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, April 27, 2013

No Smoke or Mirrors Required.

This post is going to be a little different; it's not specifically about the Pipsqueak. It is half philosophical treatise, half stream of consciousness rambling, and will probably sound a bit sappy to some readers -- but hey, these are my thoughts in my blog, deal with it. <grin>

Over the past couple of days, I've read several blog posts related to building families, adopting children no one else seemed to want to adopt, and preparing children nervous about sharing Mama & Baba with a new sibling. At some point, so quietly as to remain almost unnoticed until after I had caught up on all the unread posts in my list, the common thread that tied all those posts (and quite a bundle more) made its presence known in the back of my mind.

Magic is real.

I don't mean the kind of visual wizardry we see onscreen on television and in movies. I don't mean the sleight-of-hand, guard-these-secrets-with-your-life tricks performed by "magicians" onstage and in other venues.

I mean magic.

Yep, I'm talking about that supernatural power wielded by witches, warlocks, mages and wizards. The difference is, there are no wands, no special rituals, no trance states or pointy starred hats or hooded cloaks or midnight masses or boiling cauldrons filled with questionable contents.

"Magic," I'm sure you've been told, "isn't real. It doesn't exist. It's mythological, fake, made up to entertain around campfires or explain misunderstood natural processes in our deep past."

So we give it a different name. Despite "magic" being supposedly nonexistent, everyone seems to agree that something else -- equally (if not more) intangible -- is real. We don't call it magic... we call it love.

Love cannot be touched, cannot be held in one's hand or carried around in a bag; it cannot be chiseled or cut, carved or molded, poured, pumped, pushed, pulled, glued, stapled, folded, wrinkled, or smoothed. It is something untold millions have lived and died for, committed horrific crimes and selfless acts of incredible courage in the name of, made sane or driven insane by... and yet generations of philosophers, statesmen, sages and everyday Joes have returned to the dust from whence they came without ever being able to concretely define "love" in a way that more than a handful of other individuals can agree with.

Look at what love does. It takes total strangers and binds them together, often so strongly that the bonds outlast life itself. It gathers together people of totally different ages, backgrounds, nationalities and ethnicities and turns them into a single, cohesive family. It links individuals together in a way that leaves none alone even when by themselves.

Not magical enough for you? Okay, try this on for size: Love can expand infinitely without ever becoming diluted, and can do so without the supply running out. Look at the universe around you and try to find anything else in Existence that can do that.

Oh, sure, a chemist will tell you (and perhaps even demonstrate) that a gas will expand to fill all the available volume of space no matter how large its container may be... but as the container grows, the gas will become more and more dilute, more and more tenuous, eventually becoming undectable. This problem can be avoided by adding more gas, and then adding more gas, and then still more... but eventually there will be no more gas available to put into the container, and as the container keeps growing, even the increased supply of gas will eventually become dilute beyond our ability to detect its presence.

What love does is an egregiously blatant violation of the laws of physics, a physical impossibility, an action so counter-intuitive that some minds have trouble wrapping themselves around it... and yet it is. It exists in the here-and-now of the everyday world alongside all those things in Existence whose physical limitations it does not share.

So the next time a child asks you if there's such a thing as magic, take their hand firmly in yours, look then straight in the eye, and tell them yes, magic is real.

And then, just to prove it, give them a hug.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Princesses and Families

Wow... Tuesday's over already? Whattheheck happened to the weekend?!?


Okay, looks like I'm late again. (Dude, at least you're consistent!) This past weekend was nice, with my having "Uncle Duty" on Sunday due to AJ's having to work... but I actually got to our folks' house a bit after AJ got there, so the Pipsqueak's Grandma & Grandpa were a little more tuckered out than they usually are when I begin a round of UD.

Of course, Miri helped meet me at the door and (of course) after yelling my name a couple of times and bouncing up & down like a paint-shaking machine a few times immediately broached the subject of my computer. More specifically, did I bring it with me? I did indeed have it slung over my shoulder, so the conversation immediately switched to wanting to see Ariel songs on my 'puter right now, come on, Uncle Brian (all said while firmly pulling me through the foyer into the family room).

After begging for enough time to take off my jacket and say hello to everyone else, I was happily surprised to find a couple of songs from The Little Mermaid on YouTube that I'd missed in earlier searches, and my niece and I had a pleasant interlude on the family room sofa in front of my laptop. At one point I got up to go potty (if one just says, "go to the bathroom," one is likely to have the Pipsqueak invite herself along just to see if there's something interesting in there) and Miri asked, in a very grown-up and matter-of-fact voice, "Brian, could you do me a favor and pass me that blue cup with the pretzels, please?" I handed her the cup without thinking about it, but later on Mom pointed out that I had just gotten a completely adult request from someone whose fourth birthday is two months in the future... sometimes the Pipsqueak stops us all in our tracks.

