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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year, Everyone!

To be honest, I tried to think of a more creative title, but why mess with a classic?

Sitting here in the waning hours of 2011, I find it hard to remember exactly what my family was like before the Pipsqueak came home. The latter half of 2010 was an acclimatization period for us all but 2011 was the year my niece was "my niece" and not "my new niece" or even "my new niece adopted from China." The definition of "normal" (which in this family wasn't terribly "normal" by most peoples' standards) for all of us now includes daycare, pediatrician appointments, formerly neat rooms filled with toys, and child safety seats partially blocking the view out the rear passenger window. (The latter in all our vehicles; even The Beast has gotten into the toddler transport biz. <g>)

This normal's gotten familiar enough for me to occasionally leave the camera at home when I know we're all getting together (though I still prefer not to), for us all to automatically check for little ears being within range when speaking about "grownup stuff" or using "grownup words" (though we still slip up once in a while), for any one of us to occasionally be overheard humming a Wiggles song, and for evening & weekend schedules to automatically arrange themselves around the Pipsqueak.

In short, the novelty has worn off; the Adventure is now simply an everyday event. I think it first became obvious back in September, when I was attempting to organize the gigabytes of photos on my laptop's hard drive while over at my folks' for dinner. (Dude, of course you take your laptop to your folks' with you; how else will you grab the photos off everyone else's cameras? Besides, I you've got more Wiggles videos on your laptop than they can get on cable...)

<ahem> As I was saying, I was going through some photos when I came across a family shot from last Halloween; I called Mom over and she gasped at how much the Pipsqueak looked like a baby compared to the little girl periodically zooming through the kitchen at warp 8. What really brought it home, though, was when I noticed a photo I'd taken in August, almost exactly on the 13-month anniversary of the Pipsqueak's homecoming. She was wearing a cute little skirt (Dude, tell 'em how much of a girly girl your niece is, loving skirts & frills despite your sister's aversion to that style!) and a pink tee emblazoned with "Made in China" -- the "inside joke" shirt that AJ had carried to China and put on her brand-new daughter just before we deplaned at Dulles.

A quick file search brought up a photo I remembered well; the Pipsqueak, not quite able to walk yet, exploring her new home while Grandma held her hands up over her head so she could walk around... and she's wearing that shirt. In the 2011 photo, it's a longish tee that comes down roughly to the Pipsqueak's belly; the sleeves reach all the way to her elbows. In the homecoming photo, this same shirt is like a dress, hanging well below her knees while the rolled-up sleeves cover her arms to the elbow even with them raised up over her head.  I've made up a composite photo for us (not posted here in deference to AJ's request of no recent photos, sorry) but the difference between the two images is so striking, it's like looking at two different people.

In a sense, that's exactly what I'm doing. Gone is the super-quiet, semi-bald pre-toddler who didn't know to cry when she hurt herself or laugh when she was tickled (the latter really got to me; I'd never before experienced a little child who didn't react to being tickled), who would try to comfort herself by tucking her head in under one arm while sucking her thumb. In her place is a little dynamo who sings quietly to herself almost all the time, happily directs the actions of all the adults in a room, talks a blue streak in sentences of steadily increasing length & complexity, has the occasional mini-trantrum but listens to reason like someone several times her age, and who (thank you, God) loves the occasional tickle fight.

The absence of the China baby is a little bittersweet; the presence of this amazing little girl is a constant (irrepressible, fearless, endearing, happily exhausting) reminder of all that is good in the world.

So it is with that thought foremost in my mind that I look forward to the upcoming year (and many, many more to follow) of The Great Adventure, and invite you all to follow along here on the blog. I sincerely wish us all a happy new year, a safe new year, a healthy new year.


Friday, December 23, 2011

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same...

Set your calendar back to July 19, 2010. We're in Guangzhou, and it's time for the Pipsqueak's medical exam.  There were no injections, no invasive tests, no painful positioning of limbs... just a small number of friendly, smiling medical personnel carrying out the most cursory of exams.

