Following the 14-part China adoption series, Gretchen Belsie provides occasional updates on how 7-year-old Madeleine Bao Yi is adapting to the US and her new family – Monitor business editor Laurent Belsie, Gretchen, and their first Chinese adopted daughter, 10-year-old Grace.
It’s funny how a four-year trail of tedious bureaucratic paperwork – which often feels like it’s going nowhere except in a circle – can nonetheless pave the way to startling life changes that ultimately make you forget all the bother that preceded the glory. As adopting parents, we know the endpoint we’re aiming for, and we wait and crane our necks to see if we’re getting any closer to the much-anticipated crossroads. But for a child, like Madeline Bao Yi, who had no idea her life was about to be totally redirected, there wasn’t the same anticipation.
When she got to the looking glass, she went through it like Alice – and immediately started having a blast.
After the two-week bonding time in China, we headed home to Boston – but not to settle into the daily routine of family life. No, we decided to go on a family reunion-style vacation, and headed to Quebec to introduce our new daughter to family members of mine from the East Coast.
A mere 48 hours after getting home – a 57-hour journey with numerous delays and re-routings – we loaded the car, mimed to Bao Yi to buckle up, and proceeded to drive 10 hours to a rustic lakeside camp an hour north of Ottawa.
With the language barrier still firmly in place, and her general lack of US geography, we couldn’t find adequate words to explain to Bao Yi where we were going – or why. Of course, Grace kept talking earnestly about Canada, but to a little girl from Shenzhen City, what did that mean?
The terrain in rural Quebec was so unlike anything Bao Yi had ever seen; she seemed busy looking out the window at cows and large rolls of hay in the fields. The tiny town of Gracefield – the last point of “urban civilization” before heading into the woods – offers such services as a taxidermy shop, an improbable travel agency boasting trips to exotic locales, and a dollar store. As we crossed the antiquated one-lane trestle bridge over the river, the level of excitement in the back seat picked up.
Family members swarmed to see the newest Belsie, and then served up a welcome dinner of stick-to-your-ribs fare. Bao Yi hovered near Laurent but was not shy about digging in to spare ribs and scalloped potatoes.
Dragon melon – the Chinese staple similar to watermelon but with fuchsia rind and Dalmation dog-inspired fruit pulp – was, quite literally, now a world away.
The transition from vacation in China to vacation in Canada was one squiggly line of continuous fun. If there was adventure to be had, Bao Yi was right in the thick of it, chattering away in Chinese without a care in the world. She was in the lake as often as possible, floating around on her beloved neon-pink ring, or learning to swim. She even took up kayaking, determined to figure things out on her own. Turning around, a necessary skill? Not really. Bao Yi just kept on going until someone hauled her back.
Another tradition – the family Fourth of July parade past the boathouse – Bao Yi accepted at face value. Didn’t most people don berets and sunglasses and pretend to play dented instruments collected over the years from antique shops and general junk stores?
Grace’s role in this year’s parade was to be a junior miss beauty pageant winner, waving primly from the wheelbarrow pushed by Uncle John. I had fashioned a tiara out of aluminum foil for her, and she had the wave down pretty well. Once Bao Yi saw that shiny crown, she would not rest until she had her own. Hers lasted far beyond the three-minute parade. She wore that thing day in and day out like Jughead from the old Archie comic strip, pleased as punch with the look.
Underneath the frivolity and carefree fun, significant changes were happening. Bao Yi was setting down roots in our family. She began to bond with me, showing more open signs of trust and affection. Laurent was still leagues ahead of me on that score, but it felt good to be appreciated as a mama and to be thanked for the little things that mamas do.
We also saw indications of who Bao Yi is: an adventure seeker, an I’ll-try-anything-once kind of girl. That’s quite a contrast to Grace’s more cautious and neat approach to life’s opportunities. Together they helped each other share new perspectives. In the process, we all grew much closer as a family unit, and we’d only been at it for a month.
I only have one lurking apprehension: What will happen when we get home and she figures out that Laurent goes to work every day?