Yiran:  We Are Your Way Home, You Are Our New Path

Agnes and Jackson He, January 2002, Long Island

We started keeping a journal for our son Luran even before he was born — we told him, for example, why we decided to name him Luran Janus and how we felt while expecting him.  After his birth, we diligently recorded our feelings, thoughts, reflections, concerns, worries, hopes and dreams about him, for about two and a half years. Then came our daughter Yiran. We were determined to do the same for her — who says that parents cannot do as much for their second as their first? We can and we will!  A second-born herself, Agnes was particularly sensitive to "equity issues" and made a point to do it right! 

So we also bought a journal book for Yiran, with beautiful floral pattern covers, and also started writing in it before she was born. After her birth, initially we would forego sleep and write (one of the earliest entries for Yiran was written by Jackson at 4:30am).  After a while, we were having dizzy heads and fuzzy visions during the day. So we thought oh well, it wouldn't make much of a difference if we skipped some days. But soon, days became weeks, weeks became months.  The daily journal for both children helplessly lapsed into a weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, and quarterly… Finally we sought solace in the thought that maybe it is more important to get enough rest and be better prepared to experience/enjoy the next day than it is to record/recreate the previous day. There it goes…  We have not written nearly as much about our children as we would have liked to and we owe an especially great token of apology to Yiran.

The apple of our eye

We have decided that Yiran is our last child. We cherish our time with her, as we know that each moment will become history, for her and for ourselves. She grows up only once.  She grows up fast. Yiran is petite. Her Daycare teacher said she is light like a feather. She has not shown a great interest in food, except for pizza, pasta, chicken nuggets and French fries. We varied foods' size, shape, temperature, texture, color… Nothing worked.  For a while, our pediatrician had to put her on Pedia-sure (a nutritional food supplement for children). The doctor's standing advice is that Yiran can eat anything, anytime, anywhere, anyhow. All of this perhaps explains to some extent why we sometimes seem to indulge her.

We did not train her to sleep by herself in her own room (as we did with Luran) — The Discipline Book by William and Martha Sears liberated us. The Sears say that each child has different emotional and physical needs; room- and bed-sharing may in fact benefit some children.  The point is to stay connected with your child instead of sticking to certain dogma. As an infant, Yiran was very "easy". She was always smiling and happy and cried very rarely.  But there was one condition attached:  she needed to be with Mommy. So we have let her have her way. Now at the age of 2 years and 8 months, her temperament has changed much but her attachment to Mommy has not. Whether it is bedtime or bath time, meal time or potty time, her top choice (and often the only acceptable choice) is Mommy. With Mommy, she is able to accomplish the otherwise impossible such as sipping antibiotics by herself from a measuring cup and going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

It is not possible to not adore her. She gives wet kisses, koala hugs, sticky high fives. She toddles with a gaiety that is contagious. She dances to any music — Raffi, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", "Pum rum pum pum pum" [Little Drummer Boy], "Lonely Goater" (from The Sound of Music), just to name a few of her favorites. Her sobs break your heart and her wails can move stones. She always says "thank you". She is ready to "teach you a book" [pretends to read a book] anytime and always follows up with "That's a good story, huh?" She thinks that "hug and kiss rhyme", and, after being told that "Yiran and Luran rhyme", says "I rhyme with Luran!" She applauds for herself and exclaims "Bravo!" after singing a song or reciting a poem. To the frequent comment "You are so pretty, Yiran!", she agrees matter-of-factly, "Yeah." One day, Grandpa urged her to eat some fish, "if you eat fish, you'll be very pretty." Yiran replied very importantly, "But I am pretty already." When playing hide-and-seek, she would command, "You hide right here and I'll look for you!"

Yiran is well received by her teachers and friends at daycare too. All of her teachers say "She is so sweet!" and none of them could believe what we told them about the tantrums that she sometimes throws at home. When she arrives in the morning, often a number of her friends would flock to greet her, showering her with hugs and kisses. One boy once cried heartily because he did not get a chance to fetch Yiran's sitting mat for her — another kid got it first. Yiran also loves her teachers and knows her friends well. One day Daddy found a foreign stuffed animal in her cubby. Her teacher asked her, " Whose friend is this?" Without hesitation, she replied: "Jarid." Usually one of the last children to be picked up, at the end of day Yiran is often moved to the biggest classroom together with other yet-to-be-picked-up kids. And when Daddy comes to pick her up, Yiran would often say, "I want to say bye-bye to Lorraine and Luticia (her teachers)!" and run to her own classroom.