And yet AJ and the doctor trying to give her a final report had to lean within inches of each other and shout into each other's ears to be heard over the Pipsqueak's crying.

Fast-forward to later that year, when the Pipsqueak has her first "Well Baby" checkup -- and screams almost all the way through. I can understand not liking an injection, but from what I heard you would've thought my niece was being harpooned with a dull spear almost from the first moment she was in the office.  During one exam, the doctor actually left the room through one door, then came in another door wearing his sport coat instead of the usual white jacket -- and Miri barely skipped a beat with her loud yowling.  The kid just does not like medical personnel!

Well, since those first visits to pediatricians & opthalmologists, my niece has morphed from almost-baby to active, involved little girl.  You'd think that maybe -- just maybe -- she would have outgrown some of her unreasoning fear of all things medical.

Ummm.... no.

Thursday morning was the Pipsqueaks' latest Well Baby exam. AJ told me that as soon as she pulled into the parking lot, the Pipsqueak recognized where she was and began a litany of, "I no like this. I want to go. We go daycare, I not want to go here," and so on.  Entering the doctor's office proper didn't help things much; my increasingly tearful niece kept saying she wanted to leave.  There were a few moments when it looked like Miri would get through the exam with only sniffles once AJ assured her no one would hurt her, but it proved to be a false hope when it became obvious a booster shot had come due.

Apparently, the strange noise I thought I heard outside my window this morning was my niece at the doctor's office a couple of miles away.  <sigh>

Luckily, the story has a happy ending; the exam was a relatively short one and -- in case the incredible volume of sound this tiny little girl was able to generate wasn't indicator enough -- she was pronounced about as healthy as any kidling her age. As a bonus, AJ was able to spend a few extra minutes with the Pipsqueak while dropping her off at daycare (still half-sobbing at first), so it took only a few minutes for Miri to return to her usual playful self.

AJ told me that as she carried her still-sobbing daughter out of the pediatrician's office, one of the nurses told her that most children begin to lose their fear of doctor visits around the age of three.

My 2-1/2 year old niece has her next Well Baby appointment in six months; we'll see if this leopard changes its spots.  <:-}

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just Chill, Dudes...!

AJ doesn't really remember much about her accident back in November -- instead of a stream of memory, she has flashes of moments from "Oh, good, I think she miss-" to "Does anybody have my cat" but it's all piecemeal.

The Pipsqueak, on the other hand, with her still-limited vocabulary has been describing or re-enacting all kinds of things that lead me to believe she's got a pretty solid stream of images from the impact right through her cheerful "Hi!" as I walked into the ER. One of the more notable items has been a whole new behavior that literally popped up overnight, out of nowhere, a couple of weeks back. AJ had just gotten home, and our folks were still there (someone's gotta pick up the Pipsqueak at daycare, and they have the only schedule that allows it)... They were sitting on the couch, just catching each other up on the day's events, when the Pipsqueak began walking from one to another, repeatedly patting each on the knee and saying, "It's okay, stay calm, it's okay."

Everyone was mystified by this sudden new behavior, since it's not really something any of us do; our folks ever asked the caregivers at the daycare center the next day, and they were as much in the dark as we were. The mystery was solved a couple of days later when Mom happened to mention it to one of her friends whose son is an EMT.

"Oh, that's what he says all the time when he's working with accident victims while he assesses them."

PING! Cue simultaneous light bulbs over the heads of the Pipsqueak's mom, grandparents, and uncle. (Dude, if she's remembering that, your niece's memory is better than yours...!)  We weren't sure if she was just mimicking what had she'd heard or if she really understood what she was saying, but we're pretty sure the mystery of where the behavior came from was solved. For the past several months I've been saying that Miri tends to grok communications instead of just remembering word sounds, but we couldn't be sure.

Fast-forward to this past weekend... We wanted a "nice" family photo, just the five of us together, for holiday cards. We all got together at our folks' house; I dressed more neatly than I usually do & brought camera and tripod; AJ brought a nicer change of clothes for herself and the Pipsqueak; and our folks tried to find a clear spot large enough for all of us. (Their house still shows the effect of repeated tear-outs and refloorings of the kitchen & other major repairs made necessary by last winter's ice dams.)

