This past Tuesday, in the car on the 25 minute car ride on the way to the OB, I asked my husband the question.
“What would your response be if our daughter came home and told you that someone called her a Chink?”
Yeah, I know. Way to open a can of worms in a time and space that is not conducive to the issue at hand.
So as no surprise, my husband’s answer fell short of my expectations, and to be honest, no matter what he said, I don’t think I would have been fully satisfied with his answer.
The truth is, I still don’t know what answer he could give that would make me feel 100% okay because although he is incredibly supportive and sympathetic, he personally, has never had an experience that enables him to be empathetic.
I brooded and stewed through our appointment, and it wasn’t until two days later that we circled back to my question. By this point, I had tied myself up in knots and the waterworks had been overflowing sporadically throughout the day.
It’s not that we had never talked about Jewish or Korean influences in regards to raising our daughter. We had been talking about them for months, years even. We already discussed whether or not we would want our daughter to be raised going to temple and having a bat mitzvah (my husband had his bar mitzvah but has not attended services as an adult). We covered making sure that she knows about the cultural aspects of being Jewish, and the fact that we need to make more of an effort to observe Jewish holidays. We know that we will keep cooking Korean dishes and make latkes for Hanukkah while also putting up a Christmas tree and leaving cookies for Santa.
But we hadn’t ever talked about this.
We hadn’t tackled my fears regarding the fact that our daughter is likely going to look Asian enough to experience racism or micro-aggressions at least once in her life, or that she could bear witness to harassment towards me. We hadn’t brought up the chances of my husband being asked if he was actually her father when out in public with her alone. We hadn’t discussed the reality that due to my being an adoptee and the area in which we live, our daughter will grow up largely as I did–in close proximity to whiteness and devoid of any immersion in an Asian community.
And so, we talked. We are still talking and will continue to talk because the minute we peel back one layer, another one is right there waiting.
I know that my adoption has made me even more sensitive to some aspects of these conversations. There are things I wonder and worry about that perhaps deviate from the more routine parenting conundrums.
Reconnecting with my Korean heritage has been tremendously healing and important to me, and I want our daughter to grow up knowing that it is part of her heritage as well. However, sometimes I worry that it will come across as inauthentic or the pinnacle of imposter syndrome because it is not the culture I grew up in.
Do we make more of an effort to give her opportunities to learn about and embrace her Korean side than I had? Do we send her to Korean heritage summer camp? Sign her (and even me and my husband) up for Korean language classes? Do we throw a Doljanchi instead of a traditional “American” first birthday despite the fact that I never had one and that all the guests in attendance would be white and know nothing about it? Is it okay that I want to do these things for her? Is doing these things weird? Is not doing them going to make her feel disconnected as she grows older?
What does my husband say if/when our daughter is ever called an Asian slur? He has never personally been called an Anti-Semetic slur or experienced Anti-Semetism, and he fully admits that this would be a situation where I would be more-equipped to take the lead.
However, I’m still working on what I would say! I grew up either A) not talking about it to anyone when those moments happened, B) reporting it to someone and having nothing happen, or C) reporting it to someone and having decidedly wrong things happen. I never had the opportunity to share pain like that with someone who could truly empathize, and while I am thankful that our daughter will have that opportunity with me, I worry I am the only one and that I will fall short.
How do I not let residual trauma and feelings from my own experiences affect her?
How do I not project or impose my own feelings onto her? What happens if/when she isn’t naturally bothered by certain things or situations that were deeply triggering for me? Will/Can my responses and actions cause her to then become upset about things unnecessarily?
How do I explain my being adopted to her? When do I explain it? Is she going to wonder why she and I look similar but completely different from the rest of our family? Is she ever going to resent me for being the reason for her Asian features?
My mother in-law has a wise saying, “don’t borrow tomorrow’s worry.” I know on some level that in asking these questions and allowing these musings to occupy space in my head, that I am precisely borrowing tomorrow’s worry. I know that I do not need to have all of the answers right now, and perhaps I never will.
However, I also know that many of these questions are relevant and pressing today. AAPI hate is running rampant right now. Tackling some of these tough conversations as a couple should be happening now and not left to lay dormant until the heat of a moment.
I suppose all of this is to say that being a parent is hard. You always want to do right by your child and do what’s best for them. And while it is natural to have questions because every parent has personal baggage they must unpack and bring to the table, the suitcases of parents who are adoptees (as well as parents of biracial children) is often something no one talks about.
If the past week has shown us anything, it’s that not talking gets us nowhere. And so, consider this my attempt at starting a conversation.