Friday, February 28, 2014

Charlie Chan

I enjoy the old Charlie Chan movies, many of which are available on YouTube.  They are reasonably good detective flicks, told with some humor, and a pleasant way to kill an hour or two.  But…

Once we started down the path of adopting a Chinese girl, I started to become a great deal more aware of stereotypes in the media, always asking myself the questions, “Do I want my daughter to watch this sort of thing?” and “How shall I explain it to her?”

“Baba, why is a white man playing a Chinese?”

“Baba, do people in China really talk like that?”

“Baba, why are those white soldiers fighting those Chinese?”

I am given to understand that many Asians dislike Charlie Chan.  Part of me understands that: he is a stereotype and, with his trite sayings and pidgin English, a rather offensive one.  On the other hand, when seen in the context of his time, Charlie is a remarkable character: a Chinese who is portrayed as a brave, intelligent police detective of world renown.  Contrast him with his contemporary, the sinister Fu Manchu:

"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government—which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man."

Sax Rohmer
The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu (1913)*

It is not my purpose here to go into detail about portrayals of Asians in popular American / Western media over the years, but I think it fair to say that GENERALLY Asians have fallen into a few basic categories:

--- Men are master villains like Fu-Manchu or Ian Fleming’s Dr. No, or else loyal sidekicks such as Kato of “The Green Hornet” or even Charlie the cook in the 1933 version of “King Kong"

--- Women are exotic damsels in distress who fall for the white hero, or else wicked temptresses in the employ of the villain

And, of course, they ALL speak pidgin English and know karate.**

Outside of the realm of fiction, Asians are often portrayed as villains simply because of a few minor events in American history: World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.  Generations of Americans including me grew up watching movies and TV shows in which Asians are uniformly portrayed as vicious bucktoothed killers who happily – and often treacherously – shoot, bayonet or torture white Americans.  What shall I say to my daughter if she sees “55 Days at Peking” or “Porkchop Hill” or “The Sand Pebbles”?  Or even “Tora! Tora! Tora!”

I think that it’s natural for a father to want to protect his daughter from things.  When I started down the Road to Fatherhood, I was prepared for the common threats: hormonal teenaged boys, drugs, hormonal teenaged boys, alcohol, hormonal teenaged boys, perverts, and hormonal teenaged boys.***  But there are other things that I don’t want her to see even though I know that she’s going to see them sooner or later.  How shall I explain it all?



(**) Actress Serein Wu has a YouTube video about trying to find work as an Asian in Hollywood:

“Can you do a funny accent?” “Do you know karate?” Etc.

Stupid Things Hollywood People Say to Chinese American Actors [video file].  (2013, Feb 13)  Retrieved from

(***) Remington makes a damned fine shotgun.  Just saying.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Our daughter's jiejie

Through the good offices of the splendid and always-helpful people at Holt, we learned a bit more about somebody important to our daughter.

In her files, there is frequent mention that she enjoys playing with her older sister.  In photos, we can sometimes catch just a glimpse of another little girl: a hand, part of a dress, etc.  We were curious: is the jiějie* the biological child of the foster parents?  Another foster child?  We thought that the latter was likely and it occured to us that, if such a thing could be done, we would adopt both little girls so as to keep "sisters" together.

Within a few days, Holt had tracked down the required information and put us into contact with the other little girl's adoptive parents.  I'm sorry to say that they don't live very close to us, but I very much hope that our daughters will keep in touch as they grow older.  My wife and I are also so happy to know that Caroline's jiějie will soon have a "forever family"** of her own.


(*) Jiějie (姐) means "older sister" in Mandarin.  This language is very detailed with regards to relations, with different words for relatives on the father's or the mother's sides of the families as well as birth order.  In the old Charlie Chan movies, it was a running joke that he would refer to his (usually bumbling though courageous) sons as "Number Three son" or "Number Five son".  This is actually rather close to how Chinese families DO refer to their children.

(**) I have read various objections to this term, mostly stemming from the concept that nothing is "forever".  Meh.  It seems to me a reasonably accurate phrase that, more importantly, is pleasing and describes the feeling that adoptive parents have towards their children.  Caroline will not be our daughter pro tempore: she will be ours until the day we die and (assuming I don't wind up in the Bad Place) in the life of the world to come.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why adoption?

Before we were married, my wife and I had agreed that neither of us wanted children.  We married rather late in life, both of us have unpredictable and often stressful work schedules, and a child just didn’t seem to be in the cards.  Oh, we would cast the occasional envious glance at parents with their children; I recall very clearly hiking one day, seeing a father hiking with his little daughter, and thinking whistfully, “Well, wouldn’t that be a nice thing to do?” But we thought that our interactions with children would be limited to spoiling a handful of younger relatives and the children of close friends.

Then, one day, It Happened: my wife informed me that she wanted children.  The sun grew dark before my eyes and the earth opened beneath my feet.  The next thing that I can remember is lying in the back of the closet, sucking my thumb and crying.  But then I thought about it and realized that I was not ENTIRELY opposed to the idea.  At least, I thought, it wouldn’t hurt to look into it.

