Celebrating a 100 Day Birthday!

This series has taken a little bit of a hiatus but I am excited to get back to it! Today, I wanted to share with you all about a special day where we celebrate our family’s Chinese American heritage — our children’s 100 Day Celebration! It’s sometimes celebrated at the one month mark and I’ve also heard it called a Red Egg and Ginger Party. Read more to learn why!

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During ancient times when unfortunately infant mortality was high, families delayed naming their children and then celebrated their survival after a month or three months. The tradition continues today and its a way for parents to introduce the baby to family and friends.

For my daughter 4 years ago and my son 1 year ago, we drove up from Virginia to New York City where my husband’s family lives. We had a delicious meal at a big Chinese restaurant where all the aunties and uncles could meet our children for the first time. My husband’s parents gave each child a new outfit and a tiny gold ring to symbolize long life and prosperity. At the restaurant, there were red eggs (symbolizing luck and unity) and pickled ginger which is good for after childbirth. If the baby is a boy there is an even number of eggs and if its a daughter its an odd number. Not sure why!

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There has been a lot written about the tradition and if you are interested I’ll put the links below.

From a non-chinese mother’s perspective, there are lots of things I love about this tradition:

  1. It’s so fun to celebrate a baby 3 months into the their life! It’s not as stressful as taking a one month old to a restaurant and I love celebrating the child after they are born rather than a baby shower late in the pregnancy were I was often pretty uncomfortable.
  2. A 3 month old is much more alert (and smiley!) It’s a joyous occasion!
  3. You get to introduce your child to family all at once. While this can sometimes feel overwhelming, its wonderful to have the opportunity!

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To learn more:

  • Great website with lots of info on etiquette, customs etc. http://www.redeggandgingerparty.com/etiquette
  • Background on all of the special birthdays http://www.folkartchina.com/about_china/customs.html
  • Modern take on planning a 100 day party https://www.sassymamasg.com/planning-a-100-days-celebration-singapore/

My Biggest Misunderstanding as a Taiwan Xifu

(This is part 2 of 7 sharing how we try to #celebratecultures in our family’s daily life. Check here to see all posts in the series!)

One of the first questions my future in-laws asked me when we first met was “what kind of food do you like? What are your favorite vegetables?” They wanted to get to know me and my family through understanding our food. (Funny story: at that same first dinner, I was so proud of myself when I used chopsticks and successfully picked up a salted peanut in the middle of the table. Unfortunately, the second time I flung a peanut onto another table!)

I used to think that food was just one part of the puzzle to understand a culture. But the importance that my husband’s culture places on food goes deeper than just a part of their culture, food is a priority! It was really one of the biggest misunderstandings we had in the early part of our marriage. I’ve learned through some funny moments in our first year of marriage how important mealtimes are in the life of a Chinese family.

So I try to focus on being a good xifu/媳婦 daughter in law and learn new Chinese and Taiwanese dishes. I am thankful that it goes both ways too and my husband is an incredible cook! When I commuted into the city for work, my husband made most of the meals. Now that I’m at home with the kids, I’ve taken over most of the cooking on the weekdays.

Ways we Celebrate Mealtimes:

