"Baby, baby!" the kindergarten's cook called out teasingly as she made her way from the kitchen to the classroom, holding a bowl of hot noodles. She set it down on the table in front of me.
The children were having their lunch, slurping and chewing away with the aid of a fork and spoon. The teacher that I was assisting was eating with chopsticks, as it was the norm for the adults at the school. Earlier that day, I had made a special request of the cook, that I would like the noodles to be cut up and to use a fork and spoon instead. So the cook had acquiesced and then teased me, a grown adult who was eating alongside the children, who also had their noodles cut up. I was only mildly embarrassed and didn't mind the teasing as I found it easier, and thus quicker, to finish my lunch, instead of struggling to eat with chopsticks. I was never really good at it so why pretend? It certainly amused a few of the children that I was sharing the table with. I was in my early twenties at the time and still shy and self-conscious.
These days, I am still somewhat shy and self-conscious but growing older does have its perks, as I've found out. One doesn't really care so much anymore about what others may think. I may still fumble with a pair of chopsticks and my technique may be all wrong but no matter. I don't shy away so much anymore unless I really feel that it would be wiser not to use a pair of chopsticks. But because I am away from my country of birth, from my home of long ago that celebrated certain traditions that I do not fully celebrate anymore, I look to the chopsticks and it seems to represent a part of my past, my childhood, my upbringing, all that was familiar and good, all that once was, and will never be again.
No doubt I tend to have a melodramatic streak if the mood should hit and I can also be very sentimental as well.
A bowl of noodles is usually eaten with a fork as it is always easier. But there are times when I will choose a pair of chopsticks. I dine alone. But at least for a few moments, as my tastebuds enjoy a familiar taste from home, I feel Asian again. For that is where I come from. And at the risk of sounding melodramatic yet again, that is who I do not want to forget.
Perhaps all this comes about even more so, and especially as I grow older, because I do not have offspring of my own. There are no children for me to relate my childhood stories to, no children to share in the celebration of certain festivities that I used to celebrate as a little girl -- or even as a young adult -- growing up in a foreign land. Traditions are meant to be passed down to the next generation. Not only can I not share my Catholic faith, which is so important to me, neither can I share my Asian heritage, which is also important to me. Having children opens up a whole other world, a world that is closed to me, a world which I have never had -- and will never have -- the privilege to enter, to experience.
And then I wonder if I'm merely allowing myself to be melodramatic or am I briefly experiencing something real and true, that has been pushed to the back, but is sometimes shoved forward and I have no choice but to stare at it squarely in the face. It is loneliness that I feel. The absence of children. The absence of a child. Yes, I think that's it. I wish I could share who I am and what I know. It is different sharing all these with a child. Having been around toddlers and young children during my late teens and early twenties when I worked in kindergartens, I know how difficult, challenging and frustrating it can be. There was also the heartache of visiting a five-year-old kindergartner in the hospital. His name was Andy, a mischievous little boy who had leukemia and later passed away. And I also heard about my nephews and nieces' upbringing, about the worries and difficulties their parents faced.
But I also know the other side of it. And it can be wonderful. Whatever happened to that young woman who loved working with children?
Having a baby changes everything, the voice on the television commercial wants you to know. yes, I do know that, thank you very much.
It is odd how two plastic sticks can bring out the oddest of emotions at the most unexpected of times. And then I also think that I would be a lousy teacher should my little ones ask me to teach them how to use a pair of chopsticks. Then again, however clumsy I was, maybe we would all laugh as we learned together. Yes, I think I would miss that. And maybe I do miss that.
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