We found out very quickly that, for various reasons, we would not be having children the old-fashioned way.  My wife, however, had become increasingly determined that we WOULD have a child; my suggestion that we just get another dog was a non-starter.  We had no desire to go down the surrogate route, so adoption was really the only choice.

Problem solved?

Not hardly.

My understanding of adoption at the start of this process was pretty uncomplicated: one contacts the local social services agency, finds an orphan, fills out a bit of paperwork, and VOILA!  Instant family.  There are plenty of children who need homes, right?  It makes sense to get them into homes as quickly as possible, right?  Maybe not as quick and easy as getting a dog from the animal shelter, but still very straightforward, right?

Wrong.  Yes, there ARE plenty of children who need a family, but the process of connecting Child with Parents is far more difficult than I ever would have guessed.  The process is complicated because it is designed to protect the child, and I completely agree with it: it’s foolish and dangerous to hand over a child to just any couple.

So, we resigned ourselves to paperwork.  LOTS of paperwork.  But where to get the child?  We learned early on that domestic adoption would be very problematic.  Not only are there FAR more families waiting for children than there are children (at least, very young children), but also because US law does much to protect the birth parents, most domestic adoptions are “open”: the birth mother and adoptive parents are known to each other, the birth mother may even select the adoptive parents, and the birth mother may well choose to have some rights to be involved with her child’s life as he grows up.  Slim chance of getting a child?  Long wait?  Having the birth mother around?  Possibility that somebody – birth mother or father – might have a change of mind down the road and want the child back?

No, thank you.

This left overseas adoption.  Honestly, I was astounded at the requirements that some countries place on adoptive parents.  Quite aside from the obvious stipulation that the adoptive parents have the means and moral character to take care of a child, some countries have mandates regarding age, length of marriage, and even BMI (!).  There are requirements for the parents to make multiple trips to the birth country and / or stay there for weeks – perhaps months – with the child before returning to the United States.  Then there was still the wait: depending on the child’s country of origin, the parents might have to wait for years to be matched and bring their child home.

We were beginning to think that being parents simply wasn’t meant to be.  Then we were told about the China Special Needs program.  China has been adopting children to the United States for a couple of decades now: the system is well-established, reliable, doesn’t have any requirements that we couldn’t meet, and doesn’t require prolonged or multiple trips to the birth country.  However, I confess that we were both leery of the term “special needs”: we didn’t feel comfortable taking care of a badly handicapped child.  However, we were quickly told that “special needs” has a much broader definition in this case than what we were accustomed to.  It certainly CAN include children who are badly handicapped, but can also include children who have medical conditions that are easily correctable / treatable in the United States or are simply “too old” to be readily adopted (most people, like us, are more interested in infants or toddlers than in older children).  We were given a checklist of medical conditions, which included such things as asthma, some degree of vision or hearing loss, Down’s Syndrome, missing limb, extra finger, etc.  Completing this form – deciding what we would and wouldn’t accept – was a quick spin through medical school: what is “atresia”?  What is “ASD”?  And, “My God: people can be born with that AND SURVIVE???”

We did the paperwork fandango.  We filled out forms.  We were interviewed.  We got family and friends to fill out forms.  We had medical checkups and police background checks.  And we waited and prayed and wondered.

And then I found out just what a b*****d I am.

I will not go into detail, but suffice it to say that it is possible to refuse a match.  And we did.  We were offered children with (shall we say?) highly unusual special needs and, after research and consultations with doctors… we said no.  We said “no” to a child.  I have seldom felt so disgusted with myself.  It doesn’t help that other adoptive parents told us that they’d made similar decisions for similar reasons.  It doesn’t help that people say that we made the right choice.  It doesn’t help that people tell us that “you can’t save them all”.**

It doesn’t help at all.

Now here we are: we’re matched with a beautiful little girl and (we think) we’re only a few months away from going to bring her home.  She’ll need some surgery and maybe a little therapy when she comes home with perhaps more in years to come, but she otherwise seems healthy and happy.  It’s been a long journey so far, and there are more milestones to pass.  But, as I think about her, I know that she is my daughter just as surely as if she carried my DNA*.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


(*) I made the mistake of quoting – in jest – George Bernard Shaw: “Ah, but Madame, what if the child should have MY looks and YOUR brains?” to my wife.  She was not amused.  Some people really have no sense of humor.

(**) From time to time, I read about or hear adoption described as some sort of rescue mission, as if the parents are saving the child.  This is not how my wife and I see it.  The good Lord – and I have to assume that He knows what He is doing – is BLESSING us with a child. 

For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him.

--- I Samuel 1:27

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014



We found out yesterday that our dossier is matched reviewed.  That means that we have what they call SOFT LOA.  In the next couple of weeks we should be receiving the Hard version of our Letter of Approval from China (LOA).  Expected travel time is about 3 months from receipt of LOA.  We are one step closer!!!

