Gung Hay Fat Choy!
February 3, 2011
Tonight my little multi-racial family will meet the Chinese grandparents at the lone acceptable Chinese restaurant in downtown Seattle, "acceptable" meaning "my father-in-law is friendly with the owner AND there is free parking". We'll be dining with another family, friends of my in-laws I've never met before, and all of this to properly kick off Chinese New Year. (Or Lunar New Year, as my Korean BFF never fails to correct me.)
I meant to DO Chinese New Year this year. We live in a city with a large Asian-American population and I know there are ways to really celebrate. A foodwalk, a parade, even a Prettiest Bunny contest to usher in the Year of the Rabbit! But once again I fell down on the job. I talked to my mom on the phone last night - NOT one of the Chinese grandparents - and she demanded to know if we'd taken the kids to the parade. "It looked so fun! So many little kids!" And I was all, "WHAT? IT ALREADY HAPPENED?"
Just about four years into this parenting gig and I'm still unclear on how to appropriately acknowledge, cultivate and celebrate my kids' Chinese halves. Speaking Chinese, which seems like the most important aspect, feels like a lost cause. My husband doesn't speak Chinese and whenever I encourage my in-laws to speak Chinese around the kids, it's like I'm suggesting a fun and zany idea. So they'll teach them a song or a nursery rhyme or words for what we're eating at dim sum, but none of us can count to ten. Sigh. Any Chinese my kids learn should probably be credited to Ni Hao Kai Lan. I suppose we can't ALL be Tiger Mothers.
I have to say we are pretty well-versed on food, and the only time my son ever eats a vegetable is when it's lurking in Chinese food. The kids also understand they have Chinese grandparents (who they call Nai Nai and Ye Ye) and, well, not-Chinese grandparents. I THINK they get that Daddy is Chinese and that they are partly Chinese. But who knows. They are three and two.They think China is the Chinese restaurant.
We've tentatively discussed Chinese school. Chinese school is, if my husband's memories are to be believed, a form of torture that takes place on Saturday mornings when all the other kids are out having fun and watching cartoons. But my husband, now a little bummed out that he doesn't speak Chinese, thinks it might be a good idea. He's even suggested he tag along. It's a few years out and I'm sure our kids will hate it as much as Small Phillip did, but maybe they'd learn Chinese? Maybe it'd be worth it?
I'm holding out hope that one day soon we'll take a trip to Hong Kong with my in-laws, if only so my father-in-law will be able to show off his grandchildren to all his old buddies. Really, when I'm not being so neurotic about it, I think strong relationships with their Chinese family is what's going to be meaningful to my kids. The smells of their kitchens, the art in their houses, even their newspapers and television shows. I'm also hoping to talk my father-in-law into sharing his story - he'll talk, I'll type. My mother-in-law too. They both have amazing stories, stories that will be part of Jack and Molly's stories, and knowing where their grandparents came from is a million times more valuable than a fancy dragon in the Chinese New Year parade.