Michael and Us
We made it. My wife and I lived with our two needy kids and my two nagging parents for about 400 days in my childhood home in Plano, Texas. She wants the “Space Jam” poster in my room overlooking the bed memorialized in some closet in our new house. If you examine Michael Jordan’s facial expression, I might be reading into it but I feel like he’s insinuating, “It took you this long to get laid here?”
That’s not very nice, M.J. There was no Instagram back then, so you had to actually talk to girls. Plus you’re forgetting I brought one back when I was 24. OK, a week short of 25.
It just so happens — and this might be more personal than you or my wife care to get — our current preferred intercourse position has her facing the poster. So take that Michael Jordan. That’s kind of like dunking on you and tea-bagging that famous wagging tongue. Also please avert your eyes.
Now I’m in my own head. I haven’t made eye contact with Michael before while pelvic pistoning, but I feel like he’s smirking. “That’s the best you can do?”
If His Airness keeps up this insolence, I’m benching him in my Space Jam lineup, the best starting five of all time to save the world. Steph, Jordan, LeBron, Duncan, Giannis. What a beautiful team. I think about it frequently. I had Kareem in there but decided translating his skills to the modern game would be tenuous.
We’re taking the Space Jam poster and leaving behind my parents. They’re on a three-and-a-half month trip to Asia right now, and my wife and I can’t stop saying with deep satisfaction in the more serene house, “This is nice.”
Whenever I tell people about our living arrangement, they consider it a staggering hardship. They’re shocked even. Friends who have great relationships with the sweetest parents say they could never do this. One of them brought up a twist on a Benjamin Franklin quote I hadn’t heard before:
“Friends, family, fish. They all stink after five days.”
Well we did five days 80 consecutive times, minus some travel. There’s just no way nerves can remain pristine with that much exposure. My high school buddy and his wife (also a high school buddy) stayed with his parents during a remodel. His folks are the most charming you’ll meet.
Yet they both needed to get the heck out of there. I chuckle every time I think of how she summarized staying with her in-laws. “They’re always shredding paper. Like, how can you have so much paper to shred?”
We had more rigorous challenges to overcome. If you don’t bring the right tools and coping mechanisms to live with my mom, the experience can be thought of as an all-out assault on your mental health. When my brother moved back home unemployed a few years ago, his strategy was to stay in his room. My wife also wisely maximized the 3,800-square-foot house built in the 90s and showing its age.
I refused to hide, and really the option wasn’t available because my office was next to my mom’s YouTube lair and call center for three-hour conversations with her sister that made them sound like awful human beings. Whenever she would say something petty, crazy or unnecessarily negative around me, I clapped three times slowly. This was my signal that I had no response, that I was not going to engage in her shenanigans. I did it so much my mom started joining the last two claps with me because she knows perfectly well when she’s being ridiculous and just trying to fill silence with insanity rather than letting it be.
One of the relatively few, maybe dozen times I snapped was when she harassed me at the refrigerator. My wife and I were about to leave the kids with them for a weekend to attend a wedding, and my mom asked what would happen if we both died on the trip.
I said if we die, we die. That was another useful technique, to simply restate her non-statements with non-statements. But she kept going, demanding who would raise the kids. I said she would. She said she would not. She kept pressing for an answer or a rise out of me, and I tried brushing it off but she wouldn’t stop. I ended up half-shouting, “What do you want me to say? Do you want us to not go?”
My mom backed off somewhat sheepishly. She really doesn’t mean any harm. It’s almost like a verbal tic. She says nutty things you shouldn’t take at face value, and it can even be entertaining in the right mood. I know this, but I was literally just trying to get an apple.
Sometimes it was just too much, especially working from home. In the same walled space, I was trying my best to be a good father, husband, son and employee. My wife and I differed on how we thought the grandparents should help and interact — or not help and interact — with our young children. This was the subject of monstrous fights between us in private. Going off to live on an effing mountain by myself sounded appealing occasionally.
Overall though it was a special memory for three generations that probably will get fonder with more time removed from it. I only mention the difficulties to set up an expression of gratitude this Thanksgiving.
I am thankful this year and every year for my wife. She had the deck stacked against her: moving from Newport Beach, Calif., to a red state with red-hot sun, living on a language island in a Chinese-speaking household (“I swear babe, she’s not commenting on your parenting”), using a toilet with water pressure more apt for rat poop, also working from home in suburban exile with bickering elderly landlords downstairs, and of course the hardest job of all — let alone in an unfamiliar, uncontrollable environment — being such an extraordinary mother to our children.
I can’t picture a lot of daughters-in-law being able to make it through a year-plus like this so gracefully. There wasn’t even one spat with my parents. She held it in and took it out on me behind closed doors. I admire the situational awareness.
I am thankful for my parents this year and every year. They had the balls to come to this great country with nothing and set up their kids for a better life. Unfortunately my brother and I ended up quite mediocre. At an age when arguably we should be taking care of them, we’ve been so lucky to continue to indulge in their security blanket. I think he’s still on their cell phone plan, loser. I’m on their toll tag account.
My fledgling family saved around $50K in rent and expenses while our kids absolutely savaged their house. My older one turned the lone downstairs bathroom into a biohazard, and I’ve never seen a leather couch punctured with such breadth and depth. The comfort level I have with my parents is a reflection of the unconditional love I feel. And I know they would take on the entire world for their grandkids.
Everybody earned this overpriced new house up the road in Frisco, Texas. We did it together and can finally celebrate being apart.
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