I did not realize how emotional I would be over finding this out.  I literally cried.  It really hit me hard.  I'm going to be a Mama in a few short months.  The idea of being a mother was so foreign to me until a couple years ago.  When I first saw Caroline's photo, it was a surreal feeling.  That's my daughter.  Wow!!!  Now, I can't imagine having any other child as my daughter.  I think about her constantly.  I find myself looking at her sweet photos and the various faces of Caroline.  She is a beauty.  Hopefully soon I will be able to share more photos with you. 

Caroline Quinnmei Xiaohui - Mama and Baba are just a few months away from meeting you in person and we cannot wait!



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Adoption videos

As I’ve written, I’ve tried to do a good bit of research to prepare myself for being a father and especially the father of an adopted Chinese girl.  Thank heavens for the internet and the information age generally, as there are quite a lot of books, documentaries, YouTube videos, and blogs that are readily accessible.  Indeed, the amount of information available is a little overwhelming.  The following are some documentaries that I’ve seen:

Somewhere Between (2011, dir. Linda Goldstein Knowlton).  This was the first documentary about adopted Chinese girls that my wife and I watched.  As one might guess from the title, the film investigates how a group of girls, all in their early- to middle teens, cope with being “somewhere between”: they look Chinese but are all members of white American families with that cultural heritage.  Knowlton does a good job in getting what seems to me to be a good (though naturally very small) cross-section of adoptees: they come from different parts of the country and, more importantly, have different attitudes towards their adoptions and history.  Of particular interest to me are the stories of Haley Butler (Nashville, TN) who returns to China and finds her birth family, and Jenni Fang Lee (Berkeley, CA), who also makes many trips to China searching for her birth family and helps a handicapped orphan get medical treatment and, eventually, a “forever family” in the United States.  RECOMMENDED

The Zhang Empresses (2007, dir. Christina Höglund.  In Swedish with English subtitles).  In 1994, four little girls were adopted by Swedish families from an orphanage in Zhangjiagiang.  When in their early teens, their families took them back to China to learn something about their origins.  In interviews, the girls discuss the problem of being ethnically Chinese but culturally Swedish; questions about birth parents and why they chose to abandon their daughters; and thoughts about what their lives might have been like had they NOT been adopted.  The girls find that they have the same problem of fitting in while in China that they have in Sweden: though they look like everybody else, they speak no Chinese and find the culture completely alien.  This is brought out very strongly when they have lunch with children from their own orphanage and one of the girls, Alice, has to leave the room because the food (including chicken feet) is disgusting to her.  The girls come away from the trip very happy that they were adopted to Sweden.  RECOMMENDED WITH SOME RESERVATIONS

The Invisible Red Thread (2012, dir. Changfu Chang and Maureen Marovitch) In 1995, a little girl was adopted from Jiujiang, China by a Canadian couple, who called her Vivian.  When she was fifteen, Vivian and her father went back to China to explore her origins and meet Zhu Shumin, who like Vivian was abandoned in Jiangxi Province but unlike her was taken in by a childless couple in rural China.  The difference in their lives is marked: Vivian goes to a prestigious private school in Toronto, takes ballet, eats food from the organic market, and generally lives the life of a privileged Canadian girl.  Shumin lives in a small, plain house, draws water from a well, cooks over a single-burner stove, and attends a poor, run-down Chinese public school.  Two girls with the same origins, but whose lives have taken very different courses.  Of particular interest is that the filmmakers interviewed Shumin’s birth parents, giving the viewer a hard-hitting look into the One Child Policy, how it affects couples in China, and why girls are abandoned.

I confess that I had a lot of trouble watching this film as I couldn’t quite decide why it was made.  The focus is on Vivian; Shumin and her family appear only for part of the film, and then almost as stage props.  Is the intent of the film to make adoptees in Canada and the United States feel how fortunate they are?  “Look what MIGHT have happened to you?” Yes, Vivian’s material life is rather better than Shumin’s, and it’s reasonable to say that she will have more opportunities as she grows older.  But it’s also clear that Shumin’s parents, though poor, clearly love her just as much as Vivian’s parents love her and try to provide as much for her as they can.  Shumin lives in the nicest room in their house; the family’s only TV is in her room; her father lives for days if not weeks on end in a dormitory in Shanghai where he is a construction worker so that he can best provide for his family.  Shumin’s mother talks about how other people in their small town hector them for taking in a strange girl (adoption apparently being far less common and accepted in China than it is in the United States), but that she has no regrets.

