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, July 24, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 23)

Two years ago today, we popped wide awake with a 5:00am wake-up call and somehow crammed an entire morning's activities into roughly half the time we'd normally have -- plus check-out, and (for me) a very quick bit of special letter-writing. [Original post & photos here.] After an unusually subdued ride to the airport and our last in-country flight to Beijing, the three of us had an uneventful time at the airport while our two companion families unfortunately learned their itineraries had been obliterated by their airline. We all continued to hang out together until that unavoidable moment when they had to go down the corridor to the right while AJ & I took the Pipsqueak down a corridor to the left... and all of a sudden, even though we were still in China, it really felt like the trip was over. Our flight didn't actually leave for some time after that, after yet another unexpected encounter with airport security. [Original post here.]  Considering the fact that we were in the air for well over 13 hours, the flight was a good one, and the only scare came just before we began final approach to Dulles when Miri dove headfirst through the tiny space between her seat and the fold-down table... Emerging, as usual, unscathed and wondering why the two funny people traveling with her looked so desperate. There were a few last-minute glitches getting off the plane [Original post & photos here] but, even as we struggled to deal with how different everyone looked from each other, getting through one line after another, finding our luggage, and then finding our folks in the crowd, it felt good to be home. The Pipsqueak seemed to actually recognize her Grandma & Grandpa after all our Skype sessions during the trip, and (despite making sure everyone within a 50-mile radius could hear her displeasure at having to be strapped into a car seat for the first time in her life) seemed to settle into her new home pretty well. I realized I would have some adjusting to do, and just before finally closing my eyes realized that our "Friday" had been over 30 hours long... and fell asleep in my own bed with roughly 16,582 new air miles in my personal log.

One year ago today, we were experiencing "China weather" without the benefit of being distracted by actually being in China... and by the Pipsqueak doing her best to fit the cliched image of a two-year-old. [Original post & photos here.]  Despite that, we spent a happy day & evening together as a family, all marveling at the active, verbal little girl that AJ's little China baby had become... and at how much a fixture of life she was. I also realized that I was essentially closing out the first "chapter" of this blog, since from that point forward the content would be mostly real-time events or commentary rather than extensive looks back in time.

Today, I again got home much later than I would've liked from work... thus the 12-hour delay in posting this look back.  Miri's latest set of sniffles seems to have departed, but we're all commenting that she seems to get a cold this time of year every year; aside from that, she's keeping Mommy on her toes in a (generally) good way.

I've also been thinking about this blog, and have decided that this post will be the last formal look back. I'll probably make some comments about "when we were in China..." but am really not planning any  "Looking Back - Plus Three" (or beyond) entries. I've been working on drafts of some difficult posts -- adoption adds a whole set of complexities all its own to the usual complications & conundrums of life, some rather serious -- but this week I came to the realization that this really is the close of "Chapter 2" and that spending too much time looking back from now on probably isn't the best use of all these electrons.

So how does Chapter Three begin?  Stay tuned to find out...!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 21-22)

Sorry for the combined post -- it was a very short weekend for me!

Two years ago today, on the 21st we had an amazing day. [First part of original post & photos here.] Despite the previous night not being one of the better ones, we had the morning routine down (mostly) to an art and after a good breakfast enjoyed touring the Guangdong Folk Arts Museum. The building itself is an amazing showpiece, and the variety of arts & crafts both on display and being created while we watched left us all impressed... and amazingly, astonishingly, sweatily hot as well. After one of our scarier bus rides through downtown traffic, we had a good lunch and then returned to the White Swan to prepare for CA (our Consulate appointment). [Second part of original post here.] In one sense, it was very anticlimactic; you sit in a big, noisy room filled with other adoptive families, listen for your name to be called, finish up some paperwork at what looks like a bank teller's window, and then once everyone is done, stand up and formally swear that all the information you've provided is true and accurate. It's not a citizenship oath, it's not a caregiving oath... but it is the event that seals the adoption, that brings all those years of high-stress paperchasing to an end and marks the beginning of your life as a family. To borrow an old cliche, there wasn't a dry eye in the house (literally). The two huge tour buses full of newly-minted families fought their way back to the hotel through some of the worst traffic I've ever seen anywhere in the world, getting us back just in time for a fast diaper change and then running out the door so our little minibus could get us to the evening river tour we'd scheduled. [Last part of original post & photos here.] We made it just minutes before the boat pulled away from the dock and were treated to some of the most amazing neon & lighting effect shows I've seen anywhere (e.g., entire multi-story buildings converted into massive neon animations). We went to bed that night with the bittersweet knowledge that we had only one more day left in China... but we were also feeling like it was time to go home.

On the 22nd, we had a leisurely morning that included discovering the Pipsqueak was a lot more mobile than we had realized, and then with a reduced group went downtown, first to the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees and then to Yuexiu Park where we saw the famous stories-high goat statue that is the city's mascot. [First part of original post & photos here.] We got caught in the rain but were rescued by our bus, and our driver then joined us for one last formal Chinese lunch at a fancy restaurant. I had an interesting epiphany-type moment while stuck in traffic on the way back to the hotel [Second part of original post & photos here] and then we got back to the White Swan with a little more free time than expected. After having a bit of an adventure attempting to exchange some money [Third part of original post here], we set out for one last round of shopping. We'd been pricing out luggage since arriving in Guangzhou, so our first stop was Jordon's to pick up a full-size suitcase for the Pipsqueak (you buy a full-price airline ticket, you get a full seat's worth of baggage allowance). I had an enjoyable & educational talk with Jordon himself and then we rushed to get a last round of souvenirs before meeting the group for the famous Red Sofa Photos and an American-style dinner with our guide Lucy and her husband. [Fourth part of original post & photos here.] We closed out with one last quick shopping stop, and then it was time to finish packing, lock up the suitcases, and take a quick nap before our 5:00am wake-up call for the trip to the airport.

