Thoughts & reflections by the proud uncle of a special young lady adopted from China.
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!
AJ and the Pipsqueak live in a townhouse, a couple of houses in from the end of the block.
This is their immediate next-door neighbor's house around 5:00am this morning:
The lady on the other side is a good enough friend to have made a point of calling from her cell phone as she ran out her front door to make sure AJ & Miri knew to get out NOW. (Ironically, one of her sons is with the local FD and may have actually worked the fire.)
Amazingly, my li'l sis seems to have dodged the bullet, because after completing his walkthrough the Incident Commander said she & Miri can sleep in their own bed tonight. There's some cleaning up left to do (they had to run one of the hoses up the stairs into AJ's attic) but the firewalls did their job.
The house that burned lost its entire back wall & some interior drywall but the basic structure is OK; the other neighbor's house took some damage on the rear side & roof because it was closer to the fire (plus the FD had to cut a couple of vent holes in the wall). AJ's going to have a roofer come in & double-check her topside to be sure but it looks like she got away with just a mild toasting. (We won't know for sure 'til the inspectors finish their checks; she might yet have to engage in some unplanned renovation work.) The cause is still under investigation, but the most likely culprits are either the electrical system or the fireplace.
We got off lucky, lucky, lucky this time 'round. Miri seems to be talking through the entire event OK and AJ's case of the shakes has passed, and the smell of smoke's already pretty much gone. The Pipsqueak handled the emergency like a trooper -- Mommy said there was an emergency so she had to get up, put on some pants and shoes, and get out of the house NOW and that's exactly what she did, no questions asked. AJ told me that poor Xuan hid terrified under Miri's bed, and now she keeps climbing up AJ's leg for reassuring cuddles.
One funny bit... After they were settling back into the house for a nap, AJ realized that Miri was wearing two different shoes... and that her own boots were each on the wrong foot.
Real fast -- I was skimming through my newsfeed when I came across an article in The Verge about the Adoptly app I skewered in my previous post. The new article has information about the company (only four people... or maybe three?), their ongoing Kickstarter campaign (as of the 19th, they've collected just a dozen supporters pledging less than $3K of their $150K goal)...
...and raised the possibility that, despite its serious presentation, the whole thing might be someone's idea of a joke and/or be a parodying reaction to the spate of fake news that screwed up the recent election.
This post isn't about the Pipsqueak... but it is about adoption and how some of its aspects make my head spin even 6-1/2 years later.
I have my Google news feed set to include adoption. Every now and then, amidst all the stories about animal shelters and new technologies, it actually includes news about humans adopting humans. Those stories are sometimes heart-warming, sometimes infuriating, sometimes frightening...
...and sometimes they just fall smack-dab into the middle of "WTF?!?" territory with a loud SPLAT!
This past week, as a special bonus, I found two such adoption-related news stories on the same day.
1) A new app deals with adoption the way Tinder deals with dating.
A January 13th article in the Daily Dot describes how a company called Adoptly is trying to bring a new app (with the same name) to market to speed up adoption by making it work more like Tinder. Registered users see a series of photos of children available for adoption, swiping left to say "no" and swiping right to get more information about the child and associated adoption agency, foster parents, etc. Oddly enough, despite the stated aim being to get around today's "slow, outdated process" of adoption, company spokesperson Alex Nawrocki said, "Parents will still have to go through the same review process, protocols, and requirements as anyone interested in adopting."
Despite statements that Adoptly is not trying to "Tinder-ize" or "gameify" adoption, my immediate (and 2nd, and 3rd) reaction to the idea is a big, fat WTF?!? This app -- which is apparently intended to be a profit-making exercise -- does nothing that isn't already being done by reputable adoption agencies, but it certainly does treat adoption like a speed-dating event. Adoption is already fraught with complex issues; do we really need to open it up even more to people who are just dealing with it as a curiosity, basing one of the most important decisions in several lives purely on the cuteness of a single photo or the ability of someone to write a dating-type profile?
