Saturday, January 28, 2012

The value of a Chinese New Year party run by white parents

Tomorrow is our Chinese New Year party, hosted by the adoption agency, a little bit past the actual date as tradition holds (so that people can still come if they have other Chinese New Year parties to go to, or perhaps so that we can hire the good dancing troupe when it's in the budget).

I'm on the planning committee, which is a little funny when you consider that I can't plan my way out of a paper bag, but there you have it. I managed to be useful this year - I painted a lovely dragon banner for the year of the dragon, Cloud and I took a great little trip to Chinatown with Auntie C to buy gifts and trinkets, and I had the amazing good fortune to find someone with a dragon head while both of our previously used dragon heads were busy becoming unavailable. You can't have a lion dance without a dragon head. Our tradition is to have the little kids line up behind the dragon head and follow it around the room, doing whatever kind of jiggling, swaying dance they're physically capable of. It's not very authentic. Nobody there has actually spent significant time in China. None of the ethnically Chinese people were old enough to learn how to throw a real Chinese New Year party when they were adopted, and in fact most of them are still very, very young. Cloud is about average age and he's not even 4 yet. Also, a bunch of the kids are from Kazakhstan.

I had a conversation with someone about cultural authenticity, and he defended the idea of it. I agree with him, actually. I want cultural authenticity too. I'm glad that he cares enough about Chinese culture to defend it; a lot of people don't. A lot of people like to fawn over the cute Chinese kids, and are happy that we have our families, but when it comes to things that are actually Chinese... well, China is the country that makes all our stuff and buys all our national debt. And that's not something to think happily about. They talk funny and they have all those human rights issues that we'll just avoid talking about because-- hey, these kids sure are cute.

And we parents realize that when we throw them a Chinese New Year party, we're not giving them the real deal. We don't know what the real deal looks like. We make some of it up, and we add American traditions like the balloon guy and the gift raffle. We eat food that's mostly typical of an American Chinese buffet, with a few special desserts across from the French fries and General's chicken. We let the kids go off and play with each other, not exactly a sea of Asian faces but not exactly alone in a crowd of platinum blonds either.

And we realize that someday the kids will look back on these parties and know that they weren't authentic. They'll know that the lion dance wasn't THE lion dance. They'll have mixed emotions about our efforts, but each parent hopes that one of those emotions will be, "At least they tried. At least they gave us something."

We can give them other things, too, in life. Mandarin lessons, history lessons with an emphasis on respecting Chinese culture, maybe a trip back to China. We can give them the opportunity to take what little we've given them and run with it, expand it into a cultural identity that fits themselves. We hope they'll try, that they'll appreciate a small head start instead of resenting us for doing too little or too much.

There are some people who claim that removing a child from his original culture is cruel. If we adoptive parents are so aware that we're doing an inadequate job, shouldn't it be better not to do it at all? Maybe. Maybe maybe maybe. Always, there's something that could be better than it is about everything in the world. Anyway, there's more to life than parenting to culture. I'm betting on a post-racial future, a future in which Homo sapiens as a single species is given more weight. (It's coming! Thanks, geneticists, for all your recent discoveries!) A future in which we remember what we'd meant by 'melting pot'. One thing that probably won't happen in the future is the ability to see how far we've come already. Within a lifetime; decade to decade; year to year. When I was growing up in the '80's, Asian people were still novelties to be gawked at and joked about in White America, and Westerners were the despised enemy in China. Now there are Gaps and Walmarts in China, and Chinese people named James and Jessica in the US. It got better, and it will keep getting better, and all the cross-racial mish-mashing that is going on will contribute to the erasing of racial lines and the strengthening of Homo sapiens.

And when should we start, if not now? Who can wait until post-racialism is normalized? The good stuff in life is all achieved before it's all safe and comfortable to achieve things. Anyway, we're not trying to contribute to a race eradication movement. Race eradication is a nice ultimate goal, someday, but all we're trying to do is our best for the kids we have. So, yeah, it's a challenge; a little challenge. Authenticity is nice. But the world changes so fast, what the hell is authenticity anyway?

It's people failing to remember how things used to be before they were the way they were recently. It's people holding onto flawed memories from a specific point in time, ignoring the fact that time is a continuum. It's an esoteric idea that people strive to grasp from some entity that they perceive as 'authentic'.

