m always in Boston with An; perhaps that’s the reason why Boston is synonymous with “great time” in my dictionary.
The first time I came was in 2000. I was feeling crappy after being unceremoniously dumped via email by a guy who, as it turned out, was already engaged to someone in VN. I was more angry about the lying than I was about being hurt, so I just wanted some distraction. An promptly invited me to visit her in Boston, all expenses paid (another great thing about Boston is, it has always been most-to-all-expenses-paid). So Tin flew in from L.A. and I flew in from SF to see An that first summer of many more to come. We walked, got soaked in mid summer storm, took a Chinatown $6 bus to NYC, shot pools into the wee hours, walked some more, ate pho, went to Cape Cod and rented bikes…
The second stint in Boston was brief, because An and I decided to travel through Europe the summer of 2002. That was a memorable 24 hours spent together in town, since I packed a super duper heavy travel bag that took both of us to drag from BOS back to An’s dorm in Cambridge. It was so damn heavy that we had to put it down many times to rest. We even stopped in Chinatown to eat so we could have more energy to make it the rest of the way. For some reason, we thought that we could share 1 bowl of bu’n bo`. That bowl became history for us, because we both ate it to the last drop, each wishing we had ordered one entirely to ourselves. Stubbornly we didn’t order another bowl. An just paid, we resumed lugging my bag, but since that day, we swore not to share another bowl of anything in restaurant again. The Europe trip was super fun and hilarious; at the end of it, both of us were exhausted and bleary-eyed and jet-lagged, yet my sister walked me all the way to the security line of my terminal, waited until I disappeared, and then retraced her steps back out to catch the shuttle home. The gesture is probably simple and rather unremarkable for some people, but not to me. In my family, we value convenience and logic. You don’t get off a plane, super tired, and then make a wide detour to walk someone to their next flight while carrying heavy luggage if you happen to be so close to airport exit upon arrival. No one has really done it to me to that date. My own parents dropped me off at LAX when I was 18 by simply pulling into the curb at the airport, let me get off with my heavy bags, and then drove away, never mind how I alone could manage to drag 2 huge luggage bags without any wheels and a backpack into the plane.
In 2004, Son and I vacationed together in Boston before he started school. By this time, An had already risen high enough in seniority at her dorm to manage a top floor large dorm room all to herself. We spent many days cooking and eating food together in her dorm, walking from market to market while laughing and joking and arguing. We also bought a lot of Korean popsicles from the store on Mass Ave and ate them while putting on warm clothes in the middle of the summer. This was the trip where An assembled an impressive crowd of friends, borrowed someone’s house, and we threw a ba’nh xe`o party for a bunch of non-vietnamese people who ate with great gusto, mints and all.
After that, I was sort of tied down due to the 2 cats, so Son and I didn’t travel much. And then An graduated, moved to Los Angeles to do her postdoc while Son and I moved to York. An still visited me every year when I was in SF and when I was in York, but I didn’t have a chance to come back to Boston until last year, when An came back to Boston in May and July to consider a potential job. Both times May and I came to stay with An, and both times her accommodations were made specifically catered to our needs. Even with me being a new mother, Boston still hasn’t changed. An and I still walked everywhere together, shopping for food, cooking, eating late at night, surfing the web while joking and laughing, arguing… The 2nd trip in July of 2010 was so hilarious in retrospect, but while it was happening, it was simultaneously amusing and stressful.
When An moved back to Boston this February, we discussed her housing situation in details, and I was able to be part of the decision making process, because she wanted to get a place where May and I could be comfortable when we visit. That’s how An ends up sharing this condo with a Harvard lecturer where all of us are currently staying in Cambridge; super convenient location, close to public transportation, safe neighborhood, 24 hr security, swimming pool, gym, hottub; and the comfortable 2 bedroom 1 bathroom unit is entirely An’s from May-December when her roommate goes back to Germany, with specific allowance from roommate for us to use her room and bed when we visit.
I’ve come to love and know Boston like the back of my hand. There are many neighborhoods and areas I have not been to, many local hubs I have yet sampled, but I’m very comfortable and confident with finding my way around. The last couple of trips, I was on my own exploring half of the time while An worked, so I quickly got the hang of it. Boston is always beautiful for me because when I come, I come to be a little sister to someone, a well cared for and well loved little sister to someone.
Many people I know space their children with a 1-2 year gap, saying that they want the sibling age gap to be within that range so the kids can have a close relationship. Thing is, An and I are almost 4 years apart, and Chau and I are 5 years apart, and Tin is almost 5 years younger than me, but all of us are close. Chau is not closer to An than me because of their 1.5 years difference. I think once I got past 20, the age gap didn’t matter any more.
When we were kids, we played together until the older ones got to middle school. That was when the younger kids were firmly established in grade schools, made enough friends with neighborhood kids, and having an older sibling to play with wasn’t that important any more. For a period of about 6 years, each of us lived in our own bubble of reality. And then, college time, the younger ones and the older ones moved in the same sphere again. The younger ones came to appreciate the elders’ wisdom and experience, while the elders had become mature enough to listen and tolerate the mistakes of youth. It was also the time when mutual respect and trust took foundation. Each of us practiced giving and receiving. And before we knew it, 10+ years have passed.
