A few weeks ago my host mother decided that my stuffed pig from America got too cold when I was at school and went out and bought it a baby blanket and pillow so it could stay warm during the day. Later she decided my pig got too lonely and bought me a stuffed panda and another baby blanket so that my American pig could have a Chinese friend to play with. This is a classic example of who my mother is.
My mother, when she is not yelling at my host sister, is the most caring and cute person I know. She scurries around our apartment in her little apron happily cleaning everything until it is wrinkle free and perfect. She also makes my sister and me snacks when we are hungry and massages our backs when they are sore so we can stay hunched over our books.
I have come to realize that my mother wants nothing but the best for my sister and me. While she will scold my sister for scoring poorly on an assignment, she will spend hours looking over her tests and papers to understand what she got wrong and how best to help her going forward. She checks every single step of every math problem to make sure Angel solved it properly. Even for me, she insists on reviewing my work. While most of my assignments are in English, that doesn’t stop her from taking out a dictionary to verify I have written a good English paper.
This is not what I thought my life was going to be like here. I knew that as in most Chinese families, studying was going to be a big priority. However, I imagined that my sister would study in her room, and I in mine, our parents doing something else. It would be very independent until the test scores came out, and then it would be the most important thing to talk about that night at dinner. However, that is not the case. We both do our homework on the dining room table with our mom hovering over us ready to fulfill our every request.
Even though I was completely surprised by how involved my mother is when it comes to our studies, I now think I was being a little naive. My host parents are like every parent in the world; they want their kid to succeed. Unlike my American family where there are three of us, my little sister is an only child. Naturally, all the attention has to be on her. Though the methods that my two different families use are polar opposites, the goal remains the same.
In America, my parents are supportive, but they are very hands off. While I can go for them for help on homework, they often spend their evenings reading or preparing for the next day at work. However, they are always available if any of their children need to talk. My brother and sister have each had hours-long phone calls with my parents when they want support, and my parents will drop everything they are doing to give it to them. Even though they give us independence, they still remain committed to helping us get into the right college for us, and helping us financially until we are ready to be on our own.
This contrasts greatly to the more hands on style of my host mother. When my mother wakes me up, breakfast is already on the table, and my bag has already been packed for me. My mother has occasionally cleaned the screen of my computer and always puts it into my case fully charged. She has made sure that everything I need is in perfect working condition so I can focus all my attention on my studies. Even though it can be overbearing at times, it is my mother’s way of expressing her love for me.
In the end, I think what I am most surprised by is at the core how similar my two families are. Despite their differences, both families offer me unconditional love and want me to live a happy life. While I could focus on the differences, the similarities stand out much more to me. I suppose this is not unlike my stuffed pig and panda. You could focus on the differences between a pig and a panda or you could focus on the fact that they are both very cute four legged animals tucked safely into their blankets waiting on my bed for me to come home.