One year ago today, on the 21st, I had a crazy day at work but was looking forward to spending more time with Miri; she had just discovered piggyback rides, so my post included a comment about looking for a good chiropractor (which, happily, I haven't needed despite the Pipsqueak enjoying many, many piggyback rides aboard her mommy or uncle since then). On the 22nd, I helped pick up the Pipsqueak from day care and she wowed the nearby mom of a 4-year-old who hadn't yet learned how to use a water cooler & disposable cups as well as my 2-year-old niece.

Today, on the 21st, we all took it kind of easy (hey, we're all tired!) but made a point of having our Gotcha Day dinner celebration at a nearby Chinese buffet we all like. Miri was impressed (""Biiig restaurant, Mommy!") and we all had both a good time and a good feed. We went shopping afterwards to find a new raincoat for the Pipsqueak, and I had fun collecting odd glances from passers-by at the mall while filming my tiny niece jauntily marching along. (Dude, you'd better work on that whole "watch where you're going" thing...) There were a few tense moments while AJ negotiated with her daughter over the purchase of a special party dress, but I really got a kick out of how AJ really dislikes shopping while Miri has a blast checking out all the clothing on all the racks (the kid's got good taste, she kept going for Ralph Lauren dresses and such), checking out all the shoes on display, and generally just engaging in some retail therapy while her mother tries to get out of the store with wallet and sanity intact.

And on the real "today" (the 22nd), it was my turn to be the fish in the barrel the weekend Manager On Duty, so between that and some really odd traffic I didn't get together with the rest of the family until around 6:00pm.  The Pipsqueak had an active day, starting with the birthday party of one of her little classmates and then going grocery shopping with her Mommy (one of her favorite outings). She "helped" serve salad and bread at dinner (oh, well, nothing's labeled "dry clean only") and then AJ & I negotiated with her for a special photo we like taking once each year in a special shirt -- it fit her like a dress the night we brought her home, but is getting progressively smaller; next year will probably be the last time she fits into it. I got some nice video of Miri dancing with her Grandpa in the family room, and then we watched some shark videos & a Barney video on my laptop before it was time for everyone to head to their respective beds.

Special Note: Jordon's store was one of the recent victims of the changes on Shamian Island, which is a real shame because he did many things for free that other shopkeepers would charge for, and remembered many of the families who were on return trips (or at least professed to do so). However, he is still available to do his special calligraphy work and can be hired at a very reasonable rate to act as a tour guide. If anyone is interested, contact me and I'll give you Jordon's email address.

And now it is once again Much Later Than I Realized on a Sunday night, so it's off to bed...!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 20)

Whoops... I seem to have forgotten to actually publish the July 19th post, so it's kinda just crammed in there just before this one.

Two years ago today, we had the latest wake-up call of the trip, and I was shocked to find myself thinking (possibly for the first time in my life) that 7:30am was late. Unlike the previous morning, the Pipsqueak was happy and giggly and playful, even learning how to play "peekaboo" under a napkin during our (happily leisurely) breakfast.  We were all playing a waiting game to see if the U.S. Consulate accepted all the adoption paperwork, so AJ & I took the Pipsqueak on a tour of all the high-end shops in White Swan's basement, then just puttered around in our room until Lucy gave us the call we'd been waiting for: the paperwork was all in order, and (except for one last bit of rubber-stamping) all the adoptions were considered complete by both governments. The entire group went for a celebratory big lunch and then (after a bus ride into downtown Guangzhou proper) a hot & sticky but very interesting walk through the open-air pet and traditional medicine markets in the old part of the city. After that, a dip in the pool was in order, followed by another American-style meal at Lucy's and then liberal amounts of participation in Shamian's "adoption ecosystem" of small shops*. We had a pleasant surprise at one shop when Miri showed that she actually preferred to be held by AJ rather than any friendly adult female, a sure sign that the bonding we had hoped for was actually taking place. We did a little pre-packing for the trip home that night, with the first sense that maybe, just maybe, it really was time to leave China.

One year ago today, we were dealing with "China weather" here at home, and I have to admit to getting some entertainment value out of watching people's faces when I told them that it had actually been hotter & more humid when we were in China. By this time, all our fears about Miri not bonding well with AJ or the rest of the family had long been shelved; AJ was Mommy and nobody, but nobody, was going to deny the Pipsqueak access to Mommy when she wanted it. (And anyone who thinks that's a complaint really just doesn't get it. <g>)  I closed out the "one year ago today" post with a note that Miri still enjoyed playing peekaboo.

Today we're hoping the weather settles down a bit... it's supposed to be cooler (last year's "China weather was just a rehearsal for this summer, it seems) but rainy, and there were some pretty significant power outages (again!) in the area due to passing storms on Thursday night. The Pipsqueak's back in day care, and we're planning a small family celebration of Gotcha Day this coming weekend (delayed both in deference to Dad's birthday and due to the Pipsqueak being sick on the actual day).

Oh, and she still likes playing peekaboo. :-)

*Present-Day Note: The "adoption ecosystem" I referred to was all the shops selling clothing, souvenirs, assorted tchochkes, diapers, baby bottles, squeaky shoes, and any number of other items most likely to be sought out by adoptive families staying on Shamian Island. This developed because the U.S. Consulate had been on the island, next door to the White Swan, resulting in an extremely high concentration of American adoptive families in a small area. However, the consulate moved quite a distance away across the city in 2005, and even when we were there in 2010 the two families we traveled with (both on their second China adoptions) commented that a few of the stores had gone missing. Since then, many more have closed, and friends who visited Shamian Island within the past few months told us that, with the White Swan closed for renovations and most of the adopting families staying in hotels closer to the new U.S. Consulate, the majority of the "adoption ecosystem" has already vanished.