  1. Hot meals 3x a day if possible:  For the most part, it’s important to our family to have warm meals. There are definitely times when takeout and drive thrus are necessary! I am nowhere near my mother in law’s cooking as she used to cook short ribs for her children to take in their school lunches. And often “hot meal” is defined by leftovers from the day before. But we still want to prioritize mealtimes as important times during the day to gather together and not just rush past them.
  1. Kids are involved in making the food: I try to include my 4 year daughter in cooking during most meals. Right now that includes cleaning vegetables or peeling garlic cloves. It’s a win win because it keeps her busy while I cook! The best part is that when sit down to eat, she is so proud of the food she helped make and it helps her try new foods.
  1. Dumpling Date Nights: Since my family loves dumplings, I have a mini-goal of making a huge batch of homemade dumplings every month so we have a steady supply in our freezer. It’s pretty time intensive to fold each one but the excitement on all the faces of my husband, my 4-year-old daughter and even my 11-month-old son makes it worth it! My husband joined me on last Saturday night after the kids went to sleep and we made about 150 dumplings. We watched a show and laughed together — it actually turned into a really fun date night in! When we were done, my hubby said he just realized that his parents used to do the same thing. He has memories of his parents watching a Chinese drama while folding dumplings late into the night. So special to accidentally fall into this same tradition!
  1. Learning through Food: Our family loves lots of other cultures’ cuisines (favs right now include: Vietnamese, Korean, Mexican, Indian and Thai) so we try to talk a little bit about each culture with our daughter when we are eating. If we’re at home we look on a map to find the country. We are learning a couple of words in each language so when we go to a restaurant we can say at least hello and thank you in the language. So far we have 2/5 down…3 more to go!

What about your family? How do you celebrate your family’s culture(s) during mealtimes? Would love to hear more in the comments or over on Instagram!    

 

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My mother-in-law and sister-in-law make incredible meals and I’m so thankful I get to learn from them (and eat their food!)

 

 

From Me to We: Ways we #CelebrateCultures… in our Home 

Being in a multicultural family takes a lot of humility. I’ve had lots of “face plant moments” over the last couple of years! I am thankful though for those moments because they usually teach me the most. 
While living in Taiwan, my 2 year old daughter and I joined my husband’s aunt at the local community hall during Chinese New Year. We met a remarkable 104 year old community elder (pictured here with my daughter and I) who volunteers every year to draw chūnlián 春联 for his neighbors. Chūnlián are long red pieces of paper used to decorate doorways and bring good fortune during the new year. Our aunt knew that I am a Christian and asked me what Christian phrase I would like the man to write for our door. I was surprised she asked because I was happy to have a traditional phrase. The only phrase that I could say in Chinese at the time was ‘Jesus loves me.’ Suddenly, my aunt and half a dozen Taiwanese people around us started to laugh! As politely as they could they told me that the phrase ‘Jesus loves me’ doesn’t make sense in the Chinese language. It would sound so weird and selfish. How can we think about a divine person loving one person? It should be “Jesus Loves US!” So that’s what the centenarian wrote in beautiful calligraphy on our red paper.

That piece of red paper is now one of my most treasured possessions because even though it was an embarrassing cross-cultural moment, it was a lightbulb for me in my understanding of Taiwanese/Chinese culture. I remember sometime in college learning that the basic unit in American culture is the individual but that for many other cultures the family (and some would say the extended family) is the basic unit. This moment in the community hall was a perfect example of this cultural value being revealed in language.

I grew up in a very loving and close family which encouraged me in my own individual passions and pursuits. When it came time to choose a major to study in college, I chose one myself without thinking about the effects on my family. I’ve since heard from friends who grew up with a more ‘family unit’ focus who sought input from their parents or at least weigh their decisions on the impact on their family.

Right now in my parenting journey (only 4 years in!), I don’t think one way is objectively better than the other. Hopefully a blessing of raising our kids in a multicultural family is that we can take the best from both worlds! We are currently living in the US which is driven by a pretty individualist perspective. So we want to balance this individualist mindset by teaching our children through words and actions that while we love them unconditionally, they are not the sole center of the family. I am learning to think of our family in terms of one unit, not four individual ones. I am learning to move from celebrating “me” to “we.”

Practically speaking, we’ve adopted two small ways from my husband’s childhood, for our young children to hopefully start to understand these concepts:

Big Sister, Little Brother 

I recently mentioned on instagram that instead of calling each other by their names, my daughter calls her brother dì dì 弟弟 meaning ‘little brother’ and my son (once he can speak!) will call his sister jiě jie 姐姐 meaning ‘big sister.’ I love how these are more than just cute nicknames. They also reveal cultural value of seeing oneself in relation to another. Also it shows a respect for elders inside the family as well as their unique responsibilities.

