The Light in Her Eyes

Posted By on August 5, 2013

Yesterday we brought our two older boys to see grandma Jean. They were not enthusiastic, they’ve never really known her except for some brief visits where she would ask them how old they were and comment on how big they’ve grown. But they do know that she is their last living great grandparent and they may not see her again. So, somewhat reluctantly, they came with us.

She was asleep on a recliner with the Cartoon Network on.

“Should we wake her?” Cameron whispered.

“No, let’s just sing to her.” I suggested and turned off the TV. We surrounded her.

“Starlight, Star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, Have the wish I wish tonight.

I love the mountains, I love the rolling hills, I love the fir trees, I love the daffodils.

I love the fireside, when the lights are low… boom dee ah da, boom dee ah da, boom dee ah da, boom dee ah dah. 

Starlight, Star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight…”

After a minute or so, she opened her eyes and looked at us. Her stare was piercing.

“We love you grandma.” I said.

“I love you too.” She mumbled in reply, the words unmistakable. The quickness of her response surprised me and stung my eyes.

The only part of her body that seemed to be under her control was her eyes. She stared deeply into each of our eyes. We sang several more songs as we sat around her.

“Should we get going soon?” I asked as I started to get up. Two of her fingers tightened slightly around my hand.

She continued to look at me. So we stayed. “Do you want me to turn the television back on?” I asked almost ridiculously.

“Mom, no.” Jing Wen said quickly. He was kneeling on the floor right beside her face. They looked at each other for some time, not speaking. Then I noticed tears streaming down his face, one after another. My heart swelled.

We’ve made many visits in the past, but these recent ones, to me, have been the most poignant and potent. Gone are the conversations of what we are doing and how things are going. In it’s place are moments of silently and purposefully looking into each other’s eyes, basking in each other’s inner light. Time seems to stand still. There is no judgements or distractions, just pure being, presence and love. During these moments, I feel more connected to Cameron’s grandmother than I have ever been. It is when I feel the most mutual understanding, which usually leaves me in tears of joy and sadness.

I’ve never shared these thoughts with Jing Wen. But I can guess, this was one of his most memorable visits too.

Upon departure, we all gave great grandma a hug and a kiss. “We love you grandma.” I said again.

“I love you too.” She replied, her mouth barely moving. Her eyes, steady, lingered on each of us and her cheek twitched. Her eyes told me she was smiling. We walked toward the door and she followed us with her eyes until we were out of sight.

I don’t know if we’ll see grandma again like this. But I can say that she was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met in my life. Reminding me, in her last days on Earth what is truly important.

Namaste to you too grandma. The light in me sees and honors the light in you.

Down But Not Broken

Posted By on July 4, 2013

Our friends were kind enough to lend us a rain stick for my play last month. A young student had made it for her teacher, our friend.

His wife was delivering it to me at school when her children and a friend accidentally broke it in two. She suggested that we could tape up on side and use the larger half of the rain stick, accepting gracefully that things happen, it’s part of life.

When I told cameron the story, he was very upset. He wanted to fix it so it is as close to the original as possible.

With all the work inside and outside of the house, I said, it probably wasn’t necessary. But he insisted. He remembers one too many times in his life, precious things were borrowed and returned damaged or forgotten all together. He had enough of those stories and he wasn’t to create another one for someone else. So he spent many hours splinting the rainstick and putting it back together, stronger than it had been.

When it was dry, I put it in my car to bring to the play. By then, they had already found another rainstick and didn’t need it anymore. I left it in the car so as to remember to return it as soon as possible.

The next morning, getting the kids in the car, I noticed the rain stick was no longer in the car where I had left it. The front passenger seat was pushed completely back and reclined and everything was pulled out of the consoles. It looked like someone might have spent the night in our car and rummaged through it. But where was the rain stick that cameron so carefully repaired?

50 feet away, under a tree by the road. The dew and morning rain had gotten to it. We brought it inside.

When we returned home from school, we had more time to look at it and see what we could do. The tube was damp and soft. We emptied the insides and set the blow drier to it. Even when it was dried it was still soft and peeling in many places.

