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 http://kids.niehs.nih.gov/games/songs/childrens/sunshinemid.htm
Heidi Nevin, who is not normally this sentimental, resides in Chengdu, China with her Tibetan husband and two young kids, ages 4 and 1.