Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Joy of Great-Grandkids

One of the best things for us in America was the fact that all four of my grandparents plus my dad, brother, aunt, and uncle were all living in the Seattle area, and we had the only little kids. Every weekend we would go to my maternal grandparents’ condo near the University of Washington. My grandfather had cancer, and they had in-home care. The helpers were co-opted into cooking and preparing for our visits. My grandmother’s cleaning lady/household assistant would take her shopping every week, and she always bought the stores out of the kids’ favorite foods: grapes and chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies. We usually had a large, hot lunch with my grandparents either Saturday at noon or Sunday after church.

My grandmother also bought the stores out of educational toys for the kids to play with at her house. We were not allowed to duplicate those toys at our house; they were only for trips to the condo. She bought a Thomas the Tank Engine train, building blocks in a wooden cart, and numerous other things. And she always had a stash of children’s books that she and my grandpa could read to the kids.

My grandparents were not really interested in talking to Yuni and me. They just wanted to watch the kids busily playing on the carpet in front of them. Yuni would frequently nap on the couch until it was time for our meal. When he was rested enough, he would get down on the floor and play with the kids’ toys, too, because, as he said, when he was growing up, his family had been too poor to have toys for the kids.

Every other Sunday we crossed the floating bridge from Seattle to Bellevue. We went to church near my dad’s condo and then visited him and his parents. We would eat at dad’s condo or have a picnic in a nearby park, and then we would go to the nursing home/apartment complex where Dad’s parents lived. Dad’s mother was in the apartment part, and her place was stuffed with toys for the kids, too. She bought the stores out of stuffed animals and dolls. She also specialized in Disney videos for the kids. They would watch Beauty and the Beast or Little Mermaid or Cinderella. The kids would sing and dance to their favorite songs. During visiting hours, we would go downstairs to the nursing home to see my dad’s father, who had suffered a stroke and was in a wheelchair. There were no toys on that floor, but the kids would sit on Gramps’s lap or turn somersaults on the floor. Their visits were a real highlight for him.

Birthdays and holidays were celebrated several times over with the two sets of grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles. The kids got loads of nice clothes and toys and gifts. They loved visiting the grandparents, and the grandparents loved interacting with them.

We had a number of adventures while visiting the old folks. The Sunday after the snowstorm, we were crossing the I-90 floating bridge on our regular visit to Bellevue. All of a sudden we noticed that the old floating bridge, which was undergoing repairs in its pontoons, was acting strangely. There had been lots of rain that had finally melted the snow, but for some reason the hatch covers of the pontoons under repair had been left open over the weekend. The chambers had filled with water, and the bridge was starting to sink. We watched as section after section began to settle to the bottom taking graders and tractors and cranes with it. The kids, of course, got very excited watching this from their car seats. Yuni was afraid that the currents of the sinking bridge would affect the new bridge that we were driving on. He hit the gas, and we sped out of there many miles over the speed limit. We got safely to the other side. At noon that day, we watched the whole thing again on the news while we were eating lunch at Dad’s place.

The floating bridge in 1940
Photo by Jet Lowe
HAER: Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Floating Bridge, Spanning Lake Washington at I-90, Seattle, King County, WA

The day after our trip to see the grandparents
Phil H. Webber/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Then we got to watch repairs from our kitchen window

Another time, we were trying to get into my mother’s parents’ condo when all of Seattle seemed to be going to a Huskies football game. We were trying to turn left across two lanes of traffic without a light. The car in one lane waved us over, and there seemed to be no cars in the far right lane. We zipped across, but just as we were getting into the driveway, we got hit by a car speeding down the right lane, and our muffler got knocked off. No one was hurt, but we made an incident report to the police. In the end, it was our fault because we had been turning left. Yuni insisted that we go to traffic court and argue about it because he was sure that the other car was driving outside the lane on the shoulder. Unfortunately, we couldn’t prove anything and because we had been going uphill, the policeman found our muffler just inside the edge of the lane of traffic. It was a lesson for Yuni about how the US court system works. And I got my first taste of interpreting in court. We also learned the value of car seats for children.