Rainstick repair

Judging from the enthusiasm cameron took to caring for it and mending it, I knew this was no longer about the rain stick, it was about something much bigger, bigger than cameron and our family. It was about healing the wounds of childhood. As I watched him stay up mending the rainstick, I remember all the stories he had told me of his childhood, siblings and friends who borrow his things and return them broken or never to be seen again. Each stroke of his brush on the paper I saw as another application of arnica for the heart of his childhood self, enough to even rub off on me. Perhaps now, we may all be one step closer to letting go of the haunts of our pass. Recognizing that we do have a hand in shaping the our experience of the present and the future. As my children watched and helped. I knew something very important was happening for everyone.

Mom and Daughter Growing Together

Posted By on June 2, 2013

(Authors Note: This is the continuation of the NYC visit from April 2013. These conversations were originally in Cantonese. Translations here are done as accurately as possible.)

After the first night, I was a little apprehensive about the 10 more days of staying with my mother. So I vowed, this week with my mom:
I will be kind.
I will express my gratitude.
I will be understanding.
I will be inclusive.
I will trust in my mother’s positive intentions.
Though, I remember the past, I will receive each moment anew.
Me: When do you have work?
Mom: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, why?
Me: OK. Oh, I just wanted to know when to make plans with and without you, so we can spend the most time together.
Mom: You and cameron can have my room.
Me: But it’s your bed.
Mom: The bed is big, you’ll be more comfortable.
Me: Thanks, mom.
Me: Mom, do you want to come to lunch with us and an old friend of mine?
As I did this, I realized, I’ve never invited her out with me with a friend. I have excluded her from my personal life as a youth because it was my escape.
Mom: What are you going to eat.
Me: Ethiopian food.
Mom: What’s that?
Me: Ethiopia is a country in Africa that’s known for their poverty. So, this would be a taste of what food they would cook if they had food. We’ll be eating with our hands…
Mom: Sounds interesting. Sure.
Me: Mom, cameron and I want to go on a date. Could you put the kids to sleep tonight?
Mom: Sure.
This is the first time my mother has ever spent time with all three of my children … alone.
The next day. She said, “They were so well behaved. When I told them it was time for bed, they all just went to bed.”
In fact, she watched the kids three nights while we were there.
Mom: You are so skinny.
After every child birth, my mom would mention to me how I was going to gain weight and be fat (perhaps that is what people said to her). I learned to shrug it off as her own process. This was the first time she said something different. 
Me: I have some chub here and there.
Mom: No, you are skinny.
On the last day of our stay, cameron and I had VIP tickets to see the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and my mom had agreed to watch the kids for us. On the day before, she informed me that she also had a dance lesson she has every Monday and a birthday party of a close friend after that.


The Min Yi, I once knew, would have gotten upset. The mom, I once knew, would have gotten more upset and leave without saying good bye (Highschool graduation 1996, NYC visit 2005).


This time around, I asked, “So, what are we going to do?”
“I guess I’m just going to cancel my dance lesson and miss the party. It’s your last night here. I want to have dinner with you guys.”
She walked us out to the car with our luggage that night. She gave my children hug after hug after hug. She lingered with us on the sidewalk, saying “I don’t know why but it’s hard let you go.”
Mom, we’ve come a long way.

Meeting Mom

Posted By on April 15, 2013

When we first arrived at my mother’s, she was in the mist of making dinner. We greeted, we hugged… then she went back to cooking and announced that she would set us up for dinner and then go to someone’s birthday party that evening. There would be dinner and dancing, two of her favorite activities. It didn’t surprise me.

I was a little disappointed but reminded myself that she went out of her way to prepare us dinner. If this was what she needed, then I will support her fully.

She surprised me by asking if I wanted to go too. Well, as a matter of fact, dinner and dancing were also two of my favorite past times, but add my mother in there, whom I hadn’t seen in a year, how could I refuse? With the blessing of my generous husband and children, we left.

