Sunday, February 26, 2017

Those Kids...Are They American or Not?


Last night we had a dinner-time discussion on what a Peep is.  I have no idea how this came up.  My kids don't remember what they are, so I gave them a description because I am feeling the urgency of what they don't know about America.

Granted, I don't even like Peeps.  And I am not looking forward to my children consuming them this Easter.  Or, for that matter, any of the various forms of garbage that are disguised as food in America.  But they should at least be able to recognize those marshmallow American Easter icons.

We get on a plane exactly five weeks from today, and we'll be in California for four months.

It's been almost three years since we were in America.  My kids were 8, 6, and 5 the last time we were there.  Now they are 11, 9, and 8.  And then there's Johnny, who at age 5 has no conception of this mystical land we keep talking about.

As the oldest, Grace has the most memories about the States.  She also has an uncanny knack for remembering people and names.  (I think she remembers more people than her Dad does.)  But an 11-year-old is entirely different than an 8-year-old.  This time, she will be experiencing America in an entirely different way.  All of them will.

We have thrust these dual identities on these children, whether they like it or not.  I think I see it more acutely because our children have Tanzanian blood, are being raised in Tanzania, but by American parents.  They've learned to say "Good morning" to white people and "Shikamoo" to brown people.  They eat rice and beans multiple times every week, but wouldn't recognize a box of macaroni and cheese if it hit them in the face.  We insist they use a knife and fork, but the children on the side of the fence eat with their hands.

They saw The Force Awakens and Rogue One on opening day--both times--but they have no idea how amazing it is that they didn't have to wait in line.  They know Pizza Hut is a special treat, but they think it's normal to rip up the box to make plates, since the restaurant here doesn't provide them.  They are used to trying on used Nike sneakers at the local open air market instead of going to Payless.  Oh, and they think sneakers are called trainers.



They watched the last 30 minutes of the World Series and the Super Bowl--delayed, of course.  But Josiah is insanely obsessed with (British) Premier League Soccer, which he insists can only be called Football.  They came home from school asking if Trump is kicking all the black people out of America, because that's what their friends said.



Lily loves her American Girl doll, but straps her to her back with a kanga, Tanzanian style.  Josiah learned how to dab from....somewhere.  He also learned that flipping bottles is fun.  (Seriously? Of all the ideas America had to export?)  But he doesn't know what a Peep is.


I am incredibly grateful that my kids have Haven of Peace Academy, because there they have their own culture.  It's a mixed-up, semi-western, very international melting pot of ideas and cultures and trends.  Most of the children there are confused about their ethnicity and identity, so my children fit right in.  I'm thankful.  But I also worry, because I've given these children American passports.  And chances are good that at some point in their lives, they will be living there for a lot longer than just a few months.

The great thing about kids is that they just go with it.  My children have no idea that it's crazy that they have two passports, that they have already criss-crossed the world a number of times, that international travel is normal for them.  Or even more, they haven't realized that it's unusual to grow up as Tanzanian children of American missionaries.

I worry because this time around, they may start to feel that tension.  They are kind of American, but kind of not.  Kind of Tanzanian, but kind of not.  The Third-Culture Kid paradox is even more acute because my children are adopted.  Who are they?  Who will they identify with?  Where will they feel at home?  That struggle looms large before them.  They don't see it yet, but I do.

I gave them this struggle.  It is my fault.  I have to trust that it was the right decision, that giving them a family will be worth the struggle in the long run.  I chose this life for them, and all I can do is hope and pray that they continue to love it.  That they become bridge-builders, reconcilers, peace-makers.  That they ultimately find their identity as children of God and citizens of Heaven.

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