It’s eight a.m. and Mulan is still asleep. Her babysitter, Lisa, let Mulan stay awake until I got home from the theater last night, which was about 11:15 p.m., and then Mulan stayed up with me until after midnight. We watched an episode of “As Time Goes By” which I TIVO and which has become my program of choice after my stage shows as a way of winding down. “As Time Goes By” used to be my dad’s favorite TV show in his last years, and now when I watch it, I remember seeing the episodes for the first time with him. This show has allowed me to feel like I’m continuing to hang out with my dad a little bit, now over a year after he died. I can remember his favorite parts, the shows he thought were good. And every now and again I see a show I haven’t seen before and I can remember him telling me about it.
Lisa became Mulan’s primary babyistter about a month after I came back from China with Mulan. Lisa, who is also Chinese – from the Hunan province -- just spent several months in China. We have missed her terribly. She just got back from China two days ago and Mulan is thrilled. In fact, even I nearly spilled tears when she called to say she had returned.
Even though Lisa has only been available on weekends for the last couple of years, (she started her own at-home day care during the week, then she moved to another house and disbanded her day care kids and took off for China) she is a very, very important part of our lives. In fact, now that Mulan is really out of babyhood, I look back and realize that it was Lisa and me who reared Mulan. We were her parents in her first years. And I have all sorts of appreciative and sad and happy and conflicting feelings about it.
There was a moment I remember really keenly, about a year after Mulan arrived (so that means Mulan was about two and a half) and Lisa and I were sitting exhausted together on the sofa while Mulan was finally, FINALLY asleep in her crib. And Lisa and I were holding hands. And I thought, “I never thought my parenting partner in life was going to be a Chinese woman in her sixties who I can barely converse with. But then, maybe this is better than some people have it.”
Lisa speaks very little English and our conversations are exasperatingly limited. This lack of a common language has caused several mix-ups and misinformation. It has been frustrating. But then, there are upsides. It has taught me to be very direct in my answers – when the other person knows so little English it’s just confusing to beat around the bush or to try to work out your answer while you’re talking. I’ve learned that the answer, for example, to the question: When should Mulan take a nap? cannot be, “Well, she usually falls asleep around two, but if I can get her down at noon it would be better because I need to take her somewhere at three.” It’s got to be, “Mulan will take a nap at twelve.” And then you point to the clock and smile. Also, there’s no unnecessary extraneous conversation when I return home and Lisa knows nothing about my life. Except that, of course, she knows everything about my life. But there’s no explaining, there’s no social-graces-blahdittyblah. We exchange the needed information. And that’s it.
It was weird having to be so direct for me. I instinctively think of being direct as being blunt and unkind. I had a really hard time. But then, this new skill began to be really helpful to me, in all kinds of areas of my life. I began to realize that most people don’t want to hear all the different views you have on some simple question – just answer. Let the answer hang there in the air. Be done with it.
In any case, there was this moment when Lisa and I were sitting exhausted on the couch. And we were both so tired, we couldn’t even speak, even if we COULD understand each other. And then Lisa said, “Why didn’t you have your own baby?” And I said, “Oh, well…” I didn’t know how to make this answer quick. Finally I said, “I can’t have children. I had an operation.” And that was it. No going into bad choices along the way, careers that had to be had, lost opportunities and the lot of it. And Lisa put her hand on my hand and squeezed and said, “So this is why no man would marry you.”
At the time I wanted to laugh out loud. Because in my last relationship, it was precisely because I WANTED children that we couldn’t work it out. I wanted to say, “No, in fact, the opposite.” But I appreciated Lisa’s empathy, however wrong. I could imagine what I must look like to her. She is so kind and loving, and it suddenly seemed like a very intimate mother-daughter moment. Lisa is about 64 or 65 I think, and she has become that older woman who has shown me the ropes and been there by my side and yet we never have any real conversations with each other. And so we just sat there and held hands for a little while.
And I suddenly realized that here I was with my parenting partner. Who knew that my parenting partner was going to be a Chinese woman in her sixties that didn’t speak all that much English. Lisa was the one I was sharing those precious moments with. Lisa was the one I was glancing up at across a room when Mulan did something particularly darling, Lisa was the one I was bursting with pride along side; when Mulan grew an inch or when she learned to pee in the toilet. We were the ones filled with joy when she could put on her own shirt and we were the ones exasperated when she’d have a hissy-fit. I was sharing all this with Lisa.
I imagined myself as a kid, who was singing, "Good night my someone" and imagining who her partner was going to be, raising children. And then I thought about Lisa's face forming in that cloud of unknowing. If I had had any energy, I would have giggled. Or cried. Instead, I just sighed.
And now…Lisa is back in town. In the meantime, Lisa’s daughter, Joyce, has taken care of Mulan on Saturday nights. Which has been great, I really adore Joyce. And she speaks perfect English!
On Sunday’s Mulan just comes with me to the theater and a high school girl who we know and adore comes and colors and plays with Mulan in my dressing room while I’m on stage. I remember once, when I was travelling in China, before I adopted Mulan. And I went to an Opera in a town..oh! I forget the name of the town. Anyway, somehow I conveyed to someone there that I was an actress and this man let me go backstage and meet the cast. They all lived right over the theater, they had their beds and clothes all right there. their make up tables were right next to their bed which was right next to a rice cooker. They were separated by thin sheets of fabric inbetween the "rooms." And many of them had children who were lounging on these little beds just above where their parents were performing. And I thought, "Oh! How awful, how sad! They have to LIVE at the theater, they never get to leave!"
And now, on Sunday's, when I go backstage at the intermission and Mulan is laying around my dressing room coloring or playing with dolls, I think, "This ain't so bad."
LATER IN THE MORNING
Okay, Mulan got up and gave me her Mother’s day presents that she made at school. It’s flowers made out of cupcake wrappers and they are beautiful. There are also another set of flowers made out of pipe cleaners and she said these are for my set at the theater. Also, she gave me a card that says, “I love you because you make really good healthy vegetables.” Ha. We’ve been talking a lot about vegetables lately. Then she said she was taking me out to breakfast. She had emptied her piggy bank and she had five dollars in change in a baggy. And she announced that we were going to go to Pink’s, this hot dog stand, on La Brea.
And so we went. Mulan asked the guy behind the counter if they made a special “Mother’s Day” hot dog. They did not. But I was happy that they opened at 9:30, we were almost the first customers. In spite of the fact that Mulan has declared her love for me primarily for my vegetable pushing, we ate hot dogs for breakfast today. And it was delicious! She said, “Do you want to sit inside, or out?” And I said, “It’s your choice.” And she said, “NO. It’s your choice. It’s Mother’s Day. ”
I think I am going to burst open with love for this kid.
But what I really want right now is a nap before the matinee.
The shows are almost completely sold out for the rest of the run! It’s so exciting. And the audiences have been great, it’s just…I have to remember this feeling forever. I am having such a good time. It’s actually soooo sold out that I am thinking I might add a Saturday matinee on the last weekend. But then…that makes it so exhausting. One show a day is a dream. Two shows makes both shows hard. So…no. I won’t. I don't think, anyway.
What a happy, happy mother’s day.