I Am An Immigrant

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By my bed, gathering a little dust now, is a small treasure box. I’ve kept it for over twenty years. In the box is an old 3”x5” photo, color slightly faded. It shows a scene of the observation deck at the old Beijing airport on a hazy summer day. In it, my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and my little niece are clustered together, with their backs facing towards the camera, gazing up into the sky. On the back of the photo is a short handwritten paragraph in Chinese:

            The airplane rumbled into the sky, taking with it a daughter, sister and aunt…Across the ocean to the other side of the world. They gazed up into the sky, looking, searching and yearning…As if they could see her, tears in eyes. Her good-bye waves, slow and tender. Oh, a bird has just taken off from its home soil and flown high into the blue sky, farther and farther away…

            A heart-felt farewell and blessing to our dearest daughter!

                                                                                                                              Dad

                                                                                                                              July 24, 1990

On June 23rd, 1990, I boarded on an Air China Boeing 747–the first time in my life I’d ever been on a plane. From there I started a long journey away from home, with uncertainty and foreboding in my heart, and yet full of hopes and dreams, heading towards America.

Twenty-seven years later, it still seems like yesterday. In the moments of reflection, thinking about the touching words from my poetic dad, I can’t help but feel emotional. Over the years, people have asked me time again: “Why did you come to America?” “What brought you here?” These questions seem no longer relevant to me now, but if you ask me this question instead: “Is your journey worth it?” My answer will always be: “Absolutely!”

But what made my journey worthwhile? Novelty in a new world? Opportunities in the land of dreamers? Promises of diversity in a melting pot? Well, none of these, I am afraid. Novelty can wear out, opportunities can become trapdoors, ambitions can dwindle, and cultural fusion can just be a fantasy. Rather, it would seem to me, it is the struggle for learning to define who I am that has made my journey memorable and worthwhile.

I was lucky to come to the US with a student visa and a full scholarship, and I had the freedom to pursue a higher education without enduring much financial hardship. Yet my story is still similar to those of million other immigrants. It is a story of constant struggles: struggle to become self-reliant, struggle to overcome homesickness, struggle to brush off the feeling of inadequacy, struggle to fight prejudice—veiled or not, struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin, and struggle to have my voice heard. It is through these struggles that I have grown from an innocent-beyond-articulation young Chinese girl into a strong, independent and feisty woman.

You may argue that, as humans, we are born to struggle, and that struggles are the necessary building blocks of character. All of that is true, but I would say that what makes the struggles distinctively immigrant experience lies in the fact that we have a unique brand of struggles.

Twenty-seven years ago, I flew across the Pacific with two large suitcases and $700 in my pocket. I not only uprooted myself from the comfort of my home and family–the cozy place that had every remnant of my childhood bliss and the very people who loved me unconditionally, but I also removed myself from the only culture that I knew well—its look, its touch, its feel, its smell, its landscape, its language, its holidays and its traditions…Suddenly, all my touchstones were no longer valid. A part of my life vanished. I was forced into situations that I didn’t have the references to understand.

I was completely alone and forever on the outside. But quitting was not an option. Self-reliance quickly became a necessity for me. I was no longer that naive Chinese girl who used to enjoy making ridiculous pranks on my dad without getting into any trouble. All the sudden I assumed a sense of responsibility–I became the front and center of my family, representing them in a new and distant land. I took refuge in my study, buried myself in a shell of solitude, with fierce determination and an iron will, charging ahead.

Every small achievement seemed like a giant step forward for me: my first English class that I could understand easily, my first “A” on a test, my first driver’s license, my first graduate degree, my first job offer, and my first paycheck in US dollars…For any native-born American, these might seem nothing extraordinary but simply part of the natural process into adulthood. But for me, these were hard-earned milestones when I could finally breathe a big sigh of relief and give myself a pat on the back: “I’ve made it!”

What was so remarkable about my immigrant experience lies not only in the self-reliance I have developed over the years but also in the confidence I have always had knowing my parents had my back no matter where I was. They were the strongest pillar in my life, helping me keep things in perspective with a sense of humor and positivity, and making my struggles in a foreign land bearable. In return, they took tremendous pride in me–the Zhao family representative in America–whose trivial accomplishments seemed so much amplified in their loving eyes. Till this day, my dad still brags about my “magnificent driving skills.”

