Fourteen years ago, when my father died on Mother’s Day, the meaning of the holiday changed forever. When I was in college, my father battled pancreas cancer, and he took his last breath on that day in May. Years later, my mother, who was finally at a happy place in her life, died in an accident the weekend of Mother’s Day. So, for many years, I’ve had the habit of holding my breath during this part of May. Cue crying on the inside, longing to hear my parents’ accented English and Chinese dialects.
A Mother’s Prayer Answered
Even after having my own children, celebrating motherhood without my parents felt uncomfortable, especially on Mother’s day. However, I have made some progress in the grieving process. Now, I can make it through Mother’s Day without breaking down in tears! But it’s taken years of prayer to have peace. The verse that has helped most is Philippians 4:6-8. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
I believe that God has answered my prayer by giving me a chance to re-learn and teach my children Chinese. Our Chinese language journey began two-and-a-half years ago when my 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child) was 2. However, the language and culture are still very foreign to me. No matter how hard I study, I trip over words that were most comfortable to my parents. I know this challenge is normal when adults learn a language; my ‘broken Chinese’ is like my immigrant parents’ ‘broken English.’ But my 老大 tells me she prefers my “not-that-good Chinese” over English, because it’s our special thing. To my kids, the language is normal, comfortable, and not foreign.
The Purpose of Language
I wonder if 老大 may have a sense that language is so much more than just words. Language connects people near and far, friends and strangers, and different generations and cultures. It has the power to open hearts and heal wounds. I see my kids playing and joking with each other in their grandparents’ language which once seemed impossible. And I feel joy, not sorrow, this Mother’s day.
Although I had intended to write regularly about our family’s multilingual language journey, my website is mostly activities and book reviews. Writing about “what to do” is easier than the “why,” and my last introspective posts were my 2017 year-end reflections and my letter to my late parents. However, I owe it to my children and fellow parents to share the story behind all the trouble of learning Chinese as a non-fluent parent. Thank you very much for the chance to encourage each other on this faith, language, and parenting journey!
If Mother’s Day is difficult for you, please consider reading this post: For the Women Who Dread Mother’s Day by Dr. Claire McCarthy.
If you’d like to read other parents’ perspectives about speaking an Asian language to their kids, I recommend the following articles:
Please share these articles with friends who need encouragement!