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, August 28, 2012

Uncle Duty / Reminder of Days gone By

This was another one of those weekends that's crazy busy.. happily, most of it good.

Saturday was a multi-party day for the Pipsqueak. Early in the day, she and AJ attended the bat mitzvah of the daughter of one of AJ's older friends. She and her mommy had a good time, leaving the post-service reception quite a bit later than originally planned. This particular event was one of those situations that makes one sit back and go, "hmmm...." More particularly, it made my sister sit back and go "hmmm..." because it was AJ's first face-to-face meeting with some of her former junior high school crowd in several decades, and one of the first times in her life she has met people from that long-ago part of her life as a mother. The other thought-inducing factor was that she and the bat mitzvah girl's mother first met and became friends around the same age as the girl being honored that day. (This also had significance for me, since I remember picking the two of them up from school in the family station wagon on rainy days with my still-new driver's license Somehow the idea that one of those young girls was now the mother of a teen.. well, there's a lot of CPU cycles being used in my subconscious...)

AJ didn't have much time to think things over, because she had to zoom home with the Pipsqueak, get changed, and zoom back out (with yours truly now riding shotgun) to the 3rd birthday partyof the China-born son of some good friends of ours. By this point, the Pipsqueak was showing the signs of combined lack of nap time and extra stimulation -- but just as we thought we were en route to a meltdown, the presence of birthday cake and ice cream saved the day and Miri was soon playing dress-up, running around making loud happy noises, and generally proving to the adults that their energy levels were indeed could not compare. Later on she pretty much blew her uncle's mind by including heeled mules (several pairs, in fact) as part of her dress-up play... and having less trouble walking, running, and stair-climbing in heels than her mommy.  (Dude, she's a girlie girl: she's into pink, frou-frou, frills, dresses... and now heels! Get used to it!)

That night, I got together with some old friends; AJ begged off in favor of getting some badly-needed rest. I still had my camera with me, and when asked about the Pipsqueak started showing enough photos for one of my friends (ironically, some of whom I had known since we were all around the age of the morning's bat mitzvah girl) to smilingly comment, "You sound like a proud uncle!" I took the hint and stopped kvelling over my niece for a while. There was one "whoa, hang on a sec!" moment when one of the group asked if there were plans for the Pipsqueak to have a sister, but (perhaps fortunately?) the discussion moved on to other subjects before that one could be explored.

Saturday was long, and Sunday started early because AJ has weekend manager duty and our folks had a prior appointment they couldn't break, so I had several hours of "uncle duty" to keep an eye on the Pipsqueak. I'm proud to say I got to AJ's on time -- bleary-eyed and seriously sleep-deprived, but on time! -- and the Pipsqueak and her uncle had a pretty darn good time. We "watched princesses" on my 'puter (the Disney site, her current online obsession), read some books, watched some Mickey, and had a bunch of other fun. I'm also going to boast a little: despite my niece being an ultra-picky eater, she left only one or two bites of the grilled cheese sandwich I made for her. Later on we headed to her grandparents' to meet up with Miri's favorite Cousin E. The Pipsqueak snuck in a 15-20 minute nap on the way over so there was a bit of a rough patch when I woke her to take her out of the car (and she spent the next 20+ minutes seriously wanting Mommy) but it quickly turned into an enjoyable evening for all.

The only dark cloud was one of AJ's cats. The poor little puddy tat had been showing signs of being sick, and AJ had asked me to check in on her during the day. The last couple of times I did so left me thinking the family was on the verge of losing another four-footed member; although she looked better later in the evening, it was decided a visit to the local emergency veterinary clinic was in order. Cousin E graciously agreed to stay with the Pipsqueak while AJ & I took the frighteningly listless kitty to the clinic. Once there, after a relatively short (but tense) wait, we got some good news about the kitty -- and a bit of a surprise.