I also cannot refrain from expressing some disdain for Vivian.  Perhaps it’s that she was only fifteen when the film was made and was merely displaying some typical teenage behavior.  Perhaps the filmmakers asked her to play up the “fish out of water” role.  Whatever the reason, her behavior in China was appalling: she constantly had a look of contempt and disgust on her face, seemed markedly uncivil to the Zhus (who were clearly doing everything in their power to make their guests welcome), and generally came across as ill-bred.  RECOMMENDED WITH SOME RESERVATIONS

Adopted: The Movie (2008, dir. Barb Lee).  I have only seen parts of this movie that have been uploaded to YouTube, but they have been extremely helpful.  Lee and co-producer Nancy Kim Parsons are themselves Korean adoptees, so they bring a direct perspective to the film.  They interview adoptees, adoptive parents, and academics to provide an in-depth look at some of the problems faced by adoptees and their families as well as good advice on what NOT to do.  If the film has a flaw, it is that most of the adoptees interviewed are rather older, and I think that international adoption is much different today than it was a few decades ago, in no small part due to the efforts of people like Lee and Parsons.  However, I would say that the adoptive parent would do well to watch this film to gain insight into the problems that his child MAY face as she grows up.  STRONGLY RECOMMENDED

A final note: I plan to watch these films with my daughter when she is old enough.  I feel some qualms: I don’t want to put bad ideas in her head (“Why, now that you mention it, I DO think that…”) or give her the idea that there is something strange or even wrong with being an adopted child.  However, these qualms are outweighed by my belief that watching these films together will help her feel confident that I will understand and be more than willing to talk about any problems that she might have, ranging from questions about her birth parents to racism to her identity.

Now, if only somebody will make a movie about why girls shouldn’t be allowed to date until AFTER graduate school…



Caroline may not be home yet, but she already has friends that can't wait to meet her.  Two of those friends are C and S.  She has another friend J, but she told me I could not take her photo to share with you.  Maybe next time I see her she will let me take her photo.  C and S are absolutely adorable.  A few weeks ago I had a chance to play with them at a Mommies Coffee and then last night at a dinner we had at our house.  They broke Caroline's toys in for her.  I have been assured that she will love her room and that all the toys are great fun.  C told me that I needed to hurry up and go get Caroline so that she could play with her right away.  C lives one street over from us.  Although S and J live across town, I'm sure that Caroline will see a lot of them as well.  Well without further ado, here's some photos of C and S:

C loves to have her photo taken and is very inquisitive.  She loves to pose for the camera.  This is my absolute favorite photo of her.

This is my favorite photo of S.  She is more the laid back take it all in type.  You can really see that in this photo of her.  I had a great time with her last night reading stories and talking about Mulan.  I took it while she was playing in C's bedroom during Mommies Coffee.  I just love how the light is framing her face.  

Every girl needs a "Lovee".  S has a Lovee and he has been so loved:

She loves him with all her heart!!!!  And let me tell you, this kid has lots of heart!

C is more the love on her baby type.  When she wants to love her baby she is very serious about it too. 

I hope to be able to share more about J in the future.  Like C and S she is absolutely adorable.  I'm one lucky Momma to be to have such wonderful friends for my daughter to meet when she gets to the USA.  I am also one lucky Momma to have met their parents.  It is great to have a network of parents who have been through what I am going through.

CHRYSTAL - Proud Momma to be

Hooking up with Nihaoyall!


Ni Hao Yall

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Road to Fatherhood (pt 4)

Preparation.  Training.  Process.  Documentation.  Procedures.  These are watchwords in my profession, and it’s therefore natural that they might intrude into my private life, e.g. the daily list of chores I keep – and usually ignore – on my desk at home.  I haven’t quite reached the point of trying to write a manual for raising our daughter, though the thought DID cross my mind.  I have written a brief Emergency Procedure which is not much more than a list of emergency contacts (EMS, fire, police, pediatrician, Urgent Care) along with directions to the various medical facilities near our house.  Now to remember to post it in the house somewhere…

One thing that I have heavily documented is a set of journals that I have been keeping since early in this process.  They are less a record of things that have happened than a very long letter to my daughter, though I do take note of key events in the adoption process and often paste in copies of important documents.  In general, however, I discuss (in a manner she will undoubtedly find tedious and pompous) things that I think she ought to know and understand.  These include my views such things as on religion, morality, polite behavior, books, education, housekeeping, dating (oh, that’s QUITE a long entry!), leadership, democracy, racism, etc., etc.  One of my favorite entries is on How to Lie.  Now, this was written less with an eye towards being a primer (I am given to understand that children know how to lie almost like they know how to breath; it is the parents’ responsibility to teach them NOT to do it) and more towards understanding how other people do it and how one can catch them at it.  In this, I am following in noble footsteps: in the QC racket, there is a small but well-known book written along these lines called How to Lie with Statistics* that is intended to teach the reader how to spot attempts to deceive with numbers.

I have surprised myself at how much I have kept up this work; presently, I’ve got a few hundred pages covered with my crabbed, illegible scribble.  Why don’t I type it?  It struck me early on that writing – using pen and ink** – was somehow more intimate than typing.  Indeed, I recall writing in one entry that the books are, in a real sense, a prolonged love letter to her.  I realize that love letters are generally not pedantic, but I hope that she will get the idea that I have taken these pains because… well… I love her.

