October 1, 2007

Little me with a silly face and my nainai in Taiwan, c. 1980s.

My paternal grandparents played a huge role in my childhood. I used to spend every summer for 2 + months in Taipei with them until I was almost in middle school. That's how I learned most of my Mandarin, Chinese brush painting, and how to haggle with street vendors.

Aside from those important lessons, I got to spend time with my nainai and yeye. I was super close to them. As they got older, my parents moved them from their 2 bedroom apartment in central Taipei to Rowland Heights, a suburb in Los Angeles County that was just beginning to boom with Asian Americans and Taiwanese Americans specifically (a "new" Monterey Park, if you will).

I remember my nainai would make food for me after I got home from school. While she didn't speak English, she would answer the phone whenever we were out -- this was before cell phones -- and 9 times out of 10 the call was for me. She would talk to my friends in Chinese. She always had a friendly smile for my friends when they came over. And even if they didn't understand her Chinese, they would smile back. I got to see my grandparents grow old. They lived with us until they both passed away.

I guess I feel very lucky and blessed to have been so close to at least one set of my grandparents. They played such a huge role in my upbringing that I often associate childhood memories with them. And needless to say, when they both passed I was very sad. I still think about them a lot.

What I am getting to in this post is that nowadays, I noticed a lot of my friends and peers live far, far away from their own parents. And now that I am a new mom, I realized that my child is going to be raised very differently from how I was raised.

My parents still live in LA county. While I am in Oakland, only (plus or minus) an hour's plane ride away, it's not the same as being in the same house, town or general area. Papa T's mom lives even further, in the Midwest.

I know I am already blessed to have my parents this close by. But juggling a schedule with a very busy, activist papa, and myself (also very busy), is very hard. You have to choose between dragging poor little T around to every event or friend's social gathering, or one of us staying at home with him. Oftentimes it means we have to skip out on a lot of things.

I have to always remember that living away from my parents is something I chose. It seems that so many in our generation have chosen to move far away from their parents, whether it's to go off to college or for work. Some of us continue bouncing around and globe-trotting. Some of us have settled down, but far away from our parents and where we grew up. We were raised believing that we can get a good college education, do what we want, and live where we want. Many of us, like myself, planted roots in the same general area where I went to school. So here I am.

And I do love living here. I don't think I would be "me" if it weren't for the Bay Area. I feel very free to do what I want, to pursue my interests and passions. That's a blessing.

But more and more now, I am longing for the good old tradition of living with or at least close to extended family. I'm not saying that I'm going to move -- but I am definitely starting to see the benefits of have a bunch of people in one house or street and helping each other out, especially with childcare.

Sometimes I feel like raising a child - though I have a wonderful partner and awesome friends who have all helped out already -- "alone" or without extended family is pretty tough. It's also new, vastly different from my own parents' experiences. I often envy the friends I have who have kids and live close to their parents. But to move either way would be a compromise in who we are and where we want to be. So for now, we've chosen to stay put.

I also feel like instead of relying on family for help, we have to reach out to our friends more. It's not the same, though, because while we have some super-duper friends, they are all busy and have their own lives and crazy schedules. When new things come up -- trust me, there's always something on my mind when it comes to the little one -- I turn to our nanny, Kaiser (or more like the advice nurse line), La Leche League mother-to-mother forum, friends who have babies/kids, and books. Lots and lots of books. We are literally raising our baby "by the book," or pretty darn close to it. It's like I have to cram sometimes to read the "What to Expect.." book -- when T turns six months, I won't know what to expect in the next month until I read the chapter on Month 7!

And when I watched Sicko -- well, it literally made me feel ill. I cried. I saw that in France they not only have free healthcare, but they have low cost childcare. And hello, everyone gets lots of time off from work! Paid time off. And on top of that, they have someone come over and do your laundry after the new baby arrives. Trust me, that is a big plus. We were doing laundry every other day for the first couple of months.

But we don't get those benefits here, which I think compounds the stress and need for help with childcare.

So here's are some questions for you all:

How many of you live far -- or even, far, far -- away from your parents? How many of you would move closer to your parents -- or even have your parents move closer to you -- as you are considering starting your own family? How many of you lucky parents, or parents-to-be, live close to at least one set of parents?!


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



shyam and i both have our parents in la, and we often wonder who will "crack" first when we decide to have kids: will we end up moving back to la, or will they come to us? we hope the latter, but i think we hope they'll be somewhat nearby more than anything, even if it means moving back to la!(thanks for sharing!)
family - whether blood or not - is all important!the oh no!!!
Wow Momo, I was just thinking about my family in India while I was in the shower this morning and how busy I have been lately and how much I miss my mom, who I only get a chance to talk to when I am in transit from home to work or on the way to a meeting. Like Tony's, my mom is in the Midwest -- a place I'm not too keen on moving too, but I do miss being around family and worry about how I am going to feel when this is no longer a choice. I really appreciate you blogging so candidly about raising your little family. Thanks for sharing!
hey momo, i am loving your posts on being a mom!! i think most of us are so disconnected from this life, and it really does bring up larger issues of family, community, etc. from a much-needed but not often heard point of view. very insightful and thought provoking. :)
Thanks for writing this. I have an almost two year old. We live in Oregon, but my family is in Canada. Pre-baby, it was on big deal, I felt like we visited lots. But now, we are seriously considering moving "home", even though it isn't as good a fit for us personally because I want my kids to know their grandparents, and I could really use the support. We have great friends here, but it isn't the same as family. I realized a few months ago, when our closest friends moved because of a job, just how fragile a non familial support system is!
thanks Neela and lisamac! motherhood has got me thinking about a lotta stuff.
I was very moved by this article because it speaks so much about my own experience growing up. Though I was born in America, my parents had hardships and moved back to Taiwan when I was 8. I remained in the States because my Chinese was too poor to enter school there and they thought it was the best for my future.It's interesting how my perspective on living so far from my parents changes as I get older. When I was younger I had the whole "I don't need anyone I can take care of myself" mentality, but as I'm getting older my thoughts are now straying to what it would be like to have my own family. As a result I'm feeling more bittersweet over growing up so far from my parents. And even though I am still in my 20s, single and renting, I get stressed out just thinking about how I can make enough money to not only buy myself a house, but a house for my parents so they can live close to me at last...I feel like life is constantly balancing itself out and one day our family will find a way.