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, September 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Birthdays

Okay, this was actually supposed to be two separate birthday posts and a 3rd independent dance recital post... but since life is what happens while you make other plans, I'm going to combine the three drafts into one longish (but actually shortened!) posting so I can get a little closer to "caught up" 'round here.

Set your WABAC to June... and that very quiet, scrawny, nearly bald little Chinese baby is suddenly turning into a VERBOSE!, energetic, interested and interesting, healthy, long-haired six year old miniature adult. In typical fashion, our plans ended up all over the place so the Pipsqueak ended up with a couple of birthday celebrations -- and they were as different from each other as could be.

Miri's official birthday is June 20th, which unfortunately was also the day her dance school set for the big end-of-semester show. Since regular schools had already closed for the summer this sort of chewed up a few families' vacation plans, so even the Pipsqueak didn't think it would be too awful to spend the first half of her birthday putting on a show.

A quick aside: The vast majority of people take the statement, "I was born here on this date" for granted and have no question about their birthday. My niece, like thousands of other adoptees, cannot. She will grow up knowing a region where she was born but not a place, and with an official birthday based on an estimate of how many days old she was when abandoned instead of a carefully recorded date and time she came into this world. This is part of the Difference between adoptees and non-adoptees... I'll leave the subject alone for now, but it's never far from our minds and I plan on coming back to it here in the future.

After some costume problems and odd rehearsal schedule problems in the days leading up to the show, the 20th dawned bright and sunny and we actually managed to get to the theater (nowhere near the actual dance studio, of course) pretty much on time. The show was pretty long -- lots of kids at different levels, some quite accomplished at their art -- but it was fun watching the Pipsqueak finally perform the routines we'd seen little snippets of at home in full costume with her classmates, HUGE smile on her face the entire time. She appeared in two separate numbers, with a quick sampling below:


There were some nice photo ops after the performance, but the business of the day was really to get together fora family celebration of Miri's 6th birthday so we all headed back to her house for the party.

And things began to go not quite so well (this was the post I was originally going to entitle, "Birthday Bummer").

We were all having a good time, but the letdown of The Big Performance being done & over with combined with the excitement of a birthday combined with too little sleep & no nap combined with knowing the "real" party was still several days away put the poor Pipsqueak (and to some extent her grownups) on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. For example, she wasn't sure Mommy was decorating her cake quite the right way, then was worried about poor little Dulce (who's not been well lately)...

Then we all sang "Happy Birthday" and she happily blew out the candles, only to make a discovery that annoyed us all...

Miri likes chocolate, but doesn't like chocolate cake -- so AJ was extra-sure to pick up a "vanilla" (yellow) cake for the celebration. If you take a closer look at the left-hand photo above, you'll note that the cake is actually very much a chocolate cake... while the right-hand photo above shows you the labeling on the pre-frosted cake's packaging.  Miri still wanted a piece of cake, but she only picked at a couple of forkfuls before giving up the pretense of enjoying her own birthday cake.

Even worse, while kneeling on a chair and leaning forward, the poor kid accidentally exerted just the right amount of force to slide the chair backwards just as she moved her hands out from under her torso, resulting in a loud THUNK! as her face smacked into the table. She ended up with a small but classic fat lip, which kinda hurt for a while but also left her really scared that she'd have a big, ugly boo-boo in summer camp.

Mom and I felt so sorry for her that we packed ourselves off in my car to find a real yellow cake for her at the nearest supermarket... and while we were there a tropical monsoon of the kind I hadn't seen since July in Guilin let loose and trapped us there for a while. We managed to get back to the house with some suitable cupcakes, so it wasn't a total loss -- but the day ended with one & all knowing the Pipsqueak's definitely had better birthdays.

Now fast-forward to the next weekend (original title" Bigger Better Birthday Bash"), and Miri had her real birthday party with friends. She had surprised us first by insisting on a girls-only guest list ("except for boys who are part of the family, but they can come later") and then by turning her back on the Ariel, Frozen, and other themes originally in play and settling on something vaguely "beach" oriented.

We had all long ago known Miri had outgrown the Little Gym parties (Dude, your niece is growing up!) and had been at a loss for what to do until AJ found out that the nearby Michaels crafts store hosted kids' crafts parties for a lot less money than most alternative locations would charge for a party. As usual, Mom & Dad & Uncle Brian were running a little late (the not-so-small detail of picking up & delivering the cake kinda sorta loomed in the headlights) so the party was already under way when we arrived... But there was a roomful of little girls building & decorating wooden bird houses, and having a grand ol' time doing it!  Miri, happily wearing her custom-made (homemade) Special 6th Birthday Shirt would periodically stop what she was doing and crawl out under the table to visit with her guests one-on-one, and even took a couple of minutes to insist I help her show off her Climb On Uncle Brian and Make Loud Noises in While He Holds Me Upside-Down skills.

Some of the kids' projects turned out looking as good as any I've seen, but what was really important (aside from never quite figuring out what bird houses had to do with a "beach" theme) was that Miri was having a great time and all her guests were, too.  There was a momentary scramble when a roomful of nonsmoking adults realized they had no way to light the candles on the birthday cake (a problem eventually solved by one enterprising mom who figured out exactly the right member of the store's staff to corral), but everyone went home happy and AJ even got a cheerful refund for an assortment of "just in case" extra craft supplies that had not been used.

As usual, there was an after-party party back at AJ & Miri's, shared mainly with our gang of adoption friends, during which the majority of my sister's attempts at imposing some kind of order on things were consistently and cheerfully overridden by the decisions of a bunch of 6-, 7- and 8-year-old girls. We all ate more cake (and had some real food, too -- the original party featured only snacks & juice), oohed and ached over the gifts, and kept yakking & comparing notes until quite late in the evening. If I remember correctly, the last guest families didn't leave until close to 10:00pm, but somehow Miri kept her internal nuclear reactors online until quite a while after that to "help" with "cleaning up" afterwards.

All in all, it was a very happy and highly successful birthday celebration that more than made up for the up-and-down negatives of the smaller celebration on Miri's official day -- and now my niece proudly tells anyone who asks that she's six years old and isn't really a little kid any more.

And now I think I've finally caught up on all but one of my backlogged drafts, so keep an eye out for the account of our upcoming (possibly last?) visit to Dutch Wonderland over the Labor Day weekend!

PS - I'm publishing this post late at night after the Pipsqueak's first day in First Grade -- and, scary as that idea is for me, from what I've heard, it was an all-around excellent first day of school. :-)

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