Framing the family

His father was gone most of the time on business trips, and his mother was busy working and finishing school, all the more so because she was still learning English. So for three years starting from when he was one and a half, Henry Jiang’s ’14 maternal grandmother lived with and took care of him.

“She was like my only friend because I hadn’t started school yet,” Jiang said.

He followed her around as she did housework, and she taught him to cook —  just a few basic vegetable dishes, Jiang said.

When his grandmother’s visa expired and she returned to China, Jiang often stayed home alone. By the time she could return, he was six and a half and sometimes taking care of his newborn brother by himself.

Jiang’s grandmother lived with him full-time since she came back until her diabetes took her sight.

“That was difficult because my grandmother had always been this vibrant figure in my life and now was just in bed all the time,” Jiang said.

After surgeries in the United States didn’t work, she returned to China once again for treatment. Now she is slightly better, he said.

Jiang thinks his experiences with and without his grandmother have made him “more mature.”

Vivian Lin ’16 sees her grandmother as a constant. Her mother’s mother has been living with her family since she was born.

“I don’t really know why,” Lin said. “I guess it’s just kind of a thing with Chinese families you just let your parents move in with you when you’re older.”

Her grandmother, Yuan Shuzhu, usually made the family breakfast and dinner when her parents had less time.

Now, Lin said, Yuan is just a “chill grandma.”

“The main reason why I want to get better at Chinese is so I can be able to talk more with my grandma,” Lin said.

Lin is taking Chinese III Honors this year. The two also teach each other their languages to make their frequent conversations easier.

“My closeness with my mom is just because she’s dealing more with things like my school and all my extracurricular activities — she’s in charge of arranging that, but with my grandma, it’s more companionship based, purely companionship because she doesn’t have an active hand in managing my schedule like my mom does,” Lin said. “I guess my mom is a bigger presence in my life, but I am close to my grandma just emotionally.”

Though Lin has school and Yuan spends time with friends of her own age, they always find time to talk, Lin said.

“I guess having her, it kind of changes your attitude towards old people,” Lin said. “When I have time, I just go into her room, and she’ll be just chilling or whatever, and I’ll tell her about my day at school; she’s also my friend, so we just talk.”

Lin and Yuan also often cooked together before Lin became busy with school, and Lin occasionally brings Chinese books from the library home to her grandmother.

Like Lin’s, Imani Cook-Gist’s ’15 parents are busy with work.

As a result, she has been close to her maternal grandmother since she was born, now staying at her house almost every day after school until her mother can pick her up.

Cook-Gist and her grandmother, besides talking and cooking together, do community service at underprivileged schools and homes for the elderly with disabilities.

Cook-Gist said her grandmother tries to emphasize to her the value of patience and caring for others.

“I wouldn’t say [we are] ‘friends,’” she said. “I wouldn’t go out shopping with my grandmother, but she is very close to my heart and I admire her very much. I have more of a feeling of who my family is and where I come from, I guess compared to someone who doesn’t have their grandmother or their grandparents with them. I just know where my roots are I know better how to identify myself.”

Almost every time she is with her grandmother, Cook-Gist said she ends up listening to familiar stories about her younger self’s habit of crying.

“I have certain aspects of myself, like my personality, that alone wouldn’t really make sense, but knowing my mother and my grandmother, it makes sense because each one of us, each one of the women in our family has those personality traits,” she said.

For example, Cook-Gist said, being scatter-brained seems to run in the family.

Covi Brannan ’15 doesn’t live with her grandmother, whose house is closer to school than her own. But when she has long rehearsals for school productions, usually during the week before each show opens, she sleeps over.

Her mother talks to her grandmother on the phone every day, Brannan said.

“She’s kind of crazy but in a good, Sicilian way,” Brannan said.

Currently, Hyunseok Choi ’16 spends seven months of the year with his paternal grandparents, as they stay with his family for six months during each school year, and his family stays with them in Daegu, South Korea for one month every summer.

When he was much younger, he lived with them because his parents were “not as settled as they are now,” while his sisters stayed at their other grandparents’.

At the time, Choi’s paternal grandfather was still working as a teacher.

“I didn’t really feel really out of place that my grandparents were taking care of me instead of my actual parents,” Choi said. “I’m not quite sure why maybe it’s just because I was growing up that way, and it might be because I didn’t meet any of my friends’ parents.”

Especially because Choi was so young when his grandparents took care of him, he is more used to them than his own parents, he said.

“With them I feel more comfortable, I guess,” Choi said. “I can speak to them without feeling uncomfortable, whereas with my parents I feel more reserved.”

His grandparents, he said, have more expectations of him than his parents do. Even when he left them to live with his parents, he lived close to them, and they visited each other frequently.

“I guess they were my friends in the sense that I would talk to them about unimportant stuff. I would chat with them, but for the most part, they were my parents. I looked up to them and respected them,” Choi said. “I think it was a nice mixture of both, that I could talk to them freely and look up to them.”

He attributes this closeness to being the only child his grandparents had to take care of, while now he is one of four siblings in his parents’ house.

“I feel like I got a lot more attention with them because I was essentially an only child, but now I have four siblings and I guess more freedom,” he said. “When I was living with my grandparents, I would be receiving a lot of attention in terms of what I would do. I think that was the biggest change — that now my parents are less concerned with what I do.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login