You Are My Sunshine

16 Jan

I sit in the darkness, my son nursing in my lap, my daughter lying beside me under a pile of warm blankets, holding my hand. The room is still as I sing the familiar lullaby lyrics I sing every night.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are grey…

I treasure these words. How true they are, I think to myself, as I stroke my daughter’s silky cheeks and listen to my son’s soft, snurfling breathing against my sweater.

Anyone who has visited or lived in Chengdu knows that the skies here are grey—simply grey, or yellowish-grey, or grayish-grey, or whitish-grey. On a very rare occasion, they might even be described as bluish-grey, even sunny-ish-grey if you’re really, really lucky. But they are always and forever grey. It’s fog, it’s smoke, it’s coal particulate, it’s clouds…whatever the case, it’s grey.

My son has never seen his shadow, and on bright-ish days when the obscured sun “shines” in the midday sky, my daughter excitedly points and says, “Mommy, look! There’s the moon!” That’s exactly what it looks like, too.

It’s not easy living under a thick, grey sky…far from home, far from friends and family, far from like-minded mothers and parks and open spaces that stretch majestically beneath a clear blue sky. It’s not easy struggling day after day with a colossal language barrier and the constant challenges that come with living in a foreign culture. The skies can feel very grey indeed.

I hold my glass under the water dispenser and make frog sounds—gung, gung, gung, gung—to imitate the sound of the air bubbles as the water flows into my glass. My son, who is sitting on my hip, starts giggling, and before long the two of us are laughing ourselves silly.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you…

We head outside, and my son spots the gate guard at the entrance to our apartment complex. He is an older gentleman in a black police uniform, small in stature, with bright, mischievous eyes and a wide smile. His eyes twinkle when he sees us, and he growls a menacing growl; their daily game of chase begins. My son hides behind my legs, peeking out and squealing with delight. Soon all of us are laughing.

At the market, on the way home from preschool, by the fish pond, at the park, on the sidewalk, my children make friends. No matter that they speak only a handful of Chinese words. Everywhere they go people greet them, smile at them, offer them gifts, and laugh with warmth and friendliness. Barriers dissolve, hearts open. We connect with the most unlikely souls—construction workers, street sweepers, taxi drivers, fruit sellers, grandparents, noodle-makers, cashiers. The bonds are fleeting, but each is genuine and warm-hearted.

I often hear that children are the true ambassadors of peace in the world. I can completely see why. I am so grateful to tag along behind these two beautiful kids, their senses so vibrant and clear, their spirits ever buoyant, their hearts and minds so wide open. Without them, my feelings of isolation here in China would be so much more intense, and the grey skies above me would be so much more oppressive. Thanks to them, my days are flooded with the brightest, warmest sunshine.

Please don’t take my sunshine away.


For the whole song (I only ever sing the first verse), visit

Heidi Nevin, who is not normally this sentimental, resides in Chengdu, China with her Tibetan husband and two young kids, ages 4 and 1.

10 Responses to “You Are My Sunshine”

  1. natasha devalia January 16, 2012 at 9:30 am #

    Lovely Post Heidi! Anyone who’s been here knows grey. A few weeks ago, at night time in Koh Samui, L and R looked up into the sky, excited to see the moon. In turn, I told them the other shiny things up there are stars!!

    And yes, we too make friends with construction workers, street sweepers, waiters, and passers by. This afternoon at the Hong Qi, I left R and L in the stroller near the fruit and veggie section as I was shopping close by. Two of the sales ladies, familiar to the children, went over and helped them find their pockets. In the past L and R have left the store with bananas and clementines.

    However, in the elevator on my way back home, a strange man, with a seemingly less friendly out-look than usual, asked how old L and R were. I responded. He touched Leila’s hair. And then her hands – to see if they were cold or not. L was uncomfortable about it.There is a lot of judgment of how lightly I dress in the winter. He was reaching over to pull sleeping Rahul’s hand out of his pockets to check them too. I stopped him.

    In general though, the genuine, fleeting bonds we make here, as you call them, are a ray of light in Chengdu.

    There are not many other places I have been to with the children, where most people welcome them, and are as genuinely full of interest and love for them.

    I can only say that from my perspective as a foreigner here, of course. In any case, it is heart-warming, and a gesture of humanity that surprises and touches me every day.

  2. Heidi Nevin January 16, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Haha, yes, sooooo true. I carefully chose to leave out all the gripes and moans I have about Chinese passersby and their outspoken commentary about my children (i.e. my parenting). Never dressed warmly enough, why don’t they speak better Chinese, why don’t I speak Chinese to them, ad nauseum. I was going for a sunny post this time, trying to break my habit of whining all the time! 🙂 I can’t believe that guy was about to pull sleeping Rahul’s hand out of his pocket to see if it was warm enough. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr! And that was inside the elevator, for crying out loud! Fhew, I feel better. Back to my usual bitchy self. Love you, H.

    • Valerie Smith January 16, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

      Hi Heidi!

      Just happened to click on this link sent via Liv on Facebook. It sent me thinking of the summer Liv lived here and the fun I had getting to know your warm family. Since Tom died in May of 2010, some things have changed while others remain the same. My boys, Olie and Jesse remain the sunshine of my life and always will be, but another sun has graced my life. I’ve reconnected with an old love from my college days. The reason I thought this might be interesting to you is that he has been a practicing Tibetan Buddhist for 40 years and has studied and speaks Tibetan. He lives in Vermont but soon will move here.

      As for international mothering…I think it is a force for peace and understanding in the world
      . I suppose all the traveling we did with our sons from the time they were nine months old has had profound effects. Olie is now engaged to a woman from Burkina Faso who is half Russian and half African (if we can divide up ethnicity so easily!) I love it so when the pot is stirred.

      Thinking of you and Tsultrim and your children.

      Valerie Smith

  3. Heidi Nevin January 17, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    Valerie! What a treat to hear from you! My memories of our visit to your house are still vivid in my mind. It sounds as if things are going beautifully for all of you–so happy to hear all the news. How exciting about reconnecting with your old love from college, that’s wonderful! What is his name?
    Love to all of you,

  4. catplatt January 19, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    This is a lovely, heart-warming post Heidi, thanks. It reminded me that when Sam was 3 we flew to Thailand for Christmas. As the plane rose above the cloud-layer, he stared out of the window in amazement and asked me, “Mummy, why is the sky blue?” I told him that is the colour of the sky. “No it isn’t” he said, “the sky is grey!” We still laugh about that, but I have often thought that really there is nothing funny about a child reaching the age of 3 without seeing a blue sky.

  5. heidinevin January 19, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Oh oh oh!!! This makes me laugh and cry all at once. Gosh, just think, Chengdu children may NEVER see the blue sky! How crazy is that???
    Yes, I did exaggerate a bit in my post (makes a better story)–we were just in Thailand for 3 weeks, and my kids enjoyed some very bright sunshine and blue sky. And they were very excited to see the moon and stars. Last summer I took them home to Oregon for 3.5 months, and we had sunshine and blue sky virtually every day. Thankfully, while we’re over here, Tibet is very close by, and it doesn’t take too many hours before we’re up in the mountains under a gorgeous clear sky. Talk about stars!

  6. que es el ensayo January 21, 2012 at 2:59 am #

    Fantastic article ! You havemade some very astute statements and I appreciate the the effort you have put into your writing. Its clear that you know what you are writing about. I am excited to read more of your sites content.

    • heidinevin January 28, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it.

  7. pozycjonowanie warszawa January 25, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    Interesting and useful information. I just wanna tell U “Thanks”. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: