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, August 29, 2014

Milestones, Get 'Em While They're Hot, Milestones...

Well, it had to happen sometime.

The Pipsqueak -- that tiny, semi-scrawny, almost-bald Chinese baby who wrapped me around her finger and then peed all over me (twice!) before even reaching Guangzhou -- has started school.

That's school, as in public school, as in omigawd she's started to grow up!

(Dude, take a deep breath... that's right... there ya go...)

I can't quite imagine how AJ feels about her little baby starting Kindergarten (yes, Kindergarten is too "real school" so stop laughing at me), but I keep alternating between happily amazed, happily proud, and scared outta my wits over the passage of time.

Miri, in the meantime, says she is having a good time. She likes her teacher (I'll call her "Miz F") and is already making new friends, and hasn't once said she doesn't want to go to school. (We heard that a couple of times when she was at KinderCare.)  Oh, sure, a couple of mornings have been a bit rough around the edges, but she's liking it so far. (The kids are "staged" in the gym before heading off to their classrooms in groups, and Miri doesn't like large noisy, crowded spaces. She's also admitted that she's apprehensive about getting lost in the crowd, or maybe being forgotten by Miz F and left behind when her classmates all go down the hall to their classroom. We're working on it with her...)

AJ and I are both products of the same school system, and Mom retired from teaching after several years as part of this system, and my (very friendly) next door neighbor is an elementary school teacher in the same system, so we know it well -- thus I have no doubt whatsoever that there will be times the entire family will have to be involved to keep this little girl's vivid imagination and love of learning alive despite the best efforts of an "excellent" school system to ensure she fits the mold as designated by the expert du jour. That said, she's getting off to an excellent start with a teacher who seems to be dedicated to teaching her (rather large) class important lessons from Day One without jamming anything down anyone's throat, and who seems to genuinely be following her Calling. We'll see how it all turns out...

...but the Pipsqueak is now officially in public school!  (Yikes!)

We hit another milestone just a couple of days before school started. I don't know if I've mentioned it, but Miri and AJ have been sleeping in the same bed ever since the Pipsqueak was disturbed frightened terrified by the crib in our room at the White Swan. After coming home, she slept in the crib that AJ had prepared for her a handful of times (probably a single-digit number), but as far as I know every single occasion was marked by AJ placing Miri in the crib for a nap after she had already fallen asleep elsewhere. The one time she thought the Pipsqueak would spend the night in the crib, only a few minutes had passed before she heard a quiet, "Mommy?" down the hall, followed by, "Mommy!" and then "Mommy!" and finally "MOMMMEEEEE!" before she gave up and retrieved her unhappy daughter.

Miri had a blast crawling around in & under that crib the day we took it apart, and enjoyed helping us put together the frame for her "real big girl bed" (the same one AJ slept in well into her teens), but I think I actually slept in that bed more times than she did. Early this summer, during a conversation about how she's becoming a big girl now that she was about to turn five, she proudly announced that when she turned six she would really be a big girl and that's when she would start to sleep in her room instead of with Mommy.

So imagine my surprise last week, just a few days before Miri's first day of Kindergarten, when both Mom & AJ (in separate conversations) proudly told me that the Pipsqueak had spent the entire night in her own room, by her own choice, and slept as soundly as she did in Mommy's bed. She's been doing that almost every night since, only padding down the hall to ask Mommy if it was okay to sleep with her "just a little bit" after a couple of particularly rough mornings.

(In the interest of reporting the whole truth, I have to add that the whole "sleeping alone in her own room" thing has gotten a major boost from a soft pink night light that projects a picture of some of Miri's favorite Disney princesses on the ceiling to keep here company. My kid sister's a pretty smart shopper when she puts her mind to it... <g>)

One more milestone (and I'm rather late in reporting this one) is that as of the beginning of the summer, the Pipsqueak's been taking swimming lessons. She started at her neighborhood pool under the tutelage of a young female lifeguard she liked a lot, but semi-surprised me (and I think AJ) by continuing with another guard when the young gal left early for a pre-college vacation trip. She's since continued at an indoor pool and, even though she's still not really coordinating the "swing your arms" cycle with the "breathe air instead of water" cycle, is progressing nicely and is actually looking forward to continued swimming lessons.  I mention this particular milestone partly because, former lifeguard that I am (four consecutive summers, high school into college, oh so many lifetimes ago), back in April or May I had offered Miri swim lessons by Yours Truly. I had picked her up from KinderCare and when the conversation turned to summertime activities like swimming, I explained that I used to be a lifeguard and would be very happy to spend some time with her in the pool teaching her how to swim. Miri thought about it for a few moments and then, in a very matter-of-fact voice replied...

