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!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Not This Stuff Again...!

Gotta hand it to the Pipsqueak -- the child isn't even three years old but she already knows exactly what she does or does not want, and expresses those desires with the strength & panache of someone decades older.

For example...

My niece likes pizza. A lot. But not just any pizza; it's got to look the part, smell the part, even come in the right kind of box... otherwise it's not "pizza" and she is unlikely to deign to touch it, much less partake of any (and she may go as far to ensure the fact that all parties present know exactly how she feels about the impostor pizza). She also likes mushrooms, so we've been eating a lot of mushroom pizza lately.

Note: I don't mean that we're eating pizza on a daily, or even weekly basis; it's just that 99% of the time when we get pizza, it's a plain cheese pizza with mushrooms as the only topping. I miss my sausage, my pepperoni, my Hawaiian or gyro pizzas -- but the Pipsqueak will not eat meat (except for the occasional chicken nugget or cut-up hot dog at daycare), so it's mushroom pizza or plain cheese pizza. A small sacrifice, but a sacrifice nonetheless.

Anyway, back to the story... Mom & Dad had recently brought pizza home for dinner on an evening when AJ had to work late and they had the Pipsqueak over at their house. Miri will sometimes eat her pizza by devouring as much of it as she can cram into her mouth, other times by picking the mushrooms off & eating them before rejecting the now half-naked slice as "finished" -- the latter being how she ate one adult-sized slice. She started on a second slice but only picked off one or two small bits of mushroom near the point, then decided she was done and went to play with her stuffed menagerie.

A couple of hours later, AJ finally sprung loose and stopped by to pick up her daughter. Of course, Mom had extra pizza for AJ as well, so my exhausted sister sat down for a few minutes while Mom heated a couple of slices. However, as soon as the plate hit the table, the Pipsqueak announced that she was hungry and wanted pizza. (Having trouble getting the Pipsqueak to eat something? Put it on Mommy's plate and it is instantaneously transmogrified into exactly what the Pipsqueak wants to eat, right now, no excuses, get outta the way or risk tooth marks on your fingers...)

Mom, knowing her granddaughter well, had wrapped that 2nd almost-untouched slice and put it in the fridge instead of throwing it out so within moments the Pipsqueak had her own hot slice of pizza on a plate in front of her on the table. She took one look, and...

"I already ate that!"

With that, she pushed the plate away, reached for Mommy's plate, and proceeded to practically inhale both adult-sized slices in their entirety. The moral of the story is that we now know we cannot give the Pipsqueak "used" food; once she deems herself "done" with something, it is DONE, and she will indeed recognize (and reject) it later.

I love my niece dearly, but I'm beginning to fear her teen years...!

PS - Mom, pro that she is, had kept several more slices of pizza in the fridge so AJ did (eventually) have pizza for dinner.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"You Really Like Me!" (Apologies to Sally Field)

Gong xi fa cai, y'all!

Well, the Pipsqueak is feeling better than she was during my last post... Of course, we had a couple of days when she first started to feel good where she was a bit like a (very small) force of nature... and then she started to readjust to feeling the way she usually does and got crochety again because it was no longer FEELING GOOD! but more like, yeah, I'm okay.

(Of course, yours truly never goes through the same kind of cycle. Nope, never. Not me. <ahem> Oh, hush...)

Anyway, now that she's herself again, the Pipsqueak is (as always) fun to be with. Her imagination, her ability at role playing, her desire to share with us are all still happily astonishing and it's literally impossible for us to not smile and take time out of any- and everything we're doing to coo at each other over something Miri just said or did. (Or occasionally to cringe at a particularly loud THUNK! -- plus ça change...) There's been a bunch of craziness going on that has nothing to do with her (thus the longish gap between postings here), so I'll just kvell publicly over a couple of the nicer moments...

We've all gotten used to the general-purpose phrase, "need up!" -- we hear it when she's scared, wants a better perch, wants to participate in something, wants a cuddle, is feeling lazy, when she... you get the idea. Well, we'd all gotten a couple or three iterations of "need up" during one evening when my niece came bopping over to me, reached up, and said, "I want you to hold me!" Miri had never said anything like that before, and it took me a moment to react so she said it again... and she had it right, this wasn't "up!" for some specific purpose, she wanted to be picked up and hugged for a moment before going back to playing. (The hug only lasted a few moments, but -- at least for me -- the warm feeling persisted well into the next day. <g>)

A few evenings later, we all decided to meet at a local restaurant for dinner and I was (rather unusually) the first one there. The folks were coming from their house in their car, and AJ was bringing the Pipsqueak from their abode so I found myself sitting alone at a large booth while the place filled up around me. Finally, squinting through the dim light (I don't know if it's for "atmosphere" or for "our electric bill is too high") I saw AJ standing at the hostess station with the Pipsqueak in her arms. She didn't see me, but when I stood up & waved my arms over my head, I got to see my niece begin frantically waving back while bouncing up & down in mommy's arms, and I could hear "UNCLE BIYAN!" clearly over the rest of the noise.  Gotta admit, the feeling was far better than the food...

