Our Fierce Girl

One of only a few pictures we received of YaYu before we met her. She looks so big and robust in this picture, but in reality she was very tiny, and still is quite petite today.

Brett and I thought we were done after we brought WenYu home in 1999. But, in 2004, we were eating banana splits with Meiling and WenYu at the Ghirardelli factory in San Francisco (on what was our 25th wedding anniversary!), and began teasing the girls that we were going to adopt again. Brett and I glanced at each other, and knew immediately we weren’t joking – he and I really did want to add one more child to our family.

So, we came home and filled out the application paperwork again, this time asking for an older child. The only request we made was that we would like the child to come from the same province as our other girls (Hunan). Around two weeks later I received a phone call from our agency, asking if we would consider a little four year-old girl who was waiting for a family. She had some burn injuries, but was otherwise in good health. I listened to the information about her, and then asked one question: Where was she from? When the person from the agency said “Hunan” I knew this was a sign this little girl was meant to be ours. I shared everything with Brett that evening, and he agreed. That was in April 2004; in August we were officially matched with YaYu, and we traveled to China in late February 2005, along with Meiling and WenYu, to bring our new daughter/sister home.

YaYu with her new family, not long after meeting us for the first time. The day after we met her she requested a purse because her sisters each had one, and new shoes like theirs!

Right from the start we knew we had a real pistol on our hands. Before meeting her we couldn’t figure out how she got dressed or fed herself with just two fingers, but she did everything easily (no one is more skilled with chopsticks!), and we learned there was nothing she couldn’t figure out how to do given time and effort. YaYu was initially terrified when placed with us, but with her sisters’ help she began to relax (they could speak to her in Mandarin), and within a few days YaYu told our facilitator that she was ready to go to America with her new family. She started kindergarten in September and the rest, as they say, is history. She is our fierce girl, always moving forward, facing head-on whatever comes her way, always trying harder.

But that’s my story. Below is YaYu’s, the essay she wrote for her college application:

Almost like a warning label was a note my parents received when they adopted me at the age of five: “She can be quite stubborn at times.”

I resented the associations that came with the word stubborn: Obstinate. Headstrong. Pigheaded. I wasn’t any of those things. I was persistent. I was determined. I was creative. I had to be to do what anyone else could.

When I was a toddler I was burned, and left with scars on the left side of my face and only two fingers on each hand. I don’t remember what happened, but doctors believed I had likely pulled a hot pan from a stove. What I do remember is discovering I was different, and that I often had to try harder, or figure out a different way to accomplish what seemed so effortless for others.

Once, in elementary school, a teacher taught our class a neat little technique of using our fingers to make adding and subtracting easier. She started with the equation two plus eight. She held two fingers up and then began to fan her fingers out one by one until magically she was holding up all ten fingers! But when I put my hands up and attempted the trick, the only equation I could do was two plus two.

At first embarrassed, I realized I didn’t have to accept the situation, and tried to think of a different way to do the problem. My eyes settled on the little basket of crayons that sat in front of me. I dumped all of them onto my desk and tried the trick again. My solution proved to be just as effective as everyone else’s fingers!

As I progressed through school I continued to adjust in little ways to fit in, and my life was comfortable. Friends and teachers hardly noticed my hands and scars, if at all, and I believed nothing could hold me back. Then my whole world changed when my family moved to Kaua’i the summer before my first year of high school. More than just a “new kid,” I was again the girl with scars on her face, the girl with missing fingers. Each day at school I faced stares and questions about my abilities.

My greatest challenge came when I joined the school’s swim team. Would I be able to swim quickly enough with only a few fingers to help propel me forward? Competitive swimming was difficult beyond anything I had done before, but I loved to swim and believed I could succeed. One day at practice the coach asked the rest of the team to swim laps with their fists closed, to help them understand what swimming was like for me. Watching the entire team slow down to a crawl was crushing. I felt angry and wanted to quit. This wasn’t fair – I tried so hard! Later though I overheard a teammate tell someone that I inspired her because I worked so hard, and I didn’t give up. Her words were a revelation to me, and pushed me to work even harder to improve my technique and increase my speed. I will never be the team’s fastest swimmer, but I have become a better, more successful racer.

