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!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Whole New Look... (and Some Assumptions Put Aside)

Going to services with the Pipsqueak last year was a kind of experimental adventure; she was still a tiny little thing, usually quiet, not terribly mobile (climbing steps for her was akin to mountaineering for me), and we all felt such a rush at having her with us that her mere presence blurred pretty much any other aspect of the experiences.  This year...

This year, the Pipsqueak is (thank God) an active, inquisitive, verbal little person with her own set of well-defined likes & dislikes and a few (not terribly quiet) favorite games she loves to play with her family. As amazing & wonderful as all that is, none of it is terribly helpful when one is attempting to attend a religious service that can last up to several hours.  She tried really hard, but Miri simply could not stay quiet & still in a (hot!) auditorium filled to the brim with strangers. The result was that on Wednesday night, AJ spent maybe 15 minutes in the room during the 90-minute service... and while the Pipsqueak's Grandma and Grandpa (or "Pop pop" as she suddenly began calling him a couple of weeks ago) were in the room for a bit over three hours on Thursday morning, AJ & Miri were there for maybe 20-25 minutes. (Dude, she's just two... and you haven't been hit by lightning yet...!) I spent a fair amount of time with them in the lobby, or out in front of the building, but I logged only about 15 minutes' more time actually attending the services.

Oh, we started out alright, and were able to hustle back into the auditorium to hear the shofar blown (which delighted AJ & yours truly but left the Pipsqueak basically unimpressed), but we all realized there would be complications when my niece began "reading" the little photocopied booklet of supplemental prayers by herself.

Out loud.

Sometimes in her outside voice.

AJ told her she needed to stay quiet, and Miri carefully shushed everyone within a 12-foot radius, but it all got the better of her in just minutes and, as the saying goes, that was all she wrote.  The people nearby were treated first to the sight of her dragging AJ, then me, up & down the auditorium steps a few times (which most thought was really cute)... then a happy, "HI, GRANDMA!" from the main aisle at a particularly quiet moment.  We thought all was OK after Pipsqueak & Mommy spent some time in the lobby, but (I hadn't realized they had come back in & were standing behind me) all of a sudden there was a loud, "HI, BIYAN!" in my ear and a few moments later it was my turn to hustle my happily talkative (and highly amused) niece out to the lobby.

Oh, well... maybe next year.  :-)

However, there was one moment on Thursday night that I think I'll remember for a long time, and that I'd like to share here because it shows just how much the world has changed in a single generation.  I'm willing to bet that if you hear someone out of sight say, "I'm Jewish," you'll picture a Caucasian individual of European descent. (Okay, some folks may immediately picture Sammy Davis, Jr. just to be different... but you know what I'm talkin' 'bout here.) For generations, there would be no question that such a mental picture of an unseen Jewish person was extremely likely to be correct.

Well... One of the traditions this rabbi maintains is that she likes to have all the little children in the congregation join her (yes, I said "her"!) and the cantor at the bima on Rosh Hashonah eve for the blessing of the wine & bread.  AJ had just brought the Pipsqueak back in from the lobby at that point in the service, and I asked if she wanted to take her daughter up front; she was feeling too tired (did I mention the Pipsqueak's put on some mass in the past year?) but Mom said, "Why don't you take her up, she'll go with you."  I asked my niece if she'd like to go for a little walk and she agreed... and was promptly surprised when I began to carry her in the wrong direction, away from the lobby where she'd been playing. (It turned out to be the wrong direction because is was also away from her Mommy, as I was shortly to discover.)

There was a bit of a pause as all the families in the room debated about going up front or not, so the Pipsqueak and I were almost the first ones to climb onto the stage -- beaten there by a few seconds by one of her cousins (also adopted). We stood there for a couple of moments, and while the rabbi & cantor cooed over the little ones I was suddenly struck by an interesting fact:

In an auditorium full of Jewish families, the first two kids from the congregation to reach the stage were a little Chinese girl and a little Black boy.

