Before They're Old Enough For The Identity Crisis
June 25, 2009
In case we haven’t yet met, my name is Maggie [pasty white girl] and I am married to Phillip [The Devastatingly Handsome Chinese Man] and we have two small children, Jackson and Molly [half Caucasian, half Chinese, who don't look like their parents OR each other.] Here they are:
Jack and Molly welcome their Internet Stalkers!
Before we had kids I did a lot of handwringing over parenting mixed-race children, especially as I was going to be the Majority Parent. Angst! Drama! Fervent blog reading! Then we actually HAD the kids and, well, maybe this is wrong, but their half and half-ness is on the back burner. We're much more concerned about what happens when a person subsists solely on macaroni and cheese, and how to get the baby to stop shrieking in public places. (Like CHURCH. Seriously. SUGGESTIONS WELCOME.)
Even though it's not quite the big deal I was sure it would be (yet, anyway) I'm still a touch neurotic about exposing my kids to the appropriate things. My husband doesn't seem all that concerned (mothers trying to expose their children to their father's culture on their own: raise your hands!) so every once in a while I awkwardly announce that we should visit the Chinese relatives in Canada. Or go to the Chinese New Year celebration downtown. Or go eat dim sum. OR SOMETHING.
Language is my biggest concern. Having a bit of Mandarin or Cantonese in your pocket seems like a good idea even if you don't have any Chinese in you. My husband only knows enough to order in restaurants, so I was relying on my in-laws to speak Chinese around the grandkids. Except they didn't. My mother-in-law even wanted to be called “Grandma” instead of “Ma Ma” (which is what you'd call your father's mother in Cantonese) because it sounds too much like “mama.”
I totally understand that. And I can sympathize with my mother-in-law, who was more concerned about her sons speaking perfect English and being Americans than learning their parents’ first language. But at their house this weekend I finally said, “You know? It'd be awesome if you spoke more Chinese around the kids. It seems like Jack is learning a dozen new words every day and I know he'd pick it up!” HINT HINT.
Suddenly EVERYTHING was in Chinese and I realized, as the native English speaker in the room, that I hadn't quite thought this through. It’s no fun not being able to participate in the conversation! Then my mother-in-law confided that Jack already knows a few Chinese words. He says “boh boh!” to be lifted up out of the crib and “boh boh!” when his tummy is full.
”Uh,” I said to my mother-in-law, “that's the same word.”
”No, it isn't,” she said, and demonstrated. “Boh boh!” and “Boh boh!”
My stare was blank. She repeated herself several more times, but I could never hear the difference in tones. “Oh,” she shrugged, giving up on me, “Jack knows.”
And I had no idea. My heart fairly burst with pride. My baby! Learning a new language! On his own! Without me knowing! And then a bit of sadness. My baby! Has a secret mommy-proof language!
I'm really hoping my in-laws continue to speak Mandarin and Cantoneses around my kids. I really think it’s important, and not just because one day they’ll want to test out of the foreign language requirement in college. Speaking the language, or even knowing a few phrases to share with your Chinese grandparents, would be such a strong connection to their heritage.
Any moms out there trying to educate their children about a culture different from their own? I'd love to hear how you’re making it work.