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!

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.