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, December 28, 2012

Just A Quick Shout-Out

Sorry for the silence... been really busy and (just to keep things interesting) really sick. I think AJ gave me whatever cold/virus/yukkiness she was suffering from while the Pipsqueak was taking meds for an ear infection, and one of us passed something on to Mom because she's been pretty sick for over a week. Just to keep things interesting, work has gotten even more insane (Dude, stop telling yourself it can't get worse because every time you do... it does!) so all the grownups are a bit like sleep-deprived zombies.

A couple of bits of cuteness from the Pipsqueak I want to share before diving back into bed... This past weekend, AJ & I went to see "A Christmas Carol" (Sunday matinee) at the dinner theatre we share tickets for, and Miri spent the day with Grandma and Grandpa. (Yes, even though Mom's not healthy.) As soon as we got back to the house, we gathered up the Pipsqueak and headed over to the home of an old friend whose father had died just the other day for a shiva visit. I still remember this friend as one of my "baby" sister's friends when they were back in elementary school (I still remember picking up the whole lot in the family station wagon when school let out on a rainy day shortly after I first got my license) -- and whose daughter had her bat mitzvah earlier this year. (Yikes! Dude, you're old!) Miri put on her usual "I'm shy!" show when we first got there, but soon was happily playing with our friend's daughter. Somewhere along the line, the question of singing and music came up, and all of a sudden we were getting serenaded by my niece -- full-length, on-key renditions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "The Hanukkah Song" sung mistake-free with a big smile!  I was amazed, thinking about how just a (very) few months ago I was singing "Twinkle" to her (again and again and again and...) because she liked the song and couldn't sing it herself.

On the way home, we stopped and picked up a couple of pizzas so Mom would have something hot to eat. We spent some time with the folks helping eat the pizzas, watching Miri carefully "read" the label on Grandma's medicine while lecturing her on how she needed to take it regularly for ten days so she could get well, and not to stop taking it before ten days were over... It was soon later than we realized and we were all running on fumes, so Mom threw us out the door. Miri said goodnight to Grandma (with one more admonishment to take her medicine!) and gave Grandpa a big "goodnight, Gampa!" hug before declaring herself "Leader of the Line" and guiding AJ & I out the door. All of a sudden, she stopped short and ran back to the still-open door where our folks were standing and said, "I hope you feel better soon, Grandma!" before marching down the walk to her Mommy's car. Mom asked if one of us had prompted her to say that, but it was pure Pipsqueak caring and nothing either of us had even thought of having her do.

And with that little story, I'm going to try to get back to sleep. (We have another, unrelated, funeral in the morning... Not such a happy holiday season this year... but at least Miri's over her ear infection.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ils Sont Tous Nos Enfants

The news out of Connecticut today is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching horror.

It immediately brought to mind one of the old issues of Paris Match magazine I've kept. It's issue #2444, dated March 28, 1996. The entire cover is taken up with what look like classic black-and-white school portraits, a dozen-odd little kids smiling at the camera. A single, large headline appears above the block of photos: "Ils Sont Tous Nos Enfants" -- they are all our children.

Inside the magazine, the cute cover becomes a horror story. On March 13, 1996, failed shopkeeper & scoutmaster Thomas Hamilton entered the Dunblane Primary School in Dunblane, Scotland, carrying four handguns and over 700 rounds of ammunition. He went to the gymnasium and opened fire on a kindergarten class there, killing 15 children outright. Their teacher, Gwen Mayor, was also killed as she fought to defend her students. Hamilton then went outside and began randomly shooting into a nearby mobile classroom; amazingly, the teacher inside had realized something was wrong and had all the students lay down on the floor just seconds before bullets began coming through the walls and windows. Hamilton then turned and fired at a group of children he saw in a nearby corridor, wounding their teacher before putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Another 11 children and 3 adult school staff were rushed to the hospital, where an additional little girl was pronounced dead. The teacher who died defending her class was only 45; one little boy was six, all the other victims were just five years old.

I remember reading the article for the first time, back when the magazine was new, with a slowly-growing sense of anger at what this highly defective human being did. Somewhere in all those thoughts was a quiet curiosity... What about the wounded who survived, their families? What about the families whose children were taken from them so abruptly? What were they thinking and feeling? I understood the basic meaning of the headline and the message the magazine staff was trying to convey, but somehow I was a step removed from truly understanding.