And this brings me to the last note about my Road to Fatherhood.  It strikes me that a father has got two primary responsibilities, two tasks to accomplish to make him a “good” father.  The first is to, as well as he is able, love his child and demonstrate that love on a constant basis: kisses and nuzzles, statements of affection, giving comfort when it’s needed, and generally Being There for such things as school plays, dance recitals, games, etc.  The other is to help the child grow into a well-balanced, self-sufficient, successful adult who can navigate through life and, if not always make the right decisions, then at least handle the effects of the wrong ones without falling to pieces.***  I hope that I can teach her these things.  I hope that I can teach her to find happiness.  Her road will run along with mine – hopefully for many years – but eventually it will be entirely her own.  My task is to help her find it and know how to deal with the potholes she’ll encounter.  My hope is that she will look back on our trip together with fondness and maybe even a little joy, and that she will know that, even when *I* was the pothole, I loved her very, very much.


(*) Darrell Huff and Irving Geis (illustrator). How to Lie with Statistics.  New York: Norton, 1954.

(**)  Literally.  I write with an antique dip pen and black ink.  I find that Speedball Super Black Waterproof India Ink is very good, though Higgins Black Magic is not bad.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…

Rudyard Kipling (1895)

Monday, February 17, 2014


I’ve mentioned that I’ve spent some time looking at videos on YouTube related to international adoption to give me some insight into what issues and problems my daughter might face as she grows up.  An amusing one was made by actress Samantha Futerman, who was adopted from Korea by a New Jersey family.* I doubt that she ever thought that her videos would lead her down the path she’s on.
About a year ago, Futerman got a strange e-mail from a young Frenchwoman, Anaïs Bordier, who was in London studying fashion design.  Futerman was astonished because Bordier asked some remarkably well-informed questions about where she was from and when she was born.
It turns out that they are twin sisters.  IDENTICAL twin sisters.
Oh, they’ve had a DNA test just to make sure, but it was pretty obvious to me just from looking at them.  They have been raising money via Kickstarter to make a documentary of their story, which was recently covered by Josh Elliot of “Good Morning America” (Elliot is himself an adoptee).**
Adoptees often wonder about their birth family: parents and siblings.  Futerman and Bordier, at least, can stop wondering about part of their hidden past.
(*) How It Feels to be Adopted… I Am Sam [video file]. (2012, December 20).  Retrieved from
(**) Twins Separated at Birth Find Each Other On Different Continents [video file]. (2014, February 11).  Retrieved from

Sunday, February 16, 2014


We had close to 10 inches of snow earlier this week.  On Thursday, my hubby and I headed out for some fun.  We met up with the neighbors kids and had a snowball fight.  I took this shot of Jim and loved it.

We enjoyed the snow but we are ready for spring to come so that we can head to China to get our baby girl.

Here are a couple macro snow photos too:

Although this photo is the clearest, I was in awe of the fact that you could actually see the outline of a single snow flake.

Hooking up with Sunday Snapshot: 


Ni Hao Yall

The Road to Fatherhood (pt 3)

The term is “paper pregnancy”, and I believe that in length it eclipses the gestation period for an elephant.  In dead trees, it rivals the state tax code.  In thoroughness… I don’t think I was as completely, microscopically checked out when I got a low-level security clearance years ago.  Multiple sets of fingerprints.  Criminal background checks at both the state and federal levels.  Personal biographies and statements about why we want to adopt.  Testimonials of my good character (hah!) by family and friends.  Inspections of our house.  Multiple interviews with our case worker.*  Medical check-up.  Multiple certified copies of birth certificates and certificate of marriage.  Forms and reports and approvals by three governments: United States, State of North Carolina, and China.  And an alphabet soup of acronyms: LOA, TA, LOI, LID, etc.  This is all to the good, and I’m glad that everybody concerned is making such efforts to ensure that the children are going into good families where they will be cherished and well cared for.  But the time spent can be a little frustrating.  I got accustomed to “hurry up and wait” in the military, but even they haven’t perfected it to such a degree as this!

All this being said, the process is – I think! – really not that dissimilar to what a man goes through when he learns that his wife is pregnant.  OK, I haven’t had to deal with hormones and weird cravings (well, no weirder than normal), but there is the dawning realization that This Is Happening, that in the near future there will be a child in the family.  There’s the choosing of the name.  There’s medical information.  We’ve met with a pediatrician.  Just as most fathers see an ultrasound of their child before birth, we also have gotten to see photos.  I won’t say it was Love at First Sight, but it was something very like.  I look at her photos (not counting the framed one on my desk and the other that is my desktop background) several times each day.  I read and reread her packet, trying to glean anything I can about what she’s like.  I’ve concluded that she’s absolutely beautiful, almost perfect in every way.  Despite the likelihood that our first days – perhaps weeks – together will be filled with screaming or near-catatonia or both (and who knows how she'll deal with it all), I can’t wait to see her.  I’m told that this is absolutely normal for the expectant father, though I confess that I wonder at the ability – especially MY ability – to love a little girl that I’ve never met.  It would be of some interest to test my blood oxytocin levels when I look at photos of her.

