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!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Little Reassurance

NOTE: I apologize for the continued slowness/sparseness of updates, but I actually do have a good excuse this time. I had cataract surgery back on the 13th, and since I don't have my final post-op check 'til this coming Monday I'm having to use a pair of glasses from back in 2007 or 2008.... so by the time I get home from work, the eyestrain's pretty much wiped me out. (I wasn't trying to prove or disprove anything about luck or superstition; it's just purely by chance that I scheduled my surgery for the 13th, my recovery for the Ides of March, and my final post-op check for April Fool's Day...!) The good news is that things are (literally!) looking good, so I should be able to get new glasses within a couple of weeks... meanwhile, thanks for hangin' in there with me...

About a week ago, I (gently and lovingly) called my mother a moron. I needn't have bothered, as you'll see in a moment; it just seemed the only proper response to a comment she made.

We were all doing the usual weekend family dinner thing, and shortly before dessert Miri firmly announced she had to go potty and surprised us all by allowing Mommy to take her. (Usually, if I'm around, she insists that it absotively posilutely must be Uncle Brian who takes her to the potty -- that way she can have me tell her the story about when she peed on me in China for the eleventy-seventh time.) While they were out of the room, Mom, Dad and I were talking about how much Miri has grown... which almost inevitably led to some comments about the passing of time, and the (now expected) commentary on how Grandma & Grandpa aren't going to be around forever so I'd better watch my health so I can be there to help AJ with Miri.

What I didn't expect was Mom's comment, "I don't know if she'll remember us, but..."

That's when I (gently and lovingly) called my mother a moron, telling her there was no way the Pipsqueak would not remember her Grandma and Grandpa. Maybe not all the details, maybe not the more informed & balanced memories of an older child, but she'd definitely remember two people who were so important to her.

Luckily, AJ & daughter returned from the successful potty session before Mom could figure out a rebuttal, and the subject was dropped.

As usual, Miri began negotiating for the right to Bounce On Grandma And Grandpa's Bed long before dessert was done. They have a big king-size bed with a gel/foam pad on top -- for someone the size of the Pipsqueak, it provides almost as much bouncy play space as the state of Rhode Island -- and she absolutely loves to bounce & roll around on it. Grandma tends to be a bit nervous during these sessions (she's convinced that any deviation from the absolute center of the mattress will result in her granddaughter crashing headfirst to the floor) so she stands guard on one side... and since none of us think it's a good idea for Dad to have to go up & down the stairs more often than necessary, I'll usually join them and stand guard on the other side of the bed.

This time, the Pipsqueak decided we should all lay down and go to sleep in the bed -- and quite firmly demanded that we play along when Mom & I both demurred, so "going to sleep" it was. Several times, the three of us would lay quietly under the blanket for a few moments ant them Miri would jump up and start yelling, "WAKE UP! WAKE UP!" while laughing at our play-startled expressions.

And then... Well, it seemed like just another iteration of the same game, but we were laying quietly a bit longer this time... and then a bit longer...

...and then Miri rolled over, wrapped her little arms as far around her grandmother as she could, and quietly said, "Grandma, I love you so much!"

We were back to the "wake up!" game a few moments later, but I did manage to sneak in a quiet "told you so!" as the three of us headed back downstairs.

I have since apologized to Mom for calling her a moron... but she's stopped wondering aloud if Miri will remember her Grandma and Grandpa.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Something I Never Expected to Write


Well, now, this is unique... I'm posting as a semi-parent... as an adult... as a kid brought up on a steady diet of a certain animation studio's products... as a (semi-former) IT pro & web developer... and as a consumer of mass media -- all at the very same time!

The Pipsqueak is a fan of a certain animated mus musculus and his mouse, duck, dog, and other friends. She is even more a fan of the same studio's slowly-growing stable of royal young women.

(Dude, cut the obfuscating and speak plainly.)

