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!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Catching Up on Two Important Holidays

Whoops... While ranting about how the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou does business, I managed to miss posting about not one but two important holidays! (Dude, I'm thinking of a saying involving glass houses, are you...?)

Despite my not making an appropriate post, Mother's Day is definitely an important day for my family. (Father's Day is, too, but Mother's Day took on a whole new meaning back in 2010.) Our plans were in flux up until just a few days before the holiday when AJ and I put our collective feet down and made reservations for an early lunch. Up until then, Mom was worried about being able to afford brunch (for our extended family, around these parts that particular brunch can require a small bank heist loan)... Mom was worried about whether my uncle's family could fit it into their schedule... Mom was worried about whether we could find a place that everyone liked... Mom was worried about whether the Pipsqueak would eat her food or just take one bite and ignore the rest for the duration of the meal... Mom was worried about... well, you get the idea.

Don't get me wrong; my mother is as well-adjusted a person as I expect to find anywhere these days, it's just that she happens to be very, very good at worrying -- usually about everyone but herself, but isn't that part of a the definition of a mother? (The family joke is that when asked if a glass is half full or half empty, Mom would examine the glass closely and reply, "Is that a crack?!?")

Anyway, we wound up at a place with a talking moose head (only partially functional), a talking buffalo head (which the Pipsqueak thought was silly), and assorted similar decorations; not the Ritz but the menu has plenty of tasty choices and the noise level generally lets us talk during the meal without having to scream into each other's ears at close range. The company was good, the food was OK (just), and the intended goal of having a pleasant interlude with each other to celebrate the presence of several mothers in our midst was achieved.

For us, it was also kinda-sorta Grandma's Day, since Mom holds a very special place in the Pipsqueak's heart. The hug photo isn't from Mother's Day (although there were hugs aplenty); it was just an impromptu moment at my folks' house the other day I managed to catch on my iPhone, one of many times Miri has suddenly stopped what she's doing to tell one of us she loves us and share a quick hug just for the heck of it. The balloon photo shows what the Pipsqueak insisted Mommy for her Grandma on Mother's Day; the darn thing was literally almost as big as Miri! The third photo is of the lilac bush on the side of Mom & Dad's house, which shocked us all by actually blooming for the first time in years just in time to look pretty for Mother's Day.

The other holiday I missed posting about just passed: Memorial Day. I don't have any photos, but I feel it's important to remind everyone of the sacrifices made by U.S. military families every day. Dad is retired U.S. Navy, and often wears a cap emblazoned with his last and favorite posting (CVB-43, USS Coral Sea) -- it's been wonderful to see how often total strangers will notice the cap, walk up to him, and say, "Thank you for your service!"  In this time of U.S. forces involved in "quiet" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anti-piracy patrols off Africa, nerve-jangling standoffs with North Korea, drug interdiction actions off the coast of Florida, and untold numbers of other actions large and small that maintain the security and freedom of this nation, there is no valid reason to not recognize the daily sacrifices made by the men and women serving in all branches of the U.S. military and their families. Oh, sure, there are stories in the news about the stupid, unthinking, criminal actions of a few individuals who are serving -- but the vast majority of the thousands upon thousands of U.S. citizens with direct ties to one of the Services are brave, honest folks doing tough & dirty work. If you didn't thank one on Memorial Day, then go do that now... and every day after.

And now, just to lighten things up a bit, some pictures for your viewing pleasure:

This past weekend, the Pipsqueak had a long play date (unplanned) play date with the kids of some good friends of ours. AJ managed to deal with three super-active young'uns for a while, then enlisted some help from Mom & Dad, and eventually adding Yours Truly into the mix for added support. (Besides, I was the only one free to run to Mickey D's for the only dinner we could guarantee all three kids would eat.) During the course of the day, the kidlings engaged in much artsy-craftsy activity, resulting in my sister's walls becoming something of an art gallery. (NEWS FLASH: That baby gate will soon be gone -- film at eleven!)

Although Miri is something of a ham when she sees a camera, every now and then she plays "hard to get" just for the fun of it.  While cleaning up the Mickey D's detritus (and wiping ketchup off the floor) I noticed my niece looking particularly cute sitting on the couch with her friends. Being as familiar with the iPhone's camera as I am, she knew what I was doing the instant I raised the phone -- and laughed at me, and said "No picture, Uncle Brian!" and hid behind Doggie. I took the photo anyway; I hoped she'd hear the shutter sound and drop Doggie, but she was smart enough to wait me out until she heard the familiar click of the phone snapping back into its holster. Still, it's a cute photo, and a typical Pipsqueak pose, so here it be!

This last photo, while in no way Pipsqueak-related, is included here as possible proof that my job is having a potentially injurious effect on what's left of my sanity. One of the cooling units at the nursing home was having problems, so when the weather warmed up for a few days we brought out some portable air conditioners for the affected areas. I came across these two in the basement, and I swear the very first thought that came to mind was, "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!"  In my defense, when I showed the photo to one of our older nurses, he admitted to thinking the same thing... after I mentioned it...  (Dude, look at the bright side -- at least you found a nurse who understood your 60's pop culture moment!)

