A family isn’t just flesh & blood.

You can’t claim to be looking out for my best interests when best is defined by what you want for yourself. You can’t say I’m the worst embarrassment and expect me to heed your “advice.” You can’t claim I don’t care about the family when my siblings are the only reason I still show up. You can’t say I only use you for money when I’m self-sufficient.

A family isn’t just flesh & blood.

A family is made of the people who nurture you. Support you emotionally. Recognize that having your own life doesn’t mean that you’re abandoning them.

Parents aren’t supposed to gut you with manipulative lies. Parents aren’t supposed to call you an asshole or a cunt. Parents aren’t supposed to justify calling you those things because it’s out of disappointment and from loving you too much. Parents shouldn’t pray for you to fail, just to get the opportunity to say I told you so. Parents are supposed to apologize when they’ve done you wrong.

I know that I am loved.

I have the greatest family a person could hope to have: my boyfriend, my siblings, my friends, and extended family.

The people who brought me into this world loathe everything that makes me who I am as an adult. I don’t need their approval. I don’t need their money. They’re grasping at straws.

A family isn’t just flesh and blood.

It’s who has your back (and vice versa).

The reclamation of beauty

When I was four years old,
I drew (fair-skinned) mermaids
with huge breasts & light hair
that flowed down to their tiny waists.
The mermaids’ faces never looked like mine —
their eyes were larger (& not almond-shaped),
their noses were smaller (& pointed),
their mouths were fuller (& bright pink).
Every night, I’d pray that the next morning,
I’d wake up transformed into Ariel,
a beautiful (white) mermaid.

When I was fourteen years old,
I watched Gilmore girls obsessively.
While I could relate to Lane (Rory’s Korean best friend)
she never considered herself pretty,
nor was she sought after by cute boys
(the measure of a teenage girl’s beauty & self-worth).
Her first (unrequited) love was music &
her failed attempts at dating were a repetitive punchline.
The sarcastic brown girl was always the funny foil
to the doe-eyed protagonist with a porcelain complexion.
I wasn’t the heroine in my own life.

When I was twenty-four years old,
I lifted my chin defiantly & looked in the mirror.
My eyes were dark brown (& almond shaped)
my nose was wide (& round)
my mouth was small (& pale pink).
I’d never be a tall, restrained, universally liked queen,
since I was a short, loud, unapologetically honest woman.
There was a newfound freedom (& power) in being myself.
I (finally) recognized that when
my handsome man said, “You’re beautiful.”
it was the truth.

“What are those things under your shirt?”

As a teenager, I babysat rambunctious boys. They destroyed everything in their path. They brawled to resolve arguments. Their parents laughed, “Boys will be boys!” when I described their aggression.

When a couple down the street asked me to babysit their demure five-year-old daughter Ana, I was relieved. Playing with Barbies and reading stories would be a welcome break from the chaos of babysitting boys. I wouldn’t have to stop fights or put valuables in unreachable places.

After going over Ana’s bedtime routine and their contact numbers, her parents left for their date night. We had pizza for dinner and played hide and go seek. (Not as difficult with two people, she discovered.) Before bedtime, Ana insisted that we have a tea party. We sat at her pink table and sipped invisible tea out of matching teacups.

“Samantha, how do you like my tea party?”

“It’s the loveliest tea party I’ve been to, Ana. Thank you for being a gracious hostess.”

“What are those things under your shirt?”

“You mean…my bra?”

“What’s in your bra? My mommy said those are called breasts, right?”

“Uh — ”

“My mommy and daddy are doctors. They say you should use the real words for privates.”

“Scientifically speaking, I have breasts under my shirt.”

“When will I get those?”

“It depends on when you go through puberty.”

“What’s that?”

“When your body changes — actually, you should ask your mom about it, not me.”

“My mommy and daddy aren’t regular doctors. They talk to people to make sure their brains are happy. What’s that called?”

“They’re psychiatrists.”

“Why are they white and I’m brown?”