Okay, you're right. <sigh> The Pipsqueak is a big fan o Mickey Mouse & his gang, and an even bigger fan of (most of) the Disney princesses. At the moment, Ariel tops the list; she could be deposed by one of the other "princessess" at any time, but the Pipsqueak's war cry this afternoon was "I want Ariel on your computer!" and very little else would do.  It shouldn't have been a problem; I bookmarked the Disney.Com princess page a long time ago, and Miri & I have visited regularly for at least a year.

Trouble is, Disney's been "updating" and "modernizing" and "improving" their online presence, and -- speaking for ALL the roles I listed in my opening sentence -- the results positively suck.

The biggest problem with the old site was that it was totally Flash-based and would sometimes run slowly. (Okay, let me use the technical term: s.l.o.o.o.o.o.o.w.l.y.) But it had a pretty opening picture with a whole pantheon of nicely-drawn "princesses" that would greet visitors nicely and in personality-appropriate fashion when clicked on. (I put "princesses" in quotes becasue , technically, a couple of them aren't actually princesses... but that's truly a non-issue here.) Each princess' section had hidden picture games, some puzzles, and a bunch on online activities that were tailored specifically to the character whose name was on that section of the website.

A couple of months ago, that site seemed to disappear... and I kept searching for it, so we viewed a lot of YouTube videos instead. Well, today the Pipsqueak really wanted Ariel, and I had very specifically been assigned the job of keeping her out from underfoot so Mom & AJ could get some seder preparations out of the way, so I made a concerted effort to get into the Disney princess site.

The UK version seemed friendlier than the US version, so we went there. The opening page is kinda cool; the princesses do a sort of 3-D shuffle as each moves in turn (when clicked) to the "foreground" and the others move to the "background" so you can pick a particular section of the site... but all the coloring, painting, and similar activities are limited to PDFs you're supposed to print out & color offline. Worse, as good as Miri is with some of the games on my iPhone, the online games are really arcade-style games with a bunch of "attacks" and "enemies" (and poor response to keyboard commands) that had both Miri and her uncle frustrated & unhappy in seconds flat. (One even allowed Ariel to be maneuvered clear off-screen, never to be seen again -- even though we could hear her bumping into things and getting hit on the head in attacks by enemies.)

I finally retreated to the US site, which (despite the total absence of any individualized greetings, personality-based artwork in the sections, hidden picture games & puzzles, or any of the other material that made the old site a regular destination) is still divided into sections for each princess. Or is it? Miri was thrilled when I (finally) clicked on Ariel and we found ourselves in her section... but the games & puzzles she wanted are no longer available on the site, and the majority of videos were for Rapunzel, Tiana or Aurora.

That was through the "Videos" link on the "Ariel" home page, the generic "Videos" link provides access to some cartoons I'm not familiar with, trailers for some Disney films, and a limited number of Mickey/Minnie cartoons. The (very) few music videos are primarily someone singing songs written for newer movies and/or other venues over montages of scenes from multiple animated films. I did eventually find some Ariel-specific videos... as long as we wanted to watch a number of mini-features about the "new" (opened in 2011)  Ariel-themed ride at the Disney parks.

Oh, and did I mention the commercials?  Yes, an unavoidable commercial (15 seconds to 1 minute long) will run before a chosen video. These aren't even plugs for Disney merchandise; they're actual commercials I've seen on TV. The two we had to sit through most frequently this evening were a mercifully short hard-sell on skin softening cream and a long one for a ghost-themed Mario Brothers game that scared the bejabbers out of Miri each time it came on.

We had better luck on YouTube, but there's a real shortage of suitable Ariel material, possibly because the Disney legal crew has managed to get most videos taken offline. There are eleventy-seven versions of "Part of Your World"  (I've seen it so often, I may send Ariel back to Ursula to just. shut.up.) and a few snippets from non-movie Ariel cartoons, but almost everything else is either snips from the Broadway production (whose protagonist Miri insists is not Ariel, just someone singing like her) homemade music videos of often sub-par quality, a few samples of non-Disney versions of "The Little Mermaid" (again, "that's not really Ariel!")... and quite a bit of stuff that I will not allow my not-yet-four niece to see until she's well into her late teens.

