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!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So Many Names for Such A Little Girl (Redux)

Before I get into the post proper, a quick note about photos... You may have noticed that fewer of my photos clearly show the Pipsqueak. In deference to the wishes of her mother to not post easily-identifiable portraits of her online, and based on my own knowledge & experience in the realm of Internet security (along with a wish to preserve what little privacy my family may have left), I am trying to avoid including clear images of my niece's face on this public platform. Depending on how events progress over time, and as her appearance changes as she grows, I may post clearer images of her at a very young age -- but for the time being I will err on the side of caution and try to make it a little more difficult for random passers-by on the street to easily recognize this little girl who means so much to us all.

And now, with that in mind, back to the blog...

On Wednesday the 17th, all us grownups took the Pipsqueak to a local synagogue for a formal mikvah conversion. If you've read some of my earlier posts, you'll probably remember the first entry titled, "So Many Names..." where I talked about the Pipsqueak's formal Hebrew naming ceremony.

A broad-brush description is probably the best at this point: the naming ceremony was to give the Pipsqueak a formal Hebrew name within the "family" of all Jews; the Mikvah conversion was to formally make her a part of that family in place of her being born to a Jewish mother. (The religion is passed from mother to child; given the Pipsqueak's birthplace, it's a pretty safe assumption that her birth mother wasn't Jewish. <g>) I'm leaving out a few layers, but these descriptions will suffice for now.

We're not exactly the most religiously observant family on the block, but our religion still plays a large part in our family & personal identity (identities). Since the Pipsqueak will be brought up in this religion, AJ wanted to be sure she was free to move about within it (so to speak); if she should decide to marry within it, or join a more conservative congregation in the future, the mikvah conversion would ensure that her choices would not be limited by rulings over whether or not she was "really Jewish".

A quick personal aside: I have typed and re-typed the above paragraph, and quite a few that are unlikely to ever see the light of day, in discussion of the "really Jewish" issue. (In part because I know a lot of people are surprised by the very existence of such a question.) My feeling is that if you truly identify yourself as being Jewish (or Catholic, or Muslim, or Protestant, or Sufi, or Buddhist, or Wiccan, or... you get the idea) and you make a sincere, ongoing effort to follow the major teachings of the religion... well, then that's what you are. As the Pipsqueak's Grandma is known to say when the subject of "really" being Jewish, the ovens didn't know the difference. The formal conversion -- which we all happily participated in as a joyful event -- was done in part because AJ wanted to ensure her daughter would not have to face this particularly odd (to us) species of discrimination in the future, and with that I'll get off my soapbox and back to the previously-scheduled post.

We found our way to the synagogue, and with the help of a very nice gentleman who just happened to be entering at the same time, were guided through a maze of hallways and stairs to where we needed to be. As usual, the Pipsqueak collected a bucketful of "how CUTE!" comments (in my unbiased opinion, all absolutely correct and well-deserved!) from various folks while we waited, and soon the "mikvah team" joined us. One of the rabbis unexpectedly gifted the Pipsqueak with a cute stuffed animal (we called it a giraffe but it really looks like either a gorse or a hiraffe), and then we again wound our way through the maze to the special mikvah room. We were all a little surprised when the Pipsqueak willingly let the female cantor hold her hand & walk with her through the building, but in the short time she's been with us we've learned she doles out that type of familiarity & trust very sparingly -- let me tell you, that lady really rates!

I hadn't known what to expect -- somehow I'd come to visualize either an ornate basin or something carved from stone (and yes, the baptism scene from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" also came to mind!) -- so I was surprised to find what looked like a large shower room all done in plain white ceramic tile, with a plain rectangular (but deep) pool on one side that looked suspiciously like the corner of any plain ol' in-ground swimming pool. It was explained to us that the water, while filtered for hygiene, includes a particular percentage of captured natural rainwater and is also warmed close to body temperature as per millenia-old rules governing ritual baths. We gave AJ & Miri a little privacy to change & get ready (AJ wore a modest swimsuit, the Pipsqueak wore skin), and then all squeezed onto the small dry floor area while mother & daughter entered the pool.

