Saturday, March 29, 2014

What she's up against

Quite aside from problems that she may face because she’s adopted and because she’s Asian, my daughter faces a whole laundry list of potential problems simply because she’s a girl.  I’ve recently come across a couple of news items / blog posts that demonstrate what I mean.

The first is a letter written by Dr. Kelly Flanagan to his three daughters.  Flanagan was in the cosmetics aisle of his local Big Box store and was depressed by the spectacle of rows upon rows of bottles and boxes and packages of products that are pitched to women who want to make themselves “beautiful”. 

When you have a daughter, you start to realize she's just as strong as everyone else in the house -- a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won't see her that way. They'll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they'll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence.(1) [emphasis mine]

The second is a story – controversy might be a better word – about a Duke University freshman who has become a porn star ostensibly to help pay her college tuition.  This is bad enough, but there are people out there who think that what she’s doing is – somehow – liberating.  She’s a feminist, you see.  I’m not sure when sex for money stopped being “prostitution” (which I always thought was considered to be a Bad Thing) and became “empowering”, but such is our fascinating modern world.

So, here we have a couple of very different messages, archetypes of those that will constantly bombard my daughter:

1.     You haven’t got to LOOK beautiful to BE beautiful.  Don’t let people tell you that you’re somehow worthless because you don’t meet highly artificial standards of physical beauty

2.     Use your body!  SELL your body!  Show your Power as a Woman(TM) by getting naked and getting freaky!

I think that you can guess which message I favor.

I don’t say that there’s anything wrong with a girl – a woman – trying to make herself look nice.  The world is what it is, and there is a good bit of research to support the common sense observation that better-looking people tend, all other things being equal, to get ahead in life; their looks are a natural advantage.  There’s certainly nothing to be gained by making oneself UNattractive, by deliberately dressing badly, not being decently groomed, etc.  The problem arises when, as Flanagan warns his daughters, one allows appearance – body shape, hair style, clothes, shoes, etc. – to be the sole indicator of self-worth.

My daughter will see many, many images every day of what she “SHOULD” look like.  She’ll be bombarded with advertisements for products and clothing and shoes and tanning salons, all promising to make her more “beautiful”.  Worse, she'll be told, often explicitly, that she is nothing more than "pretty face and a body to enjoy".  What will counteract these messages?



Sunday, March 16, 2014

My favorite pics

As my wife has posted her two favorite pics of Caroline, I thought I'd get in on the act.  I admit to spending a lot of time looking at the photos we've been lucky enough to get.  I think you'll agree: she's adorable.

"C'mon!  What are you waiting for???" 

Race and culture

When we started down the path to adoption, I discovered that we had to attend parenting class.  I braced myself for blocks of instruction on how to care for a small child including (shudder) how to change a diaper.  Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I found that the focus of the classes was on the psychological challenges faced by adoptees and their parents, including issues and questions and problems regarding race and culture.  We were taught that it is important to honor our daughter's birth culture, and we plan to do that as well as we can.  But, as I've thought more about it and read what other adoptees have written on the subject, I am increasingly wondering just what all of it means.

According to wiki:
Even though there is a broad scientific agreement that essentialist and typological conceptualizations of race are untenable, scientists around the world continue to conceptualize race in widely differing ways, some of which have essentialist implications. While some researchers sometimes use the concept of race to make distinctions among fuzzy sets of traits, others in the scientific community suggest that the idea of race often is used in a naive or simplistic way, and argue that, among humans, race has no taxonomic significance by pointing out that all living humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens, and subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.(1)
In other words, there is not very good agreement among scientists about exactly what the word "race" means and, to the extent that there is any agreement, it is not of especially lengthy pedigree.  In short, "race" is a fuzzy human construct created to differentiate - usually for discreditable or downright wicked reasons - between people based on some observable physical traits like skin color or eye shape.  What many (most?) people mean when they talk about "race" is racial stereotypes.