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 19)

Two years ago today, we had a somewhat rough morning; the Pipsqueak was in a bad mood, and I found that sleeping on my side on the extra-hard bed had actually left me bruised. After inhaling breakfast, we joined the other families and headed off to the Pipsqueak's required medical exam. [original post & photos here.]  The walk through the Shamian Island neighborhood was warm but pleasant, and AJ & I thought the pictures of Pooh and Piglet in the windows of an elementary school we passed and hanging in one of the examination rooms were a good omen. Omen, schmomen, the Pipsqueak let us know in no uncertain terms what she thought of even the most perfunctory poking and prodding by medical personnel, and we were glad to get out of the clinic with our eardrums intact.

We returned to the White Swan and all got together in the play room to complete the paperwork for our consular visit... at least, that's what AJ did once we found the room, since it seemed to keep moving as we searched for it. What yours truly did was try to deal with Little Miss Dontputmedown, who eventually tired herself out and fell asleep laying on my tummy. [Original post & photos here.] With the major milestone of consular paperwork completed, we walked to a nearby restaurant for a unique lunch experience, then returned to the hotel for an extended afternoon session of catching up to ourselves while dealing with a crochety, clingy, unhappy Pipsqueak. Eventually we settled in for the night, hoping Miri was just having a bad day... and nervous about whether or not the U.S. Consulate would approve the paperwork the next day.

One year ago today... well, there really wasn't anything terribly special that day, which is a milestone of a kind: life with Miri was our "normal" and some of the edges were beginning to wear off the memories of our time in China. I was still trying to figure out how to put together an adoption video, and discovered that the last few blank recordable DVDs at the bottom of the spindle were only good for making drink coasters when I tried copying photos of the trip onto them.

Today, the Pipsqueak returned to day care (which left her exhausted grandparents missing her but very relieved) and everyone just did what they needed to do. I had a meeting with my boss about some odd emails, AJ tried to keep up with all the things not getting done because her aide is on vacation... and I'm waiting to see if the special "difficult plastics" super glue I bought has actually repaired the Pipsqueak's princess crown. <sigh>

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 18)

Two years ago today, we got up (notice I don't say "woke up") early enough to have our packed luggage in the hall outside our rooms at 5:00am, and were amazed to see a single bellhop manage to get all of it downstairs & into our bus by himself. On the way to the airport, Effie told us some stories that gave us a very different perspective on how much more privileged our lives were (are) than most of us ever realize(d). [Original post with details here.] We said an emotional goodbye to her at the airport but were heartened by Lisa's decision to accompany us to Guangzhou and continue keeping us out of trouble for a couple of days longer. After several airport glitches that we somehow powered through, the Pipsqueak had her first ride in an airplane... and gave us real hope that the long flight home with a 13 month old kidling would be less of a chore than we'd feared.  We arrived in Guangzhou on time, and were soon checking exhaustedly into the famous White Swan hotel.

There were a few thought-provoking moments when a crib was wheeled into our room (waaaay on up on the 25th floor) and Miri seemed absolutely terrified of it, but as we got her calmed down -- she slept in bed with Mommy the remainder of the trip -- we all got together in one of the other families' rooms for a pizza party. [original post with details here.] Afterwards, we all explored the immediate neighborhood of Shamian Island until the heat & humidity wore us down, so it was back to the White Swan and into their pool for about an hour. (The Pipsqueak didn't like to get too far from Mommy, but enjoyed the water and caught on quickly when I taught her to blow bubbles.) After a quick break, we all got together again for dinner at Lucy's, a nearby restaurant (no relation to our local guide Lucy) with an extensive menu of American-style food... our tummies were homesick! We took a nice riverside walk after dinner, then all retired early despite having a "late" morning planned the next day. I discovered that my bed was literally no softer than the floor, but still dozed off quickly to the lullaby of the Pipsqueak's quiet little snores.

[Present-Day Note: The White Swan closed in late 2011 and is undergoing extensive renovations; rumor has it that once it reopens, it will be a lot less adoption-friendly... and Lucy's closed permanently just a few months afterwards. Double-barrelled proof you can't go home again, no matter how broad your definition of home" might be.]

One year ago today, I learned a lesson about how having the Pipsqueak in the family has changed the way I think about & react to very young children. Miri went to day care as usual, but the rest of us attended the funeral of an old friend & neighbor who'd died unexpectedly a few days earlier. There were several very young children at the service, and as it stretched out longer many of them began to fidget, make noise, and do all the other things very bored little children do (although there was an appropriate level of control exercised by their parents & older siblings). Later on, as I drove to work, I realized that my reaction to the noise and fidgeting was a lot more accepting, mellower and more understanding than it used to be... my niece had taught me a lot more about being a grownup around kids than I had realized.  <:-}

Today, the Pipsqueak's feeling a lot better (in fact, she was pretty much her usual self much of yesterday, but had a bit of a low-grade fever early in the day and again around dinnertime). AJ and I are about as frazzled as we can remember being, courtesy of our jobs, and our folks are feeling their age a bit more than we'd like, but all in all it's shaping up to be a good day.

