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, June 15, 2017

That "Hometown Goalie" Look

I'm going to cling to whatever shreds of privacy the Internet has left me and not go into detail, but life has gotten one heck of a lot more complicated around here... more complicated than planned, more complicated than anticipated, and waaay the heck more complicated than any of us wants it to be. I've not been posting because sometimes the stress has made dealing with just one more "oh yeah I forgot to do that, too" a bit too much to deal with on most days.
I'm not  giving up on the blog, and have recently realized that this bit of crazy online sharing of personal life actually reduces stress so I'll probably be getting back into a (slightly) more regular schedule of posting again.  I've got lots of catching up to do (Dude, like that's anything new...?) and shall endeavour my utmost to do so with the greatest alacrity.

In the meantime, the Pipsqueak has hit a cluster of nice milestones that I want to share.  First, this is the last week of 2nd grade. The summer vacation schedule is a bit on the wild side but Miri's already looking forward to starting 3rd grade in the fall -- while the rest of us just keep looking at each other wide-eyed and silently mouthing, "THIRD? What happened to Kindergarten?!?" She's even told her Grandma not to worry about her next semester because she's going to be upstairs with the rest of the big kids and already knows her way around.

Warning: Kvelling ahead...The Pipsqueak's finishing the academic year with a mess of academic achievement kudos & awards, and her reading skills are well into what's expected of her halfway through next school year. She took it upon herself to learn cursive writing this semester (Why did they remove that from the curriculum?!?) and her penmanship's pretty darn good. (I won't compare it to the often-illegible scrawl I seem to have inherited from Dad.)

The Pipsqueak fell over rocking back & forth in time to some music on her 2nd day home, and she's still at it (minus the falling over part).  After a short foray into hip-hop, Miri settled on ballet and jazz and modern dance on top of the Chinese dance routines she learns at the CCACC school on Saturdays. She & the other girls in her Chinese school dance class not only gave their usual performance at the Lakeforest Mall CNY celebration, but this year added a couple of other large public venues to their list -- including a performance filmed for Montgomery County Television that aired for the first time back in February and that is still available online! (I'm trying to get AJ's permission to post the link for general consumption; family & personal friends who haven't already gotten the URL please email me if you want it.)

Meanwhile, the ballet/jazz/modern studio had their big end-of-semester show this past weekend (three 2-1/2 hour shows in three days!) and Miri danced in three routines in each show, biiiig (genuine) smile on her face the whole time.  AJ worked backstage at each show, and told us that on the first night a bunch of the older girls got out of hand & pulled the fire alarm "just for fun" -- which left poor Miri in a panic since she's still processing the experience of having to run out of the house in the wee hours of the morning when the house next door nearly burned to the ground. AJ was really proud of the Pipsqueak, though; she pulled herself together and just 15 minutes later danced onstage like nothing ever happened. There's one more big show this coming weekend (the Chinese dance end-of-semester shindig), and then a one-week "summer camp" with the dance studio, but that's it for dance until the summer's over.

The last milestone is the one I reference in the title of this post. It's an old expression I picked up from Dad, referring to all those small-town kids playing hockey without protective gear back in the day. It wasn't at all uncommon for the hometown goalie to inadvertently stop a flying puck with their teeth instead of their hand... and now the Pipsqueak's begun losing her teeth, too!

The first wiggly tooth stayed wiggly (despite Miri's best efforts to loosen it at every opportunity) for over a week before suddenly parting ways with the rest of her dentition at school. The Pipsqueak saved the tooth and brought it home to put under her pillow -- and since it was her first-ever tooth, the Tooth Fairy broke the bank and left a $5 bill under the pillow! A second tooth became wiggly just days later, but for a while we thought she might not lose it 'til college; no matter how much Miri worried at it with her tongue or (gently!) wiggled it with her fingers, the darn thing just stayed put -- until suddenly popping out three weeks later when no one expected it to.

Mommy and Grandma had already explained that the Tooth Fairy (and you can rest assured that Miri knows exactly who that is) would not be leaving any more fivers under her pillow because it was a special "first tooth" payment only. Still, the Pipsqueak's a natural-born negotiator so we were wondering if she'd look for a loophole to increase her earning power. (She's trying to save up some cash for a beach trip later this year.) Sure enough, when the reluctant tooth finally came out, she brought up the subject of how much money it might be worth and when her Grandma reminded her of earlier discussions of that subject, Miri's response was a hopeful, "Yes, but that tooth was from the bottom, this was the first tooth from the top of my mouth..."