We were trying to decide what to order for dinner, and -- everyone already being tired on top of being hungry and the Pipsqueak periodically acting twoish -- we began to get a little cross with one another. Nothing nasty, not even terribly loud; anyone sitting in the room with us would have simply noticed increasing stress in our voices, shorter answers, and a slow, steady increase in volume.

All of a sudden, just as Mom & I began to disagree a bit more openly, my niece came running in from the next room and went from Mom to AJ to me and back again, gently patting each of us on knee or thigh while saying, "Guys! Calm down, guys! Calm down!" When we all quieted down, she smiled and said, "Okay!" and walked back to her toys.

(Yes, Miri really does call us "guys" in when we're in a group; that dates back to early this year when she heard me calling "hey, guys!" down the stairs.)

So much for whether or not the Pipsqueak understood the meaning of the words...!

Oh, and the photo... After dinner, Dad & I fired off several dozen shots using timers (I'm so glad we have digital cameras and not film for this!) and we think we have one, maybe two we can use. We think.  <sigh>

But we did remain calm for the rest of the evening. :-)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holy Cow, Where'd THAT Come From?

I started this post a couple of days before AJ & the Pipsqueak had their little automotive adventure, and things have finally moved close enough to what passes for normal 'round these parts for me to want to get back to posting what I had originally planned to say...


Ever since AJ's paperchasing days, we've all talked about (to varying degrees at varying times) how to deal with possible situations resulting from the Pipsqueak being adopted and/or of a different ethnicity from her immediate family. We've read books, we've done research online, we've discussed some of the issues... in short, since early in the adoption process we've been aware of the issues related to foreign/transracial adoption and have been trying to prepare for the day when this bright, inquisitive little girl notices something is different and begins asking questions.

Somewhere along the way, what had been a major item of concern -- the fact that AJ was going to be a single mother -- faded into the background. Some of our most serious concerns were muted at the first seminar held by AJ's agency, where we met another single mom who was preparing for her 2nd China adoption... not to mention AJ's single friend who had turned her on to the Chinese program and was also preparing for her 2nd adoption. Of course, the concerns haven't completely gone away; it's just become How Things Are and with the exception of the extra complexities single motherhood introduces (on a daily basis) into everyone's schedule, it has essentially become a non-issue for us.

During dinner a couple of weeks a bit over a month ago, something happened that popped it right back into the foreground for me.

As usual, we all got together for dinner, and it was one of those times when the Pipsqueak really needed a nap but really, really didn't want one... so she was acting very two-ish. (The Pipsqueak's Grandma keeps commenting on how Uncle Brian also used to always fight against falling asleep no matter how tired he was, and how difficult he could be when that happened... but it must've been another Uncle Brian, not me, uh unh, I know I was a wonderful child who never misbehaved or caused any problems...)

Of course, when there's a tired, crochety two-year-old at the dinner table who wants to [fill in the blank with anything a two-year-old shouldn't do at the dinner table], one usually ends up with a tired, crochety, LOUD two-year-old. Luckily, Miri's only thrown a couple of major-league tantrums since joining the family, so it was just one of her "I'm gonna make myself cry no matter how much work it is" sessions. She even got distracted at one point, forgot she was supposed to be having a meltdown, and then picked up again right where she left off... Nothing major, but definitely not how any of us felt like spending dinnertime, either!

AJ does a really good job of un-pushing the Pipsqueak's buttons, quietly talking to her & reasoning with her to speed the calming down process, but my niece was just too over-tired to come all the way back down. I ended up tuning the whole scene halfway out, keeping just enough attention focused on the interplay between mother & daughter to know if I was being asked for input without actually becoming part of all the sturm und drang -- it's very clear in my mind that I may be the Jiujiu, but AJ is this little girl's parent and she sets the rules & decides when & how to enforce them.

