• Lijing Cobb


After our semi-weekly visit to grandma’s house, we got in the car to drive home after having dinner and playing cards with my mother-in-law. As I pull out of the driveway, I check in with the kids to see if they are all settled. Somewhere in my few words to them I mention the word grandma. My son answers that he’s ok, but my little one doesn’t speak. Since we just left, it’s not possible for her to have already dozed off, so I press on. “What’s going on? Why are you not talking to me?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” My daughter’s voice is faint. With the rain hitting the windshield I can hardly hear it.

“What? Why don’t you want to talk about it? If you tell me, I might be able to help you figure it out and make you feel better.” I urge.

“It’s not gonna help, so I don’t want to talk about it.” Her voice is a little shaky now. She’s clearly struggling with tears.

“Why wouldn’t we be able to do something? Can we try?” I don’t give up. What could be the issue here? I’m sure I can talk her out of such a silly mood!

“You can’t do anything because it’s already happened. It’s in the past. Just leave me alone!” She sounds really frustrated now, as I rack my brain for something I might have missed back at my in-law’s house.

“Are you upset because of something that happened at grandma’s?” I spit out the next question. I have no clue what could have transformed her mood just like that. She was all smiles when we said goodbye.

Quietly my son interjects: “I think she’s upset about the other grandma. Because you said the word grandma.”

An invisible hand gripped my heart and tugged at it hard at that moment. Suppressing my surging emotions I ask her for confirmation: “Is that true, my baby?”

Instead of replying my daughter starts wailing. Now it all makes sense. I reach my hand back to hold hers, and as I steer the car with tears running down my cheeks I feel the warmth of her tiny hand. I squeeze it gently and try to send as much love through the squeeze as possible.

It’s been 3 years since my mom took the flight to go back to China. When she left my little one was just 4 years old. They had spent the majority of those 4 years together than apart. The little one grew up sneaking into my mom’s bed. She was, as the Chinese saying goes, the flesh of my mom’s palm. It was only after my mom’s departure that I really felt like I had 3 kids, because instead of being attached to my mom’s side, my little one all of a sudden became my attachment.

Since my mom’s passing last July, I’ve often felt the pain welling up and spilling out, and sometimes it happens when my kids are around. Last night, it was the first time that I saw it happen to my little one. I wonder if it had happened before. I realize that for my little one, 4 years of her young life is such a significant chunk when she received unconditional love from my mom, whose mere presence in the house was her haven and refuge. Whenever she got into trouble, as long as my mom was around, she was sure to find her comfort and protection there.

For a 7yo, my daughter talks about death and dying alarmingly often. Most of the time she tries to rationalize it in her world of logic, and manages to move on to the next thing that grabs her attention with little difficulty. But last night she was run over by the emotions when they caught her at a defenseless moment.

Time is not yet a clear concept in her world. She knows the difference between 2 hours and 2 minutes, one being longer than the other, but 2 months ago and 2 years from now, there is not that much of a distinction in her mind just yet. Eternity is a long time, but so is 5 minutes when she has to wait. I think last night, the weight of time materialized on her tender shoulders and it was too heavy for her for the moment. When we finally got home and I could give her a proper hug, I felt her tiny body in my arms and the love of life in her heart. For that moment we shared the understanding that life is not to be taken for granted, and we are lucky to have loved the same woman we have now lost.

When my mom lived with us we did not talk much about anything. I was always too preoccupied in my own world to give her my undivided attention, and she never demanded my attention, only from time to time told me to slow down and not work so much. What I would give to hear her voice again. What I would give to be able to ask her these questions that only she can answer. What I would give to know her better and make her feel loved and appreciated.

Without the loss of my mom, I would not have been jolted out of my world full of my goal, my ambition, my path, my, my, my. The finality of her departure made me see with unequivocal clarity that I was so fixated on the maintenance of my ego that I had lost touch with my essence and the connections I could build with everyone around me, particularly my family. My kids were scraping by with bare minimum parental supervision from me; my husband just eked out 12 years of marriage to me playing second fiddle to my overbearing trombone. How much more time needs to tick by before I see the emptiness in my heart, upon which I could be building all sorts of meanings?

The deluge of tears from my 7yo washed away the film on my eyes and serves as a timely reminder to not forget to stop what I’m doing often and just to listen. I’ve been learning to paint watercolors and one of the things the teacher repeats is to stop from time to time, step away from the painting just to get a fresh perspective, to see what’s missing, what could work better.

I should never question the accuracy of how much I am reflected in the behaviors of my kids. If they don’t listen to me it’s because I don’t listen to them. If they don’t seem to care about what I want it’s because I don’t seem to care about what they want. If they are loving it’s because I’m loving to them. If they are kind to each other it’s because I model kindness. If they are in front of me, they are my mirror, and I’m theirs. And they are in front of me often.

Mirror mirror oh my children, let no beauty slip away unappreciated, let no ugliness creep on undetected. Let’s both honor the truth of what we see, and go from there.

I asked my kids to build me a heart with legs so they could walk to me, and this is what they gave me.

We had fun playing cards with grandma yesterday and the girls had fun playing with their hair.

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