Choosing our daughter’s name has been a bit of a journey of its own.  My wife and I have rather similar tastes in this area, so there were no squabbles because one of us wanted to call her “Jane” and the other “Tequila Sunrise”.  We wanted a name that was neither bizarre nor excessively common.  We settled fairly quickly on Caroline and chose Quinn for the middle name.  These are not family names.  We then selected a third name to honor her Chinese heritage: Měi (美).  This is a commonly used for girls in China as it means “beautiful”.  It is also part of how the name of our country is rendered into Mandarin: Měi Guó (“Beautiful Country”, ).  This went well enough until the happy day when we were matched and learned that the name given her by the orphanage was Xiàohuì (肖慧).  We thought that this was not only rather pretty, but also learned that huì ()means “intelligent”: PERFECT!  However, Caroline Quinn Mei Xiao-hui (we weren’t clear on how Chinese names are rendered into English at that time) seemed a bit… long.  I had visions of being angry and, by the time I got “CAROLINE QUINN MEI XIAO-HUI R-, GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW!” out of my mouth, I would have completely forgotten WHY I wanted her in here right now.  Unfortunately, we could not quite bring ourselves to part with any of it; the compromise was to make Quinnmei into a single name, as we found that Xiaohui likewise is.

Perhaps I should say a word about why we didn’t just keep the name given her in China.  This is sometimes done, especially by parents who adopt older children who have grown accustomed to their names.  It is more common in the case of a young children, I think, to do as we have done and keep the Chinese name as a middle name.  I have read that some adoptees like that their parents keep the Chinese name as it is a connection to their birth culture, while others dislike it and prefer an “American” name** that not only makes them “like everybody else” but is also a connection to their parents rather than to China.  It may be that Caroline will never use Xiaohui in her life.  However, it may be that, when she turns fourteen and decides that she hates us because YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!!!, she will want to be called Xiaohui and NOT Caroline.  Only time will tell.


(*) I nearly caused at least one fatality if not an outright homocide during our first interview with our case worker.  We were both in his office (subsequent interviews were done individually), and the first question was, “Jim, you’ve written that you have concerns about your ability to be a father.  Can you tell me more about it?  Why do you think that?”

I immediately replied, “Because I’m an a$$hole.”

I think it safe to say that my wife couldn’t decide at that moment whether to kill me on the spot or drop dead of a combined stroke and heart attack.  My mother had no such dilemma: she informed me that, had she been able to get her hands on me at that moment, my life on this earth would have come to a quick, violent end.  Honesty is the best policy… BAH!

Happily, our case worker has the same personality profile as myself, understood my attitude, and we got along quite well.  As he has three daughters of his own, it was very useful to me to talk to him about Fatherhood.

(**) What is an “American” name, anyway?  Jane?  Selena?  Colleen?  Gabrielle?  Adriana?  Katarina?  Fatima?  Priya?  Lihua?  Machiko?  Answer: they all are, though admittedly they may be more popular in some parts of the country than in others.  One thing that has been brought pretty clearly into focus for me is that our country really is a melting pot, and people of just about every race, color, ethnicity or origin on the planet call themselves “American”.

Monday, February 10, 2014

What's in a word?

As we've gone through the process of adoption, we've encountered a curious thing: common words begin to take on whole new meanings.  I might even say that they take on troubling meanings.  Let's start with an easy one: "real".  According to Merriam-Webster*:
real (adj): actually existing or happening; not imaginary; not fake, false, or artificial
"That's a real diamond!" or "That's a real, live elephant!"  We use this word in English all the time.  We know exactly what it means.  So...
"Who are your real parents?"
For the adoptive family, this sentence can present a problem.  It may be uttered by the well-intentioned if somewhat tactless person who is interested in knowing if the adopted child knows who his BIOLOGICAL parents are.  They mean, "Do you know the woman who gave you birth?  The man who is your biological father?" For most adoptees, the answer is - and likely always will be - no.  But what should the child say?  Who are their REAL parents?  Obviously, my wife and I will regard ourselves as the REAL - actually existing, not imaginary or fake, false or artificial - parents of our child(ren).  We hope that she / they will feel the same way, that they are our REAL children.  We expect that there will be questions about the biological parents; this is only natural.  We plan, as our child(ren) grows old enough to question and understand, to discuss all this.
We didn't start out expecting trouble with the word "real".

Another word that takes on a different - and distinctly unpleasant - meaning is "lucky".  Children adopted from China are often called "lucky" both by Chinese and by people in the adoptive country.  "You're so lucky you were adopted!" Again, most people who say these things are well-intentioned.  But what does lucky REALLY mean?  What's behind all this supposed luck?

The children are abandoned.  The first and most important relationship in their lives - with the people who conceived them and brought them into the world - is severed, often (but not always) very soon after birth**.  They then become orphans: even their names are (usually) given them by a bureaucrat, not a loving parent***.  If they are "lucky", they go into a well-equipped and well-staffed orphanage.  If they are very "lucky", they go into a loving foster family.  Lucky... they come to know a woman and man as "mama" and "baba", and perhaps even have a jiejie (big sister) or gege (big brother).  Then, if they are VERY "lucky", all this, like the nascent family into which they were born, is torn apart as they are ripped out of the foster family or orphanage that is home to them, shoved into the arms of strangers, and jetted off to a faraway country where nobody looks, speaks, smells or acts in ways that they find familiar and comforting.