Adoptly spokesperson Alex Nawrocki says, "Parents will still have to go through the same review process, protocols, and requirements as anyone interested in adopting," so I can't see how they're actually speeding up the process by more than a few minutes. The statement, "...it could be thought of like a search engine for adoptable kids" also conjures images of more & more bored people having "fun" by gaming the adoption and fostering agencies with volumes of meaningless, fake inquiries. Adoptly's Kickstarter profiles states that their method of "reminding users of the seriousness of the process" is to give them information about how to start the government background checks for adoption -- somehow, that doesn 't exactly sound like a clear statement about the seriousness of the action and the sensitivities associated with it. ("Duh, remember this is, like, serious stuff 'cause you gotta get like a, uh, background check.")
I have really, really negative feelings about Adoptly; they are, by their own admission, "Tinder-izing" adoption without presenting anything new, removing any of the obstacles, addressing any of the issues, or actually speeding up the process in any way... while opening it up even more widely for people who are merely curious or thinking it's "cute" without being truly interested, educated, or ready while also making easier for people to abuse the system. C'mon, Adoptly -- you want to do some good in the world? Make it easier to connect with the agencies actually doing the work and to figure out & track all the steps in the process... without creating a tool that throws even more clueless and/or potentially malicious users into the mix.
By the way, I get the feeling a lot of other folks feel the same way because, according to the article, Adoptly is attempting to raise $150,000 with a Kickstarter campaign... and has so far raised $366.
2) Adoption in Japan is not what most of us think of when we hear "adoption."
A January 12th article in Business Insider states that 98% of all adoptions in Japan are cases of companies adopting adult males aged between 20 and 30.
This practice is based in centuries-old civic codes that make sons the recipients of a deceased person's assets. Adopted sons share that auspicious position if there are no biological sons... and in either case the daughters get bupkis. This led to wealthy families adopting loyal adult men to avoid dissolution of their fortunes when a patriarch was dying, which (over time) led to the practice of mukoyoshi -- arranged marriage plus adult adoption to "keep it in the family" by making a man both son and son-in-law at the same time.
The primary intent of this practice is to keep family-owned companies within the same family no matter what. Examples include Toyota (now with its 1st adopted CEO) and Suzuki (now with its 4th consecutive adopted CEO). The effectiveness of the practice in Japanese culture is demonstrated by the fact that Hoshi Inn became the world's oldest family-owned business by employing mukoyoshi whenever no male heirs were born... thus maintaining family ownership since the business was founded all the way back in 781CE.
Current trends indicate this practice is likely to continue, since the Japanese population is aging at a very high rate. The article's math shows that a population needs 2.1 births per woman to keep it from shrinking, and Japan's birthrate is only 1.4 (due at least in part to more women choosing careers & independence over the mommyhood/wifehood expected in classic Japanese culture).
I am trying to not be judgmental in this case; I was raised in a very different culture with different values & attitudes, and do not believe I have the right to enforce my culture on others. (Dude, I don't think the incoming administration agrees with that last point...) I know the ruling classes of the Roman empire often bolstered their
numbers & position through similar adoption practices -- but I had no idea the same
practice was still widely used in any modern culture.
It's hard to determine the accuracy of reports of the number of children being adopted vs. needing adoption in Japan without knowing if the investigators were aware of this practice & took it into account instead of just using aggregate numbers for "total adoptions" and such. It's also difficult to determine the true attitudes of Japanese culture toward adopted children when such an overwhelming majority of adoptions are apparently based upon economics and patriarchy rather than family-building. Most of all, it leaves me wondering: if adoption is viewed primarily as a wealth management tool, how many children needing families remain institutionalized or fostered without any truly permanent family connections? What is the culture's attitude toward families with adopted young children? And, most important of all, what are the attitudes concerning adoptees who grew up as such due to having no biological family instead of being rewarded with financially-oriented adoption out of their biological family in adulthood?
So there you have them; my two most recent adoption-related WTF?!? moments. I'd be interested if anyone out there has any thoughts on either of them...
