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!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Just A Quick Shout-Out

Sorry for the silence... been really busy and (just to keep things interesting) really sick. I think AJ gave me whatever cold/virus/yukkiness she was suffering from while the Pipsqueak was taking meds for an ear infection, and one of us passed something on to Mom because she's been pretty sick for over a week. Just to keep things interesting, work has gotten even more insane (Dude, stop telling yourself it can't get worse because every time you do... it does!) so all the grownups are a bit like sleep-deprived zombies.

A couple of bits of cuteness from the Pipsqueak I want to share before diving back into bed... This past weekend, AJ & I went to see "A Christmas Carol" (Sunday matinee) at the dinner theatre we share tickets for, and Miri spent the day with Grandma and Grandpa. (Yes, even though Mom's not healthy.) As soon as we got back to the house, we gathered up the Pipsqueak and headed over to the home of an old friend whose father had died just the other day for a shiva visit. I still remember this friend as one of my "baby" sister's friends when they were back in elementary school (I still remember picking up the whole lot in the family station wagon when school let out on a rainy day shortly after I first got my license) -- and whose daughter had her bat mitzvah earlier this year. (Yikes! Dude, you're old!) Miri put on her usual "I'm shy!" show when we first got there, but soon was happily playing with our friend's daughter. Somewhere along the line, the question of singing and music came up, and all of a sudden we were getting serenaded by my niece -- full-length, on-key renditions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "The Hanukkah Song" sung mistake-free with a big smile!  I was amazed, thinking about how just a (very) few months ago I was singing "Twinkle" to her (again and again and again and...) because she liked the song and couldn't sing it herself.

On the way home, we stopped and picked up a couple of pizzas so Mom would have something hot to eat. We spent some time with the folks helping eat the pizzas, watching Miri carefully "read" the label on Grandma's medicine while lecturing her on how she needed to take it regularly for ten days so she could get well, and not to stop taking it before ten days were over... It was soon later than we realized and we were all running on fumes, so Mom threw us out the door. Miri said goodnight to Grandma (with one more admonishment to take her medicine!) and gave Grandpa a big "goodnight, Gampa!" hug before declaring herself "Leader of the Line" and guiding AJ & I out the door. All of a sudden, she stopped short and ran back to the still-open door where our folks were standing and said, "I hope you feel better soon, Grandma!" before marching down the walk to her Mommy's car. Mom asked if one of us had prompted her to say that, but it was pure Pipsqueak caring and nothing either of us had even thought of having her do.

And with that little story, I'm going to try to get back to sleep. (We have another, unrelated, funeral in the morning... Not such a happy holiday season this year... but at least Miri's over her ear infection.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ils Sont Tous Nos Enfants

The news out of Connecticut today is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching horror.

It immediately brought to mind one of the old issues of Paris Match magazine I've kept. It's issue #2444, dated March 28, 1996. The entire cover is taken up with what look like classic black-and-white school portraits, a dozen-odd little kids smiling at the camera. A single, large headline appears above the block of photos: "Ils Sont Tous Nos Enfants" -- they are all our children.

Inside the magazine, the cute cover becomes a horror story. On March 13, 1996, failed shopkeeper & scoutmaster Thomas Hamilton entered the Dunblane Primary School in Dunblane, Scotland, carrying four handguns and over 700 rounds of ammunition. He went to the gymnasium and opened fire on a kindergarten class there, killing 15 children outright. Their teacher, Gwen Mayor, was also killed as she fought to defend her students. Hamilton then went outside and began randomly shooting into a nearby mobile classroom; amazingly, the teacher inside had realized something was wrong and had all the students lay down on the floor just seconds before bullets began coming through the walls and windows. Hamilton then turned and fired at a group of children he saw in a nearby corridor, wounding their teacher before putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Another 11 children and 3 adult school staff were rushed to the hospital, where an additional little girl was pronounced dead. The teacher who died defending her class was only 45; one little boy was six, all the other victims were just five years old.

