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 31, 2016

Catching Up: Purim 2016

QUICK NOTE: I thought I posted this a week ago. Really, I did. Shows you how organized I've become as 2016 squeezes its increasingly ugly self out the door. Here (with my more than slightly embarrassed apologies) is a catching-up post I coulda sworn y'all had already seen. (Dude, you gotta get on the ball!)

There's an old joke that most Jewish holidays are based on the same premise: "They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!"  In my mind, the holiday that best matches this scenario -- and possibly gave rise to it in the first place -- is Purim [1].  It also tends to be the most fun holiday, with kids (and increasingly often their parents) dressing in costumes and lots & lots & lots of audience participation and loud noises actually encouraged during the service.

For those readers unfamiliar with the holiday, here's Purim in a nutshell: In the ancient Persian empire, Queen Esther (whom the king does not know is Jewish) and her uncle Mordecai discover and foil a semi-secret plot by viceroy Haman to kill all the jews in the kingdom. There are enough plot twists and complications to make an excellent movie or mini-series  -- but the modern-day fun comes from dressing up as major characters in the story[1] and making LOTS of noise every time Haman is mentioned during a reading of the story in synagogue. The "let's eat" part of the holiday comes after the service, with special pastries called "Hamantaschen" (with many other possible spellings) featured as a special treat. Hamantaschen are triangular to mimic the supposed shape of Haman's hat, and while classically filled with sweetened poppy seeds they are also frequently filled with chocolate or fruit preserves.

Since the Pipsqueak is part of the synagogue's kids' choir, her participation in the holiday service was a foregone conclusion -- so she and Mommy started planning her costume well in advance. After some false starts, they latched onto the idea of the Pipsqueak dressing as a Hamantaschen. I had some big rolls of brown craft paper I'd saved from Amazon shipments, so AJ applied some creativity -- along with a bunch of colored paper, tape, and markers -- to turn one of them into a giant wearable Jewish pastry for her daughter. (Sorry; this is the only photo I have of the costume that doesn't violate AJ's guidelines for Pipsqueak photos online.)

We got to the synagogue on time for Miri to join in on the choir rehearsal, after which she participated in a couple of the holiday crafts activities being offered to help keep the kids occupied prior to the actual planned mayhem.  I think her favorite was making a little reproduction of King Ahasuerus (or was it Mordecai?) on a stick. (Think about it, Dude -- "King on a stick! Getcher king on a stick here! King on a stick!")  I can't vouch for the historical accuracy of the crown or purple robe, but I have to admit that's one of the happiest kings I've ever seen...

The crafts were followed by a BYO dinner which was itself followed by a short period of chaos as tables were rolled out of the room and rows of seats were set up. The rabbi (who was as much into having fun with the holiday as any of the kids) eventually managed to get things down to a low enough roar to start the actual service. After some songs from the choir, baskets filled with groggers[2] were passed around and I'm glad to say they were put go good use by one and all. In keeping with the fun attitude, the rabbi kept the story of Esther extra-entertaining by using the projection system so the congregation could read along... with each slide embellished with the likes of minions, the Big Hero 6 crew, smurfs, Lego Movie characters, and the like.

Once the story reached its end (and the groggers were collected for use again next year, much to the relief of the parents present), it was time for the costume parade! Despite an amazing similarity to the annual rounding up and herding of cats from the lowland pastures to their summer grazing grounds in the mountains, the rabbi & helpers managed to get all the kids in costume (along with several costumed parents) sort of lined up and moving along parallel paths.

Unlike the days of my youth, when such events only included characters drawn from the Story of Esther (leading to a parade of dozens each of Hamans, Esthers, King Ahasueruses, and assorted ancient warrior-type guys), the parade also included several video game characters, a couple of cowboys, a nurse, enough Marvel & DC superheroes to protect several planets, a handyman, a fireman, and, of course, a hamantaschen. Oh, and a rhinoceros -- I kid you not. (He was only about 4'1" but a rhino nonetheless.)

The parade wound around & through the sanctuary and out into the lobby, where a grand assortment of baked goodies & drinks waited to help celebrate the holiday. One highlight of the celebration was the rabbi coming up to Miri, taking one look at her yellow-centered costume, and exclaiming, "An apricot hamantaschen! My favorite!" (Yes, we like the guy.)

The celebration wound down after a little while and everyone began streaming home, and Miri shed her disguise as tasty baked goods. At least until next year. :-)

[1] As you will see, the holiday is becoming something of a "Jewish Halloween," with costumes of pop culture figures increasingly supplanting the classic depictions of biblical characters from the story.

[2] Groggers are  ratchet-based noisemakers that one spins around to make a racket. They,  along with lots of booing, are enthusiastically employed at every mention of Haman's name during the reading of Esther's story.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Another "At Long Last"!

We seem to be completing a lot of long-term projects around here lately!

(Dude, you're stretching the definition of "project" to the breaking point, ya know?)

For about a month now, Miri has been getting slowly but increasingly upset over something that y'all might consider a bit silly: she's the only person she knows in her grade who hasn't lost a tooth yet.

Make that, hadn't lost a tooth yet.

She's not worried any more -- because finally, after a bit over three weeks' worth of wiggling, testing, pushing, and worrying over a loose baby tooth, she finally achieved that oh-so-wanted "hometown goalie" look.

She was so happy about it that we let her pick a place for a celebratory dinner out. (An added bonus was that, unbeknownst to us, the restaurant just happened to have a $5 off special on BBQ ribs that night, so Mom & I happily pigged out on a full rack each).

After checking to make sure the right tooth had come out, it took AJ all of maybe 15 seconds to realize that it was the same tooth that we officially dubbed "first" when all the Pipsqueak's chompers began to appear... So that's one more childhood milestone now past, albeit a bit later than expected.

But right now I have to get back to my Medical Terminology textbook, I'll post again in a few days... Y'all stay warm out there!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

At Long Last...!

One of these days, I'll actually catch up on what's been happening during the year... in the meantime, today was a red-letter day!

You might remember a series of posts about my (mis)adventures in creating an Olaf-themed toy chest for the Pipsqueak [here, here, and here].  Unfortunately, the chest has been sitting in my foyer since then, occasionally holding up a few shopping bags or the day's mail; AJ simply hasn't had a place to put the darn thing. (This has been especially puzzling to her older brother who specifically chose a chest that can act as a child's seat as well as storage chest to replace a couple of the large, space-occupying-but-otherwise-useless big baskets or cardboard "toy chests" she's been using for years... but that's a whole 'nother can of worms.)

Well, imagine my surprise when the following showed up on my phone a little while ago:

And here's my response:

It's a bit late today, but it looks like last year's birthday gift will be part of this year's Hanukkah gift! Cue the fireworks and celestial trumpets...!

(Dude, you're forgetting something...!)

Oh, yeah, before I go... Every time I mourn the loss of all those cute Pipsqueakisms of Miri's toddlerhood, she comes up with something new to remind me that even in the field of speech she is definitely her own person. The latest two:

- "I'm so cold my teeth are jittering!"
- "Mommy, I want you to read me a bed night story."

Also, she has lately taken to singing "The Twelve Nights of Christmas" whenever given half a chance... at least in between complaining about the apparent lack of attention the public is paying to Hanukkah and wondering aloud "why is everything only Christmas?" The catch is that what she's singing is only the melody of TTNoC but the lyrics are some nonsense silliness that one of her BFFs taught her... and she thinks it's absolutely hilarious when one of us tries to correct her with whatever part of the real lyrics we can remember. [1]

So, anyway, here we be, I'll be posting again soon... Stay warm, y'all! 

