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!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Baby Gates, Wall Anchors, and Other Annoying Stuff (July/August 2010)

Ooo-kay. We're back home. The Pipsqueak is beginning to settle into a routine, but both AJ and I remember all too well how mobile she turned out to be and how we needed to put the child safety gates up in her house... and Grandma is NOT going to let her granddaughter get hurt, so we got plenty o'reminders. :-)

For those of you who read the forums at chinaadopttalk.com ("You know you're adopting from China if you don't know who the Rumor Queen is, but you know who the Rumor Queen is!"), this may sound a little familiar... but the experience has practically scarred me for life, so here's The Story Of The Baby Gates (with a couple of updates & minor edits).

AJ & Miri live in a townhouse, which is builder's shorthand for "helluvalotta stairs" -- there are stairs from the basement level to the main level, stairs from the main level to the 2nd floor, stairs from the driveway to the front door. a short flight of stairs from the entry foyer up into the main level... there's even a single stair running the full width of the house dividing the "living room" from the "dining room" just in case you didn't already get enough exercise moving around the place. Oh, and the stairs coming up from the basement have two landings -- thus two 90-degreee turns -- and so do the stairs going up from the main level.

We all anticipated the need to install gates for a toddler's safety, and I had kind of been eyeing the really wiiiide gap at the top of the stairs from the foyer to the main level with a jaundiced eye for months before the Pipsqueak's referral finally came through. We all figure it would be A Good Thing to be proactive, so as soon as AJ had Miri's photos, she & our folks went out and bought four expandable wall-mounted semi-permanent metal safety gates with locking latches. (Why, yes, the Pipsqueak's Grandma does indeed worry about her safety... Why do you ask...? <grin>)

Travel arrangements are in progress; it's time to put up the gates. We open the first box, and as I'm reading the instructions I come across a very clear, "NOT TO BE USED FOR CHILDREN!"

Y'see, AJ wanted to make sure her feline children (sadly reduced to just one a few days before we left) retained free access to the entire house, so the gates all had small, latching pass-thru doors in the middle. Seems the passthru is an unanticipated entrapment danger for small kids... Pack it all back up!  Our folks return all four gates to the store and after a couple of days of increasingly desperate searching they find new gates.

I go to put 'em up and... the opening coming into the house is much too wide for even the largest gate. An added plus is that they'll have to be mounted much higher than their design takes into account in order to give the kitties freedom of movement, so the bottom crossbar presents a real tripping danger for anyone trying to go up or down the stairs.

Repack, rebox, return... After a lot of discussion, we go for the same type of gates originally rejected in Round 1.  Special "collars" are also bought so we can mount the gates without drilling or nailing into the handrails on the stairs.

First gate... It takes AJ & me about 40 minutes to figure out how to get those collars placed correctly... Then I discover the gates are held in place by pressure and actually depend on little plastic cups screwed into the wall to keep 'em from literally squeezing themselves out of position... and the little cups take up just enough room for us to have to completely re-engineer how the collars are used & how the gate's mounted in the space... and then it takes another 20 minutes just to figure out if there's some way to actually fit it all into the opening.

I finally figure out how to jury-rig the thing safely(!), and the first gate is done, covering the top of the main stairs. (In retrospect, probably the one we had to worry about the least... Oh, well...) Being something of a coward, I choose to put up the 2nd gate in a more straightforward spot and within 20 minutes it's installed, protecting the top of the stairs to the basement.

Oops, waitaminit -- the passthru doors don't swing loose, they lock in place; we have to figure out a way to hold them open for the cat. After much discussion and experimentation, we figure out the one way we can tie the passthru open. Of course, it means the little door for the passthru now projects into the opening of the main gate, so we have to pick our way through the "open" gate very carefully.

Oh, and did I mention there's a three inch high lip to step over on the bottom of the "open" gate that will trip anyone not paying close attention? (Dude, the kid's gonna be safe, but nobody else is!)

In any case, we've run out of time, there's too much packing & other preparing to do so AJ & I leave for China with only 2 of the 4 gates in place. When we get back home, niecey-poo is crawling around the place at 90mph and taking her first few wobbly steps so it's critical that we get the remaining gates installed.

I go to put up gate #3 at the bottom of the main stairs and discover none of us had noticed that the stanchions for the railing at the bottom of the stairs are different from those at the top... and whoops, the opening is wider than at the top of the stairs... so I have to sort of re-engineer things with only half the collar set and those dumb little cups for the expansion legs to fit into.  Two hours (and a couple of gallons of sweat and quite a bit of rather coarse language) later, gate #3 is in place.

