Today is Chinese New Year, a day that serves as a splendid excuse for the Chinese half of our family to eat their weight in broccoli beef and stir fried rice noodles. We will go on the weekend (too hard on a weeknight! no parking!) to the Only Acceptable Chinese Restaurant in the city (this changes every couple of months) and welcome the new year with so much food the leftovers will not fit in my refrigerator. I AM NOT EXAGGERATING.
When I was dating the Devastatingly Handsome Chinese Man, I used to worry about the food. I was once the pickiest eater on the planet and every time I was invited to dinner I prayed they wouldn't put seafood I'd never heard of on my plate, or unidentifiable meat balls in a mysterious lumpy sauce. I was desperate to make a good impression (I can use chopsticks! Watch me!) but I honestly didn't know if I could eat chicken feet for love. Thankfully my future mother-in-law took pity on me and made sure I never had to eat anything the average white person would categorize as Weird or Gross or Definitely Not For Human Consumption. (Those things she safely delivered to Phillip's plate.)
I've evolved a bit since then. Instead of being frightened and intimidated by everything loaded onto the dim sum cart, I'm demanding my favorite dishes and learning the Chinese names. I want to eat Chinese food (father-in-law approved Chinese food, not the take out down the street) even when we're not meeting family. At our Chinese wedding banquet I ate shark fin soup and cold bits of spicy jellyfish. As the child who once refused to eat a single green bean at dinner, I'm sure my parents never dreamed I'd be so adventurous.
And so, when people ask me how I intend to incorporate "Chineseness" into the daily life of my half-Caucasian half-Devastatingly Handsome Chinese Man son, I automatically think of food. He'll grow up eating his grandmother's fried rice and tofu soup and his dad's Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce. He'll go out to eat with his grandfather and attend special occasion banquets in Canada where the rest of the Chinese relatives live, and where, I'm told, the best Chinese restaurants on the West Coast are located. We have a set of children's chopsticks and he has a board book about dim sum.
But if he asks me what Chinese New Year is really about, I will be drawing a big fat blank.
His dad doesn't speak Chinese fluently and, obviously, neither do I. His grandparents speak, but only to each other and those of their generation. We know bits and pieces of what their lives were like in China, but nothing is written down. When I ask my mother-in-law what's important, what things Jack should know about his Chinese heritage, she waves her hand as if to say, "Oh, don't worry about it."
But I do worry. We've talked about sending him to Chinese school on Saturday mornings. We talk with relief about how wonderful it is that there are so many Asian-Americans in our city and that we know so many interracial couples and their half-white half-Asian children. I hope we can take him to China one day. I wonder when he'll realize that his father and I are of different ethnicities and that he is a blend (a gorgeous blend, if I may say so) of the two. Will it be a big deal? What will I say? What perspective do I want him to have?
For now, though, he has food. Lots and lots of it. Right now he likes the dough from the outside of jing cha siu bao and bits of sticky rice from inside the lotus leaf wrapper. We're working on the rice noodles. We'll have him try a few more things this weekend and I imagine he'll get a few red envelopes too.