China adoption diary: Madeleine becomes a US citizen in minutes

Part 13 – China adoption diary: Her parents raise their right hands, take an oath for her and Madeliene becomes a US citizen. Now thoughts can turn realistically homeward.

Courtesy of the Belsie family
Madeleine Bao Yi gives a salute at the US Consulate in Guangzhou after the citizenship ceremony.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Part 13 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.

It was an early call this morning for our group’s appointment at the US Consulate for the final review of paperwork and the citizenship ceremony. Laurent had set the alarm on his smartphone for 6:45 a.m., but in typical fashion, I had been up checking the nightstand clock on and off since 3 a.m.

Breakfast was more hurried than usual but after nearly 10 days, we know our way around the buffet. Scrambled eggs on even-numbered days, hardboiled on the odds.

Madeleine Bao Yi seemed a bit sleepy at the table and went at her plate load with a leisurely pace. She managed the waffle and the meat dumpling, the watermelon chunks and the olive loaf, but still had a way to go when Simon indicated that we should head out to the van. We stood up and motioned for her to come along, and she panicked. There was a perfectly good, freshly peeled hardboiled egg still on her plate. With one swoop of the hand, she put the whole thing in her mouth à la Lucille Ball, grabbed the saltines, and was ready to roll.

We have a ways to go before even considering an application to Miss Wellington’s Finishing School for Young Ladies.        

For some reason we had neglected to bring from home a particular vaccination affidavit document, despite the compulsive triple-checking of the accordion file of very important papers, but we were able to take care of that at a US Citizenship and Immigration mini-branch just down the hall from the Consulate. Finally, we entered a small room with several rows of chairs and maybe seven service windows staffed by consular personnel. There was a good bit of squalling and wailing by the assorted babies in tow. Besides the four families in our group, we saw some other familiar faces from the Garden Hotel – most notably, a couple who must now be retired, their fuzzy-headed baby in a front sling carrier. I wish I knew their story.

One by one, we were called up to the windows and the officials inspected our papers. Everything was in perfect order and we’ll receive Bao Yi’s travel visa through Simon tomorrow. When it came time for the parents to raise their right hands and take the oath for their children, it was a bit emotional for me. Someday, Bao Yi will understand what it all meant but at that moment, she was busy drawing on the wall-mounted chalkboard with the other kids.

The moment was bittersweet, too, because for us, it will most likely be our last international adoption experience. I’m grateful we had our two turns at bat.

Everything was wrapped up by 9:30 and we came back to the hotel to take a celebratory group photo in the lobby. It took some doing to get the wigglers to sit still and the weepers to face forward instead of sobbing into their mothers’ chests, but it was finally accomplished.

Lunch was a drawn-out affair at Tomatoes 24 Hour Pizzeria during a mid-day cloudburst.

The rains came again with full force, so we hid under the roof of a small pavilion and waited it out as Bao Yi began her daily mantra of “yo-yong, yo-yong” (swimming).

Several days ago, Simon told us that the average Chinese knows 5,000 characters for basic literacy but a scholar could have mastered upward of 25,000. That’s a bit hard to swallow. Over the past seven years of Chinese school on Sunday afternoons, Grace and I have probably racked up a little over 600 characters, and Laurent, about the same. It’s one thing to learn them and quite another to remember them all. By my calculations, all our hard work and dedicated study have put our speaking skills somewhere between a newborn and a kindergartener.

Somewhere along the line, either at Chinese school or in adoption circles, we came upon the designations “ABC” and “CBC,” meaning “American-born Chinese” and “China-born Chinese.” Grace has been very clear in referring to herself as “CBC.” This is true, but now that she has a fast-talking little sister from Shenzhen City, the pressure is on. We hope to find a speaking tutor for all of us when we get home and settled into a routine.

We have one last day tomorrow in bustling Guangzhou but there will be little sightseeing for me. My chief task will be to organize the suitcases and get everything ready for departure while the other three cavort in the pool. No matter. This sort of logistics routine suits me. It’s been a wonderful two weeks abroad, but it’s time to head for home. I’m feeling a tremendous need for a tossed salad with fat-free ranch dressing.

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