[1] I'm good with the partridge, turtledoves, French hens, calling birds, and golden rings... just please don't ask me to remember the correct order of anything after that!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Pipsqueak Security

Hey, wow, is it really December already? Amazing how time flies when you're having fun really, really busy & preoccupied!

Anyway... As the family technical support department, I often spend a lot of quality time with various iDevices. Most recently that was Mom's iPhone 4S, which decided that my updating it to the most recent possible version of iOS was a security violation and locked everyone out. To make a long and curse-filled story short, I eventually figured out the login credentials for Mom's AppleID account (Dude, didn't you set up that account yourself so you'd be sure to always have that information...?) and set about updating and/or installing the various apps she wanted.

The first app I put on was the FBI Child ID app, a free download I heartily encourage everyone with young kids to install on their smart devices.[1]  I entered as much of the information as I could and then posed my niece against the front door for an ID photo to add to the app. That got me wondering about how current the data was on my phone, and I immediately realized the photo I was using was from Miri's first day of school.... LAST year.

Since I didn't have a more recent photo I thought was appropriate in my camera roll, I grabbed the Pipsqueak from the kitchen and had her pose again, which she thought was kind of funny (and thus resulted in several silly poses before I could get a "real" ID pic). The fact that I kept posing her for photos to use in an app on my phone was intriguing, so she began grilling me interrogating me asking me what I needed the photo for, why I needed the app on the phone, what the app was used for... LOTS of questions that required some careful verbal wordsmithing to explain the safety aspect without making it sound like she was going to be snatched and/or get lost every time she went someplace with family or friends.

The Pipsqueak seemed to absorb it all and was quiet for a few moments, then marched back into the kitchen and asked Grandma for a pen and some paper. She was soon busy crafting what she told me was a "child ID security file" for herself.  Unfortunately, it was getting late so I couldn't stay to see the finished product and soon forgot about it.

Fast-forward to this past Thursday, when I was over at my folks' again (letting Mom sample an iPad Mini 2, which looks like it's going to be added to the list of devices I have to configure & support, argh). There, hanging among various slowly-aging holiday cards and the Pipsqueak's artwork was the completed homemade "Kid ID" file:

First & last name obscured for security, of course.

And on that note, I'll sign off for the evening. :-)

[1] The FBI Child ID app is currenty available for iOS and Android devices.

>> iOS (iTunes): https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fbi-child-id/id446158585?ls=1&mt=8

>> Android (Google Play): https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fbi&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNvbS5mYmkiXQ

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A Post I Didn't Intend to Write

Okay, so I really didn't plan on this... but I've read SO many posts in other blogs (followed regularly and not) about the recent election that the peer pressure finally got to me.  Or maybe it's just all the internal pressure that's had me wanting to scream on a daily basis since about 2:30am November 9th. Whatever the case, I wanted to say something here to vent some of that pressure so I can get back to blogging in a more normal fashion. (No, our lives have not been put on "hold" as a result of the outcome, I haven't blogged lately because I've had to concentrate on other projects.)

I also wanted to give a little more background on the family that has been so blessed by the addition of the Pipsqueak.

We (Pipsqueak included!) are NOT pleased with the outcome of the election. Never mind the odd workings of the Electoral College and its disenfranchisement of millions of voters from all parties. Never mind that many more people voted for the 2nd place candidate than for the winner (the difference has surpassed one million votes). Never mind that all those votes are still being counted but the election was considered over and done with long before that count even really began.

Our problem as a family with the outcome is (among what we see as a disturbingly long list of negatives) the hatred, intolerance, bigotry, and lack of respect that seems to have been made into The American Way.

Miri has always been taught, either directly by example, the same thing Mommy and Uncle Brian were taught: There are good people in the world and there are bad people in the world. Sometimes you can't always tell which is which at first, and sometimes even good people will do things that are bad -- usually,  but not always, by accident. It doesn't matter if they're boys or girls, big or little, from America or from China or from any other place; it doesn't matter what religion they follow, what language they speak, or what tone of which color their skin might be.  They are people, and we treat people the way we want to be treated until they make it obvious that we need to ignore them and/or stay away from them.

She is being taught these lessons not just by our example, but by the very structure of our family. We, Miri's immediate family,  are Jewish and identify ourselves as such at least culturally if not religiously. Seems obvious... but if anyone widens their field of view just enough to include our circle of 1st and 2nd cousins, aunts and uncles, the picture gets a lot more interesting. We've got Jewish relatives scattered across the USofA. We've got Protestant cousins. We've got Muslim cousins. We've got cousins who identify themselves as Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, even a Wiccan or two (along with some undecideds and probably at least 1 or 2 other "minor" religions I've momentarily forgotten about). And we come in lots of sizes, shapes, flavors, and colors -- representing every major ethnographic group you're likely to think of, save Eskimo or Pacific Islander (and I'm not sure I haven't forgotten someone).[1]

The Pipsqueak hasn't met all these cousins yet, but has a pretty good collection in hand already and as far as she's concerned they may not look quite the same as each other but they're all family and that is that. She's just beginning to wrap her head around the idea of having two mommies, but has never shown any sign of having a problem with the crazy mix of ethnicities, religions, and nationalities that are her family (and, to her credit, her friends).

So now we are worried. Oh, sure, we've all had concerns from Day One based on an international and transracial adoption, but now we're really worried.  All of a sudden the alt-right is Mainstream Politics, hate speech is a daily occurrence in the media, and there's an apparent trickle-down effect that's had some minor but disturbing comments come from one or two classmates. How will she react to constantly hearing her Muslim cousins are terrorists? How will she react to increased negative statements that people who aren't "real" Americans need to leave or be sent away? How will she react to the increasingly vocal anti-semitism we're seeing?

There are a lot of potential negatives coming out of this election, the worst of which is the apparent mainstreaming of all the hate speech and bigotry and "us versus them" divisiveness that paints Miri as one of "them." We're keeping our eyes and ears open, listening between the lines when she talks about school, or what she overheard the other day, or just the kind of things she's asking us about. We're always trying to reinforce the idea that every kind of person can be good or bad, that it comes down to that one person and not everyone who has something in common with them.

We're making an effort to make sure that for every horror story she hears, she'll also hear about a real-life example of people from different backgrounds gathering together to support and help each other. We're continuing the lessons about turning away & distancing herself from negative people instead of keeping herself in their crosshairs. We're continuing to teach her that "different" means "not the same" and NOT "better" or "worse" or "good" or "bad" -- just not the same, which makes the world a much more interesting place.

We all expect the next four years to be "interesting" as in the old Chinese curse about living in interesting times... likely with after-effects extending for years. But during that time we will continue striving to teach Miri to deal with individuals as individuals & to remain proud of who and what she is and her background. We will continue trying to give her the tools she needs to deal with those who hold beliefs different from her own, both those who do so positively and those who do so negatively. We will continue to teach her that all people can be good or bad and that how she deals with each person may help determine which side she sees... and how to deal with those who insist on showing her the bad no matter how she deals with them.

And -- no problem here at all! -- we will continue to make sure she knows how much she's loved.  :-)

I may not always be able to prevent myself from making negative comments about how the incoming administration is looking or posting news stories about it on Facebook, but the bottom line is that I'm striving to teach my niece (by example) how to deal with the Good and the Bad and all that lies in between... and that everyone is potentially "us" and not "them."

I sincerely hope we're all doing that. We will see. 


[1] The religious, ethnic, and geographic mix of the extended family is so varied that many years ago I jokingly told Mom that the only way I could stand out from the crowd was to marry a Caucasian Jewish girl from the US... and then Cousin H went and did that, so now I'd literally have to hook up with someone from another planet. (Secure in the knowledge that if I did, most of my relatives would welcome her with a smile. And probably too much food.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Yep, I'm Still Here...

