Friday, January 7, 2011

The Plot Against Beta Dad

Wrapping up this orgie of guest bloggers is Beta Dad, whom I first met when he used wit, charm, and PayPal to win a silly caption contest her at the Van. Now he's slowly taking over the Internet. And
I’m delighted to be here on Wait in the Van, helping to celebrate the Twelve (or so) Days of Christmas!  And as we all reflect on what the holidays have meant to us this year, I, as many of my co-guest posters have, would like to address one of the perennial themes of the season. 

The subject that’s especially close to my heart as I start taking down the neighbors’ ornaments and putting them in my garage until next year is both deep and powerful:  The Conniving Mother-In-Law.

I realize that you may think you’ve heard all there is to be said about this subject.  Or perhaps you even feel that your own mother-in-law is the most aggravating possible embodiment of this archetype. 

But I ask you: Is your mother-in-law actually trying to murder you? 

If you answered “yes,” then you’ll be able to relate to what follows.  If you answered “no,” then my tale may serve as a reminder of how easy you really have it, mother-in-lawwise.*

I first met my mother-in-law almost exactly one fifth of a century ago.  I came to her house along with a group of my then future-wife’s college friends, to eat dinner and prepare for a symphony performance at the Kennedy Center.  Or it might have been a rave in a Baltimore warehouse.  I can’t remember.  But that’s not important.  The important part is that my future mother-in-law didn’t suspect that I was dating her daughter.  Because I wasn’t.  Officially.  Her daughter wasn’t allowed to date, you see, because she was only nineteen and in her second year of college.  And after she graduated, she wasn’t really allowed to date either.  And then when she went to med school she certainly wasn’t allowed to date, because that would have been a huge distraction.  So I didn’t officially date my future wife until about eight years after we met, and we didn’t get married until after a decade of being just good pals who certainly would never have co-habitated and perpetrated an intricate scheme of deception involving fictitious roommates, designated parental phone lines, and secret hiding places for stashing evidence of my existence in the event of an unexpected visit.

The point is that I have a long history with my mother-in-law, and the first half of it was quietly, but openly, contentious.

(For simplicity’s sake, my mother-in-law will heretofore be referred to as May-Uh, a rough phonetic representation of the northern Vietnamese word for “mom,” which is actually spelled “Me” with a little dot under the “e” but I don’t know how to make the little dot and anyway it would be confusing to have a character in a story in which I also appear who is called “Me.”)

So, yeah.  My wife’s family is Catholic and Vietnamese, in that order, and they fled their homeland for the U.S. during the fall of Saigon, when my wife was two and her sister was a couple months old.  Then they worked like hell, had a couple more kids, prospered, and had a couple more kids after that. 

That backstory has a lot to do with why they weren’t too keen on the idea of their daughter dating an unambitious, athnostic (I think I just made that word up), white carpenter with a B.A. in English.

The way I usually explain the trajectory of my relationship with my in-laws is as follows: First, I was known as the guy who fixed my future-wife’s car.  Then I graduated to her friend. Next, I became the guy that they prayed would disappear so their daughter could be courted by a nice Vietnamese engineer.  Eventually, I was the fiancĂ© reluctantly taking adult catechism classes; the American husband; and finally, Number One Son-In-Law.

And over the years, especially during the first decade, the key to ingratiating myself to them (to the extent that it was possible) was my capacity for, and great joy in, eating ungodly quantities of Vietnamese food. 

If you are not familiar with Vietnamese food, I’m sorry.  So very, very, sorry.  If you have eaten Vietnamese food—even mediocre examples of the cuisine—you are most likely salivating at the very mention of it. 

At this point, I’d like to conduct a thought experiment for those of you who love Vietnamese food.  Imagine, if you would, the best dishes from the best Vietnamese restaurant that you have ever been to: crispy egg rolls, fragrant broths, slippery noodles, delicate crepes, complex spices, heaps of fresh herbs…  Are you holding that sensory experience in your mind?  Good.  Savor it. 

Those dishes you are trying to taste by licking the empty air in front of you?  They are absolute steaming heaps of hoboshit compared to what May-uh whips up for between-meal snacks.  For our toddlers. 

When she makes an actual meal for grownups, the planets align.  Oceans part and ethereal trumpets erupt in a fanfare of indescribable glory. Then the sky fills with the most sublime strains of harp music until the angels collapse on their instruments, weeping and cursing their condemnation to a heaven where such food is inaccessible.

I feel very strongly about May-Uh’s cooking.

And that’s why it was so bitterly ironic when it finally dawned on me that the food I loved so much was the very weapon she had been using for two decades to instigate my early demise.  How could I have not seen through her acts of acceptance and even tenderness towards me as just part of her ploy to get me out of the way, so that her daughter could remarry someone more worthy?

