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article imageOp-Ed: Death of the American mom Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     May 10, 2015 in World
Wenzhou - As I celebrated Mothers' Day in China with my Chinese university students, I reflected on the state of the American Mom and our appreciation of her.
It’s Mother’s Day in China, 15 hours earlier than in California. I have to teach today because China doesn’t really give students holidays — just a day off to be made up later, on a weekend. Still sick with a spring cold and coughing fits, I decide to make the best of this Sunday that comes without roses, chocolate, or champagne brunch.
I ask my freshmen university students to design Mothers’ Day cards. They’ll share them with the class and present them to their mothers. They gather up blank pieces of paper and colored highlighters and sit at their neat desks in our high-tech classroom at our new, American-style university. Through the classroom windows we can see the misty green hills that hold a red-tiled monastery. Light rain drifts from gray clouds onto campus trees and lawns, turning flowers into neon colors like the purple, pink, and orange markers students hold in their hands. Some students draw flowers near entwined green vines, with a patch of blue sky and a yellow sun. Others mark elegant Chinese characters with black-inked fountain pens. A few add English translations. One or two use pencils to sketch portraits of themselves with their moms. I wander around the room, giving encouragement to these overworked Chinese teens who snatch at a creative moment and have a little fun.
“I will take care of you just how you took care of me before,” a student writes next to portraits of himself with the young and old version of his mom. I decide to scan and keep that one.
You see, I have four children. My two oldest, a girl and a boy, are married and have children of their own. They live in suburban California and dedicate their lives to their spouses and their kids. My two youngest, age 22 and 19, are still single and struggling in the California mountains. I’ve been away from all of them for 4 1/2 years, teaching English overseas — in Russia, Turkey, and China. It’s been hard duty, like a stint in the military but without backup or steady pay.
I finally visited my children last summer for two months between Chinese academic years. My oldest, a daughter, brought her family to meet me at Coco’s restaurant halfway between the San Bernardino Mountains and San Diego. I gave her three children gifts I’d carried on the plane from China, picked with care from Hong Kong and Beijing. She seemed aloof, and I nervously babbled on about my overseas adventures, not listening well enough to her stories of how she started jogging or got a part-time job at her children’s school. Her husband was quiet as usual. I left our meeting with photos of the three blonde, blue-eyed kids: Josh with a crimson Chinese sash, decorated with gold characters, tied to his head like the emperor’s guard; Abby smiling above her porcelain miniature tea set hand-painted with red and black fish; and little Joey trying to use his purple set of chopsticks with plastic bear heads on their conjoined ends.
When I phoned later and asked my oldest daughter where we could meet, she said, “I don’t know . . .” When I drove to see her younger brother, he and his wife and her daughter and his son and their little girl I never met, kept their door shut against my knockings. I could hear four-year-old Allyson inside, giggling as if playing a game. When I brought my youngest daughter down to San Diego to visit her older half-sister, we faced another closed door and heard only the voice of my son-in-law telling us to leave.
I never understood why. Perhaps I was too opinionated about my son’s second wife who wanted to exclude me from her close-knit suburban family (they all have houses on the same street and feed their overweight children candy and soda). Perhaps it was simply because I’d gone so far away to support myself, like any man may do. Perhaps it was that I’d been married more than twice and pursued passions in far-off, poetic places . . . I just didn’t know because they never answered my phone calls, questions yelled through wooden doors, or carefully worded emails. They didn’t acknowledge gifts I later sent from China: yellow Chinese fairy costumes, blue dragon t-shirts, and living green bamboo plants tied with lucky red bows.
My youngest two children do communicate with me, though my daughter does so sparingly, as she struggles with dependency issues and her boyfriend. My son, only 19 and still in college, has flown off for Mothers’ Day to Alaska with his dad and stepmom — and her five young adult kids. Maybe he’ll send me a Skype heart later. Maybe my newest husband, an Armenian Turk, will take me out for dinner tonight and buy me a single red rose.
I think the least talked about of the Ten Commandments is the one which Jesus and Paul made a point to echo: “Honor your father and mother, for this comes with a promise that it will be well with you, and you will live long on the land.” I think America has long forgotten this idea. We consider older mothers nagging nuisances that lay on guilt trips or try to take our money. We don’t often send flowers, Skype them, tweet something, or follow on Facebook. We dispose of them in hospitals or rest homes. The last time I saw my mother, she cried because I refused to help pay for her flight ticket home. I thought she’d live long enough for me to gather a little wisdom and appreciate her some day — to go visit her when I finally had some time and could sit while all my questions were answered and all the old photos pasted in a book or saved in a digital slideshow. I didn’t expect that call in the middle of a snow-white January night when I was only 24, with two small children, and so many motherless years ahead that I would blunder through and make mistakes and alienate my own children who grew up too fast—and be forgotten too.
Three lanky Chinese boys with black-rimmed glasses and goofy smiles interrupt my thoughts. They hand their cards in last, after all the other students have left the room. I hold the colorful papers in my hand as they face me, giggling. Before turning to walk out the brightly lit doorway, they together say, “Happy Mothers’ Day!”
The Buddhist monastery behind Lonna Lisa Williams  China university campus.
The Buddhist monastery behind Lonna Lisa Williams' China university campus.
The flowery courtyard at my university in Wenzhou  China
The flowery courtyard at my university in Wenzhou, China
Lonna Lisa Williams  Chinese university students.
Lonna Lisa Williams' Chinese university students.
My student Mou Tong s Mothers  Day card
My student Mou Tong's Mothers' Day card
My student Eric s Mothers  Day card
My student Eric's Mothers' Day card
My Chinese student Sharon s Mothers  Day card
My Chinese student Sharon's Mothers' Day card
My 2 youngest children in the California mountains  summer of 2014
My 2 youngest children in the California mountains, summer of 2014
My youngest son  son-in-law  grandchildren  and oldest daughter at Coco s restaurant in California  ...
My youngest son, son-in-law, grandchildren, and oldest daughter at Coco's restaurant in California, 2014
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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