14 February 2011, by Mandy Loh
Reader alert – I’m posting this with a very real risk that I’ll sound like a whiny spoilt brat. But hey, I’m just being real in sharing my experiences, even if I do sound less-than-perfect. I guess this is just part of adjusting to married life and being someone’s daughter-in-law. So please try not to judge me, ok?
Tim’s parents reside in Brunei (they’re Malaysian by citizenship, but have stayed in Brunei for many years to do business) and so I expected to spend Chinese New Year in Brunei this year. However, since I’m pregnant, and Tim’s brothers are working in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, I guess his parents felt that it made more sense for them to come over to celebrate CNY here instead.
The wonderful aspect of this arrangement was that I managed to still celebrate CNY with my side of the family, which I had previously prepared myself to miss. It was also awesome that we had a lovely 4-day long weekend this year to enjoy. However, celebrating my very first CNY with a whole new set of family was quite a culture shock, for embarrassingly shallow reasons on my part.
I must admit that I’ve had a pretty privileged life growing up with a domestic helper ever since I could remember. And so, cooking and doing household chores are things I’m not very accustomed to. Previously, reunion dinners with my extended family were fun affairs, where all the uncles, aunties and cousins would gather together, catch up, watch TV (or for the older folks, play mahjong) and generally enjoy ourselves – totally oblivious to the fact that lots of preparation work and cooking was being done in the kitchen by the domestic helpers. Then come dinner time, dishes and dishes of yummy food would magically appear on the dinner table and we would proceed to chow down happily. After we’d had our fill, we’ll drift back to the living room and continue our activities, leaving the dishes to disappear (again, magically) on their own.
This year, I suddenly realized to some degree of horror that I would have to help out in the kitchen. Especially in a family of 3 boys, who else would be expected to help the mom-in-law prepare everything for the biggest dinner of the year, and wash up thereafter?
Unfortunately, this fact didn’t really dawn on me when the in-laws arrived a few days prior to CNY and started massive grocery shopping to stock up on supplies. It didn’t even hit me when I went for my mani-pedi session, which I’d been doing every year for CNY. If I had thought about it, I should have just saved the $20 on the manicure, since I was going to be breaking a personal record for dishwashing as I had never washed before.
Much as I don’t wish to complain, as I know Tim’s mom worked so much harder than I did in preparing the reunion dinner, the fact is, after the ordeal of pre-dinner preparation work and post-dinner washing up, MY MANICURED NAILS STARTED TO CHIP! And CNY hadn’t even started yet!
Maybe my preggy hormones blew the entire situation way out of proportion, but I was feeling terribly sorry for myself that night. And Tim got the brunt of it as I threw a tantrum in our bedroom later. I guess it would have made me feel slightly better if he had even offered to help out in the washing-up. But no, the boys of the house are not accustomed to helping out in the kitchen. My heart went out to their poor, longsuffering mother who had been doing this for years on her own! And I made a mental note to myself that if our baby turns out to be a boy, I’ll make sure he learns to help out around the house and in the kitchen!
Anyway, things got better in the next few days, as Tim’s brothers invited their girlfriends over for some of the other meals, and so there were more hands to help out (thank God!) Of course, that was not the only reason why I was happier. It was also very enjoyable hanging out with his brothers and their girlfriends, which I count as a great blessing that we can all get along. In addition, I decided to lessen my misery by just removing the badly chipped manicure, and became more at peace with myself and the situation. So overall, it was a great CNY for me. I’ve just got to remember not to get a manicure again next year!