Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fitting in...

So...it's been a while since my last post.  I haven't felt much like blogging.  It's a combo of having a lot going on, being super tired because of the three monkeys and their frustratingly irregular sleeping patterns, and being PREGNANT AGAIN and therefore feeling somewhat under the weather due to morning sickness and first trimester fatigue.  That's right...we're having ANOTHER BABY!  I figure, what's one more when you've already got 3, right?  We were actively preventing, so this little one comes as a definite surprise, but although unplanned, this is most certainly not unwanted.  It's funny, because about 5 years ago, Finau and I talked about how many kids we wanted to have, and he told me he wanted TEN.  Yes, TEN.  For those of you who don't know us well, you're probably about to find out way more than you ever thought you wanted to know about us, and be prepared because the upcoming info might throw you for a loop.  Finau was in prison (yes, I said prison) serving a 6 year sentence at the time that he made the comment about wanting ten children.  I didn't think ten was a very reasonable number, considering the circumstances, and so I told him that the way I saw it, we had one already, he used up six chances in the six years he would be absent, so I figured we had two kids, MAYBE three more in our future.  Well...looks like the joke's on me.  Ready or not...here they come!  I'm definitely excited about the prospect of our new arrival...I'm just trying to figure out how we're going to fit four carseats into our car (we're not...we HAVE to get a bigger car), how I'm ever going to be able to leave the house on my own again (I'm not...at least not for a while.  Slowly coming to terms with this concept.  My loss of autonomy is probably the most difficult thing I've had to deal with thus far),  and how we're ever going to provide for another tiny monkey when we're barely hanging on as it is (faith and a whole lot of prayer...that's pretty much all I got so far on this one!).  So...number five it is!  Can't wait to see your little face.  :)

On a completely different, yet very interconnected note, this morning I've been lamenting the fact that I feel "stuck" between two cultures.  Being half Tongan and half "palangi" (or "white"...specifically Swedish) is a tricky thing.  I've been hesitant to blog about my feelings on the subject for a couple of reasons.  Mostly, it's because this subject is very personal to me and it make me feel vulnerable and, well, the word NAKED comes to mind.  I would say that I'm a fairly confident person, but this area of my life makes me feel extremely inept.  The other reason I hesitate to blog about this is because I feel like no matter how delicately I treat the subject, it will inevitably cause offense to someone, and although confrontation doesn't really bother me, as of late, I've been trying really hard not to cause or go looking for unnecessary contention or offense.  But, after much contemplation, I decided that, hey...this is my blog.  These are my feelings.  I'm not asking anyone to agree...or even to read this.  So, if you don't want to hear my thoughts on being biracial, I'll let you know when to stop reading.  (Not yet...I just thought of a mildly amusing story you might like to hear on your way out.)

One of the few "Tongan" things my dad did involved dating.  I was the only person I knew who was frequently required to take my younger siblings with me when I went on dates.  Now, I can't say for certain that this is a purely Tongan practice, but I do know that I was the only one out of my entire group of high school friends who left the house to go on dates or to go to parties with her six year old brother in tow.  One of my very first dates was with this guy that I had been eyeing for quite some time.  He was funny and good looking and popular, and was just someone that I definitely was excited about getting to know better.  He had his own truck, and when he came to pick me up, he brought me a single red rose, which was, of course, the highlight of my young life up to that point.  I remember my little brother Westlee, who was maybe in first or second grade at the time (just the same age as my sweet Ilaiasi is now, come to think of it!), asking if he could hold my rose.  He was so excited to have it, and I remember his little eyes lighting up as he swished the rose back and forth like a sword.  Well, unfortunately, in his overexcitement, his swish-swish-swishing got a little out of control, and with one fatal swoosh the beautiful rose went flying off its stem and, as fate would have it, hit my date squarely on the forehead.  Alas. 

I remember fighting to hold back the giggles that bubbled up as I watched the unfortunate scene unfold.  I'm ashamed to admit that I frequently laugh at the MOST inappropriate things.  This was no exception.  My date was VERY put out about being smacked in the face with his offering, and was even more offended that, rather than chastise my baby brother, we instead had a good laugh at my date's expense.  This was not one of the times that I was supposed to bring Westlee with me on my date, but I remember having the distinct feeling that I could never truly love someone who didn't think my baby brother was as hysterical as I did because it was entirely possible that Westlee would be hanging out with us more often than not.

Ok, this is where you people who don't want to read anything mildly controversial hop off the Pink Persimmon train and go back to Facebook or Pinterest or whatever you were doing previously because I'm about to share my experience with being biracial from my perspective, and I understand that not everyone is going to agree with me or like what I have to say.  Hopefully, though, there is someone out there that can relate to this.  Maybe someone will have insight to the struggles I've had, and will share something eye-opening and life-changing with me.  I don't know exactly what I hope will happen...I guess I'm just tired of having all of this bottled up in my brain, and I need to unload it.

