My son was a sitting duck: a two-year old perched on a tricycle chomping on an apple, directly in the path of the speed-thrilled four-year olds. My daughter and another boy in the complex were chasing each other on their wheeled contraptions when the other boy ran smack into the tricycle. My son’s apple went flying but there were no other casualties. What I didn’t expect was my daughter’s high volume moral education ringing out for all the neighbors to witness.
“Say sorry to my didi,” she demanded of the little boy in Chinese. He looked at her and blinked. “Say sorry,” she insisted again, and she followed it up with this: “He’s just small and you weren’t being careful. You have to be a nice boy, especially to younger kids. Now touch him and say sorry.”
The “touch him” part confused me, the only second language Chinese speaker listening, but my daughter’s little friend awkwardly reached out and touched my son’s hand (that was now ferociously gripped to his tricycle’s handlebars) as he uttered a quiet “duibuqi” (sorry) before speeding off. Her demands were heeded. When he said sorry, my daughter beamed over at me like she had accomplished a stellar trick.
This is a cultural merge. The saying of “sorry” is so unusual in Chinese culture and happens only with strangers, rarely among family or friends. It would hardly ever be heard in this casual romping of neighbor children.
Yet in my household, acknowledging when one has done something that harmed (or even nearly harmed), someone else is an important moral act. The word “sorry” is part of that acknowledgment and is expected from both the adults and the children alike.
The other parents and grandparents in the courtyard who had heard my daughter’s bossy moral lesson all laughed and nodded their heads, commenting audibly that the laowai’s mixed race kid is so “funny.” I don’t mind. They rarely address me directly but after eight years in the complex, I am used to being on the outside of things. I know that in being amused by her, they are in fact amused by her mother who has clearly been teaching her in a “funny way.” I have no problem with that.
Because look at this: she’s a teacher too. Who knew?
And I couldn’t be prouder.
Photos: Courtesy of Ember Swift