Before I became a mom I would often day dream about adopting a sweet, orphaned Chinese baby girl who was abandoned by her parents thanks to China’s one-child-per-family law. I wanted to give her the best life possible.
We’re probably not going to add to our family at this point, but last week two 13-year-old Chinese “daughters” came to us through a school exchange program. It was an incredible opportunity for the obvious reasons…we learned about China, they learned about the U.S. But more than anything, hosting Lily and Liz taught me how lucky I am to be an American woman raising my children in gorgeous San Diego.
I’m not much of an environmentalist, but I gained a whole new appreciation for America’s environmental protection laws and conservationism after Lily told me about the tap water in her town that they can never drink and the air that is unhealthy to breathe. Lily couldn’t get enough of American milk. All she said was that it tasted much better than in China, but the 2008 Chinese milk scandal probably has something to do with it.
Before hosting Liz & Lily I often wondered if I should be more of a “Tiger Mother,” emphasizing education the way they do in Asia. Lily asked me which instrument my kids played (none) and which sports Mallory preferred (none). In China, every child is expected to be proficient in at least one instrument and at least one sport, on top of being an excellent student and an obedient child. Liz and Lily have not lived with their parents since kindergarten when they were sent to an English-immersion boarding school so that they could receive the best education possible.
When Gage heard me explaining to Lily that American children don’t usually leave home until age 18, he exclaimed, “I’m not leaving home when I’m 18!” 🙂 I may be ready for him to go after high school, but not a moment sooner!
While I do want my kids to be smart and independent, I don’t want it at the expense of the sweet childhood they are enjoying right now. Liz & Lily marveled at the relaxed nature of our home and the cuddling and loving care my children get from us. Fourteen girls share one room in the Chinese boarding school. They have no pets, they hand wash their clothes, they are not “mothered” in the American sense of the word. I had to convince Liz & Lilly to allow me to wash their clothes in our washing machine. They didn’t need me to do it, but I enjoyed caring for them, and they seemed to like it too.
The girls loved banana pancakes so much that they wanted to learn to make them. We added Bisquick to the list of goodies they would bring back to China along with flip flops, bathing suits, watches, friendship bracelet kits and Ipod Nanos. The girls were amazed to see that everything on their list could be purchased at just one store – Target– and even more amazed to see that nearly everything we shopped for was “Made in China.”
Lily wants to go to Yale, and she’s thinking about coming to high school in America. Part of me would jump at the chance to take her in and foster her during those years. But another part of me worries that she’d be too coddled by my American ways and not pushed to excel the way the way she currently is. I honestly don’t care if my own children make it to an Ivy League school. I just want them to find something they love to do and live a happy life.
My Chinese daughters have given me a lot to think about. I’ll contemplate what it all means for my own children and their future while watching them chase each other around the bay this beautiful San Diego afternoon. Homework can wait until later.
Interested in hosting a foreign exchange student? Contact AFS San Diego and San Diego Coastal Home Stays for more information. Also, foreign Au Pair agencies can match you with childcare. Contact CHI Au Pair in San Diego for more information.