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, December 18, 2015

It's Thanksgivukkah Again!

Everyone made a big deal about Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapping last year... but afterwards I realized that in this crazy family, it's an annual affair. Our cousins down in Florida come up each year to celebrate a combined Thanksgiving/Birthday/Hanukkah holiday, so even if we're not lighting candles in a hanukkiah [1] we'll top off Thanksgiving dinner with a birthday cake, followed by a holiday gift exchange. (We try to pick gifts that pack easily and don't weigh much -- but you'd be amazed at what a little creative thinking can do to prevent that from limiting us to gift cards!)

This year was no exception -- and since Thanksgiving is already long past and Hanukkah 2015 receding into history after it, I figured that I'd better get the combined holiday postings up on the blog before 2015 follows them into the history books...!

As usual, we all gathered at the family's Virginia home, where (as usual) my aunt & uncle did a great job of squeezing everybody in and ensuring no one left even thinking of eating again for at least 24 hours.  The Pipsqueak, being a picky eater (and unfortunately proud of it), concentrated on a pre-packaged mac & cheese and a few other items that she liked, but the rest of us pretty much stuffed our faces with turkey and all kinds of yummy side dishes & garnishments.  I was struck by the difference in the "baby" of the family -- somehow, Cousin S turned from toddler into little girl when we weren't looking! Watching Miri with Cousins A & S interact was fun. Even though there was no replay of last year's "hide and seek" game (with "hiding" usually relegated to giggling noisily almost in plain view between bouts of running through the house making enough noise for an entire elementary school's worth of kids), the three rug rats pretty much picked up right where they left off in 2014 and had a great time playing together. (Dude, you know Cousin A ain't gonna like being referred to as a "rug rat," right...?)

After eating (and eating and eating), we had a birthday celebration for Cousin S (who blew out her candles like a champ) and then everyone waddled into the living room for birthday gifts and an exchange of Hanukkah presents. All us overfed grownups sat watching the kids, catching up with each other and reminiscing while kvetching over having eaten too much... while the family's next generation did all they could to burn off all the calories they'd just consumed. (Hey, who says wisdom always comes with age?)

They're not dancing -- the kids took turns trying to pick each other up!
Hanukkah got underway "for real" a few days later, and the Pipsqueak was super-excited to make her own hanukkiah in Sunday school so (even though it sat proudly nearby with candles at the ready), the familiar old hanukkiah we've used every year since I was a baby remained unlit and we used the very modernistic ceramic tile & aluminum hex nut one Miri made by herself. We got together at Mom & Dad's every night to light the candles together, although the 5th night was a very nervous time for all (Dad had his surgery early that day).

The 6th night (immediately after Dad's surgery), AJ had us all signed up for a special Hanukkah & children's shabbat (sabbath) service at the synagogue where Miri attends Sunday school. Mom & Dad stayed home but insisted we go, so Mom packed a dinner for us to take and sent me off to pick up the Pipsqueak with small cooler & hanukkiah in tow. Traffic was so bad that AJ actually got there a few minutes before we did, even though I had a lot less distance to cover. (By the way, I have no idea who the child in the photo belongs to; Miri insisted she wanted me to take a picture of the big Hanukkah bear in the lobby, and I didn't realize the little girl had wandered into frame.)

The room was crowded with families chowing down on pizzas, sandwiches, and all kinds of other foods along with the latkes (potato pancakes) available for a small fee. We finished off our sandwiches and Miri, as usual, ate her way around the crispy edge of the latkes and left the slightly chewier centers for her mommy and uncle to finish off.

As the service began to get underway, the rabbi invited everyone who'd brought a hanukkiah with them to place it on a large table (thoughtfully covered with fireproof metal foil!)  I headed into the crowd with Miri while AJ took photos from our table on the other side of the room...

That's me in the red yarmulke -- Miri is buried somewhere in the crowd. What the photo doesn't show is the panic on my face as, one after another, already-lit candles kept falling out of the hanukkiah so that I had to keep reaching over other already-lit candles to pick them up and put them back where they belonged. (I had plenty of company with this problem.) We eventually returned to our table with just a couple of lightly-singed hairs on my forearm and enjoyed the sight of 32 hanukkiot as the music- and song-filled children's service began. (The photo above still has a couple waiting to be lit, but there were eventually 224 candles burning on that table -- which, of course, attracted the kids like moths to a flame.) It was also a lot of fun to watch my niece spinning around during the draidel song, followed by a drop to the floor that Sarah Bernhardt herself would've found entertaining.

