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, July 29, 2017

"I can reach that shelf now, Uncle Brian!"

With our crazy summer schedules simply refusing to allow anyone in the immediate family to ever feel bored, we've become pretty good at bundling activities so that no gasoline or precious minutes are wasted.  Take this Wednesday, f'rinstance:  Miri's dance camp ended mid-afternoon.  Dad had prescriptions to fill.  Mom had prescriptions to fill.  I had run out key foods.  Mom & Dad were running out of key foods.  Mom and I had several important phone calls to make (independent of each other).  The result?  Lots of phone time early in the day, then I swung by the folks' house in my car and we did the supermarket-to–studio-to-supermarket loop all together.

Grocery shopping with the Pipsqueak is a rare treat for me and it was funny to see her helping Grandma, then say, "I'm going with Uncle Brian now" and spend some time with me, then say, "I'm going to Grandma now" and spend some time with her... back and forth every few minutes.  She insisted on helping, bagging produce and pulling things off shelves much higher than I thought she'd be able to reach, and we had fun just being silly with each other. There were a couple of times I had to remind the Pipsqueak that I can no longer pick her up and push a cart at the same time ("Oh, yeah, I forgot!") and we had to spend a few minutes standing next to the hot rotisserie chicken shelf when the refrigerated dairy aisle left her chilled, but it we really did have a lot of fun.

Trying to stay as far away from the refrigerated aisle as possible...
"Hey, look, it's got pink on it!" (Grandma's waiting to buy monster cheese.)
The deli lady just gave the Pipsqueak a free slice of monster cheese!
"I can TOO reach that shelf! And are you taking a picture of me?"
On a normal weekday afternoon, I'll pick Miri up from dance camp with at a cheese stick & small bottle of her favorite flavored drink mix, both of which are inhaled to the tune of woeful complaints about starving to death. Within minutes we'll be at Grandma & Grandpa's, where pasta or scrambled eggs or fish sticks are promptly prepared for the starving granddaughter.  Since we were stopping at the supermarket this time, I brought along an additional granola bar and a larger bottle of the drink to keep that rumbly little tummy full -- but as the shopping trip stretched longer, Happy Pipsqueak was replaced by decidedly less fun Hangry Pipsqueak.

"I am tired and I am hungry and that is a bad combination! I want to go home!" (Actual verbatim quote.)
The Pipsqueak's mood improved considerably when, on the way to the checkout lanes, we came across a display of brightly colored, inexpensive nail polish.

"Ooh, what about THIS one? Or THIS one? Or THIS one? Or THIS one? Or..."
Eventually, Miri heeded her Grandma's desperate request to please just pick one already! and we began the chore of checking out two full carts of groceries while bagging them in a way that kept my purchases separate from Mom & Dad's to expedite unloading later. We then spent over 20 minutes on the usual 10-minute trip home, thanks to a Verizon crew closing one lane of a busy two-lane road during rush hour with no lane shift signs, no road work signs, no warning signs, and with a big flashing yellow arrow that was actually just a big black rectangle because none of the crew bothered to actually turn the frakking thing on... (Dude! Calm down! Watch your language!)

Anyway, as I was saying... I calmed down, got us home, got most of Mom & Dad's groceries put away, and was about to leave when the Pipsqueak asked, "What about all my stuff?"  Sure enough, her dance bag & lunchbox were still in the back of the car under my groceries. We got that straightened out, I thanked her for saving her uncle a late-night drive out to her house with the missing items, and I finally headed home.

Despite the occasional hangry grumble, the Pipsqueak was fun to shop with... hopefully I'll get to do it again soon!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Catching Up: Remember the 1980s?

March came to a close with the Pipsqueak's school's annual Talent Show.  Unlike all the talent shows I participated in back in the renaissance my public school days, her school always has a theme tying all the acts together.  I honestly don't remember last year's theme, at least in part (I believe) due to my subconscious attempt to forget that the show lasted well over three hours, some of which were very long hours.