Gate #4 is the most critical: it's a huge opening, and it's "right there" where the Pipsqueak can't help but come close to the edge. I measure, Dad measures, we fit the extension set into place, we figure out which way we want the gate to open...

And realize we're putting a metal bar that seems custom-made for tripping people approx. 4" above the floor at the top of a flight of steps. NOT safe.

We abandon the attempt... Cram everything back into the box... Next day the folks return the gate to the store, leaving an increasingly mobile Pipsqueak at risk (and my sister dropping all kinds of hints about getting the job done ASAP, if maybe not sooner). Finally, Mom & Dad find an old fashioned one-piece wood gate that has an extension kit that'll fill the humongous opening (no need for kitty passthrus, luckily) and they buy it. We unpack the thing, I start checking how it fits... And realize the you-cannot-move-it handrail for the stairs is mounted on the wall in exactly the right place to completely block any chance of mounting the gate there.

grumble grumble grumble grumble

After a lot of talking back & forth, there's a quick run back to our folks' house for one of the old 2x4s left over from basement renovations years ago (I've been called a packrat but I swear it's genetic); we'll cut blocks to attach to the wall above & below the railing so the gate fits. It ain't gonna be pretty, but Grandma had already pointed that out her granddaughter will be harder to repair than the wall so we decide to go with it. Back to AJ's house, back to measuring... And the plan won't work. A bit more measuring, and we figure we'll just attach the 2x4 to the end of the free-standing wall beyond the handrail and mount the gate there.

Oh, wait -- if we mount it that way, we have a 4-1/2 foot long gate swinging out over the stairs directly into the path of anyone trying to get into the house.

grumble mutter mutter grumble grumble

We finally figure out what's going where and how to reverse the direction of the gate, and I start putting all... the... tiny... plastic... mounting... parts... together... based on the microscopic drawings in the instructions. Half an hour of cussing and pinched fingers later, I have the gate put together and half of one hinge ready. The wall anchors are dug out of storage and... oops, we only have 4, so there's no room for mistakes! I make a pilot hole in the wall, line up the first anchor, bang it in...

...and the end snaps off about 1/4" into the wall.

mutter mutter cuss grumble

I'm able to force the anchor into the wall at angle, try the 2nd anchor... and it deforms horribly about 1/4" into the wall. The next 2 aren't any better, but at least they're in. I start to screw in the mounting bolts and run into an apparently solid, unpenetrable object just behind the drywall. After breaking a couple of screws (and quite a bit more interesting language), a dim bulb flickers on over my head. I grab a magnet from AJ's kitchen and start running it over the wall; sure enough, there's a solid mass of metal directly behind the drywall -- apparently, one of the main vertical supports for the entire house frame. It's doing a fine job of holding up the house... and an even better job of covering the entire area we'd hoped to use to mount the gate.

mutter cuss cuss mutter cuss

Finally, AJ suggests I just mount the gate at an angle; it may be extended to its maximum length, it may look funny... but at least it'll be up. I start the task and realize I have no wall anchors left for the screws -- and everyone points out they know someone else with a similar gate who just screwed it into the wall sans anchors with no problems, so that's what I do. I'm worried about it, but that's what I do.

I shift my attention to the latch mechanism on the other side, measure carefully... Use the template that came with the gate to make pilot holes... measure a 2nd time... hold the gate up to the 2x4 and measure a 3rd time... finally attach the latching mechanism to the 2x4 "wall" and swing the gate shut...

...and the meshuggineh thing hits 1/2" too far to one side to engage the latch.

grumble cuss cuss grumble cuss mutter cuss

I unscrew the mechanism from the wall -- which takes a lot of work, because the 2x4 we used was so old it was practically petrified and the screws were jammed into it -- re-measure everything, re-mount the latching mechanism, swing the gate shut to test it...

...and the unanchored screws at the other end tear out of the wall.


It's now 11:30 on Saturday night, so our folks convince me it's time to take a break... besides, the plans AJ & I had made to meet some mutual friends for dinner and to introduce them to the Pipsqueak are already toast. I have weekend manager duty on Sunday, so I have to wait 'til early evening to return to the Baby Gate Destruction Zone. This time I bang 4 anchors into the wall, use extra-long screws, and remove a small plastic tab that was supposed to help the gate line up properly from the latching mechanism. I swing the gate shut...

...and it all lines up OK.  (Yay, me!)