This is not to say that "race" isn't a real thing on some level.  When my daughter and I (one day soon!) are face to face, or look at ourselves in the mirror or in a photograph, we will see that we have some pretty marked differences in appearance.  Her eyes are almond-shaped and nearly black; mine are more round and hazel green.  My nose is somewhat longer; her skin is of a rather different tone (I think that I may be forgiven for thinking that she looks pretty perfect).  How we shall deal with these differences - more accurately, how we shall deal with what other people make of them - is a question that I ponder a great deal.  Because, once we get past the gross physical differences, I expect that she will be much like any other North Carolina girl.  This leads to questions of culture.  Again, wiki:
In the 20th century, "culture" emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be directly attributed to genetic inheritance. Specifically, the term "culture" in American anthropology had two meanings:
    1. the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and
    2. the distinct ways that people, who live differently, classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively.(2)
Once again, we see a concept that hasn't got a universally-accepted meaning and has really not been in use for very long.  Again, "culture" is often used to describe stereotypes, and usually invidious stereotypes at that (do NOT get me started on how we Southerners are portrayed in most films and TV shows!).

ARE there differences between the "cultures" of one group or country and another?  Certainly.  But how far up or down does this go?  To what extent can we say that there is an "American" culture or a "Chinese" culture without almost immediately reverting to stereotypes that can quickly be showed to be so full of exceptions and caveats as to be nearly meaningless?  And, more to the point, is this "culture" something that can be taught to a child in the way that we teach them ABC's or the multiplication tables?

Let's assume that I try to honor my daughter's Chinese culture, or even teach it to her.  How can I possibly do this in any meaningful way?  I will have spent perhaps three weeks there.  I have been acquainted with only a tiny number of Chinese people (and are Chinese and Chinese-Americans the same?  I think not).  I speak a very limited amount of Mandarin.  How can I try to teach ANYBODY "Chinese culture"?  For that matter, can I teach anybody "American culture"?  What is that, exactly?

And would I be doing her some disservice by trying?  She will, at least until she is old enough to make her own decisions about such things, live in America as an American.  She will learn to navigate in the "American culture".  If I try to teach her anything different, it seems to me that I will be handicapping her.  If I may indulge in a simplistic simile, it's like teaching a child to eat with chopsticks, then taking him to eat where everybody uses a fork.

What I think is really going on with "honoring" or "celebrating" the birth culture is an attempt to cope with a feeling that international adoptees seem often to have: they are not (because of how they look) merely a stranger in a strange land, but a stranger in their own families.  They look in the mirror and see that they are different.  Other people will hardly hesitate to point this out on a regular basis.  They are constantly told, implicitly if not explicitly, that, "You don't belong here." Well, if they don't belong HERE, then is it not unreasonable for them to think that they belong THERE?  But... do they?  In the invaluable documentary "Adopted: The Movie", Frank Wu talks about being a Chinese-American going to Taiwan:
"Nothing brings it home quite as much as taking a trip back to Asia because you realize, 'Gee, that's funny: I look like people here.  I have the same hair, the same shape of eyes, the same tone and texture of skin.' But as soon as I open my mouth, people think I'm really stupid or uncouth.  Or, as soon as I walk down the street, they immediately know there's something wrong with me."(3)
They know because Wu is an AMERICAN.  He walks, talks, thinks, even stands like an American.  As my daughter will.

There are many potential problems that will face us as a transracial family.  My daughter, a person whom I am to protect and care for and nurture above all other people, will be subject to various pressures because she isn't white, because she doesn't look like me or her mother or anybody else in her family.  The very idea that this will happen hurts me.  How can I teach her to cope with it?  How can I armor her against the thoughtless people who will tell her how "lucky" she is or against the jerks who will call her a "chink"?

I don't know.  Somewhere in the mix of race and culture and adoption and her individuality lies an answer.  We will have to find it together.




(3) "Adopted: Chinese vs. Adopted Chinese" [video file]  Retrieved 2014, March 16

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sunday Snapshot:  Our Sweet Baby Girl

We found out this week that since we have LOA we are allowed to share photos of our sweet baby girl.  We absolutely adore her and cannot wait to bring her home.  We are hoping to travel mid-May, but our agency thinks we may get pushed to early June. 