“…”

“My hair doesn’t look like my mommy’s either.”

“This tea party has been a fantastic one, but it’s your bedtime, Ana.”

“Already?”

“Teeth brushing and pajama time for you!”

“You’re not making me sleep early because I ask lots of questions, are you?”

“Not at all!”

While Ana slept, I decided two things:

  1. I would rather broker peace between battling brothers than field more awkward questions from this observant little girl.
  2. I would never babysit for a couple of psychiatrists ever again.

Throwback Thursday: snacks & hugs

Brie & me. 1998.

Brie & me. Matawan, New Jersey. 1998.

When Brie was a child, her diet was extremely limited — it consisted of chicken wings, Dunkaroos frosting, cream from Oreos, and Tropicana orange juice. Because she was nonverbal, it was as though her other senses were heightened. She could smell a glass of orange juice and know that it wasn’t Tropicana. (In her opinion, the generic brand just wasn’t as good.) Fortunately, she’s expanded her culinary horizons as she’s grown up — she eats fruits and vegetables now, too.

My boss likes to give unsolicited life advice.

When I started working at the firm two years ago, I made an unfortunate discovery — my boss likes to give unsolicited life advice.

My boss is clueless in a Mitt Romney kind of way. He grew up and stayed in Buckhead, one of the most bourgeoisie neighborhoods in Atlanta; his brothers and parents’ houses are also on the same street. He’s never lived in an apartment.

Since my boss got his driver’s license, all of his cars have been new BMWs — that’s forty years of driving nothing but BMWs, y’all. Aside from a few of us people of color at work, he’s insulated from diversity. I’m the first Filipino person he’s ever met.

I had been working at the firm for several months. On a Friday afternoon in September, my boss called me into his office.

“Sam! Have a seat.”

I sat in the chair in front of his desk and fidgeted nervously.

“You’re not in trouble — don’t worry!”

“That’s a relief, sir.”

“Whadda y’all young people do for fun these days? Like, this weekend?”

“My boyfriend and I are going to the Music Midtown concert tomorrow.”

“Didn’t know they were bringin’ that festival back! I went in the ’90s when I was single. Who all’s playin’?”

“A lot of indie bands — I’m looking forward to seeing Walk the Moon, The Joy Formidable, and Young the Giant. Coldplay is headlining, though.”

“Never heard of any of ’em, ‘cept Coldplay.”

I suppressed a laugh. “What are you and your family doing this weekend?”

He sighed in exasperation. “Prolly somethin’ lame like takin’ the kids to the park or some shit.”

“That should be fun!”

“Nah, it’s borin’ as hell! Lemme let give ya the biggest piece of advice that anybody’s gonna give ya.”

I gestured for him to continue.

“Put off gettin’ married ‘n’ havin’ kids as long as possible.”

“I’m twenty-three, so I’m not in a hurry.”

“Good. ‘Cuz everybody says the day yer kid’s born is the best day of yer life — they’re lyin’.”

“…”

“Not to say kids aren’t great — ‘cuz they can be. But they wear ya out and are a money pit.”

“…”

“Forget about doin’ what ya wanna do — yer life’s gonna revolve ’round them ‘n’ their schedules.”

“…”

Enjoy yer freedom. Y’all hafta live it up for the rest of us who’re stuck with our balls ‘n’ chains.”

I glanced around, waiting to be dismissed.

My boss nodded, grinning. “Glad we had this talk, Sam.”

“Me…too…”

When they stared (we exchanged smiles)

During high school, I was one of four Filipinos.
It made sense that we were two of the “exotic friends” 
at a (high school) friend’s wedding.
When they stared, I squeezed your hand
(we exchanged smiles).
Birmingham is (perpetually) decades behind.
People claim,
“I’m not racist — I prefer that folks
stick to their own kind.”
Upon returning to Atlanta,
I breathed a sigh (of relief)
because here, when they stare,
(we exchange smiles)
and brush off comments like,
“Y’all will have the most beautiful children!”