So now the Pipsqueak's being kept safe by baby gates at the top & bottom of the main stairway, at the top of the basement stairs, and at the top of the drop-off from the main floor to the front door. Approximate cost of gates, anchors, screws: $300. Approximate elapsed time (not including two weeks in China in the middle of the project): two weeks overall. Average work time per gate: 3+ hours. Average number of cuss words per gate: uncountable. (Sorry, I forgot to take a photo of the upstairs gate.)

When I originally posted this story in the forums, I ended with, "Next time, I'll just make sure AJ upholsters her entire house in rubber and we'll leave it at that!" What I didn't know at the time was that my niece would turn out to be an utterly fearless explorer, with a relationship with gravity that can best be labelled "adversarial" -- I spent several months telling everyone she was going through life headfirst, accompanied by the occasional loud "THUNK" noise.

Well, the thunking has died down somewhat, but then came the day a few months after the first round of baby gates when AJ was surprised to encounter her daughter coming UP the stairs from the basement -- the Pipsqueak had managed to find the only stairway access we had left unprotected! (I can almost guarantee she did so with the full knowledge that she really shouldn't; I've noticed that my niece is rarely quiet when she moves around, but lately has shown she has a stealth mode that's very effective for moving between points A and B when she's been told not to do so. Aaah, to be young again...)

The concerned grandparents had a new gate in the house within 24 hours of hearing the story, and I was told that I would be installing said gate at the first convenient moment, and that the very next moment was convenient no matter what else. I figured this was gonna be a piece of cake: familiar gate, the easiest location for the installation, lots of experience... I just didn't count on my niece helping me.

Yep, she helped -- at least that's what she said she was doing! I'd mark the spot where I needed to mount one of those meshuggineh plastic cups on the wall, then put it down to grab a screw... and when I'd turn around Miri would be holding it up against the wall steadfastly refusing to give it back with a loud, "No! Hep!" I found the fastest way to get through the job was to let her help me by holding things -- that is, picking up & playing with those items she wanted to "hep" with -- then thanking her profusely for helping and asking if I could please have it back now. I was actually able to measure, mark the walls, and get the cups screwed into place in under 10 minutes with this approach.

Unfortunately, after I laid the gate down on the floor to make sure I had the right extension attached, I decided the Pipsqueak was soooo cute walking back & forth on it (being careful to not step between the slats, trying to just keep her feet on the metal frame) that I backed off a bit and paused to capture part of the balancing act on my camera. I say "unfortunately" because she proved stronger than I thought and managed to stand the whole assembly up on its end -- and then let go, sending it crashing into the corner of the wall. I was lucky this time; neither niece nor gate nor wall were damaged (although she was momentarily scared by the noise of the crash and her Grandma, fearing the worst, practically teleported to the site from the kitchen upstairs). I quickly finished the installation while AJ bargained the remaining extra pieces from her daughter and moved them to a safer location.

I think that we've pretty much gated off anything that we're going to be able to at this point... although we've all learned we have to lock the gates, not just latch them shut -- it only took the Pipsqueak a couple of months to figure out and (and teach herself to use) the latching mechanism on the metal gates... <sigh>  Now I'm contemplating welding shut the sliding door to AJ's 2nd-story deck, but I don't think she'd appreciate it... stay tuned...

ADDENDUM: I originally wrote a shorter posting about my baby gate misadventure in the China Adopt Talk forums a couple of months after returning Stateside, then did a cut-and-paste into Blogger & added some updates on April 28th... but then I decided to post a few other items first. Since then, we've discovered that Grandma & Grandpa's stairs are so much fun to climb (especially when chasing Tigger, or sticking one's head through the railing on the 2nd floor) that we now have to figure out how to mount baby gates on their curved wall & iron railing. Like I said above, "...stay tuned..." !!!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

One Year Ago Today (July 23 2010/2011)

We seem to be having the same weather here, now, that we had in Guangxi and Guangzhou... the difference is, while we were in China there was plenty going on to distract us, plus we were (in a sense) on a mission and weren't ready to be sidetracked... here, on the other hand, it's just the everyday usual stuff going on (with the happy addition of the Pipsqueak!), so the heat & humidity just sort of creeeeep in around the edges when you're not looking, sapping energy & dampening shirts... <sigh>

One year ago today... We got up early, even by the standards we'd gotten used to; even so, and with most of the packing done the previous night, and rushing as best we could in the morning, we barely had time to finish breakfast (one last morning at the White Swan!) before it was time to load our stuff onto a bus and head to the airport.  I took advantage of a surprise "extra" couple of minutes alone when I did one last sweep through our room -- and found two or Miri's outfits still hanging in the closet! -- and quickly scribbled a note to her future self that our guide Lucy mailed to us here at home. She'll get it a few years from now, when she's old enough to (hopefully) appreciate it.

