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!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Striking A Bargain

I just wanted to share a quick vignette from Tuesday night.  We were leaving Kol Nidre services and stopped to say goodnight to Jerry, one of the school system's security staff who's become a good friend over the years. As the grownups talked, the Pipsqueak -- who'd been outside playing in the lobby under Mommy's watchful eye several minutes for each minute she was actually in the auditorium with us during the service -- began walking away. As in, hey, it's time to go. As in, heading for the exit 20 feet away from us entirely on her own just as a flood of people began to leave the auditorium.

Both AJ and I quietly asked Miri to come back, then less quietly asked, and then I told her in no uncertain terms that she was not listening well, that I was not playing with her now, that we were not asking but telling her, and that she was to immediately come closer to us. I only raised my voice enough to counter the sudden increase in noise from all the people now in the lobby with us, but you can bet I used a tone that made it clear I was deadly serious.

Well, my niece being my niece, she put on a really unhappy face and began that whining, passive-aggressive, oh-so-slow inching back from where she wanted to be. At that point we all started toward her (the leading edge of the crowd was fast approaching), and AJ quickly corralled her daughter and lifted her out of harm's way.

Usually, if one of us tells her to either not do what she wants to or to do what she doesn't want to, a significant portion of the Pipsqueak's response will be an emphatic statement that she doesn't like that person any more and a real effort to remain as physically far from the offending adult as possible until she's tired of sulking. Imagine my surprise, then, when Miri said she wanted me to carry her as we walked back to the car only moments later. AJ handed her off to me, and I hoisted her up over my hip and resumed walking.

I had taken just a few steps when Miri quietly asked, "Uncle Brian, why did you say to me what you said before?" I immediately knew she was referring to my extra-stern command to come back to the rest of the family away from the door, so I explained (in as gentle a voice as possible) that I had been worried she might get caught in the crowd leaving and could get hurt or lost, and that none of us wanted that to ever happen to her. I added that I had spoken the way I did because she had not listened to any of us when we asked her "more nicely" like a big girl would.

The Pipsqueak thought about it for a moment, then very seriously said, "Okay, but don't ever say that to me ever again!" I stifled a laugh (and I think I heard both AJ & Mom do the same behind me) and I replied, "Okay, but only if you don't make me have to say that again and listen when we ask you to come closer. I'll keep my part of the bargain if you keep your part of the bargain, okay?"

I got an oh-so-serious, nose-to-nose hard look, and then a bright & happy, "Okay!" and the conversation immediately turned to how I should run because we were being chased alternately by a crocodile or a scary monster (her two favorite games of the moment).

The thing is, I'm pretty sure Miri really did take in what I was saying, and gave it some real consideration before answering. She's a smart kiddo, and has already proven far better at bargaining and negotiation than her young age would suggest. I don't know when she'll test me on our bargain -- experience tells me she will, oh yes, she will! -- but I doubt she'll forget it or reneg on her part.

But wow, she sure looked tiny standing alone in that doorway with that crowd heading in her direction...!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Busy Times... and Happy New Year!

Wow, has that much time really passed since my last post?!? Yikes!

"Sorry 'bout, that, Chief!" I'll try to catch up... It's been extra-crazy lately, and that particular cupcake has been frosted with some technical difficulties that have me just about ready to start banging my head against the wall. (I won't share the unpleasant details, but after dealing with some really odd laptop behaviors I just discovered that a full terabyte of stuff on my external backup disk has suddenly ceased to exist... and the power plug for the new backup drive is too big to fit between the other plugs in the surge suppressor... and I really wasn't ready to add another $150+ to my credit card balance... ugh.)

So far, the RAV4 is working out great, it's actually fun to drive again (at least outside of rush hour). I filled up the tank for the first time last Thursday, and it was also the first time ever that I've gone seventeen days between fill-ups and the cheapest tank of gas in many years. (Dude, listen to yourself... when did you start thinking of $45 as "cheap"?!?) The Pipsqueak has gotten a couple of rides and likes it better than Mommy's car because she can see out the windshield & the windows on the opposite side. Of course, Mommy's "car" is actually a van and Miri has an absolute blast running around inside when we're trying to get her into her car seat, so liking my car more is really a moment-to-moment thing. The one thing she likes more about Uncle Brian's new car more than Mommy's on a fairly consistent basis is that mine is "shiny" (silver) and Mommy's isn't (metallic grey). Score one point extra credit for the Jiu Jiu!

