|William on his birth day.|
William is just a week away from turning one. While I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it, there were times when I longed for this. I couldn't wait for him to get a little bit older, a little bit stronger, a little bit more independent. The past few months, I let go of that feeling. I've enjoyed him as he is, not too expectant of the future. Time really has gone by quickly. The past year has been hard though, perhaps the most difficult of my life. I knew being a mother would be challenging and it is, but the true challenge has been adapting to motherhood while living in China. I have learned a lot. Here are some of the things I've learned:
1. I'm not as open minded as I thought I was.
Admittedly, I was somewhat aware of this fact coming in. I knew I wouldn't be open to do everything The Chinese Way. I still struggle with this one. Does that make me closed-minded? Or does it just make me human? It doesn't matter, if I hear the phrase "When in Rome. . ." one more time, I might strangle someone.
|William, 100 days|
2. Nothing goes as expected.
This is a given when living in China. It's also a given when raising kids, especially small ones. Put the two together and unless you have the patience of a saint, there may be times you'll be ripping your hair out. For better or worse, William's birth was nothing like I had imagined. Preparing for our trip to America was not without difficulty. But there were also times when things went surprisingly well, like when arranging his household registration, getting him vaccinated, and taking his portrait.
|William, 4 months.|
3. My Chinese may never be good enough.
I think some of my struggles stem from the fact that I don't fully appreciate or understand traditional Chinese culture and thinking (a problem even modern Chinese have), but it's also a language issue. Living in a small city, I don't have the luxury of western hospitals or English speaking doctors. My mother-in-law knows four words in English (hello, no, out, banana) and even my husband's English is lacking, especially when it comes to baby and medical related vocab. I've tried my best, fumbling by, now knowing Chinese words for things such as placenta, polio, episiotomy, and pacifier (there is a pretty extensive list of pregnancy related vocab that can be found here). But it's still never enough. I always feel like the language is passing over me, leaving me in the dust. I suppose one day the kids will be fluent enough that they can help smooth out some of the gaps.
4. My relationship with my mother-in-law is a precarious thing.
|William, 6 months|
I've said it before and I will say it again, my mother-in-law is a great woman (despite using the phrase, "When in Rome. . ." a few too many times). She was never around much before the baby was born, but with his arrival I've spent countless hours with her. We have very different parenting styles. She is a helicopter (grand)parent, while I'm more of a free-ranger. While she has the best of intentions, I am, at times, overwhelmed by her constant hoovering and pampering. In some of my weaker and uglier moments, I have lost my temper. I may have even done some yelling (you might too if you weren't allowed cold food or drink, chocolates, or coffee for months on end). I think the situation is improving as William is getting older, but I still find myself having to bite my tongue daily.
5. Everything I thought was normal, is seen as weird or wrong.
Breast pumps? High chairs? Disposable diapers? Frivolous crazy talk.
Letting the baby crawl around? Letting him put something, anything in his mouth? Letting him eat with his hands? The insanity! That's not sanitary!
Allowing him to cry, to fall, to feel the slightest bit of discomfort? You can't be serious.
6. What homesickness really feels like
It was never that hard for me to be away from US. . . until it was. Feeling homesick was completely unexpected and a feeling that I haven't fully been able to shake this past year. I am, in some ways, grateful for it. Now I feel more confident that we are nearing the right time for us to leave China.
|William, 9 months|
For many foreigners, being showered with attention is not uncommon in China. Some people bask in the limelight, others would rather just blend in with the crowd. Myself, it depends on my mood. But strangers don't care about my mood. I might be out, having My Worst China Day Ever and people will freely comment on how my son is under dressed. We may be chased down and asked if we are Russian. A crowd may gather around us, pointing, commenting, and asking questions. I try to take it in stride. Sometimes their interest makes me happy, as the alternative could just as easily be contempt. There are those who hate seeing foreigners, people who despise mixed race families. Fortunately, these types of people are very rarely found in China. Most Chinese adore children and are particularly curious about foreign or mixed raced ones.
As a final note:
To anyone reading this who is planning on having or raising kids in China, be prepared for challenges, some obvious, others may be less so. Try to be patient with yourself and with your partner. If you can, try to learn a little bit about the culture and whatever you can manage with the language. Be realistic with your expectations and be honest with yourself--what customs and beliefs are you willing to compromise on and what is non-negotiable? My situation and struggles may be vastly different from yours. If I were an American man married to a Chinese woman, living in Beijing, I probably would have a total different experience raising my kids in China. But no matter what, it's an adventure!
Are you raising your kids abroad? Or is it something you would ever consider doing?
|William, nearly 12 months|