 For those not familiar with Tinder, it's an app that allows singles to create & browse through profiles of other singles looking to hook up (presumably for solid relationships, despite an apparent propensity for collecting one-night stands). Users scroll through a series of photos, swiping left to remove "ugh" pics from the list of candidates and swiping right to read the profile associated with any particularly interesting photo. The app lets users contact other registered users they're interested in to set up a real-world meeting. I've seen it referred to as "speed dating on steroids." (By the way, I do not have the app. Just sayin'...)
 They must have known how I'd feel about this app; although I've not seen the TV commercial, the article mentions the first left swipe is for a kid named Brian. Oh, well...
 Widespread "only in Japan" differences from the West include seafood delicacies almost guaranteed to kill you, the Hadaka Matsuri festival, baked potato flavor Kit Kats, graveyard evictions, business banishment rooms, and TV shows featuring groups of young women hypnotized into stripping and acting like cats & dogs (just to mention a few)...
 An Emperor who had no biological son (and even some who did) would usually adopt the (adult) man he had chosen as his successor.
A quick preamble describing the year so far: Skimming through the Pinterest links in my email, I was stopped in my tracks by a graphic with the quote, "I am not an early bird or a night owl. I am some form of permanently exhausted pigeon." I chuckled and saved the graphic to my laptop before continuing, musing about how sad it was that I could relate so strongly to that quote. A few seconds later I burst into relieved laughter and saved another (equally accurate) graphic quote to my laptop and got back to doing what I was supposed to be doing. The quote? "You are going to be fine. You come from a strong line of lunatics."
Anyway, on to the real post...
The Pipsqueak is one smart lil' cookie... and she knows her Grandma well. One prime example of just how well is to be found in the following story (bear with me, I do eventually get to the point).
The Pipsqueak's most special (and most anticipated, since she knew about it in advance) Hanukkah gift was an iPad Mini 2 (covered with a pink camo design case that's built like a battleship) . Based on conversations with AJ and Mom, I loaded a nice selection of math apps onto the iDevice (along with, of course, a LOT of others plus the entire contents of her obsolete iPod). Since I also made the rather nasty tactical error of loading the Disney TV app, it was an uphill battle to get the Pipsqueak to use any other apps for a couple of days, but she finally did try out -- and enjoy! -- the various academic apps... the most important being math, the subject she currently needs the most help with.
The Pipsqueak's Grandma played a major role in the math apps being used, alternately suggesting, cajoling, requesting, commanding, and/or begging Miri to at least give them all a try. She's also spoken with Miri about math, helped her with homework and the logic of numbers and aaaaalllllll kinds of related stuff. (The Pipsqueak's actually not that bad with math; she just isn't overly fond of the subject so she tries shortcuts, guessing answers, putting it off until tomorrow, etc. etc. etc.)
In any case, Grandma now has a well-established reputation for worrying about the Pipsqueak practicing her math skills daily.
This past Tuesday (Dude, you're actually making a current post! Hooray for you!) the phone rang late in the evening and I was surprised to find myself talking to my niece, who had decided she wanted to wish her uncle a good night. Asked if she'd done anything interesting in school, she replied they'd begun studying money... which led to, "Did you know that if you look at a penny really close, you can see..." which led to a discussion about how you can "see germs with a microscope" and a whole long give-and-take about microscopes, germs, things too tiny to see, and a whole lotta really good science stuff. (My favorite moment was, "If viruses are that tiny, how many can you fit into an ant's leg?") The conversation went on for a good 15 minutes before an incoming call interrupted us: Mom, calling to tell me about a phone conversation she'd just had with the Pipsqueak.
I told Mom I'd call her back, flashed back to Miri, and we talked about tiny things for a couple of minutes more before I got the usual, "I'll put you on Mommy now, don't hang up!" When I did hang up, it was with a case of warm fuzzies about how interested the Pipsqueak is in learning about science, and how she determined that we would use my microscope to look at all kinds of tiny things the next time she's over at my house. (I actually do own a very good microscope, bought for me when I was a little younger than my niece is now and guarded carefully & lovingly over the subsequent decades.)
