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, February 13, 2016

A Crafty Kid!

NOTE: I completed the first draft of this post back on December 25th, so please consider it the last post of 2015 instead of the first of 2016! The JJJ management & staff thank you for your understanding...

Let's back up a few days from this post to the 3rd night of Hanukkah.  The Pipsqueak's school held its annual holiday crafts fair, and AJ had prepaid for four of the activities. The original plan was for all of us to attend, so AJ also pre-ordered an entire pizza (food sales are included in the event)... thereby guaranteeing that things wouldn't work out quite the way we'd planned.

Dad was a bit under the weather, Mom insisted on staying home to take care of Dad, and the longer AJ was at work the longer her to-do list became (up to & including a family insisting they had to talk to her "right now!" as, jacket on and bag in hand, she literally had one foot out the center's front door.) This led to Mom telling me "take lots of pictures!" and packing me off on my own.

I got to the school on time but the crafts fair was being held in the cafeteria where I'd normally pick up the Pipsqueak from her after-school program so I had to ask directions to find her. A grownup pointed me vaguely down a hallway but I got specific directions from one of the kids, so after a quick hug Miri and I had soon joined the crowd already busy engaged in cutting, glueing, coloring, tracing, and so on.

Miri decided to start by making a tie-dye scarf. Remembering how messy tie-dying had been back when I was in high school, I was a little worried -- but the high school student running the activity explained that the kids would use colored Sharpie markers to make designs on the scarves, and the "tie-dye" effect was achieved by sealing them in plastic bags with a little alcohol and shaking them before hanging them out to dry. Her uncle's concerns relieved, Miri was handed a long white silk scarf (which we later found out was supposed to have been cut in half first!) and she began drawing her usual hearts on it in a variety of colors. I quickly realized that even with a need to give AJ a chance to join us, it would be a long looong time before all that white silk had any kind of design on it so (with Miri's permission) I began drawing my own "LOVE" design on the scarf. (Dude, it's tie-dye, isn't that the only appropriate design for 60s-style fashion?)

Once the scarf was hanging outside, I tried to delay starting the next activity (AJ was still stuck at work) but the Pipsqueak was on a roll and practically dragged me to the Shrinky Dink station. The volunteer handed Miri a plastic sheet and explained we should draw on the shiny side with a Sharpie, then color it in with pencils on the dull side. Since she didn't want to make a Christmas ornament, Miri chose to make a keychain -- and promptly turned to me with an expectant, "Can you draw it for me, Uncle Brian?"  I stood there sputtering while trying to decide what to draw when she added, "Write a big 'love' for me, okay?" With the added instruction to use bubble-style letters, I made my second 60s-style "LOVE" of the evening. (Dude, did you really think she wouldn't notice what you were drawing on her scarf...?!?)

Miri chose an alternating color theme for the letters, and we were both pleased as several nearby kids & adults all independently commented on how cool it looked. A teacher "cooked" the plastic in a toaster oven, and soon Miri was happily waving her new key fob for me to see.

I again tried to distract Miri so that AJ would have a chance to do at least one or two crafts projects with her daughter, but it was just a few moments before I was again being pulled around the room in search of the next activity station. She wanted to try making a bottle cap magnet but no matter how hard we tried we simply could not find the right table. Finally, after passing the bookmark-making station for the third time, Miri decided that since it was on her list she'd try that instead.

The bookmarks were made by glueing matching pieces of felt together with a ribbon between the layers, and Miri immediately surprised me by skipping the pink, purple, and polka-dotted pre-cut shapes in favor of a long, caterpillar-like shape that she would have to cut out herself. The volunteer gave her one piece (which, of course, my niece immediately decided was the wrong color) and I helped her trace it onto a new piece of felt and then held it taut while she did a surprisingly good job of cutting out the two layers she needed. (Dude, you gotta stop underestimating this little girl!

The bookmark's main body ready, the Pipsqueak carefully glued together the various pieces & layers with a little guidance from the volunteer.  Miri then selected a few small flower shapes to glue onto the outside and began adding them. The one thing she had trouble with was the little piece of felt that was supposed to be glued to the end of the ribbon; she wanted a tiny pink heart but it was too hard for her to cut it out, so Uncle Brian was once again drafted to help. Desperately trying to avoid cussing out loud as the material slipped, folded, and changed shape under my fingers, I cut out two little hearts that Miri used to finish of her surprisingly not-so-simple bookmark with a big, happy smile.