The trip to the airport was quieter than usual ; the sense of The Trip Is Over was hanging over everyone, I think (along with some serious sleep deprivation).  The flight from Guangzhou to Beijing was, by the standards of our trip, uneventful, and the epic journey that took place between Terminal #2 and Terminal #3 brought home to us how spoiled we'd gotten, having guides & drivers to handle loading/unloading, timetables, and so on. The three of us were supposed to be the last to leave by a margin of several hours, but the Airline Gods conspired to thoroughly screw things up for the S & B families. Thoroughly spooked, AJ and I ran to check in for our flight several hours early only to have the smoothest, easiest check-in & upgrade ever. (And now we know the truth: wishes granted by that big cast-iron brazier at the temple only apply to the wisher, not the entire travel group!)

We all delayed it as long as possible, but there was eventually one final goodbye/group hug and AJ, the Pipsqueak and I headed left and everyone else headed right; at that point, the trip really was over, it was just a matter of the flight home. Aside from a truly ridiculous amount of pre-boarding security (at least 3 permanent checkpoints, with a surprise 4th set up literally just a few feet from the plane's door), everything moved smoothly and we were leaving Chinese airspace not too long afterwards.  The flight itself was pretty good, just a couple of minor annoyances that one encounters any time a couple of hundred individuals of varying shapes, sizes, ages and levels of cleanliness are crammed into an enclosed space for almost 14 hours. As with every other flight, the Pipsqueak handled it like a champ; diaper changes were at a minimum, and she only tossed herself off her seat headfirst once during the entire flight (less than an hour before landing).

There were some glitches at the airport, but we got to -- and through! -- that magic moment when the Pipsqueak officially became a U.S. citizen without any problems, found our luggage, and made our way through the maze mob crowds to where our folks were waiting to say "Hi!" to their granddaughter in person for the very first time.  My niece really seemed to recognize her Grandma & Grandpa as those funny faces she saw during all the Skype sessions, and she only wailed  howled  screamed  cried for a few minutes of her first encounter with a car seat before calming down & falling asleep.  We found AJ's house decorated with "Welcome Home" banners, streamers & balloons (a surprise from a neighbor), and our folks had fun helping their granddaughter explore part of her new home & even more fun feeding her for the first time... and then they took me home, and for the first time in what felt like a lifetime I was going to bed without hearing a tiny little voice quietly snoring nearby. Because of the time zones we crossed, we had finished the trip with a day that lasted slightly over 30 hours... and we'd gotten the Pipsqueak home. :-)

Meanwhile, back in the present day (2011)... Friday night was rough at work, so I got up pretty late, then headed over to the folks' for a bleary-eyed lunch. AJ & Miri were there and my niece was being very "two-ish" today, so I hung out to help give the other grownups a break (it kinda sorta almost worked, too!)  I think at one point I commented to AJ that after watching Miri in action, I no longer thought of "Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde" as science fiction -- it was more of an allegorical description of a two year old child!

After a couple of hours Dad and I went out to get some badly-needed haircuts (it was MUCH too hot to tackle any of the yardwork at either house), and by the time we got back AJ was doing her usual, "is anybody else hungry?"  While discussing the merits of different potential meals, Mom suddenly realized that a year ago at that moment she & Dad were standing nervously in the Arrivals area of the main terminal at Dulles, wondering when we'd come out of the crowd; unfortunately, when she said "we ought to celebrate!" we were all so tired that the best we could come up with was for me to go online and check the price of different brands of local pizza.  The five of us had a family meal together (which in reality is enough of a celebration for us), the Pipsqueak bounced happily in/on/beside my lap along to The Wiggles' "Hot Potato" on YouTube, and then it was time to go home...

...and here I am, a year after dragging my suitcase through the door and dragging myself upstairs to my room after two weeks in China, marveling at the energetic, amazingly bright, and irresistably cute little girl who joined the family just 12 short months ago as a quiet, nearly bald, but inquisitive & interactive little baby. (Ironically, it seems that she's got the same ear infection & mild cold now that she had when we first met her... Oh, well...)