NOTE: I forgot to click "Publish" so this is actually being posted in the wee hours of the 19th... and I can vouch for the fact that, once I got to work, "today" was the kind of day where the less said about it, the better.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 16 & 17)

I'll open with an apology for the combined multi-day posting; let's just say that it was a Monday in many ways and leave it at that. [insert deep sigh here]

Two years ago today, on the 16th AJ, the Pipsqueak and I (along with the other two recently-enlarged families that comprised our group) took a boat trip on the Li River, boarding the boat (one of an apparently countless number of such vessels) at Zhujiang and traveling upriver for several hours to Yangshuo. Along the way, the Pipsqueak really opened up -- laughing, burbling, playing with Mommy and our guides, even sitting happily on my lap for a while while doing horrendous (but apparently very fun) things to any piece of paper or disposable cup within reach. The scenery along the river was often truly otherworldly, at times looking almost exactly like centuries-old Chinese scroll paintings. My original, photo-laden post is here, but (as I said back then) the photos simply cannot do the scenery justice. After navigating through an actual traffic jam on the river at Yangshuo (the destination for many different tours as well as a regional market town -- and a "base camp" for many international bikers & hikers visiting China) we made our incredibly hot, bustling, hot, crowded, hot, interesting, and hot way along West Street to the other side of town, where we caught a tram ride to where our bus was waiting. [Original post & photos here.] In addition to a couple of moments of abject terror as huge tour buses came within a couple of feet of our open-sided, slow-moving tram, there was a quick moment when a tall (American) Caucasian man accompanied by a young Chinese girl noticed us just as the tram began moving, and called out "Congratulations! How old is she?" but I'm not sure he heard my reply. (I'll probably always wonder who he was, and what his family's story was... does anyone out there know somebody visiting Yangshuo on July 16th, 2010?) On the way back to Guilin, we first stopped on the side of the road for a photo op with some rice paddies, then visited an art gallery (and picked up some souvenirs) before finally returning to the hotel. [Original post & photos here.] Dinner was a lot of fun, with the Pipsqueak putting on a real show -- even apparently telling herself jokes that she would then laugh at! -- and we all dozed off for the night with smiles on our faces.

On the 17th, we visited the Reed Flute Cave, where colored lights and a little imagination turned an interesting set of deep caverns into a truly magical place. [Original post & photos here.]  Leaving the cave, we simultaneously had our first Emergency Diaper Change (EDC), learned that AJ had bought diapers at least one size too large, and learned that one should never leave one's hotel without bringing plenty of diapers, the package of baby wipes, and the folding changing pad... but our companion families stepped up to the plate and a potential disaster quickly turned into an amusing incident. We dodged some passing cattle and re-boarded our bus for a ride to the South China Pearl Factory, where we did some more damage to AJ's Visa card, the Pipsqueak charmed the sales staff, and I had an "only in China" restroom experience. [Original post & photos here.]  We then made an impromptu stop in town at the famous Elephant Trunk Hill (a bit underwhelming but interesting) and then had lunch at a fairly swanky restaurant... culminating in the day's second, and extremely odiferous, EDC. Back at the hotel, plans for a shopping trip were shelved by a truly spectacular monsoon-style rainstorm... and the Pipsqueak scared several years off my life by diving headfirst off one of the beds. (She got her revenge for being "allowed" to fall a little while later by peeing on her uncle, all the way down my right side from armpit to foot.) One of several happy surprises accompanying dinner that night was everyone's receipt of all the official Provincial adoption paperwork and the kidlings' Chinese passports. We finished dinner with a round of group photos and then went to bed early; we had to fly out to Guangzhou the next morning, and our wake-up call was scheduled for 5:00am.

One year ago today, on the 16th, we shared a double big event with family and friends. Early in the day, we had a special naming ceremony at which Miri received her Hebrew name. In addition to the Long Island cousins (who came down a day early and worked really hard to help make sure everything was ready & that all the events came off without a hitch), we had relatives and friends come from far & wide to attend the ceremony and help us celebrate afterwards. I had to read the family story that Mom had written because she was too choked up, and AJ came this close to crying when she closed things out by describing how this was also a ceremony that effectively gave her a new name as well ("Mommy"), but any tears were happy tears, and everyone had a lot of fun at the party afterwards. There was a short break during which we kinda-sorta shooed people out of the rented party room and scrambled to redecorate & rearrange, and then we had a big bash for Dad's 81st birthday. Once again, visiting family put in a heroic effort to help pull things off, and they succeeded admirably; when the party finally wound down, everybody left with a smile on their face. Throughout the celebrating, I kept flashing back to how happily surprised we had been a year earlier at the Pipsqueak's sudden opening up -- and comparing it to the verbal, active little girl riding piggyback around the table with her Mommy, dancing to the music, and preening in her special new party dress... a little girl whose presence had completely changed everything for all of us, all in positive ways. On the 17th, we all just spent the day hanging out together at Mom & Dad's, with the Long Island clan comparing the happily hyper little girl running in & out of the family room and insisting we play "Catch Me!" with her to the little toddler who they had watched walk unsupported on her own for the first time during their previous summer's visit. As weekends go, it was one of the best in many, many years.

Today... Well, the Pipsqueak's sick. We weren't too sure about it on Saturday, but on Sunday we all began making plans to adjust the week's schedule to allow for a doctor's visit, maybe some time off from work for AJ, maybe some juggling of appointments... and in the morning the pediatrician confirmed our worries. It's nothing serious, just "a passing virus that's going around" that usually only lasts 4-5 days. Miri's not doing too badly, and the Children's Tylenol knocks down any fever within minutes of her taking it & keeps her feeling better for hours at a time, so it's (thankfully) only a minor speed bump in the road. Meanwhile the pediatrician noted that she's grown a bit (but is still less than 3 feet tall!), has gained a little weight, and if one overlooks the current bit of sniffles & barf is actually a very healthy and very engaged little girl, so life's still good.

Now, if the special "unusual plastics" super glue I bought actually works as advertised, the Pipsqueak will finally get her princess crown (which is again sitting on my kitchen counter because it promptly re-broke itself within seconds of my giving it back to her this past weekend) back in a couple of days.

