I have bicultural kids.
Have I ever mentioned that before?
It's very interesting, this idea of biculturalism.
Random strangers have come up to me and commented on my kids.
"They're mixed!" They say.
Or, "Is their dad White?"
Or, "Can they speak Korean?"
Sometimes -particularly if they themselves have bi- (or tri- or quadra -) cultural kids - they even engage me in lengthy discussions on dominant vs. recessive genes or whether they emerged at birth with hair that color.
Or - and not just once - I was even encouraged to "have more children because they're so beautiful!"
Or the parking lot.
On in line for snacks at the pool.
I accept their compliments and get on with my errands. In a place like Minnesota, where folks are - frustratingly - vague, a break from phatic communion is sometimes refreshing. I do not get offended - these people might have been overly effusive and a tad TMI but they had not meant any harm. Besides, if you have bicultural kids, you will understand that there are far more pertinent issues in their lives than hair color and at what age their features began to morph towards one direction of their ethnic heritage over the other.
Like how rich their lives may be because they have influences from two (or more) countries of origin, languages, cuisines, climates, faiths, political worlds.
And how these multiple viewpoints can also bring conflict when they're trying to define their concept of home and identity. Everyone, irrespective of their cultural heritage, is going to have to figure themselves out someday, but multicultural kids have that extra layer of drama to add to the mix - those invisible threads woven into their very psyche, which make their individual lives as global and national and other as they are personal.
Like how similar they are to their friends whose parents grew up in the same small town in northern Minnesota, and also how similar they are to their other friends who've moved here from India, or Russia, or New York, or Virginia. And how, at the same time, how different they are from the neighbors next door, simply because their parents are unique individuals with unique parenting styles and personalities.
Do I love having bicultural kids?
Over having non-bicultural kids?
No. I don't know; I've never had any other kind.
Do I feel obliged to teach them the language of my country of origin (not Korea, by the way)?
Uh, we speak English in Singapore. Quite well, in fact, when we feel like it (other times we use a horrendous mix of English and our three other national languages that often and immediately -albeit unintentionally - makes visitors feel acutely left out of entire conversations). That particular pidgin form of English I don't care to teach my children, thank you very much.
Do I feel obliged to enroll them in a Chinese-immersion school so they can communicate with their maternal grandparents in Singapore?
Let's see. . . do you mean the grandparents who speak English (and at least two other languages), watch MLB on cable, bake apple pies and pastries and roasts and boast a formidable collection of music LPs from the days of Bob Dylan, Elvis, Abba, Loretta Lynn and Mitch Miller? I don't believe that might be necessary.
My children may be bicultural by birth, but they're going to have to grow into that mantle their own way and in their own time, and find out what it means to have feet planted in two worlds. It will be a fantastic journey. And they might be surprised to discover there are more of them - kindred spirits - out there than they might have initially thought.
Kate has been watching me make my new line of multicultural Owie Dolls this week. She's asked if she could request a custom order, as her sisters have Owie Dolls and she doesn't.
"I want mine to have fair skin, green eyes and tan hair," she'd dictated.
"So she'll look just like you?" I'd wondered aloud, half in jest.
"Yup," she'd replied, utterly sincere.
Oh, to be seven again.
Some years back, before any of my kids were in school, I'd wondered if I might one day have The Conversation with them - you know, the one about how they look different from the other kids at school.
It hasn't happened yet.
Their classrooms are filled with children from so many different cultures that everyone is different from everyone else. How fabulous. And I especially love that, with many of those kids, I can't even tell by looking at them, what their ethnicity is, or if their parents were from the same village in China, or Norway, or both, or if their skin tone is that way because they were blessed with it from birth, of if they are merely holding on to the lingering effects of the summer sun.
In a world without borders, it seems even our classrooms - microcosms of the larger community - are changing.
Yesterday, I stuffed sixteen doll arms. Kate saw them, held her own arm against the disembodied limbs and commented, "I don't match any of these."
Maybe not, but somewhere on the planet - or down the street - someone has a skin tone that might. And, unlike these dolls, whose culturalism is literally only skin-deep, those folks have just-as-colorful lives to accompany it.
P.S. Almost forgot to mention the purpose for all these disembodied arms: rumor has it that the new Owie Doll kits will be available in early October. And possibly seven new dolls in the shop. I'll keep you posted!