Over the years I have never asked my parents what went through their minds on that hazy summer day of June 23rd, 1990, watching the rumbling airplane take away their younger daughter. But as a mother of a 12-year-old boy myself now, I can only imagine how hard it must have been. From time to time I take out that photo. Gazing at it, a cascade of emotions washes over me. My parents, by sending me onto an immigrant journey far away from home, did not ask me to realize their ambitions or to redeem their mistakes. Rather, with their hearts open, they gave me their blessing and let me make up my own story.

I am hoping one day I will be able to do the same with my son: sending him to a life-long journey–with an inquisitive mind, an upbeat spirit, and a great sense of humor: “Go explore the world, make up your own story, and I will always be watching you from afar!”

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Summer Camp through the Eyes of a Boy

This summer, my 11-year-old boy went on a sleep away camp for the first time. This blog is our first writing collaboration in which he narrated to me his experiences at the camp, and I simply put his words down on paper. The exercise has proved to be a fun and exciting experience for me too because I get to access to some of my son’s private thoughts in dealing with his homesickness, gaining self-confidence and thriving at camp on his own terms. Where relevant, I have also included, with his permission, some of the photos he took at the camp. Hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I do. 

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The Drop-Off Day

When my mom and dad first told me that I would be going on a 3-week sleep away camp, I thought I would never survive. As the days before the camp drew nearer and nearer, I began to worry, but at the same time I felt excited because they told me this was one of the best sleep away camps they knew. A friend of my dad’s recommended it to us because his kids all loved there. Earlier this year, my parents invited the camp director to our house. He looked like a very nice guy. He showed us a slide show of the camp in previous years. Watching the slide show made me feel more interested in going but I still couldn’t shake off the fact that I would leave our home for 3 weeks.

In the morning of the day when camp started, I couldn’t help but feeling sad even though I knew the camp was going to be fun. My parents and I drove for 5 hours up to the camp site. Those 5 hours were probably some of the worst hours I had ever had. I couldn’t imagine what I would be like during the next 3 weeks when I was so far from home. I had already missed my pet bunny Ollie.

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When I arrived at the camp, my parents stayed for a short while to take a small tour to see what the camp was like. Then they walked back to the car. Standing there alone and watching them walk up the dirt path and disappear behind the trees was probably the hardest thing for me. I walked down to our cabin with small tears in my eyes. I was sad to see them leave!

Our Daily Routine at Camp

My first day at camp was tough! My mom and dad had just left me the previous night and I was all alone. Not knowing what to do, I followed other campers by watching them and wondered when I would finally catch on. Things eased up a bit on the second day. I started to get the feel of what it felt like being on my own and getting to know other kids. Things were not all bad.

IMG_3381I shared a cabin with 4 other campers (2 were new) and 1 camp counselor. All our cabins were named after the 46 Adirondack mountain peaks. Ours had a cool name; it was called Skylight. There was no electricity in our cabins. We shared 3 shower stalls and 2 bathrooms in a cabin about 20 yards away. If I wanted to go to the bathroom at night, I had to use the flashlight I brought with me from home. It freaked me out a bit at first, but I got used to it soon.

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At camp, we woke up to the sound of the bell ringing at 7:30am. We got out of bed and waited for the next bell to ring which signaled the waiters going up the hill to help get breakfast ready (we took turns to be waiters). Fifteen minutes later, a third bell would ring and we all went up to the lodge to eat. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all followed the same sequence. I have to say, our camp food was pretty good.

Our bedtime was different for different age groups: 9:10pm was the time for our group, the junior section, to go to bed. We were allowed to read in bed for 10 minutes with flashlight until 9:20pm when all lights were out.

Writing Letters Home

At camp, we were not allowed to have electronic devices except for iPod for listening to music. So the only way we communicated with our families and friends was through mail. Every Sunday after lunch we would go back to our cabins to write letters. I loved writing letters to my parents. It was a great way to keep in touch with them and know what was happening at home. My mom and dad had kept their promise and they wrote me almost every day. I always looked forward to receiving their letters. Reading their letters made me feel really happy when I missed them.

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My Nana, aunt and cousin also wrote to me and sent me fun postcards or newspaper clips. I exchanged letters with a friend of mine whose family had just moved down to North Carolina. I even received a letter from a former Lower School teacher of mine who had been here as a camper, a camp counselor and a camp director since 1998 until last year.

When I came back from camp, my parents told me my letter writing has improved quite a bit. They said I wrote with more details, expressed more feelings and used larger vocabularies. Yay!

My Favorite Activities

I loved all my camp activities, but of course, I had a few as my favorites.