We also looked for pictures of Ariel and company, and Miri enjoyed some of the fan art on the web. I had to laugh at how easily she identified each of the Disney princesses ("No, Uncle Brian, that one is Cinderella and that one is Sleeping Beauty!") even when fan renditions of the famous ladies as slacker teens, in Halloween costumes, as anime characters, as mermaids, or as goth chicks stymied the grownups in the room. The only pictures she declared "silly" were one in which each of the Princesses was dressed as her primary antagonist ("That's silly! Why did they do that? Oh, look, Ariel's dress looks like Ursula!") and one heavily Photoshopped picture that had some actual people's faces superimposed on a picture of Ariel with Prince Eric, a fan opus that literally had Miri laughing until she choked.

Soon it was dinnertime, and after being given the choice of sitting next to Mommy or next to Uncle Brian, the Pipsqueak decided she wanted to sit in my chair so the table setting was rearranged. I asked Miri what would happen if I decided that I really wanted to sit in my original seat and AJ laughingly pointed out that I would have been out of luck; Miri reinforced that statement with a definitive, "but I want to sit here now!" and that was that. (It wasn't like I doubted the outcome; I just thought it would be an interesting exercise to ask.) After the usual round of, "Uncle Brian, are you done eating yet?" we played a couple of rounds of "the piggy game" (iOS users, check out "Gesundheit" in the App Store) in which the kid managed to unlock an entire set of levels I didn't even know existed. Eventually, after a round of bouncing & playing "hide in the cave" on Grandma & Grandpa's bed, it was time for Miri to take Mommy home and for Uncle Brian to go to his house ("Uncle Brian, can I come to your house soon?" -- I gotta get the place cleaned up!) and our pleasant evening came to a close.

But before I go (and I actually haven't been to bed yet tonight, so I'd better type faster), I also wanted to share something that happened a full week back.

As usual, we got together for dinner at our folks' and the Pipsqueak was in fine form, making up songs & stories and engaging us all in a vivid round of constantly changing intermeshed make-believe events. All of a sudden, she announced that she wanted her whole family to take a picture on Grandma and Grandpa's stairs. (It's a tradition for us to periodically take family photos, especially with visiting cousins, stacked up on the stairs in Mom & Dad's house.) Not only were we going to do that, but we were going to do that RIGHT NOW, no questions permitted, hop to it! Miri rounded us all up, herded us all into the foyer, and began directing who was to sit where on the stairs. (The Pipsqueak is definitely a pipsqueak and won't turn four until June, but when she directs you... well, you know you're being directed. As in, follow her directions and no one gets hurt. <grin>)

I have a camera app on my iPhone with a timer function, so (after thoroughly amusing our budding artistic director with my attempts to actually aim the darn thing while setting the timer without knocking over the carefully-balanced phone) I managed to get an "okay" photo of the five of us on the stairs. And then a second, and then a third. And then, because I didn't think that photo was good enough, a fourth... a fifth... Yeah, we all got into it (and I even got a couple of good pictures out of the experience). Then, just when we thought it was safe to get off the stairs, Miri announced that now she was going to take a picture of her family (with a heavy emphasis on "HER"!) and promptly used my iPhone to fire off another five or six photos. Eventually the Pipsqueak decided we now had enough family photographs and it was off to the family room for a round of her favorite game on my phone.

Just another couple of what-passes-for-normal family weekends... But I don't think I'm ever going to forget the proud, happy smile on the Pipsqueak's face when she announced, "I'm taking a picture of MY family!"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Wordy Wednesday Post

Okay, so maybe I got it backwards... Most people do "Wordless Wednesday" posts consisting of a photo (or set of photos) that speak for themselves in some way. I was going to do that today (really, I was!) but couldn't find the right photo for it... so instead I'll do a little catching up with some photos that don't necessarily speak for themselves.

So, without further ado... some photos and words for a Wednesday post....!

The photo above may look a bit odd to you, but for us it's just another bit of the Pipsqueak cutely doing something silly just for the sake of doing something silly. (This particular example was from late February but is just one of many.) If I remember correctly, AJ's sweatshirt was a little loose, and Miri had been playing "peekaboo" with Grandma, so of course it was a perfectly natural thing for the Pipsqueak to walk up to Mommy and pull her sweatshirt over her head! She had the last laugh on Mommy, too -- while she was under there, the little joker untied AJ's sweatpants!

