Lily My mother-in-law asked us to move in when her husband died. It was not because she couldn’t look after herself. I think you didn’t want to be alone, did you?
Rose I wouldn’t say that. I wanted to live with my only son in Hong Kong, as the other two boys live in Canada.
Jasmine Anyway, we have lived with my grandmother since I was ten. 16 years now.
Lily Moving in worried me at first. It was my mother-in law’s home. How were we all going to fit in together? In the beginning, I thought my daughter and her grandmother could share a room, but my husband disagreed and insisted on renovating the entire apartment so that each person could have their own space. We are very fortunate, especially in Hong Kong. The apartment was big enough for four separate bedrooms.
Jasmine Thank goodness! I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d had to share a room with my grandmother, especially back then. And now, it would be quite impossible!
Rose I would not have been comfortable sharing a room with Jasmine either. She is very materialistic and has so many things. There would never have been space for all the things that I hold precious.
Jasmine Who, me? Not at all!
Rose I think living together has been good for us. It was convenient for my son and daughter-in-law, who worked long hours. They knew the children would be safe after school and I got to know them better. I have to say that I don’t really know how to talk to them. They talk about so many things that I don’t understand and sometimes I think they get annoyed with me.
Jasmine Not annoyed, a bit impatient perhaps. You always ask the same questions, like: “Have you eaten?” and “Do you have your coat?” And when we were younger, “Have you finished your homework?” “Yes, no,” we said. Two words were enough!
Lily It’s a generational thing. I believe that it shows that her grandmother cares about the children when she asks those questions. I remind them that when their grandmother grew up, circumstances were different and perhaps food and clothing were in short supply, schooling too. I think you can see her priorities and her questions show that. The children grew up with more affluence so they think differently.
Jasmine Actually, what my mother says is very interesting and I have thought a lot about it, especially as I grow older. My grandmother is wise and has lots of stories to share, but I do lack the patience to always listen.
Rose It is interesting to hear the young people talk, even if I don’t understand much. My grandson tries to teach me about computers and things, but it’s difficult. He did show me how to use the television remote, as well as my mobile phone, but maybe at 90, it’s too late for me. The truth is, I never went beyond primary school and I am sometimes intimidated by everything the children know.
Lily I think that education is important, but not just from books. I think we must learn from life, especially the experiences of the older generation, but the younger generation too. I sometimes watch my daughter and mother-in-law and see my own past and future. It is interesting but can sometimes be scary to be in sandwiched between two generations.
Rose Well, I never knew that!
Jasmine Neither did I!
Lily I think that as a family we are very lucky. We are middle class and have space to live together. Because I always went out to work, my mother-in-law was always in charge at home. For me, the main thing is tolerance and getting along.
Rose That’s true. My daughter-in-law never tried to change the way I did things at home. She and the children adjusted very well to living with me. We didn’t argue. But as I have got older, I see how they take on more responsibility, but they always ask me before changing things. I cherish respect like that very much.
Jasmine Age matters. My friends are the same; always respectful and polite to their elders. My brother is more casual. Is it because he studied overseas, or is it just a “guy” thing?
Rose Oh, your brother is perfectly well-behaved.
Jasmine I knew you’d say that. You always favour him!
Rose I don’t mean to, but I do feel very blessed to have three sons. I thought it gave me a kind of status amongst my peers and in my family. I only learned about the value of women later, when I saw how hard my daughter-in-law and granddaughter work, how much they care for other people. That really matters, especially during this pandemic.
Lily The pandemic really has changed a lot of things, especially working from home. My daughter being at the hospital every day is such a worry for us all, especially at the beginning and now in this fifth wave. As for me, I have never spent so much time with the rest of the family, all together under one roof.
Jasmine When I get home, I sense more tension. Even though our home is big enough, it seems too small for three people always on their computers and my grandmother staying in her room.
Rose Yes. For the first time, I felt like a nuisance. My son and grandson were quite blunt; telling me not to talk or walk around. My daughter-in-law was also less patient. I wanted to go out and get away. Home didn’t feel like my quiet retreat any more. But all this has made me think about people with much less space than us or where children have to do online lessons at home. That made me swallow my discomfort and frustrations.
Lily We are so lucky. Having more space than many other families in Hong Kong is definitely a blessing. But even then, it can still feel as if it’s not enough. Sometimes, I go back to the office if it is allowed. I hope that thinking of others makes me a bit more tolerant, though,
Jasmine Hospital work is hard and there are nights I prefer not to come home. I don’t want my grandmother catching covid… she’s vulnerable now …
Rose I have to go one day…
Jasmine But not because I’ve been careless!
Lily Listen, let’s not talk about death. Age can make us frail and more dependent. It’s just a fact of life. I now take more care of my mother-in-law than in the past. It is not always easy and that is why my husband and I don’t want to be a burden to our children.
Rose Do you think I am a burden to you?
Lily No, no! Not at all.
Lily What matters is keeping active. That is how things are now. Once the children are settled with households of their own, we’ll see. But whatever happens in future, I just hope the family links will not be broken wherever we live.
Jasmine I try not to think about the future too much. I’ll always be there for my parents, but whether we will actually live together, I’m not sure yet.
Rose I don’t understand you two. Family is family! You should all live together.
Jasmine Times have changed!
Lily Both of you are right in your own ways. Let’s just wait and see what happens. Right now, I think we’ve done a pretty good job navigating three generations living together under one roof, don’t you?
Jasmine What if I make it four…?
Rose and Lily: Jasmine!