Things They Can’t Say: Love, Life, Surf

Meet Christine: I’m a Brooklynite, wife, mom to 2 boys, everyday fitness enthusiast and surfer. Love, Life, Surf explores the things in my life and that I love. It also chronicles my quest to learn to surf and the challenges of balancing work, life, fitness and family.

We step into the elevator. Jasper’s hands are clasped around my Mom’s and Everett snuggles in close to her legs.

“I’ll see you in February?” my mom says.

“And I’ll bring you a Valentine’s Day card because Valentine’s Day is in February, right?” Jasper responds

“So is Chinese New Year.”

“It is? What do we do on Chinese New Year.”

My heart sinks as my mom recounts some of the traditions associated with Chinese New Year – mostly the one about having a big family dinner.

I’m a first generation American. My parents emigrated from Hong Kong and I grew up in a house full of the vibrant sounds of Chinese language, cooking and traditions. Those were things that I took for granted. Growing up, I always thought it was unfortunate when I met another Chinese boy or girl who didn’t know the language or who didn’t have any real ties to their cultural background. I felt like they were missing out on something – something that has enriched me and has helped to make me who I am today.

And yet, here I am watching my own kids grow farther and farther away from their Chinese heritage.

When the boys were young, I spoke Chinese with them 100% of the time. Now, I try to speak Chinese with them when I can, but it’s getting harder to communicate more complicated thoughts and feelings since my vocabulary tops off at about the level of a 3 year old. We often use holidays as a way to talk about Chinese culture, cuisine and traditions. While the boys were willing to eat a variety of Chinese food when they were younger, now, they often groan and moan about another Chinese dinner on the table. And clearly my lessons on Chinese New Year didn’t stick.

I worry about what I am able to pass on to my kids and subsequently what they will be able to pass on to their children.

How do you help to preserve your cultural heritage, tradition or language?

Be sure to leave Christine some comment love here and then go visit her blog Love Life Surf!



  1. says

    I get this, Christine! We are a mixed marriage family, and so far, my children have been more exposed to their Libyan culture than my Chinese culture. My toddler speaks Arabic and English, no Chinese. it’s a shame I know, and I hope when he’s older, I can teach him some Cantonese. I’m lucky my parents are 2 hours away and they still do Chinese New Year in a big way, so there’s that!

    Start your own traditions with your boys, incorporate your knowledge with some fun stuff. Good luck!
    Alison recently posted..Being The BabyMy Profile

    • says

      It’s tricky, isn’t it? My husband’s Polish and his family is nearby so the boys are pretty much fluent. I think that’s what makes me feel badly sometimes – that I can’t give them the same (or at least feel like I can’t). Then there’s the whole Cantonese (which I speak) vs. Mandarin (which they should probably learn) question. I’m glad that your parents are close by. We’re doing Chinese New Year with my family this year which I’m excited about. And yes, there will be lots of Chinese-Polish-American traditions created!
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Friday Round-Up: Holidays, Mantras and Why blogMy Profile

  2. says

    This is an interesting predicament, to be sure!  My family has been in America as far back as anyone can remember. My husband is a seventh generation Texan, which I guess is technically an American, too…;).  To be honest, I wish we had some cultural traditions we could pass on to our kids, but it’s pretty standard American fare around here for all the holidays.  

    I hope you’re able to keep the traditions alive, and I’m a little bit jealous you have them to begin with!
    Carrie recently posted..The Album of Christmas PastsMy Profile

    • says

      Thanks Carrie. I bet your Texan husband has some rich traditions to pass along :-) In all seriousness, I am extremely thankful to have traditions to pass along and also thankful that my husband has strong cultural traditions too. I guess it’s partly the perfectionist in me that wants to pass it along perfectly but realizing that we have to make it our own and that’s OK.
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Friday Round-Up: Holidays, Mantras and Why blogMy Profile

  3. says

    It really does sound like you are doing your very best job!
    My family has been in Canada since the Mayflower so this is not a struggle we personally face, I wish you joy as you teach your little one’s about all the wonderful traditions from your culture!
    SassyModernMom recently posted..I Am Not A Thief.My Profile

  4. says

    I relate to this so much, Christine. I’m a second generation Italian and I do very little to keep the traditions I grew up with alive. Unfortunately, I resisted the traditions for much of my life and only now am seeing the beauty and value of some of them. I think you’re ten steps ahead of the game! I trust your children will find their way, especially since you’re already so committed to passing on your heritage. Well done, mama!

    Great choice, Shell! Christine is awesome! 
    Mary @ A Teachable Mom recently posted..The One Where We Talk About Uteruses (Make That Uteri)My Profile

    • says

      Thank you Mary! I resisted A LOT when I was growing up. My mom tried to get me to take Chinese classes and I refused because I knew how to speak and understand Chinese and thought that was enough even though I was illiterate. Oh how I wish that was one instance where my mom pushed harder. I think I’m coming to realize that we do what we can and we make it our own and we do the best we can do.
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Friday Round-Up: Holidays, Mantras and Why blogMy Profile

