My mother came down for Thanksgiving last month. It had been a few months since she had seen her grandkids. Even though they had never met my mother, it certainly seemed like our exchange students needed a little attention only a grandmother could properly give.
Both of our exchange students (both Chinese and Korean student) have at least one living grandmother in their native countries. Whether the grandmother lives with her family (Korean) or a short train ride away (Chinese), they speak of an active grandmother who travels, cooks, and plays an active part in their lives. Enter my mother…
Prior to my mother arriving for Thanksgiving week (her birthday usually falls during this week if not on the day of), we sat around the dinner table talking about how busy grandma likes to stay. We mentioned how she likes to keep a conversation going. And, of course, how she likes hugs. Apparently, these conversations were not lost on our exchange students! They seemed to have painted a picture in their minds of a grandmother not very different from their very own grannies.
In my view, grandmothers are people who do not seem to have to make or enforce rules. Grandmas are along to be almost entirely accommodating to any and all requests of their grandkids. It would seem this is also the case for Asian grandmas. Having said this, an American grandma can help some exchange grandkids (grandkids to someone else, but somehow the title of grandma seems to easily be transferrable. If you are grandmother to someone else, then you can be temporarily adopted as someone else’s grandmother, too.) Being a grandma is not a transferable title, but it does appear to be one that can be borrowed.
It seems “hugs” are a great grandma thing to “demand” of all grandchildren or grandchildren-like people. My daughter told me that even though they were busy doing “Black Friday” shopping, our Chinese student insisted on giving my mother a hug every half hour or so. (I don’t do Black Fridays any more, so I will have to trust her.) I have also seen our Korean student give her frequent hugs. It isn’t just the quick hugs that are the “obligatory hugs”. These seem to be hugs that say, “if I close my eyes, I can pretend this is my real grandmas I am hugging” hugs. Since my mother has always been a strong proponent of hug therapy, the extra residents of the house gave her more people to entice into her arms.
Although it was initially voluntary, my mother had even requested a couple of extra massages from our exchange students. I am not entirely aware if this is done in their native countries to their older relatives, but my mom has never been good at saying “no” to special attention. Her hand massages while driving paled in comparison to the back/neck/arm massage she received before going to bed the one night. She took it all in, and likely slept better because of it. I am pretty sure there was at least one more massage scheduled before she left.
Finally, our Chinese student and my mother also took a walk together to the park. I haven’t seen the selfie, but apparently they took a one together while they were setting on the swings.
It wouldn’t be a very good story if all was perfect! One of my daughters has been quite distraught about sharing her grandma. She is glad grandma can get so much attention, but she was hoping to just draw the line at sharing her house with the exchange students. It was her strong desire to keep her grandma in a special category reserved for baby toys and other things only shared with blood siblings. As my mother’s stay has ended, my daughter seems to have gotten her “maturity” in this area.
My mother’s visit more than most other things we have done with our exchange students made the line between “family” and “non-family” clear. As the parent, any child under my roof qualifies as family. (There are degrees of family, but this is mostly sound.) As a child in a rather diverse household, it seems the same philosophy does not apply. I don’t blame my daughter for not embracing her new siblings And, I don’t blame our exchange students for doing anything wrong. Every experience we have in life gives us a chance to find out more about ourselves. Learning about ourselves is not always fun, but knowing we are almost half way into this chapter (the chapter entitled, “Our Asian Exchange Students”) of our lives lets us treasure the remaining experiences on the downhill slide.