Saturday, February 16, 2013

Richard Was Born

I delivered Richard after Easter. It was a smooth delivery and I came home the next day. I could tell my mom was so excited. She waited so long to help me after the delivery just like the way her mom did for her. I desperately wanted her here when I delivered my first son Jonathan. We were still graduate students at the time so it was impossible for me to invite her at the time; we simply did not have money or enough room.
     I should have known that my mom could not cook or do much of any housework. She cooked me a chicken with traditional Chinese herb roots. Different from her mom, she made more, much more for me. So she put in a whole pound, instead of one or two roots. Now, you can imagine how strong the flavor was, it really was like eating medicine. She brought me a bowl even before I woke up in the morning and asked me to eat it while it was still hot, followed by eggs and so on. She didn’t want me to come downstairs. Traditionally, mothers stayed in bed for 40 days after delivering a baby, and were not supposed to do anything. Otherwise, something might happen and the illness would stay with you for life. It might have been true in the old days when everything was not so clean.
     It was okay for a day, but 40 days? I could not even think about it after I tried one day. I was so bored and I could not sleep all day and all night, and I didn’t want to eat that much. No wonder my mom looked so full in her face in pictures after she delivered my sister and brother, and that was the only time she was not too thin.
     I had experience from Jonathan though I did make plenty of mistakes. I hoped that I could correct my mistakes this time around for Richard or do things a little differently. My mom came to try her best Chinese ways of doing things first time. She was so upset when she saw me come downstairs and do things my way. She felt she couldn’t help me the way it supposed to be and she felt unwanted. It was a big adjustment after I managed my own house these many years without anyone around though I hoped my mom was around. Now she was here and I felt that I was trying to do better following the best and most recent findings on what was good for my baby. She told me that was not the way my grandma did it and so on.
     My mother’s homesickness started to worsen when she felt like she was not helping as much as she originally thought. Although she said she and my father were an old couple and they were not like us inseparable. They hardly did anything together and they even slept in separate rooms now that they had extra rooms since my father snored so loudly. In fact, she still cared so much about my father and when my father’s letters came, they would lighten her face all day. She loved my father and my father loved her. I guessed it’s the companionship and she knew my father was around and nearby.
     She started to worry about my brother’s girlfriend who she introduced to him two years before in my parents’ city Chengdu. My brother was working on a little island on the South China Sea. He came back to my parents’ home every few months for about a week. My parents were very fond of this girl and she came to our home every weekend and holidays since her parents were not nearby. She even knitted two sweaters for Jonathan, which my mom brought here. She graduated from medical school and worked in a pharmacy. Only my brother didn’t make any move. It seemed to him that she was my parents’ friend. My parents asked him many times and he did not have any comment. Now that my mom was not home, my father didn’t know what to do. He told this girl that my brother had to be the one to make a decision about this although they had tried very hard to push him. Maybe the best thing for her was to look for someone else since she waited for two years and she was close to 30 years old, and everyone knew in China, it was very difficult for a man to be interested in a woman over 30 years old. She cried and left my parents’ home and didn’t return. “Now, your father doesn’t know how to handle this delicate matter. I am not there, and she has not come back. Oh no, we are going to lose such a nice girl. It’s very hard to find girls like her, pretty, professional, and knows how to do all the things around house. Look at these sweaters she knitted; you and I can’t knit this good and it only took her two weeks in the evening hours, and I watched her knitting.” My mother couldn’t stop talking about losing her and praising her; it almost made me jealous.
     Then she started to worry about my sister getting married since she was 26 already and she was not even looking for a nice man for herself. I tried to tell her that maybe they had not yet met the one who would stir their hearts. They would meet someone when the time came. Then she started to worry those mice or insects might eat her dry goods at home without anyone taking care of them.