The relationship of siblings, like all other intimate, important relationships, takes time and efforts to nurture. I’m constantly consciously and subconsciously working on it, so that things are good and well with my siblings esp the ones I’m close with. I show appreciation and reciprocate favors; I take my siblings time and also give them my time when they need me. When I make important decisions in life, I also take into consideration how it might affect my siblings. When I make my 10-year plans, it is always with my loved ones that I see in my future.
So the way I see it, the age gap does not make or break a sibling relationship. What matters is the individual child’s personality, and the parents’ vision of their interpersonal relationship. How my family has come to be the way it is still remains much of a mystery to all of us, though we surely fulfilled our parents’ vision of brotherly/sisterly love. My parents were truly lacking in many departments, and their ways of parenting was sort of laissez-faire accompanied by punishments if the result of their laissez-faire approach was unacceptable to them. Many of the things they did were counter productive and cruel, such as pitting us against each other, openly favoring one child over another, and sometimes they gave us hell just for fun.
When we were in grade school in VN, Chau, An, and I were separately subjected to public humiliation because my parents sent us to school, but when the teacher collected tuition fees, my mom wouldn’t give us any for weeks. Just because. Not that we didn’t have money. She just didn’t feel like giving us some when we asked or god knows what her reason was. When Chau hit puberty and needed undergarments, my mom basically told her to go pull some out of her (Chau’s) ass. Again, it wasn’t because she didn’t have the money to buy Chau some. She just happened to not like Chau at that time.
My mom surely had her shares of troubles and still remains pretty traumatised to this day by them. I think under better circumstances, and perhaps with much fewer children, she could have turned out to be a better sort of mother. Through all of this, my dad kind of turned the other way. Once in a while, if he was provoked enough, he’d give the perpetrator a good whipping, but not very often. None of the girls wanted to approach him for anything, since he made it clear that the sons meant much more to him than his daughters. My dad was far from violent or volatile, he was distant, unconcerned, and kinda uncaring at times, but in many of my friends’ books, they’d probably praise God if they could exchange their dads for mine. But for my sisters and I, we just didn’t see him to be part of our lives and didn’t think he care about us to bother him with anything. He was very good at hurting us with his words, humiliating us and belittling us through and through. And yet many things he taught us stuck after all these years. Like his desire for all of his kids to be independent and responsible. He was always big on these two things. His value in education and self help. And his distaste for older kids bullying younger kids (a lesson he imparted by beating the hell out of the older kids…).
All of us grew up to be very responsible and independent adults. We didn’t do anything risky as teenagers. We all went to work as soon as we could, did well in school, made good dependable friends, polite and considerate of others (heh)… A lot of times Chau, An, and I have talked about this mystery of how could all 6 kids turn out relatively happy and trouble free given our dysfunctional upbringing. So far we attributed it to fortunate combination of good genes ha ha. It’s not that unusual for immigrant children who grew up in all sorts of hardship to thrive when they meet a favorable environment. But to me, what’s unusual about my siblings and I is that we don’t have significant amount of emotional baggage. Each of us are still pretty emotionally centered enough to know when we are being unreasonable to back off.
That was a long tangent. Before I launched into it, I was just going to say that personally, I plan on spending at least 1 more year with May as the only child. Ideally May will have a sister when she is 4, and maybe another sister a couple of years down the road. Many of my friends have their own reasons for having kids closer in age, typically 2 years apart. That gap is probably good for the reusability of infant products such as car seats, lotion, creams, wipes, things with shorter expiration dates. 2 years from now, if we are lucky enough to get the 2nd kid as planned, we wil have to buy new car seats all over again while tossing out May’s Britaxes. But ultimately, even if we can’t reuse some of these things and will have to spend money again, I wouldn’t hesitate if it means I’ll be less stressed out if things go according to my plans. It would be a small price I have to pay. In return, I would get to spend another year watching my child grow into her character with undivided attention. I’ll get to enjoy having her around instead of stressing about another infant. I’ll get another year to travel with her, show her new things, teaching her what I want her to learn before sending her off to preschool and have another baby to occupy up my morning hours.
I know my own limit, so I want May to be at the age where she is cognitively advance enough to be reasoned with, that way I will only have to take shit from 1 unreasonable screaming kid. 4 seems to be a sweet and helpful age where the help offered is actually significant rather than just entertaining, so I’m going to spend my time training my helper until then. Some people are natural mothers who love children and thrive on their interaction with them. I’m not. Kids drain me and I often feel like I lose a significant part of myself to motherhood. So I want to take my time. I want to do what feels right for me, not what others think I should do (seriously, I don’t want to hear another variation the “might as well have another one now and get it over with, since it’s never easy to have kids”).I want more kids, but just not now, not yet.