During our first home visit for our home study to adopt from China, we confidently showed our social worker around our sparkling clean house and answered all of his questions with ease.
This is going great, I thought! What was I so worried about? T
hen he asked us why we wanted to adopt from China.
I quickly replied with my rehearsed answer – “Because my baby is there. Because God is leading us there. We just feel like it’s right.”
“Yes,” he said, “but China is going to want to know why. What do you love about China that makes you want to go there for your child?” he pressed.
My heart raced, because I didn’t know the answer. I mumbled through some lines about China being a beautiful country, and how we admired the longstanding traditions of her people. I stopped when our social worker nodded approvingly and seemed satisfied with my answer. The rest of the visit went well, but I was troubled. Why were we adopting from China? Did we really love anything about this country or did we just want to adopt one of their babies? And if we couldn’t even think of things we truly respected and appreciated about China, how would we ever successfully incorporate Chinese culture into our home after our adoption was final?
Suddenly, adding another culture into our already established home had me feeling more than a little anxious.
Yet, here we are, almost 5 years later. Our son has been home with us for 3 years, and while I’m still always looking for ways to honor his birth culture in our home, somehow little pieces of China have concretely and somewhat easily made their way into our home.
We celebrate Chinese holidays, like Lunar New Year, by enjoying American Chinese takeout with family and friends and passing out red envelopes with chocolate coins and mandarin oranges. We decorate with lanterns and knots and photos that remind us of China, and we keep our front door painted red. There’s always someone in our home practicing Mandarin language skills, though none of us have been able to fully devote our time to it.
We greet each other in Chinese, and we almost always say goodbye, thank you, and numbers in Chinese too. We make a game out of trying to be lowest cup when we toast, we use chopsticks to eat everything from fried rice to spaghetti. We cheer almost as much for the Chinese Olympic team as we do for the Americans. Every person in our family proudly knows their Chinese zodiac animal and they’re likely to ask you what yours is, too. We listen to Chinese pop songs in the car, and we have family dance parties to Chinese cartoon music videos we find on YouTube.
I am proud when a Chinese friend says to me about something I’ve said or done, “That’s so Chinese!”
I try to fill our home with diversity, in the dolls we purchase, the books we read, and the friendships we pursue. I’m always on the lookout for new authentic Chinese recipes to try, and the best noodle-slurper is a highly esteemed position in our home. (The “Celebrate China” series on the blog Living Out His Love has been a great resource for our family for book recommendations and recipes!)
We are careful to honor China in less tangible ways also, such as keeping our language towards and about China positive and respectful. We also strive to understand the cultural meaning behind the customs of the country and put those into practice. This has changed the way we give and accept gifts, and the way we share meals. Each year at Christmas, I hang a tiny American flag intertwined with a Chinese flag together on the same Christmas tree branch.
We are a Chinese American family now, and my hope is that it shows to every person who enters our home.
We’ve gotten here slowly, and it’s an area I plan to continue growing in. Sometimes it feels easy because I truly fell in love with China on our adoption trip. But I also have to regularly face the reality that as much as I love China and the beautiful boy she gave me, my rendition of Chinese culture will never be perfect, because I was not born Chinese.
I dream of one day speaking fluent Mandarin, and hosting beautiful Spring Festival celebrations where I get every tradition correct. But that’s not where I am right now. I’m learning as I go, and I’m letting go of perfectionism, so that we can develop a family culture that fits each one of us. China will always be a big part of my son, therefore, China will always be a big part of me and our family.
I hope for our home to be a place where he always feels respected, loved, and proud of every part of who he is. And though there may be moments he feels embarrassed by his white mama cheering, “Jiāyóu!”* from the sidelines of his games, I hope his heart is just a little bit warmed by my effort.
* “Jiāyóu” is a Chinese phrase literally meaning “add oil” and is used as a cheer during games and races. A good English equivalent might be “Come on!”
– guest post by Angi