Table talk

I got a new dining table. The old one was a hand-me-down from George’s parents. Their taste and style is very different from mine and while I confess we got a big nudge and help to purchase this table, it is pretty awesome.  It is strong, durable, stable and huge; fit for many more playdates, dinners, coffee time.  Still, if that fancy table could talk, it could tell a tale or two.  It got so wobbly as it amassed hours and hours of resting elbows, heartfelt stories and still more cups of coffee.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a slow evolution of Mommy friends in my circle.  Typical to past experiences, my first group of friends tend to be everyone but Asian, usually international.  Over time, I see the tide change to include more and more Asians and Asian Americans.  It is like my identity formation revisited.  This time it feels a bit different though.  I didn’t feel avoidant, just shy.  With every year, my language skills improve, my navigating the fine line between being Korean and being American is becoming seamless and frankly, I am getting too old to worry as much.

This past year has seen a growing flow of coffee time and table talk with more of my Korean Mommy friends. Inevitably our talks get more intimate as we talk about being in this country, raising our children and reflecting on the life they had “over there.”  We commiserate over the woes of having Korean Mothers-In-Law and being married to their sons and have dabbled in the bigger social welfare issues in Korea for women and children.  For the most part, I am just like all the other Korean mothers save for the fact that my kids are the only ones who do not speak a word of Korean.  Part occupational hazard, part temperament, several have come to me to ask for help, for comfort, for a chat.   I am always acutely aware that there will aways be a part of me that is outside.  It may play a small part in why they talk to me.  They know that our conversations stay with me, they don’t diffuse out to the community.  As one mother said, you tell one person, you might as well tell 100.

As with anyone, the more you talk the better you know.  The more you talk, the more being Korean is a three dimensional construct, not just about food, clothes and dramas.  I especially love when these women are able to give me a dose of reality in my small, but ever shrinking, love affair with Korea.  They remind me that growing up in a homogeneous community, where I would have all the privilege of color/nationality/language, it would not have immune me from the daily struggle to be heard, loved, comforted, confident, safe.  They remind me that as women and mothers, they are far more free here.  They speak to the reality of the pressures of conformity and the continued biases of the Korean way.  Their polite silences remind me too when my American/Western judgments come through and truncate my expectations of the progress that is assumed by a tiny country growing economically at a pace its society just cannot/will not sustain.

I feel less in the learning process of being Korean these days but more in the experience of being Korean. Yet, there are times when being in is just messy.  It is one thing to learn about Korean culture, another to be embroiled in it.  It is something I simultaneously covet and abhor.  Inside, I yearn (with a capital Y) to have cultural context infused in me but when it happens, I cringe and push it away like a virus.  To hear grown women tell me their worth is based on whether they have a son or daughter makes me furious.  And yet I KNOW the feeling of relief that washed over me the day my first born son came into this world.  I shake my head when I see a strong, smart, capable woman tamp down her desires, pursuits in order to save a marriage, keep the in-laws happy, for the sake of keeping up appearances.  Infidelity, divorce, death….all have shown me the inner workings of Korean families.  None are exclusive to Korean families, but the navigation of how these issues resolve has opened my eyes to the deeper appreciation I have for the strength of these women but also the interesting quagmire I feel as a Korean American woman raised in an American home.

I find myself pondering about the young Korean American adoptees behind me as they grow and navigate their sense of womanhood.  After all, the navigational compass comes from the women in front of her, primarily her mother.  Her mother, who is Caucasian, American/Western.  If they are lucky, they will grow with people of color in their world who they can resort to as possible templates to emulate.  It has taken me decades to figure this all out and while my mantra remains, here, we have choices, I know I am talking crap as I am fully aware of the conformity I seek in being accepted by these other Korean women.  I want to honor the legacy and history of the women in front of me that enable the idea of having choices.  I want to be included in that line of women to give such empowerment to the girls behind me.  But I am torn between wanting to trash the perception of choice and extol it.  Because, layered on top of these choices is a society that remains ever so slow to change.  I often say I can choose the aspects of being Korean I like and discard or ignore that which is unacceptable to me. That sounds great intellectually, but the thing I am seeking is that fixed confidence my Korean Mommy friends have that despite what they go through, they are ever so capable of navigating this crazy path with grace, acceptance, anger, passion all the while remaining so intrinsically Korean.  Being ‘all in’ means getting confused, lost, making mistakes and being judged.  How to impart that tenacity to the next generation of girls who might want to walk this path with me?  Perhaps it is the very act of getting mired, lost and making mistakes that help to transcend this missing epigene that I lack, that many adoptees lack, to try on repeatedly till we can find our own comfort zone of grace.

