It’s official: I have an MFA


This arrived in the mail yesterday. I had just come through the door after several hours at my local “office” (aka: a nearby cafe) doing some paid writing work. Nearly 3-year-old Pazzy was tugging on my sleeve to play “train tracks” with him but my jacket wasn’t even off yet. My boots were only half unlaced. My mother-in-law was there, of course, and she suddenly thrust a large envelope at me and explained that it had arrived at the other apartment while I’d been out.

“This came for you,” she said in her regular brusque voice. I know her well enough now to know that this is just the way she talks. She isn’t being dismissive.

“Thanks,” I said, and I felt a bubble of excitement rise in my throat. I’ve been waiting for this piece of paper for six months! It’s finally official: I have a Masters Degree!

As I opened the envelope, my mother-in-law explained to our “ayi,” (our domestic helper), that I had gone to Hong Kong four times since 2013 to complete this degree and that once I had been very pregnant with Paz, and once I had taken him as a six-month old baby because I was breastfeeding him. Her sister came with me that time–my mother-in-law’s older sister, or my aunt-in-law–because I needed someone to take care of my infant while I was in class. She even walked him to the campus half-way through every day so that I could breastfeed him. It was a week of juggling student and mother status unlike no other. That aunt and I are still close to this day.

My mother-in-law went on to praise me openly to the ayi, something that I always find so charming about Chinese people: family will never praise you to your face and would rather scold and be tough on you one-on-one. But, if there’s a stranger around and you’re within earshot, you’ll hear how proud they are of your hard work. You might even hear someone say, “She is really an outstanding child.” (她真是一个很优秀的孩子)

When I heard these words come (yes, brusquely) from her lips yesterday, I had to do the right thing by Chinese standards and pretend I had not heard them. I looked away. I took a deep breath… because I nearly cried.

Pazzy didn’t understand the commotion. I picked him up and explained that he was in my belly when I first went to Hong Kong and that he was part of my second trip, as a “teeny weeny baby.” He found this fascinating and began to ask many questions to me in his squeaky pre-schooler English about how big he had been and why I had had to feed him milk from my boobies, etc…

I love how kids turn the focus of the conversation around. 🙂

The moment passed. I went up to my home office and placed the certificate gingerly on my desk. My final thought was simply this:

“Last step: Frame it.”

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