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, December 27, 2014

Catching Up Through Halloween

Argh. Today started out with the news that Cousin J is now in the hospital with unexpected complications. Further misadventures were followed by the unpleasant discovery that our Corporate overlords had made A Decision and, with zero advance notice, upgraded all the PCs to Windows 7 -- and absolutely positively EVERY file I ever had on the hard drive was now gone, all printer & network settings were gone, all remote connections & links were gone, all of it. Then came the automated text message on my iPhone about my Discover card balance that lead to my finding a $274 transaction manually keyed in at a Sears store in California that I've never been to... I could go on, but I think you get the idea. So... what better way to retrieve my last few remaining shreds of sanity than to revel in pleasant memories of the past few months?  (Dude, maybe you're not as dumb as I think you am!)

So lemme start over again... Hi, everybody! I hope you've had a happy Hanukkah, a merry Christmas, a good Winter Solstice, an enjoyable Festivus, a fun Boxing Day, a wonderful Kwanzaa, and just generally good times with the holiday(s) of your choice -- not to mention good health along the way! In terms of catching up, I believe I left off at a late August history lesson... so I'll pick up the thread there.

Early in September, we had our annual MIT Crabfest.  It's got nothing to do with the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (and no one's actually required to eat crabs); "MIT" semi-sorta stands for Moms In Training, which is what AJ and several other women in what is now our batch of adoption friends referred to themselves as all those years ago when they first met at one or another China- or adoption-themed event.  The locale has changed over the years but we always manage to gather en masse, ostensibly for crabs but really just to share time & food together. This year's get-together was cut slightly short because the restaurant was literally at water's edge and one heckuva mother of a major thunderstorm came sweeping through as we were trying to herd the cats --- er, arrange the kids together for a group photo. Still, it was (as usual) a lot of noisy fun, and one of those all-too-rare occasions where the majority of the group (if not everyone) can all share some face time and marvel at just how much all the kids have been growing.

About a week later we celebrated AJ's birthday. Miri happily helped Mommy blow out her candles and then serenaded her with a lovely solo rendition of "Happy Birthday" before diving into the brownie cake in the center of the table. (I'm never sure if she enjoys singing the song because she likes it or because she knows it's followed by cake.) A couple of days after that, we spent a couple of wonderful days being visited by an old family friend and her partner.  We first met this wonderful lady when AJ was younger than the Pipsqueak is now and we were all living in Chile. There have been many life changes since then, and for a good number of years all contact was via mail (snail or electronic), but all the old jokes, conversations, and memories picked up the moment she walked into the house as if they'd never been interrupted.  Miri almost immediately joined in on the group friendship but, unlike her Mommy, had no trouble with the names of either guest; back when AJ was just three, she had trouble with the lady's name so she officially dubbed her "Peaches" because she could say the word easily! (Dude, you know your sister's gonna shoot you for including that, don't you...?)

All through late September and into October, my niece was undecided as to exactly which "Frozen" character she would be for Halloween -- and surprised nobody by deciding it would be Olaf, by far her fave. Oh, sure, by then she had everything needed to be a good Elsa or Anna (and I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the size 12 Elsa Coronation Dress costume sent to me by mistake that the manufacturer insisted was an Amazon error)... but Olaf it was, and one of our friends found a truly excellent Olaf suit at a truly reasonable price, so on the 30th Miri marched in her school's Halloween parade looking very much like a snowman. I raced like a madman to get there on time, parking what seemed to be miles from the school and literally running across the athletic fields just in time to snap two photos of the Pipsqueak as her part of the parade re-entered the building -- but she saw me and was happy to know Uncle Brian saw her parading, so (with the exception of my hyperventilating for several minutes) all was copacetic. My totally unbiased opinion, by the way, is that of the three Olafs in the parade, she looked the most like the real thing. Even AJ, who'd been experimenting with that costume for a couple of weeks, thought the Pipsqueak was extra-cute.

(Watching the parade, I was amazed at how many kids, both boys and girls, were dressed as assorted members of Marvel's Avengers or as Minecraft characters... and also at how many of the elementary school girls were wearing costumes I wouldn't have allowed a high schooler to leave the house in...!)