The daycare situation seems to have been resolved; the Pipsqueak has started at a new place. There are some really good, really caring teachers at the original facility, but the corporate management seems intent on maximizing profits at any cost... every time AJ or our folks talked about it with other parents (or even a couple of the teachers!), they found that everyone is getting different, sometimes mutually exclusive explanations of the hows & whys of the changes... and most folks have begun echoing AJ's increasing level of frustration. Should be interesting to see what happens over the course of the current semester -- but at least the Pipsqueak's at a new place that's re-ignited her original happiness at "going to school" in the mornings.

As some of you may have surmised from the Pipsqueak's age, we're in the throes of potty training. It was rather difficult at first, with spotty (literally!) results, until my sister had a brainstorm: put the Pipsqueak into "real" undies -- over her pullups, of course -- and remind her that "big girls don't pee in their undies." Abracadabra, and presto, and voila: one almost-completely potty-trained little girl virtually overnight! We're still working on timing, since "I have to go potty" is usually announced only seconds from disaster, but my niece is now able to go several days at a stretch without an "oops" of any kind. We figure that at the current rate of advance, AJ & our folks will be able to stop buying all but a cursory supply of nighttime pullups before Halloween. Score one for the Pipsqueak (and one for her mommy)!

Miri did fairly well during Rosh Hashonah services (thus my "happy new year!" in this post's title, it's now officially 5773)... although she & Mommy still spent a lot of time out in the lobby. Even when she got a little fidgety, the Pipsqueak managed to charm everyone around us. At one point she was marching up & down in front of our seats with a baggie full of goldfish crackers, handing each of us one in turn and telling us we had to eat it or we'd get hungry during services; the woman sitting next to me had to repeatedly stifle her own laughter, and kept cooing, "oh, she's so precious!" until AJ decided she'd had enough goldfish & took her daughter out to the lobby for some recreation. We're thinking that next year she'll be old enough for us to take her to the kid-oriented "family" service in the early afternoon... vamos a ver...

This past weekend, AJ and Miri and I joined our group of China adoption friends for our annual "crabfest" -- thus named because of the food ordered, not our mood! A few families couldn't make it (including the last family in our group to finally complete their first adoption, returning from China less than two weeks ago) but we all had a pretty good time either smacking crabs with mallets or eating softer foods while catching up on each others' lives. All the while, a collection of little girls (and now a couple of little boys as well) was busy talking and coloring and stickering and sampling other folks' food and drawing and playing and just generally blowing away everyone in the group who remembered them as the quiet, bewildered little babies who started attending the group's get-togethers just 3-4 years ago. I'll try to post a little more about the event, and some associated thoughts, later this week.

This past week I got a lot of the, "hello, Uncle!" greetings at work that I had first gotten after returning from China. This is because we had our annual luau at work, and so many of the staff had reminded AJ that she hadn't brought Miri in to visit for a long time that she asked our folks to bring her when they picked her up from daycare. I didn't see them come in -- I had my back to the door while trying to set up a blender for (alcohol-free) pina coladas -- but I knew exactly when they arrived because there was a loud, "Uncle Brian!" and all of a sudden something smacked into the back of my knees and wrapped itself around my legs. Didn't mind it in the least. :-)

In closing (it's past my bedtime!), I'd like to share a short exchange between Miri and her Grandma from about a week ago. Mom & Dad met AJ & the Pipsqueak somewhere and then decided to return to AJ's house. When she found out everyone was going to her house, Miri said she wanted to ride in Grandma & Grandpa's car instead of with Mommy. After everyone checked to be really sure she meant it, AJ helped strap her into her seat in our folks' car and the mini-convoy hit the road. A few minutes into the ride, Grandma heard Miri say, "I love you guys!" and replied, "And Grandma and Grandpa love you lots, too!" There was a short silence, and Miri repeated, "I love you guys!" and her Grandma replied with, "And we both love you, too, and so does Mommy, and so does your Uncle Brian!"  There was a short silence, and then all of a sudden Miri sobbed out, "And I love Mommy!" It took her Grandma a moment to figure out why the Pipsqueak had suddenly started to cry, and then a bulb lit over her head. "It's okay, Honey, Mommy knows you love her and she said it was okay for you to ride with us." Immediately, the Pipsqueak stopped crying, gave a happy "Okay!" and began to quietly sing to herself and comment on the passing scene.

Amazing how a three-year-old's mind works, isn't it?  :-)

Friday, September 14, 2012

My Niece the Photographer

Just a quickie post before crawling into bed for a few hours...

