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!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Starting the New Year Icily, Part 4 (and End)

Yay! I've finally reached the last post about the first 48 hours of January! I'm catching up!  (As far as I'm concerned, a victory is a victory, no matter how small.)

Having used almost all the meal allowance included in our overnight packages, we all agreed to go out for breakfast in the morning rather than spend our cash at the Gaylord's (admittedly very nice) breakfast buffet. After some negotiation with the group's youngest generation, a time was chosen so AJ & I had figured out how to set the alarm on the clock radio between our beds before going to sleep.

The clock radio did an admirable job of rousing the three of us at the appointed time, followed shortly afterwards by the "just in case" loud klaxon alarm on my iPhone (which Miri hates, so it's extra-effective). I made sure we'd all stay awake by opening the curtains, thus letting in the brilliant sunlight of a beautiful winter morning along with the almost-forgotten lovely view of the HVAC system's evaporators. After the usual morning confusion -- including the usual "discussion" between mother and daughter concerning the right outfit to wear -- we met up with the rest of our group near the elevators. We waited long enough for me to ascertain that I had been the only member of the group lucky enough to sleep astride his own personal mountain range, and then waited some more, and eventually trooped down the hall to a different bank of elevators that finally got us downstairs to street level.

There were a couple of fits & starts but we settled on the Harbor Cafe just a few blocks away. On our way there, we all commented on how many single gloves (and the occasional knit hat) we found laying on the ground, on cafe tables, atop garbage pails, etc. -- I'm pretty sure that if we'd picked them all up & cleaned them off, there would have been enough to keep a small secondhand store going through the end of the winter. (Dude, didn't anyone wonder why only half their fingers were cold?)

As we walked into Harbor Cafe, I realized that it was where the family had stopped on our first visit to National Harbor a few years ago, the difference being that back then we'd taken refuge from the heat in the shady breezeway while this morning nobody, but nobody, wanted to be outside in the breeze unless they were wearing a spacesuit. The cafe staff were amazingly accommodating, not missing a beat when minds (and orders) were suddenly changed, kidlings took forever and a half to make a simple decision, or flustered parents couldn't remember their own orders. There wasn't anything pretentious or gourmet about our breakfasts, but they wuz good and the atmosphere was good and it don't get much better than that.

After semi-accidentally taking over most of the available indoor real estate for at least half an hour, we all bundled back up and went trooping out the door, many thank-yous and sorrys in our wake.  I made a point of thanking/apologizing to one particularly helpful guy behind the counter and his "don't worry about it!" response & smile seemed truly genuine. (There was also one gentleman who'd sat quietly reading his newspaper the entire time we were there, obviously not enjoying the din & clamor and yet never making a single complaint -- and who was graciously amused at & accepting of my apology as I walked past. I decided he had young kids at home, too.)

Instead of heading directly back to the Gaylord, we decided to let the kids burn off some of the energy they'd picked up from breakfast and headed for the waterfront. Everyone ooh'd and aah'd at the massive Christmas tree near the marina, and (with only a couple of minor meltdowns) the kids proceeded to prove that letting them burn off excess energy was The Right Choice, cold breeze & low temps be damned. They ran in circles. They jumped on & off the stone benches. They ran in bigger circles. They dared each other to jump from progressively higher steps. They ran in even bigger circles. They yelled and laughed and sometimes the boys would gang up on a girl and then the girls would gang up on the boys (Y-chromosome carriers were definitely a minority). And then they all ran in big circles again.

Around the time they all began doing cartwheels one of the moms in our group noticed an older Asian woman standing off to one side watching the happy mayhem. The poor woman just could not seem to wrap her head around what she was seeing, first focusing on the small herd of Asian kids, then the batch of Caucasian adults they were obviously with, then the kids, then the adults, then the kids... You'd think that by now most people would be aware of something called "international adoption" but apparently this particular woman just could. not. get. over. the. difference.  It was no skin off any of our noses, but I feel sorry for anyone who can't figure out that there are more ways to build a loving family than the "beast with two backs" method (fun as it might be).