Then, this past Saturday was the Pipsqueak's latest Little Gym "graduation" (haven't missed one yet!). I got there a few minutes late, and Mom & Dad urged me to move quickly because AJ had left her camera home and the battery on theirs died as soon as they turned it on... But I didn't get to take as many photos as I wanted because the Pipsqueak wanted a hug(!) as soon as she saw me, and then spent a fair portion of the session directing me where to stand ("No! You go there!") when not terrifying us all by climbing on (dangerously high and/or unstable) things stacked in the corner instead of doing what the rest of the class was doing.  When we stopped at a Mickey D's on the way home, she again asked me to pick her up -- there was a comment made about the grandparents being chopped liver when Uncle Brian was around, but it was said with a smile -- whenever I headed toward the counter (for more napkins, for more of the creamer she liked to drink, for more napkins, for more ketchup, for more napkins, or for more napkins... <sigh>)

Finally, we had a late lunch Sunday at our favored Chinese restaurant in honor the start of the Year of the Dragon. (We knew it officially began Monday, but we couldn't all get together on Monday.) After charming the waitress (and returning a shy "how" when given a "ni hao!"), demolishing Mommy's plate while the food sat untouched on hers, and repeatedly sliding off the booth bench to play under the table (this stopped when she smacked her head on the side of the table despite AJ's best efforts to control her contortionist daughter's movements)... the Pipsqueak wanted to play... outside in the cold... with her uncle! We got into our coats and had a good time exploring the sidewalk for a while, and then I had to help AJ bargain Miri into her seat in the minivan. After that I had to spend a few minutes explaining to a disappointed little girl that I couldn't come back to her house to play some more because I had to go home and wash my laundry (something she does understand) and take a nap (something she doesn't) and do other "grownup stuff" that left her unhappy... but I got a less unhappy "Okay!" when I promised I'd come over to her house another day and we'd play together, just the two of us (I knew she really meant it was okay when she told me, "you go home!" a few seconds later).

Isn't it funny how knowing that such a tiny person really likes me is such a big thing?  Some folks have said she's lucky to have such a caring family -- but the truth is we're the lucky ones. Especially me, since my schedule limits my time with her more than anyone else's.

So I don't really mind when the Pipsqueak kicks me and asks commands me to go away when she's not feeling well... Because more often than not, she lets me know she really likes me. And that, as the commercial says, is priceless.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hit the Road, Jack!

A few days ago, I was happily posting about the Pipsqueak telling me, "I love you" and hugging me -- two days in a row, in fact!

Well, she's got another one of those ridiculous colds of hers, the kind where she'll fall asleep for just a few minutes and wake up choking & gagging because she's so congested, where her sinuses get jam-packed full so her ears hurt, where her face spends much of its time being a snotty mess... I know what I feel like when I'm like that, I can only imagine how bad it is for a little girl who can't quite comprehend the medical explanations, the assurances that this too shall pass, the need for not doing some fun things (and for doing some not fun things)...

Needless to say, the Pipsqueak hasn't exactly been in the best of moods for the past couple of days, and Wednesday was the worst. I got a call from Mom long before I was ready to wake up (after getting home after 2:00am, I have no idea how she & Dad got up!). AJ was at work, and they were keeping the Pipsqueak company because she wasn't well enough to go back to daycare yet -- but they'd just gotten a call from the body shop and their car was ready* a couple of days earlier than planned, would they please come and pick it up...?

*This was the result of a harried mother speaking face-to-face with her kids in the back seat of her minivan while backing out of a parking spot rather than either looking into the rear-view mirror or settling the internecine war before moving her vehicle... let that be a reminder to us all!

We bargained on a time (I really don't know how she & Dad got up so early!) and I dozed back off for a while, then got myself up & out and over to their house...

...which was dark and empty, since they were at AJ's (Mom didn't want the Pipsqueak out in the cold rain while she was sick).  I wound up getting there almost 45 minutes later than planned and Mom met me at the door with a loud, "SHHHH!" because the Pipsqueak had finally fallen asleep. Oh, sure, she was actually sitting up on the couch wedged into a corner tangled up with her blankie and snoring up a storm -- but she was actually sleeping for the first time in far too many hours so we spoke in whispers and tread as lightly as possible.

