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!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Holy Paradigm Shift, Batman!

In my post about the FCC's Year of the Dragon celebration, I left out mention of one of those moments -- a point in time you can look back on and see a signpost at a fork in life's road.

This wasn't a major life-changing event, or a major change in my path through life... but it sure does mark a change in what I see in my mirror in the morning.

You see, there was a break between the opera performers and the lion dance, and someone handed out small rubber balls that a bunch of the kids were playing with up on the stage. I'd already said "hi" to Mama  Bartlinski (see the blog, "Our Place Called Home," listed below) and went to wish Papa B. a happy new year over where he was playing ball with a couple of their girls. Their daughter Teresa rolled a ball in my direction, and we were soon engaged in a gentle game of catch. I still don't know exactly what happened, but somewhere along the line first Ed, then another parent, and then another all said something along the lines of, "Hey, Brian, can you keep an eye on her for just a moment? Thanks..."

All of a sudden, I'm alone at the far end of the room with six little girls who've been left in my care. (AJ, the Pipsqueak, and our folks were at least halfway across the gym, well out of "call for experienced help" range.) Even better, all the girls are sitting on bleachers; I've had a number of unfortunate gravity-related experiences on bleachers going back to almost five decades, so the location didn't exactly help quell my slowly growing sense of panic.

So there I am with four, maybe five families' worth of kidlings in my care,and they're sitting on my least favorite platform in the world, all looking to me for entertainment. One was drumming on seat in front of her, so I tried to go with that and was promptly rewarded with the sight of two others getting up & beginning to dance on the narrow, Brian-panic-inducing bench. With a stage smile pasted on my face (Don't show fear! They can sense fear!) I managed to get the action racheted down a couple of notches (Dude, right now gravity is so not your friend...) and desperately tried to think of something safe we could all do until the grownups came back.

That right there was the one thought that kept running through my mind: Keep them occupied until the grownups get back. Keep them safe and occupied until the grownups get back. Keep them safe and occupied and happy until the grownups get back.  WHERE ARE THE GROWNUPS...?!?!?!  And then, all of a sudden, there was that quiet voice in the back of my mind:

That's YOU, stupid. You're the grownup!

All of a sudden everything was cool, and I was able to get the girls to move more carefully (some even sat back down), and we were all actually having a pretty good time when the grownups came back.

Correction: when the other grownups came back.

I don't think I'd realized until that moment how much of a change I've felt in my role in the world since the Pipsqueak came along. The idea of taking care of kids, keeping them occupied and happy and yet safe and sound all at the same time, used to be one of those, "Naaah, not me!" things in my mind. I wasn't some rough-and-tough he-man, or some high-falutin' VIP too important to mind the kidlings; it just wasn't something I thought I could do, or should do, or would do.

Oh, sure, I'd done some babysitting before, and have played with unrelated kids & kidlings of various ages, but somehow it was always something being done in passing, or "just for a moment" until the grownups got back, or something I happened to be doing while also interacting with other people closer to my own age.

Now I find myself slipping in & out of Uncle Mode with less effort than it takes to negotiate a flight of stairs; my sensor package has retuned itself to seek out & identify sharp corners, dangerous objects, and  precarious perches while analyzing & comparing the vectors of child's motion vs. gravity vs. location of dangers all at a subconscious level. More importantly, I've stopped fearing what I might do wrong or accidentally let happen and have simply learned how to tune in that internal "that's not a good idea, try this instead" voice that seems to know more than all the other parts of my mind put together (or at least does a good job of acting like it does). There's no heavy mantle of responsibility, just a quiet sense of knowing I'm helping guide an astonishingly important and slightly fragile newbie through the vagaries of life. I've even -- dare I say it? -- come to understand much of Mom's apparent craziness in terms of worrying about the well-being of the next generation. (Okay, Mom, you can stop laughing now. Please?)

So there you have it: a real-life paradigm shift. Me -- the guy who couldn't figure out what was so special about 21, who freaked at turning 30, who felt only a tad over the hill at 40, who spent weeks after his 50th birthday hearing a sepulchural  voice in the back of his mind intoning, 'haaaalf a cennntureeee... haaaalf a cennntureee..." -- I'm a grownup!

On the other hand, Dad turns 82 this year and still hasn't quite decided what he wants to be when he grows up... so I guess I've still got time. Maybe I'll actually settle into the role around the time I have to start teaching the Pipsqueak how to drive (a responsibility assigned to me by AJ several years ago), but for now it's still kind of new, and maybe a little scary.

And kind of nice.

