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!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Amazing, Happy Milestone

This past Sunday marked a special milestone.

It was a milestone both for our family, and not of our family... but of our "family."

Got that?  (Go ahead, I'll wait while you re-read it.)

You see, as any readers who have been through the wringer international adoption process know, you don't do it alone. You can't do it alone. Cannot. The process goes on forever; at this point, anyone wanting to adopt a child from overseas is looking at investing the better part of a decade in the process.

A long, slow, exasperating, sometimes fear-filled, sometimes tear-filled, sometimes bleakly empty period of years in which an entire family's life is, to varying degrees at varying times in varying ways, put entirely on hold (without even the benefit of cheesy Muzak). Want to move? Think twice. Want an expensive vacation, need a new car, or think your house might need expensive repairs? Think twice. Want to change jobs? Think twice... no, make that thrice. Your life is documented, investigated, monitored, reviewed, re-documented, re-reviewed; your home is examined, your personal past is laid open to a foreign government's review, you are required by international law to take courses that are unheard of (and probably would not be tolerated) by anyone seeking to grow a family via the classic "birds and bees" method.

If you do not have a support structure of some kind, you will. not. make. it. through.

Trust me on this. I'm not even directly the parent of a child adopted from China (though I consider myself truly blessed to be an integral part of Miri's life -- and "blessed" is a word I never use) -- but as my sister's paperchase wore on and on and on, I learned many new definitions of the word "stress" that my life would have been quite a bit more enjoyable without.

My sister -- and my folks, and Yours Truly -- were amazingly lucky to have become part of an extended family of families all going through the process at the same time, which soon evolved into going through the process together. A shoulder to cry on is A Good Thing to have; when that shoulder is attached to someone who knows exactly what you're going through, it becomes a lifeline when rough seas threaten to capsize your rowboat, a light  when the darkness seems total and all-encompassing, the only friendly voice in a cacophany of heartless, beaureaucratic naysaying.

So -- despite different lifestyles, backgrounds, religions, and adoption agencies -- bonds were forged, friendships built, and an extended family grew of its own accord without anyone planning for it to happen. Overall, the group grew & shrank over time; some families decided they'd had enough and dropped out, and we were all shocked by another marriage that unexpectedly cracked & broke under the strain of the wait. But overall, the group held together, friendships & understanding growing bit by bit as the months became years and the years began crawling past.

Our adoption family's roots go back to late 2005/early 2006; back then, anyone adopting from China was told to expect a wait of months, "maybe a year, absolutely no more than 18 months" before booking their flight to the other side of the world. AJ's agency assured her she would be meeting her daughter in China "within a year" and we were so worried about the speed of the process that I paid extra to have my new passport expedited to ensure I wouldn't miss the flight.

I could have saved the cash.  It wasn't until July of 2008 that the first little baby girl joined us at our annual crab feast (at which, ironically, crabs usually don't figure very large on the menu). Then, in October of 2008, the second baby girl came home followed by a 3rd baby girl in March of 2009. (When reading these dates, keep in mind that the adopting families had all begun the adoption process in mid-to-late 2005).  We were thrilled to finally have the Pipsqueak join us in July of 2010, and then the first little girl (not a baby any more!) met her little brother in December of that year. Another little girl came home in February of 2011, and then two families were joined by their new daughters in May of 2011.

All along, the families whose children had come home and the families who were still waiting supported each other, did things together, and rejoiced and/or cried together over many things (as the wait stretched longer, there were grandparents who never got to meet their grandchildren). The clock seemed to be ticking more and more slowly, until finally in May of 2012 another little girl came home and the 3rd little girl (also no longer a "baby" by any means) got to meet her little brother. That left one last family dangling in the netherworld of "it will be soon... no, not that soon... soon..." It could have -- should have? -- broken up this big informal adoption family, or at least left this one last family out in the cold as the only ones still caught in the paperchase, but everyone remembered (with far more clarity than any of us really wanted) the pain of the wait, the feelings of attending one of our get-togethers and seeing someone else there happily wiping the chin of their new daughter or son... and the family held together.