  5. says

    OH, this post speaks to my heart! I really try to instill my Vietnamese heritage into my kids so they can know where they come from. Sadly, with busy schedules, the kids don’t speak the language very well. I SO wish I could do more so they don’t get too “Americanized”. There are some Viet traditions I’m gonna make sure I get my kids to learn about, as well as others, and I talk about them on my blog. I’ll def have to work on them learning more Vietnamese though, lol.
    Vivian recently posted..Fo’ Shizzle, Gizoogle!My Profile

  6. says

    I wish I knew more about my family’s cultural background. When my great grandparents (on both sides of the family) came to this country, it was at a time when you had to be “American.” All traditions were forbidden. My grandparents and parents never really learned Italian, Russian or German. They weren’t allowed to speak it at all! It’s such a shame. I hope you find a way to mix some of the traditional with the new!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..“Done in 60 Seconds” WorkoutMy Profile

  7. says

    Steve and I come from different religious backgrounds and neither of us have great attachment to them respectively.  I have fleeting thoughts about bringing more of my “heritage” into our home, but for now, 
    it has not happened.  Hopefully, in time, I can create new traditions for us since I have not yet circled back to the old.  I love that you have brought so much of your heritage into the house, and I think it’s only natural for kids to rebel against it.  One day they will appreciate it greatly!  
    I am so happy to see you here!  Yay! 
    ilene recently posted..The Giving PledgeMy Profile

  8. says

    I’m Canadian, my dad is Japanese (2nd generation Canadian) and my mom is French-Canadian. My sister and I both went to French Immersion school, and as a result, we’re both bilingual. My mom’s family speaks French when we’re together, and I’ve since been able to use my French whilst in France, as well as in learning Spanish. I also took Japanese in university for a term. My dad’s family has many Japanese traditions, all of which involve food! They grew up post-World War II, during a time when all immigrants assimilated, so my dad and his siblings are very ‘Canadian,’ with British sounding names rather than Japanese ones. My sister and I, along with our cousins, all have Japanese middle names, and we’re all very interested and proud of our heritage. I’ve since married a Scotsman and live in Scotland, so what kind of upbringing will my children have??!?!?! 😉

    Although I’ve literally found your blog yesterday, and don’t know anything beyond this post about your family, I think the fact that your children speak Polish is fantastic! I think bit by bit you should continue to integrate your Chinese heritage into your practices with your children. Keep in mind that although they might not be so keen right now, as they get older, they hopefully will be more interested and in touch with their Chinese side. Plus, learning other languages is cool! Could they go to Chinese school on the weekend?

    p.s. My Scottish sister-in-law is married to a Spaniard. They live in Germany. The entire family speaks English, Spanish and German. My family, both sides, is a tapestry :)
    Danielle recently posted..Anzac barsMy Profile

    • says

      Oh Danielle! I love your incredible family tapestry! That is truly incredible and what an amazing upbringing you’ve had. I love that my kids speak Polish and connect with that part of their heritage and we are trying to incorporate more Chinese. My oldest took a Chinese class after-school last year but it was only one-day a week. We’re trying to figure out a more consistent way to expose them to the language because I would really love for them to know how to speak it. But I figure some exposure is better than no exposure, right?
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Friday Round-Up: Holidays, Mantras and Why blogMy Profile

      • says

        Exactly! Do your kids have any Chinese friends or cousins on your side that speak Chinese? I wonder if by having a friend/relative who also speaks Chinese would change your kid’s outlook?
        Danielle recently posted..Anzac barsMy Profile

  9. says

    I 100% know what you mean. I was born in Poland, but came to America when I was three so I’ve been here essentially all of my life. I grew up speaking polish with my parents, eating polish food and knowing polish traditions. However, my husband isn’t remotely polish and my parents don’t live nearby so its easier to speak English and I never learned to cook the food I just simply ate it. We’re moving closer to my family and I’m hoping that will give me the push to be able to teach them more about their heritage and language. 
    Marta recently posted..Telling the Truth.My Profile

  10. says

    We have a friend from Brazil and she hired a nanny that can speak Portuguese. While she is at work, the nanny helps them work on their language by only speaking withthem in Portuguese so it is easier for them to communicate when they visit her family in Brazil. Obviously, not everyone can afford that but she gave up a lot of things to make that happen.
    I think you share your passion and love of so many things that the boys are learning the best about life in general…and that is to believe, achieve and live it to the fullest!
    Kristen recently posted..Good Food…FastMy Profile

    • says

      We’ve been thinking about hiring a babysitter who speaks Mandarin to come and hang out with the boys so that they have more consistent exposure. It’s tricky because I speak Cantonese but I kind of want the boys to speak Mandarin (more useful) but then that would also mean I would have to learn Mandarin. Really, I would love it my family would speak to the boys consistently in Chinese like Ed’s family does with Polish. But they speak about 2 sentences and then revert to broken English! That’s not helping anyone! haha :-)
      Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Winter Bucket ListMy Profile

  11. says

    Christine, I imagine this is very difficult. I grew up with a mother who spoke only German but as the years fade, so do my German-speaking skills. We still chat in German whenever possible, but it’s harder to remember words since we don’t always have the chance to talk and it isn’t as though I come into the contact with so many people who actually speak the langugage. 

    I think you are doing a fine job of teaching your son about the Chinese traditions, but maybe reading more books in Chinese and introducing a “word of the day” might be a fun and educational way of opening up dialogue and teaching about your background a bit? 

    Don’t be so hard on yourself! I think you’re doing a great job :)