That particular magazine has come into mind several times since then; most notably April 20, 1999; April 16, 2007; March 10, 2009; January 28, 2011; July 20, 2012; August 5, 2012; and most recently December 11, 2012. (That's a short list; go here for something a little more horrifyingly complete.) Each time, I've felt the same powerless anger at the needless death, the burning curiosity about what could drive someone to commit such a crime, and -- a little more each time -- what it must be like for those left behind. Still, I remained one step removed.

Well, now there's this little 3-1/2 year old girl who thinks her uncle's the best thing since bread (never mind slicing it) and who is in my mind the most important person on this planet. I know how I feel when she's sick, when she cries, when she's crochety from just waking up and doesn't want to be bothered. I know how it feels to have a little voice call out "Uncle Brian!" across a room followed by a very little person wrapping herself happily around my leg. And I'm watching the news and reading the blogs and listening to the radio...

...and suddenly I understand.

I'm not a step removed. I'm not a half-step removed.

They are all our children.

And I keep catching myself crying.

I know what it means now. I can understand what one father meant when he said his mad rush to the school from work was the longest drive of his life, what another father felt when he was at a loss for words even just trying to ask what to tell his little boy, what the young woman in the photo crying into her phone trying to find out if her sister was still alive was going through.

Ils sont tous nos enfants.

They are all our children.

Every single one of us is the mother father sister brother uncle aunt grandmother grandfather cousin friend coworker of every single person in that school today.

Keep those families in your thoughts & prayers. Wish them well.

Wish them healing.

They are all our children.

Photo sources, top to bottom: EPA; Gary Jeanfaivre/Newtown Patch; Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ouch, Ouch, and Re-Ouch!

Life can be rough sometimes, and (unfortunately) there are no exceptions to that rule for the Pipsqueak. Although she's usually reluctant to go to school on Monday mornings (Dude, more proof she really is related to you!), AJ told me that for the first time Tuesday morning featured a pre-daycare mini-meltdown was far from "mini" in any way.

After waiting for me to finish asking about illness, sickness, pain, infections, and any number of other scary potential causes, AJ explained that when asked what was wrong, my niece replied that she was afraid of what was going to happen to her at school!

My sister then smilingly calmed me down and assured me that no, there really wasn't anything horrible happening and no one was bullying my pipsqueak-sized niece. The problem, it seems, is that she keeps getting hurt!

Thursday: The Pipsqueak comes down the slide on the playground and ever-so-slightly bumps a little girl standing near the bottom. Said little girl takes offense at what she thinks is an unfair bump and... bites Miri.  No skin breakage, no toothmarks, no outward signs of damage, but apparently Grandma, Grandpa, and Mommy heard aaaaalllll about it later that day.

Friday: The Pipsqueak runs left, one of her classmates runs right, the teacher goes to intercept... and gets there a half-second after the little boy's head connects with Miri's mouth. No cuts, no blood, no bruises, but a really sore and slightly swollen lip.

Monday: The Pipsqueak makes it through the day unscathed, only to get so excited when Grandma & Grandpa come to pick her up that she runs to her cubby without watching where she's going, and... Well, the table was unhurt, and there was no lasting damage to my niece, but now she's got a nice bruise just under one eye. (And, we hope, a better understanding of the phrase, "watch where you're going!")

Somehow, I don't remember ever getting hurt at school three days in a row until I was well into my scholastic career, and knowing how sensitive the Pipsqueak is to things that 1) make boo-boos, 2) hurt, and 3) get in the way of her doing whatever she wants to do... well, I can understand why she'd develop a reluctance to return to daycare! Luckily, it's been easy for AJ to convince Miri that going to school is still A Good Thing (and the Pipsqueak's enjoyed herself once there), so I'll just add these to the long list of events that made me say, way back in late 2010, that my niece "is going through life headfirst accompanied by the occasional loud THUNK!"

But I really hope she remembers to watch where she's going...!

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Niece the Photographer (Part 1)

The Pipsqueak has had an affinity for the camera since... well, most of her life. Even before we returned Stateside from China, she was paying attention most of the time when I pointed my camera at her, and by the time we'd gotten home she would usually reach for it. (I've often bemoaned how many photos I have that feature a close-up of her palm.)

