“A Wintry Hypothesis” by Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

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Me and my 9-day-old niece

On 9th January 2015, I became an aunt for the first time. My youngest sister, Ying, gave birth to a baby girl having been in labour for over fifteen hours.

On 9th January 2015, I gained a new identity—I am now my little niece’s “Big Aunt Mother” (大姨媽).

It sounds so old.

When I first saw my niece the day she was born, she had very wrinkled hands, like a wise old lady’s. She didn’t know how to smile yet and her eyes were unfocused. I was drawn to her cheeks, rosy and already chubby, until my mother stopped me from touching her: “Babies have very delicate skin!” It was clear who the new epicentre of the Ho family’s love and attention was.

The arrival of my baby niece means that my mother, too, has a new identity. She is now a grandmother, also for the first time. We had thought that she would object to being called “Granny.” After all, when my mother, my sisters and I are together, strangers habitually mistake her for our elder sister, while relatives marvel at how young she looks. Her small frame (which I inherited) and youthful demeanor consistently fool many.

But to our surprise, my mother has embraced the title “Granny” like a pro. She must be very proud of being a young-looking grandmother. When she talks to my niece (incessantly, indulgently), she always refers to herself as “Granny”: “Granny loves you.” “You love Granny too.” It makes me happy to see my mother so happy.

My father, too, is a changed man. Much mellower than before, his coarse hands are gentle when holding his granddaughter. He joked that even her cries sounded like music in his ears (in mine too!), and he prophesised that he and my niece will be best friends, always on the same team.

father
Me and my father

I was reminded of pictures of him holding me when I was a tiny baby. His proud smooth face in yellowed family photos is now ragged and a little sallow from working under the sun for long years. But the tenderness in his eyes is the same.

Come July, my other sister, Ching, is going to give birth to a baby as well. To accommodate this drastic increase in family members, my parents have decided to convert the bedroom of Ying and my deceased paternal grandmother into a storeroom for baby things and turn the bedroom I shared with Ching into a nursery, so the two babies can spend weekdays with their grandparents while their parents are at work. Since I no longer live with my parents in Tin Shui Wai, I don’t mind forgoing the bunk bed that was my refuge for over ten years.

The last time I visited home, they had already emptied out my room. The walls were newly painted. There’s nothing in the room, just like the first time I saw it in 1995.

I realised then there is one room fewer I can call my own.

When I visit my parents, no longer can I nap in my old bed, no longer can I stay overnight when I am too tired to journey back to my place in Whampao. I realised, then, that despite still having a home in my parents’ place, it is not completely my home anymore.

I realised, once again, life is full of rooms left behind, rooms abandoned, rooms that retain your traces. But you must let go—one room at a time—to make room for someone else.

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hlmTammy Ho Lai-Ming is Assistant Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. She is the administrator of Agora. “A Wintry Hypothesis” is crossposted on the March 2015 issue of Cha. [Click here to read all entries by Tammy.]

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