Miri has been attracted to cameras almost from Gotcha Day; by the time we deplaned at DIA, she had already developed a habit of reaching for my camera any time I pointed it in her direction. Two of her first words were, "picture!" and "cheese!" and she very quickly taught herself how to ask Uncle Brian to show her the photo he'd just taken (unfortunately, sometimes before I actually snapped the photo).

About 18 months ago, she began taking make-believe pictures with an imaginary camera, cupping her hands in front of her eyes and telling us, "say cheese!" followed by a loud "click!" (usually with a big smile). We've begun checking out kid-proof cameras, and she'll probably get one for Hanukkah... but in the meantime she's learned how to use her (very nervous) uncle's camera. I make sure that I'm holding on tightly, and have learned to immediately clean off the lens as soon as she's let go (she tends to wrap her hands around the front of the camera, fingertips pushed firmly up against the lens).

I have a few rather, um... unique (yeah, Dude, that's a good description!) images on the camera's SD card as a result of Miri's efforts. There's the picture she took of Grandpa where about 50% of the frame is taken up by a soda bottle that happened to be on the table; the photo of Grandma that's got lots of shoulder and just a touch of face; and the photo of Mommy that's 99% kitchen counter.

And then.... Well, and then there's one of several almost identical portraits the Pipsqueak took of her Uncle Brian.

Hey, give the kid a break -- she was sitting on my lap, and I'm not quite ready to actually let go of the camera!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just Some Assorted Stuff...

A bit of a (mostly) lighter post today...

Things are improving somewhat on the daycare front; AJ checked out a couple of new places, and the Pipsqueak got a free day at one. She cried when she was first dropped off in the unfamiliar environment, but by the time Grandma & Grandpa picked her up that afternoon she was her old talkative, singing, dancing, excited, happy self -- not the same depressed little girl they've picked up most days since the semester began.  AJ had an impromptu conversation with the mother of a little boy who's been in Miri's class, who complained that all of a sudden he's exhibiting a whole set of brand-new, very negative behaviors. When AJ told her how the class was now mostly 2-1/2 year olds, she was shocked; apparently the center's administration has been less than forthcoming with the families of children who've been there since last semester. I'm not sure exactly when, but a change of centers is likely soon.

Meanwhile, we've achieved a new milestone compliments of the same daycare center. For years, I (and then my sister) would periodically realize there was a school assignment or project due tomorrow! and the whole family would have to scramble to get things done on time. Weeeelllll... what goes around, comes around -- the Pipsqueak's class was supposed to have a family photo for a "this is my family" project on Monday morning, so on Sunday evening I was at our folks' house, trying to convince a less-than-fully-cooperative three year old that she wanted to look at the camera, and smile to boot... 'Twas indeed a difficult proposition! Luckily my niece's internal performance artist came to the surface and I was able to get some good shots. (Of course I have family photos; the problem is they all are either too old or would require a lot of Photoshop work for the project.) My favorite (and the one that Miri took in for the assignment) shows me with a funny look on my face because the Pipsqueak leaned forward and began mussing my hair -- very much on purpose! -- just as the camera's timer clicked off the shot.

During the evening, Mom told me about a couple of the Pipsqueak's comments earlier in the week. Aware that she's now one of the two oldest kids in her class, when asked by her Grandma what was bothering her at school, she replied, "I don't like little people!" (Extra-funny when one takes into account her actual physical stature.) Another day, when asked about the rest of her family while being picked up from school by Mom & Dad, she told the nice lady, "My Brian is an uncle. We know each other for a long time!"

Kinda nice to know I'm "her" Brian... :-)

Friday, September 7, 2012

What We Hear.

This is going to be one of "those" posts, where I try to address a general adoption-related issue instead of my usual kvelling over my niece. My decision was triggered by this post on one of the adoption blogs I follow ("Linguine or Lo Mein"). My reaction was triggered in part by the fact that the little girl in question is from the same province as the Pipsqueak and in part by some recent experiences in, of all places, a car dealership.

To make a long story short, my old Mountaineer (which I alternately referred to as "The Beast" or "The Turd" depending on my mood and/or the latest invoice for repairs) reached the point where replacing it outright had become necessary. Despite many plans to do things differently, I ended up (with folks in tow) at a local dealership on the Labor Day holiday, so we had plenty of time to get to know the sales rep working with me really well. As conversation turned from purely business to personal life, we learned that she was from China, and she positively lit up over photos of the Pipsqueak. Then, when my paperwork finally got to the top of the stack several hours later, the young Asian accountant told me he had very recently returned from his own trip to visit his folks back in China, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy the photos of Miri that her proud Grandma quickly pulled out to show him. He actually stopped working on the paperwork for a minute, almost visibly stepping out of his corporate persona to wax eloquent on how lucky Miri was to have been adopted by such a loving family, how she was so very lucky to have been brought to the U.S., and how she had essentially hit the jackpot in terms of how much better her life was going to be compared to how it would likely have been back in China.

