We have been highlighting ideas for ways to honor Chinese heritage while celebrating Chinese New Year (and Chinese holidays). I have some goals as the mother of a four year old Chinese daughter. I hope to have a dumpling making day with our family and extended family and feast on homemade dumplings, and oranges, and all of us eat at one table together. I have a noodle dish pinned on pinterest I probably won’t get to – but maybe for the next holiday we will try it.
We have decorations we purchased in China that come out every year for New Year, and we have some children’s books. Locally, there is a CNY celebration and a dragon dance. I am a little more excited to celebrate this year because, this year she can grasp the fact that she wasn’t born here like the rest of our family.
This year, Grace knows the story of how she came to be our “baby” – as much as she needs to know at this age, anyway. There are more questions this year than in the past. She is becoming curious about what she was like when she was a baby, mostly because there will be a new baby cousin in our family in the coming months. There are days when she is borderline obsessed to see pictures of herself as a baby and one day she asked if we gave her Christmas presents when she was a baby.
Here’s how that went:
Grace: You give me Crih-meh pre-seh my a baby?
Me: As soon as we knew that you were our baby Daddy and I sent a huge box of presents to you right around Christmas time and I have pictures of you opening them when you were a baby!
Grace: MY LOOK
So we found the stack of pictures from her time at New Day Foster Home in Beijing. I’ve always been so grateful for how they documented her life there but on this day, I saw how much it matters to her. Her story matters to her so very much. We looked through all of the pictures of her time there from 7 months old until we brought her home at 19 months. There were pictures of her with her “Ayis” (nannies) and she wanted to know who each of them were and why they were holding her and what were they feeding her and why are they smiling,
Grace: They like me? Why?
Me: They are the nice ladies who took care of you before I could come and bring you home and be your Mama.
Me: Because when you were a baby you didn’t have a Mama just for you.
Grace: Why my not have Mama my a baby?
Me: Because sometimes when babies grow inside ladies, those ladies aren’t ready or aren’t able to be a forever Mama to their baby so Jesus sends other ladies to be forever Mamas just like He sent me for you.
Grace: *smiles* Jejoe help me? (right now she pronounces Jesus – Jejoe.)
Me: Yes, Jesus helped you a lot.
And just like that, there she knew more of her story. She knows she didn’t have a mama when she was a baby. I didn’t expect it to happen that way. I didn’t prepare for it and have this big discussion and heart to heart talk. I hadn’t thought much about what I would tell her, and when I would tell her, and how it would all go down since we had meetings with our social worker a few years ago.
I didn’t realize how much her history would matter to her at four years old, but lemmetellyou – I do now. Her story is oh-so-important to her. Pictures of her playing or sick or hospitalized or drinking a bottle or sucking on her pacifier or sleeping are treasures to her. They were and are precious to me but it’s more than that to her. It’s her life in pictures of things and places she doesn’t fully remember or can’t describe in her vague memories. She craves details about her story, and is desperate to know who she played with in one picture and who was holding her in another. She also thinks that she was an exceptionally cute baby in every photo, which is gospel truth.
This conversation happened a few days before Christmas and I’ve thought about it several times since, and considered how I feel when I look back at pictures from my childhood. I know the names of every person in family photos. I can get ahold of my aunts and uncles and cousins instantly. I grieved and attended the funerals of my grandparents and great grandparents with my family. I remember attending family weddings, funerals or birthday parties. If they are still alive, I see most extended family at least once a year and keep connected with some through facebook.
I can recount my whole life story (everything I can remember, anyway), and when I can’t remember something I know someone who might. I’ve always been connected to my history.I know where all of my people came from, I know what my heritage is and where my ancestors were from. My history, though, is so much more important to me than my Scandinavian heritage. My family, my people, our shared life experiences is what I treasure; and for Grace she will have that with people who don’t look like her, and cannot fill in all of the answers to the questions she isn’t mature enough yet to even think of.
So how do we do this as adoptive parents to a daughter who has a completely different life experience, heritage, and ancestry that we cannot relate to? How do we try and fill in the gaps and answer honestly and with wisdom; because some of the questions require complicated and sensitive answers. We are figuring it out as we go, while looking to other adoptive parents who have blazed a trail before us and like all parents – we do the best we can. As someone who knows only what being adopted by God as His daughter feels like, I’m begging Him to give tenderness and wisdom to our words and empathy and compassion as we answer questions that we can answer, and to face the ones we cannot.
Sometimes honoring Grace’s culture isn’t just about celebrating holidays she doesn’t remember and doesn’t identify with because she was too little when she lived in China to remember. Some Chinese food she likes and others she refuses. Dragon dances scare her, and many English words are still a challenge for her, nevermind Mandarin. We do make and eat Chinese food, we read books and visit the local cultural celebrations. I make sure she dresses up in her silks, and we try to learn some more Chinese words, and decorate the house together.
I think part of our traditions on these special days is going to also be about reminding her of her amazing story and showing her pictures of how loved she was by our extended New Day family. One day when she is old enough to hear her whole story, I pray her mind is as blown as mine was, and is and will always be by the story of how she came to be ours. I hope she clearly sees the hand of her Father who was with her from the beginning, knows all the answers to her questions, and knit her together in her first mama’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made.
One day, because “Jejoe” is in her heart, she can ask Him face to face all the questions she didn’t have the answers for on earth, but my guess is that in that moment – she will know all she needs to know.