The birthday was of an acquaintance my mother barely knew. Dinner was almost finished by the time we arrived (it did look good) and there was more Karaoke than there was dancing. My mother sat next to her friends, introduced me and continued into conversation. A wave of disappointment nearly enveloped me. The images of a reunion, sharing stories at the dinner table and taking a stroll by the river all tumbled in the froth, sand and salty waters and pulled out to sea. A familiar feeling returned. One that is reminiscent of Min Yi as a teenager who had been disappointed by her mother so many times that she had given up trusting. So I did what I could do. I went to my mantra:

I will be kind.
I will express my gratitude.
I will be understanding.
I will be authentic.
I will be inclusive.
I will trust in my mother’s positive intentions.
Though, I remember the past, I will receive each moment anew.

I wondered, why my mother would want to come here over being with my family at home? Was she afraid of her grandchildren rejecting her? Perhaps she thought the party would be more fun? Did she really like dancing that much?

I replaced all the judgments with curiosity, so I would be able to know my mother better and not to put her in a box, as I have done before. We were not yet in a place where I could ask her these questions directly… but because I held these questions in my heart with love throughout the trip, they did get answered.

I danced that night with enthusiasm, some with my mom. She had become quite the skilled ballroom dancer. I made meaning out of conversations with people I did not know. I enjoyed watching my mother smile, laugh and dance …  the highlight of my evening.

Meanwhile, cameron and the kids had finished dinner and went for a walk. By the time we returned home, cameron had put the children to sleep on her bed.

In Paradise with Dad

Posted By on April 7, 2013

Why wasn’t dad going to his only son’s wedding? Then we won’t need to drive three extra hours to see him after flying for five hours. Does he not care any more about his family? Those were some thoughts that went through my mind before the trip. These were judgements and accusations stemming from my sadness, frustration and love for my father and my family.

To shift out of the blame, I started to wonder what was his positive intention? The answer from what I know of him would be comfort and safety. The reason for that may be left for another story.

Since my two youngest children have only meet him once when they were infants, I thought it was important for them to meet each other again. And how often do we visit the East Coast as a family like this? My children were so excited, “We get to meet your dad today?” They would ask on the plane. “How many more hours?”

We went to a hotel a couple of blocks away, it was late. My father bought some take out and brought it over to us. He said he won’t stay because he was sick and did not want to get us sick. Cameron and I blocked him at the door several times, pleading with him. That all we wanted was to see him and it didn’t matter to us that he was coughing. Even if we had all gotten sick from exposure, it would have been worth it.

He did stay a little longer. Not sitting, but standing by the heater watching us eat. And finally left five minutes later.

Again feelings of sadness and disappointment were upon me. And again, I sought his positive intention: his comfort and love for our health. I asked what I was willing to do to meet him, meet the needs of my family and my own need for connection?

The next morning, we went for a nice walk on the beach and on the broad walk. Collected unbroken shells and tumbled stones. I asked my children if they wanted to find something for their “gung gung” (maternal grandfather).

I called my dad and told him we would like to visit him this morning before we left, and wondered if he would like me to pick up anything for him at the store. He asked for grapes. So we went to the store and bought two kinds of grapes, asian pears and shrimp chung fun (thick rice noodles).

About umpteen years ago, I discovered that when my parents said, “Have you eaten?” They mean, I love you. When they said, “Here, I made you some food.” They meant, “I love you.” Funny how years of resentment can melt aways with such a simple understanding … and now, I wanted to show my dad, I understand.

When we arrived, he was watching a basketball game. We said our hellos and my father washed the grapes and the asian pears. He said he liked asian pears without skin so I peeled the skin for him. I told him asian pear was health full for a cough. After he ate it, he said he could already feel his health improving.

I made noodles for lunch. And asked my children to give “gung gung” their presents. We made a little nature table with them, for my dad to remember that we are thinking of him even when we are away,

We took some pictures and said our good byes. I asked him if he would come out to New York for the wedding or to see us. He said kindly and firmly that he would not. I asked when we would see him again. He answered with light and laughter in his eyes, “In paradise.”

To me, we already were.