About 45 minutes after our folks headed out, Miri began stirring on the couch so I walked around to where she could see me, crouched down to her level (but not too close so as not to scare her), and gave a quiet but cheery, "Hi, there!" when she opened her eyes. The Pipsqueak rubbed her eyes, snorted a couple of times, looked blearily at me for a moment, and...

"Go away!"

Ouch!  "I'm sorry, Honey. Did you have a good sleep?"

"No. GO AWAY."

Well, it kinda went downhill from there, and I spent the next 20+ minutes sitting nearby, listening to the Pipsqueak crying steadily with only the occasional interruption for a choke or sneeze. Any attempt to comfort her, communicate with her, or cover her bare feet when she showed signs of nodding off was met with an angry "GO AWAY!" and the occasional push or kick (or both).

She finally just could not fight her exhaustion and finally fell asleep sprawled across the couch. (I have no idea how someone so tiny could possibly cover that much couch, but she done did it.) Mom called to let me know they were on the way back and we spoke for a while, with me happily letting her know her granddaughter had gone back to sleep, was breathing easily & quietly, and had no apparent fever. The call ended with my folks about 10 minutes away.

Whereupon the Pipsqueak woke up, took one look at me, and angrily demanded that I go away before the tears began again.

By this point, I was pretty much ready to cry myself; I wanted to do something -- anything! -- to make her feel better, and all she wanted me to do was leave! Ugh... She did finally stop crying just as her Grandma & Grandpa came up the steps to the door but remained perilously upset.  It was now so late in the afternoon that I had just enough time to get home & change for work (so much for the shower I needed!) so I gathered up my things, put on my coat, and headed for the door after bidding my folks good luck.

But then, just before I had fully turned away, an idea floated into my head. I understood why the Pipsqueak suddenly seemed to hate even the sight of her Uncle Brian, but I didn't want to just walk out on such a sour note. I didn't know if the thought would occur to her, but I didn't want her to have to deal with the possibility of thinking I left without the usual goodbye & I-love-yous because she felt so lousy she'd told me to go away. (I'll admit it was likely to be bothering me while not even occurring to her... but the kid's surprised me with her understanding of complex ideas in the past and I didn't want this to be one of them.)

 I went back to the couch and quietly told her I was sorry to go but that I had to go to work (something she does understand from prior experience with me & Mommy), and that I hoped we could play together when she felt better. She just looked at me, not saying anything but not crying either. Then I said, "I love you," kissed her on the top of her head, and waved bye-bye as I moved away.  She was busy scratching a bug bite on her hand but -- still not saying anything -- raised her hand and gave me a small but definite wave before going back to scratching. No tears, no "go away" or other drama; everything considered, I felt pretty good about the whole exchange.

And somewhere in the depths of my mind, an angry loudmouthed teenager is analyzing a whole new perspective on unhappy verbal exchanges with his parents almost four decades in the past... <sigh>

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Yep, It's (Almost) Another Safety Gate...!

This past weekend included more than looking at photos and wondering about what's stored in the Pipsqueak's tiny little head... Among other things, there was The Changing of the Bed Safeguards.

Ever since coming home, the Pipsqueak's been unwilling to sleep on her own. Oh, sure, she napped in her crib, but that was (with extremely rare exceptions) only when AJ put her there after she'd fallen asleep. At night, she sleeps with her Mommy -- it's really the only way either one of them gets any sleep. (Although it's hard to tell how AJ gets any rest, since she's sharing her bed with her daughter, a number of her daughter's stuffed animals, two active cats, and sometimes even a stuffed animal that one of the cats has brought into the bed... lately she's expressed concern that she's being crowded out of her own bed!)

In order to keep the Pipsqueak as safe as possible, AJ's been keeping Miri's side of the bed blocked with a second crib, a solid & heavy folding travel model that was just the right length & height to serve as a decent guardrail. Trouble is, AJ had to practically rearrange the furniture in her room just to get to her closet because the crib also did an excellent job of filling all available floor space on Miri's side of the bed... so she bought a fancy-pants "hideway" side rail system to mount on the bed.

I was semi-drafted (I also offered to help, really I did!) to assemble the thing, and this past weekend everyone's schedules finally meshed so I found myself working with Dad to carry the folding crib down to the basement (where it was harder work to find room for it than it was to move it down two flights of stairs), and then trudging back up to AJ's bedroom to figure out how the safety rail was supposed to be assembled.