And it just occurred to me that I still haven't finished sorting & cataloging all the photos & videos from the trip, and the DVDs I keep planning to burn & send to our companion families still aren't made... Guys, if you're reading this, I will get them to you soon!  <8-P


It just occurred to me that this post essentially closes out the first chapter of this blog; I've completed my account of the adoption trip that brought the Pipsqueak into the family after so many years of waiting & hoping. There will still be looks back (e.g., the upcoming -- and ongoing! -- baby gate saga) but for all intents the character of the blog is going to have to change a little because from now on the posts will mostly be recent past, or in the present & future, or discussions of issues & ideas.

Knowing my niece, I suggest y'all buckle up; this is going to be quite a trip...! :-)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

One Year Ago Today (July 22 2010/2011)

I seem to be stretching the definition of "today" but so far I haven't heard anything actually snap, so I'll just keep going... :-)

One year ago today... We woke up with the knowledge that it was Our Last Day In China. (The next day would be all travel, a lot of it in aircraft, so it didn't count.)  It was a leisurely morning, so we spent some time figuring out how to pack, then let the Pipsqueak loose on the floor for a while and discovered the kid could move. (Thoughts of baby gates, the subject of an upcoming post, came to mind.) Most of our little group was too tired or too busy preparing for the long trip home to do any more sightseeing, but AJ, the Pipsqueak and I, along with Papa and Baby S, followed along with Lucy to the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. It turned out to be a hidden oasis in the middle of downtown, and we enjoyed the visit. While there, I amazed myself by tossing a coin just so into something akin to a wishing well, and hoped it was a good omen for the trip home. From the temple we braved the traffic and went to Yuexiu Park to see the statue that serves as the city's mascot. While there, we got caught in the rain for the first time, and Papa S and I played something like "hacky sack meets badminton" with a local who sold us his homemade feather things we'd been playing with. We made it all the way uphill to the statue (where Papa S bought us all water, the "Grand Canyon" brand complete with stars & stripes on the label!), then on the way back out of the park really got caught in the rain but were rescued by our bus driver.

We had our last big Chinese-style lunch in a restaurant with a nice view of the new downtown, then got caught in traffic (as usual) on the way back to the White Swan just long enough for me to have a quiet "it's a nice place but you don't actually belong here" experience along the way. Back at the hotel, we had the longest, slowest currency exchange experience of the entire trip, then got in a last big round of shopping & picked up the calligraphy we'd ordered at Jordon's (along with the Pipsqueak's new suitcase, which was big enough to hold at least 3 or 4 of her).  I had a really interesting talk with Jordon about family structure & privilege in Chinese culture, discovering for the first time that I'd probably spent the past 3-4 years being wrong about what my Chinese title was. (Shu Shu is the mother's younger brother, a distinction I hadn't noticed.)

We had to cut short my talk with Jordon and say our farewells -- it was finally really sinking in that we were leaving the country! -- and zoomed back to the White Swan for the famous Red Couch Photos. It was also the "event" at which Lucy handed each adoptive mommy The Brown Envelope (capitalized because it IS that important) and the kiddos' brand-new, fated-to-be-used-only-once, Chinese passports. AJ and I took a few quiet minutes to just wander through the White Swan's shops one last time, and then we all then trooped down the street to treat Lucy (our guide) & her husband to an American-style goodbye/thank-you dinner at Lucy's (the unrelated restaurant). There was a last stop for shopping, and then back upstairs to our room to pack in earnest. I closed out our travel blog and went to bed (last one awake as usual) with a bittersweet feeling... One of the most amazing adventures of my life was coming to a close, and once we were back home I knew I'd almost never again have the chance to spend so much time together with my niece.

Meanwhile, back in the present (2011)...  AJ took the day off to take care of a few things while the Pipsqueak was in day care, among which was checking out a nearby Montessori school. It's definitely not going to work out for us; the program for 2 year olds just isn't what we hoped for, and the cost is a lot higher than we expected.

They also had one of those "oh, wow!" moments that Miri's so good at producing. When they got to the day care center to pick her up, she came zooming out of the play area to say hello... Then walked over to the water cooler, pulled a cup from the dispenser, used the spigot & button to put a little water in and took a drink. She then put more water into the cup, took a few sips, and then poured the rest into the cooler's catch basin and tossed the used paper cup into a nearby trash can. All very matter-of-fact and nonchalant, no "look at me!" drama -- she was just doing what one is supposed to do to get a drink! A nearby mom asked how old Miri is, and when told she just turned 2 in June gasped that her 4-year-old son still hasn't figured out how to use the water cooler, much less do it all himself!

But there I go, sounding like a proud uncle again... <g>

Friday, July 22, 2011

One Year Ago Today (July 21, 2010/2011)

I'm amazed at how difficult it's turned out to be to be able to post consistently on a daily basis... but I'm tryin', I'm tryin'...! Maybe I need a 27-hour clock...?