While a few other children joined us, I tried to keep myself from laughing out loud; I can tell you that when I was growing up, the chances of that happening were worse than the chance of my winning a Powerball jackpot or being hit by a falling meteor.  Oh, there was definite variety in the kids who'd joined us onstage -- a range of complexions, hair colors, and behaviors -- but they were all generically what most people would expect a Jewish person to look like.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay through the full blessings; I was quickly distracted from my musings by the need to desperately bargain with the Pipsqueak because she'd lost sight of Mommy in the crowd -- and then had to beat a hasty retreat, stage left, when the bargaining broke down and she began to demonstrate her ample lung capacity for all to see & hear. (AJ had realized what was going on and came zooming down the aisle to meet us just as I reached the bottom of the stage stairs... and I was persona non grata to my niece for the next 20-odd minutes.)

There was a fair-sized crowd on Wednesday night, but the place was SRO on Thursday. Despite spending most of my time in the lobby or outside, I had several chances to look at the congregation as people came & went... and by the time we decided it really was time to go, I come to the realization that the crowd included a goodly number of interracial couples, many with children who were bi-racial or who represented a collection of ethnic backgrounds.

So, remember, the next time you hear a voice behind you saying, "I'm Jewish," don't be surprised if you turn around and find, instead of a brown-haired Caucasian of European descent, my Zhuang(?) niece... or our cousin N with his wonderful dark chocolate complexion... or someone whose biological parents don't look the least bit alike in skin tone.

Score one for the Big Guy upstairs; maybe we all really are learning to look past the differences, one family at a time.

Happy new year!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I'm Proud of Myself

My folks have an addiction.

Nothing really dangerous, nothing of medical importance; they just seem to have developed the habit of visiting a certain nearby secondhand store and finding great deals on stuff for the Pipsqueak.

Every. Single. Week.

Now, before you think I'm complaining, let me set the record straight: Despite the occasional frequent chuckle over the constant appearance of new toys, books, occasional clothing, and assorted tchochkes, I think it's great that they're able to get battery-powered toys for under two bucks, or children's picture books for ninety-something cents.

This past weekend, I was shown their latest discovery: a fairly large, brightly colored merry-go-round featuring "baby" versions of the major Mickey Mouse Club characters, with the option of having them go 'round and 'round while music played, or having them sit still while a bright light projected changing pictures of the characters on the ceiling.

At least that's what it was supposed to do.

The music played, and the picture on the ceiling could be focused sharply... but the merry-go-round refused to budge, and the projected picture never changed. Dad tried different batteries, and we both futzed around with it, but to no avail. Suddenly, the motor began grinding, and after more  futzing around Dad & I got the characters to move... as long as we held the darn thing upside-down.  We started to take it apart but after I removed the first batch of screws from the bottom I realized there was a second batch still holding things together... and for the next few minutes Dad & I kept finding things that would get in the way if we continued trying to separate the parts.  At least the projector worked (even if the picture didn't change), and the music was loud enough... I left with a promise from Dad that he wouldn't try to disassemble the toy without me.

Come Sunday... We're back at our folks' house and Mom mentions that, sort of egged on by her, Dad had indeed managed to open up the toy -- and now it didn't do much of anything, and they were thinking of tossing it in the trash. It had only cost them $1.91 plus tax, but I don't like losing arguments with inanimate objects... plus I'd already seen the Pipsqueak's reaction to the Disney characters and didn't want to let her down.

The next hour was... well, "interesting" may be a euphemism, but it really was kind of interesting. First I had to figure out why the big center post was now crooked (it was OK the last time I'd seen the toy), and why the motor now sounded more strained but was doing less... and what the heck did those last four screws attach to...?

Well, I'm proud of myself.

First, I had to figure out why the central pillar was crooked... done. Then I had to figure out how to remove the top without pulling the focus mechanism... done.  Then I had to figure out how the motor was supposed to move the carousel... done. Then I had to figure out why the motor didn't move the carousel even though it was running... done. Then I had to figure out how to take up the slack in the elastic band that drove the carousel... done. Then I had to figure out how the same motor could drive the picture disk for the projector... done.

Dude, you're on a roll!

