I'm originally from Hawaii but currently live with my family in St. Louis.
I use Hawaiian words with my two sons at home, but in public, they get embarrassed.
Taking them back to my home made me realize what was missing from my life.
I am raising my boys nearly 5,000 miles away from Hawaii, the place my family comes from. Until last 2022, my boys had never been. Finally, after a decade of parenting, my work made it possible to go. Now that we've been together, I will do anything to bring them back as often as possible.
I live in St. Louis with my family
I met my husband in St. Louis, far from the Hawaiian islands, when we were both in graduate school. We married in a small chapel in the center of the city, but I never thought we would stay. Fifteen years later, this is the only home my 6th and 4th graders know. My boys are die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fans and true Midwesterners. They are also the only Native Hawaiian children in their school and likely in our town.
We're fair-skinned and easily pass as white; if our culture weren't present at home, the boys would grow up without any connection to it.
We are not exposed to Hawaiian culture
Before we took our first trip to Hawaii, my kids' cultural expressions only happened with us and relatives. My mom lives nearby, and we use Hawaiian words and phrases with the boys in private, but they get embarrassed in public. When they tell people they're Hawaiian, there are always questions and misconceptions like, "Do you like pineapple?" and "Do you wear grass skirts?"
Family and close friends call my younger son by his Hawaiian middle name, but he only goes by his English name at school. Our favorite foods are hard to find, and we have to buy them at specialty shops in the city or on Amazon. Recently, two new restaurants opened in our community; one is a franchise with Hawaiian in its name, and the other sells poke. They're run by workers who consistently mispronounce the name of our islands and look at us with confusion when we say them correctly.
We were committed to taking our kids back to my island
We didn't bring the boys to Hawaii for years because it was too expensive, too far, the kids were too little, and the trip required too much time off work. The years flew by, and suddenly they were entering adolescence without ever experiencing a place that reflected who we are and where we're from.
The pandemic and divine work intervention changed that. We came out of COVID committed to taking the trip. We decided to go and stay for a month. My work would help pay for it, and my husband and I felt the emotional cost of not going would be longer-lasting than any financial burden.
That trip was worth it in all the ways that matter. On our way there, my older son asked if he would cry when we got there. He knew how emotional my Mom and I get when the islands come into view. I told him he might because he would be seeing land that he belongs to, a home he knows but has never seen. Our culture has no separation between the land and its people.
They were so happy to be surrounded by their culture and food
When most people imagine the breathtaking parts of Hawaii, they think of gorgeous beaches and stunning landscapes. Indeed, those are exquisite. As a mom of Hawaiian children being raised across the ocean, my most breathtaking moments were far more mundane.
There was the short flight from Maui to Oahu, when the flight attendants made the announcements in Hawaiian. My boys listened with huge smiles and bright eyes, waiting for words they knew. There was the post-arrival trip to the grocery store and the nearly uncontainable excitement of my older son as he went up and down the aisles seeing each of our favorite foods in abundance and on display. We heard songs we loved on the radio and in restaurants. We saw extended family and introduced the boys to "aunties" and "uncles" who went from strangers to family instantaneously.
The most meaningful moment happened the night I spoke to a group of educators at an open-air amphitheater in Honolulu. When we arrived, we were given name tags to fill out. My younger son proudly wrote his Hawaiian name (the only one we call him) and stuck the sticker on his shirt. "Mom," he said. "Look, I'm me!" After he said that, I felt everything stop and come into crisp view. My son was saying what I was feeling. In that moment, I was surrounded by the things that make me, me: my family, work, community, culture, language, food, and music. Taken together, I was able to experience a level of thriving I didn't realize I was missing.
I found myself
Sometimes I feel like a visitor in the place I'm raising my kids. It took traveling thousands of miles to finally find myself and to know where and with whom I belong, especially at this stage of life. The things that make me feel like an outsider here make me feel normal, understood, and celebrated.
I should not have waited so long to take the trip. Looking back, the excuses we made feel trivial. It was worth the time and money. We'll replenish our savings, but we've lost the years. There are fewer years with the boys being little and living with us. Fewer opportunities for them to be in Hawaii with my mom while she is young enough to walk the beach and explore with them. While the boys may not have remembered earlier trips, we would have, and it would have deeply enriched our family life and my experience as a mother.
Before we left, I was planning our next trip. By making it an absolute priority, we have already been back twice. There's an urgency to these visits and the benefits that come with return trips. I know it has been worth every sacrifice needed to make them happen. It is incredible to watch my boys form their own stories and memories. They have people they look forward to reconnecting with, restaurants they want to go back to, and sites they want to see. My younger son looks forward to being himself everywhere, and my older son talks about how special it is to feel like home is here and also there.
My children fully flourish on the islands that constantly call us home. And so do I.
Read the original article on Insider