We had been a little concerned because the ritual includes several full submersions, but my niece is a real water baby; she was having a grand ol' time and every time she was dunked she came up laughing and asking for more! The only time she got upset was when we all started singing & clapping; she hadn't expected the sudden noise (and it was loud & echo-y in there), but the upset only lasted a few moments and I think she was disappointed that she couldn't play in the water with Mommy for a longer time. As we finished, the woman in charge of the mikvah room laughingly told us that Miri had reacted so much better than most little children to being dunked that she wanted her to be the synagogue's mikvah poster child!

After our mermaid faction dried off & dressed, we went back upstairs for the conclusion of the ceremony. One part required Miri to touch the Torah while the rabbi read a particular passage; in typical Pipsqueak fashion she got curious and was checking out the texture of its cover long before she was supposed to reach for it, which one rabbi smilingly said was a good omen. We soon finished, were presented with a pretty certificate -- shortly to be framed -- and then shared some kosher wine & cake with the entire team. (We'd brought it with us because, as Mom explained, back when she & Dad were kids it was a customary "thank you" from the family to share something sweet with those who performed such ceremonies & honors.)

With one last smile from the ladies at the reception desk & gift shop, we found the correct hallway and made our way back out to the parking lot. (Oh, did I mention that there was a crew with a crane in the parking lot, moving huge pallets of roofing material by dangling them in mid-air over our heads every time we walked in & out?!?) After a quick discussion, we headed to -- what else?! -- a kosher-style deli for a celebratory lunch. When not eating french fries, Miri entertained herself by visiting us all under the table, and after a while I took her outside for a walk. We did a little window shopping (she pointed to a particularly gaudy pair of rubber boots in a store window, said "boots!" then after studying them more closely decided she liked them, gave a nod and proclaimed, "my boots!") and then all headed home with a warm, happy glow.

Later that evening, I had some thoughts about my niece's identity -- or is it identities? -- that I'll share in a future post but right now it's past my bedtime so I'll close out this post before it grows much longer; I have a lot to say on the subject, and it deserves a post (probably just the first of many) of its own.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Down on the Farm

Quick note: all three family homesteads here in the MD 'burbs of DC came through Hurricane Irene in good shape. Lots of tree debris in the yards but that's really the worst of it for us. We still have one NY cousin unaccounted for (her neighborhood was evacuated) but she's NYPD so we figure she's kind of busy right now... but when we do hear from her, you can bet we're getting her #&@$! cell phone number...!

In any case, with hopes that all readers came through the storm (and the earthquake... and the fires... yeesh!) with nothing worse than a few new adventure stories, I'm going to start catching up on what's been happening in the Pipsqueak's world for the past few weeks.

Back on the 13th, before the ground rumbled and wind blew, we drove up I-95 into Pennsylvania to spend the weekend with some cousins -- with the added bonus of the Pipsqueak meeting a fellow 2-year-old addition to the family for the first time. Our original plan had been to rent a minivan because none of us have vehicles large enough for the whole family to cover that much mileage in any real comfort -- but we dithered over the safety of moving a baby seat that none of us really understand into a vehicle none of us were familiar with, so by the time we decided to "go with it" there weren't any minivans to go with. (This was actually A Good Thing; the rental would've cost us many hundreds of dollars.) The result was that we caravaned, with Mom & Dad in their car while I rode shotgun with AJ & the Pipsqueak in theirs. Our cousin had emailed detailed directions, and I'd printed out the same route on Google Maps with Street View photos of every exit & intersection where we had to turn (Dude, can you believe they have Street View photos of that little backwoods driveway?!), and there was a GPS unit in both vehicles, so confidence was high that we'd all arrive together.