Gotta wonder if the kid's gonna apply to a dance academy or law school...! (Once Mom had stopped laughing, she diplomatically explained that the top vs. bottom loophole was closed, to which Miri replied, "Okay!" with a sheepish smile.)

And now I think I need to get to bed for some overdue shuteye... I'll be posting more here soon (I've actually begun editing photos for the next posting), and in the meantime...

Oops, hang on, one more (non-Pipsqueak) thing... I don't like blowing my own horn or commercializing this blog, so I'll keep it real short: Please check out what's available at http://zazzle.com/tee_by_b (yes, I'm the "B"); right now I'm adding new designs & products every 3-4 days so check back often!

Okay, commercial's over (but I can use the money, honest I can) so now I'm really heading upstairs to bed.  I hope all's well at your end of the wire & I'll be back online here in just a few days!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The (N)One Percent Solution

This is a bit of a catch-up post (I began writing lit ate in February) and a bit of a current affairs post; I'm using it to start plugging some of the holes between now and the point where I ran out of time for blogging a couple of months back.

The times truly are a-changin' in the China adoption community 'round these parts.

Reading my Chinese New Year (CNY) posts from previous years, you've probably noticed that this family spends a lot of time celebrating the Chinese new year... sometimes with weekly events all the way into March.[1]  At a minimum we've attended dance performances by Miri & her classmates at Lakeforest Mall's annual CNY event, we've volunteered at & enjoyed the annual CNY celebration organized by the local Families with Children from China (FCC) chapter, our MIT group has gotten together for a luncheon & lion dance at an area restaurant, and we've attended the annual CCACC CNY banquet (usually with another dance performance by the kids).

Of all those events, the FCC celebration has always been the biggest and most varied, with 2015 marking the event's 20th anniversary.

Well, we celebrated CNY a little less this year. For the first time in two decades there was no FCC celebration. There have been bad weather cancellations in the past but this year's situation was very different; for a cancellation to occur, there has to be an event planned in the first place -- and this year there was NO event planned.

Part of the problem is that the Garrison Forest School seemed to forget about the FCC-MD event they've hosted for the past several years. When overtures were made about reserving the field house as usual, the FCC rep was essentially told, "It's booked, but we have an opening in late March..." (a full month after Year of the Rooster began.)

However, the 800-pound panda in the corner of the room wasn't the lack of venue; it was the lack of support from the community.  Approximately 500 people were sent emails asking if they would take charge of some of the overall arrangements and/or operations. FIVE emailed back saying they would.  That's one percent of the people polled via email (thus the title of this post). Things were slightly better on the web-based signup sheet, but when I checked there were only 9 volunteers (including the 5 emailers) for 31 positions. There were simply not enough people able/willing to give the event enough of their time to guarantee there would be an event in the first place.

Before anyone starts trying to make excuses, let me say that I do understand. Life is complicated (more so by the day, it seems) and families are constantly pulled in multiple simultaneous directions by multiple simultaneous A-Number-1 priority responsibilities. Taking on the added responsibility of being in charge of any part of an event this large (and without pay) is daunting, problematic. difficult, and a real imposition. In short, I get it... really, I do.

That said, this is a lot more than just folks being too busy to attend a popular event. How popular? Despite the lack of volunteers this year, the number of respondents saying they enjoyed the FCC CNY celebrations, looked forward to them, and planned to attend this year constitutes a very large majority of those polled.  All these families have grown through adoption from China, some by quite a few more than just one.

And yet the demographics of those respondents, and the community they represent, have changed. China first opened its borders to international adoption in 1999, and 4,108 children[2] were adopted into American families that year.  The numbers peaked in 2005, the year AJ first filed her papers; a total of 7,903 Chinese children became part of an American family (an article on the CNN website ups that number to 14,496). But then... Politics. Rule Changes. Economic changes. An evolving Chinese national self-image. Over the next four years, the total number of China/USA adoptions dropped by roughly 1,000 each year. In 2010 there was a slight "bump" from 3,000 to 3,401 (I like to think the Pipsqueak is the 1 at the end) and then the downward trend resumed. The finalized 2016 numbers show only 1,687 intercountry adoptions from China to the USA  -- just over one-third the number from the year China first opened its borders to IA.