That should be worth a big smile, maybe even a hug or two... :-)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 15)

Two years ago today, AJ and I got up with our wake-up call and realized we were still sore from the bus ride, but actually felt rested -- the Pipsqueak had slept all the way through the night! We had a nice, leisurely breakfast (and AJ began the process of learning how to eat with an active & curious baby on her lap), and then the group spent an enjoyable but incredibly hot morning & midday at Seven Star Park in Guilin. I was impressed; we got to see pandas that were actually outdoors & moving around, and I got to see my dinosaurs! (Long story if you don't know me.) After many, many photos, an incredible volume of sweat, some cooling ice cream treats, and some concern about what the monkeys might do through the open tops of their enclosures, we got back on our mercifully air-conditioned bus for the day's next activity.

We drove to the Guilin Xinfu Silk Products Company factory, and took a tour that started out educational and ended up doing some more damage to AJ's Visa card, but we were glad for the souvenirs. Of course, it was only after taking almost a dozen photos in the showroom that I noticed the "No Photography Please" signs...! Once everything was vacuum-packed and wrapped with plastic strapping conveniently formed into easy-carry handles, it was back on the bus and off to the Tasty Castle restaurant for lunch. During lunch, the Pipsqueak began to come out of her and we got the first real smiles & chuckles we had seen to date (which felt wonderful). Afterwards, we played a live-action game of "Frogger" and walked through the park across the street. We used the city's famous Pagoda of the Sun and Pagoda of the Moon, along with one of its many man-made lakes, as a backdrop for family photos while a slowly-growing crowd of locals looked on.

The rest of the day was spent catching up on all washing, rearranging of luggage, etc. that had snuck up on us while we weren't looking. The Pipsqueak woke from her nap in time for dinner, and really put on a show for everyone -- at one point, she even stood up in her high chair and babbled at us, then sat down laughing! We both fell asleep that night feeling really good about the little one finally getting comfortable enough to really show her true personality.

One year ago today, the Pipsqueak's personality was well-known not only to us but to a fairly large number of cousins, uncles, aunts, friends, and even a few frequently-seen strangers. Everyone was pushing to finish all the last-minute arrangements for Miri's naming ceremony & the big double celebration the next day, and ensured there would be plenty of time to finish things in the morning by going to bed early... except yours truly, who was trying desperately (and ultimately in vain) to make deadline on a big document at work... But I did eventually get home that night.

Today we had a pleasant brunch at a long-time friend's house. It wasn't a formal party, but we were celebrating Dad's birthday (12th), her eldest son's birthday (13th), Mom's birthday (14th), and kinda-sorta the upcoming birthday of her eldest grandson (next week). The only negative was that the Pipsqueak really wasn't feeling well; quiet, clingy, repeatedly falling asleep... and later in the day she upchucked into AJ's lap. I did a quick run to the pharmacy for Children's Tylenol, and Miri's fever quickly broke & she was back to her usual self for a little while before taking yet another uncharacteristic nap in Mommy's lap. We all called it a day at that point & went our separate ways... AJ took the Pipsqueak home (where she's feeling better now) and I did some long-overdue grocery shopping and then some even longer-overdue yard work, but was saved from getting into the really dirty & sweaty part of the job by a series of passing thunderstorms.

But now I think it's time I reacquainted myself with my pillow, so if you'll excuse me...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 14)


Two years ago today, we bid farewell to Nanning and (after another hasty but almost-under-control breakfast) took a little ride. We got all our luggage loaded onto the bus, we got all our us loaded onto the bus, and we set off on the G-72 Quannan Expressway for Guilin. At first it was kind of interesting, watching the passing scene (and noticing that every bridge over the road was completely covered with advertising, all prominently featuring website URLs)... Then we began to notice that our bus could have had better suspension... Then we began to get nervous as highway crews would suddenly pop up in the middle of the road without warning, nonchalantly sitting in the middle lane with only a few orange plastic cones for protection as they resurfaced the road by hand a few square feet at a time... Then we began to notice that every slab of concrete making up the highway was a slightly different height than every other slab of concrete making up the highway... Then we began to notice our bus should have had better suspension... Then we began to notice that while the traffic on the highway was lighter than in town, the insanity level was no better because what was lacking in volume was more than made up for in speed... Then we began to notice our bus really, really needed better suspension... You get the idea.

One "highlight" of the road trip was a big, modern roadside rest stop. Just after getting off our little bus, a big tour bus pulled up alongside and disgorged a horde of well-dressed Chinese tourists, all heading directly for the restrooms. I figured that many people couldn't be wrong and followed the crowd.  I took maybe two steps into the men's room and my eyes began watering so badly from the fumes that I could barely notice a complete lack of Western-style toilets, followed almost immediately by my noticing a complete lack of Western-style hygiene. I quickly exited the area with the newly learned lesson that so many people could indeed be wrong and quietly vowed to myself that I could hold it in for the rest of the trip, no matter how much it hurt. (I also noticed that many of the women coming out of the restroom were holding handkerchiefs over their mouths & noses, had runny mascara, and decidedly grey/green complexions.)

Other highlights included many safety warning signs in English, an overturned truck that had dumped its load across the roadway on a particularly sharp hillside curve on a particularly narrow section of road, and an unexplained flurry of obviously agitated calls our guide Lisa received or made on her cell phone. The latter was explained as we (eventually) pulled into Guilin proper; our hotel had cancelled our reservations, but Lisa had gotten us into another hotel so not to worry (once our bus driver figured out where it was... but we had a nice tour of the downtown area while he tried to find the right road).

Things got much better once we arrived and settled in; despite a definite run-down air to the hotel (and a wonderful view of the building next door from our room), the room was clean, and we had a large private dining room to ourselves for our group dinners each night... with a Western view that was really hard to beat.

One year ago today, we were still in the middle of party preparations, but I wasn't feeling well so I crashed at Mom & Dad's house for a few hours where the birthday girl pampered her eldest offspring back to good health.