I sort of filed his comments away for later review, turning them over in my mind repeatedly over the past couple of nights. I've read a lot of posts in a lot of blogs about people having similar conversations with strangers in which commentary often moves to (or, sadly, sometimes begins in) odd, or negative, or even accusatory territory. I've come to realize that we, as a family, have so far been amazingly lucky; the vast majority of the adoption-related comments & behaviors we've experienced have been positive. None of the waitresses at our favorite Chinese restaurants have made any odd comments about my sister building her family through more direct biological means (although there is one who always insists on trying to speak to the Pipsqueak in Mandarin); none of the strangers who have tentatively asked if Miri's adopted have (as far as I know) been angered by my sister's choice to adopt or to seek a child outside the country; and it seems to be impossible for us to avoid ethnically-mixed families no matter where we look. (The friendly care saleslady's son is still single, but one daughter is married to "a nice Jewish man with curly hair" and the other is married to "a nice Pakistani man with curly hair.")

And yet, despite the lack of negative experiences, I can relate to the odd experience of little E and her folks. I have read and heard enough stories to always be nervous whenever someone approaches the family with the classic, "excuse me, but.." or when I see someone trying to not get caught looking at my sister and her daughter. I've lost count of how many times I've caught myself holding my breath under those circumstances, wondering if this is the time someone is going to verbally attack the people who are most dear to me.

No, I have not come to spend every waking moment on the lookout for nasty or dumb comments about adoption -- but I do have a much greater awareness of the comments and the thoughts & beliefs that give rise to them. Part of what helps mitigate the (otherwise potentially maddening) negativity is the knowledge that there are also a lot of positive reactions and statements. I still remember one of our first meals out after returning from China, when our young waitress quietly asked if Miri was adopted and then launching into an excited soliloquy about her own adoption from Sri Lanka; the happy excitement of many friends who, when first told AJ was planning to adopt a Chinese baby, began telling stories of the many other families they knew who had done the same; and the way uncountable numbers of strangers have sought to interact with the Pipsqueak while exclaiming how cuuuute she is with nary a mention of adoption-related issues.

And, when things seem to be actively approaching the crazy or the seriously negative, I remember one very specific comment made by a former co-worker. (A comment I will gladly bring to the attention of anyone with adopted relatives who may be growing tired of odd, negative, or just plain misguided comments from strangers.) Back home from China only 2 or 3 weeks, I was waxing eloquent about my new niece with one of the residents at work while this particular nurse was getting her ready for the night. Somewhere along the line, this particular nurse decided she had heard the word "adopted" one time too many.

She stopped what she was doing, interrupted me with a loud, "Excuse me!" and then, facing me directly with hands on hips, told me exactly How It Is: "It doesn't matter if she's adopted or not. She's your niece, and she's loved, and that's all that matters."

That was the last time I specifically referred to Miri as "my niece adopted from China" instead of just as "my niece" -- because, as far as I'm concerned, that one comment is the only one that really gets it right. I know there are plenty of folks for whom "adopted" is a pejorative term, adoption is unnatural, and families of mixed ethnicity are considered a violation of the natural order of things. There are even more folks whose only image of adoption is that of the unwanted child, a cuckoo's egg in the nest, or even the fairy tale's ubiquitous evil stepmother. All these people will invariably pop up, drop a mind-numbingly nasty or stupid or uninformed comment on an adoptive family's heads, and then (hopefully) disappear back into the passing crowd.

But I keep that nurse's comment in mind because it is the one comment, out of the thousands my family has already heard since that special day in July, 2010, that most accurately describes how this family works. It is the only one that leaves out political, religious, or national issues; the only one that is truly colorblind; the only one that ignores biology. This particular comment is the one that has separated the all-important kernel of wheat from all the chaff:

The Pipsqueak is my niece. She is a member of my family, she is loved, and that is all that matters.

And on that note, I'll say amen.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Quite A Meal...!

I was tempted to use the title, "Quite A Weekend," but (except for a few quick points) I'm going to concentrate on a single, highly entertaining, meal the family shared on Monday night.

