The other night, while staying over at my in-laws’ place in the countryside, my husband and I were just about to get ready for bed when it hit us.
Oh crap, we’d left the laundry in the washing machine all afternoon. We’d forgotten to hang it out to dry.
We bounded downstairs to the laundry room with flashlight in hand, and fully expected to spend 10 to 15 minutes doing what we should have done more than six hours ago.
Except, when I ran over to the washing machine, it was empty. Totally empty. And when I turned my head, sure enough, there was our laundry, neatly hung on clothes hangers on a bamboo rack.
As much as I felt relieved that I’d been saved the trouble of doing that laundry this evening, a slight sense of guilt pricked me.
Once again, my mother-in-law had done housework for me. Housework I could have easily done for myself…and should have done, given it was my laundry.
It’s embarrassing to admit that I’m in my thirties and still enjoy laundry assistance from my mother-in-law whenever we stay at her home in the countryside of Zhejiang Province. But it’s true. This sort of thing happens ALL the time.
So in the spirit of being honest, I’m sharing 4 embarrassing things that I’ve experienced with my Chinese in-laws. Here they are:
#1: My mother-in-law will still do laundry for us
Yes, it’s true. My mother-in-law has been known to hang up my clothing left in the washing machine…and she’s even done entire loads of laundry for us.
To be sure, though, I generally don’t ask her to do it. Even I know it’s embarrassing to be in your 30s and have your parents or in-laws do your laundry. (I mean, come on, anyone who has seen Legally Blonde would remember how Elle and Brooke howled over the fact that Warner still took his laundry home to get it cleaned.)
Here’s what usually happens. Either I put the clothing in the washing machine, but stupidly forget to hang it up on time (like I mentioned in the introduction). Or, my mother-in-law grabs my dirty clothing without telling me, and does the entire load for me (this happened ALL THE TIME when I stayed with my in-laws during the summer of 2011).
Sometimes, though, I do ask for her help. The other day, we were in a hurry to leave their house and I had just thrown a load of laundry into the washing machine. So I asked her if she could hang it and she said, “No problem” with a smile.
So now you know one of my biggest dirty secrets.
#2: My mother-in-law cooks all our meals
When we stay with my in-laws at their home, there’s one thing we can count on – three square meals, all home-cooked by my mother-in-law. Always.
This is the complete opposite of how things work at my parents’ home back in the US. There, the assumption is we’re on our own and have to make our own meals (or buy them). Unless, of course, my dad or mom specifically asks us to join them for a meal (or invites us out).
The difference totally blew my husband’s mind.
Anyhow, here at my in-laws’ home in China there’s never any concern about cooking. Everyone knows that when it’s lunch and dinner, my mother-in-law’s voice will echo through the corridors – time to eat! – and we’ll all come bounding down the stairs.
It’s a strange place for me. I spent so many years handling all my cooking (and enjoying much of it). Now, when I’m staying with my in-laws, I just show up to eat at the table.
I have spent some time with my mother-in-law in the kitchen, learning how to cook from her. (She taught me how to make vegan Chinese-style flatbread, for example.) But in many ways, I feel foreign in her kitchen, a feeling that has nothing to do with my nationality, actually. After all, she uses a fire-powered wok to do the majority of her cooking, and I honestly have no idea how to manage the fire. Given how clumsy I am, I might just burn down the kitchen if I tried!
Now that I think about it, maybe it is better to leave the cooking to a woman who won’t cause a conflagration in the kitchen.
#3: My in-laws give us money more often than you think
When a friend of mine — also a Western woman with a Chinese husband – posted in a private chat about how guilty she felt because her mother-in-law gave her some cash to buy a new laptop (her old one crashed), oh, how I could sympathize.
I thought about the many Chinese New Years that had passed since John and I returned to China in late 2013, and how his parents always gave us heaping hongbao filled with more money than adults in the family should have.
I remembered how my mother-in-law handed over an additional stack of bills last year because my husband was starting his business (and she wanted him to have some “lucky money”).
I even thought of the numerous times when my mother-in-law spent money on us that she totally shouldn’t have spent. Like buying those new coats for John for Chinese New Year (which prompted me to buy new clothes to make her happy). Or the comforter she bought for me to stay warm during the winter. Or even the way she purchased all of the basic necessities for our apartment in 2014.
#4: We’ve lived with my in-laws. A lot.
In America, the ultimate badge of adulthood is having your own place, separate from mom and dad.
Well, the most embarrassing thing I could mention on this list is the fact that we’ve lived in the same house as my in-laws – for long periods of time.
Even now, we divide our time between an apartment in Hangzhou and their home. Heck, they added an entire suite to the house just for my husband and me, which proves how welcoming they are.
It’s worlds away from America. I can guarantee you that if I asked my American friends and classmates, none of them would say that their parents or in-laws renovated their homes so they could live together. It’s just not done there.
As embarrassing as it is to admit this, I have to confess I’m also grateful. This suite they’ve provided us is symbolic of the incredible support they’ve given me and my husband.
Life isn’t always easy for John and me. But knowing that we have a couple of incredibly loving parents behind us – willing to do things that I’m a little embarrassed to talk about – makes the hard times a little more bearable.
If you’re all grown up, is there anything you’re embarrassed that your parents or in-laws still do for you?