I am not sure entirely how this came about, but I've been feeling the need to be more involved in circles outside of myself. I think circles are good, the ones that you naturally revolve around and within, but after we moved to this city last year, I found myself feeling circle-less, and in the end I wonder if it was a good thing. I think too that with the Man's move into an administrative position within our company, there comes a certain need to have friends who don't have any opinions about said administrator husband is doing.
My upstairs neighbor, Fang Jie, is forever stopping by with fruit in her hands for the children, or perhaps a freshly baked platter of sweet potatoes, or jiaozi she had just finished making. She has one daughter who is in university and a husband who seems to rarely ever be at home. She is retired, and owns a shop but doesn't need to work. I think she is rather lonely sometimes. Most Chinese women, especially older ones, are quite opinionated and bossy about... well, everything and especially things having to do with your children. Sometimes this can be off putting, but it doesn't bother me for the most part. I think it is just a generations old way of passing along information. Fang Jie does her fair share of scolding and finger shaking, but she seems to have a sensitivity about her at the same time. She'll tell me I shouldn't give them too many sweet snacks (a rice cracker was too sweet in her opinion), and that my baby shouldn't chew on that toy because it is dirty (it was a toy specifically designed for teething), but she genuinely tries to help me when she sees I have my hands full, and I feel a motherly care from her even though our communication is often tiring and leaves me with a headache.
Clucking. That's what we women often do. I pass the women in the morning with their small charges waddling around, little pants split right down the backside, bending for a toy only to have ayi right behind, swooping up to offer a drink, a wipe, a helping hand, a bite of some snack. The women sit together, clucking away about the children, their families, the news, the price of vegetables.
I sat in my own little circle group the other morning. We did our own share of the clucking. It ranged from husbands to children to friends to bargains to recipes to burdens and back around again. Later I was struck by this small band of women, and the varying ages and stages of life within it. I love the woman with her newborn sucking away next to me while the Grandma across from us shares about prayers she prayed long ago for her husband.
It has occurred to me before, when I have sat with my young mother friends who seem to have so many questions about how to do things, how to make this baby thing work, that perhaps we have lost a bit of our clucking culture. Nowadays people read everything online by the experts. They want M.D.'s to back up every bit of information they read, and then they walk off armed with articles and statistics and enough information to sink a ship and sterilize an entire universe from harm and infection and (God forbid) the failure to be properly educate, but not enough practical working knowledge to get them through the day.
I guess what I mean is, there is something to be said for one generation handing down "the way it's done" to the next. I am reading a book, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a novel about a young Chinese girl in the 19th century that tells the story of her life with her laotong, or "old same" which means a bosom friend for life. There is so much about Chinese culture in this story, and one thing it speaks to is the way the women handed down their way of life to the generation that followed them. Often this is was through clucking. They chattered at you, berated you, gave you unwanted advice, told you what you were doing wrong, and all that you ought to be doing. But in the end, you came away knowing something. Not because you merely read it or agreed with it, but because in practice you learned it with the care of a community around you who had done it before and learned from those who came before them.
In this way, we are givers and receivers always, and things that should not be lost or forgotten are kept alive for the good of us all.