When I was a little girl I used to wish my hands could be restored, and my scars erased. Over time though I’ve come to see that my scars and missing fingers were never limitations, but invitations to challenge myself, to look at things differently, and to persist in order to accomplish my goals. I have applied those lessons to everything I undertake, whether it’s making my own pasta or learning another language or mentoring a young student.

I am not stubborn. I am creative. I am persistent. I am determined, and I am eager to embrace all the challenges that are yet to come.

We are so immensely proud, and humbled as well, by this amazing girl that we have been privileged to parent. What a ride it’s been, but she is ready to fly on her own. Look out world, here she comes!



17 thoughts on “Our Fierce Girl

  1. What a heartwarming post! Just beautiful and I love YaYu’s essay. You both brought tears to my eyes. She will go far.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought she did a very good job with her essay!

      She is one very determined young woman. If she had decided to become a concert pianist she would have figured it out somehow. I have no doubts that she will succeed beyond her current dreams.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That was very beautiful. What a special(in a good way) ,talented creative young person she is. You both must be really proud.


    1. We are very proud of her. She has sparkled every moment since we met her. I cannot begin to imagine what she has faced, but she just keeps moving forward in a positive way. Her determination and spirit has had an effect on all of us and many others.


    1. She wants to be a teacher more than anything, and I think she will be an amazing one. She wants to teach overseas for a while, for the cultural experience, but says she may come back to Kaua’i after that to teach.


    1. Thank you! We feel so blessed to be her parents. She has been what we have called “high maintenance” at times, but that’s been her determination to succeed on her own terms. We’re so excited to see her graduate tomorrow!


    1. I thought her essay was wonderful too! It took us a while to figure out that she was not being stubborn or obstinate, but trying to work things out for herself. Although some of her actions came across as stubborness, she’s had a reason for doing everything the way she did (and still does).


  3. Very inspiring essay. She is wise beyond her years and will do well. Congratulations on her graduation! I’m sure it’ll be bittersweet for you as it is the last high school graduation you’ll attend as a parent.


    1. The graduation last night was fun, although it rained during most of the ceremony. It was a very emotional night for YaYu. Both Brett and I actually felt relieved that this was the last high school graduation we’ll go through – we are all ready to move on. The college graduations are easier too – there’s not as much craziness and emotion as the high school ones.


  4. Such a touching essay! Congratulations to Ya-Yu! She looks very pretty in her lei and headpiece. You and Brett must be very proud to have raised 4 great kids. Very well done! The Great Adventure is totally deserved.


    1. We are extremely proud of all four of our kids, and the paths they’ve chosen.

      They only get to wear their lei for around 45 minutes or so, and then they’re handed back to us because they can’t wear them at the Grad Night party. YaYu will be working on downsizing her room beginning tomorrow, and will wear her lei and wreath for a couple of days while that gets done. The red lei will last the longest – over a week, but the orchid ones will fade fairly quickly, maybe in 3-4 days. She received many other non-floral leis from her friends – they were almost up to her nose!


  5. What a beautiful tribute to your daughter, thank you so much for sharing. And YaYu ‘s essay indicates she will surely go far in life, just as your other three appear to be doing. Job well done Mom and Dad!

    My youngest daughter taught overseas, in Seoul, S. Korea, for two years after college. She had an amazing experience doing so, and the camaraderie between her and her fellow teachers, mainly from US and Canada, continues to this day. If YaYu does choose this route after college, I think she’ll have an amazing life experience.

    Congratulations again to all!


    1. She really is something! YaYu can try our patience like no one else, and is the only child we’ve raised that’s shown an “attitude,” but we figured out that she has always had a plan, knows where she wants to go, and has figured out what she needs to do to get there, so we’ve dealt with it (up to a point).

      We’re wondering if she’ll go teach in China because she is fluent and can maintain her language skills, or whether she’ll opt to go somewhere else. I’m leaning toward China because of the food! I count my overseas teaching experiences as some of the most meaningful in my life.


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