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, 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...

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