China adoption diary: Siblings in sync, even in snores

Part 12 – China adoption diary: As US citizenship moves closer, the siblings are showing signs of being in sync like "hand and foot" – even in their snores.

Courtesy of the Belsie family
Belsie sisters Grace and Madeleine Bao Yi during the "apple" course of the night's meal. Madeleine is wearing the green lifesaver-shaped jade pendant and adorning her head is a sticker ripped off from a water bottle and attached to a barrette.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Part 12 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.

The Chinese have a lovely expression that translates as “sibling” – “shou zu” (pronounced show-zoo) literally means “hand and foot.” Siblings will walk the road of life together, side-by-side, holding hands and synchronizing their steps. That image is a comfort to me as a parent.

Late last night, I bent over the bed for one last check on our daughters and realized that I could not match up the tangle of body parts. Grace decided to use Madeleine Bao Yi’s head as a pillow but little sister didn’t seem to notice. At least they synchronized their snoring.  

I’m so glad we’ve been able to give Grace a sister. She was such a content only child, but in the last week new dimensions of her character have emerged. She thinks and plans ahead for two now, gathering what she thinks Bao Yi will need in her backpack for an outing. She tries to keep the mounting tide of hair elastics and colored pencils under control. Yes, Grace can be bossy at times, but as a counterpoint to infrequent headstrong eruptions from Bao Yi. All in all, she’s shown herself to be pretty tolerant – and definitely nurturing.

As for Bao Yi, she took a bold step forward today in acknowledging her new family. Grace asked her “Do you know Mama loves you?” She answered, “Yes, I know that.”

I coasted on that for the rest of the day.  

We spent the morning touring the four-story Guangdong Provincial Museum of Culture and History in the new skyscraper section of Guangzhou. Though, we only really saw two floors because of the large group. Still, it was a fascinating journey through centuries of Chinese history.

The Chinese regard learning as “putting knowledge in the belly.” We got a much broader sense of history and culture at the museum, but you can also pick up a lot of relevant insights into contemporary Chinese life while wending your way through the maze of downtown highways in a taupe mini-bus. Simon has worked for 14 years in international adoption as a facilitator for our agency and has seen the dynamics change radically.

According to him, from 1997-2007, nearly 70,000 healthy Chinese baby girls were adopted and moved to the US and other countries abroad. That’s an average of 7,000 per year, with a wait time that was minimal compared to the current protracted paperwork maze. (We waited for 14 months for Grace after our dossier had landed in China. Adopting families today can expect to wait up to five and a half years for a healthy baby unless they opt for a designated “special needs” child. Then, the process speeds up considerably.) That decade marked the end of the golden era of Chinese adoptions, and the future is unclear.

Laurent asked about the demographic imbalance that has resulted from this sustained exodus of young females from China. Most countries statistically report 97 males to every 100 females in the general population, but China’s figures show 107 males to every 90 females. The gap will be hard to close in the future when this generation comes to marriageable age.

Once our museum session was declared “completed,” Simon took the group to a Japanese-style restaurant for a rousing eight-course lunch. For a mere 30 yuan per person – the equivalent of $5 – we feasted on egg drop soup with tomato bits, chicken and onions, seared beef, two types of fish, garlic grilled tofu, fried rice, and a topper of sizzled bok choy.

Given the size of the lunch, no one was much interested in dinner this evening, even after a long cooling-off session in the swimming pool. We threw caution to the wind for supper and ate sliced apples in the room, followed by ice cream chasers from a nearby 7-11.

We have an early call tomorrow morning at 8:30 at the US Consulate on Shamian Island for the children’s citizenship ceremony. Shen Bao Yi will become Madeleine Isabel Bao Yi Belsie, newly minted American. It’s a wonderfully poignant moment, but one that is also bittersweet to me. By week’s end, she’ll leave her homeland and culture to be transported 7,000 miles away and transplanted in metro Boston, where undoubtedly she’ll bloom. Knowing Bao Yi, she’ll carry her Chinese identity with her always and hopefully become a true East-West girl.

It’s funny how Grace wanted to be sure we knew the Chinese for “Keep up the pace!” before we set out on this adventure. She was so concerned about losing her new sister on the busy streets of Guangzhou. The more useful phrase we have learned is “Bao Yi, wait!” It’s not always effective, but that’s OK.

For Madeleine Belsie, I suspect the game plan will be “Watch out, America. Here I come!”

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