The results of this change have been most obvious at the FCC CNY events. The first few years we attended (during The Wait), the crowds included rug rats of all ages as far as the eye could see; the need to dodge fast-moving schools of little kids while listening to babies cry was a happy necessity for one and all. There were scores of women wearing tees emblazoned with maps of China doctored to look like ultrasound photos, Chinese flags, and/or the words "paper pregnant" (and we all Got It). A Chinese child of middle school age was a rare sight, and conversations tended to revolve around advice on what to do once in China if there were bonding problems, medical problems, bonding problems, communication problems, bonding problems... In short, the vast majority of the involved community was families that had recently returned from China with a small child and families waiting for their turn to travel.

Fast-forward to the last couple of FCC CNY events, and the crowds (although still large) weren't quite so voluminous. There were few newly-minted families and actual babies stood out in the crowd. Small batches of tweens and young teens would sit & gossip instead of run around with the younger kids, and sometimes would even put on a dance performance (inevitably to pop music, not classical/folk). Conversations tended to revolve around "I remember when" and "Oh, he's so cute!" or "Oh, she's so tall!" and upcoming school events or even driving tests. A number of the fast-moving rug rats we had to dodge in those early events were absent altogether, now being teens with social, school, and/or athletic events that were more personally important than the adoption community's CNY celebration.

Then came this year, when there simply weren't enough volunteers to do the work. What used to be a major focus in the newly (or recently) minted families' lives has normalized into just one more thing to think about putting on the calendar, just one more block of time to fit into already-crowded schedules. Yes, of course most of the families with children from China still consider CNY a special event and an integral part of their children's personal culture & identity -- but the vast majority of those children are aging into American tweens and teens for whom China is the place on the other side of the planet where they were born. A few are dedicated to learning all they can about it and maintaining as strong a Chinese identity as they can, but many -- having grown up in a multicultural, multiethnic, multinational world -- are now at a point in their lives where it is simply more important to spend time with their peers, participate in their chosen sports and groups, and just live day-to-day.

Are there problems rooted in adoption and the ethnic & cultural differences between the adoptees and their "bio" siblings and friends? You damn well bet your bippy there are, some beginning to peek out from the shadows and others waiting for later in life... but right now most of the community is at a point where CNY is just one. more. thing. to squeeze in between aaaalllll those other things on the calendar that make up everyday life. The paperchase, the trip to China, all the myriad emotions and events and work and difficulties and triumphs and tragedies of the actual adoption are receding into the past and it's more & more necessary (and appropriate, IMO) to emphasize looking forward.

These changes have repercussions far beyond the boundaries of the annual FCC CNY celebration. For example, acceptance of Chinese adoptees by native-born Chinese communities varies by area and by group; some of the younger teens already have stories of being ostracized for "not being Chinese enough" either here or overseas while others have been embraced with open arms[3] -- and a common topic of conversation among the parents is the continued acceptance/nonacceptance of their children as Chinese adoptees become a smaller and smaller percentage of the overall population. Another arena is the weekend programs many of the kids attend to learn Chinese language, culture, and dance. Many such programs were set up, often by groups established by the American-born Chinese community, to cater to the adoption community but as enrollment steadily erodes (especially in lower grades) there are rumblings that the future of many such programs is in jeopardy

The FCC CNY celebrations have been a fairly regular milestone in our lives for over a decade, and weekend Chinese school & the associated dance performances have been rocks in the sea of our family schedule for years. It will be interesting to see how that changes in the next 2-3 years as the demographic represented by my niece continues to shrink.

But I'm still hoping for at least one more big FCC CNY event; it really deserves to not end with a whimper...