One year ago today... We had a slow morning (the Pipsqueak hadn't slept too well, so neither did Mommy or JiuJiu) but were in pretty good shape when all three families visited the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum. It's an amazing building, with a roof positively covered in old, intricate, colorful soapstone and ceramic sculptures... and a different gift shop for every section of the museum! Aside from it (again) being horrendously hot & humid, the museum was an amazing place to see, and we brought home a few pieces of art to help remember the day.  What followed was one of the scarier bus rides we'd had in Guangzhou, getting to our lunchtime restaurant at just about the time our nerves were ready to give out. Lunch was good -- the Pipsqueak paid much more attention to AJ's food than to her own bowl of congee -- and we returned to the road refreshed & ready for our CA (Consulate Appointment). The traffic had other ideas, and by the time we got back to the White Swan we had only a few minutes before running back downstairs to join the mob heading out on the two huge hotel-provided tour buses.

There were no cameras allowed inside the consulate, but I can still clearly see the room where we waited until all the final paperwork was completed. The Consular Officer said the oath was actually "anti-climactic" because it wasn't actually the citizenship oath, but there were a lot of people in that room (AJ included, and almost yours truly) who couldn't make it all the way through without crying from the sheer volume of emotion: the adoptions were over, done with, complete, unbreakable -- Miri was officially a member of our our family and there was no longer anything anyone could do to change that. 

The traffic again almost derailed our plans, but we made it back to the White Swan in time to change & get to one of the city docks for a nighttime buffet boat ride up & down the Pearl River. I missed the magic show down in the dining room/lounge, but was compensated by the incredible neon, video, and lighting effects along the river, some of which turned entire buildings into giant video screens. As I noted in the original post, by the time we returned to the White Swan, the feeling of the trip had changed; we were left with only one more day in-country, and it was time to go home. Still, it was a good feeling to go to sleep knowing that what had begun as an adoption trip was now a family trip.

Meanwhile, back in the present (2011)... Work today was insane (at one point I was waiting for return phone calls from two nurses, two hospitals, an admissions coordinator, my HR Manager, and our Scheduling Manager while helping swap a patient from an old bed into a new specialty bed... and somewhere in there was trying to finish a document that will be a full week late tomorrow)... but I still got a Pipsqueak Report from the folks, and I'm looking forward to playing with her a little this weekend.

(The Pipsqueak has discovered piggyback rides... anybody know a good chiropractor? <g>)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

One Year Ago Today (July 20, 2010/2011)

Whoops... In yesterday's OYAT entry I wrote about getting up at the luxurious hour of 8:30am. Strike that; we met in the lobby at 8:30am, our wake-up call was actually 6:30am. (And yes, those of you who know me, there is indeed a loud "ugh!" at the end of that statement!)

One year ago today... We had possibly the latest wake-up call of the entire trip: 7:30am. Once the Pipsqueak got through her sleep inertia period, she was happy and giggly and squirmy and just a lot of fun to play with. (Maybe she was making up for being such a clingy fussbudget the previous day?) We had a truly leisurely breakfast, during which she learned to play "peekaboo" from under a napkin and had us both kvelling over how quickly she learned the game. We spent the morning wandering through the White Swan's high-end shops, then waiting in our room to hear if all went well with the paperwork. Shortly before lunch, the call came through: all the paperwork was completed, all the official signatures were in place, and -- barring any truly unusual events -- the Pipsqueak was now officially considered AJ's daughter by both the Chinese and U.S. governments; for the rest o the trip, we'd be coasting downhill.  Everyone celebrated with a big lunch and then a long (hot, muggy, hot, sweaty, and hot) walk through Guangzhou's open-air pet market & medicine market.  All the overheated kittens crammed into cages and lizards on a stick inspired us to again visit the pool -- where for the first time we all felt seriously negative vibes from someone watching us, ironically a Western tourist.  All three families then continued the attempt to eat our way through the entire Western section of Lucy's menu after doing some serious shopping in the stores on Shamian Island (the "adoption ecosystem," I called it), closing out the day with some more shopping. At our last stop, the Pipsqueak charmed one of the shopkeepers but after a few minutes in her arms showed she wanted to get back into AJ's arms, our first indication she really was bonding specifically with her new mommy and not just any friendly adult. She showed it again as we began preparing for the night, wailing loudly and non-stop for her uncle while AJ showered as quickly as she could (the Pipsqueak was loud enough to be heard in the shower, with the water running, behind a heavy closed door; I wasn't sure she couldn't be heard 25 stories down in the lobby!) We began our pre-packing for the return home and fell asleep with the feeling that It Was All Good but that our batteries were beginning to run down & it would soon be time to return home.