It wasn't long before she had figured out the whole, "say cheese!' bit and began to really ham it up for portraits or candids (most of which didn't seem too "candid" because she'd pose as soon as she heard the beep of a digital camera booting up). Oh, sure, there have been times we've wanted a nice family photo and Miri's decided she wanted to do something else, making it necessary to figure out how to distract her until she'd forgotten she didn't want to be photographed, but for the most part she's had a blast being photographed & looking at photos of herself.

There's been a new development over the past 15 months or so: she'll hold her hands up in front of her face, demand that someone say, "cheese!" and with a laughing "CLICK!" will "take a picture" with her imaginary camera.

Even more recently, she's begun demanding to use a real camera (usually her uncle's), and I've begun to (gingerly, carefully, nervously) let her take some shots on her own. I'll continue hanging onto the camera strap 90% of the time -- thus the collection of extreme close-up portraits of yours truly on the camera's SD card! -- but lately I've begun letting her do almost everything on her own. To be honest, although she's actually taken some pretty good photos (to be seen in a future post), I still have to clean fingerprints off the lens after most shots, and she usually holds the camera with her hands covering both the flash and the IR port for the auto-focus... thus multiple collections of images like these:

Of course, the majority of the Pipsqueak's photos are pretty much what one might expect from a three-year-old more excited about being able to handle a camera than about the science behind its use... so she often forgets to make sure her entire subject is actually in-frame:

The headless person to port is Grandma, to starboard is Cousin E.

I think the chin in the red shirt is me; I know that's me in the green tee.

No idea on the left (Cousin E, perhaps?); Grandpa's on the right.

Another minor difficulty with my niece's current level of photography skills is the sheer excitement she feels at holding an actual camera in her hands. She gets so excited, in fact, that she will often forget to aim the camera at her intended subject... as in the following miniscule percentage of similar photos:

The top left photo is Xuan, one of Miri's fuzzy feline sisters; I know the one to the right was supposed to be Grandma at dinner, but all bets are off if you're guessing who or what was the intended subject of the bottom photo.

Lastly, my niece is a three-year old... so some of her photos are a bit different from images an older photographer might try to capture. For example, the image below:

No, Dulce didn't turn around just as the shutter clicked. No, Miri didn't accidentally push the button at the wrong moment. This is just one of almost a dozen photos my darling niece purposely took of the unsuspecting kitty's tush! ("Uncle Brian, I took a picture of Dulce's butt!" <giggle>)

Then, of course, there was the evening my niece became fascinated with the idea of photographing her feet. Again, and again, and again, and... <sigh> These two are a sampling of more than twenty such photos she took over the course of a single afternoon & evening.

Lastly, there are those photos that are simply taken without an understanding of composition, minimum focus distance, or the use of flash, or even simply the need to push the right button at the right time...

On the other hand, these shortcomings have helped create some interesting photos; the two below were taken the evening I was installing safety latches on several bathroom cabinets. The Pipsqueak managed to capture a pretty neat first-person view of me drilling pilot holes by shooting directly over my shoulder (coincidentally blinding me with the flash just as the drill bit touched wood), and I think the image on the right is just a pretty darn cool shot of yours truly and sister framed in a doorway.

Now, lest anyone think I make it a habit to disparage my niece's work as a budding photographer, I will shortly be making a post showing some of her better work -- which, quite frankly, is sometimes indistinguishable from snapshots taken by much more experienced camera users.

But I still think it's cute that she says, "Click!" out loud every time she takes a shot. <grin>

(A serious postscript... I began composing this post a couple of days ago, but since then learned of some tough times for the Bartlinskis, one of the adoptive families we literally bumped into in Guangzhou in 2010. Check out their family blog -- "Our Place Called Home" in my blog list below --  and please keep Teresa and her family in your thoughts!)

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Fair warning: This isn't one of my usual posts.

Thanksgiving is a unique holiday.

It is the only major holiday that is completely American, commemorating an event specifically from the annals of this nation and no other.  It is independent of religion; although prayer is often involved in its celebration, it is actually a secular holiday established for the purpose of commemorating an event in (relatively) modern history. It is generally a gifting-free event; although there is a slowly-growing practice of sending cards, there are generally no boxes wrapped with ribbons & bows being exchanged as part of the usual celebrations. It has no specific centerpiece symbolizing its roots; although images of turkeys & pilgrims abound and some families have certain candle holders or silverware or decorations used just for the holiday, there is no altar, no Christmas tree, no Hanukkia or Kinara, no special lanterns.