And on that (slightly crazed?) note, I wish you all a good night! 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

What the Bloody &#@%! ?!?

I decided to stay (mostly) offline a couple of days, maybe get some of my "to dos" turned into "ta dahs" and actually accomplish something in the house. (Yes, I actually do often waste spend so much time online in one way or another that the virtual world gets in the way of the real one.)

So what do I see when I check the adoption blogs and such? Some blithering #&@%! sent an envelope filled with a powdered "mysterious substance" to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou.

Not to worry, though; no one was hurt, and only "some" of the consular functions were affected; the Chinese authorities were being kept in the loop, and so on and so forth.


Most news sources included some a comment about how that particular Consulate processes roughly 12,000 adoptions each year; this datum was usually tacked onto the end of the article, or appeared as part of a data dump (X employees, Y adoptions, Z per year, N passports, and so on).

Strangely, disturbingly, maddeningly, the vast majority of the news stories forgot to mention one teensy-weensy little detail: the consular functions that were shut down apparently involved any- and everything involving the adoption process, leaving almost 100 American families trapped in China.

Let me say that again: almost 100 American families were trapped in China. That's anywhere from 300-350 people, all unable to return home because the absolutely, invariably, unequivocally, critically necessary immigration papers for the newest member(s) of their family could not be processed at the Consulate.

(Dude - deep breath... hold it... exhale... again... now think for a minute...)

I am in no way blaming the Consulate staff for the event, and in no way excusing the sorry excuse for a human being who perpetrated it... BUT...

Much as I dislike the term, I'm a (former) Foreign Service brat. Although less well-traveled than some  of my peers, I still lived "on the economy" on foreign soil, enjoyed the privileges and dealt with the limitations & dangers that went along with having diplomatic plates on the car and a nonstandard passport. I grew up thinking it was perfectly normal to be in an environment where I was hard-pressed to communicate with the people around me, signs were unintelligible random scribbles, radio and PA systems useless background noise, voices a babble carrying little meaning. Even as a young child, there was a constant background "feed" of information about how to stay safe and how to be ready for almost anything*, ranging from near-daily power outages, anti-American demonstrations, and military coups to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and food & water that would essentially try to kill you if you consumed any.

There were backup plans for transportation, power, food, water, clothing, evacuation, school, medical emergencies... you name it, there was a backup plan.

So where was the Guangzhou Consulate's backup plan? Why the bloody hell couldn't the processing of those adoptions be moved into temporary quarters elsewhere in the building? Where were the computer backups, the duplicate papers? It took almost a week for Consulate staff to figure out (apparently only after noise was made in the media) they could not just shut down the adoption & immigration processes until some unknown amount of time had passed and they could go back to exactly the same office, the same desk, the same chair and figure out what they had been working on when the stuff hit the fan.

Why were almost 100 American families stuck having to dole out thousands of dollars each for extended stays, new airline tickets, cancellation fees, re-booking fees, unplanned meals, unplanned laundry? Why were almost 100 American families stuck having to put off important medical appointments, business appointments, personal appointments? I can understand & accept one, two... maybe three days... but where was the backup plan?

Someone really oughta be nailed to the wall for this... I doubt it will happen, or that we will ever get any kind of answer... but where the blazes was your backup plan, people?!?

* One quickly learned how to plan around having power and/or water cut off during the day without advance notice, often while one was showering... memorized two, three or four separate and distinct routes to & from every regular destination... found substitutes for an entire shipment of household goods on a ship that sank in the harbor... kept small items of personal importance with oneself at all times in case one had to be evacuated from the country without advance notice, like one young woman I know who arrived back in the U.S. with literally only the clothes she was wearing at the time, all other personal belongings had to be abandoned without advance notice... there's plenty more, but I think you get the idea...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Just A Quickie

Dad had his other eye worked on this week (I think this family is single-handedly paying the surgeon's mortgage!), so it became my job to pick up the Pipsqueak at day care. Each day, she'd come running up to me with a big smile, give me a quick hug, and happily ask where we were going while pulling me toward the door.  I'd slow things down, get her into her jacket, shepherd her to the car (usually while having to explain why I'd parked where I'd parked), get her strapped into her seat, and hit the road. Our exchange the first day went a little like this...

"So what did you do today in school?"

"I played!"

"Played? You mean you were in school all day and all you did was play?"

(Laughs) "Yes! I play!"

"Well, if you were in school all day and were playing and now I have to go to work, why don't you go to work for me and I'll go and play?"

(Laughs) "Noooo!"

"And why not?"

(Laughing even louder) "Because I not a grownup! You have to go to work but not me!"

Sometimes I think my niece understands how the world works better than I do...!