I just realized how long it's been since I posted an update. "No problem," I thought, "I've got the next update almost done as a draft..."

And then I realized that the "almost done" draft is well over 600 words long (247 in the introductory paragraph alone) and I'd barely reached my intended halfway point.

Needless to say, I will be doing some serious rewriting.

On a more serious note, I've been off the air even more than usual because life's been more than a little complicated lately. Mom got sick so I got more involved in the Pipsqueak's daily routine (after-school care pickups & evening dance classes). Then I got sick and spent a couple of weeks too miserable to do much. (Daily routine: Wake up coughing. Stuff lungs back down my throat, then blow nose 8-9 times to restart breathing. Take meds & walk down the stairs. Sit down a few minutes to recover. Try hacking my lungs up my throat again. Make hot tea. Sit down a few minutes... You get the idea.) Mom still has her cough on & off and I just began to venture outside this week, so stamina's a bit of a  problem at the moment. (We also missed the Lindsey Stirling concert I was looking forward to; it would've been a nice surprise for Miri, but she never found out about it. Unfortunately, I ended up "eating" the cost of the tickets because I wasn't sick enough for the "guaranteed sickness refund" as defined in the policy.)

Even worse, someone somewhere seems to have turned the insanity dial up to 11 or maybe even 12; the past two months (plus) have been marked by a series of mini-crises that turn everything on its head without warning. For example, as I'm typing this I'm waiting for a phone call telling me what the evening's new plans are, since the old plans went out the window this morning when a good friend had to go into the hospital for emergency surgery and AJ suddenly inherited two more kids. (It's not an imposition, it's being done willingly -- but it's one more sudden remix of plans and schedules we hadn't counted on.)

So... anyway, sorry for the doom & gloom but I wanted to show that I'm not trying to ignore y'all -- really, I'm not! Life's just kinda gotten in the way (along with my writing multi-volume tomes instead of blog posts as part of "catching up").

I'll have much more succinct catch-up posts here early this coming week and, with luck, at least semi-regularly for the rest of the year.

Hope all's well at your end of the wire... and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Some Good, Some Not So

L'Shanah Tovah, everybody!

Well, I seem to have managed to fall even farther behind in catching up... Somehow that fits perfectly with the (now-departed) month of September.  We've been dealing with minor surgeries, exhaustion, school starting, sleep deprivation, major unexpected school changes, tiredness, all kinds of sniffles & coughs & congestions & general feelings of blechh, a crazy lack of sleep, and a general sense of "uggh" that just won't go away.

I've read other blogs & spoken with people who are all saying similar things. I don't know; maybe it's the constant pounding of scary news, maybe the divisive arguments over the upcoming election, maybe just the change of seasons. But it's making it difficult to stay current, much less catch up. I'm going to keep trying (and have even begun roughing out a post on why I blog at all), but I think the time has come for me to accept the fact that it's pretty frakking hard to turn out regular posts every 4-5 days as I need to in order to bring the blog up to date. (But yeah, I'm trying.)

Anyway... I just wanted to get some of that off my chest and include a few snippets of recent goings-on 'round these parts. It's not all bad and some of the "bad" is really only "complicated" but just feels "bad" (or has potential to turn that way) so please ignore the exahustion-induced Debbie Downer tone of the preceding paragraphs and let's dive in...

Miri started second grade this year, and was thrilled to find out she was going to be in the same class as her absotively posilutely bestest friend in all the world AND was going to have the teacher she'd hoped she would have. Then, almost three weeks into the semester, the school administration decided that they really did have too many kids squeezed into the two second grade  classes after all and split them into three second grade classes. (Dude, you'd think they'd know how many kids were enrolled before the semester started, right...?) So OF COURSE the Pipsqueak ended up with the new teacher -- and by new I mean it's her first full-time permanent teaching position ever -- and was separated from the aforementioned BFF. Even better, the "personalized" letter the school sent to the parents of the affected kids reveresed Miri's first & last names and spoke about her as if she was male.

Cue the decrease in sleep, the increase in clinginess, the sudden non sequiturs about what it was going to be like, the return of the thumb sucking we all thought had finally been vanquished, et al. (some of which, minus the thumb sucking, applies to the Pipsqueak's grownups as well).

Despite the apparent horror of the above sentence, things are actually working out. Miri's been a bit sad about not being able to share the entire day with her best BFF -- but once over having to deal with a new situation (something she and her mommy have high on their "NOT favorite" list) -- she's adjusted pretty well. When I asked her if she was making new friends in the new class, her response was something like, "Uncle Brian, I already had friends in the class and I'm also making new ones so it's okay!" In addition, AJ had her parent-teacher conference with the new teacher a couple of days ago and discovered that she's not only a very nice person, but has actually been working as a long-term substitute in the county for a few years and is well-versed in classroom life. AJ had also emailed the principal and cc'd me, and we both received reassuring (and very personal) email back from the lady the very next day. We'll see how it all works out, but right now it's actually looking pretty good.

One very nice thing the school did this past week was participate in the "Dads Take Your Kid to School" day.  Instead of just inviting fathers to walk or drive their kids in, they turned it into an early-morning athletic event for the dads to share with their children... and then they made it a whole lot better. Take a look at the middle of the flyer they sent out:

Whoever made up that flyer deserves an award, period. I mean, c'mon... uncles and father-figures and stepfathers and all the rest? Someone there really does "get it" as far as modern real-life families go!

Needless to say, I planned to go from the moment AJ texted me with a pic of the flyer. It meant getting up at 7:00am (and those of you who know me know how insanely difficult that can be for yours truly) but I set multiple alarms and I picked up my (thrilled) niece on time. There wasn't much parking so we had a good time joking with each other as we walked from a nearby street, and it was heartening to hear just how many kids and adults were calling out  hellos to the Pipsqueak even before we got to the building entrance. I signed in at the table staff had set up for the purpose and we were directed to the gym.

One of the reasons we all like Miri's school is that it has a very high level of family involvement, and this event was no exception. There were father figures of all shapes, sizes and colors with an equally assorted collection of 1st- through 5th-graders standing in a line that went aaallll the way from one end of the gym to the other and wrapped back around again. Miri and I eventually got out the gym's side door to a staging area in a hallway where the crowd was slowly broken up into small teams, and then we began to follow the "workout circuit" that wound through the building.

Accompanied by the Pipsqueak's usual laughing, "I'm going to beat you" calls, she and I two-stepped through a series of hula hoops on the floor, did 20 jumping jacks, "crabbed" sideways down a hall, ran back & forth stacking & un-stacking rubber rings on traffic cones, raced down a hall, did ten fast pushups, made our way down another hall by jumping side-to-side over a line taped to the floor, and a few other things I got too sweaty & breathless to remember... but I had a blast and Miri was absolutely thrilled to be "competing" with her uncle at school that way.

Oh, and on a personal note: I not only completed all the challenges, I pulled off ten real pushups in under a minute. Yay, me! <gasp> <pant>

After grabbing a bottle of water & granola bar at the end, it was back to the gym to get the kids arranged into class groups and then, to quote my niece, "Uncle Brian, it's time for you to leave now!" (She did give me a nice hug, though.) I may be "just" her uncle but sharing events like this with the Pipsqueak is something I cherish. I may have gone right back to bed for a two-hour nap when I got home, but I had a smile on my face well into the evening.

One other thing that happened recently at school that was a bit less fun but not entirely unexpected. About a week ago, AJ was able to pry herself loose from work to do a rare Mommy pick-up at day's end. As she & Miri were walking, one of the little boys in another 2nd grade class said hello the Miri and then stopped to just look for a moment. He asked, "Is that your mommy?" and when the Pipsqueak replied that it was, he looked from one to the other for a moment longer and then said:

"That's not your real mommy!"

