Mamahuhu - a joint column for mamas in Chengdu
I no longer use my iPod when running since returning to Orinda, California. In China, my iPod was a distraction to the sensory overload of life in a crowded city of 10 million. In Orinda, especially in the fall, with trees dropping leaves in a myriad of colors, relatively smooth running surfaces, and clean air, I don't need the iPod. In this regard, I have returned to my pre-China behavior, but since our return, I have found that in other ways, our whole family has shaken things up. Whether hanging out with new friends, finding new work, walking and biking instead of driving, or trying new restaurants on our Friday-night family outings, our patterns have shifted.
For the most part, we have been treated to a transition back home as easy as our transition to Chengdu was challenging. Our kids have slotted right back into school, sports, activities, and, most of all, their groups of friends. Both have become more open and outgoing. One day last summer, we went to a local pool. When it was time to go, I found that Conor and Erin had befriended a German-Dutch family with three kids who live nearby. In 10 years of belonging to Park Pool, my kids had never once made friends spontaneously. I had to credit their sudden extroversion to our year in China.
After we had been home a few months and our kids had returned to school, I hired a doctoral student from Chongqing to tutor them. When Zhenyu told me that if he had heard Erin speaking Chinese without having seen her face, he would have mistaken her for Chinese, I was floored. That sweet comment alone made all the trials and tribulations of our year abroad worth it.
Now, of course, the challenge is to maintain the progress Conor and Erin made in speaking Chinese—already proving a difficult task as soccer, basketball, clarinet, Girl Scouts, and other activities intervene. In addition, our kids are putting up an increasing amount of resistance to studying Mandarin. In the midst of this, we are trying to maintain a balance on pushing their Chinese-language studies, aware of what our kids endured last year.
It took us several months before any one of us missed Chengdu, but after six months back, we all do, for various reasons and at different times. As the pace of our Orinda life—full of family, friends, and activities—threatens to gallop away, I sometimes find myself missing our slow-paced life in Chengdu, and I'm making a concerted effort to rediscover that lifestyle.
After much processing and analyzing, I came to realize that we might not have undertaken this journey had we known beforehand how difficult it would be. Yet now that we've all come through the experience, which stretched and tested us in critical ways, we all agree we would do it again.
This article by Julie McCormack was first published in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 53. Illustration by Judy Seto