My first favorite activity was swimming. Who doesn’t like swimming? But at our camp swimming was very special–we got to swim in Augur Lake. The water was clear, the air was fresh, and the dock was beautiful! There were a few things we could do at swimming. The first was the general swim, the second was the diving board, and the third was a 10-foot high jumping tower.

IMG_3372To be able to jump from the diving board and the tower, we had to take a series of Red Cross level swim tests: we needed to swim from the main dock to the boat dock for 16 laps–each lap was about 40 feet in distance; we needed to put a life jacket on in the water; we needed to swim in our clothes and shoes for 4 laps; and finally, we needed to swim across up to the other side of the lake, about 1,200 feet away. I passed all four tests in my first week and I jumped from the tower into the water in my second week. It was awesome and I was very happy about it.

How did camp counselors keep track of us in and out of water? We used double-sided tags on a board. Each time we went swimming, we would flip the tag to the red side to indicate we were out in the water. When we finished swimming, we would flip the tag back to the white side. So nobody got lost. That was super important.

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At camp we had an awesome wood shop where we could create and make all our arts and crafts. In the wood shop, all the tools were man powered, like saws, drills, hammers, screw drivers, wood chisels, and a lot more. I got to use them all. I made a wooden boat which I named “the Dragon Boat,” two bridges for my train layout using Popsicle sticks, a ring holder for my mom and a bookshelf for my dad. The coolest part was I got to design them from scratch, make and glue them together all by myself. I had a fantastic experience at our camp’s wood shop.

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During my weeks at our camp, we had the option of going on many different types of overnight trips. Each cabin would go on its own cabin overnights, which meant that we would canoe across the lake into two spots, Cubs Point or Pirates Cove. Our cabin went to Pirates Cove; it was a bit farther than Cubs Point in a hidden area on the other side of the lake behind a large cliff.

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We would load up canoes with camping gear, paddle across the lake to Cubs Point during lunch time, and continue on to Pirates Cove. When we arrived we would pitch a couple of tents and put our gear in. We then went swimming in a small beach area, cooked on a large campfire for dinner, hung around and explored the area. In the morning we would go down to the campfire, cook and eat breakfast, and paddle back to our main campsite. I learned some basic survival skills in the wilderness. My dad said these were important skills to have.

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Another of my favorite activity was hiking. There are 46 main high peaks in the Adirondack park area. To be a high peak, the mountain we were climbing had to be over 4,000 feet. Many campers have tried to get their 46ers over the years, which means we have to climb all 46 peaks.

This summer I climbed 2 of the high peaks, Cascade and Porter, plus 2 lesser peaks, Rooster Comb and Hurricane, which were below 4,000 feet.

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I had never climbed up that high in the past and this was a whole new experience for me. When I reached the peak of Cascade and looked around at the landscape in front of me, it was just like I could see the whole world. The view was amazing! I couldn’t believe I was that high up. Looking down at the valley, I could see small towns and ski jumps and bob sledge courses at the Lake Placid Olympics. The small cars were like little ants running around along the road. I reached the top and touched the summit marker knowing that I had climbed up the mountain and I could finally relax my legs. I had conquered my first High Peak. It was an amazing experience.

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Perhaps my most favorite activity this summer was archery. It was my first formal experience in this sport. Somehow I connected to it naturally. At camp our instructors told us in order to do well in archery, we needed four things: be physically strong, have a firm footing, a good aim and a strong focus. For me archery was really fun and exciting.

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For safety reasons, at the archery range, we were not allowed to cross the line unless permitted. When we wanted to shoot, we were instructed with four commands: pick up your bow, knock your arrow, fire at will, and retrieve your arrows.

At our camp there were three major ranks: Tracker, Path Finder and Guide. Tracker being the lowest was the easiest to earn, and Guide was the hardest to earn. In every activity there were also their own made up ranks. In archery, for example, there were altogether 18 ranks. To get each of the three major ranks, we had to be able to shoot at 15, 20 and 30 yards and got points from 60 to 160, depending on which rank we were going for. The archery tracking system was recorded on a chart on the door of the shed at the range. As we received a rank, we would color the square in red.

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I started at the first level of 15 yards. Looking back now, that was so easy, but it was not easy back then as a first time archer. When I got my first rank, the Tracker, which was 15 yards and 60 points, I felt really pleased with myself. I then set myself a goal for this summer: to get the highest official camp rank in archery, the Guide. On my third to the last day at camp, I finally got it. That was one of my happiest moments at camp! I have received 11 out of the 18 ranks in archery this summer. Way to go, Ben, I said to myself!