I don't remember exactly what AJ told her reply had been, but she admitted to the same quiet internal freak-out that I experienced when she told me about it. We've all been expecting this (and our folks got quite a few variations on "but don't you want her to look like you?" when announcing the planned adoption to their friends & acquaintances), but the edges seem especially sharp when coming from one of Miri's peers. There have been some quiet rumblings of similar comments before this but it's the first time (as far as we know) that any of her classmates have so blatantly told her she's different and/or doesn't "belong" to the woman she's called "Mommy" since she began to speak.

There have been a few discussions since then, and so far it seems like water off a duck's back, but now we're all on a higher level of alert for cues & clues that all may not be well with how Miri's peers see her and her family. She herself brought it up with AJ a few times; one time she agreed that AJ was "Mommy" but not her "real" mommy because she didn't grow in her belly, but basically she seems to have decided that AJ is indeed "my real Mommy" because she loves her & cares for her & lives with her & makes sure she has things she wants and needs, but that she has another "Mommy" in China in whose belly she grew but who isn't with her any more and isn't really part of her family.

It's pretty complicated stuff for adults to deal with, so I'm sure there's a heck of a lot going on inside that pretty little head right now. Just because she's not talking about it doesn't mean it's not on her mind -- but it's been on ours since 2005 so I think we'll be able to deal with the next chapters as they pop up. Stay tuned...

And, in closing, another item related to family structure. I recently began an in-depth attempt to build a complete family tree, based partly in the realization that we didn't know much about the Pipsqueak's genetic background our of necessity but knew no more about AJ's and mine out of sheer ignorance. I've made all kinds of interesting discoveries (including a large, hitherto unknown set of out-of-state uncles, aunts and cousins on Mom's side) but some of the results have been positively mind-blowing for Miri. We were all over at Mom & Dad's house last weekend and I brought over a couple of ancient (literally dissolving) photo albums I'd found while cleaning. While a lot of the people in the photos could not be identified, Mom & Dad were able to put a lot of names & faces together and I was scrambling to take notes as one memory triggered another and then another.

Although bored by most of the conversation, Miri did prick up her ears a bit when we began tossing "Grandma" and "Grandpa" around. We finally stopped and explained how, just as Mommy and Uncle Brian's parents were her grandparents, they had parents who were also Mommy and Uncle Brian's grandparents. We've talked about this before, but it was the first time we had a full collection of names, photos, and connections all on hand at the same time. The Pipsqueak sat quietly for a moment, and then I could almost see a light bulb flickering on in midair above her head. Her eyes got wide and her mouth took on that half smile, half "OH!' shape and in a half-whisper she said, "I have more grandparents?!?!?" and sat looking from person to person. We all laughed and went back to boring her with stories about Skippy (Dad's dog) and Squeegee (Uncle Hy's dog) and other long-lost friends & relatives, but I'll never forget the look on Miri's face or the wonder in her voice as she realized there were a lot of people in the family called "Grandma" or "Grandpa" in addition to the two she knows so well.

And on that note, I think I'd better get back to my coursework... plus I just heard the buzzer on the clothes dryer... so 'til next time...

Monday, September 12, 2016


I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I just couldn't help myself.

We had a wonderful day today -- our annual MIT crabfest at a really nice place right on the water, with absolutely perfect weather topped off by one of the most gorgeous sunsets I've seen in a long time.  Mom & Dad brought a cake to celebrate friendships and all our kids, not knowing that everyone had planned a special Grandparents Day thank you to them as the more-than-just-honorary grandparents to all the kids.  (There will be a full post in the near future, I promise.)  In short, it was a wonderful day.

But somewhere in the back of my mind, the date stuck in the back of my mind.

I remember another beautiful September day 15 years ago, waking up to horrible news that just kept. getting. worse.

I set my DVR to record a series of specials on cable, knowing that it would probably take me weeks to watch the few hours of 9/11 specials because of the need to take it in small doses.

But I just couldn't help myself, and I turned on the History Channel.

I watched the towers come down again. And then again.  Sitting in my living room, knowing what I was going to see and not wanting to see it but watching anyway, often with tears on my face. Wanting to tell the people onscreen to not go down that street, don't try to get closer for a better view, don't let that fire truck park there.

And yet I kept watching.

Watching, and wondering. I see these images and all the images that have been recorded in the subsequent fifteen years, and then I look at my niece and more than ever wonder about what kind of world she's growing up in.  How can I explain these images and events to her?  How can I teach her to be as careful as she needs to be and yet still be willing & able to trust the people around her?  What -- if anything -- can I do to help keep her safe?

I don't have the answers.  I don't think anyone has the answers.  I'm not sure there are any answers.  All I know is that when I can, I hug her and hold her as tightly as I can for a few seconds before letting her run off again and go back to whatever it is she's doing.

And then I got to thinking.  Maybe that is the answer, for her, for all the kids, for everybody.  Hug them, and love them as hard as you can, and let them live their lives as best they can while passing on as much advice and information as possible.  Don't pass on the fear... but don't ever forget where it comes from so you can help them deal with it when it rises up in their lives.

If's gotten us through the past fifteen years of wondering.  It's gotten us through the past six years of having the Pipsqueak (who's really not so pipsqueakish any more) here with us.  Just keep loving them as hard as you can and let them live their lives as best they can because you never know when that will suddenly not be possible any more.

It's been fifteen years.  I hope you're all finding the answers you need.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Shadow Child, Ghost Child

This isn't one of my usual posts. This post is a train-of-thought essay about an aspect of adoption that periodically waves hello from the back of my mind but that I don't remember seeing any real mention of elsewhere... so here are some not entirely stray thoughts from yours truly to (perhaps) get some conversation started.

It's not uncommon for children to have imaginary friends, or for adults to occasionally have a verbal exchange with someone who isn't actually physically present. (Dude, you talkin' 'bout me?) It's common practice for individuals practicing a speech or presentation to visualize their audience, for lonely travelers to imagine their family at the dinner table with them, for people under duress to ask long-gone loved ones and advisors for guidance in difficult times.

Families involved in the adoption process are familiar with something very similar. Picture this: you've successfully completed reams of paperwork, survived having the details of your life and your loved ones' lives picked through by strangers, worked your way through fees and notarizations and fees and filings and fees and reviews and more fees, perhaps even completed the nursery... and now all you can do is wait.

Wait, and imagine what the child will be like.

"Hold on a second," I hear you say. "How is that different from the experience of any expectant parent, adoptive or pregnant?

Anyone waiting to become a parent via any method is going to (or should!) wonder & worry about the life they're about to add to their family. However, when you're adopting, you also have to worry about the entire process being derailed because a sheet of paper has gone missing, a single signature on a single page was forgotten, or the date on one form is different from the date on another form; because politics dictate slowing or stopping the process, charges of corruption are made, or a judge is in a bad mood; or because a parent who may live a few blocks away or on the opposite side of the planet changed their mind at the last minute (or, in some cases, up to a full year after the child has joined the adoptive family). There is likely no way to monitor or influence the health of mother and fetus. There is no baby bump to watch slowly grow, to marvel over, to lay hands on to feel the kicks and rolls happening inside. And then there is possibly the greatest difference of all: adoptive parents have no way to know if they will have to wait for months... or years.

While caught in The Wait, you are bonding with a child who is not there, a child who (in our case) is as far away as is possible without leaving the planet. We were not able to follow the progress of a pregnancy because at no time during the adoption process could we ask who the mother was; we didn't even have any way to know where, in one of the world's largest and most geographically diverse nations, that particular mother and child were located. There was no slowly expanding belly to admire, no happy exclamations about feeling a tiny kick, no late-night runs to the 24-hour convenience store for pickles and ice cream.

