everything's fine with Jenny Yang
everything's fine with Jenny Yang Podcast
for those of us who don't say sh*t to our families about our lives #GoesToItalyOnce

for those of us who don't say sh*t to our families about our lives #GoesToItalyOnce

what they don't know won't hurt them
Saturday, November 19, 2023 - mama being silly with the breadstick at a fancy chef-y wine restaurant that we couldn’t get reservations to so we got breadsticks and wine. (Retrovino, Rome, Italy)

#GoesToItalyOnce is a series about the European trip i took in November 2022 with my mom and my guy Corey. we spent four days in Rome (Italy), two days in London (UK), four days in Paris (France), two days in Florence (Italy), then one more night in Rome before we flew back to Los Angeles. the week that my dad passed away in 2021 i wanted to give my mom something to look forward to besides all the grief. i told her i’d take her to Europe so she can see it for the first time. exactly a year after dad’s death, we made it happen. after this trip my mom and i will never be the same again.

this goes out to those of us who don’t tell our families nothing about our lives. you know who you are. sounds like a bummer but i call it a “survival skill.” you grew up knowing that if your parents or siblings knew about how you live, no matter how big or small the detail, they will find a way to criticize it.

if they don’t know nothing, they can’t say nothing.

and this way, we can protect our little hearts from disappointment and pain.

up until just a few years ago, i never showed up as myself around my family.

since i moved back to Los Angeles after college, I’d very deliberately wear the most modest and plain clothing i could whenever i saw my parents. and for sure can’t go overboard with makeup. “what’s that on your face?” i had put on some contour under my cheeks during a trip to taiwan with mom and dad. “makeup. it’s nothing.” “well you look weird. and dirty.” but then also never zero makeup because i needed just enough to hide any blemishes or else i might draw criticism about my diet or hygiene or whatever theory immigrant mothers had about acne.

sometimes i didn’t wear shorts or tshirts even when it was a hot day just to avoid hearing the inevitable comment from mom, “aren’t you cold? just looking at you makes me cold.” taken out of context, that comment is harmless. almost like a joke. but who i had become did not fit my parent’s idea of an ideal daughter. so in that context, it was a reminder that pricked like a thorn. a gentle prick but a prick no less.

my family is not a gift giving family. gifts equals cash for most Chinese people and we never celebrated Christmas. but one year for my mom’s birthday i thought i’d “try.” i was like, “look mom, i got you and dad a gift this year! open it!” she tore open the wrapping paper and inside was a brand new Cuisinart electric citrus juicer. i explained, “you always complain about how the oranges from the tree go to waste because juicing is too tiring on your hand and how that waste of the oranges makes dad complain and annoy you all the time. so i thought, hey! problem solved!” her face immediately turned sour. “why did you waste your money on this? aiyah. return it. get your money back. we don’t need this.” well fuck me for trying to help.

actually, these comments sound funny to me now. they’re absurd! but back then, oooooh. i hated it. i used to be really upset about how my family didn’t really see all of me. i was the youngest and only girl with two much older brothers and a very old school patriarchal dad. my parents never came to any of my endless student activities except for student awards time and graduation. there was a period in my mid-twenties when i had to mourn the connection i would never have with my family — a connection strained by age, generation, immigration, language barriers, TRAUMA…phew trauma. all of it.

this Europe trip that i took with mom and corey this past Fall was the first time mom and i have spent an extended period of time together since forever. it was the first time i’ve ever felt like i was able to fully be myself around her. she didn’t do as much commenting on my appearance. and when she did i told her straight up, i don’t want you saying these things to me anymore, mom. it’s not helpful. i like the way i look. she didn’t say a word but her body language seemed to accept this new boundary.

it helped that i was with my corey. corey is my partner because he was the first man that i felt fully seen by. someone who i’ve been able to be my authentic self with from the beginning. especially when he was around me and my mom during the entire trip, i couldn’t be anything less than myself. i wore makeup the way i did. clothes the way i liked. ate and drank cocktails the way i usually do. all things that my mom never saw me do.

i finally felt free to be myself around my mom. and we encouraged mom to feel that way for the first time in her life as well. we forced mom to not just go with the flow but express her preferences for what she wanted to eat and where she wanted to go. we didn’t just run her world like she was used to. she’s not an alcohol girlie but we encouraged her to taste test sips from different cocktails for the fun of it and so she could get a sense for what she liked.

Monday, November, 28th, 2022 — after sipping the cocktails Corey and I were drinking, we realized the perfect drinks for mom were some form of a liquer or bitters with soda. i think this was a campari and soda. not too boozy. (Procacci wine bar, Florence, Italy)

after this trip, i think i figured out why my mom was so hyper-critical most of my life. my mom didn’t speak English, didn’t drive, sewed clothes, had no social life and spent all her time cooking, cleaning and working for the household. she lived her life for everyone else. but mothering was her domain and policing my appearance and habits as a girl became very important to her. constantly making comments about how i looked was a way for her to “do her job” as a mom. it was one of the few arenas in her life that allowed her some power and authority. i didn’t see it this way until very recently. policing how i fit into her very narrow gender norms was her way of making sure that i didn’t “suffer” because i didn’t conform — a way for her to care for me.

well too bad, mama. i don’t conform. sorry. you helped to raise a loud ass stand up comedian who will now tell you SOME shit about my life.

P.S. i loved the food tours I did in Europe. and i made friends with the people who run Eating Europe. very high quality hosts and locations. they’re great! here’s a 15% off discount code for their tours. i get nothing from this! lol (CODE: JENNYANDFRIENDS)

everything's fine with Jenny Yang
everything's fine with Jenny Yang Podcast
everything’s fine with Jenny Yang is your weekly reminder to find joy in an unjust world. jenny’s thoughts and stories about love, grief, weird shit, and doing what we can to feel okay. this thing may morph into something else. who knows? i hope to touch your heart and tickle your sphincters. and if you like it, please share this with a friend and subscribe and comment.
<3 jenny