As relief led to conversation with the emergency vet, we discovered that she knew a great deal about China adoptions: her original LID was just a few days after AJ's! The difference was that she had made the difficult decision to not push through as the wait extended year after year; several years after filing, she withdrew from the adoption process. The vet added that the strain contributed to a divorce, and we exchanged stories of the people we knew who had dropped out (and of marriages strained to breaking by the wait). The story has a happy ending; she's now a happy mommy herself. (I apologize for the lack of specifics, but the story is hers and not mine to tell, and I don't want to violate her privacy.)

By the time I was finally headed home from AJ's, I was convinced I would be going straight into bed and passing out within minutes. Instead, I found myself sitting and thinking back on how it felt to be waiting for the little girl I spent most of the weekend playing with, reading to, and generally just enjoying. I remember the quiet, almost bald pre-toddler I helped shepherd through several international airports (and who so thoroughly peed on me in China); I remember the period where I swore she was going through life headfirst followed by the occasional loud "THUNK"; and I am happy sharing conversation with the bright, inquisitive little girl Miri has become (and whose sense of balance & physical coordination far outstrip her uncle's).

But somehow, even though I'm not actually Miri's parent, those memories (faded as they may be) simply refuse to go away. If I was a little less sleep-deprived, I'd close out this post with a pithy, erudite comment about how the adoption process leaves its mark on an entire family and not just the parent(s), indelibly changing not just how they live afterwards but also how they think and how they perceive the passage of time...

...but I'm really tired so that statement will have to do for now. :-)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

'Twas A Busy Weekend, Indeed!

Sorry about the gap in posting, on top of a busy weekend (read on) I managed to catch myself a nasty summer cold (the patient will survive, he just won't necessarily enjoy it for a few days more).

Anyhoo, to recount our busy weekend...

The Long Island clan came down for their annual summer visit, arriving mid-afternoon Friday -- for which both AJ and I had prepared by taking the day off from work to have extra family time.  The Pipsqueak did her usual shy act for a few minutes upon arrival, but had the handy-dandy excuse of having just woken up. After some quick reacquainting herself with the foursome of cousins, she opened up and, just as in the past, hitched herself to Cousin A for the most time. (Maybe because she still remembers how Cousin A outlasted everyone else in the family for all those fun & exciting trips up and down and up and down and up and down the stairs back when she was first learning to walk...?) We all did the usual "family thang," just hanging out at our folks' while exchanging war stories, catching up on bad jokes (and worse puns), and enjoying each others' company. We made a relatively early night of it, with the LI cousins heading back to their hotel ten-ish while AJ & I headed to our respective abodes not too much later.

I had been looking forward to a good night's sleep -- my schedule over the previous several days had been crazy again, and I was already thoroughly sleep-deprived -- but it was not to be. Right about 3:15am, I was awakened by the blast of an air horn. Blearily looking out the window, I saw the following:

I padded back to my room, put on my glasses, and tried again:

It was a large flatbed car carrier's air horn I had heard, and the massive beast was being maneuvered -- right up onto the hill across the street! -- to drop off a car in front of a neighbor's house, complete with horn blowing to let them know about the arrival, loud backup beeper activating every time the driver shifted into reverse (which was often), loud engine revving to maneuver the oversize vehicle, and whining & buzzing of the lift bed and winch.  For over an hour.  (Sorry for the blurry photos; I was shooting 30-second exposures through a closed window.)

Needless to say, I was a bit late arriving at the folks' house the next morning, walking in to find breakfast pretty much done & over with. (Dude, you knew not to worry, someone's always willing to eat in this family!)  My stylishly late arrival was upstaged a little later when AJ pulled into the driveway... but after a few minutes, we realized she was still out there, with no sign of attempting to join us in the house. Everyone piled out to find my sister sitting bemusedly behind the wheel while the Pipsqueak dozed blissfully in her car seat -- having fallen asleep for a badly-needed nap just moments before pulling into the driveway.

