"No matter how old you are, in the eyes of your mother, you're always a sweet baby in need of constant care." It's a statement that epitomizes a mother's unconditional love for her child, including my own mother, who whenever I go back home lavishes me the gentle treatment usually reserved for infants.
She does my laundry the minute I shed the outfit I traveled in, even if it's only what I'd regard as 20-percent dirty. She serves me home-cooked meals and then takes care of the washing up, as well as bans me from any family chore. She constantly bombards me with fruit and other snacks so my mouth is never idle.
During the recent Spring Festival holiday, she braved the cold morning weather to stand for five hours outside a train ticket window so I could have a sleeper bunk and doze as I headed back to Beijing. She goes out of her way to care for me to make up for the times when I'm not around.
Yet, how much of this maternal love have I taken for granted?
I've spent almost seven years away from home studying then working in a large city, which means I only get to see my parents during major holidays or when there is enough time to make the long-distance travel, and all the discomforts that brings, worthwhile.
Besides, the bustling metropolitan lifestyle always has its ways of keeping me here. Until recently, it never occurred to me to use short breaks to make phone calls to my parents, to say hello and update them on my life. Whenever my mother takes the initiative to call, for some reason I quickly wrapped up the conversation absent-mindedly.
"Remember to wear plenty of clothing when it's chilly ... add something new and nutritious to your diet ... keep a good mood and be happy," she'll often tell me over the phone. While I, foolishly, used to pass off her thoughtfulness as repetition and get bored.
The reason I finally got around to soul searching was thanks to a radio program. The host posed a mathematical question: "Chinese people now live on average to 73. If you visits your parents only during major holidays, how many days are left?" It jolted my heart and immediately took me down memory lane. All the bits and pieces flashed by and I felt overwhelmed and choked.
Perhaps being a man I'm used to keeping my feelings to myself. I don't think I can display gratitude and affection in front of my mother the way a woman could. But I should definitely sharpen my sensibility in appreciating my mother's love, and avoid any reckless moves that may hurt her feelings.
The number of elders with empty nests - when their children have grown up and left home - is growing. Problems or even conflicts between the two generations have sporadically been brought to the public's attention, with officials even contemplating making it compulsory for youngsters to pay regular visits home.
Enforced or not, I believe that if we - by which I mean those who have passed the legitimate age for throwing tantrums - can put ourselves in our parent's shoes to understand the efforts they made to raise us, even the most dysfunctional parent-child relationship can be restored.
I've made a new resolution that I will put my heart into working off the debt I owe my mother. It's time for me to give something back.
The author works for China Daily website.
(China Daily 02/22/2011)