Finally, in September of 2012, the last family in our family traveled to China to pick up their little girl and bring her home. It had taken over seven years -- over 2,600 days! -- for all the kids to come home, but it had finally happened.

So why a milestone this past Sunday and not last year?

We had a big luncheon get-together (of course it was at a Chinese restaurant!) with almost all the grownups in attendance -- and all the kids were there.

Let me say that again: ALL THE KIDS WERE THERE.  For the first time since the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline was around two bucks, since we had a President nicknamed "Dubya," since Western Union stopped sending telegrams, since contact was lost with Pioneer 10... our adoption family had a get-together and all. the. kids. were. there.

It was noisy. It was chaotic. It was noisy. It was extremely active. It was noisy. It was a full-size "kids' table" set up with crafts & coloring books that was for the first time ever too small. It was a gaggle of little girls and a pair of little boys (and one slightly overwhelmed older brother who was the biological offspring of his parents and who turned out to be possibly the world's best "instant" big brother on Gotcha Day and every day since).

(Dude, don't forget to mention that it was noisy...!)

The kids raced back & forth, following specific fish around in the big tank. The kids sat and colored and stickered (Doggie now has sparkly purple "earrings" thanks to the Pipsqueak liking some of the foam shape stickers). The kids chased each other around. The kids shoveled food into their mouths as fast as they could / refused to eat anything / ate daintily and carefully / any combination thereof and then some. And -- despite the occasional and inevitable mini-meltdown, or face meeting table at inopportune moments, or multiple kids attempting to simultaneously occupy the same point in the space-time continuum -- it was happy.  There was English, and some French, and snippets of Spanish and Mandarin, and plain ol' wordless happy yelling.

I think the older girls had some real understanding of how special the event was, but even the younger ones (including the latest addition, the only one of the kids who hadn't yet met all the others) all seemed to immediately find common ground and play together as peacefully as any group of 3- and 4-year-olds can be expected to. One of the older girls, the first one to come home all the way back in July of 2008, when forced to abandon the kids' craft table by the sheer volume of humanity gathered around it kept asking, "what are we going to do next?" until AJ had a flash of inspiration and told her, "next we're all going to turn into grapefruit!" The girl's expression was absolutely priceless -- and then she burst out laughing and wormed her way back into the happy mass of young humanity at the kids' table.

She got it: this was happy time, never mind what's next on the schedule, we can all finally really truly honestly say everyone is here, let's just enjoy the company.

And we did. Because we are all good friends who know each other well, because we have all helped each other through the longest gestation of any living mammal (your science textbook will tell you it's the elephant -- but they only have to wait about one year, not seven), because we know that at long last none of our friends are still trapped in the paperchase, because the food was good and the company better. Because all the kids were there.

There are already emails bopping around the Internet as various moms in the group try to coordinate their schedules for play dates and/or grownup get-togethers, and there's talk of the best place for this year's crab feast, and even a couple of mentions of heritage trips back to China in coming years, but from this point forward it will all be with one major, all-encompassingly good, difference: All our kids are here with us now.

And we know it, and we rejoice in it. Even as we worry about the world they're growing up in, how to pay for college, how long the grandparents will be able to lend a hand, how solid anyone's job is, how the various kids will deal with the inevitable issues of trans-racial adoption, and... and... and... on and on. We are all likely more interested in news from & about China than the average U.S. citizen, but no longer have "fight or flight" responses trigger instantly at the mention of the word "China" on TV; we are all able to heave a sigh of relief and a quiet "thank you God for that not being me any more" before reaching out to comfort / support / console / advise other families caught in their own paperchases; we can all stop worrying about how we're going to adjust to being a family and get on with the daily business of being a family.  And the change really happened, the new reality slipped quietly (okay, noisily and happily chaotically) into place when an amazing, happy milestone was reached this past Sunday.

All the kids were there.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


The Pipsqueak likes cheese. As in, she really likes cheese. Well, most cheese; some varieties not so much others lots. Her  favorite (at least for the time being) is Monster Cheese. Grandma buys it for her at the supermarket. It's pale yellow inside and its outer edge is orange. The Pipsqueak doesn't quite understand why it's called "Monster" cheese, but Monster Cheese it is... and it is good.