In any case, I was too distracted trying to keep tabs on our herd of fast-moving cats or just taking in the scenery to worry about such nonsense. The last time I had been at this spot, the small building directly opposite the Christmas tree was still a sales office (and some penthouses were going for well over a million dollars, much to my shock). Now I was amused to see it was a Peeps store -- something I never knew existed! -- complete with Volkswagen modified to match their merchandise. As the kids' energy ebbed (a little) we all took one last look around and then headed back to the hotel.

It was nice to see Miri and BFFs C & S giggling togther & walking hand-in-hand despite an age range of roughly three years; as much as the MIT adults have been friends for & supportive of each other, the kids all seem to have quickly slipped into similar roles for themselves. A quick "yeah" dismissed my advice for the girls to notice the interesting topiaries near the Gaylord's back door, and then we were once again indoors (and thawing nicely).

There was a kind of "end of adventure" feel to the day now; one family had to leave early, and despite our package including unlimited entry to the ICE! exhibit no one felt particularly driven to brave the already-impressive lines to get back in. After some general discussion, the decision was to let the kids ride the little narrow-gauge train that ran in a circle directly beneath the main Christmas tree, then get some lunch and head home. Having seen the train up close last year, I decided to skip the ride and take some photos, and set off on my own to find a good vantage point. I finally found a good spot by ignoring a couple of "Do Not Enter" signs and climbing over a small (temporary) fence, then stood and waited a while for the kids to work their way to the front of the line for the ride. I fiddled with some pictures of the "snow covered" trees in the indoor display and caught my sister taking a photo of me taking a photo of her taking a photo of me, and then waited some more... and then waited some more.. so OF COURSE all the kids (especially my niece) made a point of looking away, making funny faces, or simply hiding their faces every time they saw me with my camera up. Oh, well... they all had fun dodging my lens, and I have to admit it was fun for me as well.

After the ride ended I discovered that I was lost -- even though we were all in the atrium, the place was big enough for me to have completely lost sight of everyone else in the group. I wandered around a little, and just as I picked up my phone to try to call AJ for her whereabouts when Miri's besties C & S popped up out of nowhere and proceeded to distract me by needing several reminders that the fountain wasn't a good place to play because they had no clean clothes to change into if they got wet. Just about the time I decided to give up on trying to convince them, another patron nearby tossed a kit hat to a young girl in front of the fountain... who missed the catch, leaving both trying to avoid falling in while retrieving the slowly-sinking hat as it gently but surely floated farther & farther out of reach. (I still don't know how they did it, but they managed to rescue the thing without anyone going swimming.) That was enough to convince the girls that maybe listening to Uncle Brian was a good idea, so we were able to join up with the remainder of our group a couple of minutes later without anyone dripping on the floor.

We all then went back upstairs to finish packing, a feat made all the slower by an almost ten-minute wait for the meshuggineh elevators, and then figured out we could check out but still get to our luggage in our rooms so we got on line (after another wait for the elevator back down) and tallied up our respective bills. Unfortunately, communication between staff & guests wasn't quite what it should have been, so it was only after officially checking out that we learned we still had $15 of our respective food allowances left unused. The desk clerk assured us we could still use it, so we returned to our "outdoor" tables at the sports place and had a good lunch... and then discovered they couldn't process the allowance because we were technically no longer guests of the hotel so their system had no way to recognize us. (Hey, it's only money, right?)

After enjoying lunch (anyway), we all headed back upstairs after another seven-minute wait alongside a lot of other people also trying to figure out why the elevators never actually stopped on the main floor and finished our packing. I did my usual "sweep" though the room and found a couple of Miri's drawings on a little notepad that I stuck in my pocket, and then it was back to the elevators. Miri and S enjoyed the view of the main building while we waited, and it was a good thing, too -- this time I clocked a full twelve minutes on my watch sans elevator before we and a few other guests all gave up and trekked halfway across the building to another bank of the mechanical beasts, these being much faster ("fast" being a very relative term). A last few goodbyes were said and everyone split up for their respective parking spots. My Rav and S's folks' pickup were side-by-side right where we had left them, so of course the girls laughingly made a whole big production out of saying goodbye that succeeded in delaying actual departure by several minutes.

There was a last-minute complication with getting my key card into the right slot of the reader to open the exit gate (mea culpa) and then the three of us found ourselves heading back home to begin the new year, tired but happy after a pleasant overnight with our friends.

And that, dear readers, is how we began 2016!

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