I called Mom back and told her about my call from the Pipsqueak -- and the more I described our conversation, the more Mom laughed. She finally explained to me that she had been on the phone with Miri about five minutes before I was, and asked the same question about school. Just as in her call to me, the Pipsqueak told her Grandma that "we started to study money today" but didn't say anything after that. Mom asked Miri if she had done anything else interesting in school or on her iPad, and the Pipsqueak ended the call thusly:
"Yes, we studied math. And I had fun with my math apps. Bye!"
Yep, the Pipsqueak knows her Grandma... and her Grandma's priorities. :-)
 The iPad was an excellent Black Friday buy. After all the "best price notification" services I 'd subscribed to stated all the inexpensive iPad Mini 2s were completely sold out in a 500-mile radius, I remembered shopping online years ago at MacMall -- where, lo and behold, I found one of the absolute best prices on the iPad that every. single. one. of the Black Friday "best price" services had missed.
Aah, twenty-sixteen. Such a lovely year. Increasing national strife, increasing instability around the globe, several memorable mass shootings, a "Who's Who" list of public figures meeting their maker, and a U.S. presidential election that has left more than 50% of the voters going, "HEY, WAITAMINIT...!"
Seriously, I can't remember ever hearing so many TV newscasters, radio DJs, and just plain ol' folks on the street literally begging a year to hurry up and be over as I have in the past month or so. (Incidentally, I'm typing this intro on December 29th -- but I plan to publish it only after the calendar has flipped over into 2017 for fear there will be yet more newsworthy, probably negative, events to comment on.)
But still, all was not horrible and/or terrible and/or ripped from the pages of an Ionesco novel. Yes, the Pipsqueak's family had some medical misadventures and professional misadventures and personal misadventures, but there were also good things scribbled on our calendars. So... I now present for your illumination and entertainment, 2016 in a (longish) nutshell:
We started the year with AJ, the Pipsqueak and I joining friends for an overnight stay at National Harbor and a visit to the "ICE!" exhibit, which was a lot of (sometimes extremely cold) fun for all despite bad beds and slow elevators. We got to spend some quality time with a seldom-seen cousin from far away, helped celebrate several birthdays, and found that "Snowmageddon II" was a royal PITA but still nowhere near as awful (at least 'round these parts) as originally forecast.
Despite a spate of assorted medical appointments, the month included a LOT of Chinese New Year celebrations & dance recitals, and closed out with one of Miri's first performances as part of the synagogue's Children's Choir.
Only slightly marred by the end of my severance/unemployment income, March included another batch of birthdays (including my 57th -- yikes!), still more celebrating of the Chinese New Year, a "South Pacific" matinee, Miri & her BFF presenting their experiment's results at their school's annual "Science Share" event, the Pipsqueak impersonating baked goods, an Easter egg hunt & dinner with friends, and the first of several requested & long-promised play dates I had with my niece.
This month had a sad tinge as our MIT group bid bon voyage to a family moving out of the area, but things improved as we celebrated Mom & Dad's 63rd anniversary, had a full day's worth of quality uncle & Grandpa time with Miri , and had a nice bunch of mishpocha and friends together for Passover. The Pipsqueak also got to perform in her school's talent show -- two shows lasting 3 hours each! -- dancing cheerleader-style to "We Got the Beat" by the Go-Gos. Oh, and AJ, Miri, Cousin E and I shared a nature walk that included some unwanted but ultimately comical interaction with a highly inquisitive Canada Goose. (Dude, at least it didn't mug you like that sheep in Norway!)
This month, things quieted down a little -- as long as you don't count the first honest-to-goodness hail storm we've seen around this area for a long time. There were a few birthdays, and both regular & Sunday school end-of-year picnics/celebrations that were enjoyed by the Pipsqueak and her grownups.
If may was easy-going, June was "gotta go now, we're late!" Miri had a joint birthday party with her BFF early in the month, a family party on the actual date (also the last day of 1st grade!), and a "regular" solo birthday party near the end of the month... all interspersed with friends' birthday parties. The Pipsqueak performed in two hip-hop/ballet recitals with one dance class, performed in a ballet recital with a 2nd dance class, performed with her 1st grade classmates in "Billy Goats Gruff" at school, and performed one last complex Chinese dance with her CLAPS classmates. Somewhere in there, she started taking swimming lessons -- developing a wicked-fast backstroke! -- while her grownups had another spate of medical appointments before we all collapsed from exhaustion. (We didn't really -- it just felt like we should!)
