By Huina Zheng
When you were still inside my tummy, Yan, I asked myself what kind of love I would give you. Spoiling is a lazy, irresponsible love. The opposite is true love, which nurtures the child’s independence and development. That’s what I always tell myself each time I have to discipline you or your brother Bin—I remind myself that if parents love their children, they have to consider their future. That’s also why I would leave you all alone at home even though you were so young. I hope you understand it was all for your own good.
As you know, last weekend your father and I planned to take you and your brother to Happy Valley in Shenzhen, China. But our family has a rule that children can only play after finishing their homework.
On Friday night, I requested you and Bin complete the day’s study; anyone who did not would stay home. The following morning, Bin completed the required study task—he finished 30 addition and subtraction problems, learned 6 Chinese characters, and read 4 English picture books, but you didn’t even complete half of your assignments.
You held my thigh tight, begging me not to leave you. Your father looked at me and said, “She is just—” I gave him a stern look. We agreed that I have the final say about the children’s education—if parents have differences, children will exploit the loophole and avoid responsibility.
Of course, I understand how scared a seven-year-old would be to be left at home alone. I was terrified when your granny did the same to me when I was your age because I failed an exam—she didn’t return until two days later! She never called to check my safety! But I am a better mother—I would never let anything happen to you—your father knows how devoted I am to you, and gradually, he stopped worrying.
I wanted to take you with us. However, I recalled a Chinese saying that a tough father fosters a dutiful son, but a kind mother makes a wastrel. If I brought you with us, the next time I made a request, you would think I wasn’t serious and you didn’t need to obey. Eventually, you would be spoiled. And your brother was watching! Even though he was four, if I didn’t keep my word, the next time, he would do the same, just like his sister! See the consequence? I love you so much that I forced myself to be tough. Although you wound your arms around my thigh, crying so hard, I managed to pull myself free.
“No, you must stay home,” I told you in a nice but firm tone so you knew that crying would change nothing. Before we left, I told you how to use a self-heating instant hot pot so as not to starve. I also left some cookies, just in case.
I was not the only one that worried about you. Our neighbors were worried too. I declined when Auntie Chen asked if she needed to stay with you. It was an excellent opportunity to make you independent, don’t you agree?
As your mother, I wanted to make sure that you were safe. I gave Auntie Chen a set of keys to our apartment so she could unlock the door if anything happened. After we left, I constantly checked on the home monitoring. In the surveillance video, I saw you cry in the living room for a while, and my heart ached. You took out your math assignment, worked for about twenty minutes, and then played Lego. You ate a self-heating instant hot pot at noon. You called me to complain that the rice tasted hard even though you did as I instructed. When I asked if you were still hungry, you said you were full. In the afternoon, you took a nap on the sofa.
You called me again in the afternoon after you woke up, crying, “Mummy, I am so scared.” I knew you had learned the lesson. So, I offered you a chance. I doubled your study workload and promised that the moment you completed it, I would take the high-speed train home to pick you up (see how much I would go through for your sake).
I knew it was not easy to finish your original homework, and it was more challenging since I doubled it. That’s called a challenge. You began to study at 6 and stopped now and then. You finished the task at 10:40 p.m. However, by then, there was no high-speed train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou, so I decided to drive home and arrived at 1:00 a.m. When I entered your room, you were already fast asleep. You curled up in bed, holding your quilt, looking so fragile, and my heart ached. I hope you understand why your mother was so strict with you, just hoping you could become strong.
The following day, the first thing you did was study. I never saw you so dedicated to studying, so concentrated. On the way to Happy Valley, you promised you would never waste your study time. The moment Bin saw you, he rushed to you and hugged you. You two jumped hand-in-hand. Your flower skirt swung against the wind, just like a lively and happy butterfly. Because you completed your study, you had a good time at Happy Valley, enjoying all the breathtaking park rides.
When we got home at 10 p.m., although I was exhausted and wanted to go straight to bed, I still checked your homework. I found that you had made several calculation mistakes. You hadn’t learned your lesson! I was still too soft on you! You must correct all your mistakes and do 50 more calculations tonight before you could go to bed.
After you become a mother, you will appreciate my toughness. To be a good mother, I must push myself to be ruthless and put your benefits before me.
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Huina Zheng was born and grew up in south China. She holds a M.A. in English Studies degree and has worked as college essay coach. Her stories were published in Variant Literature, Evocations Review, The Meadow, Ignatian Literary Magazine and other journals. Her fiction “Ghost Children” was nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Guangzhou, China with her husband and a daughter.