We can all do that! That's no problem! Recent studies in neurology have hinted that the part of the brain that perceives the long view of life is different from the part of the brain that perceives the short view. I'm a long view thinker, mostly because I found out that most people neglect the long view so I was going to embrace it as my own. But even I use the two different views separately from each other. Even I forget one view while I'm considering the other.

My son has a whole life ahead of him, in a society that I grew up in but still very different, and he has many philosophies and opportunities available to him. But in the past two weeks, he has managed to stomp on my injured toe a minimum of 20 times. And he has picked up the hilarious phrase, "Nice dragon, Mom!" which he blurts out at random while I'm working on the New Year banner.

Thanks, kid. I think so, too.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The kung fu/Arisia weekend

Well, AwesomeCloud missed most of Arisia. This is a good thing. I had to be on a panel as soon as we got there on Friday, and when I got to the table, my husband reported that the Kiddo had been behaving very well. The table was completely set up and ready for business, so obviously he hadn't been too disruptive. However, as soon as Rick left us, Cloud subjected me to a solid hour of whining, writhing on my lap as I tried to look professional for potential customers, and demonstrating a generally klutzy three-year-old lack of coordination. You know how small children flail mindlessly whenever they're bored? And how the closer they are to something that should not be knocked over, the more carelessly they flail? Yeah.

So, I'm not going to complain that he was terrible, but I will say that having him stay over his Auntie and Uncle's house Saturday and Sunday was probably more fun for everyone. Someday Cloud will be useful at cons. Maybe when he's six. Right now, he usually falls somewhere between, "He was good but bored and restless" and "He couldn't stand being anywhere near the table."

And, to be honest, it's tough being a vendor. You need a lot of stamina. At least he's not traumatized by crowds, right?

On Saturday morning, all three of us skipped out on Arisia, leaving the table closed for business, to attend Cloud's kung fu belt test/ceremony. I'd been under the impression that he had his orange belt (which was accidentally yellow) and was earning his purple belt, but actually he was going from his yellow belt to his orange belt. Whatever. The colored belts are just for fun at this age anyway. They can throw in as many colored belts as they want in there; at the age of 3, there's no way he's going to outcompete an adult novice at real kung fu, and the real purpose of the lessons is to teach him how to pay attention, follow directions, and challenge his body.

LinkIn fact here he is demonstrating a skill he has worked long and hard on - kicking. Learning to kick has been a long, hard road for him. His leg strength and his sense of balance have always been weak areas. In fact, when he started kung fu, his Early Intervention therapist told me to warn the instructor that he was 'floppy'. He's still, maybe, a little bit floppier than he has to be at his age. I don't know; maybe it's a personality quirk. But part of the issue was just a lack of strength, and he's been addressing that(with some encouragement).

I've started telling him, "If you practice kung fu every day, you'll get really good at it." And then I get down on the floor and do push-ups with him, or sometimes without him, and as a result I've been getting a little better myself.

I haven't tried doing pushups while raised on pads, though, like Tai Si Hing is getting ready to have Cloud do here.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, this stormtrooper is a cake. It's about 10 inches taller than I am, but still a cake. Just sayin'.

Anyway, Kid has an orange belt now, and I think I've already seen some improvement in his ability to follow directions. Also, we made good sales at Arisia and met lots of good people.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Arisia 2012, here we come

AwesomeCloud doesn't have a costume, but he does have a vendor's table at Artist Alley. We're still working on teaching him the phrase, "Buy our books!" Maybe this is the year it clicks.

Arisia is a great con, and although we'll be busy with 9 panels between my husband and me, and our intern will be present only on Sunday, we anticipate having a lot of fun. It's close by in Boston, so we're commuting. Even better, Cloud's kung fu purple belt test is Saturday morning, and we both want to attend that, so we're skipping out right in the middle for a kung fu ceremony!

Oh my goodness, I'm tired just thinking about it.

Now I just have to figure out what I'm going to say in my five panels...

Oh hey, my panels are the following:
Fri: Nonfiction Comics
Sat afternoon: Finishing What You Started (comics)
Sat evening: Race, Gender, and Disability in Comics
Sun afternoon: Minicomics
Sun evening: How Comics Are Made

I don't think I'll be speechless for any of those. I could just start yammering about any or all five topics at a moment's notice. But I should really show up with a plan.