[1] The Chinese new year wanders back & forth from late January to late February because it follows a lunar calendar that's based on the phases of the moon as seen from Earth and has a year that lasts 354.367 days.  Conversely, the good ol' Gregorian calender (the "regular" January-thru-December thing) is a solar calendar; it's based on the Earth's orbits around the Sun and has a year that lasts 365.2425 days. This difference results in lunar dates sliding forward and back against solar dates -- a problem only partially solved by the use of a lunisolar calendar in which an entire extra month is added periodically to keep it in synch with the seasons.  We're used to this because lunar/lunisolar calendars are also used by Judaism (and other modern religions)... which is why Hanukkah overlapped Thanksgiving in 2013 and then overlapped New Year's Eve in 2016.

[2] Figures taken from the U.S. Department of State's website.

[3] I am not pointing fingers or singling out any particular group. This is a problem with ANY group; I clearly remember at least one synagogue denying my admission to religious school in 1970 to prepare for my bar mitzvah because I "wasn't Jewish enough," having just returned from living overseas and not attending services regularly. Idiocy & bigotry know no borders.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Distances are Relative

This isn't quite a "real" post, but I had to put this up before I forgot...

On Monday evening, the whole family went to see "Beauty and the Beast" at Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia. As usual, Robert John Biederman 125 (who played Belle's father in the show) did the pre-show intro/talk, introducing groups, singling out birthdays and anniversaries ("We have one happily married couple in the house..."), talking about upcoming shows, and so on.

Since AJ had told the box office that Mom & Dad's anniversary was this month, we had a really cool moment where he announced their 63(!) years of marriage and they got a very nice ovation from the rest of the (mostly younger) audience -- but there was a really funny moment as well.

When the various groups in attendance were introduced, it became obvious that much of the audience was school groups from around the country visiting DC during their spring breaks. Mom said something like, "Wow, Colorado... That's really far away!"

Without missing a beat, the Pipsqueak replied in her most matter-of-fact voice, "Grandma -- CHINA?!?"

Gotta love that kid. :-)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Aaaalmost Have Some Room to Breathe...

Life is still way the heck more complicated than it really needs to be (IMHO) but I'm getting close to having time to put some real posts up here again soon.

In the meantime, does anyone remember the old saying, "Like flies to honey..."? Well, I think we've found a replacement: "Like kids to Kindle...." (photo taken by a family friend after Chinese school on a recent Saturday).

See y'all soon!

Saturday, March 25, 2017


Nope, I haven't fallen off the planet. I even have a few half-written posts queued up for the blog. I'm just going to say that life lately has been a great deal more complicated than expected so I haven't had the time (or, to be honest, the drive) to post for a while. I will be catching up shortly (both to prevent the blog from falling as far behind as last year and to help preserve any shred of sanity I may have left), but in the meantime here are a couple of quick Pipsqueakisms:

- When all the lights are out, it gets blitch dark.

- An octopus has eight technicals.


- At her school's Science Share event, Miri got rave reviews from several people in a row after giving them detailed explanations of her experiment & its outcome. When Mom (who already knew the experiment well) decided to find out what her granddaughter was doing to get such accolades, Miri's response was, "Oh, Grandma, you can just read the signs on the display!"

(Can you tell someone didn't want to be standing in front of a display board while other kids were carousing all over the gym?)

Anyway, there will be more posting shortly-ish. Really, there will. I mean it. <sigh>


Okay, just to show how weird life is lately... I posted the above message and sat down with my laptop at the dining room table to work on my course. I have the drapes open so the sun comes in through the big sliding glass door just a few feet to my left, and it's nice to periodically watch all the livestock out there (jays, cardinals, robins,sparrows, squirrels, sometimes deer). I caught some close-in motion out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a large, healthy-looking rabbit right up against the glass, looking directly at me. After a moment, it slowly gave the room a once-over (left to right, right to left, up and down, then left to right one more time), then looked directly at me with what can only be described as disdain and then slowly turned and ambled away.

My housekeeping has been rejected by a bunny. Maybe I should go get my vacuum cleaner...?

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dancing In the Year of the Rooster

On January 29th, for the third consecutive year, the Pipsqueak and her CLAPS classmates performed a dance routine at Lakeforest Mall as part of the mall's big Chinese New Year celebration.  Each year's dance has been different, starting off with a memorable ribbon dance (Miri's ribbon was nearly three times longer than she was high) that featured  a mid-dance wardrobe malfunction that had AJ dashing in from the sidelines to save the day.  This year's performance was a fan dance... I'll get to it in a moment.