While the bookmark was under construction, I had been texting back & forth with AJ to find out if she'd actually be able to make it before the fair closed down, but now she was stuck in traffic. With only one craft remaining on the list, I made several suggestions that Miri might want to wait a little while so Mommy could do the last craft with her, but my niece has no more patience than any other family member so we were soon once again searching for the bottle cap magnet station.

After taking a grand tour of all the crafts in progress and being sent to the wrong table on more than one occasion by well-meaning volunteers, we eventually found the bottle cap magnet station directly in front of the table where the food was being sold. I made one last attempt to delay things by suggesting we get our pizza before making the magnets, but by now the Pipsqueak was in full handicrafts mode and would not be dissuaded.

I couldn't quite figure out what to do, but Miri had made the same kind of magnets last year and clearly remembered every step of the process; she dove in and was soon waiting for the volunteer running the craft to catch up with her. First, Miri chose three bottle caps, and the volunteer glued in small round magnets. Then she chose "bling" from a huge assortment of little metallic and/or jewel-like shapes, carefully placed them on the magnet in the cap, and began to fill the cap to the brim with white glue. I commented that she seemed to be using a lot more glue than necessary, and both my niece and the volunteer explained that the cap had to be filled completely, and that the glue wold be completely transparent when dry so the little "jewels" she had chosen would be clearly seen. Now thoroughly educated on the manufacture of bottle cap magnets, I let my niece finish happily slopping glue around with a long-handled brush.

Once the magnets had been carefully placed aside to dry, there were no more crafts left to be made -- and AJ was still stuck in traffic. I noticed an alarming drop in the number of pizzas stacked on the food table so I had Miri (who suddenly declared she was hungry) sit at an empty table long enough for me to claim our pizza and get some drinks. Just as I was about to pay, the father of Miri's BFF "H" came up behind me, said hi, and told the girl behind the table to put the drinks on his tab. After thanking him and claiming our pizza, I found Miri and aforementioned BFF having a raucous good time together at our table.

When AJ finally texted that she was just a few blocks away, I turned to tell Miri (correction: I turned to slow down Miri's laughing high-speed orbits of the table with a slice of pizza in her hand to speak with her) and discovered that the Pipsqueak hadn't been kidding when she said she was hungry -- she had finished off nearly half the pizza and was getting ready for more! Since she let H have one slice (with my permission) and I'd had a slice, there was very little left for AJ to eat when she arrived. I pointed out the problem to the Pipsqueak and she agreed that what was left belonged to Mommy... a good thing, since AJ finally walked in just a few minutes later. Even so, Miri complained so much about still being hungry that I went and bought her another single slice.

By now things were winding down, and some obvious cleaning up had begun.  Miri and I had retrieved her scarf just before getting food, so she went to get her magnets while I filled AJ in on the evening's activities. Moments later, Miri returned with that "uh-oh" look on her face and complained that she couldn't find her magnets anywhere.  AJ and I asked her to carefully and slowly look again, but she returned even more upset saying that someone had taken them.  AJ went back to look with her and shortly afterwards they returned with the "missing" magnets -- Miri had simply forgotten that they'd been set aside on a different table to dry.  When I pointed out the glue was still obviously quite wet, AJ explained that last year's magnets took more than three days to dry. (Dude, you really need to have your niece teach you how to make those things!)

Even though the crafts fair was obviously shutting down, neither Miri nor any of the other kids seemed ready to let the fun end. First, she had to run outside to help a friend retrieve a hanging scarf; then there was another group run outside for another scarf; then there was a group run around the room just for the fun of it; and then (as AJ and several other moms intensified their efforts to slow down their whirlwinds) they settled on just making lots of noise. Her batteries finally running down, Miri quieted down after her (nearly exhausted) Mommy picked her up. She interjected herself into a conversation AJ was having with one of the other moms, who laughed at how Miri punctuated her speech with waving hands & arms.  I joked that any time we wanted her to be quiet we'd just tie her hands behind her back, which earned me a loud "Humpf!" and about fifteen seconds' worth of cold shoulder from the noisemaker in question.

Finally, the sight of tables being folded up against the walls and janitorial staff pushing brooms across the floor was enough to prove the event was truly over, and after a nice goodnight hug from the Pipsqueak I headed home for the evening. The magnets did indeed take another three days to dry but are now on AJ's refrigerator door (right next to last year's); the scarf, bookmark, and key fob have all also been tucked into safe spots, and Miri has moved from asking me what kind of Shrinky Dink I want to make next year to performing songs from Disney's "Descendants" -- but that's all for another post. :-)

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