Last month, my son, E. had a two-week vacation in China with us. Before we enrolled him in a school for special needs in the Philippines, he spent most of the first 5 years of his young life in China and probably considers it his real home. This vacation was going to be different from last year’s because this time he would see his nainai (paternal grandmother) again after two years.
My husband had thought E. would not recognize her anymore, yet when I told E. that his nainai had arrived, he rushed to the door and had the sweetest smile on his face when he saw her. He reached out his little arms to her, and when she didn’t pick him up, he held her hand and led her to sit on the couch and kissed her. He kissed her cheeks several times.
There were no words between them, as what little Shandong dialect he picked up from her a few years ago had all been forgotten, and the less than 5 English words she picked up from him had all been forgotten as well. But this did not stop them from communicating in their own unique way. They came up with a clapping game that kept him entertained for the next 6 days.
When the time came to say goodbye, E. did not realize he would not see his nainai the next day or the day after that. As he likes airports, he was just happy to run around in the airport and get on the plane. But hours later, when he got out of the car and realized he was back in his other home (in another country) without his father and his nainai, he became very quiet and in the late afternoon he said to me, crying, “Let’s go.”
So we went out with my sisters and my nephew (who have been his companions for the last two years.) I was hoping he just wanted to get out of the house for a while, but when he realized we were still going back to the same house, he cried. That’s when it dawned on me that he wanted to go back to China. The second night after we arrived, he was still unhappy and cried again, so I finally asked him, “ Do you want to see daddy?” He didn’t say anything. “Do you want to see nainai?” He wailed and said, “Nainai!”
I right away made a video call to my husband and asked him to give the phone to his mom. When E. heard her voice, he grabbed the phone from me and looked at his grandma and cried and kissed the phone. It was the most touching thing I have ever seen my son do. He didn’t give the phone back to me for a long time. He just wanted to watch them.
On the third day, he probably realized that he could not really be with his nainai, and that a video call is not the same as being with her, that he did not want to look at her anymore. I don’t know if he feels betrayed by his grandma; I hope he doesn’t because she loves him just as much as he misses her.
We have been home in the Philippines for almost two weeks now, and he’s back to his happy self. E. is such a sweet 7-year -old boy that I keep telling him I love him just as often as he tells people, no matter family, friend or stranger, “I love you” right after greeting them “Hi” or “Good morning” or “Goodbye.”
I dread the day, less than a couple of weeks from now, when I have to say goodbye to him again. But I know he has his way of coping — we’ve been through this before and it’s usually I who take a week to recover.
For an autistic 7-year old who is minimally verbal, E. knows how to communicate his love for the people who love him and has an amazing strength to bear the pain of missing them. I am learning so much from my son.