Redefining Mother’s Day with My Parents’ Language

Rainbow at a my late mother’s favorite lake in California

Fourteen years ago, my father died on Mother’s Day, and the meaning of the holiday changed forever.

When I was in college, my father battled pancreas cancer. 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.

After giving birth to my first child, I had trouble celebrating motherhood, especially on Mother’s Day.

Their accented English and Chinese dialects, their endless unsolicited advice, their stories of a past life so different from mine….Everything I took for granted was gone when I needed it most as a new parent.

A Mother’s Prayer Answered

Gradually, I have made progress with the grieving process; I can make it through Mother’s Day without fighting back too many tears.

It’s taken years of prayer to have peace, and the bible 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 prayers by giving me a chance to re-learn and teach my children Chinese.

A Special Broken Language

Our Chinese language journey began two-and-a-half years ago when my 老大 (lǎodà / oldest child) was 2.

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 children, Chinese is normal, comfortable, and not foreign.

The Purpose of Language

I wonder if 老大 senses that language is much more than words.

Language connects people near and far; friends and strangers; 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.

Related: Faith, Hope, and Love in a Foreign Heritage Language

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One Comment

  1. Po Tim King says:

    Betty, thanks so much for writing this. It was touching and filled with joy at the same time. I’m so proud of you. You are an amazing woman. And your kids are one of the luckiest kids in the world. You are on the right track. I hope all your hard work, tears, tired… will pay off in the future.

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