Resolving my resolutions

Resolutions are hard.  I am terrible at keeping them.  This blog has been a resolution of sorts.  Clearly, I have already fallen off the wagon!

I have been collecting scraps of paper again scribbling things down that have happened in the past year, that would be 2012.  While baking, putting up and taking down the tree, trying to put in exercise into my 2013 regiment, dealing with the flu or whatever bug the kids have been passing back and forth to each other, I am always thinking.  My lens is still adoption. Adoption is never casual in my life.  I can’t simply say I am adopted or that I work in adoption and let it be.  There is always something personal that comes up.  There is rarely something personal about being a tax attorney, a hedge fund guy, a doctor, in the same gut kicking way it can be for me as an adoptee who works in adoption.

In my reflecting, I got to meet more adoptees than I have in a very long time.  Introverted by nature, meeting new people and doing small talk is not a natural occurrence.  I have really enjoyed meeting this new group of adoptees.  They are in the collective of being a generation behind me.  They remind me of how unique our experiences are and I love that they are optimistic enough to choose to work in this field, challenge and change the language.  I am most impressed by their connection to Korea, some lived there for years, some are anxious to live there.  I like this new role I am finding myself in, the role of teacher and mentor.  Always mothering and yet with the added excitement of passing along my 20 years of life working in adoption.  Inspired and looking forward to inspiring.

While my reading and educating these days are limited to Time Magazine, Newsweek, NPR, Melanie Klein and Winnicott, I am loyal to KoreAm magazine too.  Aside from the beautiful eye candy of Korean and Korean American men on the cover, I have been impressed by the magazine’s continual coverage of issues facing adoptees – from the twins who are homeless in Washington, DC, to featuring an adoptee with world renowned chefs, to a story on an adoptee who is involved in activism for issues in Korea.  Thank you KoreAm for your inclusion of adoptees in just about every issue!

2012 brought an awareness of other areas of activism that I have often felt too overwhelmed to think about.  The issues of deportation, citizenship, wrongful death of adopted children and suicide among the adoptee community.  I thank the few but vocal adoptees who have pushed to get these stories out.  I am grateful for the APRC (Adoption Policy and Reform Collaborative) for wanting to shed brighter lights on these issues.  I have been challenged to be more inclusive and realize that I need to get my head out of my ass and think more about those who have really struggled.  Is it just because of adoption?  Is adoption THE symptom?  If these children and adults were not adopted, would it have changed things?  Are we looking at victims or part of the solution? Food for more thought.

2012 brought some personal victories and has fueled new passion.  I have been thinking of the now decades I have been in the adoption community and realize only now I am not alone.  My friend Martha (and mom of two adopted kids) and I have become a presenting duo!  And our blog – – has been really fun to write.  To find an ally is like finding a part of you in someone else.  She has stood up for me, stood with me and made me feel less crazy.  I have been asked to write for other blogs.  I have been told by dear friends that I need to stop feeling like I need to prove and sit in the place of knowing.  I have been asked to write more and so, I am resolved to do just that.

While the lens is adoption, I am finding my eyes diverting.  After meeting with the head of advocacy for the SOS Children’s Villages, I realized that at every turn when adoption is discussed, we never complete the conversation about where homeless, orphaned, abused/neglected children should be?  To often the children’s issues get diverted to the grown ups in the situation – parental rights, women’s issues, institutional policies, politics.  I am drawn to the SOS Children’s Villages construct because it focuses on child and family with the basic caveat that children belong in families.  But they take it one step further to ensure continuity for children and while adoption is not off the table, it is not the central apparatus to create family.  The first page of their booklet has the word CARE.  I think this is my new favorite word.  I had been asked to review statements on adoption for this organization.  I am resolved to finish those statements and I am looking forward to a change in direction where adoption is not the only lens I see my life through.