Gotta tie all that hair back
before playing with fire!
The next night was the last night, but due to Dad's recovery we eschewed the originally-planned big celebration for a simple get-together with our aunt & uncle and Cousin E (who also introduced us to her new beau, a guy we're all hoping to see again). As if we needed another sign that the Pipsqueak really isn't so pipsqueakish any more, she helped her Grandpa light the shamos and then used it to light all the other candles herself, making a wish out loud for each one. As on other nights, without any prompting from the grownups present, her wishes included "peace," "good health," and "a better world" -- what better wishes can one have for the future?

Back when AJ & I were children, Mom started a tradition of giving us each one or two small gifts each night of the holiday instead of something really big (or a really big bunch of gifts) one one night. She's continued this tradition with Miri, with a small tweak: she & Dad prepared eight gifts for the Pipsqueak, and had her pick one each night. Since they were all wrapped, Miri had no way to know what she was picking (although she sure did a good job of grilling Grandma for hints!), so it added an extra dimension of fun to the holiday for her. Still, as important as getting a present was for Miri (and she let us know it was important to her!), we're all proud of how she put an emphasis on sharing Hanukkah with the family, and on the very grown-up wishes she made as she lit each of the candles.

Grownups' hands hovered nearby, but the
Pipsqueak did it all on her own!
Everyone commented on how oddly this year's  candles
burned -- we usually don't get such big blobs of wax!
And on that note I'll bring this year's accounting of Miri's Thanksgivukkah to a close with wishes for a happy, healthy holiday season for one and all!

[1] The hanukkiah  (plural: hanukkiot) is a special version of the menorah (a multi-branched candelabrum) that's used for the holiday. The names are semi-interchangeable, but while some menorahs have three branches on either side of a central candle holder the hanukkiah always has four. The central candle, called the shamos or shamash, is lit first, and then it is used to kindle the other candles -- one on the first night, two on the second night, and so on until all eight "lower" candles are lit on the last night of Hanukkah.

[2} Thanks to centuries of transliteration from Hebrew or Aramaic into Western languages, Hanukah, Hannukah, Hanukkah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Khanukha, and eleventy-seven other spellings are all actually the same holiday!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Boing! Boing! Boing! Boing!

NOTE: I had this post just a few lines short of being publish-ready almost two weeks ago... see the last couple of paragraphs for an explanation of the delay.

Sometimes "Uncle Duty" puts me in interesting positions. Like the time a year ago when I took the Pipsqueak to a friend's birthday party and found myself the only adult male in the waiting room as the kids bounced (literally, at times) all over a gymnastics... um, gym.  No matter which window I stood by or which little clump of mommies I tried to stand near, I always found myself separated from all the other adults by more space than they kept between themselves. I think it was only when I followed everyone into the party room for pizza & cake (at which point a couple of daddies joined the crowd) and began helping set up & serve that anyone realized I was chaperoning one of the kids and not just some weird guy ogling their children. (I think I actually said that verbatim to one of the moms, who cracked up -- but had a slightly guilty expression,  too!)

Imagine, then, my joy  when AJ pointed out she had to work on Sunday, and Mom & Dad were really tired, but Miri had a birthday party to attend... and was really looking forward to Uncle Brian taking her...

 I'm not one to disappoint my niece so I spent the next several days reminding my sister that I needed to know the time and location of the party. Eventually, she sent a text message(!) with the time and place: SkyZone, a huge all-trampoline indoor "park" where the kids could burn off as much energy as they could muster.

I picked up the Pipsqueak on time(!) and she talked nonstop aaaalllll the way from Grandma & Grandpa's house to SkyZone. There didn't seem to be much parking (uh-oh) but I found a spot a short walk away and my thoroughly wired niece kept up her soliloquy all the way to the entrance.

We both got real quiet when the door closed behind us -- the noise level in the place was somewhere between "the U.S. Olympic jackhammer team is practicing here" and "there's a 747 throttling up in the back of the room." There were humans of all shapes & sizes in orange nonskid socks everywhere, moving every which way, and when I asked Miri if she saw anyone she knew the reply was a worried negative. I eventually saw what looked like a customer service desk and guided the now slightly overwhelmed Pipsqueak in that direction.

I opened my mouth to ask where the party was and realized AJ had neglected to give me one teeny-tiny bit of information: neither Miri nor I knew the birthday girl's family name, which made it kinda hard for the very patient girl behind the desk to tell me where the party guests might all be located in the chaos. She finally directed me to the opposite side of the building (did I mention this place is BIG!?), where the first thing I was asked by the girl behind that particular counter was if I had completed the liability waiver in advance.