For Halloween itself, we were in Ocean City. It wasn't exactly a vacation; AJ's professional group had inexplicably decided Halloween weekend was a good time for their annual convention, so off we went. We had all been a little concerned that Miri would miss trick-or-treating and handing out candy at home, but the group held low-key mask-making and costume competitions that evening. After several awards were handed out for assorted fun masks & outfits, the much-coveted "Best Costume of All" award went to the smallest attendee's Asian-looking Princess Elsa. (Sorry, no web-appropriate photo of that one.) We had adjoining rooms, and after saying "goodnight" to Grandma & Grandpa several times, and reviewing the story of how she peed aaaalll over her Uncle Brian in the hotel back in China, the Pipsqueak finally drifted off in bed with Mommy.  I got to spend some quality time with her the next day (Mom & Dad really needed a breather from their nuclear-powered granddaughter), and we had fun watching the gulls & waves from the hotel's verandah, eating lunch with Mommy, visiting Miri's friend Megan in the jewelry shop, and just enjoying being away from the usual "stuff" of everyday life.

Of course, this being the end of October and start of November, we didn't spend as much time actually on the beach as we have in prior years. It was cold to begin with, and when those sea breezes come whipping across the dunes... Well, the beach attire worn by AJ & Miri, and the massive crowds on the sand, in the two photos below (both taken shortly before hitting the road) should give some indication of how warm it wasn't.

Now... set the WABAC for a day late this past summer, when one of the MIT moms got a line on a good price for tickets to Disney's Frozen on Ice at the Baltimore Arena. What seemed like a safe date was chosen and non-refundable tickets purchased in advance, so of course the show was at 2:30 in the afternoon on the last day of AJ's convention in Ocean City...! The result was that the ride out from OC was literally a race, me in the Rav with a bunch of luggage, everyone else in AJ's van, literally flying low all the way back from the Eastern Shore and then up into Baltimore in a desperate attempt to make the show. Well, despite the best efforts of more than a few idiots on the road (one of whom literally cut me off with inches to spare at 85mph) and AJ's last-second wrong turn coming into downtown Bawlmer, everybody was present for the opening moments of the show. Miri didn't have time to change back into her Elsa costume, and some of the souvenirs were priced orders of magnitude beyond their actual value, but the show was fun for everyone, the special effects were far better than expected, and a wonderful time was had by all. (I hadn't realized they actually encourage photos during the show, so I left my camera in the car... thus the somewhat lower-quality images from my iPhone. Sorry!)

Marshmallow was actually life-size -- waaaay cool!

(Dude, isn't "Frozen" ON ICE something cooked up by the Department of Redundancy Department?)

<Ahem> As I was saying, a wonderful time was had by all, and I can personally vouch for the fact that you ain't heard nuthin' until you've heard several thousand kids (and an almost equal number of adults) belting out "Let It Go" as loudly & enthusiastically as they can in a fully-enclosed arena consisting entirely of hard surfaces that reflect sound without muffling it. I only wish the father of two who was sitting behind me could sing on-key...  Afterwards, there was a very pleasant group dinner at a restaurant outside the city, and then the five of us headed home "for real" late in the evening. When we finally got back to AJ's, we learned she had lugged a halloween cake all the way to OC and back again without a chance to share it with us... so we closed out our adventures with very tasty chunks of my sister's home-baked Halloween dessert.

There's plenty more that happened in November & December, but I think I need to get some sleep so that's all for this post. It's unlikely I'll be posting again before New Year's Eve, so I'd like to take this chance to wish all my followers and readers, and all their families, a happy, HEALTHY new year... and I'll see everyone in 2015!

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Yes, of course I still have lots of catching up to do from earlier this year, but I wanted to write something a little less travelogueish and a little more adoptionstuffish. So...

I'm going through papers. I don't mean, "I'm cleaning out a drawer in my file cabinet." No, I mean "I'm finally digging through all those boxes & bags of assorted papers & mail & notes & clippings that were boxed & bagged to make it 'easier' to file them starting before my first eye surgery over 19 months ago." That's as in a totally INSANE volume of paper. I'm finding that in my quest to keep free-standing stacks of paper from falling over, I mixed different years of material so that I have to go through every. single. box. to make sure I've got all my tax papers, important records, etc.

(Dude, remember when you posted that "Neat people don't make the kinds of exciting discoveries I do!" sign in your office back at Goddard?)

As you might imagine, there have indeed been "exciting discoveries" during my archeological digs. Things like that stack of cards & notes from an ex that I'd thought had been thrown out long ago; the window sticker from my first car (as if I needed further proof that I'm a packrat); slightly over $6400 worth of repair invoices spanning the last 2-1/2 years I had the Mountaineer; paperwork from a 401K that I'd completely forgotten about; and all kinds of other stuff.