Taking the kids to spend time with the great-grandparents was a big part of our lives for many, many years. Even after the great-grandfathers passed away, we continued making regular visits to the great-grandmothers. It seems like such a small thing, but I think it was very important. And I think it is an experience that many Americans miss because our culture does not like old. When I was growing up, I knew five of my eight great-grandparents. One of my great-grandmothers was the first white child born in O’Neill County, Nebraska. She had been conceived in Ireland and born here in the USA. One of her younger sisters was kidnapped by Indians. She was the eldest of 13 children, and she helped her father train horses. She and one of her sisters ran a boarding house for miners in Butte, Montana. Later, she was a seamstress and a cook at a health camp for children with tuberculosis. She lived to the age of 101 ½. She passed away when I was 16. She made complete formal wardrobes for all my dolls, taught me to bake bread, and encouraged me to learn songs in Gaelic from the nuns at school. My relationship with my great-grandparents and my grandparents was one of the best things in my life. I wanted that same blessing for my children.

Fortunately, my Chinese husband and father-in-law agreed with me that it was important for both the old folks and the young folks to forge that bond. Pa insisted that we come to America when he heard both my grandfathers were infirm. And once we were here, Yuni willingly drove us to spend time with the old folks every week. It was boring for him, but it was a value he agreed that the kids should have. It is hard to describe the benefits of being close to grandparents and great-grandparents. Every move a great-grandchild makes is a miracle to his or her great-grandparents. There is no judging, no pressure to perform, no anger at mistakes. The great-grandparents are simply filled with wonder that they have lived to see progeny of the fourth generation, and they are more than willing to wholly and absolutely dote on the children. Love once told me that the time spent with great-grandparents as a toddler and preschooler made her feel safe because she knew her family had a stable history. It also made her feel special, and it gave her an interest in history because she knew people who were old, and she wanted to know what life had been like when her great-grandparents were little kids.

I am not sure whose joy is greater in this relationship, that of the great-grandparents or that of the great-grandkids.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Congratulations Graduates!!

This has been a big year for our family. Truth, Love, and Peace are all grown up and just graduated from college.

On May 14, 2010 at 11:00 am, Peace received a Bachelor's of Business Administration in Information Systems from USC's Marshall School of Business.

Then she had a luau party with a roasted pig and a bounce house in the backyard of the place where she has been living. She gleefully noted that this was a case of the last coming first and the first coming last. She will be visiting Europe before coming back to LA to start the orientation for her new job managing a kitchen for Houston's restaurant.

On May 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm Love received a Bachelor of Arts in English Language Studies from San Francisco State University.

She has long been a lover of penguins, so a friend in the Art Department painted a penguin on her cap. It showed up well on the huge TV. The entire student body at San Francisco State graduated in one long ceremony due to budget cuts. If you didn't have something on your mortar board, your family didn't really know which one you were. Love made sure that her family could see her clearly. She will be working with her dad and living at home for the rest of the summer before attending a two-year ministry training program in church service and Bible. After that she hopes to get a Master's in Education and teach high school English.

Afterwards, Love had a barbecue with her friends in the park near her house in San Francisco.

Truth bought silly string to get Peace, but it was confiscated at USC, so it reappeared in the park in San Francisco where everything goes...

On June 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm Truth received a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics (concentrations: Italian, Chinese, and a certificate in teaching ESL) from UCLA.

She graduated summa cum laude.

But her true ambition is to be a hobo. She will be taking a summer module in Architectural Design before leaving on a trip to Beijing. From there she will go to Mongolia with a friend to ride ponies. Then she will visit relatives in Taiwan and friends in New Zealand. Then she will go on to teach English for a few months to AIDS orphans in Tanzania. On the way home she will visit Morocco and some other African countries and then stop in Hawaii to see a friend. Her mortar board sported a packed suitcase:

Her cheering section was the loudest, so they had to go incognito.

