May 19, 2022
I haven’t seen my mom since COVID-19 launched its invasion of the world. Three years ago on a hot summer afternoon and 3 hours before I flew into Beijing to conduct a weeklong workshop, I sat on my parents’ concrete pavement eating a bowl of my mom’s dumplings.
The sun left a little shade on one side of the yard. My father placed a tiny table in that shade. The black pavement had absorbed so much heat during the day, and the sun was still up. The heat fully engulfed me from head to toe. My mom sat by my side, lovingly gazing at me as she did when I was very young, while she held a bamboo fan and gently waved it at me to bring some breeze and cool air. Her loving gaze and warm smile are deeply etched in my mind.
On the table and beside the dumplings, she had cooked my other three favorite dishes, which were all within arm’s reach since the table was so small. But my mom kept moving the dishes closer and closer to my dumpling bowl. It was as if she misinterpreted my slowdown in eating to reaching the bowls and not my full stomach.
Remembering this scene sends me further down memory lane. When I was in elementary school and doing homework in the evenings, my mom would sit by my side waving a fan if it was summer. Or peeling an apple if it was fall or winter. She would cut off a small slice of apple and place it into my mouth while I was writing.
My mom was an orphan. Before she was born, her father was drafted during the Chinese civil war. Her mom lost her sanity upon hearing the news of her father’s death. She grew up with her great-grandmother. Back then in old China, girls did not have the privilege of going to school. Therefore, my mom never attended school. But my mom would not allow me to miss the opportunity of getting an education. However, she never placed any pressure on me to do well in school. All she said was: “You know when you have tried your best. If you have done your best, let’s all be happy with the result.”
Let me take back what I just shared about my mom not putting pressure on me to study. My mom physically punished me once during my entire student career. One time, I grew too cocky during a math test and zipped through it. Since I had been getting perfect scores in math, I didn’t bother to double-check my answers. As a result, I only scored 90 on the test when I could have easily snapped a 100. Mom was very upset. She viewed my attitude as irresponsible and reckless. She punished me: I had to kneel on the floor for 30 minutes. Ever since that experience, I stopped being cocky.
You might think that the punishment was too harsh and my mom was a typical Asian Tiger Mom. This interpretation cannot be further from the truth. I grew up in a specific time in China when physical discipline was a norm for children. But my parents never gave in to social norms and laid their hands on me. My mom was not a tiger mom, and she will never be. If you know her, you might call her a rabbit mom. On that day, she just could not bear to see the loss of learning she experienced as a little girl.
When I was growing up, my mom made studying the absolute priority. If I had a test coming up, mom would excuse me from any chores and make sure I was free of distractions and family responsibilities so I could simply focus on studying. She knew how limited she was from her lack of schooling and educational opportunities.
I grew up in poverty: eggs and meat were rare commodities. My father was a good hunter though. Quite often, we ate rabbit and wild geese. My mom prepared the meat for us children, sat by our side, and watched us eat, but never touched her chopsticks. When we asked her, she always said that she didn’t like meat. We were too young to know the truth: she wanted to save every bite of protein for her children.
Returning to that hot summer afternoon in 2019: my stomach was full long before I finished my dumplings. But I managed to eat all the dumplings and absorb my mom’s love. My brother would be taking me to the airport. My dad put my luggage in the truck. My mom carried my purse to the car. She asked me to get in the car first, placed the purse on my lap, then shut the door. She turned her back toward me and began to wipe away her tears. I immigrated to the U.S. in 2000. We have had many goodbyes, but departures have never been easy on my mom.
As the car pulled out of their driveway, my mom wiped her tears with one hand and waved the other hand at the moving car. She followed the vehicle out of the driveway and into the traffic until we disappeared at the bend in the road. This is the last image of my mom that I remember.
I grew up in poverty. But the only scarcity was material. I was raised in the abundance of unconditional love. I learned strength and courage from that love and grew as a person.
Just like you, I wish for the pandemic to be over and be reunited with my mom soon.
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