This is "lucky".

Yes, I know: luck is a relative thing.  The child adopted into a well-to-do family is very likely better off than a child left to grow up in an orphanage, even a very good one.  But, at the beginning of it all, the "lucky" child lost her family.  ALL of it.  There are no parents, no siblings, no aunts or uncles or grandparents, nothing.  No photos, no videos, no memories.



(**) In the documentary "Somewhere Between", one of the adopted girls discusses that fact that she was abandoned when she was about five years old and REMEMBERS her biological parents.

"Somewhere Between" (2011)
dir. Linda Goldstein Knowlton
(***)  For example, our daughter's name in China was given her by her orphanage.  Her "family" name is taken from the city where she was found.  The first part of her name was given to every child taken in during that month.  Only the second part of her name is unique to her.  Imagine calling a child February Jane St. Louis or December Susan Seattle.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Road to Fatherhood (pt 2)

As I have written, I can’t quite put my finger on the day when I first trod the Road to Fatherhood.  I knew that I was unquestionably on it on the day that I caught myself… looking at reviews for minivans (the horror!).  I hasten to add that it’s not unusual for a man of my age to look at cars with a younger woman in mind, but the cars are usually rather sportier and the woman are generally a good bit older!
Minivans are only one of many things that I have found myself thinking about for the first time in my life.  My wife and I did quite a lot of research, for example, on the public schools in our area; naturally, we wanted to be in the best district possible.  The fact that our daughter is Chinese added another wrinkle to this: we were told that it would be highly desirable for her to be in a school with the greatest possible ethnic diversity – ideally the highest fraction of Asian students – that we could find.  To the extent that I’d ever thought about the public school system at all, it was to grumble that I had to pay taxes to support it and REALLY grumble that it doesn’t seem to perform very well.  Indeed, my reflexive dissatisfaction with the public schools was so profound that we looked into the various private schools in the area.  I had no conception of how expensive they could be: one can send a child to a good – even top-ranked – college for the cost of tuition in some of our area’s private grammar and high schools.  We also toyed with the idea of home schooling, and indeed we will likely do what some of what our friends call “Mommy-Daddy School”, which is basically supplemental classes after school to ensure that our daughter learns all the things that we think she ought to know.  We can’t afford to home school as both of us need to work.  I might add that there have also been a few highly unjust suggestions that I might be a bit too hard on my daughter as a teacher, though I think it’s perfectly reasonable to (for example) expect a seven year-old to be able to do basic calculus and discuss the causes of the First World War.
Race, ethnicity, and culture have also occupied my thoughts a great deal.  I have always taken Theodore Roosevelt’s position that there is no room in our country for “hyphenated Americans”.  However, I recall a Chinese-American friend of mine in grad school telling me that this is easy for white people to say, and further reading and research indicates that she had an excellent point.  Imagine being a seven year-old Chinese girl… and the only dolls available in the toy store have blonde hair and blue eyes.  Imagine being a twelve year-old Chinese girl… and people ask you to speak Chinese though you’ve grown up speaking nothing but English.  Imagine being a fifteen year-old Chinese girl… and people asking, “No, where are you FROM?” as if it’s impossible for a Chinese girl to be from North Carolina*.  Imagine being a college-aged Chinese girl… with little or nothing in common with the other students who are either from China or are of Chinese descent.  We know that some children have problems with these things.  There’s even a cute little term for it: “twinkie” or “banana”, which is to say yellow on the outside, white on the inside.  How shall I help my daughter if she has those problems? (I have it on good authority that beating the hell out of people who bother her is much frowned-upon by the police)
Naturally, I don’t ONLY think about potential problems.  I enjoy spending time thinking about things we might do together.  My wife and I like to travel, so I have pleasant expectations of taking our daughter snorkeling in the Caribbean, or hiking in the mountains of North Carolina, or to see a show on Broadway, or taking a walking tour of Italy or Spain or Romania.  Then there are soccer games or tumbling or school plays or cheerleading or softball or just watching movies with her.  The Road to Fatherhood promises to have its potholes, but I’m very hopeful that it will be a great trip.
(*) Obviously, we wonder how we will answer this question.  Our daughter is FROM Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.  At least, that’s where she was found and where we will adopt her from, but she will grow up as a North Carolina girl.  Somewhat tricky question…

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sunday Snapshot:   Miss Paige

Jim has always tried to spend time with his niece Paige and since we got married 5 years ago I've joined in as well.  Today was a girls only outing.  We went to get our hair done.  Paige was getting a hair makeover and she was super excited.

Here are some photos I've taken of Paige over the last month: 

As you can see, there was nothing per se wrong with her hair.  She just wanted to play around.