And of course, the previously silly stringed got their revenge with interest...

Congratulations to my babies!!! I'm really proud of you!!

Love always, Mom

Sunday, June 6, 2010

First Snow

Love in a box in the toy room

It seems that my posts have been getting darker as time goes on, but I am trying to record as best I can what we were going through, not because we are anything special, but because we aren’t. I am unique in that I experienced being an immigrant to my own country, and I experienced things that most people of my race, class, and educational background do not experience. Moreover, because my grandmothers, in particular, were worried about my grandfathers’ prestige if we “went on the dole,” our family did this without any social services. Later, in my translation business, I helped newly arrived families with small children “go on the dole;” to be honest, they had a much easier time of it than we did even though they had NO family here. I want to put our experience out there as an example.

America today is in a time period when a certain sector of the populace wants to abolish all social services. Times are tough, and instead of uniting, we seem to be losing that American sense of uniting for the common good that we saw in the aftermath of 9/11 and at other times in our history. As resources get tighter, we are retreating into “tribalism” and trying to shut out all who are different. I feel that this is a huge mistake.

During the Great Depression, the farmers’ march on Washington and the veterans’ encampment on the Capitol Mall put our leaders into fear of riots by the masses. FDR enacted legislation that laid the foundation for our social safety net, and we began several decades of domestic policy designed to increase the percentage of households in the middle class. The wealthy were taxed progressively, and that money was spent to ensure that hunger would not be a problem. Because we are a diverse nation, “tribalism” is particularly dangerous. When the race riots erupted in the 1960’s, Lyndon Johnson launched his Great Society program to bring more minorities into the middle class. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states it clearly: when people are hungry they do not have the wherewithal to be moral. Other countries that do not have our safety net (tattered as it has become by the past thirty years of political policy favoring the wealthy and increasing income disparity), are already seeing riots by hungry workers who acutely feel their exploitation when they see the wealthy on TV. Thailand comes to mind as an example, as does rural China where farmers and factory workers riot frequently, although the news does not get into the mainstream media. Last year, even chicken farmers in Arkansas, USA rioted because their livelihood was being destroyed by a large polluting corporation. They were put down forcibly by the National Guard.

The Moral Economy of the Peasant by James Scott discusses the mindset of people standing up to their economic necks in water and how they react when a swamping wave comes along. Fanshen by William Hinton describes the brutality of peasant life in China during the early twentieth century that led to revolution upon revolution. That brutality seems to be returning, not only to China, but to the rest of the world. Building a wall won’t keep people out; it’s too late. Globalization has already occurred. And so, part of the reason why I record Yuni’s frustrations and anger as we tried to get a toe-hold, is because he is one of many. Most of our immigrant friends felt the same way and experienced similar discouragements. By dismantling the middle class or by trying to restrict middle-class status to one race or group, we as a society are playing with fire. The lessons from history proving this fact are numerous.

Winter came early our first year in America. One day in mid-November, the skies were grey and it looked like rain. But the temperature dropped. By noon, the ground was covered with a dusting of snow. The snow began to fall thicker and faster, and around two, Yuni called from work to say that the owners were sending everyone home. He thought it might take a little bit longer than usual, but he was confident he would be home for dinner. He was quite excited because he had only seen light dustings of snow on the very tops of Taiwan’s highest peaks. There had not even been enough snow to make a snowman and now he was having snowball fights with his friends in the parking lot. I reminded him not to get wet and chilled.

Since he was coming home before the snow got too deep, I was not too worried. I thought that the freeways would be clear from all the traffic. I bundled the girls into their padded cotton suits with many layers underneath, and we went out into the yard to play. The snow was about three inches deep. The girls had lots of fun making snow angels and running in the cold white stuff. Their Chinese suits were not waterproof, so we could only stay out for about 20 minutes. I got them into a hot bath and then we had some hot cocoa and snacks. They went in to watch Sesame Street and draw pictures while I started dinner.

