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, June 18, 2016

Catching Up: That's a Lot of Years, Uncle Brian!

Quick note: I began working on this post shortly before hearing about the recent horror in Orlando. I put it aside and started composing another "What Kind of World is My Niece Growing Up In?" post but decided that the answer to that question is painfully obvious, and the answers to the many questions about how to deal with it are either still being formed or too contentious for this blog.  I'll just remind everyone that all those other people you see around you have the exact same rights you do -- and always remember to tell the people you love that you love them when you get the chance because you might never have another chance to tell them.

This is a short post because it's as much about me as the Pipsqueak... but I like sharing milestones with y'all.

We had a nice, low-key celebration of my birthday back in March, unusually on the actual date (the 5th). There was no big party or tons of people in the house, just some nice time shared with my immediate family.

An edible bouquet made a very nice centerpiece during lunch --
and was a great dessert after we had some brownie cake!
Mom wisely went with "one to celebrate and one to grow on" instead of the
massive conflagration that would've resulted from one candle per year of age...
So now I'm more than halfway through my "fifty-something" years and have had enough practice at it to avoid totally freaking out at how old I've become. (Dude, as long as you're pushing daisies down instead of up, you're doing alright!) It doesn't help that my loving niece will laughingly exclaim, "Wow, that's a LOT of years!" every time she asks how old I am, but the truth is that somewhere in the back of my mind I'm still only in my early twenties and still firmly believe that all these aches & funny joint noises are just the result of not working out enough. (And that's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

And, just to make sure there's still some Pipsqueak content in this post, here's a photo I took as she & AJ prepared to head back home.  Miri had begun trying "big girl" shoes in February, and I was happily surprised to see her putting on regular lace-up sneakers as opposed to the usual Velcro models she's worn since she came home. As is common with my niece, she tied one shoe and then decided she'd done enough & Mommy had to do the other one for her  because she was "too tired" to do it herself. (It's cool; this is actually a joke with her 95% of the time and not the kind of problem that it might sound like.) You can see she's providing Mommy with specific instructions on how to complete her assigned task correctly -- thus reassuring one & all that it truly is Miri sitting on the stairs and not some other kid hired for the picture.

Oh, and I have another semi-Pipsqueakism... Miri is one of those people who goes around singing all the time. She'll usually make up her own words & melodies, but sometimes we'll get (her version of) popular music she's heard somewhere. It was sometime around my birthday when we noticed her singing something that had apparently started out as "The Star-Spangled Banner," so Grandma gave her an impromptu lesson on what a national anthem was, how it was used, etc. When asked if she knew what our national anthem was used for, Miri thought quietly for a moment with a perplexed expression, then smiled and said, "BASEBALL!"  :-)

My 57th might have been quiet and low-key, but that's kind of the way I like my birthday at this point... and I got to share it with the people that mean the most to me, so it's all good. Now if I could just stand up straight without creaking so much...

PS - I'm trying to post more often so I can catch up and stay more current in the future -- but lately my laptop's had other ideas so I may "disappear" for a few days sometime soon to do a complete wipe and reinstall of the operating system & all my applications, widgets, files, and stuff.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Catching Up: Another Year of the Monkey Celebration!

As is usual in our family, the Chinese New Year celebrations spanned most of February. (What we refer to as the Chinese new year is actually the Spring Festival [chun jie], and the celebration normally spans 15-16 days, so we're not really too far out of line with this family tradition.) As in many recent years, our last celebration included a luncheon with all our China adoption friends on the 21st.

There was a bittersweet note to this year's CNY luncheon. One of the families was preparing to move several states away, and as good as email and Skype and phones and the USPS might be there's really nothing like being able to just get together on short notice, or even just knowing that good friends are nearby any time an extra shoulder is needed. This particular family had been extra-supportive of AJ during The Wait and hosted a big baby shower for her back in May of 2010. They were also the last family in our entire group to be matched and have their daughter join the family after (far too many) years of waiting, so all the goodbye hugs at the end of the day were a little more final than usual. (Youse guys know who you are -- we'll be staying in touch, but you're missed!)