Several months ago, it was suggested to me that I get my blog translated into Korean.  The main reason being that perhaps my words might help Koreans in Korea normalize and understand the complications of international adoption from a personal perspective from someone who is “older”.  No offense taken, it was a compliment to me that this adoptee felt I could be of any help to others beyond the English speaking/reading community.

Finding a good translator was the challenge.  The art of taking someone’s words and putting them into decipherable terms in another language is hard.  Taking those same words and making sure that the sender’s meaning, intent, emotion is understood as well…well, that’s a gift.  Even for those who are truly bilingual, there is always a default language – the one they count money with, tell time with and curse!

I have written about Kay in other posts.  Kay and I traveled to Korea together on a motherland trip with a group of adoptive families.  She was also training another translator/tour guide too, so I got to see her wearing multiple hats.  But it was one quiet “free afternoon” when the families went out to Itaewon to shop that I got to really see her mastery.  She agreed to meet with my Umma and me.  I had not used a translator for our reunion.  I had been living in Korea for 9 months already and my Korean was babyish but workable.  Actually, other than the basic of information, there was no need for a translator.  We just wanted to be in each other’s company.  She just wanted to hold my hand and sit very very close to me.

This motherland trip was the first of several I have been on, but the first since I met my birthmother.  Kay agreed to translate for me so that I could be more free to ask questions and have a real conversation.  At this point, I had learned alot about Kay and her family circumstances.  She emotionally connected to Umma as a fellow mother who lost her children through divorce and was separated from them for a long stretch of time.  She is Catholic as is my Umma.  The two women connected.  Kay gave us the freedom to be honest and weepy.  She was more than a translator, she was a friend who had only the purest of intentions – to get our words right.  She never told me that I could not, should not say something.  She didn’t sugarcoat or leave anything out for misunderstanding.  What more, her translating was so fluid it was as if we were all speaking the same language.  I have always been grateful for that day.  It allowed me to see my Umma as a person and as a mother.  I attribute that afternoon as one reason I chose to stay connected to Umma.  She became a real entity in my life, not just a reunion, not just an event.

I have been asked time and again who is writing the Korean by the native Korean speakers in my life.  All have been impressed and in awe of what they are reading.  I wanted to write this post in English first so that no one would mistaken me for the writing.  And I wanted to explain what an adoptee has to go through to get her words just right.  When it came time to find said  blog translator, Kay was the first person I thought of, but she doesn’t live close to me.  After going around my local area to seek friends who might be willing, I realized Kay was really the only one.  Thank goodness for technology.  Kay happily said yes.  And thus, all the Korean on this blog is the genius of Kay and the computer.

I have been in the room for several meetings where adoptees are either meeting birthfamily members for the first time or reviewing their adoption files.  Bearing witness to such events is mindblowing and heartwrenching.  Watching bad translations happening is infuriating!  I never perport to speaking Korean well, but I know a good snowjob.  In any language it is demoralizing.  I understand why adoptees are so furious with agency social workers.  Adoptee after adoptee has shared the moment they sit there waiting on every word that is said and frantically looking at the face of the social worker to find all the words that are not said.  Those moments are never the right moments to put forth manners, decorum, culture as barriers to the selective translating process.  I have seen adoptees confused at what they hear because certain aspects of the story were not translated.  Is my birthmother dead, alive, mentally ill, committed suicide, doesn’t want to see me, forgot about me, denying I exist?  Is my birthdate accurate, estimated, made up, based on the Lunar Calendar?  For many of us, we are simultaneously grappling with the discovery of misinformation, inaccurate information AND birth family all at the same time.  There is no other comparable situation in my world that comes close to this level of overwhelm.  In one sitting, I was told my birthmother was not dead, alive, just got out of the hospital, may be dying and searching for me for 21 years, AND my name was changed as was my birthdate.  Just say that sentence outloud, it is just too much.

We seek transparency, perhaps we might start with translating transparency first.

Fast forward to present day.  I have a dear friend who is in reunion with her birthmother and family.  Her birthmother was supposed to come for a visit, but it is not happening.  The circumstances around this change in plans is not the issue so much as the dark abyss my friend has had to navigate trying to get any morsel of information about her birthmother.  The translations caused panic and worry and more questions.  My friend was even willing to go to local markets to find a Korean person.  Imagine having to go to a total stranger and asking them to help you during such an intimate exchange?  I don’t offer up my translating abilities to anyone, but in this situation, I tried.  After one phone call to her birthsister, panic dissipated enough for rational thought to enter and plans have now been made.  Being a part of this process for my friend was the greatest gift to both of us.  I never felt so wonderful as to be able to relay with accuracy my friends concern and then in turn call my friend to let her know how things were really going on over there.  The Korean was not beautiful, not at all what Kay would have done, but it was enough to be more accurate than all the other translations.