And yet it has a very special place in the hearts of many -- partly (I like to think) because its very purpose and theme give everyone a small block of time specifically meant to remind one & all of what is good in their lives, what is meaningful in their lives, what it is in their lives that add value without a dollar sign attached.

In short, it is a time to take personal inventory of one's life & heart and... well, give thanks.

That said, I just wanted to say a quiet, sincere "thank you" to...

...all my family's friends for being our friends, for sharing our laughter, tears, and simchas, and for opening up their lives for sharing with us;

...all those individuals in the IA community who have lent advice, information, and the occasional shoulder (real or virtual) upon which we could lean;

...all those first responders, EMTs, firefighters, police officers, and plain ol' vanilla passers-by who have gone out of their way to give whatever help was needed after accidents large & small;

...and all those people -- relatives, friends, acquaintances, total strangers -- who have accepted our definition of "family" as being a far larger, greater thing than can be described by the mere miracle of the human genome.

There are no words for how thankful I am to have the Pipsqueak in my life, or that she has both her Grandma & Grandpa available to participate in hers. And while I look at the aftermath of recent domestic & international news with a mixture of sorrow and horror, I am thankful that my widely-scattered family remains intact and (mostly) healthy. You can fix things, but you can't replace people.

So... maybe, somewhere between trying to stretch that leftover turkey for one more day, trying to find the best deal on that gift for the next major holiday on the calendar, and wondering howintheworld you'll be able to cover the next round of monthly bills...

Take a moment, take inventory, and make sure you remember all that you have to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all...!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ahh... Children...

So I'm on the phone with AJ the other day, and part of the conversation goes something like this:

Me: No, I can get my groceries later, do you want me to come over now [to install child locks on the bathroom cabinet] instead?

AJ: No, no, that's okay, get your groceries and then I can <BANG!> Miri, what was that?

Miri (in background): Nothing!

AJ: Are you sure you're okay? You don't want to break that before I have a chance to hang it up!

Mir (closer to phone)i: It just fell a little bit.

AJ: I hope the coat rack I bought for her room lasts long enough to me to hang it up....

Miri (even closer to phone): I want to talk to Grandma!

AJ: It's not Grandma on the phone. I'm talking to Uncle Brian.

Miri (next to phone): I want to talk to Uncle Brian! (AJ hands the phone to her daughter.) Hi, Uncle Brian!  <babble babble babble> I got to hang up now so I can put my jacket away!

Me: Please don't hang up, Honey, give the phone back to Mommy. I love you, 'bye...

Miri: Bye!

AJ: Okay, so just give me a call when- <THUD!> I'd better go before she destroys the kitchen..

Aahhh... children. :-)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Crazy Time Again

Hi, all.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. It's not for lack of material; I've got quite a backlog of stories & photos to post. The problem has been that someone, somewhere, sometime recently turned life's "Weirdness" knob back up to 11. As in, 911 calls... unplanned hospital visits... long-distance doctor visits... triple-digit mileage on the car in a single day... unplanned emergency vet visits...

As in, more insanely sleep-deprived than I've been in a very, very long time.

The bottom line is that, at least for the moment, all of us are OK but (with the possible exception of the Pipsqueak -- who sometimes sounds like Alannah Miles due to allergy congestion) utterly, completely, exhausted.

I'll post some "good stuff" soon, I promise.

At least as soon as I get some sleep... (Sleep? What is this "sleep" thing you speak of? I know not the word!) (Shaddup, willya?)


Monday, October 29, 2012

Ocean City vs. Hurricane Sandy

AJ's social work conference in Ocean City, Maryland, was scheduled a little later than usual this year. It seemed like a good idea at the time; after all, who thought we'd have a record-setting Frankenstorm at the end of October?!?

As usual, we turned it into a family trip. Mom & Dad headed out to OC with AJ & the Pipsqueak the day before the conference, and I followed on Friday. (I worked last weekend, so I took Friday as my comp day and -- perhaps presciently? -- added Monday as a vacation day). My drive was my first chance to try out several new toys: the GPS that I bought about a month ago, my week-old iPhone 4S, and a batch of iOS apps dedicated to either Ocean City or user-reported traffic problems.