Despite the usual (not entirely unexpected) later-than-planned departure, we were all in good spirits at the start of the trip; the Pipsqueak even took extra precautions to make sure she'd be rolling in fine fashion. We followed our well-known back route to pick up I-95 about halfway up toward Baltimore, and all was well... until we ran into a traffic jam. A big traffic jam. One of those where you wish you'd flown, or at least taken a bicycle with you. We still don't know exactly what the problem was but it was likely weather-related; during our lunch stop there was a short cloudburst of truly impressive volume (which of course we caught up to & had to drive through once we were back on the road), and many signs warning of standing water... but the bottom line was that we were in those vehicles a lot longer than planned.

Luckily, the Pipsqueak remains a champion traveler; she only got crochety a little before we stopped for lunch, but the Elmopalooza CD that AJ had in the car, along with some snacks her Grandma made sure we had, went a long way toward keeping the peace. Miri even found a new snack; we didn't have any of  the peanut butter crackers she likes, but I handed her one of the cheese-filled cracker sandwiches instead. After a few moments of indignant complaint, she got very quiet... and a couple of minutes later we heard a loud, "Bigan! More!" (Yes, my niece has progressed from calling me "Mommy" to an almost minor mispronunciation of my name -- but I love her anyway. <g>) I reached back and she put the two crackers in my hand -- with all that tasty cheese carefully scraped out from between the two crackers that she'd figured out how to pry apart. By the time we got to lunch, she'd totalled most of the package that way.

When we finally got to the farm, everybody hugged hello and we got to meet our new Cousin M while he & his grownups got to meet the Pipsqueak.  We quickly set off to meet Scooby the horse, and the Pipsqueak was happy but cautious -- this was only the 2nd time she'd ever met a horse in person (the last one had a friendly police officer on his back), and those teeth looked awfully big as he took the offered carrots!

The rest of the weekend was spent "doing nothing" -- walking around (dodging the ridiculously frequent rainclouds), catching up on family news, Skyping a cousin on the left coast (Miri tried to feed him goldfish through the screen), and just generally catching our collective breath to whatever degree was allowed by two highly energetic two-year-olds.  Miri & AJ had room of their own, as did Grandma & Grandpa, but Uncle Brian slept both nights on a nice, soft couch in the living room -- with the built-in alarm clock of not being terribly far from the big bin of cousin M's toys in the morning, (The loud emergency generator kicking off in the basement directly below the couch on the 2nd morning wasn't terribly conducive to sleeping late, anyway.)  As a semi-aside, it was interesting to watch the Pipsqueak during the Skype session; even though the last time she'd seen something like that was back in Guangzhou, she seemed to immediately realize the person on the screen was interacting directly with her and wasn't a regular TV show (some of which she's seen on a very similar laptop)... She reacted to what was being said very differently than from how she reacts to Barney or the Wiggles, and was happy to "share" her goldfish with the cousin on the other end. It seems she learned more from us than we realized at an earlier time than we thought!

Early mornings notwithstanding, a wonderful time was had by all, with the added bonus of pretty scenery around the house and really, really good homecooked food. (Okay, so the Pipsqueak had her packaged mac & cheese for breakfast... the rest of us ate the good stuff!) One cousin's iPhone survived the Pipsqueak watching a video on it, and the swivel chairs in the living room survived being used like carnival rides, and I eventually gave up trying to get a good, unobstructed, non-blurred, in-focus photo of the goldfinches & woodpeckers at the backyard feeder and just kicked back & chillaxed a while.

Unfortunately, real life had to be acknowledged, so after one more quick jaunt down the driveway to visit Scooby (about the only time we had real sunlight the whole trip!), we headed back down I-95 through several very impressive thunderstorms and pulled back into AJ's driveway on Monday afternoon. The Pipsqueak was pretty good coming home -- although both Mommy and JiuJiu were bargaining desperately with her for the last 5 miles before the mid-trip rest stop! -- and now we know she handles the typical crazy L family road trip at least as well as she handled the long flight home from China.

I think the kid is a born traveler; stay tuned...!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

This Looks Interesting!

Sorry, another "non-post" posting... At least this one's not going to be "stream of unconsciousness" typed while half-asleep, or extremely surprised at experiencing my first tremblor in decades...!