I remember reading the article for the first time, back when the magazine was new, with a slowly-growing sense of anger at what this highly defective human being did. Somewhere in all those thoughts was a quiet curiosity... What about the wounded who survived, their families? What about the families whose children were taken from them so abruptly? What were they thinking and feeling? I understood the basic meaning of the headline and the message the magazine staff was trying to convey, but somehow I was a step removed from truly understanding.

That particular magazine has come into mind several times since then; most notably April 20, 1999; April 16, 2007; March 10, 2009; January 28, 2011; July 20, 2012; August 5, 2012; and most recently December 11, 2012. (That's a short list; go here for something a little more horrifyingly complete.) Each time, I've felt the same powerless anger at the needless death, the burning curiosity about what could drive someone to commit such a crime, and -- a little more each time -- what it must be like for those left behind. Still, I remained one step removed.

Well, now there's this little 3-1/2 year old girl who thinks her uncle's the best thing since bread (never mind slicing it) and who is in my mind the most important person on this planet. I know how I feel when she's sick, when she cries, when she's crochety from just waking up and doesn't want to be bothered. I know how it feels to have a little voice call out "Uncle Brian!" across a room followed by a very little person wrapping herself happily around my leg. And I'm watching the news and reading the blogs and listening to the radio...

...and suddenly I understand.

I'm not a step removed. I'm not a half-step removed.

They are all our children.

And I keep catching myself crying.

I know what it means now. I can understand what one father meant when he said his mad rush to the school from work was the longest drive of his life, what another father felt when he was at a loss for words even just trying to ask what to tell his little boy, what the young woman in the photo crying into her phone trying to find out if her sister was still alive was going through.

Ils sont tous nos enfants.

They are all our children.

Every single one of us is the mother father sister brother uncle aunt grandmother grandfather cousin friend coworker of every single person in that school today.

Keep those families in your thoughts & prayers. Wish them well.

Wish them healing.

They are all our children.

Photo sources, top to bottom: EPA; Gary Jeanfaivre/Newtown Patch; Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ouch, Ouch, and Re-Ouch!

Life can be rough sometimes, and (unfortunately) there are no exceptions to that rule for the Pipsqueak. Although she's usually reluctant to go to school on Monday mornings (Dude, more proof she really is related to you!), AJ told me that for the first time Tuesday morning featured a pre-daycare mini-meltdown was far from "mini" in any way.

After waiting for me to finish asking about illness, sickness, pain, infections, and any number of other scary potential causes, AJ explained that when asked what was wrong, my niece replied that she was afraid of what was going to happen to her at school!

My sister then smilingly calmed me down and assured me that no, there really wasn't anything horrible happening and no one was bullying my pipsqueak-sized niece. The problem, it seems, is that she keeps getting hurt!

Thursday: The Pipsqueak comes down the slide on the playground and ever-so-slightly bumps a little girl standing near the bottom. Said little girl takes offense at what she thinks is an unfair bump and... bites Miri.  No skin breakage, no toothmarks, no outward signs of damage, but apparently Grandma, Grandpa, and Mommy heard aaaaalllll about it later that day.

Friday: The Pipsqueak runs left, one of her classmates runs right, the teacher goes to intercept... and gets there a half-second after the little boy's head connects with Miri's mouth. No cuts, no blood, no bruises, but a really sore and slightly swollen lip.

Monday: The Pipsqueak makes it through the day unscathed, only to get so excited when Grandma & Grandpa come to pick her up that she runs to her cubby without watching where she's going, and... Well, the table was unhurt, and there was no lasting damage to my niece, but now she's got a nice bruise just under one eye. (And, we hope, a better understanding of the phrase, "watch where you're going!")

Somehow, I don't remember ever getting hurt at school three days in a row until I was well into my scholastic career, and knowing how sensitive the Pipsqueak is to things that 1) make boo-boos, 2) hurt, and 3) get in the way of her doing whatever she wants to do... well, I can understand why she'd develop a reluctance to return to daycare! Luckily, it's been easy for AJ to convince Miri that going to school is still A Good Thing (and the Pipsqueak's enjoyed herself once there), so I'll just add these to the long list of events that made me say, way back in late 2010, that my niece "is going through life headfirst accompanied by the occasional loud THUNK!"

But I really hope she remembers to watch where she's going...!