Disney seems to be doing an excellent job of running ads for their CDs, of getting people interested in their theme parks and cruises, and of catering to older kids & tweens who don't have a problem with arcade-style games in which Ariel sings to freeze "enemies" before they attack her so she can take items worth points from them. What they used to do a good job at, and now seem to have totally abandoned, was providing online access to different types of content appropriate to multiple ages, that actually followed the theme of individual princesses where it claimed to, that provided a good online "playground" where young children & their families could spend fun time, and that allowed little girls who liked a particular character to sort of step into those shoes without the entire family having to pack up and spend a small fortune to physically visit a Disney theme park.

Considering some of what's in the news lately, it may be a silly thing to be so PO'd about, but, dammit, this is Disney, and the Pipsqueak likes their princesses, and they stopped providing age-appropriate content to concentrate on selling product. (Oh, and don't get me started on the "updating" of the various princesses' look -- for cryin' out loud, Fa Mulan is whiter than Cinderella now!)

Shame on you, Disney Corporation -- WED must be looking down and crying. And I'll be finding other resources for my niece.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Something Shared

At the very end of my "trying to catch up" post, I mentioned I had another point to make about this year's FCC-Maryland Chinese New Year event...

When she signed the family up to attend, AJ also volunteered her big brother to serve food during lunch (a minor detail she failed to mention to me until several days beforehand). Although I wasn't sure about having to "work" instead of wandering through the various activities offered, I wound up having a lot of fun loading plates with various types of rice and moving 'em up the assembly line with friends old & new. (Point of pride: we fed 350 people in 30 minutes!)

The one scary thing was that for the first 15-20 minutes, no matter how many filled plates were passed to hungry attendees, the line seemed to get longer every time one of us paused to turn around & take a look. I could've sworn that there were at least 50 people waiting for food right up until we got the "all clear" to put together plates for ourselves... and yet there was nary a grumble, no request to hurry it up, no complaints that we were keeping little kids hungry. In fact, everyone seemed content to wait patiently while talking with whoever happened to be near them in line, with just an occasional, "I needed three of those, please, not two" or similar comment.

Afterwards, belly full and back only slightly sore (Dude, next time bend at your knees, not your lower back!) as I followed the Pipsqueak around with my camera, I found myself contemplating the mystery of so many people waiting so patiently while the food was in plain sight, kidlings were running around asking when they'd eat, and the time available to eat kept ticking down. And then it hit me.

Every person in that redecorated gym was in some way directly connected with the process of adopting at least one child from China. Older siblings had gone through the paperchase and wait with their parents. Older adoptees would have been aware, during their time in orphanages and SWIs and foster homes, of the time passing as they waited to be introduced to their new families and begin their new lives. And every adoptive parent, grandparent, aunt and uncle there had slogged through year upon year of, "fill out forms, mail forms out, wait to hear, pay some fees, fill out new forms, mail new forms out, wait to hear some more, pay some more fees..." repeated ad nauseam and then repeated some more until that day when a (possibly terrified and screaming) child was [handed to them / thrust into their arms / guided in their direction / urged to walk to them] only to then begin the (possibly years-long) process of building the mutual care, trust and loving that make a family a family.

These are people who know how to wait.

This is, as varied as it might be internally, a unique demographic with a shared skill set: the (painfully, expensively, emotionally draining, stressfully, dreamily, sleeplessly, hopefully, powerlessly) learned skill of waiting for something so strongly desired that entire families' lives are placed into a holding pattern for the better part of a decade. Once you've been through the paperchase, what's a few minutes standing in line for lukewarm Chinese food? You're with your child(ren) and the room is chock-full of people who understand what you're talking about (and what you feel) when you say things like, "The I-800 took forever and between DTC and LID time just seemed to stand still but it moved even slower between LID and LOA and I can't understand why the CCCWA even bothers with LSC these days because of Hague and somehow it didn't feel real when we finally got TA because there was still trouble lining up CA..." I mean, c'mon, what's ten, fifteen minutes in line compared to that?