Here's the before from today:

I decided to document the progress of the transformation!


Almost finished!




We can't wait for Caroline and Paige to meet.  We know there are going to instant buddies and Caroline will be begging to go visit her at College.

We love you Paige!

Special thanks to my long time hairdresser Stephanie Frye!

Hooking up with Sunday Snapshot.

Ni Hao Yall

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Road to Fatherhood (pt 1)

I am not sure when I realized that I was on the Road to Fatherhood.  Really, it was rather like the feeling one gets when driving along and suddenly realizes that he’s totally lost… er… on an unfamiliar road: “How did I get HERE?” The Road stretches on before me, destination unknown.  But, upon reflection, fatherhood isn’t about the destination: it’s about the journey.

Fasten your seatbelt: it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

I am a chemist by training and a quality control chemist by profession.  In chemistry as in math, physics, and the other hard sciences, there is generally one correct solution to a given problem, and the world (outside the realm of research) runs on predictable lines.  Even the most complex, difficult goal can be achieved by establishing, following, and optimizing a process, a set of tasks done in a predetermined sequence.  Get the process right, and the desired outcome will inevitably follow.

Raising a child… doesn’t seem to work that way.

Once I discovered that I was on the Road, I did what years of schooling taught me to do: RESEARCH.  I started reading books and articles about fatherhood.  I asked my father and brother.  I asked friends.  “HOW DOES THIS WORK?  WHAT DO I DO?”

Very quickly, a basic concept emerged:

Merely showing up will get you a solid C+.

This was a very unsatisfactory conclusion: there MUST be more to it.  I began to sweat over the idea that there would be some specific instance, some single moment in time, where I would say or do the wrong thing (or NOT say or do the RIGHT thing) and BANG!  My daughter’s life would be irretrievably ruined.  Goodbye PhD, hello heroin-addicted pole dancer.  Like a good chemist, I began to go through various scenarios, lots of “what-if’s”.  I talked these over with family and friends.  The response was pretty uniform:

You can’t really plan or predict any of this.  All you can do is do your best.

Well!  One doesn’t send a chemist into the lab to synthesize a compound or analyze an unknown substance with nothing more than a cheery “Do your best!”.  There are… there are… Procedures!  Methods!  Systems!  Processes!  Standards!  Calibrations!  In-process tests and inspections!  A + B = C!  If one follows steps 1 – 28 in a competent manner, then the outcome – the PREDICTABLE outcome – will occur.

By this point, people were starting to worry about me, but I finally grasped the Truth about Fatherhood that they had all being trying to tell me:

Merely showing up will get you a solid A-.

I will do my best.  I will try to anticipate, plan for, guard against, the bumps that might occur in my daughter’s life.  I will read and study and research to try to understand what she’s going through at different points in her life.  I might even talk to her… Novel thought… 

But I have learned (I think!) that a little girl wants less a father who’s got all the answers and more of a father who loves and cherishes her, who does his best to care for her, and who… shows up.  If I can do that… a solid A-.

That’s a better grade than I got in organic!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Caroline's Room

     We are so excited about being matched with our little girl.  She will be 15 months old next Friday.  The wait to bring her home is so hard, but I know once we get her home it will all be worth it.  We hope to have LOA by the end of February. 
     Just so you know, Adoptive Moms nest too.  I've been obsessing over Caroline's bedroom for a couple months now.  I want it to be perfect.  I try to think about what I liked as a child.  When I first started to plan Caroline's room I thought I would paint it aqua blue, but then when we moved to the new house the bedroom was such as nice shade of green.  My bedroom was actually a similar shade of green when I was a toddler.  It seemed perfect to leave it that color.
     Even before we decided to adopt, Jim's aunt gave him the twin beds that she and his Dad slept on almost 70 years ago.  When we were LID waiting for a match we decided to use the beds in Caroline's room.  If she ever has a sister there is a bed for her too.  Jim's Mom was gracious enough to paint them white to match the dresser which we took from our guest room.  I wanted the pulls on the dresser to be a little more whimsical so I changed them out for pink crystal style flower pulls which happen to match the bright pink curtains that adorn the windows and the closet.

     Then I obsessed over the bedding.  Luckily my Mother-In-Law loves to quilt so I picked our some fund material and she sewed the quilts.  By the way, if you are interested, she does sell her quilts and they are very high quality. 

  Jim insisted that we put her name on the wall, so we looked and looked for the perfect decal.  We loved this one because it added another color to the room.
  And of course, no child's room is complete without toys and a play area.  Caroline is lucky she has a large bedroom that she will have to herself for at least a while.  Mama and Baba hope that she will have a meimei (little sister) to share it with one day.

  We really hope Caroline loves her bedroom.  We know our dog Mallory does.  We have to keep the door closed most of the time to keep her out.  Mallory thinks that the bedroom belongs to her and I've caught her a couple times trying to snatch a stuffed animal.  We think Mallory is going to love having a toddler in the house and will spend lots of time in Caroline's bedroom playing and loving on her just like we will.


Ni Hao Yall