It looked like every other morning when I’d left my Chinese in-laws’ home this summer. My Chinese mother-in-law grumbled about how large our bags were, but then proceeded to push more honey pears and mooncakes into our backpacks. As usual, my Chinese father-in-law paced around the first floor like an expectant father – and only stopped when we climbed into my oldest brother-in-law’s car. Through the window, they appeared with the same calm and content face I remembered every morning, pushing heaping plates of breakfast my way (on this day, I had vegetarian dumplings stuffed with tofu and pickled vegetables and sweet fried rice pancakes) while asking why I’d risen so late from bed.
But this was not just any morning. John and I left his home for the US – which meant we wouldn’t see his family for another two years. When I waved at my Chinese mother-in-law and father-in-law through the window, that was the closest to a “goodbye” that we had.
As I thought about that moment over and over at Shanghai Pudong Airport, I couldn’t help but wonder – is that all there is?
Goodbyes – especially when they have to last two years (that’s how often we get back to China) – are the stuff of theatrics in my family, even though we’re as reserved as Midwestern Catholics go. My grandmother starts crying even before we’ve said farewell, prompting another round of hugs and promises to call her soon. Even my dad – “Mr. unemotional” – gets choked up and even sheds a tear or two when we have to leave each other for a long time.
“They didn’t really say they would miss us,” I told John after dinner at the airport.
He gave me the kind of grin that meant he thought I was both funny to think so, and a little ridiculous at the same time. “No need to say such things to family. It’s unnecessary. Anyhow, they show their feelings through actions.” Now that I thought about it, my Chinese mother-in-law did make me enough breakfast to feed our entire household. And days before we left my Chinese father-in-law tucked another stack of RMB into John’s wallet, insisting we didn’t have enough.
“But they don’t worry about the fact we’ll be gone for two years?”
John laughed. “Of course not! They know we’ll be back in two years, so it’s fine.” Which begs the question, would it be any different if we were, say, leaving for good? I don’t know.
But maybe it’s easier this way, with the kind of goodbye that suggests this is just another day — and not the day we’re leaving for the US. After all, I could use a little less drama in my life, for once. 😉
How is it when Chinese family or friends say goodbye to you?