The price you pay to grow up
Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 5, 2016
After not seeing me for almost a year, my mom came to Notre Dame to stay with me for six weeks this summer. Overjoyed by her visit, I neglected some problems until we started to live together. Looking back, I paid the price I have to pay to grow up: to realize that your parents are ordinary human beings and to know that you can never go back to the good old days. Nevertheless, I gained a better understanding of myself and of the relationship between my parents and me.
My mom is a great mom. She endured the 13-hour international plane ride by herself. On the train back to Notre Dame, we talked, as best friends, about my life problems and she gave me wise advice. After we got home, although not fully recovered from the long trip and jetlag, she cleaned the whole apartment to make it feel like home. She also cooked for me almost everyday, including my favorite food, fried eggs with green beans. However, it was really disheartening when I realized problems such as her inability to speak English, culture difference and our generation gap.
My mom had been my heroine since I was young. She was born into an elite family in China, but because of some political issues in the history, her family was sent to the west desert, where she lived from age seven to 18. She finally made it to Beijing by getting accepted into one of the best universities in China, Beijing Jiaotong University, in 1984, when the total acceptance rate of all the universities was 29%. She studied structural engineer and also took English and French classes.
Hardworking, smart and knowledgeable, my mom has always been my role model. She was the one who helped me with my English when I was young, and who encouraged me to pursue whatever I want, including coming to the U.S. for college. I miss the days when we were walking on the streets, I would point to something and ask her how to say it in English, and she would always have an answer. One time we were having a talent show at my school, but I forgot to prepare a performance until the night before. My mom translated a traditional Chinese song into English in 20 minutes, and taught me to sing it. It was a great success on the next day. Working as a construction supervisor, my mom is also a housewife who takes care of my Dad and me. She had always been my teacher for everything, and I was sad when I realized the unbridgeable gap between us.
After we came back to South Bend, we went grocery shopping and walked around the campus. Next, we went out for food, and I found out that my mom, who hardly ever used English after college, was unable to speak. She could understand sentences, and she could speak some words, but it was far from having a conversation. On one hand, it indicated that I have exceeded her in some ways, in this case speaking English and living in a new culture, and I am glad I did. On the other hand, I realized that she is not the same mom from my memories anymore.
Having lived in Beijing for 32 years, my mom was not used to life in a rural town in the Midwest. She was really bored at first, as there was not much public transportation, no huge shopping malls or tourist sites, so all she did was stay at home or walk around the campus. She would usually Skype with my dad during the day, and talk to me after I came back from work in the evening. However, I just wanted to be a couch potato and watch Netflix after work. When she asked me what is Netflix, I suddenly remembered I did not know what was Netflix either when I first arrived in the U.S.
Mom had asked me so many “dumb” questions during her stay, including how to pump gas to the car and how to self-check out in a supermarket. I was not very patient when I explained, probably because I forgot how I grew up without pumping my own gas and without checking out my own stuff. Also, I was still a teenager and I was always angry about everything. However, one time when she asked me how to use knives and forks, I remembered how my parents patiently and gently taught me how to use chopsticks again and again when I was young (which was a struggle), and how they taught me all the manners on a Chinese dinner table. I started to try to include my mom more into my life: I took her to friends gatherings and my lab events, and I found that I enjoyed translating between my mom and my friends, and enjoyed seeing her meet them.
I am glad, after not seeing my mom for a year, to see how much I have grown up. However, I also learned that there are prices you have to pay to grow up. The hard truth that your parents are also normal human beings and that it is your turn to teach them, and that you can never go back to the good old days when everything was taken care of by your heroes. Although my mom is less of a heroine to me, I respect her even more, because without her, I would never have become who I am today. I still make too many ignorant mistakes, both academically and during daily life, but I am glad that my mom’s stay could help me realize them. I am willing to pay the price to grow up, to be more independent and more humble, and more importantly, to be more respectful and grateful to my parents.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.