In any case, we seemed to be on the downhill leg of the largest of the Pipsqueak's meltdowns when she managed to grab me firmly by my lapels and give me a good shaking (figuratively speaking).

The mother-daughter exchange was not going in the direction Miri wanted, with every "I want X" being quietly countered by AJ... so all of a sudden she replaced all her demands of "I want Mommy to give me X" or "I want Mommy to do Y" with a loud, tearful, clearly enunciated, "I want Daddy!"

Whoa... Where the blazes did that come from?

I've got to hand it to my sister; without missing a beat, maintaining the same tone of voice she'd been using, she said, "You don't have a daddy... Every family is a little different, and you have your Grandma who loves you, and you have your Papawho loves you, and you have your Uncle Brian who loves you, and I love you very much, but you don't have a Daddy."

* We don't know why, but some weeks back the Pipsqueak very suddenly switched from calling Dad "Grandpa" to calling him "Papa" most of the time.

I was quietly freaking out over my niece's totally unexpected comment but all she did was snuggle into her Mommy for a moment (while, of course, working to keep the drama flowing) and then let herself get sidetracked by some food. Oh, the tantrum wasn't quite over -- after a couple of quiet minutes, Miri remembered she was supposed to be protesting having rules imposed -- but everything slipped immediately back into normalcy.

Except for one minor thing: Now I'm trying to figure out how to answer likely future questions not about birthplace, or appearance, or ethnicity... but about why the Pipsqueak has her "Papa" and Uncle Brian around most of the time but there's no one named "Daddy" hanging around like he does with all her little friends. I'm back to Square One, it seems; time to dust off those links to single-parent resources online and do a little reading. (And I'm sure I'll be returning to this subject in future blog posts as well.)

Apparently, one does not need to be a parent to have parenting adventures...!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Happened to the Weekend...?!?

Wow... is it really the wee hours of Tuesday morning already?

Yeah, sure looks like it... After the past couple of weeks of automotive chaos, unplanned doctor visits, holiday cooking & cleaning, and all the usual insanity of our crazy jobs, the time available this weekend was just too valuable to not be used.  AJ spent some time engaging in very badly needed chillaxing with the Pipsqueak on Saturday, then ran a series of repeatedly-delayed errands that lasted into Sunday. (There was a little extra fun on Sunday when she & the Pipsqueak helped her neighbor pick & cut down a HUGE Christmas tree on Sunday evening, an annual tradition dating almost all the way back to AJ moving into her house.)

I slept as late as I possibly could on Saturday -- made necessary by not getting home from work until the day was already a couple of hours old -- and spent the rest of the day catching up on all the laundry & house cleaning I haven't been able to do. Sunday was spent doing much of the same, with a few hours spent running errands that would normally have taken only about  90 minutes if the holiday shopping madness wasn't underway.

We both made the last-minute decision to not join a group of friends for a potluck on Saturday, and the whole family put off going out to dinner either day, in order to be able to catch up on the massive backlog of "everyday stuff" that none of us could get to over the past few weeks (often despite lots of advance planning).

You may have noticed there's one thing I didn't mention: my niece!  Since we were all so ridiculously busy, I had my first Pipsqueak-free weekend in a long time. While I feel pretty good about rediscovering several square feet of my living room and de-scenting a large pile of dirty laundry, I really missed spending some quality time with Miri, especially since she is now developing (and/or picking up) new vocabulary, habits, and ideas at speeds approximating warp 8 or higher.

I did manage to have a short phone conversation with the Pipsqueak... ("Do you want to talk to Uncle Brian?" "YEH!") Despite not understanding some of what she said -- she seems to make up words sometimes, other times her pronunciation's a bit off (Dude, cut the girl some slack -- she's still a bit shy of being 2-1/2 years old!) -- we had a nice little talk about her playing with Mommy, and how much she likes the new car, and how much Doggie (her go-everywhere-always stuffed toy) likes her new car...  Interestingly, she also told me "the blue car was upside, I was on roof" and "blue car broken, I have new car!" After seeming to have very little reaction to the accident, lately she's been talking about the wreck frequently; we're all keeping an eye on her reaction, but it seems to be her way of processing her way through the memories.

