I cannot express how excited I was to see the “Honoring China in the Everyday” focus that No Hands But Ours had planned for this month. Not because we as a family have even begun to “arrive” in this department, but because our hearts yearn to raise citizens of the world who appreciate and revel in the rich diversity of cultures that surround us. And in bringing our precious Asher Ren into our family, we have an intense interest in having him grow up influenced by and loving his birth culture as much as possible.
We are fully aware that loving Chinese culture and incorporating it into our home is so much more than the “outer trappings,” as wonderful and colorful as they are. We are on a journey to make those profound connections that our fellow adoptive families pursue.
When we brought our sweet Asher Ren home in late summer of 2016, he was not yet two years old. From the moment his little eyes caught sight of the wealth of culinary choices at the breakfast buffet in our Guangzhou hotel, he was smitten. I tried to feed him congee in China to give him that warm, comfortable and hopefully familiar eating experience, but he would have none of it. He wanted the scrambled eggs, donuts, and pancakes.
Asher Ren’s assimilation into his new American life has been similar to that breakfast buffet, much to our surprise. So our experience with adopting a young child has been that our incorporation of Chinese culture has had to be initiated by us, as opposed to fulfilling the immediate needs of a child suffering from intense culture shock. We earnestly hope that as he matures, he will have friendships, eat food, go to events, read books, see artwork, love music and celebrate festivals that connect him to his heritage.
Reading is incredibly important to our family. If you’ve ever seen the book, Give Your Child the World by Jamie C. Martin, you know the book’s motto is “Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time.” Our family resonates with this theme. In the years before we brought Asher Ren home, we began reading not just about adoption, but about Eastern culture, and more specifically Chinese culture. At the time, I was teaching in a liberal arts university and was even able to take a Chinese sociology class.
Now that Asher Ren is home, we focus on adding children’s books on Chinese themes to our collection, and also make it a point to constantly check out similar books from the local library. With younger children in the home, we’ve learned to love the Grace Lin board books and novels. (By the way, Give Your Child the World has a good basic list of practical ways to incorporate diverse cultures into your home as well as a chapter with recommended books for children of all ages from various Asian cultures and countries. It’s a great place to start for families pursuing adoption.)
Establishing diverse friendships is one of the main ways we’re choosing to make the deeper connections with Asher Ren’s heritage for which our family longs. Celebrating Asher Ren’s Gotcha Day, birthday and Chinese festivals with Chinese friends is a big part of integrating his birth culture into our family’s unique fabric. We’ve had to be intentional in this area, as we have not always had a lot of Chinese or adoptive family friends. This past fall we found a local Chinese restaurant who reached out to adoptive families in our area. They hosted an Autumn festival celebration with moon cakes and other traditional desserts. It was very special for my kids to experience not only these new tastes, but also to meet more families who look like ours, and with whom Asher Ren can relate as he matures.
When I went to China to bring Asher Ren home, it was roughly a month before the Autumn festival, and I have so many memories of the hundreds of people who kept streaming into my hotel’s lobby to purchase gorgeous flowered boxes of mooncakes. It was very special to me that my husband and other children who were not able to travel to China could experience these tastes with us this fall.
One of the things that drew us to our church is its cultural diversity. We love that Asher goes to his little church class each week with other young Chinese boys and girls. These friendships are deeply precious to us. Our church is near a university with a large Chinese graduate student population, so one of our most special outreaches each year is a big Chinese New Year celebration. Our church’s international group travels to Atlanta to shop at Asian markets in preparation. We decorate our church fellowship area in red and gold and serve Chinese traditional dishes. Last year one of the Chinese men in our church made over seven hundred homemade jiaozi!
Education is another area in which we desire for our family to experience “China in the Everyday.” For now, three-year-old Asher Ren is busy learning to speak English, which is a bit of a challenge due to a delay in his cleft palate repair. But after a lot of searching, we recently found a tutor and began weekly Chinese lessons with our five-year-old and seven-year-old. When they sang “Happy Birthday” to me in Chinese this past January, I thought my heart would burst!
One of the most exciting things for our family was to find out that a Chinese Immersion charter school is opening in our city this coming fall, just five minutes down the road. We are so excited that when he is old enough, Asher Ren will be able to study Mandarin every day in school! Until then, Little Pim videos help in keeping those familiar sounds in his ears. I also followed another adoptive mom’s recommendation, and we play recordings of Chinese children’s songs in our home. Asher Ren’s favorite is “Ni Wa Wa,” a song about a little clay doll.
Even though there are some challenges to cultural diversity in the south, we live near several universities, and we find that there are still a variety of Chinese cultural experiences that we can search out for our family. While Asher Ren isn’t quite ready to be a respectful audience member, I recently took my daughter to a Chinese music recital and calligraphy demonstration at a local university. We were so excited to be able to see and hear the Erhu and Guzheng beautifully played by visiting Chinese scholars. In the past I wouldn’t have always been so eager to search out these type of experiences, but bringing Asher Ren into our home makes us go looking, not just for him, but to honor his culture in all of our hearts.
I am so thankful for the eagerness of my family to embrace Chinese culture. I feel like we are in the toddler stages of this; just dipping our toes in the water. We’ve learned that we really have to be intentional in this pursuit. Our default choices of music, décor, reading, entertainment, food, and friends have had to be reexamined and adjusted. But the result has been enriching and joy-filled. Whether it be through my daughter performing “The Bamboo Forest” for her upcoming piano festival, my five-year-old watching a documentary on Chinese wildlife, Asher Ren eating dumplings and reading a Grace Lin board book or me ordering a sewing pattern to begin making our own Cheongsams, we all are a part of this journey to honor “China in the Everyday.”
– guest post by Anne