My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

On Identity and Performance

Okay, I know that title's a little cryptic, maybe even a little dangerous-sounding.  It's just the first thing that sprang into my head when I started this post, and despite trying several other titles it insisted on dislodging every other idea from that spot, so...

(Oh, and I know there's a whole lotta text to read through in this post, but there should be some fun video aaaalll the way at the bottom of the page as a reward for slogging through it. Just sayin'.)

My niece is a fairly self-defined personality. Even while we were still in China, she showed very consistent habits & behaviors -- some of which I can still see evolved versions of today -- and beyond the usual basic hoping to fit in well with the people she likes (common in almost all kids & many adults) she is very consistently her. Oh, sure, sometimes she comes home with some silly saying or the occasional fake English accent, and she'll get interested in those aspects of pop culture that her friends show interest in... but when we talk with her or listen to her or watch her from afar, what we don't see is a fear of expressing herself, of developing her own opinions & ideas even if they're different from those of her peers, of basically finding some way of letting people know, this is me and that is not.

I have no way to know if this is the result of being in an orphanage for the first 13 months of her life or simply the way she's wired; I just know that since she was about two years old, I've been telling people that Miri knows the rules of the universe and does not hesitate to enforce them. :-)

One facet of her identity is that she's very much aware of being Jewish in a world where most people are not. Before she was even matched, AJ had made it clear that she was going to bring up her daughter in the same religion that she was born into, and make sure the little girl would be educated enough in the religion to be able to make her own decision as to whether or not she'd follow it, and to what degree, when she was old enough to start taking the reins of her life for herself.

Happily, this has to date not interfered in any way with her relationships; the kids she's closest with cover a small but varied range of religious backgrounds and as far as Miri is concerned, some of them celebrate Christmas and some of them celebrate Hanukkah and some of them celebrate something else but that's all okay because, as she has told me a few times, "Everybody is supposed to be able to believe what they want to even if someone else doesn't think it's right as long as nobody is hurting anybody." (Considering our grab-bag collection of cousins, that's really A Good Thing.)

Combine her strong feelings about who & what she is (or is not), her philosophy of "different is okay," and her matter-of-fact way of expressing both, and you've got a young lady who sometimes pulls the proverbial carpet out from under the feet of folks who don't know her.  The fact that Miri also absotively posilutely loves to perform and has no qualms about dancing or singing in front of almost any size of crowd, and you've got the potential for some really interesting things to happen.

Like, f'rinstance, the annual Christmas party at the nursing home where AJ works.

Pretty much everybody who worked with Mommy and Uncle Brian back at Woodside knew the Pipsqueak; she didn't visit often but when she did she had no qualms about engaging the staff in conversation or try to find ways to help them do their work, and once she'd gotten a little older she would often help out the Activities staff with games & events for the residents.  Although she doesn't visit as often, she's establishing the same kind of relationships at the nursing home where AJ works now.  Since they were having their annual Christmas Party this past weekend, AJ thought it would be a good idea to not only volunteer to help out but to also have Miri join her to lend a hand.  (Mom told me she thinks the Pipsqueak has decided it's her job to help old people.)

So there she is, a little Jewish Chinese girl helping out at the annual Christmas party in a Quaker-run nursing home.  The entertainer who'd been hired for the party noticed her interacting with the residents and figured all the grandmas & grandpas in the room would probably enjoy engaging with a cute little girl who obviously had no qualms about interacting with them on a personal basis, so he made the somewhat fateful decision to include her in his show.

I wasn't there but AJ filled me in.  Things started off on a quiet note, with the entertainer kind of coaxing Miri on-mic to help him out with something, then handing her a microphone of her own and asking her if she thought it might be a good idea to sing some Christmas songs.

Microphone in hand, standing beside a large Christmas tree in the dining room of a Quaker facility full of people there to celebrate Christmas, my niece looked straight at the guy and very matter-of-factly said, "I don't celebrate Christmas. My family celebrates Hanukkah."

Apparently there were a few seconds of very quiet time immediately after that. I don't know if it was the straightforward but NOT "in yo' face" way Miri said it, or the way she stood there holding her microphone up and waiting for him to say something, but I give real kudos to the entertainer.  He looked around and then at her and said, "Actually, we celebrate Hanukkah in my family, too. Would you rather sing some Hanukkah songs?" and the two of them proceeded to do just that. (In all honesty, a couple of non-Christmas songs were already on the program, and he had the music programmed into his sound system.)

(Note: For any readers who appreciate irony... Miri had spent most of the afternoon participating in a special event -- of course the entire family was there! -- at which the youth choirs of several synagogues all performed individually & together with singer/songwriter/percussionist/musician Billy Jonas -- without a single Hanukkah song on the program!)

Luckily AJ had her iPhone in her pocket, and she caught video of Miriam's duets of Maos Tzur (Rock of Ages) and Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah... snippets of which I've included below for your viewing pleasure.  (Unfortunately, I had to do a lot of trimming of the Maos Tzur video to meet Blogger's size limits; after telling Miri that she's really good and does really well in front of people, he said he hoped the Pipsqueak would get anything she wanted for all eight nights of Hanukkah and you could hear AJ laughingly reply, "Thanks a lot....!" He also asked if she wanted some Hanukkah gelt[1], and she said yes -- plus chocolate!)

After both songs were over, the Pipsqueak got a big hand from the appreciative crowd and the entertainer proceeded to make good on his statements by giving her $2 as combined Hanukkah gelt and payment for her performance!

Oh, and one more thing.  Since I blathered on about identity at the beginning of this post, I thought y'all might be interested on a really good deal I found on Cyber Monday:

We haven't gotten around to having the Pipsqueak fill a test tube with spit just yet, but I'll keep everyone posted as we learn some potentially interesting things about some of her most basic building blocks.

Okay, that's it for tonight, I'm trying to get back on track with my catching up (which is now likely to extend into next year, darn it) and keeping up to date. 'Til next time...!

[1] Gelt = money  It was common in the old country for children to get a couple of coins (especially in poor families who didn't have enough to buy other gifts). These days, the "money" is usually disc-shaped pieces of chocolate wrapped in silver or gold foil to look like coins. I mean, doesn't it make sense to celebrate a holiday involving open flames by giving already-excited young children a sugar high...?  LOL