First, some quick news bites:
  • As I type this, the last of our "Adoption Bunch" friends are finally, after seven years of waiting, meeting their daughter in Jiangxi Province! 
  • The Beast is gone! I  mortgaged my soul  sold my firstborn  got a darned good deal on a 2012 RAV4, so the increasingly failure-prone and even more increasingly expensive to maintain Mountaineer is now the problem of a local Toyota dealership. (The last time I felt this good about going into debt was when I bought my house... the Beast really wasn't gonna make it though another winter!)
  • The biggest of the baby gates at AJ's (the one by the front door with the ridiculous installation I referred to as Gate #4 in this post) finally pulled all the way out of the wall this week, and the decision has been made that the Pipsqueak is now old enough for us to just patch the wall and do without... and when I told Miri that shows she's growing up but that she shouldn't be in a rush to grow up, AJ very quietly added, "no, not too fast" with a quiet half-smile.
  • There have been some new but not necessarily positive changes with the Pipsqueak's daycare provider, so AJ (who took off Tuesday like her big bro) will be checking out a couple of other nearby daycare alternatives... more news as it becomes available...
  • The Pipsqueak got her first set of tap shoes this weekend, and this week will be adding highly-anticipated tap dancing lessons to her already greatly-enjoyed ballet lessons. She's already putting on "recitals" for anyone she can corral, I can't wait to see what happens with the new skill set!
  • The Pipsqueak also starts Chinese school this coming weekend (she's looking forward to this, too); happily, the daughters of some other families in our "adoption bunch" are already at the same school and are looking forward to welcoming their friend. (And I'm trying to figure out how to reset my Rosetta Stone software back to square one so I can start to follow along!)
...but about that meal I referred to...

The Toyota dealer was doing land office business today, so it took forever and a half for the last stages of paperwork to get through the mill.  We had a good time swapping kids' photos & stories with Lisa, the Chinese-born saleslady I was working with[1], and a good time sharing Pipsqueak pix & stories with the Chinese-born finance guy[2] who happened to pick my papers from the "in process" rack at random, so that helped pass the time a little... but by the time we got ready to transfer all the  junk  crap garbage  stuff I tended to haul around in the Beast to the RAV4, it was so late that we begged off to get some food beforehand.  (I did, however, have time to enjoy my niece's loud, "WOW!" when her Grandma pointed out Uncle Brian's new car. <g>)

We got to the OC Buffet with only 20 minutes to spare, decided our meal would be too rushed, and opted for a nearby IHOP; Mom was a little nervous because there were only 2 other people inside, but friendly smiles from the greeter & wait staff changed our minds & we read through the menus with rumbling tummies.

And then the floor show started.

AJ said, "There's something in my tea..." and fished out a (sealed) packet of honey! She told our very apologetic waiter not to worry about it, and a few moments later the Pipsqueak pulled open the package, dipped a fingertip in and took a taste, and then spent the next several minutes happily glomming onto as much honey as she could lift out a fingerful at a time. She then asked about all the mini-carafes of syrups on the table, and when I told her the one on the end was strawberry, she lit up like a thousand-watt bulb. (She likes all kinds of ice cream and will usually finish most of what she's given, but strawberry... well, nary a drop of that particular flavor is ever wasted!)

Just as Miri began asking why the rest of us weren't eating, her hot chocolate arrived -- piled high with all the whipped cream AJ had forgotten to ask the waiter to leave out. At first Miri thought it was ice cream, but she decided she liked it anyway... and very quickly began slopping hot chocolate all over the table while whacking the pile of cream with her spoon. When AJ asked her to stop making such a mess, she demanded -- loudly! -- that we "Take it off! Take it off!" so we dumped the packets of coffee creamer onto the table and spooned the cream into the little bowl they'd come in. The drink was still too hot, so Miri contented herself with spooning the cream into her mouth, an action that soon changed to her sticking her tongue out & making silly faces at her uncle while pretending she was eating all kinds of exotic things.

Luckily, our food arrived before the Pipsqueak realized there wasn't any whipped cream or honey left anywhere on the table (aside from what she had dribbled, dropped, or smeared there herself) and she contented herself with shuffling her mini-pancakes around on the plate until they presented a sufficiently pleasing arrangement beside the eggs. I doused one with strawberry syrup for her to try (not until Mommy added a sufficient spread of butter, of course!), and Miri spent the next few minutes taking bites of pancake, inhaling her scrambled egg (and some of my omelet, and some of Grandma's, and some of Mommy's!), and alternately playing with or chewing on a couple of pieces of bacon.