Today we had a quiet family birthday celebration with a selection of uncles, aunts & cousins. (AJ & the Pipsqueak started their day by taking one of the cats to the vet, but all was well by lunchtime.) After a big feed (followed by cake & ice cream & the Pipsqueak loudly singing along on "Happy Birthday"), Cousin J used my laptop to go through a slideshow of his recent trip to Thailand. A couple of my friends (who've known the family since we were all in junior high) stopped by to say "Hi!" and wish our folks a happy birthday, and a bit later Miri (who'd taken a nap, then unhappily lost part of lunch when she woke up) got the promised Wiggles & Barney videos on my computer. The evening ended with her happily bouncing on Grandma & Grandpa's bed, and then everyone headed home at the end of a low-key but extremely pleasant day.

But now it's bedtime, so I'll write more tomorrow...!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 13)

Two years ago today, we had made it through the first night with a baby in the room and found it easier than feared -- but our 7:00am wake-up call still felt brutally early. We had to be on our bus by 10:00 in order to finalize all the adoption paperwork and figured that three hours would give us plenty of time to get up, get organized, have breakfast, etc.

Wow, talk about a learning experience...!

My original post about the 13th talks about what the morning was like, but suffice it to say we didn't make the same mistake again... although it wasn't the last time during the trip that we had to inhale our breakfasts! We went back to where we'd first met the Pipsqueak for another meeting with the SWI reps, then to a different building where (after a long, hot wait) AJ got to swear to the magistrate in person that she would guarantee room, board, education, health care, etc. for her daughter. We returned to the hotel for lunch, after which the other families tried out the pool but AJ & I just sort of crashed. I had to laugh at how my sister kept one hand on the Pipsqueak at all times, even when both were fast asleep -- but the laughter stopped as soon as my niece woke up. All of a sudden, the quiet baby was a wailing banshee, producing sound at a volume that belied her tiny size (not for the last time, it turned out).

We figured out how to keep the Pipsqueak quiet, and she eventually dozed off just in time for us to hit the road again -- to go shopping at Wal-Mart. (I still shake my head at the fact that we went halfway around the world to a communist country to go shopping at Wal-Mart!) There were some vehicular misadventures along the way, but we all reached our destination kinda-sorta in good shape, bought strollers et al., then had a good dinner at a nearby restaurant. Upon returning to the hotel we had to re-pack everything in preparation for a bus trip to Guilin the next morning, so it was a relatively early night.

One year ago today, we had begun some of the final shopping craziness in preparation for the big double naming/birthday party. I don't think any of the New York cousins had arrived yet, so it was essentially a "normal" day for the family. (The Pipsqueak, of course, was asking if we could have another party, since she had already helped her Grandpa eat his birthday donuts at a "party" the previous evening.)

Today has been another normal day for all of us. The Pipsqueak went to daycare, AJ and I went to work, and Mom & Dad went to Costco to get things (for their own birthday parties!) for Saturday. There's going to be a formerly unplanned visit to the vet in the morning, and the timing of the day seems to have changed when I wasn't looking... in short, pretty much the usual. :-)

Tomorrow I'll be giving back the Pipsqueak her crown... we'll see how it works out!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 12)


Two years ago today, in a land far, far away, the day began with AJ & I blurring through the morning. It wasn't that we were moving that fast -- we (and, I suspect, the other two families we were traveling with) were running on autopilot, our bodies just going through the motions of getting up, having breakfast, etc. while our minds kept sticking on a single subject. Today is Gotcha Day. Today we meet her.

I only have a couple of clear memories of the morning & early afternoon... After breakfast, I laid out all my still-damp-with-sweat cash (Dude, that was some climb up the Great Wall, wasn't it?) on a bed to dry while we sorted out what we were supposed to bring to the ministry building. Then, after lunch, the entire group circumnavigated the hotel property on foot, choosing the very real possibility of actually broiling in the sun over sitting with nothing to do except second-guess what would happen later that afternoon. I took a few photos, laughed (with everyone else) over the comments about how I'd sweat-warped my passport the previous day, and tried with very little success to not be nervous. I can't imagine how AJ was feeling at that point -- but I hadn't seen her grind her teeth or wring her hands that much in many, many years.

And then... there was another bus ride, and a building that was half hotel, half government ministry... small, hot elevators... a large room with old sofas and a few play items...
"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break."
-- old Chinese saying
...and at exactly 3:33pm local time, the ends of an invisible red thread finally came together.

I'll refer you to my original posts about Gotcha Day for more of the events and emotions; suffice it to say that, special as the date already was (Dad's birthday -- his 80th, in fact) it has taken on immensely important new dimensions for the entire family.

One year ago today, we were finalizing the plans for a big double event the coming weekend: Miri's Naming ceremony (in which she was given her Hebrew name, formally joining the "family" of Jews everywhere) and Dad's big birthday bash, one year later & happier than originally planned. That quiet, nearly bald little baby we had met just 12 months earlier was well on the way to becoming a little girl, one whose bangs would shortly need to be trimmed for a second time... and who would get angrily jealous whenever anyone else would hug her Mommy without her permission.

Today hasn't really started for me yet... I got home from work around 2:00am again, fell asleep a while and suddenly popped awake around 7:00 for no obvious reason. (Dude, as long as you're awake, how about an updated blog post...?) I do know that as I waited for my microwave oven to tell me "food ready" I was looking at the shiny silvered plastic "princess" crown sitting on my kitchen counter. (It's actually a tiara, but the Pipsqueak refers to it as her crown.) The plastic snapped at a particularly narrow spot Saturday afternoon, and I brought it home with me for repairs after none of the glues Mom & Dad had available would hold it together. It's a silly, gaudy thing, with big blue "gemstones" in a pattern across the front, including a particularly large blue "gem" in the middle that flashes different colors for about 30 seconds if you press it -- and I guarantee you that the Pipsqueak pressed it many a time in the few hours she had the thing before it broke. She enjoyed the fake pearl necklace, the silvered plastic bangle bracelets, the shiny plastic clip on earrings (yep, you read that right -- big clip-on plastic earrings that she kept insisting I help her put on at age three)... but she was really unhappy when her crown broke, and reminded me about it again on Sunday. I explained the glue had to dry a little longer and she said, "Okay" but her expression added a question mark to her reply.