Oh, this is fun -- not only do I not know who the heck I'm looking for, but I was supposed to have already filled out a liability waiver...?!? 

I dragged my increasingly lost-feeling niece over to an open computer terminal and shortly afterward was able to return to the sign-in desk --where I was super-relieved to run into the birthday girl's mom (whom I recognized). A few moments later, the Pipsqueak had swapped her sneakers for a pair of bright orange nonskid socks and the entire party group went to one of the large net-enclosed "pens" whose floor consisted entirely of trampolines linked together. I noticed one of the fathers actually shooting photos from the bouncy floor (in bright orange nonskid socks, of course) and the birthday mom said adults could also bounce if they wanted, so I let Miri know I'd be right back and returned to the sign-in desk for my own bright orange fashion statement.

Unfortunately, as soon as I mentioned "photos" the girl said they allowed photos but no cameras or electronics were allowed on the trampolines themselves. I decided not to rat out the other father and went back to shoot my pics from the regular floor. (By then he had given up his camera so he could keep bouncing with the kids.) 

From that point forward, the afternoon became one long demonstration of just how much energy kids in 6-8 range actually have... and how difficult it is for old geezers like yours truly to keep up with them. The noise level remained astonishing, but after a while I was able to tell apart the high-energy music blasting from the PA system from the kids' yelling while following said kids from the bouncy pen to the foam pit (on the far opposite side of the facility, of course) to a larger bouncy pen and back to the original, all the while dodging other kids and adults who were either being equally energetic or equally overwhelmed.

Miri may be a pipsqueak but she held her own, happily running along the padding between trampolines or bouncing all over the place. I'll be quiet for a moment and let y'all see what it (sort of) looked like -- believe me, the blurring in the photos was almost visible to the naked eye!

Here's the foam pit...

...and here's the bouncy pen the kids spent most of their time in:

At one point I turned to one of the young "lifeguards" and jokingly asked if employee benefits included unlimited Excedrin.  After I explained what "Excedrin" was (Dude, you're getting old!), he laughingly said that it sounded tempting, but that the staff all got used to it pretty quickly and, besides, "it's only like this on weekends."

Still feeling slightly overwhelmed by the nose and activity, I cringed as the lifeguard blew his whistle to signal the end of "bounce time" and followed the group to a couple of party rooms for pizza and cake. Many of the adults (including me) were happy to discover the birthday girl's parents had arranged for separate party rooms for the kids and their grownups, older siblings, caretakers, etc. -- a very nice touch I'm going to remember for future plans. Everyone jammed into one room for the obligatory loud yelling singing of the "happy birthday" song but then it was back to the much quieter "grownups room" for some pizza and root beer.  Eventually the Pipsqueak decided she'd had enough loud noise and wanted to leave, and within minutes it seemed like many of the other kids agreed so we headed home for her to describe her trampolining ability to Mommy, Grandma and Grandpa.

"So," I hear you say, "why did it take more than two weeks to type & publish this post?" Well, we seem to have run into some uncharted shoals. First, I became unemployed at the end of November (yep, you read that right, unfortunately -- don'cha love downsizing?) Then Dad developed a problem and there was an ER visit & a couple of doctor's appointments... Then Mom had a problem and there was another ER visit... Then there were a couple of additional appointments for Dad, followed by what turned out to be very successful semi-minor surgery early on Thursday. (I say semi-minor because he didn't have to stay in the hospital overnight, but there was still some definite slicing & dicing going on that had all of us thoroughly concerned.)

What's been keeping our spirits up during the repeated "uh-ohs" and doctor visits has been how the Pipsqueak's been keeping her grandfather in line. (He's quite bad at following instructions like, "don't bend," "don't lift," "don't climb stairs," and such.) She'll draw herself up to her full height, hands on hips (sometimes wagging a finger at him for emphasis) and start off with, "DAD! You have to listen to me!" and then spend the next several minutes lecturing him on how he should behave and why. The funniest was when my cell phone rang just as we were leaving the ER one night and I found myself talking to my niece. I asked if she wanted to speak with Grandpa (she was really, really worried about him) and gave him the phone -- and Miri spent the next 7-8 minutes politely reaming out her grandfather for not behaving himself while Mom & I tried to not laugh out loud.

It's been a wild couple of weeks but things are (finally) looking much better -- and now we know that if we can't get Dad to follow his doctor's orders, we just have to stand back and let his granddaughter deal with him :-)

So now that we're all (almost) up to date, I'll sign off with an almost-belated HAPPY HANUKKAH! to one and all! (Miri's been unintentionally amusing us by asking friends, "Are you Jewish or Christmas?")