Like I said before, I've been thinking a lot lately about how being biracial makes me feel like I'm trapped between two cultures.  It's hard.  Really hard.  Growing up, we lived out in the middle of nowhere.  My interactions with the Tongan community were somewhat few and far between, and until high school, involved mostly just my extended family.  I was not "raised Tongan."  My knowledge of the Tongan culture was limited to a few Tongan words and songs, some yummy ethnic foods, and the occasional dances I learned for luaus or weddings.  My dad was the best father I could ever have hoped for -- he was involved in my life, I knew he loved me, he was my coach and my friend and he taught me SO many things that have shaped who I am today.  But, as far as the Tongan culture goes, it just wasn't a focus in our household, and he didn't teach us a whole lot about what is and is not socially acceptable for Tongans.  As a result, I think I have a MUCH more liberal view of life than most Tongans would approve of.  Some of my friends from the Tongan community will probably gasp as they read this, but here's a short list of very "palangi" things that I did growing up:

- I had more male friends than female ones.  We hung out together on a regular basis, and my two very best friends from high school were both guys.  Once I even went on an overnight camping trip with them and their parents.  And one time, one of my guy friends ran away from home and spent the night at my house.  My parents knew about it and called his parents to let them know where he was, but he stayed with us nonetheless.  Gasp...I know.  Scandalous.
- I wore swimsuits to pool parties.  And swam.  In mixed company.
- I watched tv with my brothers.  And it wasn't the Disney Channel.
- I wore shorts and skirts that didn't completely cover my knees, and was known to sport a tank top from time to time.
- I didn't "stay at home with the girls" when my cousins came into town to visit.  I went outside and played football and soccer and tag with the boys.
- I dated.  One-on-one dates, group dates, you name it.  The guys I dated were all very respectful and were good people, and I had a blast. 
- I questioned why my parents did things.  I was encouraged to ask questions if I didn't understand, and was rarely told that I had to do something "just because I said so."  Questioning authority if something seemed amiss was not only acceptable, it was expected.  It was not seen as disrespectful in our household...it was seen as part of the learning process.

These are just a few things that I thought of off the top of my head, but there are innumerable instances of other things that were completely normal to me growing up, that are big no-no's for a "good" Tongan girl.  I didn't know they were abnormal or unacceptable until I got to college and started mingling with Tongans outside my extended family.  It was very eye-opening to me to realize how much liberty I took for granted.  I didn't realize that not everyone lived like me.  And I certainly didn't realize that the way I grew up was not only frowned upon, but was considered "wrong." 

It's a very strange feeling to be an "insider" and an "outsider" at the same time.  I can honestly say that I've never felt uncomfortably different around any group EXCEPT for Tongans.  It's so weird and hard to explain.  I feel like I can walk into a room full of people of all ethnicities and feel like I can fit in, but if I walk into a room full of Tongans I'm like a fish out of water.  I'm different.  And not "different in a good way."  Different in a "look at her...she doesn't act right" kind of way.  One of the hardest things about the Tongan culture for me to grasp is the "I'm older, therefore, I'm right" mentality.  Age is a very important thing to Tongans.  Younger siblings are expected to defer to their older siblings no matter what, simply because they are older (which is fine because I'm the oldest, but it still doesn't sit right with me.)  It is disrespectful to question or disagree with family members who are older than you, because they are to be respected simply because they are older.  I understand the importance of respecting your elders, but I just can't wrap my head around this.  I've seen people do things that they KNEW were wrong, simply because, to them, it was MORE wrong to go against what someone older than them said.  I don't know...maybe I'm dense, but I just don't get it.  To me, respect is earned by your actions, not simply by your birth order.  I don't understand this part of Tongan culture, but I recognize that it is important and I respect that.  It just doesn't work for me.

It's taken me a good 15 years to process the information and figure out for myself who I am and what I'm all about, but I feel like I can finally look at my two cultures objectively, take the good, leave the bad, and be ok with the fact that there will be many people who judge me and don't like what they see.  The reason this has been brought into focus in my life is because I am trying to figure out exactly what I want to teach my children.  Finau and I were raised SO differently, and we have different, often conflicting views of what we want to teach our children.  It's a constant struggle, and I know it's not just because of the culture...every marriage has to find a balance between where each spouse came from and where they want to go together...but culture does play a big role in our parenting struggles. 

I hope I teach my children that "different" doesn't equal "wrong."  I always tell my volleyball players that there are lots of right ways to do things in volleyball.  Some things are definitely wrong, but, for the most part, there are lots of right techniques that will give you desired results, and just because I have them do things one way, that doesn't mean that if their school coach asks them to do it another way then she is wrong.  It's just different.  I feel the same way about culture.  When Finau tells me that our girls will never wear shorts, I just smile to myself and wonder what he's going to do when they start playing volleyball.  I'm sure if he had it his way, they'd be playing in their warm-up sweat pants, but that's obviously not going to happen.  And that's ok.  I hope my children are respectful towards all people, and that they are considerate of their elders, but I hope they also learn to think for themselves and question the things that don't seem to make sense.  I think you can disagree without being disrespectful, and I hope I teach my children that you don't have to agree with something to acknowledge that it is important to somebody else.  Most of all, I hope my children learn to be loving and compassionate, and that they are able to fit into our two worlds more easily than I do.  I hope they can learn all of the good things that I never knew about the Tongan culture from their dad, and still have room for my mostly "palangi" ways.  And I hope that when the time comes, they will enjoy taking their siblings with them on their dates!  :)