A person person

Nowadays Yiran is very active, very composed and confident, and very much a person person. Yes she loves reading very much, but she probably enjoys the activity (i.e., sitting in our laps, receiving close attention, taking turns talking) more than she enjoys the stories. Every time we make a car trip, even just to the parks or the library, she insists that everyone, including Grandma and Grandpa, be on board. Like a butterfly, she flies from one person's arms to another's shoulders and to another's laps. To each question, she has an answer. On each event, she has a comment. To each person, she relates with ease. Without an audience or a companion, she can be easily lost. It is a challenge for her to sustain herself without feedback and support from others. But she also has an inner peace that shines. She observes and listens very attentively and absorbs large amounts of information very quickly. Secure in the knowledge that she is loved, she is very happy with herself and she smiles with her entire body.

That Yiran is person-oriented can also be seen in the fact that she is very sensitive to how others feel. When she was a little over one year, she would come to us and ask for permission to play with Busytown (a computer CD). Before we gave her a verbal answer, she could tell that it's okay and would jump up, clap her hands and scream "Yippee!" One rare moment, Mommy and Daddy got into a serious argument. Seeing that Mommy was very sad and sensing that something was very wrong, Yiran buried herself in Mommy's arms, tears running down her cheeks, and kept saying, "No, no, no!" That night before bed, when Daddy gave her a good-night kiss, she firmly demanded that Daddy "kiss Mommy", something she had never done before. She often refuses food offered to her. When that happens, Mommy usually reacts somewhat coldly, "Okay, whatever suits you." She would then study Mommy's face and ask, "Are you happy?" One day after the horrible September 11th, she came home from daycare singing "Gaw Bess Merica [God Bless America]". She sang with such sensibility that would lead anyone to think that she really comprehended what she was doing.

"Daddy, I want 'you bar'!"

Yiran has a wonderfully creative way with words. When she was about 18 months, she made reference to herself in two ways — "my sitter [sister]" and "I". If she made a mess in the playroom, she would come to us and report, "My sitter [sister] made a mess! All over! Not Okay!" On the other hand, if it was something nice and positive such as putting the toys back to where they belong, she would say, "I did it! Hooray!" She took great liberty to express herself. She would say, "Beibei big hug Baba! [beibei is what we call her at home]" and "Mama hold hand Beibei." Before she turned two, one day she asked Mommy if she could have a "Daddy Bar"-- the kind of ice-cream bar that Daddy likes.  Mommy asked her to ask Daddy. She turned to Daddy and stated most earnestly, "Daddy, I want 'you bar' !"

At around 24 months, she realized that her full name is Yiran He. She soon extended her knowledge to other members of the family and said, "Daddy's name is Daddy He, Mommy's name is Mama He…"  Mommy likes to say, "I love you from the bottom of my heart, my little girl!" And Yiran would echo, "I love you bottom up, my little Mommy!"  Each day at bedtime, she takes a cup of milk.  When Mommy asks her to finish her milk, she says in Chinese, "if I drink a lot and a lot, I'll be drowned!"  One day, she asked for bread with Nutella (a kind of hazelnut and chocolate spread with a dark brown color).  Not knowing the name "Nutella", she said, "I want black butter on my bread!" She describes the taste of infant's liquid Tylenol as "crunchy".  Just a few days ago, snuggling inside Mommy's lounge gown, Yiran said, "And I live happily ever after!"  Now that the grandparents are with us for an extended visit, Yiran's Chinese has perfected enormously. She is so perceptive that she has even picked up some Hunan accent occasionally observable in Grandpa's speech.

"I do it myself!"

Like any other child, Yiran has her way of balancing herself. While she may plead to be carried from bedroom to bathroom, she would insist on walking on her own and by herself (without holding hands) in the parking lot or at the pedestrian crossing.   Upon completing her job on the potty, she always wants to wipe herself.  Not only does she want to wipe herself, but she also wants to wipe Daddy and Mommy when they are done with their job, and says, "No, you don't do it. I do it myself!" At the age of two, she was already holding a pencil very nicely, was "writing", and was drawing nice circles and long, long continuous lines. She has been brushing teeth by herself since about 18 months and uses, and swallows, toothpaste every day.  At present, she is already buttoning those big buttons on Mommy's night gown, washing her own face, and putting on her own socks and Velcro shoes. And she always insists on putting on video tapes and CDs/DVDs by herself. 

