Last night I asked Mark how it could be possible that we have only been back in Shanghai one week. One week?! It feels like a million years. He agreed so I felt a little less dramatic. I managed to resist using my hands in very theatrical ways so he couldn’t accuse me of making the situation worse. Yes, our collective excitement has already worn off and we have so many more weeks to go before we leave China again. I have the added pressure of defending my dissertation in early March, so I can’t do what I would like to do and wallow in my unhappiness while moaning about how hard it is to live in China. The ayi would never allow it anyway. She would be unable to resist asking me all sorts of personal questions to get to the bottom of things. Am I sick? Does my head hurt? Have I eaten anything today? Was I trying to sleep? That is too bad because she needs to make the bed and I should really try to get some exercise. But I digress.
The thing that pushed us all over the edge–today is Ava’s birthday. She is nine now and while birthdays are always a celebration, China can always find a way to make me feel less than celebratory. In the US, I went all out for birthdays. As a mom–let’s be honest here—I used to kill it. We have the family tradition of the birthday boy or girl waking up to fresh cinnamon rolls and streamers festooning the dining room. I used to plan elaborate parties and bake magnificent cakes. Suffice it to say, all this is more difficult here. My oven conspires against me resulting in cinnamon rolls that were today labeled “puck-like” by Ava and her siblings. I couldn’t disagree. The proof was almost too difficult to eat. I am less plugged in to the school situation and so this morning when Ava asked if I would be making or buying treats to bring in for her class today, I was struck dumb by the realization that I had planned to do neither of those things. I had actually planned to do nothing because I had forgotten all about that! She was less than impressed. She wants a slumber party but can’t narrow down her guest list. My mother rightfully pointed out that this is a welcome change from last year when she was newly arrived and hadn’t had time to make friends in Shanghai. While this is true, I can only focus on how much harder it is going to be to host a party for a bunch of screaming 3rd graders without the benefit of Party City or Michael’s. Tough times, indeed.
And this comes on the heels of a China day where there were no taxis to be found so I walked to school (uphill both ways! in the snow!) cursing every Chinese person I passed along the way. It was unreasonable, I know, and it was even more unreasonable when I arrived home and was irritated that the ayi wanted to have a discussion about the vacuum cleaner. How dare she! And this after she showed up this morning with a huge pack of special cookies and the biggest stuffed bear you have ever seen. She was late and I think she was concerned that I would be angry with her. I actually love to have even five minutes alone in the house so I had been hoping she would be even later! She would never have guessed that plan. When she came in with her arms full of all that stuff my face must have registered some sort of wild emotion. She blurted out that it was for Ava’s birthday and then seemed to doubt that she had the correct day. She was right, of course, which only added to my guilt. How did she know it was Ava’s birthday? Luckily, she didn’t head into the kitchen and bake a cake—that would have been the last straw. I am sure hers would have been delicious and a pleasure to eat.
Happy Birthday, Ava! Your mom is officially crazy.