I thought that Yuni would probably be home by 5 at the latest; that would give him three hours to cover a 40 minute drive. I also thought that he would be cold, so I made a chicken soup and other warming foods—veggies stir-fried in bacon grease and another meat dish in addition to the chicken in the soup. Yuni had not taken his warmest coat with him. He thought it was too much trouble. I was very worried that he would get chilled, but at least he had gloves. He didn’t even have a warm hat, yet.

5:00 came and went. I kept the dishes warming on the stove and in the electric fry-pan. By 6 the girls were hungry, so I fed them. At 7, I ate myself. Now I was really worried. The snow was falling thicker and faster. We stopped watching children’s shows and turned to the news. Some areas already had a foot accumulation. At 8, I called the police to ask if there had been an accident involving a non-English-speaking Chinese man in a huge, brown Town-and-Country station wagon. They took my number and thirty minutes later called back to say that there had been several accidents, but none involving anyone answering that description. At 10, I put the girls to bed and wondered what to do. A little before midnight, I heard stomping on the stairs as Yuni came in. His nose was totally red, but he was sweating. He took a warm bath and got out of his wet clothes. Then he told me his story while he ate. When he was bathing, I went down to look for the car. It was not there. I was very worried, but he insisted on telling it like a folk tale and didn’t let me know what had happened to the car until the very end.

He said:

“I started out on Highway 520 to go across the new floating bridge, but there is a hill as you come out of Redmond into Bellevue. Several cars had spun out there. I braked too quickly, and I spun out, too. I was stuck. I couldn’t get the car to move in reverse. I was right near the on-ramp from Marymoor Park. The man in the car in front of me told me that my car was heavy enough. He helped me push my front around so the car was pointing down the on-ramp. Then I inched my way down, driving the wrong way. I got onto the road that goes by Lake Sammamish and went to get gas first. It was lucky that I did that. Then I remembered that when my parents were here, your dad took us by this lake and along to I-90, so I could get to the other floating bridge and come home. I thought it looked like the same road, but it was hard to see with all the snow. I drove along, and finally I found it. The on-ramp there to I-90 is all downhill. Once I got onto the freeway, the road was pretty clear, but there were so many cars. When I was almost across Lake Washington, and I could see our house on top of the hill, traffic stopped still. I stayed stuck in traffic from 6:00 to 10:30. Finally, traffic began to move. Fortunately, our car is big and heavy; many people with little cars could not get up hills, even with those funny things wrapped on their tires (chains). I took the long way around, so I did not have to go up any steep hills. When I got to that green bridge to come onto Beacon Hill, I saw that a house had burned down. It was still smoldering. The fire trucks had sprayed water all over the road. It was about 11, and the night air had turned the water to ice. My car started sliding down a side street, but I saw the entrance to a parking lot. I didn’t want to leave our only car on the road because cars were getting buried in snow and then hit by other cars. There is an old folks’ home there, you know? So I slid into their parking lot and found a place to park. I didn’t do a good job parking, but at least the car is not on the street. Then I started to walk. The sidewalk was all covered with ice from the water. I had to crawl across the bridge because I could not stand up. It was a little better when I got across until I came to the steep part right before our house. I would walk a few steps and then slide down. Then I’d walk a few more steps and slide back some. But I knew I had to get home. So I crawled when I couldn’t walk, and I made it. Now I’m really tired.”

Yuni’s company was closed again the next day. The whole family trooped down to the car, and then we went down to buy bags of sand and chains. We put the sand in the cargo carrier to weight it, and we put the chains on in the parking lot. Yuni had figured out how to drive in snow the night before. He was already quite good at navigating. We also went to K-Mart to shop for snowsuits for the kids. We couldn’t afford any, but after we got home my dad called to say that he was coming to see us. Lo and behold, he brought three snowsuits for the girls and a warm hat with earflaps for Yuni. I got a nice hat, too.