So we waited as the years passed. While we waited, we shopped. While we waited, we slowly turned a spare bedroom into a nursery. While we waited, we planned for contingencies and quietly panicked over reports of poisonous water, poisonous food, and poisonous air at different locations in China.

And while we waited, we developed strong emotional bonds with a child we all knew might not have even been born yet. (At least we knew it would be a girl!)  We had many discussions about what "the baby" or "the child" might look like and how our individual schedules would change so she would have plenty of time to bond with AJ.  We worried about IF the child would bond with AJ.  We worried about how traumatic it would be for the child (we would look, sound, even smell different from absolutely every other human being she knew -- and that's without the terrible loss suffered by children who had been in foster care and would thus be torn away from any family they had already come to know and perhaps truly love).  We wondered if she would still accept us as her family as she grew and realized none of us looked like her.  And somewhere in there we found time to also worry about most of the things any expectant family would worry about.

For us, The Wait lasted roughly five years but our lives began to revolve around "the child" before the first year had passed... a child who was not actually there.

A shadow child.

As time went on, the shadow influenced (sometimes determined) decisions about housing, finances, vacations, careers, and health care. She affected and subtly changed our view of the world, connected us closely with people we were unlikely to have otherwise met or spent time with, and placed constraints on use of personal time in a way similar to what she would in our post-Gotcha Day lives.

To some degree, most expectant families live with a shadow child... but human biology limits the shadow's lifespan to no more than nine months (frequently less). Our shadow child lived with us for almost five years.

Sometimes she was "Ladybug" or "Biscuit" and sometimes she was just "the baby," but for almost five years there was an invisible child in my family who was more real than any imaginary friend, visualized audience, or long-lost ancestor could be. We bought gifts for her, wondered when her birthday was, worried about her health, dreamed about her future, discussed how we would address issues with her, bonded with her, began slowly falling in love with her.  We talked about what kind of parenting issues might come up based on if her personality was like this or like that. We wondered if she would be a tomboy or a girlie girl or something in between; if she would be allergic to AJ's cats; if she would be introverted or extroverted; how quickly she would adjust to the change in food & environment; and what kinds of activities we could share with her.

For almost five years.

And then, suddenly, she was gone.

On Monday, May 10th, 2010, AJ received a phone call telling her she had been matched with a little girl, followed by an email with three tiny photographs attached... and the shadow child melted away unnoticed. All those whatifs, iwondwers, and doyouthinks that made up her form and image were replaced with the solid reality of a little girl who liked sleeping in bed beside her new mommy and who did a wonderful job of peeing aaaalll the way down from her new uncle's armpit to his foot without it bothering him for more than a moment.

The happiness of being matched, the excitement of preparing for & engaging in travel halfway around the world, and the indescribable emotions of the moment a 13-month-old baby girl was placed in my sister's arms for the first time (on Dad's 80th birthday, just two days before Mom's 76th) meant there was no mourning. The shadow child had been a placeholder, a bookmark that would let us return to pages in life's story and fill in fact where there had been only conjecture. And that's really how it's supposed to be. My niece is not a shadow or a figment of imagination -- she is a real, flesh-and-blood bundle of amazing.

And yet, much to my surprise, the shadow has not vanished completely.

Every now and then -- when I watch the occasional gotcha day video on YouTube or hear the occasional joking, "You got a good one!" --  I'll catch myself ticking off the differences between my beloved niece and the most frequently imagined aspects of the shadow who had lived in our homes for so many years. There is no actual list, and it is not a competitive "this is better than that would've been, but that would've been nice to have" kind of comparison...  It is just a realization that even with this wonderful little girl (finally) in our family, we had in a sense lost another, one who had simultaneously never actually existed and yet in many ways ruled our lives as much as Miri has from Gotcha Day onward.

In short, the shadow has become the ghost of someone who never actually lived.  There's the occasional thought of how much this is like what I had imagined or how different that is from what I imagined, all while the faceless image of an anonymous little girl floats through my mind. I can't (don't want to!) imagine life without the Pipsqueak but somehow, every now and then, that little ghost materializes just long enough to make her presence known before fading away again for an indeterminate time.

So... anybody else out there remember your shadow child, or encounter their ghost?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Catching Up: A Not-Necessarily-Adoption-Related Post

This post isn't really about the Pipsqueak & her family's adventures... Just some photos I came across and wanted to share.

We've had some wild-crazy weather 'round these parts lately... as in monsoon-style rainstorms, flash flooding, multiple lightning strikes, intense three-digit heat (or heat indexes), and so on. The kind of stuff that used to happen maybe once or twice a year seems to be on more of a monthly basis, if not more frequently.

Back in 1970, for our last trip Stateside after living in Chile, we came via ship instead of flying. During a stop in Guayaquil, we had gone for a walk and on the way back to the ship it started raining and I swear the drops were as big as golf balls. Fast-forward to March 19th of this year, and...

That's not snow; those big speed-blurred blobs are raindrops. I didn't know if I should take a photo, run for cover, or head outside in a swimsuit!

Back in the early 1970s, the homeowners' association in our neighborhood cut a deal with a local nursery for cut-rate prices on flowering cherry trees. (The developer had simply scraped everything in sight off the base layer of clay when construction began, and the entire place had a barren look to it.) Although a number of homeowners declined to participate in the mass purchase, many along the main street through the neighborhood did and the result in subsequent years has been a spectacular display of white and pale pink cherry blossoms every spring. Unfortunately, the trees are beginning to show their age (some have died outright) so the display is becoming a little more sparse each year, but I got some nice shots from our folks' yard:

As i said, the display is slowly thinning out each year (and these shots were taken a few days past peak), but it's still a beautiful sight to walk & drive through.

One last thing... Jump forward to the here & now, and I have killed another camera.  AJ, the Pipsqueak and I spent last week with friends at the beach and (perhaps inevitably) despite being as careful as I could a few grains of sand got into my camera's lens mechanism. As we were pulling out of the gas station to head home late Saturday, I tried for a quick shot of the sunset through the windshield... and the camera gave me a super-blurry image, then displayed a sharp and clear "SYSTEM ERROR: FOCUS FAILURE" (like I couldn't tell!), then shut down with the lens still fully extended.  I finally found a shop that could handle Panasonic cameras (I didn't want to mail it to the official service center in Texas without an estimate)... and got a minimum estimate $10 higher than the camera's original purchase cost along with a gently and diplomatically presented lesson in what type of camera should or should not go to the beach. I really didn't have the money in my budget but I'm the type of person who cannot be without a working camera -- so my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 was delivered early Thursday and I've begun getting used to it. The ZS40 is on the shelf next to the TZ5 that was dropped one time too many and  I'm hoping to someday have enough money to say "the heck with it!" and get them both repaired. (Dude, I know hope springs eternal etc. but really...?!?)

Anyway, that's my non-adoption-related post, I've got a lot of things to catch up on after the trip so I'll "speak" with y'all again in a few days!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Catching Up: Science Share 2016_03_16

During my illustrious career as an elementary & junior high school student, I participated regularly in school science fairs. Some sort of blurred past, while others remain etched firmly in my memory. (Most notable was the huge diorama filled with hand-made plasticine dinosaurs & plants divided into geological epochs that took nearly two months of Mom pushing reminding me to complete on time; I still remember being caught totally off guard when, in the middle of my presentation, the parents of an older student asked me if the dinosaurs became extinct because Noah didn't take them aboard the ark. The next most memorable was the interactive rock & mineral display I built complete with "Can you find the calcium?" only to discover a couple of hours into the fair that someone had walked off with my only chunk of calcium.)

(Dude, you're getting off track again.)