One other thing we've noticed is that she seems to be a bit more unsure about having anyone in the family -- especially her Mommy! -- leave for a while. She's never really been thrilled when someone she likes leaves, but it seems (at least to me & her Grandma) much more pronounced & frequent in the past couple of weeks. I think it's especially telling that most of the situations are marked by the Pipsqueak talking about "blue car broke, I have new car" and such... The "blue car" is the first major item in her life that went away and didn't come back, so we're thinking this is less a reaction to the accident and more a reaction to losing something that was (apparently) a big part of her personal universe.

Meanwhile, we're all keeping an eye on it, and I enjoyed our little talk on the phone... but I missed having her stand on my lap and dance to the Wiggles' "Hot Potato", share my dinner with me, and (on those times when I get really lucky) doze off and take a nap while tucked in next to me on the couch.

And I can't believe it's already Tuesday...! I think I'd better get to bed... Wan an...

Friday, December 2, 2011

There's Another "Real" Post Coming Soon... Really!

Sorry, folks... I've been terribly remiss lately, thinking about my next post without actually typing my next post. The past couple of weekends have been so crazy -- the accident and ER, the rearranging of everyone's schedule to take care of the added running around & vehicle changes, the need to do a bunch of research, losing another weekend to the actual car shopping & purchase (I don't think there's a single employee of that dealership who didn't stop and coo over the Pipsqueak at least twice!)... and then the added craziness of odd stuff at work has been burning up most of the weekday time (which is why I'm typing this at 4:45am)...

Of course, in the middle of all this the local ISP that everyone in the family uses changed to a new mail server & new mail software... It took me 2 days just to get AJ's email working again, I eventually wound up having to install a whole new email client (Thunderbird) on my laptop, everyone else is able to keep using the original MacOS Mail. (I miss my outgoing "swoosh"!)

Meanwhile, I've been joking that AJ is now a soccer mom -- she bought a minivan! (A carefully researched, all-wheel drive, IIHS top safety pick minivan.) Although the Pipsqueak is still asking about "the blue car" she seems to have decided the new minivan is the bee's knees... when it's parked she can literally run around inside, and she's finally able to climb into her Special Pink Seat (as we call it) almost completely on her own so she's happy.  We're hoping that the beautiful sky that day was a good omen for the as-yet unnamed new vehicular family member (I tend to name my cars, AJ treats them more like machines; we'll see what happens with this one.) I've included a photo of the sunset as seen from the dealer's lot. Aside from resizing, there's been no image manipulation; those are the actual colors of the sky that evening!

The Florida branch of the family is doing well; the Pipsqueak's newest cousin has a full head of hair, eats and sleeps like a champ, and looks around with big, bright eyes.  We Skyped this past weekend and I can say she's a real cutie! We'd hoped to introduce the Pipsqueak to her but -- after firmly refusing to take her usual nap and growing increasingly cranky as the afternoon wore on -- she finally gave in and slept through the entire session. We plan to schedule another Skype session soon so the two can meet.

As you might imagine, Thanksgiving had some extra meaning for us this year, with both AJ and the Pipsqueak happy & healthy at the table instead of in the hospital (or worse) and our newest cousin & her mom home and healthy. Now we have to figure out how to make up for all the lost time and the unplanned-for new car payments, but considering the possible alternatives the family will deal with it and that's that. Even the Pipsqueak pitches in as much as she can; here's a shot of her "helping" Mommy take the trash downstairs. (The bag's as big as she is!) She's always tried to help out with anything she sees us doing, sometimes with "interesting" results, but she's slowly begun reaching the point where "I hep!" produces more thank-yous than oh-nos.

That's the update for the moment... I'm going to catch a few hours of shuteye, and (I promise, really I do) I'll get back to the planned postings soon. Wan an!