A sudden thought whacked me in the head the other day. It told me that my kid isn’t actually me. We may participate in the same DNA and living space, but we don’t share a brain. The things that I like aren’t going to be the things he likes (little dude – I will never get the dumper truck thing); my idea of fun experiences might not be his idea of good times; and if he doesn’t build the same happy database of childhood memories as me as he grows up – that’s really quite okay.
It’s not like I had an upbringing that was in any way similar to my own parents’. Both my mum and dad spent their early years in the flowery fields of Europe before heading to Australia to battle a new culture in the outer suburbs of Sydney. When my dad wrote a nail-biting biography covering his years as a child refugee, I couldn’t believe how different his childhood was to mine. I came of age in a leafy northern strip of Sydney; my lazy weekends spent touring my friends’ swimming pools. We lived in a large house that backed onto a national park, our backyard so plagued with wildlife that my mum wrote a book about it (seeing a trend here of writers in the family). Like most people (because – let’s face it – life generally rocks when you’re south of 14) I loved my childhood. It was relaxed and quiet. There were hardly any people around.
It hit me early on that my son’s childhood is going to be bugger all like mine. Because we live in Hong Kong, his launch into life is as cheesy as mine was chalky. For one, there are lots people around him. Squillions of them. We don’t live in a big house or have a swimming pool, and, up until recently, our home backed onto one of the world’s largest shopping malls rather than a national park. Instead of spending his school breaks getting lost in underground caves (I swear I was really up at the shops, mum), he just gets lost in more playgroup classes, because school never seems to end here. My son is, so far, a Hong Kong child. I know that Hong Kong has a truly wonderful outdoor lifestyle, but it’s just not the same as Australia in that way.
Every expat parent must face this fact: our precious offspring are going to spend a chunk of their formative years in a country in which we ourselves didn’t grow up. For some, that’s more exciting than bothersome. An opportunity. But, for me, those words spelled panic. What if he doesn’t feel Australian enough? But then I woke up and starting smelling the realisation. I shouldn’t need to reproduce my own childhood to ensure my son grows up getting the most out of his early years as I did. He’ll have a ball, wherever he is. Whoever he is. And if, one day, he feels more at home in Hong Kong than he does in Australia, c’est la vie. This is his journey, not mine. As long as he feels at home somewhere.
Just this week at a Hong Kong beach, I sat and watched him throw pebbles at the water with a little Chinese girl who didn’t speak a speck of English. But there they stood there together, smiling at each other and throwing stones. Sharing a moment that’s all his, and building his own childhood to treasure – wherever it may be.