I have lived through a few “biggies,” so I rarely sweat the small stuff. I have survived cancer, a failed marriage, driving with an ADD/HD teen, and countless explanations that begin with “Mom! It’s not as bad as it looks.” My friend, who is still in the trenches raising six boys, sums it up best: “You can’t scare me, I’m a mother.”
Therefore, I was surprised when I found myself in full panic mode when my exchange student from China informed me her mother, Hoi Ping, was coming for a visit. Maybe my nerves were on edge because the woman sent me a box of the Chinese version of Mr. Clean magic erasers prior to her visit.
Before we officially met, I was already in total awe of Hoi Ping. A year and a half ago, she somehow found the strength and courage to send her 14-year-old child to live on the other side of the world. I, on the other hand, had to use a crowbar to separate from my child when dropping her off to camp for a week. Her daughter took a fourteen hour flight solo. My daughter, who is now a nurse, had a meltdown when I dropped her off in front of the terminal at DTW. She spent the entire ride to the airport telling me how she treated a gang member’s gunshot wound the night before in the ICU, but didn’t know how to get herself on a plane. While Hoi Ping’s daughter can Skype and use a barrage of advanced technological devices, my stressed out middle daughter called me because she couldn’t find her phone until she realized she was using it to talk with me. Anticipating the visit of Hoi Ping, I was bracing myself for a full blown culture clash.
I had successfully hidden the ironing in the attic, bleached the heck out of everything that didn’t move, sprayed the dog with floral perfume, and pitched anything from the fridge with “fuzz” on it. I was ready. Well, at least I thought I was. Hoi Ping is a highly successful, powerful business woman. I was fearful that she would be judgmental of my world of “mayhem.” I was pleasantly surprised that instead of judgmental, brazen assertiveness, a woman of peace, tranquility and quiet intelligence entered our home. We spent the week bonding over card games, our love of art, food, more food and although we have diverse ways of expressing it, the love we share for her daughter. I also discovered that I am a wood dragon in eastern astrology. Thankfully, the pliable element makes me softer (if I were a metal dragon I would be a real pain to live with) and that a challenging person in my life is a cock, which really cleared things up for me.
The week sped along down the fast track. I found myself aching to slow its pace. After a week of cultural exchange, we had to say our goodbyes. I was “ugly crying” (audible sobs, and massive wet works) as I hugged my guest, promising that although a pale comparison, I would do my best to guide and nurture her child in her absence. Hoi Ping started to tear up, took a deep breath, looked me in the eye and said, “Meri, I put clothes in washer. Need to go in dryer” and with that she was gone.
Our exchange student, May, and I did what my girls refer to as the “death grip”, clinging to each other as we watched her mother blend into the crowd of passengers. May is doing well, holding her own in her chaotic American home, and I am doing my best to honor the woman who entrusted me with her greatest treasure.