In addition to the Independence Day fireworks, we enjoyed celebrating both Mom & Dad's eighty-somethngth birthdays and the annual recreation of AJ & the Pipsqueak's official adoption portrait. We also enjoyed watching Miri perform in the end-of-season show at day camp as well as in two dance camp shows. There was another round of assorted medical "stuff" but all was again well by month's end. Mid-month we also took a nature walk with cousins that led to an amazingly close encounter with a mama deer and her fawns. It was around this time that I began a family tree project based in part upon the realization that even though we'd likely never truly know the Pipsqueak's birth story & lineage, the rest of us had no reason to not know ours -- and we were steadily losing the generation who could fill in the blanks.
We all had a great time with our annual visit from the Lawnguyland branch of the family (including an epic SuperSoaker battle), more dance camp, and then AJ, Miri and I spent time in Rehoboth with friends -- a real "first" for all three of us. (Unfortunately, that "first" was also a "last" for my camera, thanks to some errant grains of sand in the lens mechanism.) The Pipsqueak had a few red-letter days of her own, including "bridging" from Daisy to Brownie, seeing a live matinee of "Hairspray" with Uncle Brian and Mommy, and starting -- much to her rapidly-aging uncle's shock! -- second grade at the end of the month.
Things quieted down again this month -- although not by a whole lot. There were several birthdays celebrated (including AJ's 51st), the bar mitzvah of the son of one of AJ's friends from elementary school (yikes!) our annual MIT Crabfest (at which Mom & Dad were given gifts as the honorary grandparents of all the kids in our adoption group for Grandparents Day), Miri's start-of-year school picnic, and I even managed to get up early enough to accompany Miri to her school's "Dads at School" event, which turned out to be a heck of a workout and lots of fun for both of us. Oh, and Mom finally had her 1st cataract surgery, which went very well. (The surgery on her other eye was postponed when she came down with a bad cold.)
We started with Rosh Hashonah and quickly moved on to a close relative's (successful) surgery and AJ finally leaving the nursing home where she'd worked for roughly 17 years (11-1/2 overlapping with Yours Truly). That segued into Yom Kippur, around which time I caught whatever bug had been keeping Mom down -- and we both felt so crappy, we missed a concert I'd bought tickets for. Even better, while doing research for my family tree project I discovered that we'd lost another cousin back in July. The month finally sneezed, hacked, and coughed its way to a more pleasant ending with watching Miri's dance class putting on a Halloween dance presentation and then seeing the Halloween costume parade at her school. (And on Halloween proper I had over 120 trick-or-treaters ring the doorbell!)
I finally knocked my cold down enough to see a live performance of "Sister Act" with my sister, followed shortly thereafter by the &#@%$! election results. We felt better the next weekend when a cousin introduced the super-nice Significant Other we'd been trying to meet for couple of months and who we quickly found out now holds the title of fiancee (the wedding's in February). Scattered among several birthdays later in the month was a very successful International Night event at the Pipsqueak's school and a pleasant Thanksgiving celebration with all of the local family plus our Florida contingent and a couple of extra cousins.
The year closed with our first really wintry weather, another scattering of birthdays and Miri performing with two classes in her dance school's end-of-year show. There were more doctor visits, and the Pipsqueak finally lost her first baby tooth. The entire family attended a performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Olney theatre with most of our MIT group, and AJ & I sent Mom & Dad to a dinner theatre as an early Hanukkah gift. We had some old friends over to co-celebrate the first night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, and closed out the year with AJ, the Pipsqueak and I accompanying much of the MIT group to this year's "ICE!" display at National Harbor.
And that is 2016 in a (large-ish) nutshell. I've glossed over a lot (and left a few things out completely), but still plan to make more detailed posts about several of the events I mentioned. In the meantime, it is now officially 2017 so I with you all a healthy, fun, and prosperous...