(But a little scary.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Okay, so it's kinda-sorta passed right on by... but we were at the big FCC Chinese New Year celebration this past weekend, so I figure I'll take this one last dragon-based chance to wish one & all a happy new year.

It's kind of funny, though -- in most Western languages, one can simply say, "happy new year" and that's that. In Chinese, well... Most of our friends (and the friendly waitress at the Chinese restaurant a couple of weeks back) use "Xin Nian Kwai Le" and that pretty much translates as "happy new year" but it's not universal. Another common wish I've heard/read lately is "Gung Hai Fat Choy," which is pretty much the same thing, except that it's a different thing -- my fledgling knowledge of Chinese indicates it's more a Cantonese greeting, whereas XNKL is Mandarin.

Me? I kinda like "Gong Xi Fa Cai" -- congratulations and wishes for prosperity. Looking back at some of the craziness of the past year, I think some congratulations are in order for those of us who are still standing... perhaps a bit crookedly, beat up, wobbly-kneed and bruised, but still standing.  (The wishes for prosperity are probably self-explanatory.)  So...

 Gong Xi Fa Cai! 

As I mentioned above, the five of us went to the FCC Year of the Dragon celebration this past weekend. After Gerda Sue (AJ's lamented GPS, lost in the accident last November) took us via the "scenic" route last year, I spent some quality time with Google Maps and sure enough, the new GPS (sorry, I forgot "her" name!) kept wanting to take us in a more "direct" route that involved lots of little side streets and at least 20-30 minutes of additional travel time. Of course, once we reached our destination, AJ pointed out that she knew we were in the right place because every family walking toward the building from the parking lot seemed to include at least 1 little Chinese girl. (Also a lot more little Chinese boys than we remember from past years -- a sign of the changes in the PRC's international adoption program.)

Once inside, we began to enjoy ourselves, but soon had a small dark cloud overhead; the Pipsqueak was definitely not herself. From the moment we got out of the van, she was more clingy than usual, and her color wasn't quite right, and... well, she just wasn't well (by the end of the day, the symptoms included a low-grade fever). Still, she was interested, so we stayed.

After lunch, there was Chinese opera (the unexpectedly loud & cacophonous opening strains sent lots of little ones scrambling away from the stage, but most of the audience returned fairly soon), a dance sequence showing a chapter from the story of the Monkey King enhanced by some darned impressive ring tossing & twirling, and -- of course! -- a lion dance, complete with long train of kidlings trailing after the beast in an attempt to feed him hong bao (and perhaps get a peek inside to see how his eyes & mouth worked). Finally came the "fireworks" with everyone jumping up & down on bubble wrap (surprisingly effective, for those of you who haven't tried it!) but by that point we'd had to put our jackets on and head for the van with not-healthy Pipsqueak in hand.  I'll try to put up a short video in a day or two, but in the meantime here are a few photos:

Despite the Pipsqueak not really being herself, I think we all enjoyed the day... and I think that maybe, just maybe, my niece has gotten her fill of dragons & lions for a little while.

Vamos a ver...

Friday, February 10, 2012

This Universe Does NOT Tend Toward Entropy!

My niece is a smart l'il thing; she's able to grok the various meanings & uses of words almost as soon as she hears them, can tell if someone's being serious or is teasing her (and can tease right back), already has a firm grasp of singluar/plural and before/after, now/then, here/there, and a whole plethora of other important concepts.

But she's never taken a physics class, and thus has never been taught that the universe tends toward entropy. In fact, I'm pretty sure that when the day comes when some unlucky teacher has to make that point, Miri will be the first to challenge the statement & the last to accept it. You see, the Pipsqueak has the universe firmly in hand; every thing has its purpose (perhaps I should have typed "Purpose" instead), events occur in a specified order at a specified time, different places are to be used for different activities, and each person has his or her assigned tasks to be completed in a specific order at a specific time.