Then I had to figure out how to put it together so that all 8 screws in the base lined up with the right sockets, the lamp lined up with the electrical contacts, the carousel gears lined up with the motor's drive gear, the axle for the picture disk lined up with the sockets in the top & bottom pieces, and the gear for the picture drive lined up with the motor's secondary drive gear, all at exactly the same moment, all while losing the ability to see what was happening inside as the halves came together...

Dude, you're screwed!

Just to add to the joy, the only way the meshiggineh thing would sit still on the table was fully dismantled or upside-down, neither of which was helpful to me... the only angle at which Dad could hold a flashlight to let me see inside as the halves of the base came together had it pointed directly at my eyes... and the Pipsqueak insisted on sitting on my lap and "helping" with the operation. (This last made it all the more difficult because I didn't have available the emotional release of the usual language I'd use in such a

As I contemplated the very real possibility of losing yet another argument with an inanimate object, the Pipsqueak got bored and returned to watching The Wiggles in the next room... Mom finally gave up telling me I should just give up... and Dad stopped making suggestions. Then I noticed the picture disk could be removed... and that freed up the vertical axle to travel up & down in the central post... and the main drive gear wasn't fastened down, so I could move it up, slip the vertical axle's drive gear under it and let gravity worry about dropping everything back into position as I joined the two halves of the base... and in a flurry of activity everything got unscrewed, aligned, repositioned, seated, mounted, and screwed back into place in about 1% of the total time I'd spent trying to figure the damn thing out.

The toy still managed to block my being totally victorious; nothing I did could make the picture disk rotate, so whatever I lined up over the lens would be an unchanging image on the ceiling. After a quick check with the Pipsqueak's grandparents, I set things up so that the projected image was one of a certain famous mus musculus and I fastened the top into place.

I was very proud of myself; aside from the projection not changing, everything worked!  The Pipsqueak was ushered back in, and was immediately entranced by the figures going 'round and 'round, popping up & down just like on a real carousel. There was much smiling and many loud repetitions of "Up and down! Up and down!" complete with hand clapping -- plenty to help an uncle forget the preceding hour of frustration and pinched fingers.

The real reward was when I turned off the light in the room and switched the toy to projector mode. Miri was a little bewildered at first -- she wanted "up and down!" to continue -- but then her Grandma pointed to the image on the ceiling and she looked up, screamed "MICKEY!" and gave me a smile that'll last 'til I'm eleventy-seven years old.

We were worried something might break (re-break?) in transit, so Dad & I taped up a bagel box that happened to be nearby and the Pipsqueak supervised our carefully lowering her new toy into place for its trip home. She literally would not let the box out of her sight until I assured her I would personally make sure her Mommy would take it home, and sure enough when the time came for everyone to leave Miri made sure the box went into the car.

So, score one for the Jiu Jiu; not only did I manage to overcome the multiple engineering and construction challenges this new toy threw at me, I also managed to make my niece literally scream with delight.

I'm proud of myself. :-)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Help Make the World a Better Place

A quick post not quite in the usual vein...

I recently made a post in which I asked what kind of world my niece was growing up in.  Well, here's a way to make the world all kids (ours and everyone else's) are growing up in: keep their minds free.

September 23rd through October 1st is Banned Books Week.  Point your browser to http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/ and pitch in... not just during the week, but at all times.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste -- but an even more terrible thing to shackle in the shadows.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Not Exactly PB&J

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but we have an interesting problem with the Pipsqueak: she gets jealous of Mommy.  Jealous as in, hug her at your own risk -- if Miri sees anyone hugging Mommy, they will suddenly be confronted by a very small, very loud, and very angry little person actively pushing them away.

We can't figure it out; we're always hugging in this family, and the Pipsqueak has absolutely no problem with any combination of family members sharing a hug -- but AJ is her Mommy and you darn well better not forget it!  We've tried a variety of approaches (the most common being sneaking a hug when the Pipsqueak's attention is directed elsewhere, or even better when she's in another part of the house) but the bottom line is don't hug the Pipsqueak's Mommy!

