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.
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!