Anyone who's read my posts about my adventures putting up baby gates in AJ's house, you can anticipate what's coming next... oy. The "body" of the safety thingie is synthetic fabric (part solid, part a tight mesh) that has to be stretched over a tubular steel frame. This particular frame consists of several different pieces that have to be put together in a specific way, with various odd accoutrements sticking out at specific angles to ensure assorted metal tubes and/or the cloth "wall" are all arranged in a very specific manner. This assembly then has to be attached to a second metal frame -- an equally "easy" assembly -- then essentially flipped around until it is inside-out... into which the entire assembly is supposed to be able to disappear (once mounted between mattress & box spring) when pushed & pulled just so. Once all the pieces are inserted, matched, stretched, pulled, twisted, and clicked into place, it's time to feed a pair of long fabric straps, each with a tubular metal hook at one end, through tiny locking clips. Once all that is done, the entire assembly has to be slid between the mattress and box spring, then the fabric straps have to be threaded across to the other side of the bed, the hooks placed to grip the side of the mattress, and then each of the straps pulled taut through its locking clip until the entire construct is held firmly in place by the weight of the bed itself.

Oh, did I mention that EVERY page of the obtuse instructions began with "Step 1", that the drawings showing how the parts went together were never on the same page as the stage of assembly they corresponded to, and that almost every "Step 1" would begin with something you were supposed to do after doing something else in a different step...?!?


Throughout this ordeal process, the Pipsqueak was with us (Watch your language, Uncle Brian!) -- and she simply would. not. get. off. the. bed. She rolled around, tried to help with the frame, jumped up & down, tried to help with the straps, put her stuffed animals to sleep, danced, hid under the blanket, and generally did a whole bunch of amazingly cute & funny things that made it impossible difficult to actually do what we were trying to do. The most notable moment came when I was struggling to get the last corner of the fabric stretched over the frame and the Pipsqueak stood up in the middle of the bed, happily squealed, "A slide!" and jumped on it.

I honestly don't know why nothing broke, bent, popped, ripped, or punctured... but we managed to get the fershlugginer thing into place and I was able to leave with the knowledge that I have once again triumphed (with some help) over an inanimate object intent on not allowing me to complete my assigned task.  (Yay, me! <grin>)

Just for illustrative purposes, I'm including a couple of photos I took during the process. I know AJ doesn't like having easily identified photos of the Pipsqueak in the blog, but she was just moving so much (or hiding under the blanket) that I feel safe posting these images.

(By the way, that blurring isn't Photoshop; the camera just could not keep up with the Pipsqueak)

When all was said and done, the Pipsqueak was duly appreciative of all the work Mommy and Uncle Brian had done to keep her safe at night... and AJ reminded me that the kid's already fallen off the foot of the bed a couple of times. (AJ's bed is almost as high as the Pipsqueak is tall... just another testament to my niece's near-invulnerability when diving headfirst off beds onto the floor.)  Funny thing is, I did the exact same thing when I was little...

I just hope I don't have to put together another bed rail...!

Monday, January 9, 2012

An Unexpected Reaction

Well, it was a beautiful day today -- so of course it was my first weekend of the year to have weekend manager duty... <sigh> Still, it was an entertainingly weird day (e.g., a small choir singing Christmas carols in the lobby while two different church groups competed for the dining room...) and we all got together for dinner at the folks' house.

Mom & Dad had wanted to see some of the photos I'd taken at a recent get-together with our "adoption gang," especially the picture of all the kids with their mommies.  Of course, the intention had been to get a photo of all the kidlings on the sofa, but as soon as we got 'em all arranged, guess whose niece jumped down off the sofa and started what can only be called an avalanche of children...? The mommies all had to be in the picture because they had to hold the kids in place!

But I digress... I had my laptop with me so we all sat down in the family room and I began putting the photos up on the screen. As usual, the Pipsqueak wanted a Wiggles video, but was amenable to waiting 'til after Grandma & Grandpa had seen some special pictures; I'm sure part of that was due to her wanting to see pictures of herself with Mommy on the screen, too!

One thing led to another, and we began reviewing all the photos I'd taken back on Gotcha Day. We'd only been doing that for a few minutes when the Pipsqueak started to get antsy, so we began trying to re-involve her in the photo review.

"Look over there... who's that in the picture?"

(Big smile.) "Mommy!"

"And who's that over there?"

(Another smile.) "Uncle Brian!"

"And do you know who this little baby is?" A couple of beats went by while the Pipsqueak obviously tried to figure out the identity of the tiny figure in Mommy's lap in the photo, puzzlement obvious on her face. "That's you, when you were very little!"