Ahem. Well, anyway, the Pipsqueak is continuing her uncle's proud(?) tradition with her school's annual "Science Share," partnering with her BFF H on the kind of yummy experiment I wish I'd thought of myself: testing & reporting on the melting times of various types of chocolate. AJ bought the chocolates & helped them run the experiment (read: made sure they didn't burn down the house) and both moms contributed to the display, but the girls did the majority of the actual work themselves.

The big Science Share event was on March 16th, with all the displays set up in the school gym where lots (and lots and lots) of families, friends and teachers moved back & forth between various experiments. The girls set up their "Sweet Meltdown" display and then spent much of the evening wandering around, checking out the other exhibits -- so much so that we had to periodically remind the girls that at least one of them had to stay at their own display to answer visitors' questions and talk with the judges.

I spent some time wandering on my own and was really impressed with the experiments on display. Sure, there was the usual vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano and a couple of "Will It Float" experiments, but also things like checking which type of music will calm down a cat the most, what types of liquids glow when a laser beam passes through them, comparisons of the specific gravity of different drinks marketed to kids, and even one where I'm not too sure what the actual experiment was about because the math & physics involved went too far beyond anything I'd ever dealt with. (Remember, these were all done by kids in elementary school!)

Here are some photos of the event...

Making sure everything is set up properly...
Experimental results presented for all the world to see.
Mommy & Grandpa check out the crowd.
Talking to the judges of the Science Share competition.
Waiting for the awards ceremony to begin; this is only about half the crowd!
Only a few won prizes but all the kids got certificates of participation, handed out
one-by-one by the principal. Here the Pipsqueak's getting her certificate.
"Oh, no, Uncle Brian is trying to take my picture again!"
 All the families helped pack up & clean the gym after the event officially ended, and the girls had a good time just running around with their friends. (It's not every day that your entire family is visiting your school, especially at night!) As we headed down the main hallway to the exit, Miri & H simultaneously noticed photos of themselves on the board where photos of school activities are posted every week and wasted no time in pointing each other out to each other...

We all congratulated the girls on a job well done and closed out the evening with ice cream while the Pipsqueak began trying to decide what experiment she'll do for Science Share in second grade next year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Catching Up: One More Chinese New Year Event 2016_03_12

On March 12th, our Year of the Monkey celebrations finally came to a close with the annual CCACC[1] Chinese New Year Banquet -- ironically at the same restaurant we'd recently had such a negative experience with.

There was a rousing Lion Dance, several raffles, and lots of good food. We did more than watch & eat; like last year, Miri's group was performing the dance that they had recently performed for the public at large at Lakeforest Mall (as seen in this post). They had roughly half the space they needed, but did a fine job with a complex dance in full costume resulting in lots of enthusiastic applause. (I apologize for the lack of performance photos, but they all violated the blog's picture rules.)

After the performance, the girls all changed out of their costumes and the real eating (and singing, and playing of games, and raffle drawings) began in earnest. Since it was a special celebration, most of the girls changed into Chinese dress instead of the usual jeans/shorts and tees.

One nice addition to the event this year was a chance for all the kids to do their own dragon dance through the restaurant with an appropriately kid-sized dragon. After a few minutes to get organized, the mini-dragon, complete with leading giant magic sphere and a comet's tail of assorted kids, marched right out of the banquet area and made the rounds of the entire (very large) restaurant. The procession was a bit of a surprise to the many other patrons, but everyone seemed to have a good time. The kids holding the dragon -- Pipsqueak included -- were especially proud and there were lots of smiles all around.

The banquet began to formally wind down, but there was one more special activity. Since it would be A Bad Idea to set of firecrackers inside the restaurant and there wasn't enough bubble wrap for everyone to jump on (try it -- it sounds just like firecrackers!), the final send-off was a balloon popping contest. All the kids had a balloon tied to one of their ankles and then tried to pop it by stomping -- leading to a higher level of chaos than I think the hosts had anticipated but which had enormous entertainment value for both the kids and everyone watching.

The  calm before the storm -- the kids are still having balloons tied to their
ankles. I was too busy laughing to get good photos of the actual stomping.
And that's how we (finally!) closed out all our Year of the Monkey celebrations!

1 - CCACC is the Chinese Culture and Community Service Center, the group that runs (among many other programs) the Chinese school Miri & many other local adoptive families' kids attend.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Just A Quickie in the Minutes In-Between

Lots going on lately, most good (for a happy change). Some medical scares came & went, some minor medical concerns are coming but so far insist on remaining minor. We had the annual visit from the Long Island branch of the family (and it really is "Long Island" and not "Lawnguyland") and that was a whole bunch o'fun. We have concert tickets for October that the Pipsqueak doesn't know about yet but was asking about a week ago, some beach time with good friends is coming up soon, and I'm slowly but surely plowing forward to stay on target to complete my coding & billing certification this year.

The problem is, there's a LOT going on, so I'm kinda sorta typing this in between doing three or four other things (at least two of them simultaneously)... So please forgive the brevity of this post, more info (and photos and silly comments, etc.) will be posted shortly!

Oh, and someone please explain to that idiot Al Trautwig how adoption, and love, and parenting, and family building all work. Thanks.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sometimes Knowing Doesn't Help

It's been a rough week 'round these parts (and I'm only talking about the "public" items in this post).

The entire week was marked by some of the most brutally hot weather we can remember. Monday afternoon vanished into a meeting with a lawyer. Tuesday evening, AJ came out of work to find someone had sideswiped her van in the parking lot[1]. Wednesday was spent at a local hospital while Mom had a scary procedure done[2]. Thursday brought some crazy-bad afternoon storms.

And then Saturday morning I helped AJ & Miri take their little cat Dulce to the vet for the very last time.

We're one of those crazy families that gets nearly as attached to our pets as to our fellow humans, and Dulce was with us a for over 16 years. She was, in fact, the last of AJ's cats from her life before being Mommy (we lost her adopted sister Midnight just a couple of days before flying to China). She had the kind of disposition that immediately lent itself to the name "Dulce" and even adjusted to the sudden appearance of a two-footed small whirling dervish in her home.

Dulce's health began failing a little over a year ago, and my crazy sister went above & beyond the call of duty with trying to keep her happy & healthy. Dulce got special food. Dulce got special medicine. Dulce was hand-dialysed with Ringer's at home every 3-4 days. (Dude, you did mention this family is crazy.) Dulce got cuddled & coddled and even Miri treated her a little differently. All this was accompanied with slowly-increasing frequency by conversations about cost, and time, and cost, and effort, and cost... but the truth was that AJ was just not ready to let go (or to give her daughter a first-hand experience with that type of loss).

The thing is, we all knew that Dulce was an old lady. We all knew that she lived the kind of life that a cat can only dream of. We all knew the clock was ticking more & more loudly. We knew what it meant when she began having trouble getting around, began losing her vision, stopped being able to use the litter box. And we knew what it meant when AJ oh-so-casually mentioned that she had a 7:30pm appointment with the vet for Dulce on Thursday (rescheduled for Saturday due to the weather).

AJ was going to go alone but none of us were going to let her do that... and since Yours Truly was the big softie who the little kitten butted up against & then went to sleep on when we first met her at the cat rescue lady's house, I needed to say goodbye just as much as AJ and Miri.

The Pipsqueak learned what it was all about on Saturday morning, and AJ's text included the phrase, "immediately started crying." As expected, she said it wouldn't be fair to leave her at home -- and then burst into tears again when AJ said she could come but would have to leave the room with me when the vet was ready to give Dulce the "special medicine" (AJ did not want to say "the shot" because the Pipsqueak still has a few of her own due this year). Then came the questions about what are ashes, and if she could have something to remember Dulce by, and what was Mommy going to do?