Meanwhile, back in the current day (2011)... it's nearly as hot here now as in China a year ago, with the daytime heat index never seeming to drop below 95 and often getting well above 100 degrees; when I mention this was "China weather" to people at work, they just stare at me goggle-eyed and ask how we managed to deal with it. I answer truthfully: we did because we knew we were seeing & doing things that were truly once-in-a-lifetime, and because we had waited so long to meet the Pipsqueak that it would've taken a lot more than tropical heat & monsoons to keep us away.

And the Pipsqueak?  She still likes to play "peekaboo" with us. :-)

On Year Ago Today (July 19, 2010/2011)

Aaahh, Tuesday... Probably the most nondescript day of the week. Wednesday is "hump day" right in the middle; Thursday means "tomorrow is Friday;" Friday is the last day of the work week; Saturday's the beginning of the weekend and Sunday's the end; Monday is the first day of the work week... but poor Tuesday is kind of just... there. At least it proves you made it through Monday in one piece...!

One year ago today... We slept to the insanely late hour of 8:30, then walked to the nearby clinic for the kiddos' medical exams (probably the most cursory I've ever seen, but exams nonetheless). AJ and I were reassured by frequent Pooh sightings (she's a big fan of Winnie the Pooh... and the full set of books she has originally lived in my room about 40 years ago), and the Pipsqueak very quickly proved she had lung power far in excess of her physical size. For the rest of the day, she was super-clingy, wailing loudly if not being held by Mommy or Uncle.

Somehow we got through that, helping demolish a really big lunch at a nearby restaurant, then getting more paperwork done in the White Swan's playroom, even fitting in a longevity nap in the afternoon. Later on, we finally said a sad goodbye to Lisa, who'd been our guide / lifesaver / hand-holder / errand runner / lotsofothergoodstuff since we'd left Beijing; there were a lot of red eyes & damp cheeks as we walked to Lucy's for dinner, but we finished the day in good spirits with the knowledge that the only remaining hurdle was acceptance of our paperwork & a visit to the U.S. Consulate.

Meanwhile, back in the present day (2011)... the Pipsqueak had a restless night but seemed to be very much her usual self when AJ dropped her at the daycare center.  It turned out to be a quiet day for everyone, with the only difference from past Tuesdays of a year (or more) ago being the phone conversation I had with Mom about how much fun it was to be with the Pipsqueak & how she's added several new words (all used correctly the first time around!) to her vocabulary in just the past few days.

Hmm... there I go, sounding like a proud uncle again... :-)

Monday, July 18, 2011

One Year Ago Today (July 18, 2010/2011)

Well, the weekend's over, and it's been Monday all day (if y'know what I mean), but I'm trying to stay on track here so...

One year ago today... We had one of the earliest wake-up calls of the entire trip so we could make our flight to Guangzhou on time. It was fun to watch a single bellhop dealing with three families' assorted luggage (somehow the collection just kept growing!), and we sang songs & had some very interesting talks with our local guide Effie during the ride to the airport. There was a little bit of chaos getting through security and dealing with overweight charges (our longtime guide -- and now practically member of the family -- Lisa was her usual lifesaving self), and the Pipsqueaks' much anticipated/worried about first-ever airplane flight went off without a hitch. Our new local guide Lucy picked us up in a minibus that just barely held all of us and all our stuff (I think the driver violated a few laws of physics while loading everything aboard), and we moved into our quarters at the famous White Swan Hotel on Shamian Island -- ready to begin the last steps in the overall adoption process. After a VERY welcome lunch of American-style pizza, we all did some exploring, then swam in the pool 'til we pruned. For dinner, the whole gang went to the nearby Lucy's Bar & Grill (not the same Lucy who was our guide!) for the first of several American-style dinners to help stave off the growing groundswell of homesickness, then dropped off to badly-needed sleep on what had to be the hardest beds on Earth. It was hot, it was humid, we were all exhausted from the long hours and travel and repeated packing/unpacking, but everyone knew we were about to clear the last few hurdles in years of paperchasing, so spirits were high.