Despite the added note of poignancy, it was a fun event with lots of (very) good food and more dancing lions than you can shake a stick at. Instead of trying to describe everything in lengthy paragraphs, here are some photos...

In the "airlock" at the restaurant entrance.
Also just inside the front door. More lions than we'd seen before!
"Look out! Uncle Brian is trying to take our picture!"
(That's the Pipsqueak & one of her BFFs dodging behind the menu.)
Don't let the "English" fool you -- the food's REALLY good!
Ten minutes later and MORE kids are in on the "hide from
Uncle Brian's camera!" act... <sigh>
Shortly after food arrived, so did the lions!

It's a leonine traffic jam...!
Hungry lions are especially fond of hong bao -- that's AJ's hand
in the foreground feeding a particularly hungry dancing Nian. 
Eventually the lions & crew moved back through the restaurant
before exiting through the front door.
As we all left, Miri & friends tossed some coins in the wishing fountain in the
restaurant lobby. (We had to stop them from fishing the coins back out!)
As we were all leaving, one little guy threw his arms around this cardboard
display exclaiming, "I love her!"  I think the kid's got great taste in women!
Pipsqueak & Co. take advantage of one last chance to let off some steam together
(kinda-sorta the reason the adults stood around talking for a few minutes...)
All in all, it was a the classic good times with good people sharing good food, and everyone enjoyed themselves. Oh, sure, there were a couple of "discussions" with one or another kidling when they got a little too active in the restaurant, and some of them had to be coaxed out from under the tables when the drums & gongs first started playing, but everyone headed home with a smile.

There was still one more Year of the Monkey/Spring Festival celebration left to go -- but our annual China friends luncheon was fun!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Where Nothing Can Go Worngg...

I feel like I'm becoming the poster child for the saying, "Life is what happens while you make other plans." There's been a LOT going on 'round these parts over the past couple of weeks -- birthdays & anniversaries, the beginning of end-of-year school events, preparations for more birthday & anniversary celebrations, preparations for several ginormous end-of-year dance recitals, and bunches of assorted doctor visits and/or associated errands.

Somewhere in there, I updated my iPhone to the latest version of iOS and spent most of a full day getting the damn thing working again... followed by two days of missing every alert, text message and reminder because the update also turned off all the audible notifications. As soon as that got straightened out, my laptop began arguing with me and got progressively worse so that I lost roughly a week of functionality in that oh-so-important tool (and missed important deadlines along the way).

I seem to have finally gotten all the digital members of my family working normally again, so I'll get back to composing & posting here but wanted to warn y'all that there's likely to be another gap while I catch up on all the other stuff I couldn't do... You know, silly stuff like trying to develop an income.

Thanks for understanding... and I'll be posting "for real" in a couple of days. (And can I get a show of hands from all those who recognize the reference in my title?)

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Catching Up: FCC-MD's Spring Festival Celebration

There's an ongoing family joke that we celebrate three new years every year: standard, Jewish (Rosh Hashonah), and Chinese. What that doesn't mention is the fact that Chinese new year celebrations are never just one or two days -- they occupy almost an entire month! As a result, my May 5th post was about the Year of the Monkey celebration, this post is about the Year of the Monkey celebration, and there's one more post coming about the Year of the Monkey celebration.

Hey, this is our version of normal. Deal with it.  <grin>

As they have for the past a couple of decades, on February 14th Families with Children from China - Maryland held a big Spring Festival/Chinese New Year event, which has wandered around the regional map but for the past couple of years has been at the Garrison Forest School.  We  attended & sometimes volunteered at a couple of these events before Gotcha Day (we actually skipped the 2010 event because it was just a little too painful waiting at that point), but have made a point of attending every year since the Pipsqueak came home. (At least we have on those years the event wasn't snowed out -- I'm talkin' 'bout you, 2014!)