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Niece the Photographer (Part 1)

The Pipsqueak has had an affinity for the camera since... well, most of her life. Even before we returned Stateside from China, she was paying attention most of the time when I pointed my camera at her, and by the time we'd gotten home she would usually reach for it. (I've often bemoaned how many photos I have that feature a close-up of her palm.)

It wasn't long before she had figured out the whole, "say cheese!' bit and began to really ham it up for portraits or candids (most of which didn't seem too "candid" because she'd pose as soon as she heard the beep of a digital camera booting up). Oh, sure, there have been times we've wanted a nice family photo and Miri's decided she wanted to do something else, making it necessary to figure out how to distract her until she'd forgotten she didn't want to be photographed, but for the most part she's had a blast being photographed & looking at photos of herself.

There's been a new development over the past 15 months or so: she'll hold her hands up in front of her face, demand that someone say, "cheese!" and with a laughing "CLICK!" will "take a picture" with her imaginary camera.

Even more recently, she's begun demanding to use a real camera (usually her uncle's), and I've begun to (gingerly, carefully, nervously) let her take some shots on her own. I'll continue hanging onto the camera strap 90% of the time -- thus the collection of extreme close-up portraits of yours truly on the camera's SD card! -- but lately I've begun letting her do almost everything on her own. To be honest, although she's actually taken some pretty good photos (to be seen in a future post), I still have to clean fingerprints off the lens after most shots, and she usually holds the camera with her hands covering both the flash and the IR port for the auto-focus... thus multiple collections of images like these:

Of course, the majority of the Pipsqueak's photos are pretty much what one might expect from a three-year-old more excited about being able to handle a camera than about the science behind its use... so she often forgets to make sure her entire subject is actually in-frame:

The headless person to port is Grandma, to starboard is Cousin E.

I think the chin in the red shirt is me; I know that's me in the green tee.

No idea on the left (Cousin E, perhaps?); Grandpa's on the right.

Another minor difficulty with my niece's current level of photography skills is the sheer excitement she feels at holding an actual camera in her hands. She gets so excited, in fact, that she will often forget to aim the camera at her intended subject... as in the following miniscule percentage of similar photos:

The top left photo is Xuan, one of Miri's fuzzy feline sisters; I know the one to the right was supposed to be Grandma at dinner, but all bets are off if you're guessing who or what was the intended subject of the bottom photo.

Lastly, my niece is a three-year old... so some of her photos are a bit different from images an older photographer might try to capture. For example, the image below:

No, Dulce didn't turn around just as the shutter clicked. No, Miri didn't accidentally push the button at the wrong moment. This is just one of almost a dozen photos my darling niece purposely took of the unsuspecting kitty's tush! ("Uncle Brian, I took a picture of Dulce's butt!" <giggle>)

Then, of course, there was the evening my niece became fascinated with the idea of photographing her feet. Again, and again, and again, and... <sigh> These two are a sampling of more than twenty such photos she took over the course of a single afternoon & evening.

Lastly, there are those photos that are simply taken without an understanding of composition, minimum focus distance, or the use of flash, or even simply the need to push the right button at the right time...

On the other hand, these shortcomings have helped create some interesting photos; the two below were taken the evening I was installing safety latches on several bathroom cabinets. The Pipsqueak managed to capture a pretty neat first-person view of me drilling pilot holes by shooting directly over my shoulder (coincidentally blinding me with the flash just as the drill bit touched wood), and I think the image on the right is just a pretty darn cool shot of yours truly and sister framed in a doorway.

Now, lest anyone think I make it a habit to disparage my niece's work as a budding photographer, I will shortly be making a post showing some of her better work -- which, quite frankly, is sometimes indistinguishable from snapshots taken by much more experienced camera users.

But I still think it's cute that she says, "Click!" out loud every time she takes a shot. <grin>

(A serious postscript... I began composing this post a couple of days ago, but since then learned of some tough times for the Bartlinskis, one of the adoptive families we literally bumped into in Guangzhou in 2010. Check out their family blog -- "Our Place Called Home" in my blog list below --  and please keep Teresa and her family in your thoughts!)