On Saturday we were sitting and eating egg rolls in a gym full of families who have adopted children from China. A decorative yellow lion costume was sitting on the stage several yards away from us, a kung fu artist was warming up as he pounded on a drum, and children were skipping around the room in their traditional Chinese silks.
And all of a sudden it hit me.
There was a time in my life when I didn't even know when Chinese New Year was.
I couldn't have told you that I was born in the Year of the Dragon.
I certainly couldn't have offered mangled pronunciations of “Happy New Year” in Cantonese and Mandarin.
A little more than three years into motherhood—as mother to two sons who were born in China—I suddenly realize that I spend more time planning for Chinese New Year than I do for most holidays.
We put together lucky red envelopes to give to the children we’ll see during the two-week celebration of the Lunar New Year.
We bake. This year I made gummy “snake” cupcakes—after a failed attempt at gummy “snake” brownies. (FYI, gummy worms turn to liquid when placed on warm brownies.)
We get together with other friends who are celebrating the New Year.
We carry in scrumptious Chinese food from our favorite restaurant.
This year we found a few toy snakes in our house and wove them into our not-so-evergreen Christmas wreath.
My younger sister—who is invited partly because we love her and partly because she comes in the smashing dress we bought her in China—made the most beautiful, delicious strawberry shortsnake.
Then this weekend we went to the party thrown by our local Families with Children from China organization.
We met snakes.
Yes, real snakes.
The children got to set off pseudo-firecrackers by stomping on bubblewrap.
We fed the lion red envelopes full of money during the Lion Dance.
Our sons did Chinese crafts.
And we each opened a fortune cookie. This was mine.
American New Year? Yawn.
That’s just a good day to start counting down to Chinese New Year.
One day maybe we’ll integrate more of the other New Year customs I've read about—cleaning the house from top to bottom, buying everyone a new outfit, getting the boys fresh haircuts.
Yes, our celebrations fall short of being authentic. But what I hope is that our sons will enjoy themselves enough that they will want to learn more about Chinese culture as they get older.
For now we have a 5-year-old who can tell you he was born in the Year of the Pig and that his brother is an Ox. And we have a 3-year-old who can tell you how much he loves gummy snakes and how scared he was during the Lion Dance.
Of course, our celebrations for the Year of the Snake are still continuing. There’s still a dragon hanging from our dining room ceiling. And we have one more Chinese dinner with friends planned for next weekend.
We still have much to learn about this holiday. And, with two growing sons who have brought so much to our lives, we have even more to celebrate.
Xin Nian Kuai Le! Gung Hay Fat Choy!
How to make your own strawberry shortsnake
My sister first saw the idea for the strawberry shortsnake here
She used this recipe
for the cake.
My brother-in-law added powdered sugar to heavy whipping cream, and then they sweetened the sliced berries with powdered sugar.
Then my sister added chocolate chips for the eyes and an organic fruit chew for the tongue.
Or you could do what we did. Invite Aunt Treasa and Uncle George to come to dinner and ask them to bring dessert.
February 18, 2013 10:13
By Rita Buettner
Families waiting to adopt internationally find many ways to pass the time. Some learn their child’s language or how to prepare dishes that will be familiar to their children. Others renovate kitchens. I don’t recall doing much beyond completing adoption paperwork and fretting needlessly about our boys’ bedroom curtains.
Many families adopting children from China have embraced the tradition of making a quilt containing 100 wishes sent from family and friends for their child. Leo has a lovely quilt with 100 wishes printed on it, a thoughtful keepsake my colleagues gave me when we were waiting to travel to meet Leo three years ago.
We were invited to participate in making a 100 wishes quilt for the first time when another family asked us to contribute a wish—and two pieces of the same fabric—for their new son’s quilt. One piece will be stitched into the quilt and one will be placed in a book alongside our wish. The family is leaving for China in just a few weeks to meet their son, and the mother is obviously not only very excited, but also extremely organized and talented. With just days to go—at a time in our journey when I was trying to decide whether we needed to pack conditioner—she is assembling the quilt.
We have a special connection to this family—one we discovered in an amazing way after returning home from China with Leo—so I put a lot of thought into the wish we would send to their son. Finally I decided to write him a letter letting him know of the gift his mother gave our son when she noticed him sleeping in a crib in a rural foster home where several children lived:
We would like to tell you a story. Four years ago on Easter Sunday, your mother was visiting China when she saw a little baby boy who needed a doctor. She helped make sure that little boy got to the hospital and was placed with a loving foster family. Today that boy is our son. This year on Easter Sunday, your mother shared the news with us that you would become her son, and we remembered again how important Easter was for our son—and our family.
Easter is a day of beginnings, of new life, of hope, and when God shows us that He can be victorious over anything—even death. God can truly move mountains, care deeply for each one of us, and create families even when the parents and children are born thousands of miles apart.
As you join your forever family, you will face challenges—but we know you will face them with your parents, brothers, and sister, and with God always at your side. And so we send a whole bushel of wishes for you and all you will grow to be. May you find courage and humility, creativity and faith, peace and joy, and may you always know that you are loved.
As you grow and discover your talents and create your dreams for the future, you and your family will always be in our prayers.
I hoped Leo would also want to send his own wish, but I wasn’t sure he would participate. But he latched onto the idea right away. He wanted to know more about this boy he had never met. He looked at our fabric pieces and said, “What would a boy like who is 6?” We talked about other 6-year-old boys we know, and then he carefully picked the construction vehicles fabric. He chose the Cars one to send with our family wish.
Then I sat beside him as he dictated his wish for a boy he doesn’t know who will meet his new family in just a few weeks.
“What should we say?” I asked, still unsure whether this would work.
“We wish you could fly to outer space on a rocket ship,” Leo said.
It’s such a different wish—and a magnificent one. And it’s one that a 6-year-old will understand and appreciate.
We wish our friends’ new son a safe journey home, a smooth transition to life with his forever family, and—oh, yes—one day, if he’s lucky, maybe even a trip to outer space. Leo will be ready to tag along.
August 01, 2012 09:46
By Rita Buettner