Told in the voice of an immigrant Chinese grandmother, this is a story of gaps--gaps of communication, cultural gaps, age gaps, gaps in family relationships. The narrator describes herself as "fierce." Now widowed, she and her husband had owned and operated a restaurant; her married daughter is also "fierce" because she is a bank vice president and quite ambitious. Grandmother takes care of little Sophie, her granddaughter, the product of a mixed marriage--her son-in-law is Irish.

The narrator is contemptuous of her son-in-law because he and his brothers are unemployed even though they are white and were born in the USA. To the narrator, the world is upside down. Her son-in-law (John) is at home but thinks that it would demean him to baby-sit for his own child; in China her daughter would be taking care of her but instead, she is baby sitting to help her daughter out. Grandmother cannot understand why her son-in-law needs to be pampered, why she needs to be "supportive"--"we do not have this word in Chinese, supportive." She and her daughter differ about how to discipline Sophie. There are indications that John would like to send his mother-in-law back to China.

Events come to a crisis when the willful Sophie--perhaps reacting to the strains on her parents' marriage--defies her grandmother, hiding from her in a playground foxhole. The child's parents are horrified by what looks to them like child abuse. Grandmother must move out. Yet, at the same time, the daughter is miserable, and grandmother feels useless. Says the daughter, "I have a young daughter and a depressed husband and no one to turn to." Narrates her mother, "when she says no one to turn to, she mean me." As the story closes, grandmother is living with her son-in-law's mother, a woman whom she admires.


This story of generational conflicts complicated by cultural difference reflects important strains in contemporary American life: inter-marriage, working mothers, women's career aspirations, aging and the family, in-law discord, child care, and children's reactions to the stresses of modern family life. Through the grandmother's voice, the author develops these themes with humor and understanding, and does not take sides. In the end we are left wondering whether the "solution" is really a solution at all.

Primary Source

The New Yorker


Conde Nast


February 5, 1972

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