Caroline is currently 16 months old and if the stats we received are accurate, she is very tall.  She is described as being very sweet, friendly and loves her foster parents and foster sister.  Even though we can't wait to get her, part of me hurts for her foster family.  They have loved her so much.  We are so appreciative of their care of her.  Caroline's foster sister will be joining her family soon too and I'm sure it is going to be really tough on the Foster Parents to lose both of them so close together.

We have received about 20 photos of Caroline.  These are 2 of my favorites.

Caroline at 14 months:


Caroline at 11 months.  She looks like she is very happy and full of personality.


Hooking up with

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I'm already a day behind.  I will have to catch up tomorrow.  This is Mallory Sitting on my Corner Chaise.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Baby Showers are so joyous.  What can be better than joining with friends to celebrate the impending arrival of a sweet little one.  We will be having a shower in the near future for our sweet Caroline, but today was Nicole's day.  My sweet friend Nicole is expecting a baby boy near the end of May.  Can't wait to meet him.  The theme was "A New Chapter Begins".  It was all about books and their characters and in lieu of cards, everyone brought a book.

First - The Beautiful Mother to Be:

Add a doting Dad:


Big Sis went with her love of Frozen!


No Book Party can be complete without the Grinch!!!

Gotta have some food including green eggs and ham!!!

And of course, what's a shower without punch!!!

Together this makes for one Happy Family.  We all cannot wait to meet the wee lad in May!!!

Hooking up with

Ni Hao Yall


I have many hopes and dreams for my daughter.  As I ponder them, it occurs to me that the top of the list must be that she will be happy in her life.  But what does that mean?

I think that many people (including me) often confuse "success" with "happiness".  Now, they are pretty closely linked: I don't think that a person can IN GENERAL be happy if he is not successful (consider a certain well-known failed artist who parlayed his unhappiness into that little fracas known as World War II).  The converse, however, is certainly not always true: people can be quite successful and at the same time deeply unhappy.  How many famous and apparently "successful" people go mad, lose themselves in drugs and alcohol, or take their own lives?  They are the victims of their own success or, perhaps more correctly, they've traded happiness for success.

I must guard against this with my daughter.  I must not push her to do things that make her unhappy in the interests of making her "successful".  I must not push her to live the life that would make ME happy.  I must be on guard for signs that, while she might be bringing home good grades and awards and the other symbols of success, she is doing so at the expense of her happiness.  This is a problem with some "elite" kids in our society: they are pushed to excel in academics, sports, extracurricular activities and their social lives so much that they start to become mentally exhausted or, worse, get the idea that their self-worth is so tied up with good grades, trophies, awards and being part of the "in crowd" that any failure makes them feel like a hopeless loser.(1) Patty Cogen notes that this sort of pressure is very common in internationally-adopted children as they tend to have parents who are very well-educated and materially successful and push their children to follow in their footsteps.(2)  This makes sense: "This worked for us, so it should work for you." But is being v2.0 of me or my wife going to make my daughter happy?  Maybe, maybe not.  She will have to find her own way.

But there's another trap in this: raising a lazy or aimless child.  I must try to teach her good work habits, to be organized, to set goals, to try hard and to keep trying in the face of setbacks.  Amy Chua's "Tiger Mom" model is perhaps an answer to this: by setting the highest standards, by forcing the child to excel, the child will learn to do it on her own and, eventually, enjoy the fruits of being good at whatever she decides to do.(3)  There is much to be said about this.  But where to draw the line between raising a lazy, unmotivated daughter who is unequipped for adult life or raising a hyper-prepared daughter who is utterly miserable?

I want my daughter to be happy but I want her to be successful.  How can I teach her to achieve this happy state?


(1) Madeline Levin. The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy KidsNew York: Harper Collins, 2006

(2) Patty Cogen.  Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years.  Boston: The Harvard Common Press, 2008.  Cogen notes that there is another pressure that internationally adopted children must bear, one that comes from inside themselves: they often feel that their abandonment is somehow their own fault and they spend the rest of their lives trying to prove that they really aren't such bad or failed people to deserve such a fate.

