The Mothering-heart State


Women of China (English) - - COLUMNS |专栏 -

Iam sitting in the airport, waiting for our flight to Chengdu. The kids and I are going on an adventure to "see the pandas." A Chinese woman leans toward me, in the waiting room, and asks in English: "Are you taking the kids on the plane alone? No one is helping you?"

Her broken English is an enormous effort, but I smile and respond kindly in English as well. "Yes," I say. "It's no problem. They're good."

"I have two children," she says. "Just like you." Then she points to my kids, the bags, the plane outside and makes a face to express the impossible struggle before she adds, emphatically, "I can't."

She is referring to travelling alone with kids, but I clarify in Chinese. She nods. She switches languages to tell me that I am very strong and impressive to take my kids alone on a trip — Chinese women wouldn't dream of doing that. She ends her sentence in such a way as to imply that it's a non-negotiable statement: Travelling alone with two children is just too much, period. The end. I look at her for a moment, and then I smile. I say nothing. She has left me feeling thoughtful.

This is common feedback in China. Having two children (now aged 6.5 and 4.5) with a (disengaged) Chinese man as their father has meant that for more than four years I have been strangely praised for my strength and resilience whenever I've been seen outside with my children alone. Mothers in the West never receive extra credit when seen with multiple children.

Parents in China have only in recent years been reintroduced to the idea of two children. Only children have been doted upon by two sets of grandparents and extended family. Mothers (and fathers) have had a lot of help. So, the idea of parenting one child alone is still foreign, let alone two. But now, like the woman in the airport's departure lounge, people can have two children, but have yet to shed previous ideas of what one adult is capable of.

I change my focus to thinking about the summer holidays. This year, after much consideration and rationale, we decided not to make the long journey back to Canada — one that I always do alone with the kids. It's true that it can be tiring. Long international flights, especially with one infant and one toddler, aren't easy. But, now that they play together and can be "reasoned with," journeys can become fun. If you prepare enough activities, kids are entertained by everything new.

Despite taking planes their whole lives, excitement about taking a plane just expands rather than contracts 国子玉(加拿大)

Ember Swift is a writer and an internationally touring musician. Originally from Toronto, she has lived in Beijing since 2008. She is the proud mother of two. as they grow. What a thrill to watch their faces as we arrive on the tarmac and the kids see what it's like to board a plane from steps (rather than a corridor), for instance. They are thrilled to see the engine and the wings from the outside. And, after many moments of pleasure during the flight, their wiggling legs and smiles when they perceive the exact moment the wheels touch down upon arrival is enough to make me laugh as well. These are the glowing lights of childhood wonder. They can warm us up if we let them.

We disembark in Chengdu, "the place where the pandas live." As we walk through the airport toward the baggage claim, the same Chinese woman approaches me again. She asks me if we have arranged a car to pick us up, then she quickly offers to drive us where we need to go. I politely decline, but express great appreciation for her kindness.

"Thank you, but we are very independent. We've got it sorted out."

She smiles and adds: "I am going to study what you do," and then she goes on to say that those ideas she stated earlier were possibly "all in her head." I nod politely. That's exactly what I was thinking, but I didn't dare say it. I use a Chinese word that I love: 心态 (attitude) to express the idea of changing the way we think about things.

I love this word because it literally translates as "heart state." Our hearts have to be willing to try, to believe in ourselves, to let circumstances lead us happily down the path of life. In other words, our hearts have to assume a state of acceptance and peace, willingness and openness. That's all I'm trying to do here as their mother.

Every day. Pandas, here we come!

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