I'm looking forward to returning the crown to our princess on Saturday.  :-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Looking Back - Plus Two (July 10-11)

Two years ago (July 10-11), AJ and I stepped off a plane and, after some (thankfully minor) airport misadventures, got our first look at Beijing. There were a few small glitches at first -- one family was delayed due to their stroller not arriving in China with the rest of their things, our Pandaphone wasn't at the hotel as expected, the entire front of the hotel itself was MIA, and we were so jet-lagged that we had great entertainment value for the main dining room's wait staff. Despite those problems, we were happy... no, make that thrilled! ...to finally be in China after so many years of increasingly tense waiting, and the problems were minor.

The next day (July 11th arrived in China 12 hours before Americans turned a page on their calendars) we somehow managed to get up early enough to tick off multiple items on my bucket list: Tianamen Square. The Forbidden City. The Great Wall of China (I think I'm still out of breath from that climb). The Beijing Olympic Green.  I spent the entire day shooting photos and shaking my head at the unreality of it all. The day ended with a mad dash to get to our plan on time, resulting in one of the strangest flights I've ever been on. (That's with almost 86,000 air miles under my belt at that time, none while holding a meal in my lap during takeoff)!

The Pipsqueak was still just an idea, two years ago today; we had photos, we had medical reports, and we were actually in China carrying an assortment of baby/toddler clothing with us... but we still had never seen her firsthand, AJ had never held her, and we had no idea what kind of bonding issues lay ahead. We ended our day with the first real, physical proof that all that was going to change: walking into our hotel room in Nanning at 3:00 in the morning, we found a crib in the corner of the room.

One year ago, we were in the middle of arranging for the Pipsqueak's naming ceremony and for a special celebration of Dad's 81st birthday (the planned big party for his 80th was pre-empted by our China trip). We'd had an amazing, huge party for Miri's 2nd birthday, and she was already a fixture at get-togethers with family and friends. Memories of what life was like before she joined the family were rapidly fading, and memories of our experiences in China were themselves becoming a little fuzzy around the edges, with a few small details fading completely.

Today, I sit typing on my laptop (which has a few silly stickers on it, compliments of the Pipsqueak), and we're trying to figure out how to celebrate Gotcha Day & Dad's birthday on the 12th and Mom's birthday on the 14th. That quiet, almost bald little "China baby" we were still waiting to meet two years ago is an independent-minded chatterbox, a budding ballerina and gymnast, a greatly-loved little girl who takes great joy in periodically interrupting whatever she's doing to run up and hug Mommy, or one of her grandparents, or her uncle for no specific reason before running back to her imaginative, entertaining play.

Two years can be a lifetime... and these have been good years. All jokes about fearing my niece as a teenager notwithstanding, I'm looking forward to those yet to come.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Catching Up on June: The Pipsqueak Turns Three!

Miri's 2nd birthday party was her first here with us -- so it was A Big Deal (and each & every person there had a blast). AJ decided, not long after the cleanup was done, that Miri's 3rd birthday celebration would be a little more low-key. In her usual methodical & careful manner, she researched the possibilities months ahead of time, eventually deciding on having the party at the Little Gym she & the Pipsqueak go to on weekends. A date was chosen that was as close to the Pipsqueak's actual (official) birthday without interfering with other brithdays, invitations were sent out with plenty of time for RSVPs, plans & timetables were arranged with family... and AJ waited until just one week ahead of time to tell her daughter she was going to have a birthday party.

This may sound strange, or disorganized, or perhaps even cruel, but it was actually a stroke of brilliance. Y'see, my sister knows her daughter well; the kid loves loves loves parties and cake and birthday candles and singing "Happy Birthday" (literally her favorite song!) like no one else I've known. I'll explain it with a quote directly from my sister: "I just didn't want to hear about the party every minute of every day for longer than I really had to!"

The Pipsqueak only had about a week to tell us, and any-and-everyone she could corral, about the upcoming party -- but tell she did. The idea that the people arranging the party might already know about it either didn't occur to her or (more likely) didn't matter to her; she was having a birthday party, and lemme tell ya, even in its scaled-down, semi-structured, much smaller format it was A Big Deal to this tiny little dynamo.  (Okay, so maybe it did take her a while to decide if she was turning four, or six, but she eventually agreed with us that three was the correct number.)

Ironically, the morning of the party was the "graduation" for the latest Little Gym session, so we were all there to watch Miri & the other kids strut their stuff and get medals & certificates at the end of the session. (And once again realize that my niece is far more coordinated, has far better balance, and is far braver & more adventurous than yours truly.) There was a cute/poignant moment when Miri marched up to the front counter by herself and asked Miss Kim (the young gal who ran her sessions) if she could come to her party later that day; Kim seemed genuinely touched, and found an acceptably vague promise to keep Miri happy (she was supposed to be off the rest of the day, and by the time the party started Miri was too excited & distracted to miss her).

Then began the insanity craziness lunacy carefully coordinated & choreographed set of dashes up & down the county to prepare for our return to the place we'd just been. I left the Beast parked in front of Little Gym & our folks drove me upcounty to Costco, where we'd ordered too many two cakes a couple of days earlier. There were other items to get, then the crazy-long checkout lines to get through... a quick break for a snack... a mad dash back downcounty & some more shopping, then on to AJ's house... the final assembly of goody bags... and then right back to Little Gym, amazingly on time and on schedule.

