Our Journey HOME!
Originally posted in October 2010
Oh, praise God, we are finally, really, truly, HOME! This post is filled with some minute details that are going to bore you to tears, but I want to remember this for later!
Saying our good-byes to our friends in Africa was sad. We took a few pics with our hosts, loaded up everything in the van, and headed to the airport. We were wholly unprepared for the nightmare we would experience at the airport. For security reasons, the drop-off point was barricaded, so we had to push all our luggage up a huge ramp outside the airport. From the moment we walked in the door, we were harassed about having an African baby with us. Person after person said that was not our baby, and asked why we were taking her. We had never experienced such hostility in all our time in this country we have grown to love so much.
We went through security as soon as we walked in the door. Then we waited in the documents line, showed all our paperwork for Pearl, and made it to the counter to check in. We were already frustrated, irritated, and sweating like crazy. Then the Delta/KLM staff told Matt that Pearl had not been added as a lap baby (which he had, in fact, done a week before our flight) and he could not check us in. He talked with them for a long time trying to get it worked out but they finally sent him upstairs to the office. Sassafras, Pearl, and I stayed downstairs with all our luggage. The girls were in very bad moods, and it felt like the whole airport was staring at them as they cried and misbehaved (Sass was screaming to go to the potty, yet we were stuck because we couldn't leave our luggage unattended) and at me as I tried to calm them down. By the time he got it worked out, we had been standing there nearly an hour and a half. NOT. FUN.
The next step was immigration, where we stood in another line and were questioned extensively once again about having Pearl. Obviously, these officials were trying to ensure that we were not taking a child out of the country without proper documentation, but seriously...we had plenty of proper documentation. It felt awful to feel criticized and given the third degree for trying to take our baby home.
By the time we made it to our gate (nearly 2.5 hours after we arrived) it was time to board. We could not wait for that plane to get off the ground and get us out of there.
The flight to Amsterdam was about eight hours long, but both the girls slept for a short bit. Sassafras watched part of a movie on the TV and Pearl spent some time in a baby bassinet at our feet. The KLM flight attendants were amazingly kind and helpful. It was by far the best flight of our 6 total on this trip. Another really awesome thing was that our seats were on one of the front rows in the economy section, which meant we had lots of leg room in front of us. That was huge...especially for Captain Daddy Long Legs!
Landing in Amsterdam was refreshing. It felt good to be cold for the first time in a month and a half, and everything was incredibly efficient there. It felt so nice to be in a place of efficiency after nearly 6 weeks in Africa. The first airport said they couldn't give us our boarding passes for our other 2 flights, so we had to find a ticket counter and get the rest of our those. It was a lot of work for 4 individuals, but we had those in our hands within 15 minutes (even though Sass was playing around and flipped the stroller over on her face while we were standing at the counter). I guess you could say we busted Amsterdam wide open.
We grabbed a cup of coffee, visited the "Baby Lounge" to clean up one massive stinky, and headed through security. This was where we realized that leaving the US is easy, and returning to the US is very complicated. Security leaving this flight was extensive, to say the least. We had to meet with a security officer, answer questions about electronics we had and the standard "Are these your bags?" questions, take off shoes again, put all our stuff through the x-ray scanners, got grilled on why we had two baby bottles with powder in them (Hello...have you ever seen baby formula, Mr. Security Man?), and had to throw away two different drinks we had bought. While we were trying to get everything loaded up and answer the questions of the x-ray machine guy, Pearl stood up in the stroller and fell out on her face.
Cue further judge-tastic glares from other passengers.
While I was trying to calm her down, they pushed us through the full-body scanners. Before I could stop them, they sent Sassafras through first (we were freaking out with her on the opposite side of that machine without us...our plan had always been that the Captain would go first, then Sass, then me and Pearl), and then it was my turn.
If you've never had the pleasure of having your innards observed in the name of national security, it happens like this: you have to go into this giant chamber/tube thing, place your feet in a certain spot, and lift your hands over your head for a few seconds. Then Matt passed Pearl to me, and it was his turn. They patted us down (REALLY patted us...like, HELLO), and waved the metal detector over us before releasing us to our plane. My goodness, it was CRAZINESS!