There's a new film being shown at the Montreal World Film Festival that should be of at least some interest to adoptive families, more interest to families involved in international adoption, and extreme interest to those involved with adoptions from China. It's called The Invisible Red Thread, and even though it's not yet available for viewing in the U.S. it's supposed to be available in a few months.

You can see more about it at http://theinvisibleredthread-themovie.com/about-the-movie/. I'm looking forward to it... it seems to be made with a POV a bit different from most adoption films.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Whoa... We just had an honest-to-goodness earthquake here in the DC area!  Preliminary reports put it at magnitude 5.8 with the epicenter in Mineral, Virginia, and was felt as far away as New York City.

(Dude, we're all just tenants here, remember?)

I just got off the phone, everyone in the family's checking in with each other, we're all OK and are now tracking down friends & other relatives... Now what I'm worried about is the four(!) nuclear power plants within a 130-mile radius of our area... gaah...

I hope everyone out there is OK...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

It's Been Quite A Week...

Vacations are the time you take from everyday life, when you kick back & relax ("just chillaxin'," as the saying goes), when you don't worry about all the "stuff" that makes up daily life.

Oh, how I wish that was true!

A couple of weeks back, I realized I was scheduled to be on duty the weekend we were supposed to get away on the Pipsqueak's first real family trip. (A quick note of explanation: We're in the MD 'burbs of DC, and for years we drove to & from my grandparents' in the 'burbs of New York every weekend. We drove to visit relatives in Kansas a couple of times. We drove to Florida a couple of times, did the Auto Train once as well.  Drove to & from Chicago. Flew out to Albuquerque and then drove all over New Mexico. Did Colonial Williamsburg a few times, Gettysburg more often than I can count... a drive of less than a coupla hundred miles and/or less than 3-4 hours isn't a "trip" in this family!)

As I was saying... I suddenly realized I had to reschedule. Then I realized I didn't want to work on Friday night into the wee hours of the morning and then get up early for a long drive, so I decided to take the Friday before the trip as my comp day. Then I realized we wouldn't come back 'til Monday, so I had to use a day of vacation... and then I realized August is my anniversary month, and the company would be adding the usual lump sum of new vacation days to my account -- and since I haven't quite gotten out of the habit of hoarding my vacation days ("I don't know when we're going to China so I'm hanging on to all the time I can" was my refrain for several years) I suddenly had "use or lose" time and it all added up to one of those "what the heck" moments and I told asked my boss about taking Friday and the entire following week off... and he said it was okay by him.

So there I was, only slightly sleep-deprived last Saturday as we set off for our cousins' farm (non-working) in the wilds of what Dad sometimes calls "Pennsyltucky," riding shotgun with AJ and the Pipsqueak while Mom & Dad alternately led/followed up I-95. (We hadn't originally planned to usd two vehicles... but did you every try renting a minivan with only 3 days' advance notice? I don't recommend it!) As expected, Miri was a champion traveler, only getting a little crochety once in a while -- but so did her mommy & uncle, since the traffic was absurdly slow almost all the way there. The weekend was pleasant and restful, and the two young 'uns got along famously. (Dude, you'd better not talk about what happened every time one of them had to share his or her toys with the other... but hey, they're two...) [Note: I'm working on the draft of a post about the Pipsqueak and this trip, it'll be up shortly.]

Tuesday was kinda blurry, since somehow "restful" did not equal "sleep" thanks to a couple of two-year-olds and (one morning) a VERY LOUD emergency generator kicking off because of a local power outage. But hey, I was on vacation, I was all good; I got some filing done & spent time chillaxin'... I even managed to drop the beast turdonwheels Mountaineer at the mechanic's, only to find the family "extra" car (an old Camry we bought used several centuries ago) would. not. start. Okay, my folks were glad to get me to & from the house, the mechanic, etc. so no problem.