(3) Amy Chua. The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  New York: Penguin, 2011

Friday, March 7, 2014



Humans have been trying to catch up with birds for thousands of years.  We often do things that simulate the feel of soaring through the air.  Sometimes just feeling the wind in you face can make you feel like you are flying.  Today my husband took advantage of the snow to soar through our backyard on a sled.  It took him back to his childhood.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


I decided to go with a more abstract sense of chairs.  Our dog Mallory thinks we make really good chairs.  She loves laps!  In addition, I saw my little birdy friend again.  He is also perched on the fence.  That's his chair!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Role models pt 2; Parenting the Asian-American girl

During my research into Chinese-Americans of note (I would say “famous” Chinese-Americans, but they generally aren’t, our society being more interested in lunatic pop stars than people who've actually done something worthwhile with their lives), I came across Hazel Ying Lee, aka Li Yueying (李月英).  This remarkable woman became a pilot years before World War II at a time when less than 1% of pilots in our country were female.  She tried to fly for the Chinese air force after the Japanese invasion, but was turned down.  Instead, she became a civilian airline pilot in China.  Those who have seen the John Wayne film “The Flying Tigers” have some idea of what airline flying was like in China at the time.  Let’s just say that it wasn’t the boring commuter flight from New York to DC!
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lee returned to the United States and, along with Maggie Gee, became one of two Chinese-American WASP pilots.  This was a rough, hazardous job: the women flew the same aircraft as male pilots (including bombers such as the B-17 and B-24, which required a lot of muscle to control), frequently under difficult conditions and for very low pay.  In one case, Lee made a forced landing in a Kansas field and was chased by a pitchfork-wielding farmer who was convinced that she was a JAPANESE pilot and part of an invading army!  Lee was so good a pilot that she was one of a handful of WASPs who were selected to fly fighter planes such as the P-51 (her favorite), the P-47 and the P-38.  Tragically, Lee died of burns received when her P-63 collided with another in a crowded landing pattern at Great Falls Army Air Field, Montana (now Malmstrom AFB) in November, 1944.  Her brother, Victor, was killed in action in France soon afterward.  The family had to fight to have the two buried in the cemetery in their hometown of Portland, Oregan: “whites only”.
I must say that this sort of thing really irritates me.  Here we have a person who wanted nothing more than to serve her country, had to fight to do it, and even after giving her life for it was treated like dirt.  Bah.
                                                       A jaunty Lee shortly after getting her pilot license, 1932

This leads me to my second topic: raising the confident, strong daughter.  I can do no better than to quote Frances Hai-Kwa Wang:*

[H]ere are some of my best suggestions and practical techniques for raising strong and confident Asian Pacific American daughters and instilling APA Girl Power. They include rewriting stories, critiquing characters, finding role models, developing alternative beauty standards, learning to speak up, and preparing for sexism from both sides.

What Wang goes on to discuss apply, I think, to daughters of ANY ethnic background.  For example, she talks about common fairy tales in which the heroine - Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella - is rescued by the Handsome Prince.  As I've gotten older, I've come to DETEST this sort of thing.  I hate movies in which the girl cowers and screams while the hero is in a fight for his (and, not uncoincidenally, her) life.  "Don't just stand there!  DO SOMETHING!" I want to shout at the screen.  The point is that a woman hasn't got to be a passive spectator or helpless victim, and telling stories that portary them as such do no favors to the little girls who are their target audience.  As Wang suggests, the stories might be... altered a bit.  Or, better still, stories that feature a strong and fearless girl such as Mulan or Hermione Granger might make better bedtime fare.

I do not suggest that I want to raise my daughter to duke it out when she's upset.  Rather, I want her to learn that sitting around waiting for somebody else to save her - to solve her problems - is no way to go through life.  Hazel Ying Lee didn't wait for somebody to come to her door and ask her to be a pilot: she did it herself.