One thing that international adoptees lament over is the loss of language and the ability to speak their birth language.  For some, it is near impossible to learn so heavy the emotional barriers to accessing that part of their linguistic brain.  While being able to speak Korean is not always the blessing I hoped it would be, I try my damndest to keep up with it.  Even so, I have limits and I am grateful to have someone like Kay in my life who I trust to make my English words make sense.

Taking sides

The month of May is a transition month for me.  It is when I stop doing one of my counseling jobs at a music conservatory.  Having a job that follows an academic calendar is particularly sweet when you have kids.  It is bittersweet, though, as it also means terminating with students I have known for years.  Terminations, transitions, launching into a career…all the rites of passage of the young adult person.  How poetic then that May also involved writing a paper with a colleague in the hopes it will be published in a professional journal.  The subject matter was on the work we do with adolescents and young adults who are adopted.  I hope that my friend/colleague/sister in arms will still call me and want to talk to me after all of this is done.  It took some hard emails of the personal nature to get through before the actual paper was finished.  It reminded me that we are never done communicating, negotiating and reconciling allegiances.  I think we managed to come through in-tact.

While writing this paper, the word ambivalence was used time and again.  It is not an easy concept to feel passionate about something and yet ambivalent enough to be able to empathize that there are others who feel differently.  It is however, a really wonderful developmental milestone to achieve and totally one of the hardest.  I think about when I was a teenager opining over the way things should go, opinionated about everything with that snarky tone all mothers love to hear!  Now, twenty more years under my belt, I am no less passionate but much more ambivalent.  I don’t envy teens and young adults these days…it gets harder and harder to navigate our world.  It is still hard as an adult.  To take ownership of the idea that I can love two opposing ideas at the same time? The idea that I can love that I was adopted and hate that adoption has to exist at all?  It all feels like a tongue twister.

The part I struggle with now is the outside volume of voices out there that are not as ambivalent as me.  Work, paper, kids, Spring…all were great reasons for me to take a break from the world of facebook, twitter and blogging.  There were times when I felt I had never left my adolescence when reading comments or having conversations with others who are adopted about adoption.  At times, it felt like I was stuck again.  I was left wondering if I was STILL asleep?  What was I missing?

As I have come to my understanding of being a person of color who was transplanted into a world not of my own choosing, I try to accept this as fact and move forward from there.  But now, I am wondering if this awakening means that I must only see the negative aspects of being adopted?  Does it mean that I must join my fellow adoptees to ban international adoption?  Does supporting anti-adoption rhetoric allow me passage into the world of the enlightened?  Or can I remain ambivalent?  Rather, am I being a chickenshit to not subscribe to these thoughts all the time?  Don’t get me wrong, if you talked to me a couple of weeks ago before Mother’s Day, I had plenty to be angry about.  But it ebbs and flows, it never lasts long.  That’s ok isn’t it?

I keep searching for the “IT” factor that stops me from fully embracing one way of thinking about international adoption.  Is it my temperament that won’t allow me to stay in such an emotional state?  I am not built to be fine with one perspective.  I fear that if I dwell in the “shoulds” I won’t look up and see that tomorrow has arrived.  I am too lazy to try and figure out how to stop my life in current form.  Actually, none of the former is total truth.

Ambivalence is the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.  Yes, this is where I sit again and again. Totally unsexy and not noteworthy but my truth.

I have opted to take no side because to oppose would mean an invitation to be made wrong.  I saw the casualties of that feat too.  Instead, my silence has been my own rebellion against the onslaught I feel at times by those willing to put themselves out there and be labeled angry, disgruntled, disenfranchised, entitled…Instead, I joined the tens of thousands of other adoptees for a spell being quiet, living life and letting adoption take a back seat.  It was a nice rest…the landscape looks a little different now.  Is there room still for me?

Once upon a time….

