Friday, July 22, 2011


I'm the girl with the fucked up family. That's the story I've been telling as long as I can remember. We were some sort of sad parody of suburban America. Statistically, we were perfect: two parents, two children, a boy and a girl, occasional pets, living solidly middle-class lives in a sunny suburb in southern California. But I always felt that something was off. We didn't look right, for one, with a Chinese mother and ambiguously-ethnic children. And our furniture was always a little shabbier, our clothing not as nice, not because we were poorer than everyone else, but because we didn't have the tastes that should have gone with the lifestyle. And my brother and I were never very interested in that lifestyle. We went along on summer vacations to the Grand Canyon, we sat at family dinners. But I always felt like we were pretending at something, at a family dynamic we didn't actually feel.

And maybe this is because I saw it all through a thick haze of angst. Maybe our family was closer than I thought, or maybe it was just me sticking out, me who wasn't connecting. But I didn't connect. Not with my mother, who struggled with me since I was old enough to reject bedtime lullabies. Not with my brother, who I treated like a roommate, cordial but distant. Not even with my father, the only one I speak to these days. We enjoyed each other's company, but we didn't share. I kept my conversations carefully curated. (I attempted to curate conversations with my mother as well, but never as successfully.)

And now, I'm the girl who doesn't have a mother or brother. I know they're there, still, in a different sunny suburb, but there's a no-fly zone between us.

So, when I started to describe my trip to San Diego, it was a surprise to me to find myself saying "I like my family. It'll be good to see them."

It surprised me because it was true. It wasn't a platitutde to pretend that everything is fine. It wasn't something I said to sound normal, so I wouldn't have to explain why I only have half of my original family, or where my disconnect comes from. When I redefine "family" to mean "the family I have connections to," I find myself with a surprisingly healthy, happy, well-adjusted group of interesting people. Some of them I just met for the first time. Some of them have gone from 8 to 19 years old in the time since I'd seen them.

This newly-defined family is a family of teachers and engineers, from multiple ethnicities, countries, and cities. We are one professor of math, one professor of education, one high-school Spanish teacher, one middle-school P.E. teacher, one high-school shop teacher, one gardener, two mechanical engineers, two engineering students, one still-undecided college freshman, and three high-schoolers still exploring their interests. We talk shop around the dinner table: when and how students should specialize in their interests, the sad state of education funding.

My cousin Cora is coming to visit over spring break next year. I can't wait for you to meet her.

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