Grandma has the flu. Yes, The Flu, not a cold. She went to the doctor about 3-1/2 weeks ago, and the doctor gave her a Z-pack but all that did was make her feel worse. Grandma then went to an ENT who told her, "You're sick, Hon!" and gave her stronger antibiotics that made her feel better for a couple of days, but then she got even sicker. Finally, Grandma went back to the first doctor, who ran some tests and said, "You have the flu! I'll give you a prescription for Tamiflu even though it probably won't help much at this point, you'll just have to let the disease run its course." When asked why she hadn't tested Grandma for the flu three weeks earlier, the doctor replied, "You didn't really look sick enough." (This one's not so cute, but it's certainly got the Pipsqueak's grownups shaking their heads and grumbling.)

The Pipsqueak doesn't like cold weather. The cold air gives her chopped hands. She needs Mommy to give her some cream to make the chop better.

Because Grandma's sick, Uncle Brian is picking up the Pipsqueak at daycare and driving her aaaalll the way to Mommy at work. Grandma is very worried that this is making the Pipsqueak unhappy, is bothering the Pipsqueak, and is having a negative effect on the Pipsqueak. Meanwhile, the Pipsqueak runs from the door aaaalll the way down the hall to Mommy's office, stopping only to hug some of the Nursing and Dietary staff hello, then grabs Mommy's hand and drags her all over the building to say "hi" to all of Mommy's friends at work, then happily sits in Uncle Brian's office watching Wiggles videos on his laptop until Mommy is able to collect all her stuff and take the Pipsqueak home. Much to the amusement of the staff, Uncle Brian is often heard singing Wiggles tunes to himself the rest of the evening.

The Pipsqueak knows Mommy keeps a few goodies in her file drawer: pretzel sticks, oranges, dried fruit, carrots, celery sticks, granola bars. The Pipsqueak can plainly see the big plastic jar of miniature chocolate bars on the table Mommy uses for meetings. The Pipsqueak will ask, "What can I have, Mommy?" while looking at the jar, and will ask the question again... and again... and again... and again... until Mommy stops offering healthy snacks and says, "You can have one piece of candy."

"Uncle Brian, talk to me about when I was a baby."
"You mean when we were in China?"
"You mean when we went on the airplane?"
"You mean when we saw the pandas?"
"You mean when we went to the medicine and pet markets?"
"You mean when you got to see Grandma and Grandpa for the first time on my computer?"
"You mean when we went on the boat ride?"
"You mean when you peed out the side of your diaper?"
"Ummm... no."
"You mean when you peed all over me and we both had to change our clothing?"

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Just A Sweet Little Kid...

I intended to make this post a couple of days ago but after running the laptop's battery down to under an hour's charge, it was only plugged in for a few minutes when I saw the little orange LED go out... and smelled burning insulation. Sure enough, the base of the cable from the box to the laptop was badly frayed (when did that happen?!?) and the box was almost too hot to hold. I used my iPhone to place an online order for a new one & picked it up at the Apple Store the next day, then spent the rest of the day out of the house doing various things. Late that night I happily went to plug it in... and discovered I'd bought the wrong power adapter! I had to return to the Apple Store (on a weekend, ugh!) and exchange it for the correct model the next day, then spent several hours of "uncle duty" (AJ had to work again) before finally being able to use the laptop again.

This, of course, also interfered with returning the Pipsqueak's "phone" (actually a 4th generation iPod Touch) to her.  The refurbished unit I'd been so smug about saving money on back in December had quickly proved it had been refurbished for a very good reason... and by the time all was said & done, the brand-new iPod bought this past week only cost about $25 more than the highly defective "guaranteed" refurbished one I'd bought from an online reseller. (Kudos to NewEgg for a no-argument, no hassle quick refund.) Lesson learned -- but I was up ridiculously late Sunday night restoring the old iPod's identity & contents to the new unit, along with converting & loading almost a gigabyte of assorted Wiggles videos. Hopefully we'll get the new/old "phone" back to her this week.

But enough kvetching about faulty technology... Where's the "sweet little kid" I mentioned, you ask...?

