Parental expectations: as restrictive as turtlenecks

I never thought of myself as a turtleneck person. I am, however, willing to admit that unlike silk-screen animal sweatshirts, it depends on the person. If you can rock a turtleneck, more power to you. It’s just not my schtik.

This is why it baffles me that every Christmas since I was four, I’ve received a turtleneck from one relative or another. Since I have been old enough to dress myself, with the exception of one gray sweater sophomore year in high school, I have never worn a single turtleneck. I don’t think I’m a particularly chilly-necked person, nor do I have a significant other with vampire-like fetishes, nor am I a French urban sophisticate. I must exude some ineffable quality that leads one to believe that my neck requires garb.

Various methods of unloading these articles have included bargaining with Old Navy to give me $2.99 for the shirt, guilty re-gifting, numerous scissor experiments and thrift shop donations.

This year, as I opened my small pile of presents in the dining room of my cousin’s home in Fishkill, New York, I thought I had broken the curse. The gift exchange portion of the evening had ended, we enjoyed the meal my aunt had joyfully prepared and the Wii karaoke segment of the occasion had commenced. Nary a turtleneck to tell of.

As my uncle began the chorus of “You’re the One That I Want,” an aunt who previously thought she would not be able to attend this Christmas arrived. After the customary series of hurrahs and salutations, karaoke continued, and she handed out boxes from the bags at her feet.

You know what comes next.

It gazed up at me from the white Macy’s gift box in all of its purple, polyester-blend glory, as if to say, sultrily, “Hey Tiger, long time no see. I yearn to envelope your neck within my restrictive billows.”

I tried it on when I got home the next day. I had to give it another chance. Maybe two-thirds of my family saw something I didn’t. But as I looked in the mirror and fought back the urge to remove the interloper from my neck-space, I concluded that I am still not a turtleneck person, no matter how much two-thirds of my family expects me to be.

Maybe it’s an Asian thing, maybe it’s an American-born-Chinese thing, or maybe it’s just an Ng thing, but whatever the case, family gatherings, especially Christmas, offer a revealing combination platter of the impressions and expectations my family members have of me. For instance, the DVD of the first season of “Boston Legal” from the cousin who is convinced I’m destined to be a lawyer, or the “Chem Whiz: Grow Your Own Crystals” kit from my uncle who is certain I’ve got a future in science.

In addition to my projected career and my existing, though infinitely inadequate, aptitudes, my family’s academic expectations, and various indirect reminders of my inability to meet them, provide an inexhaustible topic of conversation.

Logging on to the SIS Web site this break, I noticed a nifty section that escaped my attention in previous semester: “Grades sent to parents.”

[Pause to consider.]

No thanks.

Whether you expend the paper and resources Yale provides to send your grades to your parents or not, the topic of the ever-important, yet always insufficient, GPA is sure to have abraded the porticos of your familial interactions.

The thing is, if Yale isn’t telling them, I have to. No GPA, no tuition. It’s a healthy agreement. This break, I pre-established a plan of action.

Stage one: Say “no C’s!” If this is not true, say “no D’s!” If this is not true, say “no F’s!” If this is not true, leave the room.

Stage two: Transition into vague statements like “I’m frustrated with my grade.”

Stage three: Get into specifics. Mention concepts and terms learned in the classes. Last semester, my chem TA suggested mentioning the VSEPR model. But that doesn’t really work when your mom is a chemistry teacher.

The last stage is the most legit and is applicable to most situations in life: Be honest. College is hard. The numbers say a lot about what I’m doing at Yale, but they don’t say everything.

After three semesters of being a dead-set economics major, I’m not sure anymore. My delusions of pre-med grandeur have been sufficiently extinguished as well.

The news didn’t exactly jive with my family’s expectations, but they’re dealing. After 19 years, they’re finally learning to stop wrapping their goals around my throat. Maybe next Christmas, it’ll catch on, and I’ll get a mock neck instead.

Baby steps.

Kristen Ng is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Mondays.

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