There is perhaps no one who has a better understanding of my gluttony problem than May-Uh.  Even my wife doesn’t know, for instance, exactly how many egg rolls I’m capable of demolishing.  I’ll estimate that I have eaten twenty in a twelve-hour period, and my wife will adjust for my dishonesty and poor number sense and assume that the figure is closer to thirty.  But it’s May-Uh alone who keeps tabs on how many of the irresistible artery-cloggers she has fried up on the industrial burner I eagerly set up like a meth lab in the garage whenever she comes to visit.  Would a woman who really cared about my wellbeing allow me to behave like this, knowing what she knows?
This may look like a garden variety meth lab; but it’s really far more sinister.
And the egg rolls are just a convenient example.  In the week and a half she has been visiting us, I have probably eaten twenty pounds of rice, a cubic yard of noodles, two pork loins, half a pork belly, a kilo of salt, two bottles of fish sauce, and a gallon of cooking oil. 

It was mere hours before writing this that the depravity of her plan dawned on me.  I was sitting in front of my laptop, at the dining room table, not meaning to have a meal at all, when I became aware that she had been slipping plates full of delicious pork-filled crepes the size of Denver omelets in front of me.  How many had I eaten?  Three?  Four?  Who knows? I was in a woozy state of food intoxication, as I have been since she arrived here.  I shot her a look that said, “I’m onto you, sister. And this ends NOW!”  I ate one more crepe and defiantly lay down on the couch.    

And it doesn’t stop when she leaves.  She spent all day today making dish after dish and packing them into the fridge where she hopes I will fall prey to their gustatory wiles.  But I am determined to resist the siren song of the egg roll.  I’ll not allow the Hydra in the icebox to orphan my babies and widow my wife.  Hear me well, Mother-In-Law!  I’M NOT GOING OUT LIKE THAT!

Wow.  That rant really left me drained.  I could totally go for a big bowl of sticky rice with sweet coconut milk.  What?  Am I supposed to fight this fiend on an empty stomach?

* But you should think about your answer long and hard: are you worth more to your MIL alive, or dead?

Beta Dad can be found looking for his Super Suit at his blog.
And he also writes at Aiming Low.
AND Daddy Dialectic.
And then there's The Twitter.

*I'm en route back to New York from Georgia, kids. Say a little prayer for me (even sing it if you'd like), and I'll be back on Monday with some stories of my adventures to this strange, warm land. And my misfortune with sharp objects.


  1. I have a Vietnamese woman who insists on feeding me on occasion. The egg rolls are great. Some of the soups scare me though.

  2. I always think that the whole Mother-In-Law monster stories are myths, until I hear tales like this and then thank my lucky stars that I got along relatively well with mine right from the get-go.

    Two bottles of fish sauce is enough to make anyone gag, and then barf, and then die. Good for you, man of strong stomach.

  3. I've always been a little afraid of Vietnamese restaurants but you've convinced me to face my fear of eating God knows what and give it a try. :)

  4. ::drools on keyboard::

    Goddamn. I really, really need to get a murderous Vietnamese mother-in-law.

  5. As someone who had the opportunity last week to partake in this woman's food, all I can say is this: there are way worse ways to die. Yum.

  6. I'm going to go for pho. I just ate breakfast but pho sounds really good now, with salad rolls.
    mmmm. There is few things in life as good as Vietnamese food.

  7. Beta Dad, this may be my favorite post yet. I never tire of your descriptions of your long, uh, friendship with almost-Dr Mom. Also, apparently for me food trumps babies. That's probably a jealousy issue since I've had the babies, but still await the food.

    the daughter of the only Asians on the planet who say when we come over, "Are you hungry?? Because we don't have any food."

  8. is it too late for me to dump my boring PA Dutch significant other and find a nice Vietnamese girl with a mother? No leftovers for dinner tonight - we're going out for Vietnamese!

  9. Being married to a Filipina, I can relate. I gain 10 pounds a week when I'm either in country or the MIL is visiting.

    Losing it is so hard when there is an outstanding Vietnamese restaurant just two blocks from the house and we are often too lazy to cook.

  10. Oh yeah, Vietnamese egg rolls. Ohhhhh mama...come to Miss Yvonne. You are one lucky, lucky son-in-law, my friend.

    Great, now I want Vietnamese for lunch.

  11. @JPT--Yeah, you don't want to order anything with tendons, tripe, or congealed blood in it if you are a novice.

    @Kev D.--Fish sauce guzzled in its pure form is gagalicious, true. But when added dash-by-dash, it's sublime.

    @Chi--My advice: stick with egg rolls, garden rolls, pho with rare beef, and bun (noodle) dishes, and/or go with someone experienced. Also, see my note to JPT about eating the naughty bits.

