My mother always packs for my father when they go on vacation. All my life, I’ve found this obnoxious. My father never knows where his clothes are and never decides what he’s going to wear—that is, unless he’s working on cars in the garage. He says that when they first got married, my mother was always so critical of his wardrobe that he handed over the control. I used to think of it as pure laziness and complacency.

Guo Jian is a packing fanatic. He LOVES to pack. He’s meticulous and painstakingly slow, but he thinks of everything. When we go on vacation, he tells me to make him a list of the things I need and he’ll pack them for me. He’s even willing to stay up all night to get it done.

I’ve never left him that list. The first reason is that my writing in Chinese is sill painfully slow and it’s less efficient for me to write a list out than to just gather up what I need. What’s more, I prefer to organize my own things. He doesn’t mind me doing this part of the task, though, because what he truly seems to love is the placement of things—the thoughtful distribution of weight and efficient use of space. He’s obsessive about it.

I, on the other hand, usually just throw things in a bag. I’ve done way too much travelling in my life to worry over the subtle efficiency of one zipped compartment over another. I used to live on the road, practically speaking, so packing doesn’t phase me. I’m happy to do it within an hour and then if I’ve forgotten something when I arrive, I figure I can do without.

He insists, however, that I am not allowed to pack this way when we’re travelling together. It makes him crazy. I’ve compromised by piling my stuff up on a chair (and now Echo’s as well) and then going to bed while he fusses until the wee hours. It’s certainly not worth the argument.

I’m writing this while on vacation in Thailand. It’s taken me until now—five and a half years into our relationship—to realize that we’re not so different from my parents. When one person is insistent on doing something, what’s the other to do but allow them their obsessive tendencies? You see, I’m married to this person who is OCD about packing. My father’s married to the same kind of person.

And there are benefits: he remembered things like an umbrella, thermometer, candles, insect repellent, an extra hand towel, even a lightweight throw (a thin blanket) that works great for sitting on a sandy beach and weighs next to nothing—much better than a beach towel.

When we first met, I was impressed by his attention to detail on our outings. He’d pull out interesting things from his bag like a magician pulls out coloured scarves from seemingly bottomless pockets. I was constantly amazed by what he could fit into his backpack, much to his prideful delight. He was the guy who had the mini speakers and MP3 player to create “mood” when we sat outside and watched the sunset. He also always seemed to have the right combination of medication or ointments no matter what simple ailment befell either of us. I took his detailed planning as a sign that he cared about the little things, which is a good thing, certainly.

The problem lies in the usurping of control, I feel. We’re only away for two weeks, but I’ve discovered some items missing from my stack since coming away. He claims they were unnecessary. An extra ten diaper inserts for the baby were unnecessary, I asked? He’s been scrubbing soiled diapers much more diligently so that we don’t run out. Uh-huh.

He also felt that the cloth bag I keep my undergarments in would be better served as a diaper bag, thus my skivvies have been randomly scattered throughout my luggage making locating a clean pair of underwear a total pain every day. I growled about it for the first few days and then I finally just employed a plastic bag.

I’ve implemented a new rule. If he insists on packing, I insist on being consulted if there is an item he feels is “unnecessary.” What can he do but agree? After all, he’s married to someone who is OCD about communication and has obsessive tendencies regarding egalitarianism!


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