Some time back, I remembered something from my early childhood, where I'd squeeze between my folks and we'd have a "love sandwich" (it only counted if everyone said that out loud).  The tradition continued with AJ, but faded to a happy memory as we grew older -- but maybe, just maybe (I thought), it would work with the Pipsqueak... and I was right! The second or third time we did this, when the Pipsqueak had been home maybe six or seven months, we all got the happy surprise of her giving a biiig smile and a loud, clear, "Happy happy!" when we didn't knew she even knew the word. (Dude, you hit it outta the park!)  Since then, any time one of us goes to hug AJ goodbye after a get-together, we're sure to make it a group hug with a loud "looove sandwich!" to make it official.

Fast forward to Saturday evening... (Technically, for me that would be "tonight" since I haven't actually gone to bed yet but for the sake of all you normal folks I'll call it "last night.)  A particularly close uncle/aunt/cousin combo spent part of the day with us to help celebrate AJ's birthday, and we all did a love sandwich when they headed home so the Pipsqueak would allow them to hug AJ goodbye. A little while later, after a bit of cleaning up and a bit of an argument with the Pipsqueak over her having to put her shoes & socks back on, it was time for her Mommy to take her home (and for her uncle to hit the road as well).

We finally convinced Miri that it would be fun for me to put her shoes & socks back on while Mommy held her, and made it clear that it was time to go home. (We knew the message had gotten through because she nodded and very firmly said, "Home!") I was in the kitchen packing up my laptop as AJ gathered up her & the Pipsqueak's stuff in the next room when my niece marches in, whacks me on the thigh (her equivalent of a tap on one's shoulder), and says, "Samich!"

"What's that, honey?"


"It's not time for a sandwich, Silliness, it's time to go home!"


I had to stop and think; it was unusual for the Pipsqueak to ask for food when she knew Mommy was in the middle of getting ready to take her home, and quite frankly she'd already put away enough food over the course of the evening to fill even her hollow leg... Hey, waitaminit...

"You want to do a love sandwich before you go home?"

The pipsqueak nodded, gave me a firm "yeh!" and marched back into the other room, confident that she'd gotten her message through to her silly grownups.  Grandma came in, and then Grandpa came in from the kitchen, and the Pipsqueak proclaimed, "Samich!" with a big smile.

So, for the first time at Miri's (very specific) request, we did a love sandwich to say goodnight -- three of them, in fact, as per her instructions -- and then it was alright for Mommy to take her home. She's always liked the family love sandwiches, but having her specifically requesting (demanding!) one was definitely icing on the cupcake.

Since AJ has weekend duty on Sunday, I've already been told I'm going to have "Uncle duty" to give the Pipsqueak's grandparents a little break while they're watching her.

I'm looking forward to another samich. :-)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes, Take 4

AJ had a birthday this week.

As birthdays go, it was nuthin' special; it fell on a rather nondescript day during the week, so she spent it at work. In fact, when I walked into her office quite a bit later than she'd normally be occupying it, she was trying to catch up on the the ridiculous amount of work that's been thrown her way... and trying, and trying... and finally she said something I'll not type here followed by "It's my birthday and I'm still at work so I'm going home!" (And that's what she did, but not before getting caught up in some other work stuff for another quarter hour.)

Since her birthday was during the week, Mom asked what she'd like to do on the weekend before... and AJ was so tired that all that got done was the five of us having carry-out from the neighborhood Cheeburger Cheeburger.  Not even a real birthday cake.

But my niece knew just what to do.  After our folks had picked her up at daycare, her Grandma explained that it was Mommy's birthday, and the Pipsqueak must've thought that was pretty special -- because when AJ finally got to our folks' house after that wide day at work, her little girl ran up to meet her at the door with a loud, 'happy birthday, Mommy!" (She was even okay with there not being any "happy cake" at dinner.)

And that, my friends, is a good birthday.

(And happy fortymumblemumble to my notsolittlenaymore sister!)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward...