Wednesday started off wonderful; we took the Pipsqueak to one of the major local synagogues for a formal mikvah conversion. She looked super cute in her little dress, and charmed absolutely everyone involved, and the lady who specializes in mikvah baths/conversions said she wants her to be their "mikvah poster child" -- the Pipsqueak's a real water baby, and absolutely loved being in the water with her mommy, triple-dunking and all!  [Yes, there's a post specifically about this coming soon.] My balloon deflated a bit when the mechanic called and let me know what the shopping list of repairs was going to cost; we agreed on the two most critical (plus the oil change that was coming overdue) and I went online to make sure my credit card would survive the hit.

Thursday I spent basically trapped in the house; the work on the front end of the beast turdwithwheels Mountaineer was taking longer than planned, and the ridiculous monsoon that passed through the area delayed delivery of some parts.  I got some more filing, etc. done in the house and suddenly the day was done. Friday I slept late (Dude, you gotta log off the computer before 4:00am!) and bailed my vehicle out from the mechanic's lot... which took three credit cards, long story, but I'm not going to believe the "credited" date on any online payments I make from now on...! We all got back together for dinner, and I used about 1/3 of the 8GB SD card in my camera trying to capture the Pipsqueak and her mommy playing.

Saturday was a special day (yes, there's a dedicated post on this coming soon, too!) because I had the Pipsqueak all to myself while AJ taught a class & our folks were off at a bat mitzvah somewhere. This was the first time it was just the two of us for any appreciable period of time since China, and I'm glad thrilled to say we had an absolutely wonderful time together. We read books and sang songs... took a walk outside and picked up sticks... had a little snack... colored & drew pictures... and only got the TV involved a few minutes before AJ finally came back, at which point she put the Pipsqueak into a swimsuit and I used another chunk of the SD card while my niece played with a water table on the deck. I eventually went back home & got in about 2 hours of "work" on the computer before running to meet everyone for dinner. We met at a family-style buffet, and the Pipsqueak kept us all on our toes but very happily so. I eventually got in a little more filing & computer maintenance before hitting the pillow.

And now, all of a sudden, it's Sunday... I was awakened by a passing storm and decided to type this post, but I plan to go back to sleep as soon as it's published. The problem is, this is the last day of my "vacation" and so far I've done everything but relax, chill out, and do nothing. Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't exchange the family time from last weekend or this past Wednesday for anything, and there's absolutely no way to quantify the value of the alone time I had with the Pipsqueak, but I was kind of hoping to return to work rested & ready to roll... but instead I'm as tired as I was at the beginning of my vacation, with just as much laundry to wash and just as long a to-do list as when I was looking forward to all the "free time" I was going to have!

I think I need a vacation from my vacation...!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Quiet but Amazing Milestone

This isn't the post I'd planned on making -- I actually have one saved as a draft, ready to go online with a single mouseclick.  Instead, a truly amazing milestone snuck up on me (on the whole family) this weekend, and it's too important to let slide past without mention.

Yesterday (Saturday) marked the day that the Pipsqueak was with us for more time than not; we have finally reached the point where -- by a matter of hours when AJ realized it -- Miri has spent less than 50% of her life as an orphan.

I don't think I realized what that really meant until I'd slept on it (on the living room couch at a cousin's house; the other milestone this weekend is the Pipsqueak's first family trip). This little dynamo who's become the center of so much that we do has just now reached the point where we make up a full half of her entire life.  A few minutes ago I was showing our cousins some of the photos of the Pipsqueak at the Luchuan SWI (we never visited but were given a CD of photos the day after Gotcha Day), and suddenly it clicked that from now on that would just be where & how her life began -- but until yesterday that was how she'd spent most of her life.

But now when I look next to me at the little girl (with the dribble of miso soup on the front of her shirt) cuddling in her mommy's lap and burbling happily about a necklace she's playing with, I know that this is how the majority of her days have been and will be from now on... and the clouds & rain outside don't really matter all of a sudden.

We may be several hours away from where we live, but this is what "home" is all about.

And it's all good.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Melts In Your Mouth, Not In Your... Uh, Oh...

Guess what?

If you mix M&Ms with a little girl fond of making tasty chocolate last as long as possible, you don't get the nice, neat, slightly crunchy little bits of yumminess you see in commercials.