One of the Pipsqueak's favoritest things to do (Dude, you know that's not a real word, don't you?) is to bounce on Grandma & Grandpa's bed. It's king size, with a squishy foam topper under the sheet -- a perfect playground for an extra-bouncy little bundle of energy like Miri! Any blurring in the above photos is UNintentional; she just tends to move too fast for the camera to keep up!

A couple of weeks ago, we all got together for dinner with some of "my" longtime friends. (I put "my" in quotes because these folks have known my family so long -- some going back to 7th grade! -- that there's a built-in expectation that AJ and my folks will join us for many events.) Walking back to our cars after dinner, we came across this large rock in the parking lot that just grabbed something in Miri's imagination and would not let go. She started off by marveling at how biiiiig the rock was and from there launched into a long, enthralling story about the rock, Ariel (from "The Little Mermaid'), a missing princess crown, a trip to a castle, and the long, adventurous journey she took to help Ariel retrieve the stolen crown with the rock's help. At least that's what I think the story was about; the Pipsqueak was improvising it as she went along, adding & subtracting characters, events and locales as the mood suited, and making the plot become increasingly convoluted until (after roughly ten minutes of very involved free-form storytelling) we were too chilled to stand around any longer. (In the photo, Miri is quite literally making a point about how important it was for her to recover the missing crown.) It was wonderful, and maybe even a tit reassuring, to see and hear the amazing breadth & depth of my niece's imagination and her ability to construct a story from literally nothing more than a big ol' rock in a shopping center's parking lot.

There's no wild flight of imagination in this photo, just a little girl and her Grandma enjoying an impromptu hug. :-)  The big white thing the Pipsqueak is holding is the same baby blanket we took to China back in 2010; a soft, fuzzy "blankie" with a 3-D Pooh face in the middle. It scared the bejabbers out of Miri at the time, but she wasn't home with us for too long before naming it "Kiki" and deciding it was a favorite companion/toy. Poor Kiki had gotten rather grey & stained, so Grandma had washed him/her/it and Miri was amazed at how soft and fuzzy Kiki had become.  The hug in the photo was 50% "thank you, Grandma" and 50% "I love you, Grandma."

And that's it for this particular Wordy Wednesday... I'll post again in a day or two, I've got a new story to tell y'all...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hidden Motives?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently had cataract surgery. One result (aside from my being able to see waaaayyyy better!) was that I had to avoid any strenuous activity for a couple of weeks -- bending over, heavy lifting, or anything else that could increase my blood pressure and/or the pressure in my eye was verboten. Being somewhat phobic about losing an eye, I was a good boy and avoided doing anything counter to that advice. (And my house still shows the effects of my not being able to pick stuff off the floor, lift heavy bundles, or lug the vacuum up & down the stairs... but I digress.)

The Pipsqueak somehow got a slightly confused version of what was going on, so at first she thought I hurt my nose. I explained that my nose was alright but that I had a small problem with one of my eyes that a doctor fixed for me, but that I couldn't pick her up & swing her around in the air as usual for a while until it was all better; she replied that it was okay and gave me a hug(!). Every time we got together after that (sometimes two or three times in an evening), Miri would ask, "Uncle Brian, are your eye and nose getting better yet?"

Each time she asked, I'd thank her for worrying about it and reassure her that my eye was indeed getting better, but that it would take just a few days more to be all better again. Miri would usually tell me that was good and she was glad I was getting better, and we'd leave it at that. I have to admit I was doing a little kvelling at how my not-yet-four niece was expressing such concern for my well-being.

Fast forward to this past weekend, and the Pipsqueak again asked if my eye and nose (sigh) were getting better. Since the doctor had given me a thumbs-up on getting back to what passes for "normal" in my life, I gave Miri a big smile and told her that I was all better now, I was just waiting for my new glasses to be ready at the store.

"All better? Really?"

"Yes, Hon, my eye is aaaallll better now!"

"Yay! Now you can swing me!"

I happily obliged, and somewhere between the 3rd and 4th "oof!" (the Pipsqueak is a lot less pipsqueakish than she used to be!) it occurred to me that my niece's great concern for her jiu jiu's ocular health might just have had a somewhat different basis than I had been thinking...

...but to be honest, I didn't really mind. (And despite the lack of practice, I could still toss her high enough in the air to take her breath away.)