Yiran was born in the Year of Rabbit. But she acts more like a monkey. She is a great climber.  Window sills, dining tables, couch backs, computer desks, bathroom sinks, others' shoulders and heads, anything higher than herself becomes the object of her conquest. And she adamantly wards off any admonition or assistance.  She started attending full-time daycare (located in Jackson's company) at 18 months old. Everyday she leaves home with Daddy at 9am and returns with him a little before 6pm.  While picking her up is always Daddy's most tender moment of the day, getting her to sit in her car seat is often a drag.  She would want to first climb upon Daddy's minivan all by herself, then climb to the front to check out the driver's seat, then to the back "to see", then ask for some "goodies" (usually candies or crackers) before finally settling down in her seat. 

Oh, brother!

Her brother Luran is her best friend as well as constant foe. The world cannot be fair if he has something that she doesn't. Luran started Kindergarten in September 2001 and carries a backpack to school everyday. Yiran now carries a soft storybook backpack to her Daycare too. He uses his baseball bat as his " jin gu bang" (the magical stick weapon used by the Chinese Monkey King); and she demanded her very own and we had to buy her a baseball bat as well.  One day recently before bedtime, we asked the kids to come to see the moon through the skylights. Yiran went with Mommy to one skylight and Luran went with Daddy to another.  Having checked out the moon from her own perspective, Yiran said, "I want to see Luran moon".  After a while, she said, "I don't like Luran moon any more.  I want to see MY moon!" In summer 2001, we went to Spain to visit Grandparents.  One of the few things we bought everyday was ice-pops.  We would let Yiran pick her choice first. Then we'd let Luran choose his (while Yiran was opening and licking hers). But often times, if Luran's choice was different from hers, she would often say, "I don't want mine. I want Luran's!"  Seeing that we were stuck with a teary child and an unwanted ice-pop, sometimes the nice Spanish vendor would come to our rescue, saying to Yiran, "No mas! No mas! (no more)"  

During a meal, if Luran says "I'm done" and leaves the table, Yiran is sure to follow suite within seconds. When he plays the game of Monopoly with Daddy, she tosses the dice for them. When he is playing Chinese chess with Grandpa, she collects all the pieces, captured or not. After Luran plays the piano, she takes a bow on his behalf. If he is writing his alphabet, she wants to "ca (erase)" — more than his mistakes. And when he is doing his additions and subtractions, she wants to color the numbers.  When he is showing off his spelling skills, she chimes in, "Mommy, listen, the letter 'r' makes the [k] [k] sound!"  Watching Luran practicing Karate, she puts both fists above her head and screeches "On guard!" When Luran plays with his computer CDs, she is his loyal spectator.  One day, Luran was reading about the solar system and said (in Chinese), "If Galileo had lived till this day, he would have grown so big that he would have reached the sky!" Yiran quickly mimicked, "Right! If Gabrielle [Yiran's daycare friend] comes back, she will be in the sky!"

Of course Yiran does not merely imitate her brother. She does things to him too. One day, having heard the story Barbie in the Nutcracker three times in a row, she waved a pencil and announced to Luran, "This is my magic wand! I shrink you small! Small!  Small!" She often takes a ride on his back, with him crawling on the floor.  She is just about potty trained this month.  Once she missed. Mommy asked her, "How come your pull-up is wet?"  Yiran said calmly, "Luran did it."

Oh yes, the two of them fight, every single day. The bright side is that they always repent. In fact, Yiran has gotten so used to making apologies that sometimes she would say, "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" even when Luran was at fault! But she loves him, fights and fusses notwithstanding.  The first thing she notices after she wakes up in the morning is always him — the sounds made by him or his toys.  Before Mommy has a chance to put on her pull-up and pants, she would dash from the bathroom, saying, "I want to see what Luran is doing!"  If she has some "gummy dears [gummy bears]", she will save one or two for him. During our walks, she sometimes prefers to hold Luran's hand, any not anyone else's.  One morning Luran was in a hurry to catch the school bus and left home without saying goodbye to her. She was so distressed that Daddy had to carry her to the bus stop so that she could bid him farewell. Another day, Luran got very frustrated with a piece of music that he was practicing.  Yiran put her arms around him, her cheeks next to his, and said, "Gege [brother], you did a good job! I am proud of you!"

We are your way home, you are our new path

How to love a daughter and help her grow?  We will never know for sure. We are bound to make mistakes but we give our best.  We cannot promise Yiran a rose garden, but we will always be her home, home for her heart, mind, and body. And we rejoice as we travel and reflect upon the new path that she has shown us.