I think this must be the most dramatic event in my life. And the most stressful social interaction ever.
The irony is that the main lead of this drama is an ex-drama queen from Mediacorp, my aunt.
A distress signal from Gigi came in the form of a refuge-seeking sms in the morning before school started, pleading me to let her stay in my house for a few days. Since it was the first time anyone had ever asked a really big favour from me in my whole life, I kind of panicked and didn’t know what to do. All I knew from her messages was that she had a really big problem with her parents, and so hoped to get away from all the stifling atmosphere at home.
I was worried about 2 things. Firstly, how would her parents feel about her and me? Would they think im a bad influence on her? i didn’t know if i should inform her parents then, because i did not want to turn her away. I’d rather she stayed with me then approach someone else, which by then, the situation would be out of our control and precarious. Secondly, what if she started to treat my house as a refugee camp, or worse, a getaway, whenever she encounters problems in the future, no matter how big or small the obstacles would be?
I decided to take one step at a time. Most importantly, I wanted her to know I was really sincere in helping her. So I agreed to let her come over and evaluate the problem first.
She came in the evening still in her school uniform, unable to go home and get her clothes before arriving at my doorstep when her mother was there. My whole family (except for my grandma) had already been aware of the situation, since I had already explained about it to them. We tried to make her feel at home, knowing that she must’ve already been scared and lost. My mom and I prepared a bed for her. I loaned her clothes and towel to bathe, and fed her dinner. Only when she was having her dinner did I get to know at least Gigi’s side of the story.
Her parents had found out about her tongue stud. Initially, they had been lenient, giving her only a polite warning and requested that she remove her stud. Gigi defied silently and continued wearing the stud. When her mother found out again later, she was so mad that she went berserk and pinched and berated her endlessly. This, of course, made Gigi frightened. The last straw came when her father came home hopping mad and tore down all her beloved alice nine posters and threw out all her Jrock magazines. Being a young teenage girl, Gigi’s instinct was to run away from all this hullabaloo to express her defiance and displeasure towards her parents.
So she designed her escape plan the next morning by secretly packing in her underwear and sending that fateful SOS message to me while on the way to school.
With Gigi as the narrator, it seemed as though her parents had not been understanding at all, like typical Chinese parents who would not give a damn about their child’s opinions. And so when her mom came charging into my house later on, I had argued with her along that line, disintegrating miserably and failing my task as a mediator who jumped to conclusions not knowing the full story.
I should’ve known to keep an open mind while listening to Gigi.
It’s not that either of them had been wrong. The problem here was just miscommunication and differing views.
Guilty conscience was hanging on my heart for keeping my aunt and uncle’s only daughter away from them without their knowledge, so I sought understanding from Gigi to allow me to call her mom, at least (she did not want me to call her dad). She did not pick up the phone, so I sent a message to her. An hour later, my aunt called, announcing that she would be coming to take Gigi back. I had never heard my aunt so enraged and outright before. Even on the phone, her fury (not directed at me) had already crippled me in fighting for Gigi to stay in my house until she felt better and ready to go home. Since I’m not exactly a very confident debater in real life, I was tearing my hair out on how to handle my aunt when she arrived.
By the end of the phone call, Gigi had already totally broken down. She was so terrified she had shed tears, and telling me that she did not want to go home and face her bare walls (literally) of a room. It was natural for her to want to escape into a hiding hole and stay there until the whole thing blew over, but the ostrich style of resolving an issue would not help anything. I wanted her to know she has to confront a problem head-on, no matter what it is, in order to get over it. So I told her to be prepared for the worst, in this case, having to go home that night. I had her talk to SD over msn to calm her down and seek solutions, while I sought my dad’s help in trying to talk to my aunt about letting her stay, since adults would have more say and my aunt would probably listen to him more. My dad was understanding, and although he did not directly help in the debate and heart-to-heart discussion with my aunt later, he was firm about not letting Gigi out of my brother’s room until both of them had calmed down and Gigi willing to face her mother.
My aunt was frustrated at us for locking Gigi up, constantly calling my uncle and complaining to him about his older brother and niece. But if I had let her drag Gigi away, things would have been worse. Both of them had been affected by their emotions and were judgement-impaired, and so letting Gigi go home without talking through anything objectively would not solve any problems. A third party was needed. I was sure when my aunt had calmed down later when she went home she would understand why we did what we did.
Outside my brother’s locked-up room, my aunt provided the other half of the story. They were not the typical Chinese parents that Gigi had described to me at all. They had been diplomatic and reasonable in their upbringing of Gigi all this while. Though my aunt still believes in corporal punishment of children, my uncle would always suppress her in the name of fatherly love for his young daughter, and subscribes to the notion that children can be talked to, even until the day before when he tore down the a9 posters. They were not mad at Gigi for having a tongue stud; they were disappointed and heartbroken that she had lied to them again and again. She had promised them she would remove the stud, which of course, she didn’t do so. Even before tearing down the posters, my uncle asked Gigi if she had anything to say. Her parents are always concerned about her opinions. But of course, Gigi was never the expressive type. Asking her to voice out her opinions and feelings openly and vividly like a responsible adult was too much to ask for, and this is where her parents had failed in an attempt to understand their child.
After many rounds of talking and sorting things out with Gigi and my aunt separately and individually, Gigi finally agreed to come out and talk face-to-face with her mom in the living room. She had confided that she wasn’t adept at real-life interactions, but I encouraged her to come out anyway, consoling her that I would be there for her (maybe not so assuringly but i really meant it T~T). The first few moments were awkward; none of us knew what to say. My parents were still happily watching the TV peacefully like we were not around. I felt stupid for assuring Gigi that there was no need to plan what to say earlier since I did not believe in planning what to say (and anyway, my head was spinning from all the drama that my mind was all too blank to come up with anything to say).
I forgot how the talk actually started but in the end, my aunt and I were doing most of the talking. Like all parents, my aunt and uncle want to be accepted and understood by their child. My aunt expressed her frustration, agitation and sadness that their love for Gigi had not been reciprocated. They had exhausted all their means to please Gigi and let her integrate them into her life. Whatever they do, they would always think of her well-being first. They understand that she is lonely and has no siblings, so they encourage her to go out and interact with different groups of people; her cousins (including me), her friends, etc. They even went to the extent of dying their hair blonde so as to be part of Gigi’s ardent worshiping of J-rock stars. The Japan trip last year was also all because her. And they would always seek her opinions on everything and anything they do.
I’ve never seen parents who are so vocal and expressive and liberal in their parenting.
Of course, it takes two hands to clap. Gigi’s withdrawal and isolation from responding to her parents could have been the result of her parents being too forthcoming. Though they may not mean it, her parents might have sounded threatening when they were actually just educating her on certain issues, leading Gigi to start closing up and cease to articulate any ideas, or even have one. This was what I was trying to get across to my very confused aunt, who could not understand why their carefully planned upbringing system could not work, despite their encouragements to Gigi to convey her thoughts freely, resulting in all this misunderstanding.
Gigi eventually went back to her rightful – albeit pretty empty – home, grudgingly and i think out of embarrassment that she had inconvenienced me and my family. And I know though through the talk the seriousness of the parent-child issue had abated a little, it is a long-term commitment to try to bridge the gap between Gigi and her parents. Gigi still needs time to be more vocal and explain herself to save herself.
I just hope Gigi calls for help when she’s stuck rather than do something irreversible and regrettable.