Turn the clock back to early last week, when Grandma & Grandpa had picked Miri up from daycare and were heading back to their house with her. An ambulance passed them, apparently on its way back to its station from a nearby hospital, triggering an exchange that went a little like this (I got the story secondhand so there's a bit of paraphrasing, but it's as close to the actual conversation as I can make it -- plus the Pipsqueak's actual word is actually somewhere between "hopspital" and "hopsital"):

Grandma: Miri, did you see the ambulance?

Pipsqueak: Yes, Grandma.

G: Ambulances go to the hospital, don't they?

P: Yes, Grandma, but they don't stay there. They stay at the fire house, so people can call them when they need help

G: That's right!

P: You went to the hospital in an ambulance, right, Grandma?

G: That's right, Miri. When I fell I had to ride in the ambulance to the hospital so they could help me with my boo-boos.

P: I visited you in the hospital. Grandma. I gave you a kiss to make you feel better there.

G: Yes, you did, and that helped me feel lots better.

P: I like it when you feel better, Grandma. I glad you feel better!

G: Thank you, Miri! I do feel lots better now, and you helped.

P: I don't like when you in the hospital, Grandma. I can't be your Honey Bunny there!

This from the 3-1/2 year old who regularly makes sure Grandma takes her medicine as prescribed (Mom's still getting over a nasty weeks-long bout of some undetermined type of virus), tells her Grandma that she hopes she feels better soon, and will occasionally just stop whatever she's doing to walk over and gently & soothingly pat or rub Grandma's arm or knee before going back to her play. She also still reminds Grandma & Grandpa to be careful on the stairs, or when stepping off curbs, or when she things a "lug" (slug) may be lurking underfoot, telling them she doesn't want them to get hurt.

Like I said, just a sweet little kid. (More on that ellipsis in my next post.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Trying to Catch Up...!


I just read back through my last few posts and realized that a) there aren't that many of them, b) they weren't as Pipsqueak-centric as I'd like, and c) they left out a whole heckuvalot of what's been going on 'round these parts for the past couple of months!

So, with apologies, let me see if I can fill in at least a few of the blanks and get back to creating a chronicle of my jiujiuhood instead of repeatedly promising I'd post more... sometime soon... maybe... <sigh>

(By the way, items below will not necessarily be presented in chronological order; please bear with me, my internal calendar hasn't been working well since before Halloween!)

Back in November, I made a comment about the Pipsqueak sometimes sounding "like Alannah Miles due to allergy congestion" but it turned out to be a combination cold and ear infection. Of course, when AJ took her to the doctor because the "allergy congestion" just kept refusing to clear up, she knew Miri had been exposed to some pretty serious bugs at daycare -- thus the pediatrician got a surprising, "Oh, good!" when delivering the news that the Pipsqueak's problem was "only" an ear infection and she would have to take antibiotics for ten days. Happily, everything cleared up and since then Miri's only had to deal with the occasional cold air related boogers... which, of course, are objects of great amusement to her. (Aah, to be a little kid again...!)

Unfortunately, the rest of us seem to have been passing something around -- actually, a series of "somethings" -- and Mom wound up with the worst of it. She's finally at long last feeling better (now that she got a 2nd opinion and that doctor really checked her out instead of making a few assumptions) but spent a couple of hellacious weeks where events conspired to have her taking care of the Pipsqueak while feeling absolutely, totally, completely, 110% crappy. Miri rose to the occasion almost as well as her Grandma did, though; without anyone asking or  telling her, she did her best to "take care of" Grandma and toned down her usual level of hyperactivity (at least as much as one can expect a 3-1/2 year old to "tone down") and repeatedly lectured Grandma on how important it was for her to take her medicine like the doctor told her to, making sure she took it for the full 10 days and not less, and explaining that even if it didn't taste good it was important to take it like a big girl. Every now and then she'd also interrupt her play to stroke Grandma's arm or knee and ask if she was feeling okay. (If I sound like I'm kvelling... well, you betcha!)

