I’m not exactly what you’d call a “holiday” person. I know people who have decorations ranging from Christmas trees to pumpkins to shamrocks to pink and red hearts that they put up as the seasons rotate. Bu I’m not one of them. I’m a minimalist. The only holiday I decorate for is Christmas and that’s typically limited to our tree and stockings…though we did add an Elf on the Shelf to our traditions a few years back. And believe me, that’s a much bigger deal than it sounds for this simple mama!
Being the mother of three children from China, though, I’ve felt the need to add Chinese New Year to our family list of family holidays. Once again, I don’t go to extremes…no decorations, traditional foods, or even silk attire. Every year we simply head to the local Chinatown with some of our friends from our local adoption group. There is a big celebration in the morning at the Chinese Community Center that includes a lion dance, martial arts performance, singing/musical performances, and various other parts of the Chinese heritage and culture. Then we all go to lunch at an authentic Chinese restaurant and the kids get their red envelopes containing their “lucky money” once we come home.
I’ve always worried that I don’t make a big enough of a fuss over Chinese New Year. After all, it’s really the only part of our kids’ birth culture that we celebrate. We don’t attend Chinese School, and I only have one painting from China hanging in my house. I constantly worry that I’m a “slacker” when it comes to preserving heritage. And this year, my worries escalated as we celebrated our teenage son’s first Chinese New Year since coming home. But I’ve become fond of our little family tradition and it’s something I look forward to every year.
Holidays can be hard when you’re away from your home and family. That’s one thing I learned during our years in the military. The old song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has brought tears to my eyes more than once. But aside from a few food-related episodes from our youngest son, Chinese New Year has been a happy time. Until this year.
My teenager just couldn’t get into our celebration. When we asked his opinion on our trip to Chinatown he declared it was “boring.” But we really didn’t need him to tell us that. His body language pretty much screamed it. We hoped being surrounded by Chinese people, hearing the language, and eating authentic food would make the holiday as special as it could be for him. Notsomuch. Epic fail on that one. I have a feeling this is one of those things that will never be as good as the real deal.
But even worse was our youngest son. We don’t know much about his time in China, but we do know that he often went hungry due to this cleft lip and palate. We’ve struggled with food-related issues since he came home just over three years ago, and as the Chinese New Year celebration comes to an end…right about lunchtime every year…he struggles. Something about being hungry and exposed to the Chinese language and culture sets off a trigger for him. There’s always a little bit of a meltdown, and last year I had to step out of the room with him to keep the distraction down for everyone else. Once he was calmed down and got to eat, he was fine. But this year, the impact lingered. The tears lasted all day, even after he had been fed. And we saw emotional regression combined with a reoccurrence of orphanage behaviors that lasted for days. Not to mention the nights he was back to sleeping with us. The past year has been such GOOD year for him, but the celebration triggered a hidden trauma that wasn’t as easy to recover from as it has been in years past. We even witnessed sheer terror from him by a group in authentic attire from a bygone Chinese era.
And then there was our sweet daughter. Unlike her brothers, she didn’t spend much time in an orphanage. She was with a precious foster family that adored her and would have no doubt adopted her if it had been an option. That little bit of China in Chinatown generated an extreme homesickness. To the point that she was telling us she wanted to go “home” to her “China house.” And when we explained that her home was with us now, she told us in no uncertain terms that we aren’t her family. She wanted her family in China. Her varying range of emotions settled quickly, but it was hard to watch her wrestle with her two worlds…the life she had in China was every bit as good and happy as her life here with us. She has much to miss from her “home” and we grieve with her in her losses.
At the end of a day full of “celebrating” I found myself questioning our Chinese New Year celebrations once again. But not because my girls weren’t wearing silk dresses and I don’t have a kitchen god on display in my home. No, I found myself wondering if it’s a good idea to make an annual tradition out of exposing my children to something that hurts so much. Something that triggers memories from a “former” life that they’re not quite sure how to deal with. And for the first time, I found myself wondering if maybe my holiday celebrations are a bit “over the top.” That maybe…just maybe…I might need to go more simply in the future.
Thankfully I’ve got another year to try and figure it out.