"Not this year, Uncle Brian. Maybe when I'm just a little older... like when I'm nineteen!"

(I swear that is a verbatim quote from my then not-quite-five niece.)

Oh, well... at least she's learning to swim!

And on that note, with the knowledge that I still owe y'all a nice entry or two about our multi-day trip to Lancaster County, PA last month, I'm going to sign off and try to catch a few Z's. It's been a little stressful lately, so sleep seems like A Good Idea.  (Among other things, I am now scheduled for cataract surgery in early October.) I'll get caught up soon, really, I promise!

In the meantime, I just had to share these milestones with y'all... I mean, it's not every day that my niece has her first day of Kindergarten!  :-)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Catching Up: A Pleasant but Sorta Fizzly Fourth

In the interest of (hopefully) catching up on all the stuff I never got to post about that I wanted to post about even though it's passed, I'm using this post to catch up on this year's Independence Day celebration. (Dude, you waited until 2/3 of the way through August to talk about the first week of July...?!?)

As usual, the day started with the annual Independence Day parade in Mom & Dad's neighborhood. I managed to get tot he staging area at a local elementary school early enough to say "hi" to a few folks and enjoy watching the organizers perform their annual feat of cat herding to build something approximating an actual parade.  I hung out with AJ & Miri while our folks helped sign in participants & untangle participants from watchers from crew.  I tried to get some good shots of the local volunteer fire department's shiny truck & ambo but somehow none of the photos looked as good to my real eyes as they did in my mind's eye... Oh, well, I was really there to get shots of my niece parading patriotically with her mommy.

I kept bumping into one friend (herself the youngest daughter of a friend I've known since 8th grade) with her next generation in tow, and her daughter has always liked Miri so we all ended up marching sauntering along together in the parade. Along the way, I stepped out of the flow of decorated bikes, wagons, baby carriages etc. to say "hi" to my friend, who was waiting on a nearby street corner to get photos of her daughter & grandkids as they paraded past. With the exception of one idiot in a mid-size sedan who drove past the police escort and bulled his way through the parade (luckily missing everybody, thanks in part to the number of angry parents & other paraders yelling for those farther ahead on the route to get out of the way), the parade was a success, with Miri riding her bike all the way from the starting line in the school parking lot to the neighborhood pool's parking lot. (There were a couple of complaints about the heat, and the occasional extra push from Mommy or Uncle Brian on particularly steep grades, but the Pipsqueak done darn good!)

Unlike the last couple of years, AJ remembered to bring Miri's swimsuit along so the Pipsqueak happily joined our friend's brood (and a few other neighborhood kids) in the wading pool. Since she'd already begun taking swimming lessons, Miri happily splashed and splooshed and got her face down into the water (something she was never happy about doing in the past), and a grand time was generally had by all. (Yours Truly was happy to just sit and watch... I even borrowed some of Miri's spray-on sunscreen, although later redness proved I missed a few key spots.)


Our friend's son decided his stuffed monkey -- the one he sleeps with at night, of course -- also wanted to go swimming, so while she kept an eye on the not-so-small herd of splashing kids I alternately wrung Monkey out, pressed him flat, and left him laying in the sun to dry. (Turns out I done good; precious, fragile Monkey only had to spend a few minutes in the clothes dryer that evening to be able to help his young owner sleep soundly.)  Another old family friend we've known since she & AJ were in class in elementary school together(!) came by with her son and everyone started reminiscing about old times while the kids ruckused in the pool. (Dude, is that a real word?)


AJ finally convinced Miri that being all wrinkly and shivering was a sign that it was time to get out of the pool. They headed off to watch the water balloon toss (and promptly returned once the Pipsqueak realized she wouldn't be allowed to play with the water balloons), and then we all headed home for lunch.  Miri insisted on "helping" Mommy prepare lunch, and I caught myself comparing the sight of my niece helping wash & spin a salad to the memory of a quiet, scrawny pre-toddler in her high chair stuffing peas or pieces of scrambled egg into her mouth while signing "more" any time she thought there wouldn't be any more. After finishing lunch and (almost) catching our collective breath, we loaded up a cooler with the makings of a picnic dinner, picked up AJ's former classmate & her son, and headed en masse for the UMCP campus for the annual July 4th fireworks.