A quick aside: if you live anywhere in the DC metro area, you know "the" way to OC is to head east on MD Route 50. Oh, sure, there are variations (I prefer to turn off on Route 90 just a few miles shy of the coast, coming in on the northern end of OC's main drag) -- but it's really a straight shot across the Bay Bridge and through or around a few towns, then ending up smack-dab in the middle of OC.

So, of course, my GPS insisted on having me turn off an just about any podunk side road I passed, convinced that I needed to get as close to the Atlantic Ocean as possible before actually pointing my vehicle in the intended direction. I'm glad I knew the route and ignored the GPS -- even giving it a few (increasingly impolite) comments about its ability to help me navigate -- or I probably would've been on the road at least 1-1/2 hours longer. At least the traffic reporting app was helpful...!

Anyway, I managed to reach the hotel just in time for an Evening Tea that was part of the conference, and the Pipsqueak happily latched onto me and gave me a workout carrying her around. (Dude, your niece is getting bigger -- and heavier!) She also demonstrated her skills as an elevator operator, pushing all the proper buttons with just the bare minimum of coaching. We had dinner at one of the few all-you-can-eat seafood buffets open off-season (not the one we were looking for), somehow managing to limit the Pipsqueak to five desserts -- none of which she actually ate -- before heading back to the hotel for the night. Shortly before we all bedded down, I decided the pretty scene of the nearly-full moon shining on the smooth ocean surface was too pretty to not record with my camera.

The next morning, Miri squeezed in a few last precious moments of sleep while the grownups all scrambled to get ready in the suite's ONE miniscule bathroom (next year, we'll take two adjoining rooms so we'll have two bathrooms).  Jealous as I was of my niece's not-so-quiet snores, I focused on recovering from sleeping on the couch (the pull-out sofa bed was actually painful to lay on so I just folded myself onto the too-short sofa), and then took a series of photos out the window. I'll leave out the experimental time-lapse exposures and simply include a good representative of just how pretty the sunrise was on Saturday morning:

We didn't see many signs of the approaching Frankenstorm (although we had The Weather Channel on TV most of the time we were in the room), and headed down to breakfast. When we finished, Grandma walked Miri to the conference room so she could hug Mommy goodbye for the morning (one look at her face as AJ walked away from the breakfast table convinced us all that would be A Good Idea), and then all the non-Social Worker members of the family piled into my car for a quick drive to the southernmost tip of the city.

We visited a jewelry store where I turned out to be the only member of the family who wasn't on a first-name basis with the proprietor (who I'll refer to as  the Nice Jewelry Lady), who cooed over how much the Pipsqueak had grown since her last visit. Despite it being business as usual (although they would be closing much earlier than usual), there were already plywood panels up on many storefronts, along with a few signs similar to the one outside the jewelry store's entrance.

We slowly walked a short distance up the boardwalk, then returned to the hotel for the box lunches provided by the conference. (By the way, none of us were crashing the party or freeloading; AJ had paid for us all.) Most of the conversation revolved around the approaching storm and everybody's concerns about being able to get home safely -- most of us had forgotten that the Bay Bridge is closed to traffic if the wind reaches 50mph, and forecasters were saying that was a very real possibility the next day.

After some discussion, AJ gave Mom a specific wish list for the jewelry store because she didn't think she could get there herself before their new closing time and she returned to the conference. The rest of us watched the Weather Channel for a little while in our suite, then returned to the boardwalk for a while. We visited the jewelry store again (where there was more boarding-up activity underway), then wandered along the boardwalk. We didn't do a lot of shopping, but the Pipsqueak did have a lot of fun playing in the sand despite the now-unbroken blast of wind coming out of the north. (At one point, after I purposely messed up the instructions for making Sand Cakes, Miri reared up to her full height, put her hands on her hips, and impatiently asked me, "Now what did I teach you?!?")

Sometime around 1:30-2:00 in the afternoon, we realized the sky was a lot grayer, the wind was a lot sharper, and the surf was definitely picking up; even some of the gulls were finding perches instead of kiting overhead looking for tidbits. We made a quick stop for fries at Thrasher's, then headed back to the hotel for their free High Tea (and a scheduled conference break that would let AJ join us). A clear indication of just how much the weather had changed was my ability to take a photo with my camera aimed directly into the sun at midday... and watching the surf climb almost halfway up the beach behind our hotel.