I was listening to NPR in my car again.  The topic?  A move away from Cinderella re-makes to Snow White.  This year we are welcoming two versions of the age old fairy tale.  It got me thinking about that whole princess, once upon a time, handsome prince thing.

With spring all around us and weather temperatures hitting 80+ degrees here in NY, green is emerging.  Notwithstanding the pollen stuck to everything including my children’s faces, things are blooming.  Spring came early this year…a winter too mild.

I am a late bloomer.  I don’t remember when I was told this, but I do recall waiting and wishing for things to develop in my body, in my thoughts, in my heart always feeling a few steps behind the rest of the crowd.  Everything happened later for me.

A friend posted a photo of me on Facebook and if he hadn’t told me he posted it, I would never have recognized the person in that photograph.  Who was she?  I was shocked not because it was a scandalous photo or cause for derision or embarrassment but because I was pretty.  In this photo, I was exactly how I wanted to look but didn’t see.  I looked at this photo wistfully and with some annoyance that I wasted all those years working toward an image that was right on me all the time.  Looking at that photograph, I remember exactly how I was feeling.  I was waiting for my prince charming to realize I had chosen him.  I was waiting for pursuits yet to come, to be pursued, to be free of the burdens of family and to know exactly what I was meant to do on this earth.

I have rarely written about my own family, but looking at that photo brought back a lot of memories.  There was no luxury of time back then to understand why or question how things could have been different.  I was running constantly pingponging from one sister to another, one parent to another.  I am a terrible juggler, but I manage to keep people floating in the air very well.  I was invisible to me too busy being serious and determined to create stability in my life.  In looking at that picture, I am sad to remember that with all that chaos, the option to live a full fun life in my twenties was not a reality.  No irony that I am holding a baby in the photo…my arms were always full of other people.  Burning my candle at both ends was normal, just like all my friends, but holding other candles at the same time burned me raw.

I hope when my boys are in their twenties, they will feel free to have fun, take risks, chase love and do something stupid (well, not too stupid that it spills into the rest of their years).

So, this is what middle age does to a woman?  Feeling a bit like the Queen in Snow White, it makes me yearn for that face again.  Actually, the do-over would have a condition, a week to embody my 40+ year old brain into that 25 year old body!  How fun would that be?!  For a week, to have nothing in my arms.

Korea has arrived home!

I live in an area with an ever growing community of Koreans and Korean Americans.  It must be signficant enough for the arrival of H-Mart, a Korean franchise grocery market  This weekend was the grand opening and it was packed.  The buzz around here was palpable since the news hit that such a store was going to be created.  Korean mothers, myself included, were counting the days.  My informal Korean language class even tried to make the opening day together as a field trip for our burgeoning language skills.  While we didn’t get to go all together, I went with my family, twice!

Crammed into an already busy Friday afternoon, we were greeted with music supplied by a DJ, balloons, cotton candy, greeters in hanboks and free gifts for anyone who had a receipt.  Imagine my surprise when one of the freebies was a calendar featuring our own Korean adoptee, Marja, and her Kimchi Chronicles

This new store creates the little bit of Korea I was craving and I am excited about inputting the store into my weekly shopping rounds.  I don’t have to travel very far now to satiate my appetite for Korea, Korean food and Korean people.  What astounded me was just how many Asian faces I saw.  Where did they all come from?  It was a bit of a mindtrip to see non-Koreans standing in line and walking around.  Some looked quite lost much like when I am in Korea.  All the signs are in both Korean and English.  And while the store will go through its growing pains of creating an atmosphere that welcomes the majority non-Korean speaking public, I was pleasantly surprised as to how comfortable I felt.  We made a beeline to the snack aisle, that is the REAL reason my kids love accompanying me.  It was amazing to see how comfortable they were as they perused the aisle looking for their favorites knowing full well that this is not our typical experience.  My big boy’s first question was, “where’s all the Korean stuff?”  Music to my ears!

In my head, there is always a divide between my Korean self and my American self.  I am finding Korean is occupying a larger portion there what with all the Korean dramas I watch every night.  I find myself using more Koreans words in my daily speak, wondering how something is said in Korean and if I could say it louder than a whisper.  I get so excited when I can figure out a Korean text from someone and respond in kind.