Note to non-international adoption readers: I did not make up any of the preceding paragraph's alphabet soup, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you're a random visitor or family friend reading this post, you may not understand... but if you're a member of a family with at least one member adopted from overseas, I apologize for possibly resurrecting bad memories!

All those acronyms and forms and fees and phone calls and investigations and documentation require one to pay close attention to sometimes miniscule details, remember unmemorable tidbits from previous decades, and the ability to deal with having one's life examined in extreme detail -- and judged! -- by total strangers whose job description sometimes involves acting as an obstruction in your quest to achieve an important dream.

You learn patience. You learn to bite your tongue. You learn... to wait.

And when, after years of increasing desperation, impatience, and second-guessing the actions of bureaucrats in at least two nations thousands of miles apart, followed by anything from days to years of  working on a minute-by-minute basis to overcome all the emotional and experiential obstacles that may block the path to comfortable, loving, "easy" familyhood... Well, one day you realize you've achieved what you were waiting for, and there isn't likely to be anything else in your life (with the possible exception of additional international adoptions) for which waiting will be so difficult, so intense, so much of an 800 pound gorilla sulking in the corner of every room.

Yes, we were slingin' hash as fast as we could, and will do so again in the future -- but this is a bunch of people who know how to wait like almost no one else.

And you (we) should all be proud of that hard-earned skill.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Buyed It for You!

My birthday was this past week (Dude, there is no way you can be ffiif... fufff... fffff...  fifty-four years old...!) and as with any birthday the Pipsqueak was excited to celebrate. She was especially happy about the birthday present she got me, and as we were leaving a dim sum lunch on Saturday she just HAD to tell me all about it. AJ tried to slow her daughter down a bit by reminding her that birthday presents are supposed to be surprises but to no avail.

"Uncle Brian! I got you a piggy bank! It big! I buyed it for you!"

(To get the proper effect, read the line above out loud. In your most wide-eyed excited voice. As loudly as you can without shouting, while jumping rapidly up & down and laughing at the same time. Now you have an idea what it really sounded like.)

I kinda-sorta knew about the gift in advance because certain close female relatives who shall remain nameless but bears a striking resemblance to my mother and sister had both told me a day or two earlier, but I was thinking, well... Piggy bank. One of those little things you hold in one hand. I hope it's got a plug in the bottom so it doesn't have to be broken to get coins out... I can probably fit it into the curio cabinet in the living room where I can see it & she'll be able to when she comes over...

Fast-forward to early Saturday evening. We'd planned to get together for a little family birthday celebration, nothing fancy, just dinner and cake and happy time together, and amazingly things were working out according to plan. Oh, yeah, I got to my folks' house about 15 minutes later than planned as usual, but there was AJ out in the driveway, using her brother's expected late arrival to give the Pipsqueak a few minutes' extra nap time in her car seat. Miri was (also as usual) a little slow to wake up, but once she got her engine revving she didn't miss an opportunity to tell me about the piggy bank she buyed for me. (Note: Yes, we did indeed attempt to substitute "bought" for "buyed" but even Grandma The Retired English Teacher failed to put a dent in that enthusiastic refrain.)

A quick aside: The Pipsqueak was quite thoroughly impressed with my birthday cake. It was an extra-yummy Belgian chocolate number she caught sight of before dinner while "helping" me locate something in the fridge for Mom; she subsequently spent most of dinner asking if she could have soon, as in right now, and why not, Mommy? She helped me blow out my candles (and was quite proud of doing so), and was happy to loudly sing "Happy Birthday" and dig into all that chocolatey goodness...

...but she simply couldn't wait to give me my gift, the afore-and-frequently-mentioned piggy bank. I started to wonder about it when I saw it was in one of those gift bags that's as big as a full-scale grocery bag, and then Miri was ignoring her Mommy's pleas to "let Uncle Brian unwrap his gift himself, honey" and pulling the tissue paper out of the bag.

My niece hadn't buyed me a piggy bank.