I'm pretty sure the folks who organize & run the show each year got an earful because this year's show was quick, crisply done, and slightly less than two hours long even though there were almost as many acts taking the stage. The theme? THE '80S.

Ah, yes... Big hair, neon spandex and shoulder pads.  Garbage Pail Kids and Cabbage Patch Kids.  Super Mario Brothers and Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and "Where In the World is Carmen San Diego?"  Alf and E.T. and the original Transformers.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The Challenger and Baby Jessica.  He-Man and She-Ra and the Cosby Show.  Duran Duran and Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson and Madonna and George Micahel and U2 and Tiffany and Debbie Gibson and Flock of Seagulls and Cyndi Lauper and... (Dude, you're rambling...)

Ahem, yes, where was I... Oh, yeah, the 1980s -- a period of history filled with things that are now one of the following: absotively posilutely alien to the Pipsqueak's generation; totally "rebooted" into nearly unrecognizable form; an object of derision and/or hatred; or the iTunes content on my Mac that makes my niece shake her head and say, "Weird" before walking away.  (I'm not making that up; she really does that... and she really means it!)

Nevertheless, the talent show's theme this year was the 1980s, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

Just like last year, Miri performed with her scout troop, and they danced to the oh-so-very 1980s hit, "Hey Mickey." (Side note: Toni Basil was 40 years old when that song debuted in 1981. If you look around YouTube a bit, you'll not only find the original music video, you'll also find a quick clip of her recently showing that she can still move as well as some dancers less than half her age!)

It was my understanding that the troop mothers all decided it would be extra-cute to play off the idea of "Mickey" by having all the girls in costumes that looked a little like Minnie Mouse. It was also my understanding that not one of the girls thought it was a good idea or liked the costumes. Even so -- and even though this was their 2nd performance in as many days, they delivered a spirited routine that had the entire audience stomping and clapping and that finished to loud applause and cheers.

AJ helped with pre-show ticket pick-up, etc. I just caught Miri running back to the "green room" after her 3rd check to make sure Mommy knew she was expecting her to come back.
The stage before the show. For a group that considers 1980 ancient history, the kids did a good job decorating!
Just like last year, the opening number had the kids coming into the aisles. I had trouble finding Miri in the crowd (that might be her near the middle) in part because I was one aisle over and the kid next to me kept accidentally whacking me in the head with his inflatable "electric guitar" while dancing.
After numerous other acts -- somehow the Pipsqueak always performs after intermission -- the troop came running happily onstage and danced their little hearts out for the crowd.

Everybody in place... let's go!
Miri has always loved to spin & twirl.
Biiiiig smile...!
Keeping formation while getting low.
The Pipsqueak gets big air!
"Stomp and KICK and stomp and KICK and..."
Still going strong long after I would've collapsed into s sweaty, panting blob of Jello.
Spinning & twirling in formation!
Everyone took their bows at the end of the show, so when the music stopped the girls sprinted offstage -- with the Pipsqueak in the lead!
There were several more acts after the girls danced, and then the emcees re-boarded their time machine to return to the present day and the acts all ran onstage one at a time for their "curtain call" (sometimes accompanied by trips & loud thuds and/or silly antics).

"Come on, come on, hurry up!"
One last dancer's pose and twirl before running offstage.
When the show broke, we spent a few loudly chaotic minutes trying to move against the crowd to get back to the green room, then reversed direction and headed to the after-party in the cafeteria for cast, families and friends.  The local franchise for Rita's Italian Ice was serving up cold yumminess for the kids, so Grandpa got into line with the Pipsqueak and she closed out the evening enjoying the garishly colored (but tasty!) rewards of all her hard work.

As expected, Miri got about halfway through the cup of Italian ices before deciding she'd had enough (by that time most of the remaining kids were more interested in running around, anyway) so the rest of us shared the leftovers while reminiscing about the Italian ice stand at the local bakery on Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton half a century ago.  The crowd began to thin out and soon AJ & the Pipsqueak headed to their house (knowing they had to get up early in the morning for Sunday school) while I dropped Mom & Dad at the old homestead before heading home myself.