The Passing Game 

Another way we show our daughter the importance of our extended family is through the Passing Game. We ask my daughter to offer food to the eldest in the room first and then down the line in age. This requires a lot of patience for our 4 year old at first, especially when there’s 8 family members and cookies! But it’s a tangible way to encourage thinking of others above herself. My Sister in Law is amazing with children and always turns it into a game for my daughter. It’s usually a hilarious time around the table when my daughter has to guess how old everyone is. “Is Great Aunt older or younger than Baba?” My daughter loves offering the treat to everyone and squeals with glee when it’s finally her turn!

What about your family? Did you grow up with cultural values that are different from where you are currently living? Would love to hear about your multicultural experience in the comments!

(This is part 1 of 7 sharing how we try to #celebratecultures in our family’s daily life. Check here to see all posts in the series!)

Coming soon: Ways We #CelebrateCultures

Before kids, I thought “celebrating our heritage” would just mean observing Chinese New Year (him) and Sinterklaas Day (me). But now after having kids, I’ve realized that it’s not enough to celebrate a holiday once a year and expect my children to identify with that part of their heritage. And more importantly, it’s a GIFT that we have to learn and explore other cultures! Why not open that gift every day?!

So next week I’ll be starting a new series on Ways We #CelebrateCultures in our family. I will share how our family tries to be intentional about celebrating both our family’s cultural heritages as well as other cultures in our home. These are not earth shattering ideas and the categories are all pretty obvious. But hopefully these posts can be helpful as an encouragement of all the ways you can integrate and celebrate cultures.

Below is an outline of the upcoming posts which I will link to once they are up. Hopefully posting this intro motivates/pushes me to actually write these out! As always, I would love to hear about your family and how you integrate your heritage into your daily life!  

Ways We #CelebrateCultures…

  1. … Around the House
  2. … During Meals
  3. … With Language
  4. … During Holidays
  5. … Learning about history and inventions
  6. … During Weddings
  7. … Through Travel

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Defining Terms – a draft!

Last week I posted a first draft of the diagram below on instagram after seeing some confusion on the internet and in real life over some terms. Some people use these terms interchangeably but they are indeed 3 separate concepts. Would you suggest any changes? Have you found these to be confusing for you or others?

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I drafted the first version on a napkin and then received some great feedback from other moms on instagram and revised above. Melanie made the insightful comment that the term ‘multicultural’ can apply to people too! (Of course I should have thought to include that important point as it’s literally the name of my blog…!) Jennifer had another great addition that ‘intercultural’ can be between two or more cultures. Thankful for a community of parents to help revise ideas!

As parents we know the words we use for our children matter. Their own identity journey matters greatly. It is ultimately not up to me to say how my children should or will identify (whether in our case as Asian American or Chinese American or Chinese Dutch American or mixed or hapa or some other term I haven’t thought of!) For our family, the most important part of this conversation is that they have positive experiences celebrating and exploring their unique cultural heritage and learning and appreciating other cultures around the world.

I want to end by sharing my friend Katie’s short video about the question she receives the most, “What is your ethnicity?” I relate a lot to her father’s comments to her, “You’re not half of a human being! It makes you 200%!” To which she replies, “that seems a bit dramatic…but…powerful.” I hope and pray my bicultural kids grow up to know they are powerful in small and big ways too! 

4 Ways to Encourage Culturally Aware Preschoolers (ABCDs!)

Earlier this week, I took my 4 year old daughter to preschool and she asked me if I was half Chinese. I started to laugh and said “no, my family came from the Netherlands and Ireland a long time ago, why do you think I’m half Chinese?” She replied, “Because you don’t know all Chinese words like Daddy!” Well she is definitely right about that!