After a few more explanations, the Pipsqueak calmed down and proceeded to worry that Xuan (Dulce's feline sister) would be lonely, and that when they get a dog in three years[3] it might scare her if she was the only cat. Then, even more to her credit, she gave Mommy two big hugs to help her feel better.

The drive to the animal hospital wasn't as tough as I thought it would be -- lots to talk about, lots to see, and Miri kept up a running play-by-play on what Dulce was doing in the carrier on the seat beside her. The staff at the hospital know AJ well and were solicitous and caring, and got us all into an examination room within moments of walking in.  Miri asked if she could hold Dulce -- a somewhat unusual request -- and was rewarded with an ongoing quiet purr.

The tech handling the paperwork was in & out a couple of times, but we were given time to say our goodbyes. Another tech came in at one point, explaining that she'd met AJ many times & sold her some of the meds but had never actually met Dulce and wanted to see her while she still could. (She was obviously choosing her words carefully in front of a 7-year-old.) Eventually, AJ took Dulce and held her while signing the last of the papers, and a few minutes later the vet himself came in with a small hypodermic. We all had to explain to a very curious Pipsqueak that it was NOT a good idea to pick it up to examine it more closely... and then I had to tell Miri that she needed to say goodbye for the last time.

Miri knew what that meant and immediately began to cry, but collected herself enough to do what she needed to. I took a moment for my own goodbye and then led the Pipsqueak from the room. She collected herself and stopped crying fairly quickly, and we had an emotional discussion about how Mommy knew it was the right time to do this and how we knew that it was the best thing for Dulce. Eventually the distractions of several kittens, a puppy, and a couple of hyperactive small dogs cleared the clouds and Miri was just about to ask me when it would all be done for the second time when the exam room opened and AJ came out with the empty carrier.

Miri wanted to go back in to see Dulce again but AJ explained that since we had all said our goodbyes already, the vet had taken her into the back after she had gone to sleep. The Pipsqueak was obviously disappointed but accepted the explanation and offered to help carry things out to the car. We made a stop at a nearby ice cream stand (and had to eat in the car because another really nasty storm came rolling through), then headed to our folks' house. Mom had gotten matching inexpensive cat necklaces for both AJ & Miri, and after spending some family time we went out for an early dinner to celebrate making it through what had been a tough & scary week for us all.

We know life ending is as much a part of how the universe works as life beginning. We know AJ took advantage of all the health options available for a very sick little kitty. We know Dulce lived a long, pampered, happy, love-filled life, and we also know that it really was her time to go. We know the Pipsqueak needs to learn all this, be guided through all this, be ready for more of this. We also know that the Pipsqueak often shows a wisdom far beyond her age, and can see her processing the loss of one of "her" cats and all the associated issues.

But somehow all that knowing doesn't make it any easier.

1 - Amazingly, the guy left a note with his name & phone number... and it turned out to be one of the new Rehab therapists at the center.

2 - The result was literally the best prognosis we could've hoped for, and some very scary maybes were ruled out along the way. Thankfully, it's all good.

3 - A few months back, AJ mentioned that she thought it would be a good idea to get a dog when Miri was 10 so she wouldn't be alone in the house some afternoons. Little Miss Radar Ears heard and (as usual) remembered, so now the family plan is she gets a dog when she's 10 -- no ifs, ands, or buts.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lessons A-Learning

Quick Note: I've got several metric tons of catching up still to do, but I've come to the realization that at the current rate I'll still be attempting to catch up on "today" several thousand tomorrows in the future so I'll be interspersing "today" posts with "catching up" posts. Where's that time-turner thing Hermione used when you need it...?!?

Todays' post isn't especially adoption-oriented but it's so strongly rooted in the core of my niece's personality (and such an excellent example of my own learning process) that I wanted to share it here.

In the Pipsqueak's adoption video, there are a number of captions where I refer to lessons needing to be learned. Things ranging from "she only plays with one toy at a time" and "you sleep when your baby sleeps" to "Mommy will be there if I need her" and "I need to learn to ask for a hug."

Apparently, the lessons continue well past the first few months of being a family. (Dude, did you just hear every parent who reads this blog ask you to tell them something they didn't already know...?) I'm not the Pipsqueak's father but -- as I have been repeatedly reminded by family & friends -- I am definitely engaged in parenting. Sometimes I do well, sometimes no so... and sometimes what should've been obvious goes blowing past me with a loud WHOOSH! that leaves me shaking my head  and wondering how I could have missed the point.

The latter happened (again) on Monday.

The family schedule was its usual crazy self so I had to pick Miri up when her "day camp" (a program at the dance studio where she's been taking ballet & hip-hop) let out mid-afternoon. Since AJ was at work and our folks were involved other things, I spent about an hour cleaning the house and had the Pipsqueak chez moi for the latter half of the day. We had fun together watching music videos on YouTube[1], playing my guitar together (Miri can barely wrap herself around it but really wants her uncle to teach her how to play), chowing down on assorted food, and generally enjoying each other's company.

Then, suddenly, on the way to Mom & Dad's house, the happy voice was suddenly and unexpectedly replaced with an obviously upset, "I don't want to be a munchkin!" This was followed by the explanation that on Friday the camp kids were putting on a show based on "The Wizard of Oz" and that she had been told she had to be a munchkin but really really REALLY did NOT want to play the part. Miri went so far as to tell me I shouldn't tell Grandma and Grandpa about the show because she didn't want any of us to come to see it.

Already shocked by the bolt out of the blue, this last statement really knocked me for a loop. Miri loves (looooves!) performing and reviewing photos & videos afterwards and has never, even jokingly, told any of us she doesn't want us to see her perform. I tried telling her that if she was so dead-set against being a munchkin then she should just tell whoever was in charge of the show that she needed to have a different part; that it would be unfair to everyone (herself included) to wait until just before the show started to say she wasn't going to do it; that it was probably all a misunderstanding and she could play a different part if she really wanted to; and eleventy-seven other things I don't remember but which were specific "solutions" that the Pipsqueak firmly shot down in ways both logical and non. She was getting so upset, and I was getting so desperate to find a way to calm her down, that we sat in Mom & Dad's driveway long enough for Mom to get worried & come out to see what was wrong.

After a quick (and tearful) explanation by the Pipsqueak and another quick (and desperate) explanation by yours truly, Mom gave me a Mona Lisa smile and left me to continue my increasingly unhappy conversation with my niece with a cryptic "I don't think that's the problem, it's just something new." Moments later I was thrilled to see AJ's van coming around the corner, and she barely had time to get the door open before her desperate brother was filling her in on the problem.

AJ went to my car (the Pipsqueak was so upset that she was still strapped into her seat) and began trying to sort things out while I hovered nearby.  Sure enough, AJ worked her Mommy magic and after a few minutes Miri began backing down the emotion scale from near-wailing to merely upset. I caught snippets of new facts as their conversation continued, and quickly realized that I had totally missed something... I just didn't know what, and AJ was too busy to stop and let me in on the secret.

Things finally reached closure with reassurances that Mommy would talk to Miss Alison in the morning when she dropped Miri off to make sure that everything would be okay, and by the time the Pipsqueak entered the house she was her usual cheerful, verbose, joking self... and I was feeling even more clueless than when the issue first broke.

Bit by bit, Mom let me in on her little secret. The issue, you see, wasn't that Miri was a munchkin, or that she wasn't as familiar with the Oz stories as the other kids. The issue was that this would be her very first speaking, non-dancing part in a performance and she was worried she'd make a mistake or forget her lines. I've always known that my niece has a perfectionist streak AND an aversion to new & unfamiliar things, but not once did it occur to me that performing her first-ever speaking part in a show in front of other families she doesn't really know in a story she was unfamiliar with might, just maybe, be at least a teeny-weeny bit scary.