That’s all I have to say about my summer camp. I was worried about going to camp at first. But when these three weeks were over, I was ready to go back next year!

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When my son finished the last line of his enthusastic story, my heart was bursting with joy. He had fun, he was happy and he had an awesome time. He is growing into a confident outdoor adventurer. Just what we had hoped for at the beginning of the summer. I am so proud of him!

I have to say, his amazing camp experience is just as valuable to him as it is to me. I am gaining new perspectives because of this. A year ago I couldn’t imgaine myself sending him away for 1 week, let alone 3 weeks, but just like him, after this summer, I am ready for a longer session next year. I’ve learned to trust his judgment and let go of my fear. 

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Summer’s First Family Letters

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dear Ben,                                                                                                                                                             

                 By the time you read this letter, you may have already settled in with your awesome summer camp: you may have made cool friends, done cool things, and been to cool places, but you may still miss home–Daddy, Ollie, Ducky, and me. I miss you tons already!

                  I am super proud of you, buddy! Remember I told you? Being able to do things on your own and away from Mommy and Daddy is part of your growing up. It is not easy at the beginning and being homesick is part of the process. I totally get it. Right now you may only see the bad part of this whole thing, but I can guarantee you that you will have lots of fun at the camp. By the time you are ready to come home, you may not want to leave your awesome camp at all.

                  I hope you will write to me a lot sharing your experience at your camp. I will also write to you everyday letting you know what is happening on the home front—how Ollie is doing, what and when I feed him…I cannot wait to receive your letters and hear your adventures. I miss you tons and wish you were here, but remember I love you!

                  Buddy, I love you!!

P.S., I wish I could draw as well as you do to show you how much I miss you!!

                 XOXO, Mommy

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Hi Buddy!                                                                                                                                                             

                  Right now, it’s early morning on your first full day at camp. You should be waking up right now and looking out there the trees at the rising sun. I’ll bet that it’s really pretty. I hope that your first night at camp went OK. I’ll bet that it was a bit tough to be away from home. I wish that I were there to give you a good morning hug!

                  Mommy and I had a pretty good trip home last night. There were no events like flat tires and police cars on the way back (Author’s note: we had both on our way to the camp)! We got home about 8:30 in the evening, and it felt very quiet in the house without you—not nearly as much fun as it is when you’re around.

                  I cleaned out Ollie’s cage last night and gave him a very long scratch. He liked that—happy bunny! You’ll be glad to know that we also clipped his nails, so he’s in good shape now. I gave him a treat, too!

                  I thought that you’d like to know that finally after all of our searching, I saw my first firefly last night! I was bummed that you weren’t with me to see it together, but I’m happy firefly season has finally arrived. When you get back, we’ll have to do some good firefly catching together. I hope that you can see and catch some fireflies at camp, too!

                  I was really happy to get a chance to see your camp yesterday when we dropped you off. I thought that the setting was really beautiful. I liked your cabin—you’ll have to tell us which bunk you’re in so that I can picture you there. I think that the best part of the camp for me is the lake front area with the dock, the boats, and the swimming. That looks like so much fun! I can’t wait until I hear about some of the things that you do there! I also think that everyone that we met was really nice—the camp directors, nurses and your counselor Jeremy. I’m sure that they’ll all take really good care of you!

                  I have to tell you, Buddy, that I’m really proud of you. I know that it was really hard for you to have Mommy and I drop you off and then leave you there by yourself. Like everything that you do, though, you handled the challenge of it incredibly well. I’m sure that it’s going to be hard sometimes, and sometimes you’ll be missing home a lot, but I know that you can handle it. You’ve also got a lot of people there with you who want to help and support you any way they can.

                  In a short while, Robert will be here to pick me up and take me to the airport. By the time you get this letter, I’ll probably be in Hong Kong. I’ll take a Star Ferry ride for you! I’ll also take some pictures, and I’ll send them to you since we won’t be able to do our usual Skype calls.

                  Again, Buddy, I miss you so much, and I love you even more! I hope that camp goes great and that you have tons of fun! I’ll write again as soon as I land in China.

                  Love always, Daddy

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Dear Mommy and Daddy,                                                                                                                         

                  I am having fun at camp so far. We have done archery, baseball and swimming. Later we will see the horses. Sleeping in the cabin is okay. The food is great, and it’s sort of like Hackley. I miss you a lot, and I’ll write to you a lot more. One thing I forgot we also made a fire and we heard a loon singing. Tell Daddy I am on the Yule Ball in “Harry Porter.”