At tea, AJ told us there was so much concern about Sunday's weather forecast that the entire conference had been rescheduled; they were simply going to push through until 6:30-7pm to finish everything on the agenda, and Sunday's activities would be limited to the pre-paid breakfast at 7:30am. We negotiated the Lack of Mommy Time with Miri, and set out to keep her occupied indoors the rest of the evening. For a while, we played "normal" indoor games, including building & knocking down towers with soft foam blocks -- which Miri insisted she wanted to take a picture of with my camera.

(Not a bad shot, considering she usually has her fingers on the lens and palm covering the flash!) After a little while, I heard what became a regular, repetitive request: "Uncle Brian, can I see your phone for a minute?" I had encased my iPhone in an Otterbox case (not waterproof, but pretty doggone strong, and you can get 'em for less than half price online with a little searching) so I wasn't too worried -- and quickly realized I didn't need to worry at all. Miri has seen smartphones before, playing games on iOS and Android devices with a little help from some of the little girls in our group of adoption friends, so I figured she would "kinda-sorta" know what to do. Well... kinda-sorta my foot, this three-year-old unerringly turned my iPhone right side up, clicked the Home button, slid the onscreen unlock switch to the side, flipped unerringly through several screens of other apps to the games, and began playing one of the "dress the princess" apps I'd installed for her without ever having used my phone before. (Face it, Dude: you're obsolete!)

We had dinner at the buffet we had intended to visit the previous night, arriving just about the same time as the rain we'd been expecting. After wiping out several pounds of steamed crab legs, we drove through the rain back to our hotel -- leaving the restaurant staff behind us taping door seams shut and putting up plywood panels on the windows. Before turning out the lights, we did what we could to get ready to get outta Dodge as soon after Sunday's breakfast as we could. After some discussion (while Miri played with my phone, of course), we decided to avoid the Bay Bridge and head north on a more land-based route through Delaware so that my first experience driving my new-ish RAV4 through serious crosswinds would not be on a long bridge perched high above the Chesapeake Bay.

We all got up at 6:30am, and as the skies began to lighten I realized the scene outside was totally different from what we had seen the previous morning. The sky was grey and coated with clouds, the ocean was a steely grey color with big waves & whitecaps visible from the beach out to the horizon, and when the waves broke the water ran all the way up to the base of the dune separating our hotel from the beach. (The odd blue tone of the photo is due to it being a long exposure at high ISO setting with low levels of early-morning light -- believe me, everything was an ugly grey!)

A greatly-diminished number of conference attendees slowly congregated over the breakfast buffet (almost half had already left), and we all commented on how angry the ocean looked -- the photos below were taken through the windows because the deck had been closed due to high winds.

During breakfast, we received news that our planned route home was now the main route for a mandatory evacuation of almost 50,000 Delawarians & tourists and decided the Bay Bridge wasn't such a bad idea after all. Loading our two vehicles took much longer than planned because we couldn't fit onto any of the passing elevators jammed with other departing guests and their luggage, but I finally pulled out of my parking spot at exactly 9:47am and we drove home in tandem without major incident.

Okay, there was the 10-mile backup due to an overpass on Route 50 having only one navigable lane, and the quick potty stop that caused while we were still on the "wrong" side of the Bay Bridge... and the time when I realized I was so tired I was actually driving at 65mph with my eyes closed... but we made it all the way home without major incident.  Mom & Dad and I made the rounds of several supermarkets up near AJ's house, eventually finding the last two packs of "no refrigeration needed" milk boxes within a multi-mile radius (and returning to AJ's house with said milk as quietly as possible because the Pipsqueak had finally fallen asleep), and when I got to my house I had to ask my next-door neighbor to move his car out of my reserved spot... and then I finally dragged my carry-on upstairs and began trying to get all my laundry done & devices fully charged before the weather has a chance to knowck out the local power grid.

So, in closing... that's an accounting of this year's version of the Pipsqueak's annual Ocean City conference, and here's wishing all of you a safe, problem-free week as Frankenstorm Sandy passes through.