That is, she was doing all that when she wasn't rearranging her pancakes... excitedly bouncing up & down on the bench seat (with the added attraction for all of watching Mommy try to drink hot tea with a hyperactive little girl bouncing up & down excitedly just inches away on the same seat)... dancing to the music playing on the PA system... passing little fragments of bacon back & forth to us... looking for more honey... and/or just excitedly going on and on and on about whatever came into her mind. (There are times my niece's stream of consciousness more closely resembles the mighty Mississippi than the gentle mill stream.) We had to keep reminding her to use her "inside voice" -- more customers had come in and were sitting in several nearby booths -- but she kept cracking the four of us up with her jokes & antics.

Partway through the meal (just as AJ managed to get a forkful of her own meal into her mouth), Miri loudly announced, "I have to go potty!" so AJ trundled off with her.[3]  As usual, they were only about  halfway back to the table when my niece began to loudly announce to any- and everyone within earshot that she had just gone potty like a big girl, and it was once again easy to see which of the other patrons had experience with potty-training kidlings and which didn't just by watching their faces.

After several more minutes of food-borne fun, Miri suddenly decided she had to sit next to her uncle. Dad & I slid over to make room and rearranged the table a bit, and I found myself next to a bouncy, talkative, sticky-handed, playful dynamo who spent the next 15-20 minutes alternately taking bites of pancakes, bouncing up & down, and running her sticky goopy messy hands through her uncle's hair (usually followed by her laughing at my silly 'do). There were a couple of quieter moments when Miri just leaned into me while eating, so I didn't mind the baby mousse up top... and she absolutely blew me (and her Grandma) away when she suddenly turned to me, said "You're the best!" and gave me an impromptu hug. (Those were her exact words, and none of us had ever heard her say that before.)

We eventually got to the point where all the empty plates were cleared from the table (except Miri's, especially after she told the waiter, "I not done! Don't take mine!") and everyone was in agreement that the Pipsqueak's last few pancakes would go into a doggy bag, so Dad picked up the check and headed for the cashier... followed (about two seconds later) by his granddaughter, moving at something close to Warp 8. Both AJ & I called out, "Dad!" to warn him, whereupon she began yelling "Dad! Dad!" at him while wrapping herself around one leg and laughing.

I was talking with Mom & AJ about the car-buying process when I looked up and noticed the Pipsqueak was now in the arms of the cashier, both of them bent over the cash register. I mentioned that my niece seemed to have made a new friend, and the three of us watched as she stood on the counter by the register, obviously having a very involved conversation with the cashier, eventually scooped back up by her Grandpa. As soon as her feet hit the floor, Miri came charging back to the table with a proud, "I did it! I did it myself!" and Dad explained that she had "helped" the cashier, watching closely and even (with a little hands-on help) pushing some of the buttons.

We finally headed out, with many smiles from the cashier and greeter (even a high-five!), and headed back to the dealership after i finished negotiating with the Pipsqueak over who sat where ("Brian, you sit in the back, I sit in my seat!") and where the styrofoam box with her pancakes should go. The Pipsqueak "helped" move all the stuff from one car to the next, but was a little disappointed when I said she couldn't ride in it yet because I hadn't had time to get her special seat installed correctly. Mollified by promises of a ride "real soon!" in Uncle Brian's new car, we all headed back to AJ's to wrap up a couple of things (and watch a very involved impromptu song-and-dance routine that somehow involved Ariel, the ocean, and a demonstration of how mermaids swim).

All in all, a very busy (and expensive!) afternoon and evening... and one heck of a lot of fun, too!

[1] I just realized she shared a name with the incredibly helpful guide we had for most of our time in China...! She even went so far as to "jump the line" with my paperwork and push it ahead of other customers' when Mom admitted her blood sugar was getting too far out of the healthy zone due to her not eating for too many hours.

[2] When AJ came into the dealership with the Pipsqueak so we could all go to dinner together, he took one look at Miri and exclaimed that she's natural-born with the kind of eyelids that are the #1 requested cosmetic surgery in China, almost the equivalent of breast augmentation surgery in the U.S. We'd never heard that before from anyone, but he was (pleasantly) adamant about it...!

[3] Potty training is ongoing, and the Pipsqueak is getting pretty good at it. Monday was actually the first day we didn't have a single "oops" and she peed and pooped several times just like a big girl should! (She's actually very proud of that, something we're encouraging.)