So there we were, going through old family photos at Mom & Dad's with Uncle Marty this past Friday.
Not stuff from the past couple of years, mind you -- I'm talking about photos dating back (in some cases) to the late 1920s and early 1930s. Uncles and aunts and cousins and dogs long gone, friends whose names have grown fuzzy over the years, scenes of life in a very different bygone world. And the Pipsqueak was alternately fascinated and apparently uninterested.
Every now and then, Miri would ask a question, or tell us about the time something similar had happened when she was with us. The photos of Grandma as a baby, of Grandpa as a high school senior in his football uniform, of Cousin Erica at six weeks, of Cousin Lauryn at two... she studied pictures like that for a few moments, and then seemed to move on to other photos (or even ignore the albums completely for a few minutes).
I had to get home (still trying to get the laptop working, among many other items on a ridiculously long To Do list) so I said my goodbyes, gave the Pipsqueak an extra hug (and a quick poke in the side, which resulted in my getting whacked in my belly -- as usual) and hit the road.
Later that evening, Mom called to arrange an outing to the supermarket the next day, and after a moment's hesitation said, "Something happened after you left."
AJ had been at work and arrived to share dinner & take Miri home a couple of hours after I'd gone, so everyone was going through some of the older photos with her. (At least one of the albums is over 80 years old, so we don't take them out or handle them very frequently.) Once again, the Pipsqueak alternated between interest & disinterest, but she seemed to slowly grow more agitated.
After watching her increasingly withdrawn granddaughter for a few minutes, Mom asked Miri if she was okay -- and got back in a near-wail, "I'm not in any of these pictures! I FEEL LIKE I'M NOT PART OF THIS FAMILY!"
Cue the tears, including a few on the grownups' side.
After finally getting Miri calmed down, there was a long discussion about why she wasn't in any of the photos. Mom pointed out that "Uncle Brian has hundreds and hundreds of photos with you in them, but they're digital so they're not in any albums," and then explained the difference between the old film-based photos and digital images. She and AJ also went over the fact that if she had been in any of the photos, then she wouldn't be here now because the photos were so old.
Not pointed out to Miri but discussed among us was the fact that most of the photos were so old, it was unlikely that the Pipsqueak's biological parents had even been born when they were taken. Definitely pointed out to Miri was the fact that she was a very, very important and loved part of the family, and that everyone would have been terribly sad if she was not with us now -- and that we had many photos of her that were simply on our phones & computers instead of on paper in albums.
Mom had a flash of inspiration, and got out the photobook I'd made commemorating Miri's Gotcha Day. She and AJ sat with Miri, going over all the pictures and captions, with AJ filling in some additional memories of the day. Miri quickly returned to her usual cheerful self, flipping the pages back & forth, asking questions about some of the photos and laughing at some of the others.
While Mom was telling me about the incident, I thought back to how many times in the past few days Miri has mentioned Gotcha Day, or said "I wasn't really home yet on this day," or reminded me that she "...really came home on the 23rd, right, Uncle Brian?" It wasn't just the family photos that triggered her reaction; she could hold them, flip back & forth between pages of books filled with them, and pass them around in a way that a computer just cannot duplicate.
I still have a lot to do in order to get my laptop working properly & all the missing applications reinstalled (I'm talkin 'bout you, Photoshop!)... but my printer has a built-in tray for 4x6 photo paper, and when everything's working properly again I'm going to be putting together a real, hold-in-your-hand, flip-the-pages photo album of Miri's first year with us. It will include Gotcha Day, our travels in China, her homecoming... and as many photos as I can find (the MiriPix collection is approaching half a terabyte in size and growing) of when she met various friends, cousins, and other relatives for the first time.
Because she's not just a part of this family... She's really its heart.
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!