We all enjoyed the show, and (as usual) had a blast watching Miri dancing -- she loves to perform, and her stage smile is never fake. Even the costumes were kinda-sorta OK'd by the girls by the end of the evening, so everything worked out just fine in the end.

Next catch-up post: Doesn't every Jewish family have an Easter egg hunt?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coming Attractions

I'm going to keep this post really short because I should've been asleep hours ago (as usual <sigh>).

Just some coming attractions:

"Catching Up" Department - I'm working on drafts for the annual talent show at Miri's school at the end of March and a damp but fun Easter egg hunt with MIT friends in early April. We closed out that month with Miri & Co. performing at both a local school's International Night and on the Rockville Town Square public stage for the MCCPTA Performing Arts Festival... all due for postings here.  (May & June events to follow, of course!)

"Current Events" Department - We made our usual pilgrimage to UMCP for the Independence Day fireworks; celebrated Dad's 87th, Miri's Gotcha Day, and Mom's 83rd; had the annual Long Island clan visit; and other milestones & events I'll post about.

"Adoption Issues" Department - Just when you thought it was history, the political idiocy surrounding U.S. adoptions from Russia is in the news again, along with a case of race-based adoption denial in the UK that led to a couple adopting from the USA. Of course I have a few thoughts on those subjects (and maybe a few others as well)...!

Aside from establishing a "Random Thoughts" department, that pretty much covers what I'm roughing out, prepping photos for, etc. for the blog.

See y'all soon!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Seven Years Ago...

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break."
-- from an old Chinese story
Seven years ago, the ends of the thread connecting my sister and her daughter finally came together.

The Pipsqueak has spent the past week reminding us that Wednesday is Grandpa's birthday -- and (drum roll, please) her Gotcha Day.

She turned 8 only last month so she's really just wrapping her head around some of what that means, but she understands the whole "you grew in my heart, not beneath it" dynamic about as well as anyone just celebrating their 8th summer in this world is likely going to be able to.  After a seemingly steady increase in "When I was a baby in China..." stories (some of which were physically impossible), Miri's not spoken openly about it for a while. That fuzzy, distant past is continually being muscled aside by the realities of the here and now: worrying about passing the swimming test at summer camp so she can use the water slide (she did, with flying colors); trying to memorize all the words & dance moves for the upcoming parents' show at the camp; wondering what it'll be like to have classes up on the 2nd floor of her school in 3rd grade; trying to decide if she'll want to continue with Chinese school on Saturday mornings or join her neighborhood swim team instead (all for next summer, but she likes to plan ahead); trying to find a way to have her silly uncle schedule a play date at his house (I'm working on it!); and so on.

But for us... well, Gotcha Day is as fresh and sharp in our minds as it was almost 3/4 of a decade ago. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which I described thusly in a post back in 2011: "It was hot. Not, 'hey, the sun is strong' hot. Not, 'wow, I can get sunburned quickly here!' hot. No, it was more like, 'wow, my car just melted!' hot. I mean HOT. With humidity to match."

We all slept through the regular breakfast time and barely got anything to eat, thanks to not getting into bed until around 4:00am the previous night. All my cash was laid out on one of the beds, drying after I sweated through it while climbing the Great Wall the previous day. AJ reviewed her paperwork and re-re-checked the integrity of The Big Envelope at least four times. The entire group circumnavigated the hotel property in the blazing sun just to burn off (almost literally!) all the excess nervous energy. My email confirmed the PandaPhone folks had given up on finding me and were refunding their fee. We rode our agency-chartered minibus to another hotel, and rode upstairs to the government offices in stiflingly hot elevators so small & cramped that our little group had to split up. We spent 20 minutes trying to stay calm, planning camera angles and watching the two about-to-become-Big-Sisters in the group recklessly ride the two little hobbyhorses in the waiting room. AJ sat on the big, worn 1970s Burnt Orange sofa quietly twisting her hands this way, that way, this way again....

