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A balancing act

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Reaping the benefits of transitions.

Having finally gotten an extended chance to read for pleasure on our recent holiday, I enjoyed, among other books, the novel, The Namesake (2003) by Jhumpa Lahiri. I was struck by the theme of the multi-cultural family. The main character Gogol Ganguli struggles to find a balance between his Indian heritage and his American upbringing. Gogol described his family’s regular visits to Calcutta, India as a surreal experience that neither his well-meaning relatives in India nor his close friends back in America could fully relate to.

With my own first-hand experience from our “half n half” family, I thought I did have an understanding of what he was talking about, however. In traveling, Radek and I play musical beds taking turns sleeping beside a child who’s awakened, bewildered in unfamiliar surroundings. Our yearly family vacations sometimes becomes an “extended family” vacation, with lots of laughter and good times, but little quiet time for our immediate family of four. Naps often get taken in strollers or under blankets at the beach and bedtimes get pushed back to accommodate enough visiting time in two days to last for the upcoming year.

Raising a bilingual or multi-cultural family is rarely effortless, but then neither is parenting in general. I think most “half n half” families would agree, however, that the efforts put into recognizing multi-heritages, languages and cultures are inconsequential when compared to the rewards of raising children who transition easily between multiple worlds. Even if that means that being in one place or the other can sometimes be a bit surreal.

I still hope that my children might grow up to think of America and the Czech Republic equally as their “home”. Arguably, the differences between Czech/American cultures are not that extraordinary. I realize that over time, they may come to identify themselves predominantly with the Czech culture, since that’s the country where they’re living and attending school. Ideally, I want the best of both worlds – all the time. Who doesn’t? For better or worse, the reality of that means putting our family into regular periods of the transition that is travel.

At the moment, my worries about the children’s cultural balance seem unfounded. Arriving in Virginia, Anna proudly told my parents’ friends that she’d flown a long way over the “American Ocean” to get to this country, and (unprompted) she commented that the best part of Grana’s house was her flag, which shows everyone that Grana was an American. Afterward she insisted on building all her sand castles with an American flag. But, apart from rejecting American hotdog buns on the premise that, unlike the Czech rohlik, they made the ketchup too messy, Anna didn’t find much fault with her second “home.”

On part of our mini-road trip up the East Coast, we passed within an hour of the New Jersey town where Anna was born. I casually mentioned this and Anna sprang to attention, begging to go straight away to the place where she was born. Later she used her 4-year-old “boys with boys and girls with girls” rationale to classify herself as an American like me, and Radek and Oliver as Czechs, since Oliver was born in Prague (never mind his American passport).

Our life in Prague always looks glamorous to our friends and family in my small Virginian hometown. They marvel at life in an international city with provided healthcare, more than 2 weeks/year paid vacation, and regular exposure to another language. On the flip side, when I’m in rural Virginia, I revel being close to my parents (certainly the best and cheapest babysitters I’ve encountered), seeing Little League teams practice baseball and watching my children dance in the grass to down-home bluegrass music while local cloggers flaunt their moves on stage.

Leaving America last week, it surprised me how easily the kids and I transitioned from our tearful airport goodbyes with my parents through a relatively uneventful plane flight to our ecstatic welcome back family hug with Radek in Prague. We’d had a fun-filled five weeks, and knowing that we have my parents’ post-Christmas visit to look forward to made it easier to leave.

Coming home actually felt relaxing and comfortable after five weeks of living from suitcases, helping prepare meals in someone else’s kitchen and putting the kids to sleep in different beds. It’ll take at least a week before I have the suitcases unpacked and the laundry put-away. But I’m not ready to return to my old routine just yet. I’m in between, in transition. I’m sitting at the kitchen table with the windows open wide, listening to the morning birds, sipping my coffee and flipping through, yet again, a small photo album I’ve put together of our most recent trip to America.

Welcome back to all those of you who traveled, whether in the Czech Republic or internationally this summer. I’m looking forward to another autumn, and school year, of sharing “half n half” stories.

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