You get a very cute little girl running around and/or jumping up & down yelling, "CANDY!" as her face and hands and anything she touches slowly turns the same color as the M&M she's torturing.


Incidentally, the Pipsqueak doesn't normally get that excited over candy; she just kept calling out the word because it was a new one for her and she likes playing with the sound fo new words as she learns them... up 'til now M&Ms were just ems or something sounding vaguely like kokoliks.

There was a cute "time out" once or twice when she noticed that the blue M&M she'd been sucking on for the past 5 minutes was the same color as part of the pattern on Mommy's pants (which led to more multiple repetitions of another new word, "match"), but mostly it was my increasingly blue niece running in & out of the family room yelling "CANDY!" and having a wonderful time doing it.

Luckily, the kid's a real water baby -- she absolutely LOVES playing with water, in water, around water -- so after almost 10 minutes(!) of Mommy, Grandma, and Uncle Brian practically begging her to please put that blue M&M out of its misery (and coincidentally stop spreading its color around), Grandma had a brainstorm and told Miri if she gave Grandma the "Em," then Mommy would take her to wash her hands.... Bingo!  After about three nanoseconds' consideration, she put the squishy bluish mess in Grandma's hand and made a beeline for the bathroom, where she had a wonderful time washing her hands.

And her face.

And the counter.

And the liquid soap bottle... and the clear plastic plate her Grandma keeps under the liquid soap bottle to catch drips.

In fact, she spent the next 10-15 minutes making sure (repeatedly) that we all knew she had cleaned the plate, and made sure to demonstrate so by whacking the faucet with it, and whacking the floor of the family room, and then pushing it all around the kitchen floor.  Eventually something distracted her and the various components removed from the bathroom were returned to their usual places only slightly worse for the wear.

But really, folks, I don't think they've made an M&M yet that can stand up to a two-year-old without melting aaaallll over the place... <sigh>

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Whole New... Look? :-)

The Pipsqueak changed from "baby" to "toddler" very shortly after we met her. Now she's really leaving toddlerhood behind and is well along the road to becoming a little girl. The changes include a whole new way of interacting with other people outside the family.

The most telling difference is how she reacts to strangers... especially those in the medical field.  During the adoption exam at the clinic in Guangzhou, she was yowling so loudly that AJ and the doctor had to lean within a few inches of each other, and AJ could still barely hear the poor man. (All the noise was due to nothing more painful than being measured, weighed, or made to sit up or lay down when she wanted to do the opposite.)  Stateside, things weren't much better; she was so bad at her first visit to the opthalmologist that the poor guy actually walked out of the exam room and then came back in through another door without his lab coat on in an effort to get Miri to cool down a bit -- all in vain,

Well, the much-dreaded (by Mommy, and possibly the doctor) 6-month follow-up opthalmology visit was this week... And the Pipsqueak had a surprise for everybody: happy cooperation!  She was cheerful, she reacted to the doctor, she let him cover alternating eyes, the whole schmear -- all that was missing was the eye drops, which the (probably shocked) opthalmologist said he'd hold until the next visit in another 6 months. [The added bonus was an "all good!" verdict from the doc.]

I've seen something like this with just about everybody the Pipsqueak encounters. Oh, yeah, she's fast to run to Mommy for reassurance & protection if she doesn't like what she sees, but there's often a loud "HI!" and an engaging look for anyone who we seem to be friendly with.  (Dude, she's almost at the point where she'll have to be taught to be careful around strangers.... Yeah, man, I hear ya...) Of course, if she doesn't get what she considers a proper response after two or three increasingly loud "HI!" calls, there will invariably be an unhappy "Mommy!"with a demand to retreat to the safe haven of AJ's arms.

Still, it's really neat to see the emerging personality; my niece not only has left the quiet, almost bald little baby behind, she's well on the way to becoming an outgoing, engaging little girl sure enough of herself to challenge strangers to deal with her on her own terms.

Now if we could just get her not be so picky about what she eats... <sigh>