Wang also emphasizes the need to teach girls to be independent thinkers:

As a parent, it can be a huge pain to have intelligent, articulate daughters who question everything you say (I know, I have three), but in the long run, those are characteristics that are critical to their success in America. Encourage independent thinking, and allow them to speak their mind and give their reasons. (If you can’t take it, perhaps encourage them to speak up more in school rather than home…just kidding.) Encourage them to write down their ideas and learn how to justify them. Have them participate in public-speaking contests, school plays and academic contests; have them work on the school paper, get involved in causes about which they are passionate and take on leadership roles. Think of it all as practice and skill development, not as time taken away from traditional academic studies. Since one of the many stereotypes that haunt Asian-American girls is that they are nice, quiet and shy, they will have to speak twice as loud in order to be heard.

I entirely agree.  I've written in a previous post that I wrote to my daughter about How to Lie so that she will have some idea how to spot people who are lying to her (such as advertisers and politicians).  I've also written to her at length that she needs to learn to use her brain, to be a skeptic and to think for herself.  Part of my task as a parent is to teach her to do that.  Yes, as Wang writes, this may mean quite a lot of back-talk from her, but I'd rather have a mouthy daughter who keeps me on my toes than a quiet, mousy, submissive girl who will grow up into a piece of Jell-O and gets pushed around because I've failed to teach her to have some backbone.

And rewriting some stories might prove to be a lot of fun...

"Baba, are you SURE that's how the story goes?"

"Of course it is, baby: when the Seven Dwarves came rushing back to the cottage, they found that Snow White, not being stupid enough to eat an apple offered to her by a creepy stranger, had called the cops.  When the wicked old queen tried to get rough, Snow White held her at gunpoint until they arrived.  She was a key witness at the trial.  The wicked old queen got life without parole for attempted murder.  Now, sleep well.  Tomorrow night, I'll tell you the story of how the Little Mermaid became the first female member of SEAL Team Six."




The first thing that popped into my head was "ice", but I didn't want generic photos so I played around with some ice cubes.  These photos are the result:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


The obvious answer to that is Caroline.  Since I can't share her photos online yet, I thought I would share instead our LOA.  It's technically now called Letter of Seeking Confirmartion from Adopter.  We signed it today and will be sending the original back out to our agency.

Monday, March 3, 2014


When trying to choose a photo that described my name, I went with the easiest thing I could find, crystals.  This is a photo of a pearl and crystal tiara that I wore in my wedding.  I absolutely loved the pop of red. 

As many of you may already know, my parents did not spell my name the normal way.  I am "Chrystal" not "Crystal".  There are people who have known me for my entire life who still don't spell my name right.  I'm used to it by now.  In the days before the internet, it was hard to get things with my name on it.  I so wanted that tag that said "Chrystal" for my bike as a child.  Now I am glad my name is different. 

I thought I would share a little about why I am named Chrystal.  My parents had actually intended to name me Krystal.  Some of you from the South may be familiar with Krystal's Burgers.  My parents ate them a lot when my Dad was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia.  My Mother thought that it would make a beautiful name for a little girl.  The evening that I was born, there was a woman on the Channel 9 news out of Charlotte whose name was Chrystal and my Mother decided to spell my name as "Chrystal" instead of "Krystal".


Sunday, March 2, 2014


I grew up a dog lover.  I've had a dog for as long as I can remember.  My uncle once said that when he dies, he wants to come back as one of my dad's dogs.  I guess that tells you that we also spoil our dogs, but why not.  They give love unconditionally.  I can't wait for Caroline to meet our dogs.  I know that they are going to protect and love Caroline with all of their heart. 

Our two dogs are as different as they can be.  Mallory is a Labrador retriever / Boxer Bull dog mix.   She has is sweet, goofy and lives to give kisses.  She will be more than happy to cuddle with Caroline any time she wants.  Danaan, who we actually call "Sheepdog" is a larger than average Shetland Sheepdog.  True to breed, she herds us like sheep.  She's a barker.  Bark Bark - Feed Me.  Bark Bark - Time for bed etc..etc..  She will be a built in baby watcher.  I'm sure she will let us know every time Caroline whimpers.

Here's a few of my favorite photos of our girls:







We love our furbabies and we hope Caroline learns to love them too!