A few years back, AJ volunteered me to help serve lunch, a little something she neglected to tell me until just a few days before the event itself. I actually had a great time so I've done it each year since then, and this year AJ & our folks volunteered to help with setup so we all arrived a bit early. It wasn't long before tables were being dragged & boxes lugged around the gym -- work that became much easier once I figured out how to use one of the big hydraulic pallet lifts the school made available to us and everyone worked out a system of moving, unfolding, and placement teams.

After a bunch of, "Maybe those tables should be there instead?" and a bit  "Holy crap, it's cold outside, close that door!" everything was in place and the event got started right on schedule. (Some of us helpers even got to sneak a hot egg roll as thanks for our work.) There was a silent auction, a bake sale, face painting, lots of different crafts, live performances, and more...

And then it was time to serve lunch and I got way too busy to take any photos.  Somehow our serving operation went a little more slowly this year despite (or perhaps because of) more people prepping & handing out plates, but everyone was patient and there was even time for some seconds -- although the leftovers were limited -- before the big lion dance was scheduled to begin.

As in the past, the Tai Yim Kung Fu School provided the lion dancers, and treated the crowd to a demonstration of various Kung Fu styles & techniques before the dance began.

Finally, the crashing of cymbals and the booming of the big drum signaled the start of the lion dance. After waking up from his nap, the golden creature pranced and leapt and strutted through the crowd as kids of all ages tried to feed it the traditional hong bao (red envelopes filled with money).

Eventually the lion (in this case, representing the Nian monster) ate the requisite head of lettuce & spit out what it didn't like to the crowd of kids scrambling to recover some. (Dude, when did lion puke become a good luck talisman?) At this point, the event began to wind down. There was time for one last visit to the bake sale table, replete with cute & yummy close-out discounts, and then almost everyone still there pitched in to help fold and stack all the chairs & tables. The last batch of volunteers tried to clean the gym floor despite a lack of brooms & dustpans, working around the kids who happily spread out over the almost-empty expanse of the gym with a level of energy that left most of us grownups jealous. We finished up as some of the school's lacrosse players began trickling in for an afternoon practice session (it was still bitterly cold outside).

After a last few conversations in the lobby we headed home, tired but happy. One of the things we had noticed during the event was how much it has changed in character over the years. While chuckling over the exclusion of the Chinese opera performances of many previous celebrations (usually much louder & cacophonous than most attendees liked) and reminiscing over the wide variety of locations over the years, we also had noticed some changes that are likely a harbinger of things to come. The overall number of families attending seems to be in a slow but steady decline; as crowded as the Garrison gym has been, there seems to be a little more room each year, and even the silent auction is shrinking just a tad each time.

The most obvious change, though, has been a slow but steady decline in the number of rug rats in attendance. Back in the early 2000s, babies, toddlers, and kindergarteners were underfoot no matter where you'd look, and for several years there were more with each celebration; no matter how many of the Chinese adoptees grew older, an equal or greater number of very young new adoptees would always fill in behind them. Then came the big slowdown in 2009-10, followed by a very large annual reduction in the number of new adoptions from China[1]... and the families attending the FCC new year celebrations reflect this with an average adoptee age that's slowly but steadily rising. Yes, there are still new & very young Chinese children being brought by their parents each year, but there are a lot more tweens & teens in attendance while the really little kids stand out mainly because of their relative rarity. What this means for organizations like FCC remains to be seen -- but the demographics of the China adoption community are definitely changing, and it will be interesting to see how the adoptees themselves relate to the existing organizations & event schedules as they grow older.

In any case, the second of this year's family Year of the Monkey celebrations came off with only a few minor hitches, and we all had a good time sharing it with each other & friends... and isn't that what this is all really about?

[1] According to CNN (whose numbers are good median values of those from many different sources), adoptions from China to the USA peaked at 7,903 in 2005 (when AJ first filed to adopt), and have been trending downward ever since to just 2,040 in 2014. (I don't have newer figures, sorry). The wait time when AJ filed her papers was 12-18 months; now it's not unusual for parents seeking to adopt from China to wait 7-8 years in the non-special needs track.