Meanwhile, in the present day (2011), the day started off with a serious contrast to the celebratory weekend; the Pipsqueak went to daycare as usual, but all us grownups attended the funeral of an old neighbor who'd died unexpectedly on Friday. There were a lot of rug rats of varying sizes & ages present, and during the (long) service a number of them became fidgety and/or a little noisy. Some time back I would've silently thought unhappy thoughts to myself about why their parents couldn't quiet them down -- but today I simply accepted the noise & extra unplanned activity (all kept well within acceptable limits by assorted relatives) with a new understanding I'd learned from my niece.

It was only later, as I was driving to work, that I realized how much my views of kids in public have been changed by my experience with Miri. Amazing what we can learn from the littlest ones among us, isn't it..?

One Year Ago Today (July 14-17, 2010/2011)

Okay, I'm going to back up and post a few more photos from the "One Year Ago Today" series...

One year ago on July 14th... The Pipsqueak, her Mommy and her Jiu Jiu spent most of her Grandma's birthday on the least comfortable bus ride we'd ever had, culminating in getting lost in Guilin... and then discovering the beauty of the city and surrounding area in the evening.

Meanwhile, on July 14th this year (2011), I was spending Mom's birthday crashing at my folks' because I wasn't feeling well, while AJ had a normal day at work (or what passes for "normal" there, anyway).

One year ago on July 15th... AJ began to work out a system that would allow her to eat at the same time as her daughter, and then we spent a hot but lovely day at Seven Stars Park (where we saw pandas and dinosaurs, ensuring the day would be a success) and then a silk factory where we did some damage to AJ's credit card. The day ended with AJ seeing signs that her daughter seemed to hold some disdain for gravity...

Meanwhile, on July 15th this year (2011), I was back at work scrambling to make deadline on an important document (I didn't) and trying to get home early enough to be able to wake up early for the big family events spread through Saturday (didn't achieve that goal, either. <sigh>)

One year ago on July 16th... We took a long boat ride on the Li River, passing through some of the most incredible landscapes I'd ever seen (complete with the occasional water buffalo, cormorant, or other livestock... and a quick reminder along the way that Chinese culture has some different ideas about hygiene) on the way to hot, crowded, and touristy Yangshuo. From there we took our trusty bus back to Guilin, stopping for a photo op at some rice paddies and paying a visit to an art gallery, where we did some more damage to our bank accounts & watched an artist magically turn a blank piece of paper into a classical-style painting of bamboo. We finished the day with an especially entertaining dinner that featured my niece babbling and singing -- she was finally opening up to let us see her true personality!

Meanwhile, on July 16th this year (2011), about the same time of day I'd carried my backpack & the Pipsqueak's diaper bag onto a boat I was carrying cases of soda into the party room we'd rented for Miri's naming ceremony and (later) a party to celebrate her Grandpa's 81st birthday. (We'd wanted to throw a big shindig for his 80th, but that didn't work out because his kids were on the other side of the planet at the time!) Both were wonderful days filled with happy moments that will be long remembered; I really can' say which I liked more!

One year ago on July 17th... We went underground, traveling through an especially rural area to visit the Reed Flute Cave -- and along the way I had a flashback to a similar rural road four decades earlier on another continent, and found some interesting parallels with my new "here and now". The cave was beautiful, and moments after exiting we had our first Emergency Diaper Change (EDC) due to AJ having guessed wrong about which size diaper was the right size (she guessed too big). We stopped at the famous Elephant Trunk Hill, then enjoyed some real family bonding time on the way to lunch at a fancy restaurant... where we had the day's 2nd EDC, this one nuclear-powered. Most of the afternoon was free time (our guides needed to pick up a lot of our paperwork) so we stayed in our hotel room; the highlights of the afternoon were the Pipsqueak teleporting headfirst off one of the beds (and taking about a decade off her uncle's life expectancy!), and then watching one of the heaviest rainstorms I'd ever seem come sweeping in from the mountains. At dinner that night, we all received the kiddos' new Chinese passports and all the documentation needed to prove the provincial government had approved of the adoptions. The evening was punctuated by my niece peeing aaaaallll over her uncle (while mommy was in the shower) but I figured she was just getting even for my letting her fall off the bed and there were no hard feelings. :-)

Meanwhile, July 17th this year (2011) was spent chillaxin' with a bunch of cousins who'd come down from New York, enjoying each other's company (when anyone could stay awake!) and being thoroughly entertained by the Pipsqueak. Last time they saw her, Miri was just learning to walk on her own (and did so successfully for the first time while they watched); this year she was walking and running and dancing and singing and demanding piggyback rides & games of "Catch Me!" from one and all.

And that brings me back up to date, and I'll continue with the "One Year Ago Today" thread after catching some shuteye... Wan an...