Save the last minute toiletries and my carry-on bags we are packed. The minibus will retrieve us at 6 am. Right now it just seems surreal. This evening Wang Xiu Li (of cooking lesson fame) came by to drop off some off my favorite 姜高 and 紅豆高 to eat during the flight. She was also kind enough to take a lot of overstock off our hands, children’s art supplies, surplus stuffed animals, etc. Now the kids, who were over stimulated and found it impossible to sleep with all the comings and goings over the last 2 hours, have just fallen asleep.
Jie-jie and Mei-mei are always amazing us with their flexibility and willingness to go along with our travels. They are doing such a great job parting with many of the possessions they have accumulated here. Jie-jie has become so grown-up here in China. She has recently become much better at sharing. While she has always wanted to be helpful with her sister and around the house, lately she actually IS helpful – certainly a welcome change from the long-standing situation in which I need to think creatively about how she could be successful in her desire to be helpful. Jie-jie expresses enthusiasm for her Vermont homecoming but she also likes to ask when she will be going back to her kindergarten here in Guangzhou. This evening she told Wang Xiu Li that we would be coming back to China next week. We will endeavor to get her back here but next week is a bit too early for me.
Mei-mei was only just beyond baby when we arrived here. She was a minimal talker, still in the stroller and had little confidence to leave her mother’s side. She is now a big girl who walks everywhere, speaks her mind and seeks out independent interaction with others. Mei-mei clearly has little memory of Vermont and I think she confuses it with Thailand because she keeps asking if we can go to the beach when we get back. Fortunately, Mei-mei does speak quite fondly of the little girl who lives next door and will be attending preschool with her in the fall. She has suggested that, when we get back, her Guangzhou pal Wang Fei-fei and her neighborhood pal will both be coming over for her birthday party. Mei-mei has clearly decided that she needs to celebrate her 3rd birthday again once we get home.
So much of my experience of China has centered around my children – their health, their schooling, their language acquisition, the challenges of parenting interculturally, etc. I find that at this juncture my desire to return to China intermittently is motivated to a large extent by the goal of helping them maintain the language abilities and the relationships they have here. However, my desire to return home is also oriented toward my caring for them. I want them to know home and belonging in a way outside of the realm of possibility here in Guangzhou. Let me explain.
Yesterday we went with our friends to the park. In the park there is a “bounce house.” We bought admission for the kids. Mei-mei was a bit uneasy and mostly hung onto the sides near where we were standing. Jie-jie and her friend had a blast running and climbing and bouncing. In a short time they had joined up with 4 or 5 other children their age and the lot of them created a fantasy world that they were acting out. Jie-jie learned Chinese to communicate with her friends and in that setting she is most fluent and comfortable in the language (she and Mei-mei tend to play almost exclusively in Chinese as well). That is also the setting in which her language ability draws the least attention. So, she and Mei-mei were in the bounce house and, as usual, they were drawing a lot of attention in the form of people yelling “Hello!” waving and taking pictures. Once the adults began to catch on that Jie-jie could speak Chinese, however, she went from being a cute zoo attraction to a circus act. Every time she approached the wall some adult would speak to her while taking a video. She was getting distressed. I told the people around me she was shy but they paid me no mind. Finally, Jie-jie responded to a woman who pushed a camera right in her face. “我不要!” (I don’t want). The woman ignored her protest and continued to film. “不要! 不要! 不要! 不要!” She yelled defiantly. The woman backed down.
No matter how long my kids spent in China they will always be a circus act. Today we were sitting in a restaurant at lunch and a grandmother caught sight of us. She pulled her 2 year old grandson out of his baby chair and led him over to Jie-jie. “See the white foreigner little friend? Say hello, big sister!” Then she walked around the table to Mei-mei, “Say hello to the other big sister!” None of us even cast a glance their way. We are tired of carrying the torch for the West, the US and/or white folks and we are ready to go home.