Teaching my son his heritage can’t compete with beetles

Lisa Schroeder of Tacoma is a 2019 reader columnist for The News Tribune.
Lisa Schroeder of Tacoma is a 2019 reader columnist for The News Tribune. Staff photo

“Wow, get the beetle jar,” my son said after he grabbed a beautiful, inch-long cerambycid that had just landed on a log in our backyard.

We had just moved to the Pacific Northwest from Korea. It was an untypical, sunny summer day and that beetle had landed in the wrong place.

I snatched the jar from inside and ran back out while unscrewing the top. After we popped the long-antennaed specimen inside, we shared a celebratory high-five.

Later I was thinking about how this practice became a tradition in our household.

Beetle collecting is one of my dad’s biggest hobbies. He’s a retired marine biology professor who started collecting in college. Dad was always happy to enlist family in his beetle habit. My mom, a retired professor of genetics, even collected beetles for him when she did a postdoctoral stint in Japan.

Dad especially liked when my sister and I were small because we could see all the beetles under the leaves. But as we grew up, we collected less and less for him until, as busy adults, we almost stopped completely.

Dad needed a new generation to keep his collection fresh.

When my son was born I wanted to immerse him in family traditions – specifically the Korean ones that I never really had growing up in an adoptive Caucasian-American family.

In the ‘70s, international-child adopters were encouraged to assimilate their racially different kids. Korean culture and language weren’t on this agenda. So the traditions I got were things like making homemade stollen and rouladen. Learning German. And collecting beetles.

Needless to say beetle collecting wasn’t on the top of my list of things to pass down to my son after he was born.

First, I wanted to give him an earlier introduction to the Korean side of his lineage than I’d had. A family friend gave him some Korean folk-tale books for a birth present. That was an auspicious start.

A year later my husband, then serving in the military, would be stationed in South Korea for two years. I envisioned our son learning the language while enjoying the food and customs of the country that his face represents.

However, we wouldn’t be living in the bustling and culturally rich capital city of Seoul. We would live two hours south on the outskirts of a small city named Pyeongtaek. It’s rural and most Koreans around there are elderly farmers.

But for my toddler, the location didn’t matter, nor did his mom’s grand plans of inundating him with Korean rituals. Besides, he didn’t like the Korean grandparents fawning over him whenever he went outside. He didn’t like spicy food, especially kimchee. He wasn’t really picking up the language because he was still just learning how to talk, period.

What my son really liked to do was collect beetles.

One advantage of living amid rice fields and farm country is the abundance of insects. Naturally my dad was thrilled his grandson could help carry on the Schroeder family tradition.

Now my son can spot carabids, scarabs, click beetles and others. The wet, green, Korean springs and humid, scorching summers lent a plethora of beetle varieties that quickly filled up collection jars. My dad was very excited about this exotic assortment to augment his vast store.

We’ve since moved to Tacoma where, ironically, my son has many opportunities to learn Korean culture and language, as well as collect beetles.

So as I reflect upon family traditions, I realize the ones we grow up with, as well as the ones we want our children to learn, sometimes come together in surprising ways.

Hopefully my son can remember that the first beetles he caught were Korean.

Lisa Schroeder of Tacoma is a retired journalist, a full-time parent, and part-time writer. She’s one of six News Tribune reader columnists for 2019. Reach her at lischro@gmail.com or on Twitter @schroedli.