We all visited that way for a while and then I took part of the group on a quick shopping trip, returning to find my niece wide awake and as active as ever. Shortly afterwards, more family began to arrive, and soon we were all catching up on more family events & statuses, ending up happily wedged in next to each other at the dining room table (a tad small even with all the extra leaves inserted) for an appropriately noisy dinner. Later in the evening (after Cousin J headed back to his house, the Virginia contingent crossed back over the Potomac, and the LI clan returned to their hotel) I caught Miri clomping around her grandparents' bedroom wearing Grandma's sandals, and then noticed a unique mix of toys she'd left on the dining room table.

"I wearing Grandma's shoes, Uncle Brian!"
I call this "Still Life with Doggie"

And then things got interesting. As AJ & I left, the Pipsqueak was first curious about, then frightened of, a large slug on the front walk. ("Grandma! A big lug! Yukky!") Mom picked her up, carried her past the slug...

...and then her foot slipped off the side of the walkway and the two of them went down like the proverbial batch of bricks, with Mom actually landing on the Pipsqueak.

It took Miri a few heart-stopping moments of silence to process what had happened before she began wailing, just long enough for the rest of us to think the silence was a lot more sinister; I never thought I'd be glad to hear my niece shriek out loud, but I have to admit that (just this one time) it was A Good Thing to hear.  AJ grabbed her daughter and quickly checked her while Dad & I checked on Mom, who wasn't doing quite as well as her granddaughter (whom, she was convinced, she had just killed or injured by falling on her).

To make a long story short, the Pipsqueak came away with nothing more than a little dirt on the back of her shirt (and a very small, very pale, small red patch on her back the next morning). On the other hand,  her Grandma's left knee and right ankle were down for the count, complete with 911 call and small convoy following the ambo to the nearest ER. (During which I actually caught myself silently repeating, Dear God, that wasn't funny, please stop, amen.) AJ & I waited with Miri while Dad went back into the ER with Mom, and were impressed with how well she was dealing with the whole situation. (She even told us, "I waiting well!" and we had to agree.)

Luckily, Mom somehow avoided any major damage, and only needed wrapping & splinting; the ER nurses and doctor were amazingly attentive & had great bedside manner, and even the ambo crew -- having a really busy night! -- checked in each time they walked past. Everyone thought Miri was being really good, and were surprised at her total lack of injury or concern after having played the role of airbag in Mom's fall. (The photo below was taken to make sure we knew how to position the ankle brace, but I figured it would be an interesting addition to this post. Strangely, Mom wasn't too keen on my taking her portrait, I wonder why...?)

The Pipsqueak continued to wow us all with her calmness, wanting to hold Grandma's hand and asking several times to kiss her to make the booboo better, being curious about all the interesting things in the ER cubicle, and eventually even dozing off for a few minutes in Mommy's lap. She started to get upset as the nurse began wrapping Mom's knee -- this was a lot more than the bandaids she was used to -- so AJ took her home a few minutes before I drove Mom & Dad back to their house. (There were a few moments of badly needed out-loud laughter at the ER exit when Mom couldn't climb all the way into my SUV's back seat and I had to shove her sideways with both hands while the nurse just gaped.)

I bedded down on my folks' family room sofa around 3:30am and spent the rest of the night sleeping in 45-minute stretches interrupted regularly by Tigger chewing on my chin until I'd wake up and scritch him for a few minutes.  Somewhere during that sequence I remember thinking my throat was a little scratchy & my nose a little more clogged than usual, but was too tired to pay much attention.

I was awakened (for the last time) by the sound of my folks negotiating the stairs with Mom's newly-acquired walker, and shortly afterwards the LI clan joined us for brunch before hitting the road for home. AJ & I each went back home to do some laundry & catch up on things, but then all five of us had an early dinner (of leftovers, since Mom tends to prepare food for the family as if the 101st Airborne is coming to eat) together later that evening.  The Pipsqueak had us all laughing and applauding when she commandeered Mom's walker as a stage, with different parts being "drums" and "pyanana" (piano) and "talking thingy" (microphone) as she put on a show complete with singing and dancing. Once or twice during a pause we'd begin applauding only to be told, "I not done yet!" but eventually we were told "You can clap now!" and we wrapped up for the evening.  Just before leaving, I caught Tigger looking ever so smug about having kept me awake almost the entire night...