Monday, January 2, 2012

AwesomeCloud's first self portrait

So far, Cloud hasn't been known for his artistic skills, his ability to concentrate on where his pencil is going, or his inclination to care. He enjoys scribbling on whatever I draw. But drawing something himself? Not really... until now.

Here are, as far as I know, his first two self-portraits ever! (aside from whatever bits of glue and crayon scribbles were labeled as 'self-portraits' by his preschool teacher, and there probably have been some, but I can't absolutely be sure. Almost everything he draws looks like the path taken by his trusty imaginary train.)

Invasion of the culture snatchers

"You never know what could happen," my mother intones. My father goes off on some diatribe on using guns as a means to protect one's family.

My family has embraced the 'culture of fear', a term I use because today's level of parental fear seems to be a cultural thing and not based on any actual, tangible trends or occurrences. According to the news, horrific crimes occur to children every once in a while. National news reports children missing several times a year, in various states, occasionally up to three simultaneously. Admittedly it's pretty scary to be sitting in front of the TV and hear someone say, "A 9-year-old girl from Indiana was reported missing today; 5-year-olf Thomas B. the boy missing in Texas last week still has not been found, and the 11-year-old we reported on last month is presumed dead."

However, I don't watch TV. If a child goes missing in my town, I may join the search party. So far, that has not happened yet. Statistically, it's highly unlikely to. Pick any random town, and odds are good that some crime worthy of appearing in the national news will occur there within a block of 30 to 50 years. In my town, we've had a spate of young gang members shooting each other through their bedroom windows. National news? Nope. Still waiting.

Pick any random child in that town, and the odds that a crime will occur to that child is... well, 99% of kidnappings, murder, and abuse are perpetrated by someone close to the child, often a parent or someone the parent is intimately involved with. Barring that, there are not so many incidents.

What I really need to protect my child from is not the murderers and pedophiles lurking behind every tree, or the gang members poking guns through our windows, but all the many, many people who try to restrict him for his own hypothetical safety. People who tell ME that I'm the one doing it wrong, and I should restrict and shelter him more. Those people are everywhere. They're in his school. They teach his kung fu class. They're in our family.

No, I will not carry a gun in my purse to shoot dead the evil person who will surely accost us while we're taking a walk. (Really?! How, tell me, is THAT such a brilliant idea?) I will not prohibit him from riding the school bus, nor ride the city bus alone when he's developmentally ready for that. I will encourage him to learn to be independent. Most kids in his generation are being boxed in and held close by their parents and school systems, and if I can avoid making that mistake with him, he'll have a huge advantage over his peers.

You can see the phenomenon in my own generation, how broken and scared some of us were, how we stepped out into the world with hardly any self-sufficiency skills and then turned around and moved back into the safety of our parents' homes. I know at least five adults in their 30's and 40's who still rely on their parents. I know a few in their 20's, but it's a tough economy and they may still take flight. We didn't grow up with the level of paranoia that's pervasive today, but our generation still has some examples of the effects. What is my son's generation going to be like? It will depend on the successes of ambitious kids who break out of their chains and take crash courses on how to be responsibly independent, some who will fail that course and a few that will succeed, and on parents who buck the trend and work hard to teach their kids to believe in and rely on themselves.

Real-life risk assessment is famously hard, and it's a well-known fact that almost everyone in the world is bad at it. But that doesn't mean that I should just resign myself to being bad at it and reassure myself that, hey, at least my kid won't be the one American that gets brutally victimized by a murderous pedophile once every 5-20 years. No, what I need to do is accept that my son is probably also going to be bad at risk assessment, and I should teach myself how to be good at it so I can teach him to be good at it.

Good risk assessment doesn't teach that if a little caution is a good thing, then a ton of caution is excellent. It doesn't teach you to prepare for worst-case freak occurrences first. Yes, it would be nice if awful freak occurrences didn't happen. But you shouldn't prepare for them FIRST, because you can't anticipate them! That's why they're FREAK! And if you tell me you're successfully avoiding them by preparing for them first... I won't believe you.

And I'll think of the much more tangible sacrifices you're making in your kid's life.

But it irks me that I'm essentially fighting everyone, that the culture of fear is so pervasive in our culture that it has essentially become our culture, and that I don't really have any philosophical allies. Except my husband, because he doesn't wonder what other people think he should be afraid of. He's evidence that risk assessment is easier if you do it yourself. And thank goodness.