The Pipsqueak had buyed me a PIGGY BANK.

I mean, the thing's ginormous. It's larger than most real piglets, bigger than one of AJ's cats, bigger than the odd yappy Chihuahua-based hybrid creature my former next door neighbors owned. I can't put it in the curio cabinet because if I do, the doors can't close.

I've promised AJ that my niece's loving gift will be prominently displayed where the Pipsqueak will easily see it next time she comes over... and am now scrambling to figure out where the heck to put it.

The piggy bank (12oz soda can included as size reference)
But she buyed it for me herself (with a little help from Mommy, who told me Miri absolutely insisted that was what she wanted to buy for me), so I'm darn well gonna find it a spot where I can see it every day and where she'll see it so she knows I'm happy with her birthday gift.

I mean, c'mon... she buyed it for me herself!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

TRYING to Catch Up....!

Oohhh, I do hate being sick.

And stressed.

And overly busy.

And did I mention stressed? (Yeah, I know I did. Just trying for some emphasis, that's all.)

I've got little bits o'life to post about going back to Chinese New Year, and yet somehow every time I try to start typing here I either end up too sleep-deprived to keep my eyes open (I can now personally vouch for the fact that the forward edge of a MacBook Pro hurts if you fall asleep with it on your chest and it slides forward into your face), too stressed to type anything pleasant to read (one of these days I'm going to get a boring job, dammit!), or too busy honking, snorting, coughing, and post-nasal-dripping to even breathe, much less compose English prose. (Was that last bit TMI?)

Anyway, life is what happens while you make other plans, so I'm going to try to get on with what I can before anything else goes wrong... Here (in the Cliff's Notes summarization of the Reader's Digest version of the executive summary's contraction) is some of what's been happening recently in the Pipsqueak's world...

Chinese School  - The Pipsqueak's actually been enjoying her Saturday mornings at the CCACC school (the presence of several friends doesn't hurt), and while continuing to astonish us with the speed at which she groks & uses the English language (and Spanish, thanks to Dora the Explorer) she's also begun to randomly let us know how to say such-and-so in Mandarin. At the CNY event, she enjoyed pretty much everything; aside from running around the room with her friends at the end, one of her favorite activities was the hands-on seminar on moon cake preparation... even though, as usual, she turned her nose up at actually eating any (bean paste ranks rather low on Miri's List Of Good Stuff To Eat).

FCC of Maryland's Chinese New Year Celebration - Third time was the charm; we finally attended an FCC CNY event at which the Pipsqueak was not running low-grade fever, sniffling, or feeling generally cruddy -- and she loved it!  Of course, all the questions about "where is the dragon?" and "is the dragon coming?" started only moments after the garage door went down, but it was more happy anticipation than fear or worry. An added bonus for the family was watching Miri participate in a group Kung Fu exercise; when her pretty long silk Chinese dress got in the way of a proper spread-leg stance, she simply hiked it up around her waist! (Mommy knows her well enough to have had her wearing a lightweight pair of pants underneath.) She got to spend a few moments as part of a small group making the big yellow lion dance, and even got to bang on the big drum by herself, something of which she was very proud. Of course, she also reinforced earlier suspicions that of all the ethnic foods available to her, my China-born niece does not like most Chinese food...!

Chinese New Year at Lakeforest Mall - Over a couple of weekends, the CCACC shared the advent of the Year of the Snake with the public by presenting a series of performances by students & professionals at one of the larger local shopping malls. We were interested in seeing what they offered, and made sure to be there in time for the performance by Miri's friend Sarah (who did an excellent job of singing in front of a ginormous crowd while accompanied by only 3 of her classmates). There were dances performed by groups of girls & boys of various ages, some Chinese opera, and an absolutely astonishing performance by a very young girl playing a stringed instrument larger than she was. (In addition to watching the performers, the Pipsqueak spent several minutes happily riding up and down and up and down and up and down the nearby escalators with her increasingly pooped uncle.) One of the groups performing was an aerobics/dancercize class whose routines were set to driving, catchy hip-hop beats. I don't have much video of their routines -- but I do have a couple of gigabytes of video of my niece enthusiastically freestyling & mimicking some of their moves in a play area off to one side. I tell ya, the kid's a natural!