I wasn't going to do another 9/11 post, but after watching many of the shows memorializing the events (especially MSNBC's rebroadcast of their original coverage of that morning) I couldn't keep my mind from going in a related direction.  I apologize if this post is a little long; I'll condense it as best I can, but I have a lot to say.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

A decade ago we watched aircraft carrying an assortment of "everyday" people turned into instruments of death & terror, and a day that dawned bright & sunny (at least here & in NYC) took on a type of darkness that no one was truly prepared to confront.  We saw hatred turned physical, a hatred of a nation so virulent that innocent men, women and children -- some not even U.S. citizens -- were considered proper targets.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

As part of a Foreign Service family, I've grown up being used to being told "don't go there today," "it's not safe over there for you," "the police recommend Americans avoid this neighborhood," and so on. Even back in the early 1980s, I remember trying to ensure I had at least one alternate route to & from common destinations, being aware of any vehicles that seemed to be following me on the road, and looking beneath my car for "packages" as I approached it anytime it was parked outside the garage.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

My parents have been confronted at a Christmas party with, "What are you doing here?" I've walked out of the house to find "Damn Jews" painted on the street out front.  I've had co-workers ask me to give them cash for lunch "because you people always have money."  I've worked with people who regularly used terms like, "slant-eyes," "gooks," "Chinks," and even worse. One memorable secretary even told me interracial relationships are a sin against God. The icing on the cupcake is the uncountable number of jokes I've heard that equate being adopted with being unwanted, or not good enough, or at "best" something to be ashamed of.

What kind of world is my niece growing up in?

Ten years after the events of 9/11 unfolded, I find myself working with individuals who say they don't understand why we don't just "shoot all the Muslims" -- even while we work alongside caring physicians, nurses and therapists who follow that religion.  I have been asked how I deal with my niece being of another race, how I feel about my niece being from a Communist country, and whether our parents have accepted their adopted granddaughter.

This is the kind of world my niece is growing up in. And yet...

And yet I know how easy it is to dwell only on the negative, to allow sadness and horror and hatred to be the facade of daily life while something altogether different (and better) is just behind, hidden in the shadow of that facade.  As clearly as I remember the events I listed above, there are other things I remember as well.

I remember the scenes of people everywhere in the world crying, and praying, and building makeshift memorials to the victims of 9/11. I remember the U.S. flag being flown proudly, even defiantly, by individuals in nations that were not supposed to be our friends.

I remember being engaged in discussions by individuals of many nations who really wanted to know what it was like living in the U.S., who wanted to hear things first-hand from an American instead of depending on what the local press, student group, or government mouthpiece had to say.  I remember being a young boy in Chile, with friends of widely varied nationality, background and social standing. I remember my friends in grad school in Belgium, where a glance around the table at a bar after class would show an average of at least five nationalities, all teaching each other jokes in various languages and even hatching a couple of international marriages.

I remember the Sunday school teacher who asked Mom if I could attend every week not because she wanted to convert me but because she thought it would be good for the other kids.  I remember the holiday sleepovers at friends' where I enjoyed helping decorate their Christmas trees, usually after they'd asked Mom (and then me) if that would be okay.  I've worked with people who left the company after it was bought by another and there were major staff shifts only because they felt the changes left the company too racially homogenized.

I remember the friends, relatives and co-workers whose only reaction to the news that my sister was adopting a baby from China was joyful congratulations -- then no-strings-attached support during the many years of waiting, and honest clamoring to meet the Pipsqueak once she'd come home with us.

And I know my family. Look at my parents' generation, my generation, and the next generation, and you will see represented every major religion, every major racial grouping, multiple nations of origin... and we are a family, sharing major life events, sending holiday cards, visiting (when we can) back & forth across the entire North American continent.

This is the kind of world my niece is growing up in.

I look at this amazing little girl, a U.S. citizen born on the other side of the planet, being brought up in a minority religion by a single mother who doesn't look like her but who loves her better than life itself, speaking a language alien to her birthplace that she nonetheless is learning by daily leaps & bounds -- and I see a future of hope, a world where many are working toward making who she is matter and what she is unimportant.

I look around at work and I see people of almost every racial background, from multiple nations on multiple continents, working together to provide care to patients without concern for the fact that some patients dislike them because of their ethnicity or religion. I look around at family gatherings and I see cousins who care more about each other than about the things that make us different.  I look around at my friends and I see people of incompatible religious and/or political beliefs who have made a point of spending time together because they genuinely like spending time together.  I look around my neighborhood and I see neighbors of diverse backgrounds cutting each others' grass, picking up groceries for each other, and taking care of each others' pets.

