Dec 19, 2015

Homeward Bound

(Note: this may be a long entry, but I think it sums up our return home quite nicely. Worth a read if you have 5 minutes to spare.)

Waking up Friday in China was like any other day since arriving just over two weeks ago. Angela and I were up around 5:30, and while Angela hit the shower, I checked email and other online things after fighting with the hotel WiFi and finding a VPN connection that would both connect and give me access to Google services (e.g. email, blog, Android, etc).

By 6:30 we had Sera awake and grumbling about it still being dark outside. Or at least that's what we assumed she was saying -- this whole language barrier thing has upsides (we can just nod like we care when we assume she's complaining) and downsides (no idea when she wants something specific).

We headed downstairs for our last Chinese breakfast. My plan was to eat something light and avoid any "mystery" foods, but when one of the other mom's questioned a roll with something fuzzy on it, I stepped up and offered to try it out. Turns out the fuzzy stuff tasted like salty carpet lint and the sticky white stuff I originally thought was a custard was actually mayonnaise. Nasty -- should have stuck to tea and fruit.

At 7:30 we were on the bus heading for the airport when our guide ("Jason") took a phone call. It was the airline informing him that our flight from Guangzhou to Beijing had been cancelled. Great way to start our journey home. We stood around in the airport while Jason worked with the airline to get us a different flight that would allow us to make it in time to catch our international flight out of Beijing. He was finally able to get us on a earlier flight. Good for making it to Beijing. Bad for requiring us to now rush through the Guangzhou airport to get to the gate on time.

Jason hurried us to the baggage area. Then he told us we needed to hoof it to the terminal. I was carrying two winter coats, a sweater and three carry on backpacks so that Angela could pick up Sera. Angela (who had been telling be to be calm most of the trip) was so flustered that she tried to navigate between a group of Chinese travelers and tripped over a suitcase that was in her blind spot. Down went mama and Sera to the floor, landing flat on Sera's back. She smacked her head on the marble floor and (rightly so) began screaming in pain. The Chinese strangers gathered round her speaking unintelligibly while I caught up to her to help her up. The young boy that was adopted by the family traveling with us had a seizure, likely as a result of the stress of the situation. Jason was trying to get everyone settled, all the while urging us to press on to make our flight in time. Good times.

Once we were back in motion again, we hurried as quickly as we could (while staying together and being more careful) to the right gate. We arrived to a long line waiting to step out on to the tarmac to board a bus that would drive us to the airplane. Apparently our new plane was pulled into service last minute to combine two flights into one. The result was that we were on a double-decker flight holding 750 passengers. It was almost triple the size of the plane we would fly overseas later, and we were boarding it from a set of stairs on the tarmac.

Getting to Beijing was mostly uneventful. We were separated due to the last minute change of plans so while Angela sat with Seraphina, I was sitting with the dad and new son of our travel partners, two rows further up. When we were preparing to land in Beijing, I heard Sera begin wailing. I assumed it was due to the whole seat belt thing we had dealt with on a previous flight, but it turns out she was upset because the flight attendant took her meal before she was done with it. She only calmed down when another mom offered her some Skittles to get her mind off her missed meal. Are we home yet?

In Beijing, we had to get our checked bags and re-check them for the international flight. We tried to go through the transfer area, but were told we would have to wait an hour before they would process our reservations and issue boarding passes. Later we would learn that we could have gone upstairs and checked in at the normal counter and spent our time at the gate with access to food and rest rooms rather that on a seat in the transfer area with none of those "luxuries". On top of that, we thought that the advantage to the transfer area was that we wouldn't have to go back through a security checkpoint. Wrong. Live and learn.

We finally had boarding passes, but we had to get to the right terminal. It was also about this time that Sera decided she had to have water. Of course there was none to be found where we were and we had to get to our next gate. We spent several minutes trying to find the right way to the terminal. When we finally got upstairs, we made the mistake of heading for Terminal 1 instead of 2 (nothing was printed on the pass). 15 minutes later, with a wailing child in Angela's arms and me carrying a ruck's worth of weight in 3 packs, we made it to Terminal 1 only to learn that our flight was in Terminal 2 where we had just come from. Are you kidding me?

We got Sera a bottle of water (you can't safely drink from water fountains in China) while in the wrong terminal. She took a sip -- yes, one *sip*) before adding it to her bag for something extra for me to carry back to Terminal 1. I was ready to go back to bed. Unfortunately we were only 7 hours into a 30 hour day. Back to Terminal 2 we go followed by a return through the security checkpoint.