CCACC/CLAPS CNY Banquet - This event was held at what is normally a dim sum restaurant not too far from the CCACC. In addition to a lot of very good food, the crowd was treated to Chinese dance, yo-yo acrobatics, singing, calligraphy talks, and more performed by the school's students, faculty & associates. There were several raffles throughout the event, and AJ won a couple of containers of homemade moon cakes & curried meat pastries; she sent the Pipsqueak up to the emcee with the raffle ticket, and Miri won rave reviews for cuteness (especially when, after handing over the ticket, she high-tailed it back to our table without collecting the prize... which she gladly went back up front to pick up, thinking it was some kind of a present for her). We were a little slow getting back on the road at the end of the event, so we got to see a little of the staff's preparation to host an afternoon wedding reception for 500 people... yikes! (I've always chuckled when passing the site -- at night you'll see the big, red "New Fortune" sign immediately next to a big, green "H&R Block" sign... Well, I think it's humorous...)

Buffet Lunch with Mommy, Grandma and Grandpa - Unfortunately, I couldn't join the rest of the family, but my normally "picks at restaurant food like a little bird who's already eaten" niece finished off a fairly impressive volume of food this time 'round. The only problem was that I was expecting a call from my folks when they'd gotten back home, and it kept getting later & later until I finally heard from Mom. They actually wound up spending almost an hour after they'd finished eating just sitting and talking with an older couple who just had to find out about the well-behaved, cute little Chinese girl talking and singing and dancing nonstop at the next table...!  We also shared a chuckle when Mom said she was carrying Miri as they were leaving; while negotiating her way between tables with squirmy granddaughter in her arms, she accidentally (but with some force) ran into a big, hulking guy with big, hulking tattooed biceps who looked positively scary -- and who immediately gave Miri a big smile, told her she was really cute, asked her age, and told Grandma & Grandpa that she was the sweetest little girl he'd seen in a long time before heading back to the buffet with a smiling "bye-bye!" just for the Pipsqueak.

Women's Passover Seder - This past Sunday, Dad & I shared a boy's night out with Miri's Great-Uncle M while she, Mommy, and Great-Aunt D attended a women's seder. (It's not quite Passover yet, but some holidays are a bit more flexible than others.) The event lasted almost twice as long as expected so we weren't sure what state the Pipsqueak would be in when she got home -- but we needn't have worried because she came running into the house in high spirits, telling me (in her own rather unique way) all about the seder while her grownups filled us in on how she danced in the circle dance, and sang some of the songs, and even played the tambourine ("And she was on the beat!" exclaimed Grandma proudly).  Eventually we were back to the usual, "Can I see your phone for a minute, Uncle Brian, pleeeeease?" and playing "the green pig game" but it's fun to watch Miri develop her own "take" on the major holidays. (Note: Nope, it's not Angry Birds -- if you have an iPhone, download the "Gesundheit!" app and prepare to be puzzled, and eaten by monsters, and deal with mounds of green snot... Play the game and you'll understand... and probably be addicted, too.)

New Pipsqueakisms - Okay, so this isn't an event, just some more cute twists of English that my niece uses regularly. A few of the older ones have (sadly?) been replaced with the "proper" version of the word, but some of her newer creations include, eye run bars on a jail window; a pendulum swinging brackers and foreways; a zoo full of aminals; asking Uncle Brian to give her a pick pick ride; walking past Mommy's old mentary school; and using a marmeter to check Grandpa's fever (although somehow she has no problem pronouncing "stethoscope"...!)

And there you have them, a few short(ish) blocks of text that were each originally going to be a full post on their own. I have an additional item related to the FCC CNY event that I'd like to talk about, but I'll save it for a post of its own (really, really soon, I promise!) so that I can get this one published and finally get myself (mostly) caught up.

Zai jian...!