“Yes, Daddy actually does go to work!”
After two weeks of togetherness in the sumptuous cocoon of The Garden Hotel in Guangzhou, China, followed by a family vacation in Quebec for another 10 days, there were some genuine concerns about how Madeleine Bao Yi would accept the fact that Laurent, her hands-down favorite playmate, would have to return to work. I worried that there would be a noisy scene that first morning of separation, followed by squirt gun tears – both on her part and mine. As that Monday drew near, there was much speculation, and diversionary tactics at the ready.
As Laurent put on his running shoes and prepared for the three-mile jog to the local train station, Bao Yi came into our bedroom with a look of surprise on her face. She immediately set to work straightening the shoelaces and then clutching her daddy’s hand.
He told her calmly that he was going to work.
Her response in Chinese: “Bao Yi comes, too.”
After several rounds of calm Daddy logic and a new daughter’s quiet insistence, we were no farther along on the vector of understanding, though if there were tears, they were largely unshed.
Grace and I gathered with Bao Yi at the upstairs window and watched as Daddy ran down the front sidewalk. A chorus of Chinese shouts broke the morning stillness in the neighborhood. “Good bye! Come back! Come back in the afternoon!”
So far, so good.
Several mornings later, however, we had to drive Laurent to the train station. Bao Yi was alert, watching the commuters, listening to the screech of the train wheels, keen for some adventure of her own. As we waited for the next train, she began her muttered mantra: “Bao Yi comes, too. Bao Yi goes on the train with Daddy. Bao Yi goes to the office.”
Perhaps it was more curiosity than a real desire to see the newsroom. Where did Daddy disappear to every day, and how could it be more fun than staying home with his daughters?
It took some doing to keep her seat belt buckled that morning at the station. She wriggled and reached for Laurent, but to no avail. That is when we invoked the solemn promise, comprised of two simple Chinese words, xia wu. “Afternoon, Daddy will come again in the afternoon.”
This time, tears rolled in the back seat as the squawking train pulled out of the station. But it was all short-lived. The Chinese take a man at his word.
Now, when 7:30 p.m. rolls around – a stretch by the American definition of “afternoon,” – Bao Yi and our West Highland terrier wait patiently at the upstairs window, watching for a flash of colored T-shirt making its way up the side street. The combination of lusty barking and joyful Chinese shouts make for a wonderful homecoming.