At long last, we made it to the right gate. I'm pretty sure it was the furthest gate from the ticket counters. With the added trip to Terminal 1, I'd guess we walked about 2 miles. Now to sit and wait for the plane to begin boarding. While waiting, we grabbed deli sandwiches and drinks from a nearby bistro. Things settled down for a bit while Sera was kept entertained by her surrogate big sister (the family traveling with us). It was a nice respite from the frenetic pace we had set for ourselves up to this point.

The time finally came for our 14 hour, overseas flight. We were seated at the rear of the plane and when we finally got Sera settled in her seat, she began complaining for headphones to use with the entertainment screen. We had to wait for the attendant to get us a set while trying to explain that Sera had to wait. Stress. Once she had the ear plugs, we had to tell her the system would not work until we were in the air. Stress. She would keep pressing buttons on the screen until inevitably tapping the one that called the attendant. We would have to un-tap the request...several times. Stress. The ear buds were too big for her ears and wouldn't stay in. She kept bugging us to make it work but there was no good solution. Stress. When we finally rigged a way to use the elastic from the eye mask (for trying to sleep on the plane) to get the buds to sort of work, Sera would twist around to talk to the passenger behind us and they would fall out again. We would repeat the process several times over the next 13 hours. Stress.

Sera managed to sleep for a good portion of the international flight. This required her to lie down across her seat with her head on Angela's lap. That left her legs to lay on me. Apparently it was inconvenient for her to just place her legs on my lap. Instead she had to prop them against my shoulder. Then on my arms. Then in my face. Then tangled in my headphones cord. Then pushed into my side. I tried leaning the opposite direction to avoid some of the abuse, but I had the aisle seat so the other side meant drink carts hitting me in the shoulder or bodies shoving by on their way to the restroom. One heavyset lady passed by several times and never once tried to pass gently, she would just walk straight up the aisle, allowing her wide hips to rub past my head. Oh God, when would we be home?

Thirteen hours is a long time to sit on an airplane. The time is even longer when in coach, unable to sleep, and dealing with a child that doesn't speak your language but is old enough to "have an opinion". I managed to watch 4 movies, eat two meals, and play 3 games of Soduku, and get about 90 minutes of fitful dozing on and off. That left me with about 2 hours of just sitting around thinking about how much fun I was having.

Seraphina did pretty well with the landing. Except that she apparently had had too much to eat and was not feeling well. To her credit, she was able to let us know how bad she felt prior to spewing the contents of her stomach into the sick bag in the seat pocket. The rest of the descent was spent trying to comfort her while she complained (I assume) of the taste in her mouth and the dribble on her chin. Angela managed to get out a wet wipe for the latter, and I convinced the attendant to give us a little water to rinse her mouth out.

Next up was US customs. The line moved pretty well, but there were a lot of people to check through and we had the added issue of handling the adoption paperwork that would grant Sera automatic US citizenship now that she was on US soil. We were guided to a special line for this purpose which was also for the elderly and the handicapped resulting in longer wait times. It was at this point that Sera wanted to get something out of her back pack. I was all for her taking one of the three most-used items from the front pocket, but she wanted in the main compartment. I discouraged that since it typically involved removing all contents to get to the one item she wanted, followed by one of us putting everything back. Not a good time for that fun. Sera wasn't happy about that (shocker) and proceeded to let us know about it. It started as a general whine and progressed into a full-tilt tantrum. This included wailing loudly, wreathing on the floor, kicking off her shoes, and general displeasure for all the security line to hear. I'm pretty sure every eye was on us. Well, on her actually. Except for mine which were focused on the security check point that we had to reach. Several people came forward to try to console her and I'm sure a few of them wondered why I didn't just give in. But I can't bring myself to give in to a spoiled child having a tantrum in public. That would just convince her that her method works. You're on my turf now girl -- life's going to suck until you learn the boundaries.

About 10 minutes into the tirade, the officials must have realized it was in their best interest to fast track up through the system. We were paraded to the front of the line and had several officers working to complete our paperwork. On the other side, I let her have the pack once we were seated at a bench with a few spare minutes. She took out a book, held it to her chest for a minute, dropped it on the floor, and indicated she was ready to move on to the next adventure.