This conversation surprised me and got me thinking about the ways we talk about cultures and language and identity with preschoolers. My husband and I had a great conversation this week about ways we can encourage our daughter and I wanted to share them here. (Since 3 of the 4 started with the first letters of the alphabet, I cheated and made the second one a two word phrase to make a tidy A, B, C, and D list!)  

Has your child surprised you with their comments about culture? How do you encourage your children to be culturally aware? I only have experience up to preschoolers so would love your ideas and suggestions for older children! Please comment or head over to Instagram @multiculturalmama

  1. A – Aware: As you know, preschoolers are sponges and are aware of the world around them in ways that astonish us! My daughter can differentiate customs from her time in Taiwan when she was 2 even now living in the US. Research shows that babies as young as 3 and 6 months old can distinguish faces based on race. Instead of being concerned that our children are not colorblind, we should be aware of their curiosity and invite questions. It’s a great opportunity to teach our children about the things that all humans have in common as well as the beautiful ways we are different!
  2. B – Be intentional about bringing up your family’s cultural heritage. Whether you are in a multicultural family or monocultural family, there are so many wonderful ways to celebrate your family’s cultural heritage. I plan to spend more time on this in future posts but for now one idea is to try to think about ways to celebrate throughout the year, not just at specific holidays. 
  3. C – Connect your child’s interests to other cultures in fun ways. My daughter loves to dance so this summer we went to a wonderful event at our library with Rhythmaya, an Indian dance instruction and performance group. We learned all sorts of dances from South Indian classical dance (which I believe is called Bharatanatyam) and dramatic dance and of course Bollywood! Since then my daughter has been obsessed with “Indian princesses” which is her term for Bollywood dancers! We watch tons of youtube videos and dance with our friends from Bhutan and Afghanistan. My daughter started crying one day that she wasn’t Indian. I told her that the exciting thing about the world is that everyone can share special parts of their country with others!14012383_925532001168_9434698_o
  4. D – Diverse books and media. If you’re reading this blogpost, I don’t have to tell you much about the importance of diverse books. Representation matters. I highly recommend Pragmatic Mom’s vast collection of diverse children’s book lists including:

Raising Multicultural Kids Blog Series: #1 Presumptuous Blog Title (aka Introduction)

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The title of this blog might be a little bit presumptuous.

‘Multicultural Mama’ — what do I know of raising multicultural kids? I am nearer to the beginning of this parenting journey than the end. I am a white mama living in the US. I grew up all over (Egypt, Germany, the Netherlands, Kansas, and South Carolina) and never thought I would settle down — much less live in America! But here I am, living outside DC in an unincorporated suburb for the foreseeable future. After an incredible year reconnecting with my husband’s family and culture in Taiwan, we now find ourselves very content here in the States.

During the past year since our return from Asia, I have felt a strong stirring to be more (buzzword alert) intentional. I want to be more intentional at celebrating the gift of being a multicultural family. More intentional at celebrating the cultures of my daughter’s friends and our neighbors. I want my daughter and son to have the curiosity and zeal for people and cultures that I was given by my parents. And most of all, I want my children to know and celebrate their own individual, precious story.

So I guess a more accurate title for the blog would be “Mom who wants her children to celebrate their own multicultural identity while simultaneously inspiring curiosity and love for other cultures.” But that doesn’t fit in an insta account. So even though I felt halfway embarrassed registering for the domain name, I remind myself of the old cliches. Parenthood is a journey and I am in the process of learning alongside other families who have tread this path. I have only been actively posting online since the new year (after years of stalking other blogs!) and have already learned so much from other moms around the world! I am so grateful to continue to learn and share with you.

Programming note: I’ll start blogging in earnest later this week. My goal is to include my family’s perspectives alongside practical tips on how to celebrate cultures in the home. If you have any ideas or advice for me, please leave a comment or message me on Instagram @multiculturalmama.

Gratefully,

Jennifer