    @Two Busy--It's usually worth the risk. Plus, you get to have a hot 'namese wife in the bargain.

    @DiPi--You did us white boys proud, too!

    @NTH--Pho is great any time of day. I had it for breakfast on many 100 degree, 90 percent humidity days in Saigon. Goes well with cheap beer on ice.

    @Marcie--Thanks! I wish I could tell all the ridiculous stories of the subterfuge, but it could get back to MIL, and, well, you know how that could go... Also, I'm really sorry your parents don't cook.

    @Tarisa--You don't need to dump your SO. Just make friends with some Vietnamese folks whose parents live close by. Try hanging out at Eden Center in Falls Church.

    @Ed--There are worse things you could eat than Vietnamese food, for sure. A good light(ish) alternative is Banh Mi: 'namese sandwiches on fresh baguettes. Soooo good. And cheap!

    Miss Y--Run get you some bun cha gio, sister!

  12. My mother-in-law first tried to kill me with embarrassment by yelling out "I want a granddaughter" during the first dance at our wedding. She has continued her attempts in death-by-embarrassment by recounting my husband's birth in GREAT DETAIL, filling us all in on how my brother-in-law was conceived (it was in some shrubs at a park, if you were curious) and told dirty jokes at the dinner table with my parents who are NOT dirty jokers. I'm worried for when she tells stories to my future children. Her plan really might succeed.

  13. This post made me feel better about the greasy, calorie-laden breakfast I ate while reading it, which resulted from my attempt to make sausage egg and cheese McMuffins.

    Also, I think "The Hungry White Carpenter" could be a nice name for a hip Vietnamese restaurant.

  14. Now I'm hungry...and laughing, which is making me hungrier.

  15. What, just HALF a pork belly? She's not trying hard enough.

  16. @Alicia--I think I would rather die of egg rolls than of embarrassment. That's definitely an ignominious way to go.

    @Anisa--Look up an article in the Guardian U.K. about some research regarding eating greasy breakfasts. It will make you feel great! That's a good name for a restaurant, but my favorites are puns on unfortunate false cognates found in the Vietnamese language. "Pho" is pronounced sort of like "fu," but intoned as if you are asking a one word question. There's an actual restaurant called "Pho King" right near us (it's no good though). The punny possibilities are endless. Similarly, "Bahn mi" is pronounced almost like "Bang me," so again, opportunities for gags abound.

    @Kate--laughter is the best appetizer!

    @Keely--She knows I'll gnaw my way through the rest of it by the end of the weekend.

  17. We are big fans of Viet food, especially my husband. We have never had an opportunity to eat homemade Viet food however, the restaurant stuff alone brings us to our knees. My husband will eat all the cow bits and pieces that come with the deluxe Pho - we are Chinese after all (he would also pick up the bowl and chug down the soup if I didn't stop him). I am partial to the fried pork chops and Chinese sausage on rice and the spring rolls (I'm sure you're just rolling your eyes thinking, amateurs). Despite having a Vietnamese roommate in college, my husband never picked up the language, except to do stuff like "Pho King". We ashamedly still order by #. I don't think Vietnamese food is appreciated nearly enough in the US whereas Chinese food has been bastardized to a state that doesn't even resemble Chinese food and restaurants that call themselves Japanese recycle the same tired chicken teriyaki, missing out on the other Japanese culinary delights (and of course, there is barely a peep of Taiwanese food). Loved this post.


  18. I actually just checked to see when the Vietnamese restaurant up the block opens. I have to wait until lunch. Damn.

    I don't intentionally eat the "odd" bits, but when tutoring for a Vietnamese family and a Korean family at the same time a few years ago, I am pretty sure I ate all kinds of things on my "I don't eat that" list. I also loved every single one of them.

  19. I love the baguettes! They are the best that I have had outside of France. Didn't the French have an influence on vietnamese cooking? We need more Vietnamese restaurants in my area. I'm hungry now...

  20. I have had the pleasure of enjoying gallons of Pho and other assorted dishes. Good stuff my friend.

  21. I'm hungry. And I just ate supper. (I think my MIL puts something "extra" in the rice crispie squares because I must eat at least nine when she makes them.)

  22. I have never had Vietnamese food, but if it is anything like Thai food, im in.

  23. My M-i-L wants to kill me, too - but she does it with that southern, bless your heart sort of kindness - the stab you in the back when you aren't looking kind?

  24. and Kristine - weren't you surprised when you were in GA and were probably the only one there who could drive in the snow??

  25. and Kristine - weren't you surprised when you were in GA and were probably the only one there who could drive in the snow??

  26. I have never had Vietnamese food, but if it is anything like Thai food, im in.