On their last morning in the US, I gave my parents my sister’s baby album. An array of emotions splash across their faces: from laughter, joy, love and finally tears.
It was two months since my parents came for the birth of their first grandchild, here on named AFD. She came unexpectedly early, on an unforgettable day: 9/11/11. Before their arrival, I was a hurried mess trying to straighten the place and make it half presentable.
My parents, who were not expected in Toronto until a week after, were quickly ushered off to Toronto. There, they spent a month caring not only for my younger sister, but cooing, doting on, and caring for AFD. One month came and went in a blink of an eye. Before long, hubs and I were up in Toronto too, to celebrate AFD’s full moon, a “coming of age” of sorts for the Chinese.
The full moon symbolizes and celebrates a baby’s first month of life and her health. It is also the end of the mother’s confinement period, whereby both mom and baby are formally introduced to friends and (extended) family for the first time.
After the meeting of the newest, smallest and most precious addition to our family, we sadly parted ways once again. My parents came back to NJ with us and spent the remaining month in the US with us.
There were adjustments to be made, to say the least. Most of all the eating arrangements.
For the longest time now, all I have for “lunch” is a fruit and maybe yogurt. My day begins before the crack of dawn because of Jessie and Dusty. So breakfast is also very early. Two slices of bread OR a mug of oatmeal is sufficient to fuel me until the next meal around 2 pm. Then dinner around 7:30-8 pm with hubs.
My parents were in shocked and horrified at how little I eat. They think I’m scrimping on food, which is not even remotely true considering my secret love affair with food.
That quickly changed under their watchful eyes and regimented eating schedule.
My parents had oatmeal AND bread for breakfast. By 10:30am my mom will prep lunch, which came an hour later. Promptly after cleaning up, my mom would think about tea. Tea time came in two parts: 1pm and 3pm. Of course, there was the 5pm pre-dinner feeding too. Then dinner was whenever my DC (my elder sister, which my mom corrected to LUA cheh – that’s another story) and hubs arrived.
If I dared refused any of the eating times, I was forced-fed like a goose. No amount of argument worked.
I was well-fed, and have the extra flab to show for it.
My mom attended to everything in the house. The times when I tried cooking for them, she ended up doing most of the work. She got heartsick if she saw me doing a little more work for dinner. For one month, I lived and ate like a princess.
She made all my meals for me, making sure that all fat was removed, all veggies cut to bit-size, and the food served pipping hot. She skinned and cubed apples for me (and my dogs even though she professed not to like them), while my father washed, and cut the grapes. She cleaned, scrubbed and scoured my house till everything shone and not a speck of dust dared breath near her. She cared for me very dearly, and soon transferred that love to my dogs, who I doted on.
From the start, she was frustrated and angry with the time and care I showed Jessie and Dusty. She didn’t understand my devotion to them, especially when I needed the care myself too.
They have the best of food. The best of grooming. My utter and undivided love.
On one occasion of watching me prep their dinner, dried food, carrots, home-made chicken stock, rice and finally, a drizzle of Linatone, she asked me what the oil was for. I told her it was for their coat and general well-being.
She exclaimed, “Aiyoh! If only you would put that much attention to yourself. Look at your hair. Like 掃把 (sao ba – broom)!”
That got me cracking, which frustrated her even more.
Then, there is Dusty. Because he’s still a puppy, and utterly rambunctious and curious, a lot of things in my home are torn or defaced. Jessie’s toys are mostly marred (Tigger has lost an ear, Eeyore half a tail, the monkey is quadriplegic, and recently, the bear was disemboweled). Sofas and cushions are nibbled on. Even their beds are not safe from him. My mom calls him the “destructor.”
Jessie has incontinence issues. Dusty has urinary hesitancy and constipation-like syndrome. This only occurs when going out for potty breaks, but is never a problem at home. So there are occasions when a bed will be soiled (Jessie), or a poop found at home (Dusty).
But she, even disgusted, would help me with drying and sunning of the beds and empathize with them. She even took the time to mend the holly cushions and their beds. She swore that she will never feed the dogs, but broke when she saw Dusty’s persistence and perseverance. Ditto with my father. In his case, he was just trying to see what else he can feed them (which is everything in the house!).
The dogs were spoiled rotten with food and so was I.
Everyday, they walked, hand-in-hand, to Shop-Rite to get “fresh” food. My parents braved the cold and wind, to lug home fruits, fish, chicken, pork and bread. What’s more, because of my mother’s love for Cosi – brick-oven baked bread, they would walk 30 minutes into Secaucus just for a bite, and hurry home with a piping hot sandwich just for me. I was pampered. Rotten to the core.
They even went as far as to play with them. My father would play soccer with Dusty. Constantly kicking balls to him while Dusty tried to “catch” it. Unfortunately, he is not that slick. My father calls him, “Goalie bocor,” which in Malay means a torn / leaky goalie. Even my mom would play catch with him; throwing and bouncing balls for him to catch. And when they think I’m not looking, they would coo to and pat Jessie. They dogs and I love the company.
We went apple picking, with a promise of a beautiful day out. But the day turned mighty chilly the closer we got to our destination. Instead of a leisurely stroll in the orchard, we hurriedly picked apples, while trying to keep warm. Although my mom would not admit this, she was enjoying herself thoroughly. But the icing on the cake was the lunch soon after. We feasted like there was no tomorrow.
Then came their last weekend, which coincides with my father’s birthday. The feasting began that night at an Italian restaurant, Trattoria la Sorrentina in North Bergen. Followed by a birthday cake and a crazy night of gin rummy. Winner pays for the next day’s lunch and I surprisingly came out victorious.
That was followed by the next day’s lunch at Minado in Little Ferry. We ate like eating was going out of fashion, and green tea ice cream was going to save it. After we came home, we continued with rummy, after loosening the buttons off our pants. This time, the looser was not allowed to have lunch the next day. Unfortunately, that was my father.
Finally, before they left, we had a good Chinese meal at Petite Soo Chow. Even though leaving that night, my mom still made it so we had one last meal together as a family. We simply had chicken porridge for dinner. Soon after, she hurried around the house, doing her last-minute dusting and cleaning of the house. I watched quietly, thankfully and silently crying.
We left the house that night with a heavy heart, the dogs noticing something amiss.
We left them where we picked them. At the airport, a bittersweet location. It gives and it takes.
Today life has returned to “normal.”
But normal is quiet.
Normal is hungry.
Normal is only two toothbrushes in the bathroom.
Normal is only hubs’ and my shoes in the entrance.
Normal is me rushing to prep the human’s dinner while walking and feeding the dogs simultaneously.
Normal is quiet evenings watching animes.
Normal is without my parents.
Normal is sad.
Normal is lonely.