Somewhere, in the mess of paperwork I keep in an accordion file in my office, is information regarding our responsibility to celebrate our Chinese children’s culture. It may be the only paper that isn’t notarized and certified, but I’m pretty sure we promised. To go to stuff and do stuff and celebrate stuff.
This promise hits me in the solar plexus every year during Lunar New Year. I scroll facebook, gasping over moon cakes and red envelopes and field trips to places with dragons and lanterns. For so many years, I failed miserably at this part of adoption; fail often still. I have purchased a red silk for myself, even if I feel like a moron wearing it, go into the kid’s classrooms and pass out red envelopes and read books and try not to mispronounce the mandarin.
We light lanterns on New Years and send them off from our frozen back yard, gasping at how beautiful they are, tummies full of noodles and fortune cookies. Each year I hit my stride a smidge more.
For a few years after my babies came home, I was in the trenches too much to celebrate any non-essential holiday, especially Chinese ones. Which was easy to justify because I was one hundred and twenty percent focused on just not hating China. Can I say that? The fall out from two trips, two adoptions in eleven months, was considerable all the way around, so as far as celebrating cultures went, I was thrilled if the only mention I made of China was anything other than opening up the garbage can and not exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, it smells like China!”
Those bitter days, those hard, long days have given way to much sweeter ones and with them have come the desire to celebrate the beautiful country that gave us our babies. I look at pictures now of our trips and can exclaim with Abe and Maggie how stunning their provinces are, can remember aloud the trips we took during those brutal days of travel and bonding. I talk to them about how kind the people are in China, how stark the line between high rises and rolling hillside is, how congested and exciting it is there.
If you’re just newly home and it all is too close right now, if you can’t bring yourself to make moon cakes with your cherub, can I persuade you to just read them a book, arms tight and breathing the words into their ears? Can I assuage your guilt by saying that whatever you’re doing to love on that precious baby is celebrating their culture.
Rest assured, there will be an end to the jet-lag and anxiety over whether you’re bonding well and when that comes you will fill up little red envelopes like it’s your job. This might be years from now or next season, and both are ok.
The culture your babies were born in is so worth celebrating, but if exhaustion or medical worries have killed the party for you, can you please drop that guilt right this very minute and give yourself a teeny break?
You are doing the hard work of celebrating your child’s culture by adoring one of its children and that is the best party you’ll ever be invited to.
The rest will come, trust someone who has lived on both sides of that fence. For now, there is snuggling to do and reassurances to give for the millionth time to a child who can’t yet believe that you are forever.
Do what you can to celebrate their culture today and accept that it is enough. You are enough. And when your social worker comes for your next post-placement visit tell her you are doing everything you need to be doing and if she looks at your tired face and decides to school you on the way her other client dresses up and hands out red envelopes at the nursing homes in Chinatown, well, she’s not your Holy Spirit.
Mama, this is survival and you are killing it.
Someday you will tell them all the things you love about their birth country, you will serve the native food and dress up even if it makes you feel like a goober.
Someday you will do all these things and it will be fantastic.
But today, you just hold that child up tight and whisper the reminder of who you are and who they are – and let that beautiful gift of words be enough.