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.)

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