Back in this post I overheard Miri saying "it only fell a little bit" and AJ hoping out loud her new coat rack would last long enough to actually be used. Well, I'm happy to report that it did indeed survive and is now regularly used by my niece to hang up her coats (at least when she doesn't drop them on the floor because she's already gotten distracted by a particular toy, or interest in seeing what's in the refrigerator). Unfortunately, the old Baby Gate Curse held true -- so there are several holes in the wall where AJ originally asked me to hang the coat rack, a few feet away from where it's actually mounted now.  I think these holes (just out of sight off the left edge of the photo) are actually a nice counterpoint to the holes in the wall (just to the right of the coat rack in the photo) left behind when the largest of the baby gates was taken down back in October (or was it September?); it was sort of a rite of passage for Miri, since we waited until we were all sure she was able to safely navigate her way to the edge of the steps without falling down. (You'll notice, however, that the gate blocking access to the basement is still in place; the Pipsqueak's a bit too much of an explorer for those to be taken down just yet.)

Back in this post, I talked a bit about the Pipsqueak's propensity for photography. She's taken numerous photos with my camera (and I've even let her hold it herself the last few times... nervously, with my hands hovering beneath...), and she will often put her hands up in front of her face and tell us, "Say cheese!" then loudly go "CLICK!" with a big smile. Sometimes her (real) photos are kind of interesting; for example, she got an uncle's-eye-view of my drilling pilot holes in AJ's bathroom cabinets so I could mount the long-overdue safety latches. (Did I mention my niece is a bit of an explorer?) We bought her one of those special "little kid cameras" early this past spring, and she was so excited that she took it to bed with her for the first couple of nights. However, she very quickly realized it didn't work like a "real" camera and wouldn't let her show off big color images -- plus we learned the hard way that four AA batteries can only last so long, with "so" usually being several hours less than needed. The result is that the (somewhat expensive) kiddie camera has fallen out of favor, and is only used when Miri is unable to convince any of her grownups to loan her their camera or iPhone. Things actually got to the point where she went back to using her old toy camera to take pretend photos instead of using the real thing... so Uncle Brian was re-drafted to re-research the topic of cameras suitable for a young lady of less than four years of age.

Considering Miri's experience and skill with real cameras and our iPhones -- "Uncle Brian, can I see your phone a minute? Pleeeeeease?" is a constant refrain -- I decided to go whole hog and took advantage of Cyber Monday to get a good deal on a 4th generation iPod Touch for her as a Hanukkah gift from all four of her grownups. (That day's second online purchase was an Otterbox Defender case for the iPod -- in bright pink, of course!) Unfortunately, I tried a little too hard to save some cash -- I bought a refurbished unit from an online vendor.  To make a long story short, I (finally) received an email from them a couple of days ago that my refund for the unresponsive unit should be showing up in my credit card account shortly, at which point I will walk into the nearest Apple Store and buy her a new one. I now know that my niece is comfortable with advanced electronics and cares for them properly, but secondhand units were originally returned to the manufacturer for a good reason... and by the time I was done with the "discounted" UPS fees for the return, I could've gotten her a brand-new iPod Touch for only about $20 more than I've ended up spending at Cyber Monday prices. Lesson learned (and she'll have the new "phone" this weekend).

In addition to becoming aware of the Pipsqueak's skill with electronics and interest in providing medical care (Miri's second-favorite Hanukkah gift was a toy "vet set" from Uncle M and Aunt D, and she's very into giving meds to her sick stuffed doggy), I've recently noticed something else: the Pipsqueak is quite a bit less pipsqueakish than she used to be. Many of her peers (and even younger kids) are still flying at higher altitudes, but Miri is really growing; so much so that I recently had to ask AJ when she replaced her bald little baby with a fast-moving little girl. The little doll-sized toddler who could barely reach the bottom of the refrigerator door and who used to take up slightly less space on Mommy's bed than one of the pillows is now able to retrieve items from the kitchen counter entirely on her own (uh-oh!) and has somehow found a way to occupy the majority of a queen-size bed by herself.