And then, a fast eternity later, I heard something in the hallway, stepped out the door to check, then darted back into the room yelling, "I SEE BABIES!" Several people came in, most notably two women and a man, each with a child; one walking easily with a worried expression, one walking a little less steadily with a "what's going on?" expression, and in the man's arms at the end of the procession a scrawny, nearly bald almost baby looking around silently but with obvious curiosity. The first two girls were introduced to their forever families almost simultaneously, with some obvious concern but none of the ear-splitting histrionics we'd learned to fear from YouTube videos.

And then, at exactly 3:33pm local (Nanning) time:

I think the appropriate comment at this point is, "And they lived happily ever after." Seriously, aside from the usual "stuff" life throws at us, that's an accurate statement; bonding problems were nearly nonexistent, health problems were nearly nonexistent, sleeping problems were nearly nonexistent... Sure, there were some days that were rougher than others (especially the day the Pipsqueak decided we were NOT allowed to put her down or stop moving while holding her) , and since then there have been the usual "moments" that every life includes, but that scrawny little thing in yellow print pajama top and blue print pajama bottoms is a caring, loving, intelligent, empathic, active, and curious child with an old soul who helps without being asked (most of the time), helps Mommy keep an eye on Grandma & Grandpa (especially the latter), and loves sharing together time with her family.

Meet the Pipsqueak! (Waiting for fireworks on July 4th.)
A closing note... We all had dinner together Tuesday night (Mom & Dad had a new central HVAC system put in the house to replace the rapidly-dying old system, and after picking up the Pipsqueak from summer camp I stuck around to help move furniture back, re-hang pictures, etc.). As we headed back to our respective houses, I leaned into AJ's van to say goodnight to the Pipsqueak and I commented that seven years earlier, at that time in China she was just beginning her last night in an orphanage. She paused for a moment, then smiled and blew me a kiss with a big smile and said, "Happy Gotcha Day Eve, Uncle Brian!"

Happy Gotcha Day, Pipsqueak! (And happy 87th birthday, Dad!)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Rule Change!

As y'all probably know by now, one of the rules of this blog has been that I don't publish photos that clearly show the Pipsqueak's face.  The rule was set by my sister and -- as I told her back in China -- she's the mama so she makes the rules.  It's not Internet paranoia, either; we know a couple who had an extremely unpleasant visit from the FBI when photos of their young son in a slightly-too-small baseball uniform were found on an extremely unsavory website.


Back in late 2015, the Pipsqueak could semi-clearly be seen in a YouTube video of a Halloween flash mob dance near her home...

In 2016, she could clearly be seen in a YouTube video of a dance competition held by the company that does her after-school care...

And even though we're only halfway through 2017 she's already shown up in a 2nd YouTube video by the same company and another YouTube video from one of the dance studios where she takes classes... PLUS she and several of the girls from our MIT group were showcased performing a Chinese ethnic dance routine on one of the county's cable TV channel shows, complete (and replete) with multiple close-ups of my niece -- a show that was broadcast statewide in February, repeated county-wide in March, and that is now available in full on YouTube and the county's website.

Well, the Long Island branch of the family is here on their annual visit to celebrate a brace of shared birthdates, and early on Friday evening AJ was telling them about how "famous" her daughter is becoming online and listed all the above. I jokingly asked, "Does this mean I can finally show her face on the blog?" and AJ thought for a moment, shrugged, and said "Yes."

I asked if she meant it, and she said "yes" again!

SOOoooo...  I'd prepped a bunch of photos for my next two posts but now I'm going go to back and pull a few more, including some of the better ones that actually let viewers see what the Pipsqueak looks like these days!

It's actually been hard to find appropriate photos for many of my posts, and since 2011 I've made a point of taking at least a couple of shots in which Miri is only seen from behind, or purposely didn't delete accidentally out-of-focus or motion-blurred photos. I'm really excited to finally be able to just go ahead an post "real" pictures of the Pipsqueak from now on! As far as having any of those photos show up where we don't want them to... well, I know a few search tricks and have friends in interesting places online, and that's all I'm going to say for now (but I think we'll be OK).

Stay tuned -- my next post will be early this coming week, and you'll finally see the Pipsqueak!