Home is where we are
We spent the first twenty-something years of our lives in Poland, the following dozen – in Belgium and the last three - in Japan. In each of these countries, we somehow feel “at home”. Poland is primarily about family and childhood memories. Brussels delights us with its diversity and lack of grandeur. Safety, human gentleness and the celebration of the “here and now” is what we love most in Japan.
And what about our children?
Tokyo-born Mila relishes Japanese rice and udon noodles. So far, the only place she has been to outside Japan is Hong Kong. The boys were born in Brussels, go to a French school in Tokyo and their nanny is an English-speaking Filipina.
Four-year-old Jan makes sure to park his toy cars the Japanese way, i.e. with the rear first (for an easier escape in case of emergency), shouting like a Japanese park assistant: hai, hai, hai. He “sells” us coupons for sumo, baseball (Japan’s second national sport, alongside sumo) and onsen (Japanese bath), and his favourite dishes are miso soup and sushi. He’s the first one to remind anyone entering our house to take off their shoes and is fluent with the high technology of Japanese toilets (washing, drying, music). At the same time, he’s absolutely religious about his goûter (after-school treat and the most important meal for most French kids), which should ideally feature Belgian speculoos cookies. Poland equals grandparents and Polish language (the only one that we speak at home).
Ignacy is a true citizen of the world. Asked whom he’ll be supporting at the upcoming World Cup - Poland, Belgium or perhaps (like most of his friends) France – he replies that he’ll cheer for … Germany (who, as he predicts, has the best chance to win). At the age of 5-6 –thanks to the stories told by his Granma – he develops a fascination for the history of Poland. „The intentions were good but the result is a disaster” – I sigh at one of my kitchen flops. „Just like Bolesław Wrymouth”– points out our learned son (referring to Polish king who divided the country between his four sons in an attempt to prevent them from fighting for the throne but instead led to the weakening and fragmentation of the country). Flicking through a Polish textbook, he’s shocked to discover that the family tree of the Piast dynasty omits Mieszko II (indeed a rather unmemorable ruler). During school breaks, he “plays” in Warsaw Uprising with his friends (leading to protests of some parents). As for the Belgian “heritage”, he’s a great fan of boulettes (meatballs in tomato sauce), sirop de Liège (a sort of apple and pear jam) and – above all – his former nanny Véronique and her husband Jalal, who have almost become part of our family. As taught at school, he still counts à la française, however: soixante-dix („sixty plus ten”) and quatre-vingt-dix („four times twenty plus ten”) instead of the more straightforward Belgian septante and nonante.
Both boys have friends of all races and religions, and this diversity is just as natural to them as the fact that some kids have backpacks with Totoro and others with Lightning McQueen. Ignacy’s six-strong pack of friends includes French-Japanese Léo, Hong Kong-raised Thomas from a French-Portuguese mother and French-Vietnamese father and a dark-skinned French Matthieu, who moved to Tokyo from Washington.
We sometimes wonder with Wiktor, whether the lack of "one home" does not deprive our children of a sense of belonging and security. For us, "Polishness" constitutes an important point of reference, and the memories of Christmas carp (yes, for some reason, this muddy fish is a must on a Christmas table), Easter basket (with food to be blessed in the church) or family mushroom-picking escapades are a source of enormous emotional capital. Up until today, we will argue fiercely about the superiority of borscht (me) over a mushroom soup (Wiktor) in the run-up to each Christmas. For our sons, these soups have (at least so far) no more symbolic value than Japanese ramen or Moroccan harira (they actually like all four) and a visit to a church is just as exotic as Shinto rites. At the same time, both attach great importance to family rituals. We are consoling ourselves that perhaps Sunday morning pancakes (which after all can be cooked anywhere in the world) will one day become their equivalent of our carp. Home is where we are.