July 30, 2003
We ate tasteless, white watermelon, toast, and eggs for breakfast. Our daughter ate so much that the Haitian waiter exclaimed, "What a good sign! This is such luck!" Our son ate a small bit of toast.
We rushed through the morning with plans to catch a later stand-by flight. There were more papers to sign, a lawyer to see, a consulate to visit. I slogged through it all in a daze of confusion. I could grasp clarity only long enough to consider that it was not too late for something to go wrong, that my babies could be denied an exit from the country or our papers could be lost. I had no basis in reality for these fears. Barbara repeatedly assured us that all would go well. Still, they burdened my consciousness in shifts, vying for space with thoughts of the heat and its pervading stench.
Finally, just after a visit to the American Consulate, where the kids felt air conditioning perhaps for the first time in their lives, Barbara announced that it was time to go to the airport. We were finished. The idea of it seemed almost absurd at that point.
We arrived only a few minutes before the flight was to board. They weren't going to let us on, leaving us to stay another night in Haiti. I told the people at the airport that we had a family emergency we needed to get to in America. In my head, I could twist that into the truth: after three years trying to adopt, 18 of those months waiting for these two precious children, getting home with no further delays was a family emergency. They handed us four tickets and instructed us to run. We hoisted the kids onto our sides and did exactly that. We arrived to find we were the last to board; they were waiting for us.
For me the flight to Florida was uneventful. Our daughter fell asleep just after we left the ground and remained that way the entire flight. Any attempts on my part to put her down in the seat next to me were met with a tighter grasp on my neck and a hearty,"No!" The flight attendants, perhaps sensing the nature of this tenuous bond, left us alone. My husband, on the other hand, spent the entire flight running back and forth between his seat and the bathroom, changing our son's ever-filling diaper and then, once, after handing our son to a sweet old Haitian lady, cleaning the mess our son's precarious stomach made in the tiny airplane bathroom. By the time we landed, we were out of diapers, him having filled all 12 on the 1 hour, 20 minute flight. As we exited the plane the lady who sat closest to the bathroom patted my husband on the back and proclaimed, "You are a good pappa."
From our gate at Miami International we were herded to Immigration, a glass-walled room filled to the brim with people awaiting clearance to enter the country. We prepared for a several hour wait. Maybe it was the two sets of dimple-cheeked toddlers in our arms, perhaps the stench of our son's final diaper -- whatever it was, we were called to the front within about 20 minutes. After two minutes of questions and a promise to raise good citizens, our children were declared American citizens without fanfare.
We walked towards the main part of the airport, desperate to find a store with diapers before heading over to our in-airport hotel. Suspending what I knew to be true, I half-hoped that we'd exit the walkway and find a congregation of well-wishers welcoming our children home with tears and laughter. There were families reuniting and lovers kissing, but our reception amounted to an airport staffer telling us she had no idea where we could get diapers. I tell adopting parents now to make sure someone is there waiting for them, anyone, because someday their child will ask who came to welcome them home. Those empty spaces in both the Florida and Chicago terminals where nobody stood to greet us remain an ache in each of our hearts.
Two hours and a great distance logged walking through an unfamiliar airport with a child on each of our hips later, we had diapers in hand and food in three of our bellies. We checked into our rooms at the hotel and fell right to sleep, our second night as a family and our childrens' first night as Americans.
Happy Adoption Days (July 29-30) to my darling, sweet children!