I was jolted awake by something and stared around the room. There was something strangely familiar about my surroundings but I couldn’t quite place what it was or why. I looked down at the baby lying in the crook of my arm next to me and then at the other baby lying peacefully in the crib next to the bed.
Worlds were suddenly colliding.
Was I really home? With the babies?
I rubbed my eyes and surveyed the environs again. I was in a bedroom…my bedroom…at home in Maryland. At least I think I was. But where was Mike and the older kids? Any why was I waking up to this strange mid-afternoon light?
I looked at the clock. 2:10pm. My senses were slowly returning. The kids were at Grandma’s house down the street. Mike was napping in another room. Marianna and Joseph were here with me, resting peacefully. Jet lag could not disguise the fact that all seven of us were truly…blessedly…wonderfully…really home.
~ ~ ~
After the news from the Consulate on Sunday that once again told us that no visas could be issued, the families stuck in China started feeling like we were living in a real world Groundhog Day. Life was settling into some semblance of a routine:
-wake up, go to breakfast buffet, chat with other families, try to stay optimistic
-hear bad news from Consulate: we still had no visas
-find something to do, some outing to that gets us out of our hotel room for a few hours and distract us from our plight (shopping at Carrefour market, walk to the park, taxi to Shamian Island, etc.)
-come back to the hotel room and nap babies while Mike entertains the older kids in the lounge 7 floors up
-meet for “dinner” consisting of appetizers and cocktails in the executive lounge (included with our room rate) at 5:30pm; commiserate with fellow stranded families
-go to bed, praying that tomorrow brings better news
-lather, rinse, repeat
So when Monday came, every family was now accustomed and had themselves braced for another Groundhog Day. We readied ourselves for breakfast, all the while checking our phones for the promised status update from the US Consulate. The usual update time of 8:15am passed.
We loaded our breakfast plates with the now familiar spread: watermelon, dragon fruit, sausage links (the babies love those), french toast with hawthorne berry sauce and fried noodles. We were just getting the babies buckled into their highchairs and their sausages cut into bite-sized pieces when one of our guides came rushing in, looking anxious and asking if we had seen one of the parents in our group. I pointed in the direction I had seen J walk by with her family and put the bibs on the babies.
I glanced over at J wondering what was up–and why did our guide only have news for one family, not all of us? I saw that J had our guide’s cell phone pressed to her ear listening intently to whatever was being said. She looked serious but then noticing we were all watching her, she smiled and gave us a thumbs up.
Thumbs up? Could that mean what I thought it meant?
Our guide walked over to us and uttered the words we’ve been waiting to hear:
“Your visas will be issued today. Every family who has been waiting will get their visas today. I am headed to the Consulate now to pick them up. Meet me in the Conference room next to the lobby at 11:30am…I’ll give them to you then.”
The breakfast area erupted into a frenzy as families sitting at nearby tables and across the hall leapt to their feet and hugged one another, crying and rejoicing that the storm we had weathered together was coming to a close. Husbands were on their phones texting and emailing travel agents.
We were overwhelmed with joy and relief. (We would later find out that the reason J was on the phone with the US Consulate was because the visa of one of the two kids she was adopting did not come thru right away–but thankfully did later that day.)
Neither Mike nor I had touched the food we had put on our plates and we simply could not eat now. Instead we downed our coffees and hurried the kids through their breakfast. All the while, texts were flying back and forth between Mike and Todd, our travel agent, who was working furiously a half world away to secure us 5 seats on a flight — ANY flight — that would be US-bound. God bless Todd…he had 6 other families who were waiting on the same service.
It was going to be tight.
Amazingly, within minutes of getting word that visas were being printed, Mike glanced down at his phone and back up at me with a grin. “He got us on a flight out of Hong Kong…tomorrow morning.”
Families scrambled back to their rooms to pack up and to work on securing flights home. Not all airlines were as accommodating as ours and many families were forced to assume hefty change fees, others had to split up on different flights altogether.
We all met one last time in the executive lounge for dinner and goodbyes. As joyful as we all were, our hearts were heavy as we said goodbye to these faces that had become family during our nearly 3 weeks in China.
Early the next morning, we climbed into vans that would take us the 3 hours to the Hong Kong airport.
Not much to say about the 15 hour flight from Hong Kong to Chicago except that it was long but largely turbulence free. Since M&J were “lap infants” and did not have their own seats, we spent a good deal of time walking the aisles and bouncing the them near the galley kitchen in the back.
The United flight attendants were friendly and accommodating and there were plenty of other babies on the flight so ours were not the only noise-makers. Seven or 8 hours into the flight, they finally crashed. However they slept only fitfully in our arms so I laid a blanket on the floor of each of our rows and they got a good 3-4 hour stretch there, giving our arms a much needed break. There was blessedly no turbulence during this time so we didn’t have to disturb them to buckle.
At 1:45pm local time, our plane touched down and M&J were the country’s two newest US citizens. The 2-1/2 layover in Chicago was just barely enough time to clear customs, scan and re-check our luggage and then race thru security and then to the gate of our last flight. That final 1-1/2-hr flight to DC was excruciating. We were so tired and everyone was falling apart emotionally. Our eyes were struggling to stay open. But as we flew over the midwest and I looked down on the familiar sights of farmland and highways that I’m certain we have traveled, my heart began to swell.
But then there was that moment we had long for…
…that blessed moment of catching our first glimpse of those we loved and who prayed us through this journey.
Relief and utter joy bubbled up and spilled over in ugly tears.
(photos curtesy of Jess Norton–thanks Jess!)
Truly, there is no place like home.