"Wutchu lookin' at?"
Of course, by the time I got home I was feeling really good about how things had turned out, with my unscathed niece showing real care & empathy while my not-quite-unscathed mother's injuries were quite a bit less severe than we'd all feared... and then I realized my throat was really scratchy... and my nose was running... and... well, I didn't make it back in to work until this afternoon, but that's another story (and not really worth a post).

Oh, one (older) item I forgot to post before... One of the "Pipsqueakisms" I listed in a previous post was how a "bang" was actually a hammer. Well, Miri now calls the tool by its proper name -- but with the usual Pipsqueak twist. She was banging on a wooden flower box with a rock, and I admonished her to be careful so she wouldn't break anything. She replied, "I fix it with my hammer!" and proceeded to tap it lightly with the rock -- clearly enunciating "Ham! Ham! Ham!" each time it touched the box.

(Hey, you gotta admit it makes sense...! <g>)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Growing Pains

My title refers, of course, to the "growing pains" experienced by the Pipsqueak's adults rather than those experienced by the Pipsqueak herself.

Miri is still definitely a Pipsqueak, but she's really not the teeny-tiny thing she was for most of her life; when I took a good look at my niece standing next to Mommy this past weekend, I realized that she is slowly but steadily getting taller, looking a lot more like a little girl than a toddler. (Okay, I know, after their 3rd birthday most kidlings are "kids" and not "toddlers" but when did she suddenly become so much bigger? For that matter, how did she turn three so quickly?!?)  When I got home later in the evening, I took a quick look at some of the (bazillion) photos I've taken of my niece and one in particular caught my eye:

There she is, jauntily marching off beside her Mommy to visit Scooby the horse last summer, the top of her head juuust coming even with the bottom of Mommy's tee. Fast-forward almost exactly one year and she's about a hand taller -- not a lot, but enough to really change the dynamics of how she moves in, and interacts with, her environment.

Gone are the days of walking easily under tables; also gone (thankfully!) are the days of us all having to remind her to duck when trying to walk under tables; now most tabletops are directly in her line of sight, and she has to really bend over to fit underneath. (Not that she's stopped wanting to go under the table, you understand; it just requires more calisthenics than it used to.)

Gone also (not so thankfully) are the days of hearing "Up!" and just slinging the Pipsqueak upwards against one's side or chest, then carrying her easily in the crook of an arm. We don't hear "Up!" as often as we used to -- definitely a bittersweet change -- but when we do it's invariably followed by an adult's "Urgh!" as the Pipsqueak is carefully hoisted into both arms, or carefully seated where our hips help support her weight. When time & place are appropriate, I've taken to helping Miri clamber up my side & back and seat her on my shoulders; she gets a better view (and loves laughingly telling everyone "I big now!")... and it's a lot easier for me to support her. (Dude, you left out the comment that it's the first time in her life that your niece weighs more than one of the big weights in your barbell set.)

Gone are the days of my niece "...going through life headfirst accompanied by the occasional loud THUNK!" Now she is likely the most limber, best-balanced, and most fearless member of the family. (Although I think her newest cousin down in Florida is showing signs of following the same path.) The kid's always had an interesting relationship with gravity, but now that she's started taking ballet lessons (yep, you read that right -- her choice, and she's loving it!) anyone in a room with the Pipsqueak is likely to be treated to a mini-recital complete with one-legged poses and pirouettes, all demonstrating rock-solid balance. (Unless, of course, she chooses to spin around until she's too dizzy to stand up -- but that's an "on purpose for fun" fall and doesn't count.)