We re-engineered some of the cake decorations (doesn't everyone plunk a big plastic castle & a bunch of Disney princess figurines onto the spot where the bakery wrote "Happy Birthday"?!?), did a little set-up (two young girls in matching "uniforms" of black tees did most of the work), and the guests began arriving. I won't go into all the details of the party, but it was most definitely a success. There was some structured play, a big indoor inflatable bouncy thing, some unstructured play, and the near-total demolishing of several pizzas and a surprisingly high percentage of both cakes. One added bonus was that we got to meet, for the first time, the newly-adopted daughter of friends in our our adoption group; she was a little older than many of the kids and fairly shy, but after a while even she kinda-sorta let her hair down and had fun. I even got a shy smile & wave as her proud Daddy carried her out the door later on.

Afterwards, my niece spent the entire afternoon & evening literally bouncing up and down in excitement over all the birthdaying. We also had a smaller and (slightly) quieter mini-party at Mom & Dad's the next day with some family members who couldn't make the first party, and that suited the Pipsqueak just fine -- the more parties, the merrier the birthday girl!  AJ had planned to stay home the following Wednesday (the Pipsqueak's actual birthday) for some quality mother-daughter birthday time together, but the State surveyors came through the door at work bright & early Monday morning so that plan had to be abandoned... But all in all, the Pipsqueak had a great birthday.

Of course, we all spent some time during the week leading up to the party & several days afterwards marveling at how the Pipsqueak has changed & grown since her last birthday. It's amazing to see how fast she's growing, and how much more independent she's become in the last year... and how much more talkative she's become as well! (On more than one occasion, I've heard her Grandma refer to her as "The Chatterbox" -- it's a pretty accurate description.)

The postscript to all the birthday celebrating came about a week after all the partying, after a couple of other events we had to convince the Pipsqueak were in honor of other people's birthdays or graduations (we were running about an 85% success rate with that task). Miri seemed to have finally accepted the fact that her birthday was really, finally over for the year and was trying to find someone else's birthday we could celebrate instead. (Dude, any excuse for more cake, right...?) She was trying to move mine from March to the end of June so I had to explain that my birthday had already passed, didn't she remember helping me blow out my candles and eat the ginormous chocolate cake her Grandpa had picked out...? Miri seemed a little downcast, so I made what in retrospect might have been something of a tactical error: I told her not to worry, that people have birthdays every year, and that we'd have another party for her next year.

Her face lit up like a thousand-watt bulb, and she immediately announced, "Mommy, I have another birthday next year, I have another party!"


Let the planning begin...!  ;-)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Job Description

NOTE: I started this post a couple of weeks ago -- before I got sick, before I got busy, before some truly impressive weather knocked out my Internet connection for several days. I figured I'd better get it up on the blog before anything else happens...! I've adjusted the original draft's language to reflect the actual amount of time that has passed.

I think I've mentioned one of the Pipsqueak's defining behaviors in earlier posts -- her rules about who is supposed to do what, when, how, and where. For example, it's Grandpa's job to take her out of her car seat upon arriving home... but only if she's riding in Grandma & Grandpa's car, and only if Mommy isn't available. Add Mommy to the mix, and the rules of engagement are modified.

Well, an event a couple of weekends ago gave me a chance to see just how specifically (how very specifically!) my niece defines the job of each member of her family... and why her Mommy has referred to her once or thrice as "The Little Dictator" (usually with a half-smile).

The situation: We were all in AJ's minivan on our way to check out "girly" tricycles at Wal-Mart (long story, will likely have a post of its own soon). As usual, Dad was riding shotgun, Mom was next to the Pipsqueak, and I was in the back.  AJ was navigating us through relatively heavy traffic on a major local road when Miri -- already clutching Doggie tightly -- began asking for demanding to hold Puppy.

(Dude, you'd better tell your readers that "Doggie" is the Pipsqueak's most favoritest stuffed companion, and that "Puppy" is a smaller fuzz-covered plastic little dog... Oh, I guess I just did. Carry on.)

At the time, AJ was rather busy navigating us through traffic so she asked the Pipsqueak's Grandma to please get Puppy out of the black-and-white tiger-striped backpack that she uses to carry the Pipsqueak's diapers, juice boxes, clothing changes, wipes, and assorted other paraphernalia. As Grandma began fishing through the pack, Miri began saying "No!" -- rather loudly, in fact.  Grandma explained she was getting Puppy because Mommy was busy driving and Miri quieted down (grudgingly).

Grandma triumphantly pulled Puppy from the depths of the pack and handed him to Miri. The Pipsqueak's immediate response?


The Pipsqueak's Grandma, taken aback, pointed out that Miri had requested Puppy and now Miri had Puppy in her hand, exactly the way she wanted. Once, again, the Pipsqueak's response could probably be heard within a fifty-foot radius.


There was a moment of shocked silence, and then AJ tried to negotiate with her daughter: Miri wanted Mommy to get Puppy but Mommy was busy driving and could not give Puppy to her so Grandma did instead, and all should now be copacetic. The Pipsqueak's response was... well, just read the line above this paragraph, as loudly as you can, with an angry furious edge in your voice.

There was another short, shocked silence and then Grandma asked if it would be alright if Mommy gave Puppy to Miri. The immediate response was a (thankfully) quiet, "Yeh" while Miri held Puppy out for Grandma to take.

So... Mom took Puppy from the Pipsqueak while AJ (still trying to drive in traffic) began flailing blindly behind her seat with one hand; Mom loosened her seat belt just enough enough to lean forward and place Puppy in AJ's hand; AJ then stre-e-e-e-etched back as far as she could without taking her eyes off the road and handed Puppy to the Pipsqueak; and Miri happily took back the little toy she had just handed to her Grandma seconds earlier and says, "thank you, Mommy!"


I think I fear my niece's teenage years.  <:-P