I used to wish for a Vietnamese Grandma. I felt that it was important to learn how to cook Vietnamese food at home so my Vietnamese-born daughter would experience food from her culture at home, not just at restaurants. I figured a Vietnamese Grandma would be able to show me how to cook Vietnamese food – especially spring rolls, those tasty little morsels that are so tricky to make. Once my other two kids joined the family I realized I would also like a Chinese Grandma to show me how to make dumplings and other Chinese foods. Alas, no Asian Cooking Grandma materialized, no matter how hard I wished – so I took a class, read some books, and experimented and practiced until I could competently cook Vietnamese and Chinese food.
After a few years, other people started asking me to show them how to make spring rolls. One day I realized I had taught several of my friends, my nephew, my mother-in-law, my uncle, and of course my own children how to make spring rolls. With a start I realized I had become the Vietnamese Grandma I’d always wished for.
The same reasoning applies to other aspects of parenting children from a different culture. I can learn from others but there’s no Vietnamese (or Chinese) Grandma in this house to teach my kids about the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. I have to do that myself. Wishing for an Asian fairy godmother isn’t going to help me. I have to educate myself as best I can, learn from others, and just suck it up and do it. Even if I’m afraid of getting it wrong or appearing culturally insensitive.
The other side of the coin is that I can’t blame my lack of a Vietnamese Grandma if the kids don’t learn something. They’re not taking language classes, for a variety of reasons. I can’t blame the absence of a Vietnamese Grandma for that one. It’s not her fault my kids don’t speak the languages of their birth countries. It’s my fault, and I take responsibility for it. I happen to totally own this decision – I have gone back and forth on this and come down on the side of not forcing them into language lessons – but there are other issues I want to deny responsibility for. For example, my kids don’t know much about how to behave at a real Lunar New Year celebration feast. We always celebrate in a sort of casual, raucous way with a group of friends, and I feel the kids are missing out on the family-focused banquet that is traditional in China and Vietnam. I sort of wish they had a Vietnamese (or Chinese) Grandma to force us all to have a traditional family New Year’s celebration. In the back of my mind I’m still wishing to be rescued by someone with authority who is well-grounded in the culture.
I have to remember that I am the Vietnamese Grandma in this family. Not in the sense that I call myself Vietnamese, but because I am the authority figure who is keeper of culture in this family. I’m the decision-maker, the traditionalist, the person who makes things happen for the family and especially for the kids. If the kids are missing out on something it’s because I didn’t make it happen for them. I’m okay with them missing some things – I think they feel proud and knowledgeable about their birth cultures, and they have strong identities as Asian-Canadian adoptees. I can’t give them everything they would have if they’d stayed in their birth countries. But I have to be mindful of the decisions I make on their behalf, and strive to give them as much as I can so they feel empowered and comfortable with their birth cultures.
But sometimes I still wish an Asian Cooking Grandma would appear to give me a hand with making spring rolls, dumplings, and faux-mooncakes for our annual Mid-Autumn Moon Festival party.