My eldest daughter was very proud of her first child’s genuine interest in writing and went overboard with the sheer number of times she recited my granddaughter’s essays.One example of her cringeworthy praises is somewhat like this: “It is not like because she is my daughter so I say good stuff about her. She is just very good,” my strong-minded daughter said during a family’s celebration.
Even though I recoiled from the idea of showing off and would freeze my face muscles at those embarrassing moments or silently creased into a faint smile, I didn’t take any less pride in my granddaughter’s fresh insights, which were fairly articulated in the lengthy but descriptive essays that she did for class’s assignments. The thick black notebook that I gave to her was filled with scribbling about her daily life, unfinished sentences, Pokemon stickers, drawings of princesses and princes from Grimm Fairy Tales. She discovered pure joy in crafting and was able to incorporate observations as well as feelings into what she wrote.
“So I have to write this essay about Sword Lake. Can you and grandpa drive me there so that I can take notes? Please! Please!” she asked me one day.
Her round face brightened with happiness, her short-fingered hands kept rubbing with delight and her stumpy legs were thumping on the floor. Sometimes, after having enough materials, she would sit at her desk for hours and build her own realm of comfort. Passing by, I never stopped to caress her unruly hair or asked how she was putting everything together. One time, her two-year-old brother kept playing with colorful stationery on her desk while she was working. “Come here, let your sister study, I will give you a ruler that is more beautiful than that,” I said.
When my granddaughter was in 4th grade, she had a literature lesson on personification. So fascinated was she with this literary device that she made a lyrical observation like this: “Whenever winter comes and gently blew away all the autumn leaves, trees are left with nothing but bare branches that work as old people’s scrawny hands that are begging for sunlight.”
When I first read it, I considered her imagery to be literature. But now, after a dozen years, I suddenly think much about that particular simile for some reasons I don’t understand. Perhaps, despite setting an annual routine of hair dying, I am only an old gray tree vulnerable to the narrow passage of time that could be as apathetic as winter. This biting coldness doesn’t pay attention to tree branches, similar to how time never turns its head around to look at anyone giving up on the race too soon.
When I was young, I witnessed my youth slipping away while dreaming of a better future for my three kids. Becoming older, I spend my fragile years caring for my kids’ children. But the thing about life is that, it is passing by so fast that at some point, a person can just slow down a little to wonder: “How did I get here?” and continue living. And during that living phase of life, there are no questions and pondering over one’s existence as well as one’s ability to stay alive. It isn’t a frequent thing, yet at times, a question such as: “Is my life well spent?” pops into my head. Considering how I dedicate every day of my life to caring for other family members, maybe others will say, “Yes”. But, when I asked myself that very question, there was a lingered moment of confusion. To me, is it well spent? However, the answer to that question doesn’t matter, because if I can rewind my time and live again, there aren’t any other ways of life I will choose to live.
It is funny how fast it all goes. One day, I was the youngest girl in a family living in a rural town. The next day, I am the oldest woman in a family I built with the man I love. It wasn’t easy. I almost lost my life during the second time giving birth. I struggled to earn money when Vietnam was in its difficult time. I had to go to the market, cook three meals a day, clean the house, care for three kids, two pets. But there were moments of ecstasy when I saw my kids get into college and wander off to have their own families. The grandchildren were bubbly, healthy and different from each other in every possible way.
Everyday, I sleep for six hours. At this age, maybe the most lavish activity you can do is sleeping. There is a clock ticking inside my head and waiting until 5:30 to ring. So trivial the work it does that sometimes I wonder if this clock is draining my energy to work on a contrasting mission that is bigger than that: announcing that it is time for me to let go. My husband, who wakes up at four everyday to exercise, always asks why I don’t go with him and criticizes me for not taking care of my health. Yet, I do. I cook the most delicious food for my children but never have a bite of meat because it will harm my stomach.
When you have lived long enough, you have the experiences to be sure of many things. You can look through certain kinds of people easier and predict what will happen to someone with a level of accuracy if s/he does something. You are also rigid with your firm beliefs and develop your philosophical approach to situations. Old age is a privilege. Older, wiser. Older, more authority.
But for me, old age is a sunken feeling. I read newspapers daily, so that I can keep up with the new generation. But the more articles I read, the more I realize that this world is changing with a fast pace I can be no match for. When my grandchildren tap the screens of their Ipads and talk about foreign singers, I realize that an old woman who only watches Korean and Chinese soap operas aired on television can’t join their conversations. I also fail to understand the use of a cellphone, so when my second child gave me a simple one to use, I left it at home most of the time and let my husband charge it. Instead of telling my children about my thoughts and feelings, I listen to their stories of work, how they travel to different countries and ask questions. My daughter even told me about how from the Internet she learned to make dishes I have never heard of. Funny, because I thought I was the only teaching her how to cook.
I am an old woman. I am greedy for more time. I want to see my grandchildren grow up. I want to see my children become grandparents and understand what I have been through. I wish to stop this feeling of loneliness that filled my lungs and belong to the world again.
From Nhi: This piece is narrated from the perspective of a Vietnamese old lady. If you read until here, I thank you and hope that my piece of writing doesn’t waste your time. As always, please tell me what you think. If you can relate, disagree, agree, feel anything after reading my writing. Even though the writing is fictitious, it is written from realistic details.
If you like to read another excellent essay regarding the perspectives of an old woman, I would recommend you this piece written by my co-blogger a while ago: Grandmother and I, we all fall like leaves. I personally love her essay a lot.
This essay belongs to a series of vignettes I am writing to portray what I observe from the world I live in. If you want to read more, you can also go to: On the Bus || Mom, You Used to Teach Me || To My Daughter || Private Conversation with Mom