China adoption diary: Tears and a monsoon in today's forecast

Part 8 – China adoption diary: First family fiasco – at the zoo in a monsoon of rain and tears as Mom and Dad set some unpopular limits.

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    Madeleine Bao Yi dances with an umbrella in the rain, a la Gene Kelly, while waiting out a monsoon at the Guangzhou Zoo.
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Part 8 of Gretchen Belsie’s account of her trip with husband Laurent and their first adopted Chinese daughter – 10-year-old Grace – as they head to meet and bring home 7-year-old Madeleine Bao Yi.

Summer, which had been lurking in the intense humidity and the hazy skies, pounced with a vengeance today, bringing out yet another surprise from its meteorological bag of tricks – the monsoon backlash.

The day started well enough – Simon came to the hotel and whisked us off to the Guangzhou Zoo. He took us for a short ride on the city’s subway. On the descent into the cavernous station, we saw advertisements for pricey men’s cologne and haute couture.

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Once on the car, we grabbed the overhead straps. Madeleine Bao Yi, too short to reach up, rejected the parental handholding alternative, spotted a tiny space on a nearby bench and made a beeline for it. She wedged herself in next to a young couple and chatted with the woman. We’re not sure if this is tomboy boldness or plain old practicality, but it is what we have come to understand – in five days – as Bao Yi’s way.

We entered the zoo at the south gate and immediately ran the gauntlet of souvenir vendors. Men selling skinny balloons twisted into animal shapes targeted us and approached with verve. Given that Bao Yi loves her balloons, we knew we were in for rough seas ahead.

The 2-yuan toy (approximately 35 cents) was the match that ultimately lit the fuse of a minor meltdown. We eluded the balloon men, only to be snared seconds later by an older woman who placed a cheap bubble gun in Bao Yi’s hands. I grabbed it and gave it back, saying, “No thank you.”

Bao Yi’s expression plummeted from shocked disappointment to outrage. On came the waterworks. We knew this was our first opportunity to set some limits with our new daughter.

Things had begun to taper off in the boo-hoo department when we found our next Waterloo – a small amusement park within the zoo called Happy World. Bao Yi saw the small train ride that went through a giant molded polymer alligator and wanted that above all else. We had just begun our zoo walk so Laurent decided that there would be other novelties to come and shook his head “no.”

This time, we got wailing – and plenty of it. Add to that the unsolicited parenting tips from a vexed older sister, and the trip to the zoo was suddenly a downer.

Then the rains came.

Within 30 seconds, the steady rain had escalated to a driving downpour. The locals moved quickly for cover, and we followed suit. Our safe harbor from the lashing rain was a small cement-block building with open lattice sides, and for the next 90 minutes or so, we shared it with 75 other people.

A stick-thin young man leaned against the wall to eat a snack kiosk carton of steamed noodles with chopsticks. A young mother rocked back and forth while her toddler drowsed in a body sling. Lightning streaked across the sky. Children moved about, snacking on wafer cookies. An older woman with very few teeth chattered to her husband, who stared blankly at the rain. A grandmother jostled a smiling infant who was wearing the newborn uniform of choice in China: the onesie with the open bottom. Thunder boomed overhead. And somewhere in the throng, a child honked incessantly on a cheap plastic trumpet his parents had bought him.

Bao Yi’s mood brightened unexpectedly as the rains came down. She amused herself for quite some time by dancing on the patio with her umbrella, evoking the best of Gene Kelly. After a while, she found that getting wet was also a lot of fun. By the time the storm had passed, she was damp and laughing again.

The zoo was a losing battle, so we wended our way to the exit. We zoomed past the elephant area, and I did get a glimpse of the fur of a lioness, but that was about it.

Near the hotel, we went to lunch at a typical Chinese fast-food noodle shop and watched the rain from our booth. Bao Yi whimpered that she did not like sitting in a wet skirt. Laurent tried to flap the fabric and give the impression that he was air drying it, but she wasn’t buying that.

I’ve got to hand it to Laurent. In many ways, he is the more motherly of us in the first days and weeks of bonding. It was the same way when we first got Grace. I guess he is more fearless, and willing to take language risks that I wouldn’t take.

Tomorrow Bao Yi will go through a routine medical check-up before we explore New Town Guangzhou.

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