Lame, loser, or just plain “oh Lord.” My American friends could have easily thought any one of these things — if not more — about me, all because my husband and I moved in with my grandmother.
That’s why I never just told people in America, “We’re moving in with Grandma,” but made it clear that this move came with an asterisk. She’s 89, she had a stroke some years ago, my grandfather passed away last year and she lives alone. We’re moving to China next year, once John finishes his internship — it just didn’t make sense to start a new household all over again, only to have to leave it all behind in an international move. Without this addendum, I felt certain we’d get branded as just another pathetic boomeranging couple leaching off of sweet little grandma.
But my Chinese father-in-law never needed — or asked for — the footnotes on our move. “Of course it’s better you live with her,” he said, just before he cited that one Confucian value every Chinese knows: filial piety, a value that includes respecting and caring for one’s parents (and, by extension, grandparents). For him, staying with grandma meant we could make good on one of the most important values in Chinese culture.
Of course, he could have easily been reading my husband’s mind. After all, John often mentioned filial piety when we discussed the idea of moving in with grandma — how good it would be for us to care for her, and bring her a little happiness in her old age.
Then again, even when I marched out every single reason I rehearsed for all my American friends, the truth was, I felt the same way as John did — that I too wanted to be a little more filial towards my grandmother.
I must say, though, that I have no idea if this came about from my marriage to a Chinese man. Years before I went to China, I remember attending this summer camp in high school, and during this “getting to know you” teamwork-building activity, several people praised me as being “family oriented” (a label that actually surprised me way back when). Maybe I always had this whole “filial” side of me all along and never really saw it, who knows?
The other day, I fried up a cheese and basil omelet for my grandmother for the very first time, and sat across from her as she ooohed and aaahed over each bite. “Jocelyn, you’re hired,” she said with a smile, a humorous nod to the fact that, in her eyes, I was fast becoming her personal gourmet chef. And you know what? There was nothing lame about it. 😉
Have you ever thought about being filial to your family? Did your cultural values — or those of your loved ones — influence or change your ideas about it?