We will say, though, that it was nice to have had small children because we were immediately ushered to the front of the line. And on this flight to Detroit, we had another front row section, only this time, there wasn't a 4th person on the row, so we got to put up the arm rest and let Sassafras sprawl out. She slept about 5 hours on this flight, praise the Lord! Pearl spent lots of time in the Ergo carrier, which she enjoyed sometimes and sometimes she did not appreciate very much at all. I tell you, my attitude going into this adventure was that no matter how bad it got, we could handle anything for 24 hours. We pretty much did.
Landing in Detroit was the best feeling. Knowing we were back on U.S. soil was great, and it was super duper fun to switch our texting back on and have our phones explode with congrats messages and well-wishes. Felt SO good!
At this point we had to go through the customs line for U.S. citizens and then go back and get in the immigration line to take care of Pearl's papers. Then we had to gather our luggage, go to a Delta counter, and RE-check our bags (more security...sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln). Then we went back through security...more pat-downs, x-ray machines, shoes off, etc. My word, I could not take one more security check at this point.
We were so happy to meet some Alabamians in the bathroom at this airport, and then a sweet friend from church was not only on the same flight but also on the row directly behind us. She was so precious in helping entertain the girls during that last stretch to Birmingham. We were exhausted and so were the girls. We were all disgusted with planes by that time!
Landing in Birmingham was positively glorious. And then, as we were walking out into the foyer past security, we were greeted by an enormous crowd of friends from church and even a few very special family members. My own mom and aunt drove all the way from Mobile to surprise us! It was really emotional, seeing everyone and watching them drink in Pearl's sweetness. They have all prayed for her so long that it had to have been surreal for them to see her for the first time.
Sass was overwhelmed by it all, until our sweet cousin Lauren took her to get some french fries. Pearl was overwhelmed, too, but I'm pretty sure that in addition to being super tired, she was just wondering where the brown people were! ;)
My mom got us dinner on the way home (praise the Lord for soft bread and fried chicken!), and we had several friends who popped in and visited as well. It was so good to see everyone! I had a moment of panic right after we walked in the house when Pearl was crying for a bottle and I was about to tell my sweet, exhausted husband that one of us needed to leave again and go to the grocery store when I opened the door and saw that our fridge had already been stocked with everything we would need for a while! Whole milk, juice, eggs, sandwich stuff, yogurt...it was awesome!
And then we saw the counter where there were fresh flowers and a whole pile of groceries...PERFECT groceries! Nutella for Sass, cereal for Matt, Coke and Diet Coke, rice for Pearl, fruit... so many items we needed! We wanted to cry when we read the card and realized that our precious friends the Leights and the Grimeses had bought us groceries, and even left a gift card for whatever else we might need. We were overcome with just how blessed we have been. Such awesome, incredible, thoughtful friends!
The joy continued when we walked into Pearl's room, and she had a gift bag and also a box of diapers and wipes...halleyluryah. And Sassafras also had a gift bag as well, both with adorable little fall outfits. Oh, it was so sweet! And then our sweet friends Jamie and Courtney brought by some yummy food for us to have for dinner, and also some more diapers, wipes, and baby bath/lotion. We smelled and we were delirious from exhaustion, but we just kept looking at each other in disbelief and praising God for such awesome friends in our life!
Man, it is good to be home!
Sass had fallen asleep on the way home and bless her heart, she slept until 6:30 the next morning...despite the efforts from all her favorite people who came by to see her and tried to wake her up! Pearl woke up a few times, and seemed a little scared that she didn't recognize her surroundings, but always settled down as soon as I picked her up. Poor Matt fell asleep in the middle of eating a bowl of soup. I had been looking forward to getting really clean for the first time in nearly 6 weeks, so I took a super-hot shower, then a super-hot bath, and promptly fell sound asleep right there in the tub. And it was only like 7:00pm. Jet lag is brutal, I tell ya!
Today we had our first post-placement visit with our social worker and just tried to get settled into our new life at home. Matt checked in at the office, but the girls and I just played and unpacked and washed clothes. I feel so glad to be here that I don't want to go anywhere for a very long time!
Thank you all so, so much. For praying, for laughing, for crying, for believing Him with us, for lifting us up with your encouraging words. We love you beyond words. Thank you for being a huge part of our family, and especially of Pearl's story!