And I remember the co-worker, one of our nurses, who took me angrily to task for referring to Miri as "my adopted niece." She literally interrupted a linen change and -- with the resident's smiling support -- told me loudly and angrily, "She is your NIECE. It doesn't matter where she came from or how she joined your family. She is part of your family, she is loved, and that's all that matters." (And somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard a small voice say, "Amen!")

This is the kind of world my niece is growing up in.

The foundation has been laid by her grandparents, but (more so now, on the anniversary of 9/11 than ever before) it is up to her mom and me and the rest of her adoring family to keep working to make it the kind of world we want her to be growing up in.

I've got my game face on... do you?

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I remember waking up a few minutes before my alarm went off.  There was sunlight streaming through the windows and I could hear a bird singing outside. I was just dozing off again when I heard the click of the timer on my stereo. The radio came on with a DJ saying, "...Trade Center about eighteen minutes apart..."

I remember sitting downstairs on the couch, flipping the TV from channel to channel, trying to make sense of something absolutely senseless, confused reporters stumbling over their words as they tried to keep up with events.

I remember one of a legion of reporters talking haltingly to the camera, not seeing a skyscraper behind him beginning a slow, obscene drop while I screamed at him to turn around.

I remember withdrawing cash at the bank "just in case" while the teller begged me for any information I had.

I remember trying to find out where all the New York members of my family were, slowly ticking off names on a list with increasing relief, then doing the same with friends & former co-workers who were in downtown DC or at the Pentagon.

I remember talking to friends & relatives who knew a pilot... a flight attendant... a traveler... whose bodyless funeral they had to attend.

I remember being downtown, pausing to look at the brightly lit Capitol dome shining against the night sky and wondering how much longer it would still be there while an armed soldier kept an eye on me from a nearby street corner.

I remember advising a good friend to always tell the people she cared about that she loved them because she could never tell when she'd have another chance.

I remember, and ten years later, I still cry.

I remember.

We should all remember.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Please Help Me"


That's all I can say.

The Pipsqueak's been a bit under the weather this week... as in, fever temps in the vicinity of 104 degrees Fahrenheit under the weather, or Mommy stayed home from work for 2 days this week under the weather. She's also had some tummy troubles, and a few other less than lovely symptoms. Even her personality changed; she was ultra-clingy (only with Mommy -- no one else would fill the bill) and had almost completely stopped her usual singing to herself & laughing.

(For those of you easily depressed by stories of cute little girls being sick, you'll be pleased to know that as of today the Pipsqueak's doing a whole lot better & is pretty much back to being her usual happy self.)

Unfortunately, AJ absotively posilutely had to be at a training session mid-week, so Grandma & Grandpa took care of Miri for the day. Today Mom told me that at one point, the Pipsqueak stopped in the middle of the room, held her tummy and said "Help me please" to her.

Mom's best description was "heartbreaking" and I had to agree. What do you tell a 2-year-old who's not feeling well and asking you to make it all better?

I think this whole Uncle thing has a few twists I wasn't quite prepared for.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Just the Two of Us...

This is the last of the 3 promised posts from my week off back in mid-August.

Having expensively bailed the beast out from the mechanics on Friday, I was independently mobile for the first time all week... but I got an offer too good to refuse that kept me close to home.  AJ had a course to teach and our folks had an event to attend... Hey, Brian, would you mind watching your niece for a while on Saturday...?

I don't think I could've answered any faster; not only did I want to help, but it would be the first time I'd have the Pipsqueak all to myself for any appreciable length of time since we'd brought her home from China. We figured out it would be best for Miri to be at her Grandma & Grandpa's, and I actually got there on time.  AJ soon came zooming in with the Pipsqueak fresh from Little Gym and zoomed back out again after just a couple of minutes.

Miri was a little puzzled about why Mommy was leaving so quickly without her, and why Uncle Brian was at Grandma & Grandpa's but Grandma & Grandpa weren't -- but when I asked her if she wanted me to read a book to her, I got a quick smile and happy "Yeh!" that made me feel absolutely great.