                   Love, Ben (Heart and smiley face drawn by him)

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These are the first sets of paper-pen letters my husband, my son and I wrote to each other as a family. What a treat to still be able to communicate the old-fashioned way!

Last Sunday we dropped off our 11-year-old son, for the first time, at a sleep away summer camp, five hours away from us. We would not be able to see, hear or talk to him for 3-5 weeks. The only way to keep in touch with him was through mails. It was hard for all of us. Before we started the journey, we had promised him that we would write to him every day and hoped that he would write back to us whenever he could. Then on the fourth day into his camp, we received his first letter to us. Short yet sweet, his letter gave us a glimpse of all the activities he did on his first camp day. Just like that, our son has set out for his first solo adventure, away from us, away from home. I am proud of him more than I can say!

IMG_3058While I am writing this blog, my thoughts are scattered, searching for the right words to describe our motivation to send him away. Like many other working parents in this country, the summer’s long break has created both a bliss and trepidation for us. On the one hand, we are extremely happy that we don’t need to rush out of the door every morning to send him to school, and I am particularly grateful for not being like a time bomb sometimes to storm out of my office, run to the subway station only to watch the train slowly pulling out of the station right in front of my eyes. But on the other hand, in a culture that everything happens with an incredible velocity and competitiveness, summer has lost its magical touch where doing nothing means doing everything. Parents are inundated with the infinite choices of summer camps, from sports camps to music camps, from art camps to pseudo outdoor camps. Many still feel like an extension of the already cramped school year, highly structured and hurried. Don’t all our children these days already have enough of a programmed life, from academic classes, to organized sports, to music lessons?

So our primary motivation to send our son to a sleep away camp is not to cultivate a strong character in him—of course, self-reliance, resourcefulness, corporation will come with the experience; but rather, we want to send him to a place where he can have real adventure and fun—out in the woods, get hands dirty, and learn by participation. To us summer should be winding down time when life is dynamic and purposeful, yet unstructured and unhurried. Children can find their own style and self-worth without excessive competitive tension. They develop their skills and interests at their own pace. If gazing at stars, catching fireflies, hatching eggs, riding horses, jumping in and out of water are all that our son wants to do, that’s wonderful. If by the end of the summer, he forgets that 1+1=2 or adverbs modify verbs, so be it. There is always time to catch up, but creating unforgettable memories comes and goes. I believe we have found what we are looking for in the camp we send him to. Though too early to tell how he feels about the camp, I hope he will have the time of his life!

Of course, I miss him terribly, constantly wondering what he is doing or how he is coping with his homesickness. I then think of the many trips we have taken together as a family:  all these long lasting happy memories we have created with him—the sparkle in his eyes, the ear-to-ear grin on his face, his looks of wonder, his giggles of joy…I trust that he can handle any challenge well, because he knows by heart that we have his back, as always!

 

 

Mama Dearest: Post Mother’s Day Reflection

First Mother’s Day without my mother. The lingering sadness is sometimes poignant, and others numbing. People say the feeling will never go away, but time will heal. I believe it.

In fact in the past 5 months since her passing I have been more reflective than grief-stricken. What is the single most important thing I have done that has made my mother happy? I have been thinking. A doctoral degree from Princeton? A decent job at a Fortune 500 company? Nah. Surely these are the things that have made her proud of, but neither has made her happier than a family of my own, and soon after a child who transformed me into a mother. My mom was not just happy, she was ecstatic. Like any other mother, I imagine. It’s just that she had never overtly expressed it. So her. I can totally relate to it.

Through her action and my own experience, I have come to realize that motherhood is such a deliberate act, one that embodies intense love, empathy, patience, mindfulness, caring and giving. It can manifest in a wide range of emotions: joy, happiness, pride, awe, forgiveness, worry, disappointment, fear, anger and pain. To our children, we are essentially a commander-in-chief, a dictator, a friend, a cheerleader, a fan, a sympathizer and occasionally a partner-in-crime. Sometimes mothering is smooth sailing others storm impending, but ultimately it is belief beyond believing that defines a mother’s love.

I was a late bloomer—marrying late and giving birth late—not a grand gesture of my feminist side, I can assure you. In a culture that often puts a premium on families and children I was quite the exception rather than the norm. I am sure of it. I would belong to the league of “leftover women”—a term that often refers to a Chinese woman in her late 20s who is still single and unwed. Sigh. Luckily I moved far away during my prime reproductive years, and my love life was not subject to close scrutiny. But that didn’t make my mom’s worry for me go away. She probably worried more.