Once we'd finished laying claim to a coupla dozen square feet of college real estate, we spent some time dancing to the live band, walked around crowd-watching a bit, and settled in for a quiet wait. We all realized we hadn't eaten dinner just a few minutes before the fireworks were supposed to begin. There was a bit of a mad scramble to get sandwiches made before we lost all daylight (and the fireworks began), and we didn't quite get the job done before the first shells were launched, but I can vouch for the fact that none of us went home hungry.

The fireworks show (hosted by the City of College Park, not U-MD) was, as usual, good. There were some shells we hadn't seen before, some with extra-bright colors, some creating new patterns, and some... Hey, waitaminit, didn't that one go off a little low? Anyway, there were batches of little golden shells and bursts of big red & blue shells and... Whoa, that one went off a LOT low... and huge chrysanthemum bursts and... Yikes, look out for the falling embers!


As you may have surmised, something just didn't seem right with the fireworks this year. With increasing frequency, we could see big starburst or chrysanthemum shells bursting long before they reached altitude, sometimes even going off before actually being launched. (After one particularly spectacular ground burst, a professional photographer who'd set up next to where I was standing asked, "Was that supposed to happen?" and as I replied, "I don't think so!" a second massive chrysanthemum shell blew up while still in its launch tube.)


The show continued, with lots of oohs and aahs accompanied by a slowly-increasing number of whoas, until... Well, it just stopped. No warning, no finale, no big finish -- just a couple of big shells going off right at ground level followed by dead silence. There was a quiet rumble of conversation as the crowd began wondering aloud what had happened and then all of a sudden all the parking lot lights were turned back on, a clear statement of "That's all, folks!" (We found out the next day that the show had been stopped because the shooters decided there were too many ground-level misfires to continue safely.)

We spent a little while engaging in a live-action game of "Frogger" in the sudden massive exodus from the parking lot as we shuttled our coolers, folding chairs, etc. from our spot back to where AJ had parked, then sat a while waiting for the traffic jam to ease. Eventually we made our way back to our folks' house, from where everyone dispersed to their respective houses for some much-needed sleep. As I said goodnight to Miri, she said she was sad there was no big finale but that she enjoyed the fireworks, and that our seeing them together made them special.

Fizzle or no fizzle, that was the real reason for the day, so we're all calling it a success (and one for the record books).

Monday, August 11, 2014

No More Baby Gates!

Yes, I know that my latest round of "catching up" has left me even farther behind than when I started, but we just hit (what we all consider to be) a major milestone so I wanted to quickly post it here before it, too, joined the "gotta write about this someday" list.

Anyone who reads this blog will know that baby gates have been something of a fixture in AJ's house, and something of a thorn in my side, for the past several years. (I've posted about them here and here and here and here and here, not including other mentions.)

Well... THEY'RE ALL GONE NOW!  HOORAY!  A few weeks back, AJ mentioned that the last remaining gate, the one at the top of the stairs, closest to the bedrooms, was becoming more of a safety issue than a protective device.  Miri had been opening it on her own for months, and normally went zooming up & down the stairs on her own several times a day... while the larger members of the family were constantly tripping over / getting caught on / being poked by / or otherwise having all kinds of problems getting past the darn thing.

So... After a quick family outing for a portrait & dinner last night, we all stopped by AJ's house so I could help her back up all the photos from her iPhone onto her laptop. As we were waiting for the two devices to finish negotiating the future of the 400-plus images & videos, I remembered the conversation and asked if maybe I should take down the gate while we were waiting.  A quick hunt for a screwdriver later (and some negotiations with the Pipsqueak, who was torn between helping me and watching the electronically-rented copy of "Brave"), the work began.

Unlike all the other gates, where Miri held something for me, or helped turn one or two screws, she actually did a lot of the work. Some things required more hand strength than she could muster, or were simply too unsafe for a 5-year-old to handle, but my niece actually did at least 50% of the work to remove the gate. We shared a good laugh over there being even more holes in Mommy's walls, and both AJ & I were surprised at how much effort it took to dislodge the rubber pads of the "removable" brackets supporting the bannister, but after about 15 minutes the last of the baby gates was down in the basement, leaning on its predecessors with all its little parts packed in a ziplock baggie.

Miri was happily burbling about being a big girl who didn't need baby gates any more, but AJ's expression spoke volumes... her little baby girl, even at the tender age of five, really is growing up.

And as for me? It's bittersweet, knowing why the gates were put up in the first place and watching the Pipsqueak become less of a pipsqueak at an accelerating rate -- but as much as I'm going to miss the experiences & reasons surrounding the installation of the baby gates in my sister's house...

...I ain't gonna miss the darn things at all. The last baby gate is gone -- HOORAY!