y Chinese wife and I are expecting a baby girl on April Fools’ Day.
That means my in-laws are going to move in with us – possibly for good.
They will help with my wife’s yuezi, the customary one-month recovery period after birth for mothers.
During this period, the mother should stay in bed, not shower, and eat nourishing food like pigs feet, liver and black fungus soup.
In big Chinese cities, the fee for a center providing these services is tens of thousands of yuan, similar to a luxury hotel.
Between me and my in-laws, however, I believe we can provide even better service, and for free. After all, what could be more comforting than your mother’s homemade chicken feet soup?
When I was growing up in Canada, my classmate was the child of Chinese immigrants. They owned a house on our street, and even had a Pekingese dog, who bit me for coming to the house without a family member present.
The most interesting thing about Ed’s house was that his grandparents lived with them. There were three generations under one roof – which was rare.
I remember Ed’s grandfather spoke no English at all, and often was seen wearing only an undershirt.
Interestingly, my father-in-law also often just wears his undershirt and long johns around the house. He loves to drink Chinese white liquor and smoke, although he lays off on the smoking when his daughter is around.
My father-in-law doesn’t speak a word of English, but is good at communicating in simple Chinese so I can understand him.
His wife, on the other hand, is hard to understand because she is a highly literate retired judge.
She writes beautiful poems to hang on either side of our front door.
She can’t say anything in a simple way, so we have a hard time communicating, even though she never stops talking. This should help my Chinese, but actually gets in the way, because I often pretend not to understand any Chinese at all in order to avoid the confusing assault of impenetrable chit-chat. After all, I already have a wife for that.
My wife and I are committed to making sure our daughter speaks both English and Chinese. However, in my experience, such good intentions fail. My friends’ kids often understand both languages, but answer in just one.
This is where having the Chinese grandparents in the house will be most valuable. As long as they are around, my daughter will be truly Chinese – speaking the language, loving the food, and knowing how to day trade on the stock market.
The little girl might even extend her grandparents’ lives by a few years, by forcing them to run around to keep up with her instead of sitting around playing mahjong or watching television.
Grandpa will be able to teach her about keeping colorful fish in an aquarium and raising a garden.
Grandma, an enforcer, will make sure she sits at a piano for an hour every day, and learns all her Chinese characters.
My job, I suppose, will be to make sure my daughter has time to escape the incredible pressure to study that will be placed on her, and to develop into the person she was meant to be, rather than conform to societal expectations.
There is something uncanny about raising a bicultural child, because I know she will end up being much wiser and capable than her mother or me.
She will have a complete knowledge of both cultures, and a superior understanding of human nature that transcends culture. In addition, I am already better at math than the Chinese people I have met, including my wife, a math Olympiad champion, so my daughter will have innate supermath powers.
Having a child with a Chinese wife brings up many practical considerations that I had never given much thought to. For example, what nationality will the child be? It’s a more complicated question than you might expect, with both Canada and China staking a claim on the unborn child. I had always assumed my child would be Canadian, but my wife strongly feels there will be more advantages to being Chinese by the time she becomes an adult.
Fortunately, it is possible to kick the can down the road and let the child decide when she turns 18.
However, what does anyone really know at that age? I could barely do my laundry and had never even visited the countries where I would spend the rest of my life.
My sincere hope is that whatever documents my daughter ends up with, she will be a citizen of the world, not any particular country. She can serve as a desperately needed bridge across the two cultures.