Every now and then when we spoke on the phone, my mom would casually bring up the topic of marriage with a “by the way…” I knew she was trying to get a progress report from me, but the conversation would always end with her saying “I know that special person is out somewhere. You are destined to meet him one day. Don’t sell yourself short.” That was her subtle way of nudging without pushing. I was sure she must be incredibly relieved when I was finally “domesticated” at age 38 and became a mother at age 40—39 ½ to be exact.

Ironically in many ways, my mothering was as much to mimic my mom as it was to break loose from her. Literally. It was comical and hilarious at the beginning. I remember the long list of “Dos and Don’ts” she had sent to me right before my son was born. All were rituals and customs about what a new mom was or was not supposed to do. After all they worked in her time and in my culture.

Rule No. 1: Only hot and warm food and drink; it will help your body recover faster–but I went straight for ice water and cold milk.

Rule No. 2: Stay in bed for the first 30 days; you will benefit from it for the rest of your life–but I started moving around as soon as I was discharged from hospital. I am still pretty healthy 11 years later.

Rule No. 3: Keep your baby indoors so he won’t catch cold or virus–but I walked everywhere in town with my son snuggled in a Baby Bjorn on my chest, and took him on subway rides to see his pediatrician in the city on a weekly basis. He was fine then and is fine now.

Rule No. 4: Drink Pig’s Feet and Peanut Soup everyday so that you will have enough milk pumped out—but after 2 days of milk drought catastrophe, my milk supply could feed a troop of army non-stop. So I didn’t drink that thick and rubbery soup for a month.

Rule No. 5: Swaddle your baby tightly so that he will have beautiful straight legs—I did swaddle my son in a teddy bear cotton blanket hand-made by my sister and mailed to me directly from China, but I did it to make my son feel safe as if he were still in my womb.

The list went on and on. My point is it was not my mom’s childrearing advice that made her so special to me, but her presence in my life. To know she was always there for me was a tremendous gift she has left to me till this day. It has inspired me to so want to be an anchor point in my son’s life, and to roll with the punches as a new mom. Through trial and error. Many times.

It sounds like a cliché to say this but it is true. It was not until my son was born had I realized motherhood could be this profoundly meaningful and the love for a person could be this intense, eliciting “tight chest, lump in the throat emotion” (beautifully said, Sally, and thank you!).

In the early days when he was a baby, I often woke up in the middle of the night consumed with all sorts of worries: Was he breathing? Was he well fed? Was my milk nutritious enough to help him grow? Why was he not crying? Was he on track with his developmental milestones? I would check on him again, again and again. In his toddler years, I watched in agony his intense separation anxiety: the big tears dripping down his cheeks, that it-can-melt-your-heart sweet but sad face, and those tiny wiggly fingers trying to reach for me. Was he happy? Was he fearful? Was he having fun? Was he making friends? Could he feel my love for him?

How I wish I had known back then whatever he was going through was completely age-appropriate! I remember sitting by the door of his pre-school classroom waiting anxiously but patiently for the right distraction to draw him in so that I could walk away confidently without feeling guilty. I remember the 3-to-4-page note I often wrote at the beginning of each school year to his new teachers: about what I had known of him as a mother—his likes, his fears, his habits, his routines, his love for trains, airplanes, Lego, puzzles, as well as the many trips we took as a family. All with one hope and one hope only–to have an early head start for the teachers to bond with him. How incredibly silly was that! Maybe it was. But deep down I knew that was the least I could do to help my young son cope with the anxiety he could face in a new situation.

Now eleven years down the road, my confidence in mothering has grown in parallel to my son’s confidence in himself. Still a quiet, sensitive, empathetic, creative and analytical gentle soul, he has grown more self-assured by leaps and bounds. Do I continue to worry about him? You bet I do. Well, maybe the old worries have gone away but new ones have kicked in. I still have these awakening nights with the same intense emotion worrying. In a world of high pressure and fierce competition, how can I help him not only reach but also build his potential? And to never stop dreaming? How can I nudge him gently without pushing him too hard? How can I help him understand it is OK to be him? And to take more risks without changing who he is? How can I ensure what he wants is not what I want him to want? How can I prepare him to cope with potential adversity without breaking his spirit?

Then I see my mom and her broad smile at me. In motherhood there is no epic failure but only epic love. Bask in his presence. Roll with the punches. Enjoy the ride. She is telling me.

Oh, the magical power of a mother’s love, endearing and enduring. Nothing to worry about. I am telling myself.