The next couple of hours went by much too quickly. We read a few books, we sang a few songs (although I have to admit that just one more repeat of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or "Muffin Man" probably would've been painful), and I found myself remembering the tunes of nursery rhymes I hadn't sung in decades. After the umpteenth repeat of "One, Two Buckle My Shoe" (and the umpteenth explanation that "hen" and "chicken" are the same animal), the Pipsqueak started getting a little crochety until the offer of a snack got things back on track.

Of course, I figured the ziplock baggie of assorted cereal, nuts & candy on the kitchen table with my niece's name printed clearly on it was there for just that purpose -- and of course I later found out I was wrong.  Meanwhile, she fished around in the bag and immediately pulled out the largest piece of candy she could find, a massive thing that was basically a generic peanut M&M, and asked, "Chokit?" I hadn't known that her Grandma had said not to give those to her because they were so large & potentially too hard for her baby teeth... but as soon as I reassured Miri that it was not only chocolate but had the hidden bonus of a peanut inside -- CRUNCH! Another couple of the forbidden candies quickly disappeared before it occurred to Uncle Brian that maybe something with a little less sugar might be a good idea and a cheese stick met its demise.

Now on a definite sugar high, Miri turned her attention to what was happening outside and immediately spotted the water table out on the deck. We had a bit of a conversation about waiting 'til Mommy got back (in my niece's world, "wait" is a four-letter word) but she brightened right up when I asked if she'd like to go for a walk. Once the Pipsqueak's feet were back in her shoes, we headed outside and wandered around the yard. After carefully avoiding a tree root that inexplicably scared her, Miri picked up a stick and began to sing her version of, "five, six, pick up sticks... seven, eight, lay them straight" while her amazed uncle watched her carefully lining sticks up next to each other on the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, it was about this time that a small but voracious cloud of little black insects made their presence known, and I talked Miri into returning indoors. Of course, we were in the house all of about three seconds when she started saying, "Sticks! Sticks!" and pointing to the door... so I scooped her back up, ran around the side of the house with her, and quickly grabbed a handful of the sticks she'd been playing with and ran back into the house. She spent the next few minutes happily alternating between lining the sticks up neatly on the floor and whacking her uncle with the largest stick. Luckily, she soon tired of that particular form of mayhem and demanded an encore of multiple repetitions of the "Muffin Man" song (which by that point I was glad to sing over and over because it hurt less than that stick).

I guess Miri got tired of "Muffin Man" because she finally (thank you!) interrupted me with "Mickey?" Since we hadn't turned on the TV yet, I figured it would be alright and we happily snuggled down next to each other on the couch for a few minutes of Mickey Mouse from the on-demand channels -- and all of a sudden Mommy was at the door, and Uncle Brian quickly returned to a less exalted position in the universe.

I didn't mind too much; it's always fun to be with Miri, and we'd had a wonderful time together -- and it's always good to see how close my niece is with her Mommy.  The three of us spent some quality time out on the deck with the water table (where AJ had a slight problem with aiming the hose that resulted in yours truly having to sit in an extra-sunny spot for a while 'til I dried out a bit), and I used an appreciable chunk of the space on my camera's SD card shooting photos & videos of Miri playing in the water. Eventually the Pipsqueak's batteries ran down & she fell asleep in AJ's lap. Our folks came home just a few minutes later (and I had to I run out to the garage to warn them to come in quietly) but it wasn't too long before the Pipsqueak was telling Grandma & Grandpa about all the fun she'd had.

I headed home to take care of a few things, and then we all met up for dinner at the Slop Chute*. Miri was in fine form, keeping us all thoroughly occupied, but a fine time was had by all (she even said hi to a little girl who happened to be toddling past) and the day closed out with a pleasant glow.