The transitions are so long in coming that I forget I am not 25 years old anymore.  I have to catch myself in my thrills as it is perplexing for my boys to see me this way.  To them, I am Korean.  They see me hanging out with the other Korean mothers, call my friends and family members in Korea and watching Korean TV.  This is their normal and rather uninteresting.

I have to also remember that in their privilege of always knowing themselves to be Asian, they are comfortable poking fun at Asian people.  I never felt comfortable with that, it sounded wrong and at times self-mutilating.  But they are not me, and they are so assured in their sense of who they are that I stop myself from giving them the “that’s racist!” lecture.  Aside from blank looks coming from them, I realize they see their Koreanness in the mirror every time, in their parents, grandparents and some friends.  Around here, they are not the minority.  I am just grateful they indulge me in the novelty I get from walking around in H-Mart today having people speak to me and to them in Korean and not think otherwise.


God makes me crabby

Every once in a while, there comes a point in this Korean adoptee’s life that I just can’t take being around Koreans.  It is the point in which I revert to my resentful ungrateful but rather safe shell of looking at them through the Western lens of my childhood.  It happens when the subject of God comes up.

Comments that crawl under my skin are as follows: It was God’s will that you were adopted, The presence of God is reaffirmed in your reunion with your birthmother, what a blessing of God’s work that I have grown up so well (only after telling them what school I went to), Thank God for your adoptive parents.

These are usually quickly followed up with “you should come to my church.”  Just the other day, I got that from the dry cleaner.  She was so earnest, she even gave me a CD for my kids to learn Korean.  I’ve been bribed that way, you see.  Food, Korean language classes, friendship, more food.

In college, it almost worked.  In my quest to discover my Koreanness, I started hanging out with the KSA (Korean Student Association) at a nearby school that had hundreds of Koreans to the five at my school.  Not a frat girl or drinker, I found easy solace with the dry dance parties.  I was introduced to new wave and techno music that changed my life.  I will forever be a fan of Depeche Mode and Erasure.  Most importantly, I was introduced to Asian boys who could seriously dance.  I quickly acquired the black dress code and loved that the flirting was more subtle and the focus wasn’t about “hooking up.”  I was enticed and in such admiration that I went to church with them sitting for hours not understanding a single word that was said.  Being in church without understanding a word felt like meditation.  I got to stare intensely at the back and side of all the black Korean heads around me comparing and contrasting and trying to figure out if someone was handsome or beautiful.  It was peaceful.

And then.  I got “invited” to church on Wednesday nights, Friday night bible study, Saturday youth group and Sunday service all with the promise that I will eventually be able to learn Korean and I could eat all the kimchee and rice I wanted.  The sell was subtle in the beginning and got harder and harder.  On the way to a picnic I would get asked if I wanted to be saved by Jesus Christ and did I have faith in Him?  Was I a true Christian and if yes, then I should get baptized AGAIN and show my faith by joining their church.  It was not enough that I was a regular church goer to a Catholic Church.  I had to join THEIR church.  At that point, I had enough.  I stopped answering their calls for church events, refused to call the boys “Oppa” and the girls “Unnie” as a show of respect and then swiftly was told that I would go to hell.

I didn’t realize that in order to be accepted by these Korean people, I had to accept Jesus in to my heart their way.  Just like the Hallyu wave in K-pop is exponentially growing, the God wave is huge in Korea and in Korean-American communities here.  I don’t know all the historical references as to why Christianity is so big among Koreans, but for me, it feels like another wall dividing me and my sense of being fully Korean.

To not be a part of a Korean church community, I feel like a double outsider sometimes – adoptee and non-believer.  The underlying thought for me is that as a transracial, international adopted person, everything is for show.  Our adoption is visible.  It is like a magnetic force for all these labels – orphaned, deprived, abandoned, mother/fatherless, saved, found.  Our relationships with family and ourselves can feel like we are in a stage production or participating in a spectator sport at times.  It seems to me that there should be one thing that is private and sacred – our relationship with our God, Buddha, Allah, whatever/whoever.  Putting it all out there feels like more conditions for me to accept me.

I truly admire, respect and am actually in awe of my friends who are deeply devout, who believe unequivocally.  The rock star Sting had an interesting response to this question of faith and God – “I don’t have a problem with God, I have a problem with religion.  I’ve chosen to live my life without the certainties of religious faith.”  Is there a middle ground here?  Still searching.