“You can’t wear that shirt to school today.” I said as I walked into my daughter’s room while in America. The problem? She wore the exact same shirt to school the previous day.
“Why can’t I wear it? I love this shirt!” she replied. I struggled to for a satisfying answer.
“You wore it yesterday. Is it clean?” I asked hoping for a stain somewhere! Anywhere! I knew where this conversation led.
“Yes, it is clean.” she replied.
Having grown up in America I know the unspoken American rule that wearing the same thing twice in a week or even two weeks seems somehow shameful. I remember one elementary teacher who, to my knowledge, never wore the same thing twice our whole school year! On one visit to America I received the advice not to wear the same thing to church within the same month! Pressure!
“Well…people in America just don’t wear the same thing often. They take a break from it and wait awhile before they wear it again.” I explained uncertainly. It seemed so shallow to say it. If the shirt is clean, looks nice, and she likes it, why not?
“Why?” she asks me.
“People don’t wear the same thing a lot because they tend to have a lot of clothes. If you wear the same thing over and over, people might think its weird.” Right here I started abandoning my line of argument. Why can’t she wear a shirt she likes two days in a row? What does it say about my home culture that I can’t wear a clean shirt two days in a row even when I know I will see the same people? Or even once a week for a month? I chafe at the norms.
She looks back at me confused. “Why do they think it’s weird?” she asks. I hate to open up to her the vanity that wealth creates. I want her to stay untouched by such concerns as scheduling her outfits around others’ opinions. I fight a losing battle.
“I just want you to know that you might get made fun of at school today because you wore that shirt yesterday. It’s not right but it might happen. No one cares in Asia but they might here.” I explain.
She chose a different shirt and I grieve a little inside as this worldly knowledge sinks in to her heart. I tell her she can wear her favorite shirt when she gets home from school. She can wear it everyday in Asia if she wants…as long as it’s clean! I tell her I don’t like it either.
Raising a Third Culture Kid means sailing in uncharted waters for me. I grew up entrenched in American culture. Coming to terms with my American self through the eyes of another culture means my mental dialogue abounds. Sometimes my thoughts exhaust me. I feel I must deconstruct my guidance to my children and hold it up to the Light. It abounds with flaws and occlusions that remained shrouded…until I crossed cultures.
I cling to the hope that the things that sift out in all this sifting and shaking that happens in culture crossing will be the things that remain for eternity. Things that shine brilliantly in the world.
We are in Asia now, so she gets to wear what she wants… for the most part…except to church…when I get a teeny tiny little opinion.