Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Coming HOME!

I know it's overdue, but I wanted to share the story of coming home before I forgot any details!

We dropped Madigan off at her first day of school, and we took off out of town. We stayed the night in Washington DC before meeting up with another adoptive family from Tulsa (who's son was at the same orphanage and we had the pleasure of meeting on our first trip to Ethiopia!)  We were ready to go get our kids!! We boarded the long flight, and landed in Ethiopia on Saturday August 15th, where our in-country guide Semmi took us straight from the airport to Adama to the orphanage to get our boys!

We waited in a side room, and they brought Elias to us. He seemed hesitant at first, shy and scared. I don't know what they had told him before he came in but he seemed more timid than the first time we met him. I knelt down and started talking to him softly, and before long we were out playing soccer in the yard- something I'm sure was more familiar to him than sitting in a room with strangers. Elias- who was called Amir or "Ommy" as a nickname there- was called "the silent one" by the staff. I had asked if they thought he could not talk or if he chose not to- and was told that he will say words and obviously understands directions, but he does not speak more than a word or two. We have great resources for all kinds of therapy in our community so I wasn't concerned. We had a coffee ceremony at the orphanage and then we loaded up to go. 

We drove out of the orphanage gates, leaving all that was familiar to our son. Although I was overjoyed for that moment, and knew all that we had planned for Elias and the love we can show him- I cried leaving. For the loss he was suffering then, for the loss he had to suffer to end up there- for every struggle we had to get to him, and him to get to us... I cried. He fell asleep in my arms and we made it back to the hotel where we ALL took a little nap.
Within hours, Elias was comfortable with us. I went into the bathroom and shut the door for a minute, and I heard the tiny chatter of Amharic. When I came out, Brett told me he was talking to him. The same thing happened when Brett left the room and Elias and I were alone- suddenly this flow of chatter- none of which I understood- was coming out of 'the silent one'. By the second day, Elias was comfortable with both of us that alone in the room he would talk, smile, play and cuddle. When we went out to the hotel restaurant, however- the shy, silent child was back. But in our room, we got a glimpse of the tiny personality this boy has.
We loved the first few days of bonding, playing and getting to know him. Once we had his visa and immigration paperwork, it was time to head HOME!

When we checked into the airlines was when we had the first red flag. The woman at the desk checked our flight plan and saw that somehow we were not all on the same flight from DC to Chicago. She was unable to change it- so we made a quick (and expensive I'm sure) call to our travel agent to fix it. She said she had no idea how she didn't catch it, but would have it fixed before we landed. However we had to check our bags only to DC and then would have to recheck them in DC when we had a correct flight path. When we landed in DC we grabbed our bags, hustled through immigration and then hurried to recheck our bags with our new flight plan as instructed. The delay doing that kept us from reaching our flight to Chicago- and we had to go back to ticketing. The woman there was very helpful and got us on a flight into Houston to connect to Wichita so we wouldn't be too much later than originally planned to get to the airport and meet family waiting to welcome us home.

Meanwhile, in Houston....

Apparently they were canceling over 200 flights that day. After our flight was delayed four times, it was cancelled. We had family and friends in Wichita waiting on our arrival, I had been traveling for well over 36 hours at that point with a toddler who did not sleep the best and couldn't communicate with me- and I was DONE dealing. I wanted to be home, or at least moving towards my home- and we were suddenly stuck in Texas overnight at the very least.

I think there are moments in your marriage when you really work well as a team and you are a well oiled machine- those moments when you fall in love with your spouse all over again.
This was NOT one of those.
Brett took off for re-ticketing and left me standing in a crowded terminal with a cranky three year old strapped to me, both of us on the verge of tears and sweating. As he stood in line to get re-ticketed, I called our agent who confirmed we weren't getting out of Texas on a plane that night.
I burst into tears.
If you really know me well, you know I'm not a crier. My co-workers joke that maybe I'm missing a gene, but I rarely find anything so upsetting that it's worth crying over. Maybe it's my trauma training, but when faced with something you fix it and move on. This was not a moment I was able to tap into that power. I. Was. Done. I stood next to Brett in the giant cancellation line, and I let the flood gates open. Strangers passing by gave me sympathetic, slightly scared looks. The woman in line behind us tapped Brett on the shoulder and said "Is she OK?" Finally I got it together enough to say "lets just drive. please. It's interstate driving from here. Google it!" Brett got on his phone and confirmed it was about 9 hours drive. It was getting to be late afternoon and we would be driving all night. But I needed to be moving towards home. So he called enterprise and held a car for us. The kind woman behind us, we learned while waiting and after I got myself together a bit- was headed to her husbands graduation. She made several phone calls and learned that she wasn't going to be able to get a flight to get her there in time, and driving alone all night wasn't a great option. So I did what any sleep deprived, semi-delusional traveler would do... I invited her into the car with us. One more adult to help drive and it would get her where she needed to go in time. She accepted the invitation! We cancelled our tickets and requested a refund on the flight and waited for her to do the same- where we met three others who had the same idea. Then we had the even better idea- lets all go together!!
Before we left for the rental counter I was very clear: "Just so you all know, this child has been with us for FIVE days, he doesn't speak English, I don't speak Amharic, and he's never been in a car seat. This could be nine hours of pure hell, just so you're all aware." We all decided that we had been through airport security, and we would have been in a plane together anyway, so it was obviously the best option we had! I heard one girl on the phone say "well if the Ethiopian and US government cleared them, I'm pretty sure they're safe." Ha ha!!
Everyone agreed, so we packed up and got out of Houston about 9:30 p.m. We all took turns driving and praise GOD, Elias slept all but the last hour. He got fussy but we headed it off with gummy bears and cookies. Because, strong parenting.
Finally about 7 a.m. we arrived in Wichita at the airport and took a group selfie!! These four strangers who took a chance in the car with us will forever be the most amusing part of Elias' coming home story.

So much for the airport welcome home party, right? At one point when travel plans were falling apart, I texted the photographer- whom I have still yet to meet face to face- and she told me this:
"Our airport homecoming is kinda like our homecoming in heaven. It may take a while to reach the finish line, and it's definitely a stressful journey. But when we finally get there, with the cloud of witnesses waiting and cheering for us at the end- we will finally be HOME."
This picture was when we arrived to our home in WaKeeney- 55 hours of traveling, exhausted but together.

Her words are so true. And maybe the path we take isn't exactly what we had envisioned but in the end... Home is there. And how sweet it is to be HOME.

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