[*The "Slop Chute" is a real place but that's not its real name -- Dad just likes to call it that, and the name's stuck with us. :-)]

I spent some time late in the evening just sitting and thinking back over the day. I was comparing some of how Miri & I had been playing to how we'd spent some of our precious alone time back in China, and was struck by the differences. Back in July of 2010, the Pipsqueak was still much more baby than toddler; now she is much more little girl than toddler and the speed of that change has taken my breath away. Back in China she would sometimes burble to herself, or make little inquisitive noises and point at something, and would charm everyone with a huge smile and a quiet giggle; now she was talking, actually conversing with me, singing songs she'd learned in the past few months and regularly letting loose with a laugh that started all the way down in her toes. I realized that in some way I'd always miss that little baby (even when she peed all over me!), but the cute little girl I'd spent the morning with is an amazing little person and I can't wait to see how she continues to grow.

And the best part of the change?  Back in China, she learned to tuck herself into the crook of my arm when I picked her up and didn't seem to mind my holding her... but now she shows me where to sit on the couch, and then climbs up beside me and snuggles up against her uncle.

And it don't get any better than that.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Out of the Mouths of Babes, Take 3

I think my niece is channeling Bart Simpson. No, she isn't telling anyone to not have a cow, or (thankfully) engaging in any of the only-funny-in-cartoons behaviors of that yellow kid.*

What she has begun doing lately is using one of Bart's expressions when something unexpected happens that she doesn't like... f'rinstance, when she accidentally poured a cup of soda into her mommy's lap at dinner the other night.

AJ let out a yelp (and my sister's developed some amazingly fast reflexes; she managed to dodge most of the liquid with zero advance notice at close range thanks to all the practice her daughter's given her), there was a quick scramble for napkins, and then in the momentary quiet that followed we all heard my niece's cute little voice:

"Oh, man!"

I mean, the kid nailed it; right timing, right usage, right inflection, even the perfect tone of voice.  Unfortunately, I think we've cemented this particular expression into her repertoire, because all of us burst out laughing -- even my slightly soggy sister -- and proceeded to exchange oh mans back & forth with the little one. (Dude, you gotta be more careful, she's just now stopped using "shoot" and that other word that sounds similar but is a lot less socially acceptable -- and it only took her hearing that once to pick it up.)

We're not sure where she got this from; AJ remembered the lady who ran the previous daycare program using it sometimes, so the best theory holds her as the source. In any case, the Pipsqueak keeps surprising us with new vocabulary that she not only pronounces correctly (most of the time) but that she groks fully on the first try... from her first "happy happy!" when we did the first family "love sandwich" group hug, to a quiet little "shoot!" when she bumped her head to telling me, "it's up there!" when I couldn't find the TV remote, and so on right up to her perfectly inflected & used, "oh, man!"

New words (as mentioned in my previous post) sometimes get run into the ground when she first learns them, but I think that's just her way of playing with the new sound and somehow, almost magically, figuring out exactly what it means and how to use it.  Watching her absorb language and meaning so quickly is super-reassuring to me; 50% of her entire lifespan was spent in an environment where even the basic phonemes that made up the language were different from anything she's hearing with us now, and I was worried that she might be left behind by her peers (at least at first) in respect to her ability to communicate. (I remember AJ had a hard time kicking her "Spanglish" around the same age, growing up in Chile in our English-speaking household with most of the surrounding world speaking Spanish.)

Maybe I've weighted effects of the Pipsqueak's entire first year being in an environment totally lacking in English sounds too heavily, or the effect of all of us working to help her learn English too lightly... or maybe I've just underestimated the capabilities of this pint-size dynamo who's turned the whole family happily on its head.

Or maybe, as a good friend who's the mother of two and an experienced elementary school teacher said to me the other night, I'm just easily amused by the normal path of human development.

(But I think I'll stick to thinking my niece is pretty special. <g>)

* "The Yellow Kid," a character created by Richard F. Outcault in 1894, is generally regarded as the first truly famous cartoon character in the U.S., and was the first to be involved in modern-style character-based merchandising. Appearing in several papers of the time, the character's shirt was colored bright yellow when not printed in black & white, giving the character his name; public reference to the cheap, usually sensationalistic "yellow kid papers" eventually morphed into our current term, "yellow journalism" -- and some sources say he provided some of Bart Simpson's genes. By the way, when the Yellow Kid's sometimes violent antics began to fall out of favor, Outcault created a new character that's with us to this day: Buster Brown!