     One weekend in June, Richard was baptized at our Church. Anthony’s brothers and their wives, his parents and our friends all came at the same time. Like Easter, this was another completely overwhelming experience for my mom. Not only did she feel that she could not help me cook. She could not talk to any of her in-laws. I was busy cooking and watching my newborn at the same time between people’s arms. My mom was alone in the corner of our house and seemed completely forgotten.
     The next day, my mom told me she might have caught a cold and she had a running nose and watery eyes all night. I was a little disappointed. Once again, she wanted me to massage her with that buffalo bone to ease her body pain. I tried but she didn’t think I tried hard enough. She wanted me to rub a few spots on her body till the skin turned blue then she would be better. I refused and tried to give her some medicine we had. Then I felt my nose was a little itchy when I was watching TV in the living room after the busy weekend. That huge basket of flowers someone gave us caught my eyes. That was the source for my mom’s runny nose and watery eyes, and my itchy nose. I had the same symptoms when I worked in the library where there were fresh bundles of flowers. I got up right away and moved all the flowers outside. Sure enough, my mom’s cold recovered right after, so did mine (obviously an allergy).
     It was hard to convince my mom that she was allergic to flowers because she insisted that she had a cold. She started to worry about getting sick in the US or even dying here. She told me that her friend came to see their daughter and grandchildren in the US and was fine until one evening right after dinner. She suddenly had a stroke and died here in the US. She thought that it must have been awful for her friend to be stuck in the strange world of “Yin” and not understand anything. She wanted to go home.
     I tried to ask her stay for six months so that my children would know their grandma better. I needed her too. Recognizing that my mom was not happy here, her unhappiness also affected me emotionally. I felt like she was rejecting the world I found for myself and she was going to abandon me here like the old Chinese who say that a married daughter is someone else’s. That was probably why my father refused to come. I once wrote him a letter asking him to give up smoking for his grandchildren’s sake, especially since my brother and sister were not even married yet. He never replied until my mother came and told me that my letter made him very upset and he blamed me for giving him a bad omen by saying that.
     I booked my mom’s return ticket and took her to one of the fanciest Chinese restaurants. She was impressed by the style of the building and decorations inside, but as usual, not impressed by the food. There was nothing tasted good here, but only looked good. When I just came to the US, I felt the same way. Everything here in the supermarket was already preprocessed and from big industrial farms where the seeds were bred to meet standards such as looking good and easy shipping. They used so many human-made chemicals to either increase the growth of the plants or prevent diseases, or keep the produce fresh. I still had a hard time seeing artificial coloring, especially beef, the colored bright red water dripping. I would rather see its true colors. It was very different from where my mother purchased her food from the farmer’s market every day from small family farmers’ fresh daily pick.
     My mom had the impression that in the US, everything was big and strongly made. The land was big, the roads wide, house large, and people big too. She tried to change my pants’ elastic one day. It took her all day just to take it apart because it was machine-sewn back and forth in so many rounds because it was intended not to be taken apart again.
     She also enjoyed the Annual Flower Show, the Museum of Science, and beaches and parks around. We also took her up north to see New Hampshire and Maine. She was impressed by how much empty space there was everywhere because in China, every possible inch had been used for something or the other.
     We all went to the airport to say goodbye to my mother. I was fine until my mom’s airplane took off. My tears couldn’t stop running down my face although I had Richard in my arms, with Jonathan and Anthony by my side. I tried to tell myself that my family was around me. But to my mom, I was always a child. Her departure made me feel abandoned by her. I felt very sad that my better life, bigger house, and her grandchildren couldn’t keep her here longer.
     It took me awhile to adjust to everything around without her, just like I had to adjust myself when she was trying to take over my kitchen and my way of life. I did quietly accept much of my mom’s way of doing things even though I was fighting hard with her. It was the modern and old-fashioned way. I had to accept that a lot of old fashioned ways just used common sense, the most effective simple ways to do things.

We went to see the Monkey King (my childhood favorite) performance at the Children’s Museum.