Stay safe, y'all...!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

An Unexpected Feeling

This post is going to be a little different from most others I've made to date.

It's not about the Pipsqueak. It's not about our family, the family-building process, or more difficult aspects of adoption.

It's about me... and an emotion I was not expecting.

I feel guilty.

Not about helping carry my niece halfway around the world from where she was born. Not about helping my sister become a single mother with no good candidate in sight to become the Pipsqueak's Daddy. Not about... well, not about any of the things I thought I might feel guilty about.

I feel guilty about not caring about news about China-U.S. relations.

Back during AJ's paperchase, I slowly morphed from (almost) news junkie to newsophobic, so much so that during the last few months before AJ got The Call I was actively avoiding any potential source of news about China. The longer the wait dragged on, the harder it became to deal with news about anything that could interfere in the adoption process in even the most minute of ways. Even after TA, I caught myself limiting my interest in China news to anything I thought we would have to deal with on a first-hand basis; witness my near-panic over news of flooding in Nanning a couple of weeks before we were due to arrive there.

We've been home for roughly 2.25 years now, and it took me about 1.75 of those years to be able to pay any real attention to news about China-U.S. relations without my brain automatically activating all shields and finding something -- anything! -- else to occupy my attention. I have finally reached the point where I no longer immediately switch into "fight or flight" mode when I see or hear the word "China" in the news, and instead try to listen and process the story like any other.

The final piece of the puzzle to return my reaction to China-related news slowly fell into place beginning a few months back, when the last of the families in our group of adoption friends finally (FINALLY!) got their referral, then TA, then actually met their daughter in China, and made it back home safely. And all of a sudden, I didn't care any more. China and the U.S. in a trade war? Bring it on! Getting tough on China? Yeah, let's do it!  Cracking down on Chinese counterfeiters? Squash 'em!  Countering Chinese hackers?  Spike the SOBs!  Hey, it's okay, a chill in China-U.S. relations can't hurt us anymo-


Suddenly, during one of the (seemingly countless) recent reports of Sino-American disagreements, while thinking all the above thoughts I got knocked down and thoroughly soaked by an unseen and unexpected (but rather large) wave of guilt.

No, a chill in China-U.S. relations can't affect our adoption any more, and all our adoption friends have finally come home with their sons & daughters... but I still read a lot of "mommy blogs" and log into the Rumor Queen forums. What about all those families still trapped in the paperchase, all those dreams that could be stamped into oblivion, all those feelings of love for & connection with children who could suddenly be denied to their adoptive families?

So now I'm feeling guilty... and I really wasn't expecting this. Part of the guilt comes from a lifetime as Foreign Service "brat" and TCK, a background that essentially programmed me to see multiple facets of every story, to find ways of understanding "the other side(s)" no matter how simply a story was presented in the mass media. That part of me is more than just a little upset with the rest of me for blowing off the feelings of all those adoptive families still trapped in the paperchase.

And somewhere in the back of my mind is a very quiet voice asking if I'm the only one experiencing this particular emotional stew. I spent almost as much time pre-TA researching attachment issues, reading adoption horror stories, and seeking out helpful resources as AJ did, but somehow nothing prepared me for (or warned me about) this particular surprise so long after helping bring the Pipsqueak home.

I have to wonder if this is one of those aspects of international adoption that's not really spoken about but rather is (perhaps unconsciously) pushed back into the shadows in an effort to minimize the psychic scarring of the paperchase, all those years of balancing on an increasingly narrow base while dodging the arrows of finance, bureaucracy, family issues, and international politics. Maybe I wasn't able to find information about it because the IA community is still trying to adjust to the constant stretching out of the time between filing and Gotcha Day, maybe it's because no one can talk about it in detail because it amplifies & strengthens the memories of the pain & fears of the paperchase, maybe I simply haven't been able to see it because I was so sure nothing like this would occur after the adoption process was done...? (Dude, maybe you're feeling this because you're just weird...?)

Is it normal to be so relieved at all that being done and over with once an adoption is complete that we stop empathizing with other families still waiting? Is it being selfish? Is it a defense mechanism to hold back the negative memories?

I really don't have an answer, and (at least until people start reading this post) the only person who can cause me embarrassment over all this is that funny-looking guy in the mirror.

The thing is, he'd like to know if other folks have felt something like this...