The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

I hope I see you next year

on December 21, 2014

Yesterday was my Dad, Mr Li’s Birthday.

He’s 78. Or is he 79? Are we going English or Chinese years. Doesn’t matter really when you get to his age he says. It’s enough just to be here.

I don’t often re-read past posts I’ve written but I had forgotten what I had said about my Dad, Mr Li last year on his Birthday and I wanted to remind myself.

So at long last this October, after almost three years, I got to see my Dad, Mr Li again. I had missed him very much. I still do miss him. The nine days I spent in Newcastle Upon Tyne are full of great memories and plenty of photos of being with my family.

The most important ones of all are those of #1, 2 and 3 with my Dad, Mr Li and with my Mum.

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I was quite worried how #1, 2 and 3 would take to being around their Gung Gung and Por Por. It’s not like they’ve had time to get to know one another over the years and build a relationship up. We bring them back to the UK and meet all these people who are special to us and expect them to feel the same way too. It took some explaining to piece together who every family member is that they met but they were very accepting.

Of course over the years we talk about everyone we know in the UK, names and relationships are not entirely unfamiliar. But they are still too young to understand and remember.

I just don’t think it’s ever been explained to them that we too have Mums and Dads. And that we too would like to spend time with our Mums and Dads. Though I rather suspect my Dad, Mr Li would prefer to spend more time in the company of his grandchildren than mine.

Everything they did was hilarious. He is so proud of them. It’s very touching to see. It’s not the way of his generation nor really of Chinese culture, to be able to say much by way of praise for his own children but with grandchildren it’s different. Thank goodness it is.

What made me laugh a lot on our first day back is how he was showing #1, 2 and 3 photos of themselves that I had sent him. And they thought this was brilliant, for they love nothing better than seeing photos and videos of themselves.

Naturally he gave me lots of helpful parenting advice.

We were taking a walk along the Quayside one brisk, slightly windy afternoon. Not so windy the children were ever at risk of being blown off their feet into the River Tyne. All the same Mr Dad, Mr Li helpfully pointed out the risk just in case.

Other helpful advice; make sure they are full but not so full they will be sick. And always this thing about wrapping up against the cold. Need I refer you to the ALS/Motor Neurone Disease Ice Bucket Challenge episode again. Thankfully he seemed to have gotten over his angst about that by the time I got back to the UK.

These three grandchildren of his are Tropical Children, there is no way they won’t wrap up against the cold of their own accord. As #2 says, ‘Mummy, why is it always cold in England everywhere’, and this was during the days when everyone was telling me just how warm and balmy it was still.

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And yet, left to his own devices looking after #2 and 3 for a couple of hours whilst I spent some time with #1 was a whole different story. I was a bit concerned how they would all cope, neither speaks the other’s language very well, or at all. Plus you know, they’re just getting to know one another and when I left them all #2 and 3 had just woken up from a nap and were a bit confused. So I call up my Dad, Mr Li some 10 minutes later to see how they’re all settling and I can hear no tears. That’s good.

Me: How is everything Dad?
My Dad, Mr Li: They’re very happy now that I’ve given them some ice-cream.

Ok….if that’s what will help then so be it.

But I can definitely tell you that when I was their age, there was no handing out of ice cream willy nilly. And shouldn’t ice cream be too cold? Shouldn’t he be feeding them bowls of hot soup instead? Actually no, that one is reserved just for me. There’s always hot soup when I’m back to cure all ills. Hot soup and rice. How can you survive without either as part of your daily diet is what my Dad, Mr Li will ask you.

So I call another hour later as #1 and I are eating doughnuts and coffee.

Me: Is everything alright Dad?
My Dad, Mr Li: Yes, everything is very good. I’m just steaming some char siu buns for them to eat.
Me: But Dad, they’re having their dinner in 45 minutes time. They won’t want to eat their dinner if you give them buns now.
My Dad, Mr Li: I can’t talk to you right now, I’m very busy.

Thus the phone line cuts off.

I think when you need your parents to help you out a bit, sometimes you’ve just got to let them roll with it.

So, I was in a mad dash hurry to go out last night just at the time when it’s good to call him up and wish him a Happy Birthday. What ensued was a loud, chaotic few minutes of us all shouting ‘Happy Birthday Gung Gung’ down the phone at him.

I hope he liked it. I’m sure he did. I’m sure he didn’t even know it was his own Birthday so what a good way to be reminded of it.

When I was young, I was a part of his whole world. I know that. I know that his worries and concerns centred a lot on my well being. I know that he gradually relaxed over the years when I grew up to find gainful employment, got married and had a family of my own. He really felt like he could sit back and trust me to behave like a responsible Grown Up. Until That Ice Bucket incident that is. He has often said to me that his greatest fear was him not being around before I was a Grown Up. Now, you could say this fear stems from his own childhood experience. I get that but the thought never crossed my mind until I became a parent myself and now I understand.

Today, he sees his family expanding with his grandchildren and I know he misses them. How could you not miss these new, young people full of life, laughter and mischief.

He would never ask us when are we going to consider moving back to the UK but I know he’s waiting. And whilst he never would say to me outright, ‘Are you coming back to visit next year?’, he would mostly say the opposite as do all Chinese parents of that generation, ‘Don’t waste money coming back to visit, it’s so expensive/cold/far away’. Delete as appropriate. And it’s annoying when they do that. It really is. But they don’t mean it. It’s a cultural thing. Why can’t you just say what you mean? It’s so confusing and I end up doing the opposite of what you say just in case and then I’m not really sure that’s the right thing to do anyways.

By the way, because of this, I always say what I mean. I haven’t got the capacity to second guess anyone else with trying to second guess my own family all the time.

So, we headed up to Newcastle for lunch at my Mum’s for a last Goodbye for now with my family. I overhear my Dad, Mr Li talking to #1, 2 and 3 and he says, ‘I hope I see you next year’.

That stopped me in my tracks and broke me in two. Perhaps it’s the guilt of being an Expat that you feel you’re denying your parents the joy of their grandchildren.

He wasn’t saying it in a morbid he thinks he’s not going to be here sort of way but in a ‘I hope I see you next year’ sort of way because he’s my Dad, Mr Li but he’s also their Gung Gung, Mr Li and he’s got a very special job going on there he needs to carry on doing.

Happy Birthday to my Dad, Mr Li.

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