August has been asking to learn to cook for a few months now. "Do you want to learn how to bake?" I would ask him, thinking a 6 year old would mostly be interested in making sweets. "No," he would say, "I want to learn how to really cook. I want to make Chinese food...actually, I mostly want to make dumplings."
This might seem like a very specific request from a little boy but as a family we have spent the last couple years or so digging into our Chinese heritage. Connecting myself and my children to an identity that I had little relationship to, and cultural practices that mostly remained on the shores of China when my grandfather immigrated to the US at the age of 20 has been nothing short of healing. We have made field trips to Chinatown in New York, celebrated the Mid-Autumn festival honoring the moon and giving thanks, as well as celebrating the loud and vividly colored Chinese New Year. We have made paper lanterns, read books filled with colorful dragons and lion costumes, learned about Chinese folk religion, practiced qigong, and thought a lot about our ancestors and what life in China was like for them. We light candles regularly to remember that they are with us.
As a multi-racial, adoptive family, our goal is to learn and celebrate all of the parts that make us who we are. The Chinese parts, the Dutch, Puerto Rican, and Welsh parts, the German, English, Dominican, and African American parts. This process has been like weaving a piece of cloth, we incorporate the threads one at a time, bits and pieces of information, practice by practice, forever learning, and allowing ourselves to be connected back to an identity that is deeper than what appears on the surface. At first the fabric was threadbare but over time it's getting thicker and more rich in texture.
When August asked to make dumplings I couldn't help but think of my many generations of grandmothers of China. Did their children ask to make dumplings too? Did they go to the market like we did, to gather the ginger, mushrooms, star of anise, and Szechuan pepper? Did they patiently show their children how to fold the dumplings and line them in the basket just so? Did they brush their faces and leave streaks of flour and fill the house with smell of home? I look for my grandmothers everywhere but especially when we reach back to touch the experiences that they possibly had too.
In the end the dumplings were a success and not nearly as complicated as I imagined them to be. There was not one left in the pan after we invited some friends over to share in our feast. Chinese eggplant, white rice, burn your mouth hot mushrooms and peanuts, spice simmered soy sauce, dragon fruit, rambutan, and Chinese milk candies filled the table but the star of the show was definitely the dumplings. "Well done August!" I exclaimed as we were cleaning the kitchen later that night. He smiled and said, "I want to make Chinese food every night." We all went to bed with full bellies and full hearts and I like to imagine that my grandmothers were smiling down on us as we dreamed of dumplings.