The transfer security checkpoint line was ridiculous in Detroit. We had an hour until our Charlotte flight, and spent 45 minutes waiting in line. During that time, Sera pulled apart the two wires on the headphones causing them to span about 15 feet and constantly getting tangled. Go ahead and start the sainthood paperwork for Angela. I would call it miraculous that she can deal with the agony of repetitively correcting the same problem over and over. She would untangle the cord and wrap it up and hand it back to Sera. Sera would unravel it, drag it across the carpet a few steps and get it tangled up again, then complain that it was messed up. Angela would repeat the process. Sera would repeat the process. And so on. I would have taken the cord and tossed it in the trash and let the girl scream for another half hour. Who knows, maybe we could have fast-tracked the security line too.

Like Beijing, Detroit thought it would be funny to put the connecting flight at the farthest point from where we originally landed. I left Angela to deal with the girl while I took the 100 pounds (how it felt) of useless carry on items to the gate. It was a walk that took about 15 minutes, with the assistance of the moving walkways and continuously weaving in an out of other travelers. When I got to the gate, I unceremoniously dumped the bags and coats on the ground, sweaty and stinky from 26 hours of stressful travel. I enjoyed about 5 minutes of daughter-free time before Angela caught up with Sera in tow. Sera went to her backpack and learned that the water could not pass through the previous checkpoint. Her world was again collapsing because her water bottle was taken from her. Cue the tantrum.

I think that if we had not been in a public setting, I might have had a small tantrum of my own and thrown Sera across the hall. Probably a good thing there were some 500 people all staring at us instead. I picked up the brat rather abruptly which freaked her out enough to stop complaining for a few minutes. I marched her around the terminal looking for a water fountain. I asked a janitor for directions and realized he didn't speak any English. Of course not; what was I expecting in America? I marched on and gratefully came upon a cart at another gate offering free water to its passengers. I asked the employee at the desk if we could take one despite being on a different flight. She said that if it was for "the sweet, adorable girl in my arms" then yes. I'm not sure, but either someone performed a magic trick and swapped the person who I had been carrying, or this woman was wearing some *thick* rose-colored glasses. In either case, I thanked her and gave Sera some water. She took a sip and returned the bottle to her pack. Why I oughta...

As soon as we were on the plane for Charlotte and taxiing away from the gate, Sera needed to use the bathroom. Sorry kid, we have to remain seated until the plane is in the air. Sorry parents, that is not the answer I wanted to hear. Grumpy kid in the seat between us. Whimper. Sniff. Whatever.

I closed my eyes and pretended I was somewhere alone. We were in the first row of Comfort+ seats, right behind first class with immense leg room, and Jack Daniels was in my near future. La, la, la, la. As soon as we could move about the cabin, Angela took Leah to the rest room. The drink cart blocked them from returning to their seats. I'm not sure if it was intentional on Angela's part, but I had most of the trip to Charlotte sans child and with a cocktail in hand. I might make it home in one piece after all. The attendant seemed concerned that my two travel partners were not in their seat most of the flight. I assured him they were most likely safe. I thought about asking for a second cocktail, but thought that might make me look like a bad father.

After roughly 30 hours of travel, we landed in Charlotte. Following a long, slow walk with Sera from the gate, we turned the corner to head for our bags and were greeted by the three families that had been looking after our other kids while we were gone. They were waving sticks with Sera's face on them and holding up a "Welcome Home" sign. There were pictures taken in abundance and lots of conversation about Charlotte current events. The men all took one look at me and gathered that it was a stressful day. There was some consoling as we gathered the bags. Plans were made for getting Angela and Seraphina home directly while my two boys helped with the suitcases. My oldest son and I took the shuttle back to our car for a Sera-free ride home.

Aside from some screaming from the new girl when the dog got too close (Seriously? Our dog is as gentle as they come. Maybe just a slight bit curious about this new addition to the pack.) our return was most welcomed. I had some ice cream and a glass of milk before heading to bed. This 32-hour day was one of the most stressful in a while. It came at the end of a long two weeks in a foreign land dealing with all the frustrations of being out of our element. There were several times I thought I wouldn't make it, and on more than one occasion I told Angela that we were done -- no more adoptions for me.

But it was all worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Bless your hearts. My goodness. If this were fiction, it would be hilarious! Thank God you all made it home. I love Sera's actions and face in the final photo. Still not tired! And Angela - you are smiling! God bless you.

    Kelly L.