Other stuff including a vacation slip, granted by my then-boss with a smile but still lacking any & all official signatures, on which I request three weeks off from work in the middle of 2010 "To go on the adoption trip to China with my sister!" That particular paper brought everything to a complete halt for several minutes as I sat back and tried to remember what it was like back then... Back when The Wait had become something palpable, almost a living organism on its own, the prototypical 800-pound gorilla in the corner of the room. (Actually, we used to call it the "800-pound panda.")

All we knew about Miri at that point was a few notes on the official paperwork about where and when she was found, her estimated age, the results of her last medical exam, and a few boxes checked on a list of behaviors. There were many blanks, and the closest we came to knowing her actual habits was short notes like, "She is excited to the food" and "She does pooh-pooh once or twice a day." There were three precious, pored-over photos in AJ's email, and that was it. By the time we had gotten even that most sketchy description of my niece, we had been waiting nearly five years and had come all the way through the cycle from not celebrating Chinese holidays to throwing ourselves into helping with Harvest Moon celebrations & Chinese New Year celebrations & Dragon Boat Festivals etc. etc. etc., on to just going to the "main" celebrations as more & more of the families around us began to attend with their newly adopted little ones, right back around to not attending the last few Chinese festivals because it just hurt too damn much to see all those other little kids running around & jumping on bubble wrap while AJ's agency kept sending "they're getting closer... it'll be soon... hang in there..." messages and Miri's room remained vacant.

Marveling at how completely & totally our lives had been transformed in the years since I handed that vacation request slip to my boss (Kathy, if you're reading this, thanks again!) I carefully placed it in the "2010" box of sorted papers to be filed away, dug back into the mess, and in moments found something else that brought that evening's attempt to sort papers to a close.

It was an unassuming piece of paper, 3-1/2 inches wide by 6-3/8 inches long, creased almost exactly across the middle from being folded.  It had some text & numbers on it, obviously generated by a dot matrix printer (remember those?) in now-faded bluish-purply ink.  There were some numbers scribbled in my own handwriting, and printed across the top was "CHEESECAKE FACTORY" followed by some time & date information.

Now why the heck did I save this one stinkin' dinner receipt? I haven't eaten there in years! How did I manage to total over $57 on a single meal? How old is this thing? Where's the date stamp? ...OH.

Halfway to the "recycle" box, my hand froze as the images came flooding back. Cousins' night out. Three of us seated at roughly equal intervals at a round table, about two tables forward of the restaurant's back wall. I'm angled partly toward the window, partly toward that wall; AJ is slightly to my left, Cousin E slightly to my right. My sister has that "So what do you think?" look on her face while our cousin and I are looking at each other equally wide-eyed, our mouths hanging open. I'm just a few seconds away from saying, "Please make sure you tell me when you plan to tell Mom & Dad so I can reach minimum safe distance!" while Cousin E laughingly nods assent.

I know why I saved that receipt: that was the dinner at which my sister casually detonated a small tactical nuclear device on the table by saying she had begun the process to adopt a baby from China.  That little slip of paper is the only physical souvenir of one of those moments -- the ones that everything is defined as "before" or "after" and that serve as milestones in life's journey.

Can I remember what life was like before?

I got up off the floor, paced back & forth a bit, then plopped down on the sofa to examine the receipt again. A jumble of memories tried sorting themselves out in my mind: grilling my sister for detailed information she didn't have about "the child" and detailed information she did have about the process; the whole "why China?" talk so many adoptive families are familiar with; Mom & Dad's explosively negative reaction that changed so quickly into unqualified support; the newly awakened desire to learn any- and everything I could learn about Chinese culture; the sudden presence of an invisible shadow of a baby that now affected every decision about finances, vacations, furniture purchases, room arrangements, life plans; and so much more.

Yes, of course there were (and remain) an uncountable myriad of "before" memories. Yet when I hold that little slip of paper in my hand, they somehow all seem to belong a little more to someone else than they used to; it's as if there's always been a child's car seat in every family vehicle, always been a reason to save extra-shiny pennies, always been a reason to worry about the lyrics of the song on the radio, always been a little (and now not-quite-so-little) hand reaching out for one of ours, always been jokes about "remember, you're the one who wanted a kid," always been this amazing little person in all our lives.

That's a lot of weight for one little slip of paper to be carrying. I think I'll use a little extra tape when I add it to the scrapbook.... :-)