Unlike the year I'd literally come skidding sideways into a good spot for taking photos just as the girls began their routine, we arrived at the mall with plenty of time to spare -- and still barely got good seats even though the  crowd was slightly smaller than last year's. We ended up with Mom & Dad sitting while I stood behind them with good line-of-sight for my camera. There was the usual confusion as people tried climbing into vacant spots on the bleachers (with a lot of good-natured help and "oops, waits" from those already there) but after a little while everyone settled in to wait for the show. We could see AJ and some of the girls peeking around the end of the curtained "wall" that marked the backstage area, and I even got a smiley wave from the Pipsqueak when she saw me windmilling my arms in her direction.

The gentleman sitting next to Mom turned out to be the father of one of the girls, and she had an interesting conversation with him (with me kibitzing over their shoulders) about the girls' sense of self & identity as cross-cultural & interracial adoptees. It was fascinating -- and a little sad -- to hear about their experiences but the conversation was cut short by the beginning of the lion dance. (I'll be revisiting the subject of identity in future posts.)

The lion dance was performed by the same group we've seen numerous times in the past at Lakeforest and other venues, but this year's Nian was a lot less reserved than in past years. First, a child's coat lying at the bottom of the bleachers was chomped and tossed into the air a few times...

 ...and then the hungry creature began climbing into the bleachers to snack on the spectators!

The dance soon reverted to the usual chain of events, with the Nian accepting lots of hong bao from the crowd (although a few of the kids were less than thrilled to be that close to such an imposing creature).

At this point a minor crisis began unfolding backstage among Miri's group so AJ suddenly put in an appearance, dashing out to get some cosmetics and such from the bags at Mom's feet and then zooming back out of sight in a red-tinted blur.

Then things got a little strange again. (Dude, isn't it funny you don't consider your sister dashing madly in & out during a performance as "strange"...?) The highlight of the lion dance is the Nian eating, then throwing up(!), a head of lettuce or similar leafy vegetable; catching the pieces of veggie tossed from the creature's mouth will bring you luck in the new year so everyone looks forward to the event, sometimes with results similar to the scramble for a bridal bouquet among a particularly desperate group of bridesmaids & guests at a wedding. (Note: The lion dance and its equivalent in various Asian cultures is the only case I can think of where having a lion barf on you is a good thing. But I digress...)

A young girl appeared at the edge of the performance area, head of lettuce in hand, and patiently waited for the Nian to approach and take the offering. That's when this happened...

And then this happened....

Until the intrepid young snack lady made good her escape, all to the laughter & cheers of the crowd.

 Shortly after the girl "escaped" from the hungry Nian (which we have never seen behave that way!)  it developed the requisite tummyache and soon the greenery went a-flyin' into the crowd. I failed to catch any of it this year, although one chunk literally sailed past my ear close enough for me to hear the whoosh. We enjoyed the various performances that followed the lion dance, and soon could see AJ ushering the girls backstage from where they'd been watching to prepare for their own performance.

And then it was finally time for the Pipsqueak & Co. to shine in the public eye!

The performance came off without a hitch, made all the more impressive by the fact that not even once had all the girls been able to rehearse together! (Unfortunately, a couple of our cousins had been rushing to come see Miri perform for the first time, only to arrive just as the girls ran offstage -- I guess it runs in the family -- but we all enjoyed each others' company for the next hour or so.)

The girls joined the crowd for a while, and then changed out of their costumes for the rest of the day's activities.  I perused the CCACC art display set up for the event while the assorted moms got the expensive costumes carefully packed away and several of the girls totaled several adults' worth of Italian ices as a reward for their hard work. We did a little shopping en masse, losing a trickle of families along the way, and then the remaining group headed into Rockville for a spicy-hot but very good CNY dinner at the Peter Chang restaurant.

The besties on their way out of the mall.
Eventually, after a couple of "could we please have another order of that?" episodes everyone's tummies were as full as the Nian's (thankfully without any tummyaches) and we all wished each other one last "happy year of the rooster!" before heading to our respective homes....

..knowing that we'd all celebrate again the very next weekend!