Thursday, June 30, 2005

Let Me Tell You About My Grandchildren

That is a license plate I used to see all the time in the 80's. I often wondered what it meant, and precisely what kind of person would take the time to find two bolts and two nuts and attach it to the front of their Dodge Aries or their Mercury Cougar with what little strength they had left in them. I have since realized in the past 4 months that were such a license plate available today, my father would buy three: one for the car, one for his apartment window, and one to wear sandwich-board style around his neck.

To wit: I took my dad for coffee at the Panera near "Del Boca Vista" since I couldn't bear to watch him down one more 5oz. white styrofoam cup of Chock Full O'Nuts coffee from his building's social area "kitchen." It even SMELLED bad; like old cigarettes floating in rusty water...or something like that. So I put him in the vehicle and mandated a trip to an actual place that sells actual coffee. Not great coffee, but better than Chock Full O'Butts at the very least.

So we get there, I show him the miracle that is free wi-fi, and up he gets for a refill ("Can you believe this is a free refill, E? With free computer?! I'm sitting here and drinking coffee till I bust!"). I watch him walk to the coffee area, thinking, "What a cute wee man he is." UNTIL...DANGER!!...OH GOD NO!!..Two very attractive young Asian women are also walking to the coffee area. Oh dear god, please let him not notice. Come on Dad, keep looking down, keep looking down, come on back....OH NO! He's seen them. It's all over. It has happened again. Cue his now well-refined stump speech:

"Ladies! Hello! Tell me, are you Chinese?" If "yes," proceed with further remarks. If "no," hellwidit! Proceed with further remarks regardless: "Would you like to see a photo of my granddaughter? She's Chinese, you know. Isn't she a wee peach?! And that's her mother over there! Come and say hello!" And these bewildered women who were, more often than not, born and raised in Silver Spring, Maryland to Vietnamese or Korean parents, come traipsing over to say hello to a strange woman who is the mother of a Chinese baby.

Well. That was awkward, wasn't it?

The Panera Incident as it is now called, broke me. I was a bit harsh on my wee Dad, because I don't want him to go on and on about my daughter being Chinese and accosting random Asians to inquire as to their ethnicity while he's at it. I just got so mad at him for bringing up her ethinicity AGAIN and for rudely asking about other people's ethnicity. I went on and on about how it's rude to ask someone about their ethnicity, and how that is precisely what I don't want my daughter to have to deal with throughout her life ("mom, some weird old dude came up to me to show me pictures of his chinese grandbaby..."), and could he please stop with the Chinese stuff over and over again?

Short story long: I'm a jerk. He looked so hurt, and just said, "But I wanted to show her off," to which I replied, "and that would be fine if you stopped random white people to show pictures of your other three grandkids..." and then stopped myself. Because guess what? He does that too. In the end he did hear me on the ethnicity inquiries, although he declared as a proud Scotsman that "Americans are so uptight about that stuff; it's not like it's a secret that you are Asian or Latino, right? So why the agro about being asked?" But he promised to not do that anymore to avoid any international incidents. What he just couldn't understand, however, was why I was infringing on his grandparental rights; why I was not going to Let Him Tell You About His Grandchildren.

And he's right. Absent the engaging of Asians exclusively, I need to get over him showing off his grandkids even if it embarrasses me. I was mad at him for the above reasons, but--if I'm really honest--I was mad at him for making me feel like I was in junior high all over again. You remember those days, right? The days where you truly believed that your parents embarrassing you was out of your control and inevitable. Where you felt certain that your parents' weirdness was reflecting on you and tainting your reputation, and you felt minimized by their overenmeshment in your life.

And then you grew up and realized that embarrassment is a construct of your own mind; you create the feeling based on your own fear of your own shortcomings rather than on someone else's shortcomings reflecting on you. I had to remind myself of that at Panera. I had to remind myself that, just as in junior high school, I was feeling embarrassment about my dad's actions even though the other people involved found him eccentrically charming. I also had to remind myself that my daughter is in fact Chinese. And that maybe I need to worry less about some potential future slight she may face, and instead worry about being a good daughter to a very well-meaning, if truly batty, Proud Grandpa. Family is family; you accept them as they are. THAT'S the lesson I should want my daughter to learn, because with that kind of foundation, she will grow up to be the gracious young woman in a Panera who makes an old man's day because she Lets Him Tell Her About His Grandchildren...even the caucasian ones.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And he loves her... and you.