To illustrate, I present a few examples from her long (and growing) list:
> When departing for a ride in Mommy's car, it is Mommy who will place Miri in her seat. Not Grandma or Grandpa or Uncle Brian -- Mommy. Good luck to anyone else who tries...
> When riding in Grandpa's car, upon arrival at one's destination it is Grandpa's job to get Miri out of her seat. Anyone else attempting to usurp this particular assignment will be told that it is Grandpa's job (and will also be told to go away).
> That fancy party dress is for parties. It is not for special visits, it is not for posing for photos, it is not for daycare, shopping, play dates, dinner out, Chinese New Year... It is The Party Dress and is to be worn for parties and that is that.
> That polka-dot dress worn for the pictures that went onto Mommy & Miri's holiday card is The Picture Dress and it is not to be worn for daycare, for visits, for parties, dinner out, shopping, playing, Chinese New Year... it is The Picture Dress and is to be worn only when posing for photographs. Wearing it for any other purpose will be decided on a case-by-case basis based entirely on the likelihood of posing for photos while wearing it, otherwise... fuggedaboutit.
> When on the road, the driver should not stop until Miri tells them the light is red and they have to stop. Conversely, they should keep the car at a standstill until told the light is green and they can go now.
> Pasta is pasta; it is not "spaghetti" or "rigatoni" or "macaroni" or anything else -- it is pasta. Except when it is mac & cheese, in which case it is mac & cheese and not pasta. Or in such cases where it is long & thin, in which case it is "noodles" (although we are allowed to also call those crunchy strips one drops into soup at Chinese restaurants "noodles" as well). Wontons are also "noodles" but Mommy has to make extra-sure all the filling has been removed.
> When lining up to kiss Miri goodnight once she's strapped into her seat in Mommy's car, there is a specific order in which each person may approach to kiss her goodnight; the order varies slightly according to who is present at the time, but anyone approaching out of order will be told to go away and wait for their turn. Anyone who has impetuously gone back into the house before it was their turn must immediately be brought back outside, and everyone else must wait until they arrive, to ensure the proper order is maintained.
> Rice is rice; any other smallish granular pasta or grain dish is couscous. It is not quinoa; nor is it kasha, buckwheat, orzo, grits, or anything else; it is couscous and that is what it is.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  :-)  To be honest, I'm kind of jealous; my niece has better control of her life after only a fraction of a decade than I do with more than five decades under my belt... maybe I should take some lessons from her?  On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if maybe someday people will address her as "Madame President"....!

Hmm... the possibilities... Hmmm...  <grin>

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Another Potential Career Path...

The Pipsqueak seems to have a bottomless well of Cute from which she can draw bucketfuls of the stuff in a variety of scents, colors, and flavors.

Lately, one of her favorite flavors seems to involve waitressing. It started a couple of months back, after watching all her grownups try to decide what order to call in to the local Chinese carry-out. Our usual dietarily indecisive selves, we pored over the carry-out menu for long minutes, discussing the relative merits of lo mein vs. an extra shrimp dish, individual dishes or all-in-one dinner platters, and wonton vs. egg drop vs. hot & sour soups... all under the watchful eye of the Pipsqueak. We eventually made our decisions and called in the order, whereupon my niece picked up the menu and began going from person to person pointing to it while asking, "what do you want?" She would mime writing something down on an imaginary notepad (who knew she'd been watching restaurant waitresses so carefully?!?), run into the next room to perpare our chosen item, then proudly march back in bearing invisible plates heaped high with equally imaginary delicious food.

Since then, she's slipped into "waitress mode" numerous times, greatly enjoying the act of recording our orders (from "menus" that can be anything from actual carry-out menus to the empty palm of her hand), then running to prepare our food and serving it with aplomb. Her mommy had a play kitchen set when she was little, but it never got the same intense, repeated use that the Pipsqueak's kitchens get. (Yes, that's plural; she has one play kitchen in Grandma & Grandpa's family room -- a generous gift from family friends -- and that proved so popular that her big Hanukkah gift was an even more involved kitchen set that occupies part of the breakfast nook in her own home's real-life kitchen.)

Of course, this being the Pipsqueak, now that she's got the act down pat she's giving it her own personal spin. She still presents us with a menu (or sometimes just tells us what's available for that meal) and asks, "What do you want?" The difference is that now she will often reply, "No, you can't have that!" and then tells us what we can order, take it or leave it. (Dude, you're letting an underage midget push you around again...!)  Thus we often share exchanges like the following:

     P: "Hello!" (holds out hand) "What do you want?"
     Me: "Hello! Let me see..." (point at the menu) I would like this, please."
     P: "You want the pizza?"
     Me: "Yes, please, I'd like the pizza."
     P: "No, you can't have that."
     Me: "I can't have that? But I want the pizza! Why can't I have the pizza?"
     P: "You can't have that."
     Me: "Okay, so what can I have?"
     P: "You can have this!"
     Me: "What's this?"
     P: "This is [fill in whatever she thinks of at the moment]"
     Me: "Oh, okay, I'll have that. Are you sure I can't have the pizza?"
     P: "No! You can't have that! You can have this!" (runs off to get "this")

I'm somewhat relieved to know that as the Pipsqueak grows up she can always earn money waitressing...

...but I'm not sure I'd like to be one of her customers!   :-)