It wasn't a surprised "no," it wasn't a game-playing "no" -- this was a definitively upset and angry no, as in very.  We took turns trying to explain to Miri that these were old pictures of when she first met her Mommy, but she remained adamant that the baby girl in the photos was NOT her. After a few more attempts, we all backed off because the Pipsqueak was obviously getting upset. I don't know if it was because she didn't recognize herself (she's actually pretty good at identifying herself in photos & videos), or if she somehow had enough memories of all the confusing changes of the day to feel threatened.

We finished with the Gotcha Day photos, and I bargained with Miri for one more bunch of photos before playing the promised Wiggles videos.  One of the more precious gifts we'd received from our guides was a CD with photos of the Pipsqueak in the SWI, ranging from possibly her 1st day right on up to just a couple of days before we arrived in China. I was worried about losing the disc so I have copies of all the photos on my laptop (and on my external backup drive as well as on several DVDs I've burned) -- but for some reason Mom & Dad had never seen the photos.

Well, I didn't bother asking Miri if she recognized herself, or any of the other little girls in the SWI photos. At first we were all too busy oohing and aahing and ohwowing, then trying to figure out how old she was in each picture... but then I looked over at her face and the Pipsqueak's expression was an almost adult cross between fascination and horror. It didn't last for too long -- she began to very purposefully occupy herself with Mommy, or moving around behind the screen and bugging me for her Wiggles videos -- but for a few moments my niece was looking at the photos of herself in the orphanage and I could swear she was remembering... and it didn't look like fun.

I've had people tell me that being adopted at just 13 months of age and having so much love, stimulation and attention for the past 1-1/2 years would probably cause any memories of her time in the SWI out of the Pipsqueak's mind... and that at just 13 months, she probably wouldn't have too many memories of the facility to begin with.  But I also know that I have some clear memories that (once we sat down & talked about them a few years ago) my folks have figured out would be from when I was close to that age... so I can only surmise that my niece does have some memories of her time in the SWI, and that they are so different from her current life experience that she can't (or perhaps won't) mentally place herself back into them the way she does with more recent images.

I don't know if this will change over time, or if maybe I was reading too much into a few fleeting moments' expression on a very little girl's face... But I think this is something I'm going to store away for conversation later, when the Pipsqueak's older and the whole subject of bio/adoptive families has been broached. (Based on the look I saw on her face for that one moment, I intend to tread very, very carefully.)  We finished looking through that folder and I immediately brought up the "Hot Potato" video, and I got a big smile and a happy "YAY!" and after that Miri was back to her usual self again.

But there's a quiet little voice in the back of my head saying it's just not fair for someone so young to already have something so complicated to deal with...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Another Possible Future Career for My Niece...

I gotta tell ya, the Pipsqueak's demonstrating a progressively more advanced (and, maybe, progressively more twisted!) sense of humor on an almost daily basis. The latest comedy shtick went something like this:

(Early in the day)
Grandpa: We'll be picking you up at daycare in our car, is that okay?
Pipsqueak: Yeh!
Grandpa: Will you ride on the roof?
Pipsqueak: [short delay, big smile] No!
Grandpa: Will you ride in the trunk?
Pipsqueak: [bigger smile] No!
Grandpa: Where will you ride?
Pipsqueak: In my seat!

(Later that afternoon)
Grandma: Do you want to come to Grandma and Grandpa's house after daycare?
Pipsqueak: Yeh!
Grandma: Would you like to ride in Grandpa's car?
Pipsqueak: [BIG smile] I ride in trunk! [laughs]

I guess that if it doesn't work out for my niece to become a gymnast, a contortionist, a chef, a ballerina, a zookeeper, or a physicist... she can always get a job as a stand-up comic!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Very Precious Milestone

Just a quick post while I'm kvelling...

We'd all gotten together at our folks' for dinner Sunday evening, and AJ & I left at the same time.

Once we'd cleared up a glitch with the goodnights -- the Pipsqueak has ordained that we have to go in a certain order, and we all have to be there, or all the universe will be twisted awry -- it was my turn. Miri puckered up for a quick kiss (she's only been doing that for a couple of weeks), then consented to give me a quick hug and then, before I said anything, she gave me a quick smile and...

...the Pipsqueak said "I love you!"

Miri's been (intermittently) telling me, "I like you" or saying, "I like [today's version of my name]" for a couple of months, but this is the first time I've heard her say "I love you."

My niece said she loves me!

Now that is what I call a good way to start off the new year!  :-)