Gone are the days of watching the Pipsqueak jump fearlessly off the equipment at little gym that's twice her height and laughing because "twice her height" is roughly equal to some of the steps we climbed on the Great Wall. Now we watch proudly with bated breath and nervous giggles when she jumps off equipment that's twice her height (or higher!) because now it's actually a bigger jump than any of us would willingly attempt.

Gone (almost) are the days of, "You've got her?" Now the perennial question is, "Where did she go?!" while AJ's little speedster zooms off on her own to investigate whatever caught her attention at a given moment. (Finding her is easy in some stores; just head in the general direction of frilly dresses or colorful shoes and she'll be there.) Equally gone are the days of lazily walking in the "far away enough to give her freedom, close enough to catch her when she falls" zone; now we all take turns in the "close enough to grab her quick before she gets away" zone. (Luckily, Miri's not one of those kids who can't wait to get away from her adult relatives; she just likes to check out anything interesting in an "up close and personal" manner.)

It's actually gotten to the point where I'm slowly beginning to realize I may not be able to refer to my niece as a "pipsqueak" too much longer. I'll probably always call her "Pipsqueak" (at least as long as she lets me), but I'm beginning to think that there's a bit of a growth spurt going on... The best evidence I have (in addition to all the points mentioned above) is the "Made in China" tee that AJ had bought as a joke just after getting TA in 2010. The shirt is small -- I don't know the exact size, but it's made for little children -- and here's how it fit the Pipsqueak her first night in her new home:

I have two more photos of Miri in that shirt, the first taken 13 months after the above photo and the second taken just a couple of weeks ago. (I'm not including them here because we're all still a bit leery of posting current, easily-identifiable photos of the Pipsqueak in a public Internet forum.) In the 2010 photo, you can see the sleeves still droop even though they're rolled all the way up, and the "tee" reaches almost halfway down between Miri's knees and ankles. Last year, it was big and baggy but kinda-sorta looked like a shirt instead of a dress. That same shirt now fits like a tee should, to the point where AJ's not sure Miri will fit into it next year.  (That's assuming the Pipsqueak will even put it on; unadorned tees aren't sufficiently frilly or "girlie" to meet with her approval, and this year's photo wasn't an entirely happy one as a result!) Viewing the three photos side-by-side leaves us all shaking our heads and quietly saying, "wow!" to each other; it's amazing how much of a change can happen unseen right in front of one's eyes when it happens over time...

Yep, it looks like my niece is definitely growing -- happily, healthily, and surprisingly rapidly -- but somehow it's her grandparents, Mommy, and Uncle Brian who are feeling the "growing pains" as she does!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Just A Quick "Cute" Post....

I didn't realize how many days had gone by since my last post... it's amazing how busy I've gotten lately. Here's a quick bit of cuteness from last weekend to help make up for the gap...

AJ and I did our usual Sunday matinee dinner theater "thing" last weekend, and the Pipsqueak spent a few hours with her Grandma & Grandpa. (We met at their house because Miri somehow accepts "Mommy and Uncle Brian have to go to work together for a while" better that way.) We enjoyed the show "(Legally Blonde - The Musical) and returned to our folks' house hoping the Pipsqueak was in a good mood & hadn't run them too ragged.

I opened the door and my niece came zooming into the foyer from the family room in her tee and a pull-up, literally bouncing up & down with excitement. Our exchange went something like this:

     Zoooom (in)

      boing boing boing
      Uncle Brian!
      boing boing
      boing boing boing
      I'm drawing something!
      boing boing boing

      Zoooom (out)

When we followed the sonic boom into the family room, we found the Pipsqueak happily scribbling on a big piece of paper with a set of colored markers her Grandma had found for her. She proceeded to give each of us one marker to hold after ensuring it matched the colors we were wearing; I was in black jeans & a gray shirt, so when I picked the blue marker the Pipsqueak told me, "No, you should have this one!" and gave me the black marker, handing my chosen blue to her Grandpa in his blue jeans.

I dunno... I just thought it was all pretty cute. :-)