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!

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...

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