One thing hasn't changed, though: just like her Jiu Jiu, the Pipsqueak suffers from sleep inertia. (Nope, I didn't make that term up; you can Google it.) Sometimes she'll wake up pretty quickly and be her usual active, cheerful self -- but many times, especially if she's been running at full bore until her body says, "enough!" and forces her to sleep (another unfortunate trait she shares with yours truly), she'll be a grouchy, grumpy, withdrawn little bundle of annoyance until she can shake off the last vestiges of naptime. Don't let the seemingly cute game of peekaboo fool you; she's not playing, she's letting me know in no uncertain terms that I am to leave. her. alone. and she means now. Luckily, if Miri's someplace with lots of distractions (in a car, at an event or a party, etc.) she'll usually get interested in what's going on around her right quick... and, much to her Mommy's distress on weekend & holiday mornings, if the Pipsqueak decides it's time to get up, then she's up and that will be the end of any further sleep until sometime in the afternoon.

One more thing, and then I promise I'll stop growing this post. Just before the holidays, Miri and AJ went to a party where everybody had a chance to build their own gingerbread house. Of course, everyone else there was building Christmas-themed houses, but (with just a little help from Mommy) the Pipsqueak was able to create an admirable winter-themed house with Hannukah gelt on the walls and dreidels & stars on the roof (and even a little Israeli flag over the door, which absolutely cracked me up for some reason). I don't know who was more proud of the finished edifice -- my niece or my sister -- but I have to admit I was more than happy to record its image from eleventy-seven different angles. (I'll be merciful and only include one photo here.) Of course, in typical Pipsqueak fashion, the house very quickly receded into a pleasant memory because there were so many other toys to play with, games to play, stories to tell, books to read (okay, she makes up stories based on the pictures, but she calls it reading so I will, too!), photos to take, and adventures to share.

And, despite not always posting here in a timely manner, her uncle's looking forward to every last bit of it. We may not sing her customized version of "Big Red Car" any more, and I can't hold her as long as I used to when I hear the famous, "Up!" but I have a grand ol' time playing and talking with my niece so I'm sure there will be lots more posts in the coming weeks. (I'll keep 'em shorter than this one, I promise.)

Until next time...!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year... Some Wishes

Goodbye, turbulent 2012!

Hello, still-unwritten 2013!

In hopes that the young child with the "2013" sash dragging a too-big scythe & hourglass behind is listening, a few wishes...

I wish for good health and happiness for my parents, my sister, my niece... and the rest of the human family.

I wish for a year in which "common sense" is less of an oxymoron (or at least one with less emphasis on the "moron" part).

I wish for a year in which a majority of people wake up to the fact that acrimonious back-stabbing, name-calling, in-your-face confrontation achieves no positive results, builds no trust, deserves no respect, and is not acceptable behavior from anyone of any age.

I wish for a year in which "different" returns to simply meaning "not the same" and loses all pretense of being a judgement of value, honor, trustworthiness, morality, ethics, worthiness, or privilege.

I wish for a year in which Russia stops screwing over its orphans and American citizens seeking to adopt them.

I wish for a year in which it stops being made necessary for mothers to give up their children for adoption for any reason.

I wish for a year in which children stop being given up for adoption as a lifestyle choice by those who give birth to them because they had made other plans for their lives and stopped paying attention to what they were doing.

I wish for a year in which those who choose to adopt are no longer considered baby thieves, destroyers of families, or just over-privileged spoiled brats seeking to make collections of babies like they make collections of stamps or beer mugs.

I wish for a year in which adult adoptees' desire to learn more about their origins, their genetic risks for disease, and the source of their eye color/hair color/skin color/anything else stops being considered criminal activity.

I wish for a year in which the gap between the Haves and the Have Nots narrows significantly (and remains that way afterwards).

I wish for a year in which all those needing help coping with the world around them can easily get the help they need and are able to afford it for as long as they need it.

I wish for a year in which no U.S. citizen has to worry about losing rights guaranteed by the Constitution and its amendments, and in which no U.S. citizen has to worry about losing their property, livelihood, or lives to individuals who take undue and extreme advantage of those rights.

I wish for a year in which rights are rights and people are people and we all learn how to live the lives we feel we should without trying to block others from doing the same.

And finally, I wish for a year of happiness, good health, and prosperity for all.

Happy new year, everyone!