His mother continued to look at him and then reached over, patting his hand before pushing the plates closer to him. She needed a moment to gather herself before she finally spoke up. “Well, I won’t lie to you: At first, I was a bit shocked. That wasn’t what I imagined to happen.
“I always thought you would find a nice girl and then settle down soon. You … you always got along so well with people. I thought it wouldn’t be a problem at all to find a nice daughter-in-law and maybe have a grandchild soon. You always seemed like family was important to you so I never doubted you’d start early after being done with school and maybe getting a bit more comfortable in your career. I was sure that by twenty-five at the very latest, you’d have established your own family.
“Back then, I was often thinking how it would be at that time. I thought maybe the two or three of you could find a place nearby and I and your father could help out. You could come over on the weekends and we’d help you a bit so you’d also have time for yourselves. You know, as a young couple, it’s also important to not just focus on children.”
She sighed and shook her head. “I thought too much and way too early. You were still young and you weren’t even thinking about girls. I figured maybe you needed some more time but then it turned out that wasn’t it.
“When you told us that you … weren’t interested in girls at all, there might indeed have been some disappointment. All those dreams of how the future would be, they all came crashing down. Not having that daughter-in-law …” She shook her head. “You know, that might have been the easiest part. If you were to bring a nice boyfriend home, I also wouldn’t mind. Anyway, I already understand that it’s not something you can change. And I was happy to have a son. Why wouldn’t I be happy to also have a son-in-law?” She shook her head once again but her expression was still tangled.
Li Ming didn’t need her to say it but he couldn’t help but prompt her, wanting to hear the rest. “You were more disappointed about not having grandchildren.”
His mother looked at him, her gaze seeming a bit apologetic. “It’s true. Since you want me to be honest, I will say it. It was something I was really looking forward to. I never doubted it either. I … You know, I can just imagine it so well. I am sure you would be a good father. You’d probably do a better job with your child than your dad ever did with you.”
Li Ming couldn’t help laughing against better knowledge. “Dad was … pretty good, actually. If I had children, I’d aspire to be like him.”
His mother nodded, the complicated feelings vanishing from her gaze and making place for warmth when she thought of her husband. “He was. Although it took a bit. Either way, I guess that isn’t something to think about.
“By now, I just hope that you will find somebody you can be happy with. That’s good enough. It is a pity that you will never have children and I will admit that I am worried about what that will mean for your future but it’s alright. I am sure you know what you are doing. I mean … you are not the only gay man out there. Surely, they can’t all be without help when they reach old age.”
Li Ming stared at her, confused now. “What do you mean?”
His mother pursed her lips, not sure how to explain. Finally, she clicked her tongue. “Aiya, you’re still so young. What am I doing talking about these things? It’s just that, the older we get, the more I can’t help but think about it: Your grandparents are all four getting on in age. My parents have my sister-in-law and your father’s parents have me to take care of them.
“As for us, well … it is something we will have to consider. But I know you. When we are getting old, you wouldn’t just abandon us. You’d still be there to help out. Even if it’s not much because you need to focus on yourself, it would still make things easier for us.
“But what about you? If you won’t have children, then who is going to take care of you once you’re old? I know it’s not something you think about if you haven’t even reached thirty years of age but …” She shook her head. “Well, your father and I aren’t getting any younger and I just can’t help but worry about it. Call it silly but that is what mothers do, isn’t it?”
Li Ming looked at her and finally rubbed his eyes. This was his mother’s biggest worry about him being gay? That he might be helpless when he got old? He really wasn’t sure whether he should laugh or cry.
He had wasted so many years, always thinking his parents were disappointed in him because he was gay and keeping his distance to not get further hurt. In the end, it had all been in his head. Well, maybe not all of it. She had said that she had been disappointed at first so that was probably what he had perceived back then.
But then, while his mother slowly got over that disappointment and only continued to fret because she was afraid for his future, he had continued to pull back and distance himself because he figured nothing would ever change. In the end, he had forgotten to take into consideration that people could change. They could learn and what had once been unthinkable might turn into a matter of course to them.
It seemed that this was exactly what had happened in this case. Thank god he had found out somewhat early and not wasted even more time. Now, there was still more than enough time to make up for the years they had lost.