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.
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!