Hooking up with

Ni Hao Yall


I looked through my house for something borrowed.  Really couldn't find anything and then my hubby reminded me we had something in the basement.  Here's a photo of a small portion of the something borrowed.  Can you guess what it is?


Hope your having a great day!!!


Role Models

When I was growing up, I had a variety of men that I admired.  One of the earliest that I recall was Alvin C. York, a fellow Tennessean who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I for single-handedly killing or capturing nearly two hundred Germans.  He was portrayed by Gary Cooper in the 1941 film “Sergeant York.” I’ve also admired other men such as Presidents Washington, Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt; Admiral Nimitz; Winston Churchill; and my father.

Who might my daughter admire?  Who are Chinese and Chinese-Americans that she can look at as models to emulate or simply give her pride in her heritage?

Thanks heavens again for the internet.  I recently came across the website Chinese American Heroes(1) that gives information not only about individual Chinese-Americans of note, but about the history of the Chinese in our country.  Naturally, I am inclined towards those who have made contributions in science and national defense and BOY! have they ever.  A few examples:

--- Major Chew Een “Kurt” Lee, USMC (吕超)Major Lee was the first Asian to be commissioned as an officer in the Marines.  He was awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for valor in Korea.  His younger brother, Chew Mon, was an Army officer who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.  His youngest brother, Chew Fan, was awarded the Bronze Star despite being a conscientious objector.  Major Lee also served in Vietnam.

--- Rear Admiral Gordon Chung-Hoon, USN ().  Admiral Chung-Hoon was the first Asian to graduate from the United States Naval Academy (class of 1934), where he was also a football star.  He was on board USS Arizona on December 7, 1941, and was later awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for valor as the captain of USS Sigsbee (DD-502).

--- Wen Tsing Chow (周文俊).  Mr. Chow (MS, MIT, 1942) was the inventor of what is called PROM – Programmable Read-Only Memory.  This was done as part of the Atlas ICBM program.  In recognition of his many contributions to United States missile and space programs from the Atlas to the Space Shuttle, Chow was posthumously awarded the Air Force Space and Missiles Pioneer Award in 2004.

--- Chien-Shiung Wu (吴健).  Dr. Wu began her education in physics in China, then emigrated to the United States in 1936.  She was awarded her PhD in physics from Berkeley in 1940, after which she worked on the A-bomb project, helping to develop the gaseous diffusion process for enriching uranium.(3)  After the war, she… did a lot of stuff in nuclear physics that I don’t even pretend to understand.  Her book Beta Decay is apparently still the standard work on the subject. A final note: according to UCLA’s website about her:

Wu's father, Wu Zhong-Yi, opened the first school for girls in China. He advised his daughter when she embarked on her scientific career: "Ignore the obstacles... just put your head down and keep walking forward."(4)

--- Margaret Gee (朱美).  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ms. Gee became a pilot and joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots.  She learned to fly (among other aircraft) B-17 bombers and trained male pilots and navigators.  After the war, she got a degree in physics from Berkeley and went on to work in the nuclear weapons program.

These are only a few of some very remarkable people, very remarkable Americans.  I’m glad that I’ve learned who they are, and I intend that my daughter will learn about them, too.



(2)  The Navy Cross is a Navy / Marine Corps award for valor, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The Army equivalent is the Distinguished Service Cross.  The Silver Star is the third-highest award for valor.

(3) This was done at Oak Ridge, TN which my grandfather helped to build during World War II.  According to my grandmother, he would go to work in the morning and come home in the evening for years without ever telling her where he went or what he was doing.


Saturday, March 1, 2014



When I saw that the first day of the photo challenge was yellow, I knew right away what I would take a photos of.  Luckily the daffodils are in bloom.  Daffodils hold a special place in my heart.  When I was a very young girl, my PawPaw had a daffodil garden, but he never really got to enjoy them.  As soon as they would bloom, I would pick them and take them to my Mama.  He never punished me for taking his daffodils because he knew that I was cherishing them in my own way.  I love flowers of all types and every time I see a daffodil I think of my Paw Paw!  Enjoy!!!