There I was, doing the usual "guy thing" of trying to apply a very specific solution to a very specific problem and wondering why all I was succeeding in doing was getting a little girl increasingly upset while remaining completely and totally oblivious to the Pipsqueak's actual concerns even though I knew everything she told me about was something that would scare the bejeebers out of her.


When Mom was done chuckling at my reaction to my latest "Stupid Brian Trick," she reassured me that in general I was doing a good job and that I'd get better at dealing with things like this as time went on... and that the reason she'd recognized the real problem so quickly was that she'd had so much practice at parenting. (It wasn't until much later that evening, while laying in bed, that I realized how much of that practice had come compliments of Yours Truly. Oh, well.)

So... The next time the Pipsqueak says she doesn't want to do something or doesn't like a situation, I'm not going to take it purely at face value and will try to find out what the real issue is. Just like my mother.  :-)

Oh, and the show... well, it turns out there will only be five kids there that day, so instead they're doing a puppet show and some dancing, which suits Miri just fine -- to the point where I've been reminded several times that I need to take my camera and have to be sure to do video and photos.

I'm learning as fast as I can, really, I am!

[1] I've recently discovered Lindsey Stirling, and encourage one & all to check out her (many) videos on YouTube. The Pipsqueak's faves are "Shadows" and "Stars Align" but I'm just blown away by the quirky lady's overall talent in all her videos.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Not Quite a Real Post, but A Post Nonetheless...!

I'm in the middle of prepping for an exam (early in the process of getting certified as a medical coder & biller), filing a decade's worth of assorted papers that are sorted in assorted boxes on the floor, helping get the folks and the Pipsqueak to & from a variety of appointments and activities, and fighting desperately to keep my eyes open... So this post's gonna be short.

We had a nice Independence Day, with fireworks on the 5th due to weather. (Details in an upcoming post.)

We spent a large portion of last month happily celebrating the Pipsqueak's 7th birthday. (Details in one, maybe two or three, upcoming posts.)

AJ had Miri's entire summer mapped out to ensure she would have plenty of activities & time with friends so our folks could catch a break from babysitting... only to have one week-long "camp" cancelled just before it began and then an entire week of Chinese School Camp cancelled for mid-month so now we're once again scrambling to figure out how to keep her happily busy without using up 25 hours of every day of Mom & Dad's time. (Updates & details in upcoming posts.)

And, in closing, I just wanted to kvell a little... Ever since AJ started her paperchase, I've become something of an honorary father, complete with a Father's Day card every year. This year the Pipsqueak took things into her own hands (literally!) and made me a very special gift with a little help from her Mommy. I've worn it only once so far, but deep down inside I think it's kinda stylin' -- whatchu think?

It says "dinos" on the pocket because my niece knows I'm a
dinosaur aficionado (note the poster in the background).
Anyway, it's late and I want to get in another hour with my online course so I'll sign off for the time being... See y'all soon!

PS - No, my bedroom drapes are NOT black. They're a nice, rich, deep red color but somehow that didn't get picked up by my camera.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Stompin' Grounds

I'm back on the air!  I still have some major work ahead of me to get this laptop working the right way[1] but for the time being I can get back to using it as the tool it's meant to be.

Sooo... of course, instead of working to catch up (now that I'm even further behind on my posts), I had already started on a non-catching-up post and decided to run with it here. Just because, y'know.

After yet another comment from the Pipsqueak about "When I was a baby in China..." I began thinking about the whole "where I'm from" issue again. This is actually a familiar question for me and AJ; as I've mentioned from time to time, we're TCKs (Third Culture Kids), so we have an intimate understanding of having roots in more than one place (or nation, or culture).[2]  My late-night musings led me down the path of "where I'm from" and across the border into easier-to-answer "where I've been" territory which led me to resurrect a dormant home decor project.

(Yes, my mind really does work in a way that takes me from "Who Am I" to "I think that would look nice hanging on that wall over there" in just a couple of steps. Doesn't yours?)

The project involved creating a fiber optic map of all the places I've visited. I did an online search and found a couple of companies that produce very attractive framed maps with backlighting that are designed to have plastic pegs pushed through the surface to create bright spots (like the old "Lite Brite" toys) at locations the owner has visited. First problem: the average price is well above $200. Second problem: at the resolution of the maps, the pegs cover ginormous swathes of territory. Third problem: the average price is well above $200. Fourth problem: the largest such maps are smaller than the average wall poster. (And did I mention they cost over $200?)

I eventually came up with a way to create my own much larger wall hanging for a lot less money and had gotten as far as buying a large map (speaking of ginormous, the beast is 48"x77") and ordering a sample pack of different types of optical fiber before my finances got in the way. Since I'd never quite come up with a final answer on how to back the map (the most likely candidate is foam display board) and what kind of framing would hold it all together properly without getting in the way of the light-bearing optical fibers, I decided to experiment with a smaller-scale version... and to save even more, I decided to use old-fashioned map pins and save some cash to use on optical fibers & light emitters later on.

Fast-forward a few weeks (remember, I'm catching up with these posts, so all these deep thoughts and moments of insanity occurred much earlier this year) and I had learned several extremely valuable lessons about the use of spray adhesives, the strength of cork-faced foam board, and just how curly a rolled-up laminated map can be while piecing together a roughly 2/3 scale version of the planned travel map (final size is approx. 32" x 50"). I then spent several nights jabbing map pins into the poor thing, often going back & forth between Google Maps on my laptop and searching out unmarked towns & cities on the map itself with a magnifying glass... but eventually I reached the point where different sites were too close together to add any more pins. (I was also afraid there were some areas where I'd have so many pins that I'd chop a hole into the backing.)

So, without (much) further ado, here's a visual explanation of why my sister and I have an understanding of what it's like to have roots in more than one place. (Many of the pins mark sites we just visited or repeatedly passed through, but quite a few of them mark places we actually lived for a while; the pin colors have no significance, I just pulled them from the box at random.)

The complete map with pins, wrinkles, et al.
I'm happy to say that the Pipsqueak shares all these pins with her mommy & uncle... But
they mark some of the relatively few pinned sites that her grandparents haven't been to.
These all predate the Pipsqueak by decades, but are fondly remembered.
A sure sign of living somewhere is that you visit a LOT more places than if you're
just touristing. I could've almost doubled the number of pins with a larger map!
Last but not least, here's "home" (or at least where our passports are from). Some
of those pins are "middle of nowhere" guesses, others cover multiple sites.
The map hangs on the wall opposite my bed, so lately I've been looking at it and wondering about how many pins will be added to the slowly-growing list I share with the Pipsqueak. (Dude, you also gotta do something about all those countries & continents that don't have any pins yet!) There are currently 97 pins in the map, and if I added some for places the Pipsqueak's Grandpa visited in his Navy days or where her cousins live now, even with the limited space available I'd need 15-20 more.

It's kind of exciting to think about all the first- and close second-hand travel experience my niece already has. She just turned seven in June, and despite all the pins on that map she's already logged half-again the number of air miles I had at her age. (She has officially covered 9,613 miles in the air, plus several thousand in assorted cars, buses, boats and trains.)

Crazy present-day politics aside, I'm really looking forward to introducing my niece to as many of the places represented by those pins as I can. Let the adventuring begin!

[1] I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I go so far back with Apple computers that I did professional graphics work on a Lisa 2... and this MacBook Pro has been such a PITA that if it had been my first Mac, it would've been my last. I'm not bashing Apple, I just am not pleased with this particular laptop. (AJ has one and it's been totally trouble-free.)

[2] "Third Culture Kid" is a term coined by Dr. Ruth Hill Useem in her work with Global Nomads. The Wikipedia article isn't in great shape, but you can get more information, resources, etc. at TCK World.