Day 17: Traveling Home & Airport Homecoming

At the hotel before beginning out long trip home

I am writing this post so I can start talking about life at home with our new family of five. :) Reliving the 3 flights and long layovers home isn't much fun for me, but for sake of documenting the entire journey, let's do this. :)

Tucker sleeping the first time on our first flight - it didn't last long :(
Unfortunately, they did not board on time for our first flight out of Guangzhou. I think about 30 minutes after the flight was supposed to leave, we finally boarded. Fortunately, they allowed people with small children to board first...well, except for some people who pushed ahead of us. We got into our seats, and while the rest of the plane boarded, we gave Tuck a small dose of Benadryl. I mean, it was 1:30 a.m., and the poor guy hadn't fallen asleep yet. He crashed pretty quickly, so Ryan and I tried to sleep, too. Unfortunately, we were woken by his screams of terror. My friend Kelley put it best. It's the sound of an orphan's cry. You guys, there is nothing like it. Every child has cries - ones of pain, sadness, fear, etc. But this cry...the one that sends chills down my spine, is the cry that I can only describe as Tucker's orphan cry. It makes you want to grab him and run to a place filled with so much peace and love that nothing can hurt him. For the next 3 hours, we cycled through minutes of quiet sleeping and then minutes of screaming in terror. Tucker was pushing me away. There was nothing I could do to help him, so I prayed. Ryan did his best to reposition Tucker, to give him suckers, to cover his face from the bright lights that were on to serve dinner at 3:00 a.m. That Daddy worked as hard as any daddy has ever worked to keep Tucker calm. With every slam of an overhead compartment, every light turned on, every flight attendant asking if someone wanted a drink, Tucker awoke with screaming terror. You can only imagine my relief when that flight ended.

Oh...except we now had a 6 hour layover in Seoul, Korea. The relief didn't last long.

To be honest, I was done when we got there. I was upset that Tucker was pushing me away, probably more because I was exhausted than anything. I just wanted to be home and have Noah and Liam in my arms again. We had been awake for nearly 24 hours straight, and I had slept maybe 30 minutes. Seventeen days is a long time to be away from your children, and while I really kept a lid on the emotion of missing the boys in China, slowly, that lid was peeling back, and I could finally feel the ache to be home.

Ryan, seeing home poorly I was doing, told me to go lie down for a bit. I slept for about an hour and a half. During that time, Tucker played on this indoor play area at the airport and enjoyed time around some other children. Ryan then laid down for a nap and was able to sleep from 8:00 to nearly 10:00 a.m. when Tucker finally couldn't resist and started tapping his head. While Ryan slept, I did everything I could think to do on that little sleep in an airport. We played on that indoor playground. We watched airplanes. I took him up and down the moving walkways until my vertigo got the best of me, and I had to stop. I even put him in the basket of one of the carry on luggage carts and wheeled him around the airport. He wasn't super excited to hang out with me but seemed to be tolerating it.

After Ryan woke up, we grabbed some McDonalds where the Egg McMuffins cost like 2600 of whatever kind of money is used in Korea, and the pancakes were like 2300. Haha! I had no idea what we were spending and didn't care. We needed some food to keep going. After eating breakfast and passing a little more time, we finally boarded our flight (again, people with young children first) pretty much on time. Already, the pushing and cutting in line had ceased to exist in Korea. It was nice. :)

We got on the flight, gave Tucker a child's dose of Melatonin, and popped in a sucker. He fell asleep with his seatbelt on and the sucker in his mouth while we ascended into the sky. I'm not sure if it was truly funny or just funny because we were sleep deprived. Either way, we were so relieved that this very sleepy baby would finally get some rest, and we would get to catch some zzz's, too. I think we slept about 1.5-2 hours at most and woke up as Tucker stirred. Our flight was 12 hours and 40 minutes long, so for the next few hours, we gave Tucker snacks, put on Monster's University (which he actually watched for maybe 15 minutes or so), played with toys, used his water paintbrush book, and walked up and down the aisle for a bit. Fortunately, we had the 3 seats on the right side of the plane to ourselves rather than being in the middle section. After a few hours, we gave Tuck another dose of Melatonin, and he fell asleep after about 30 minutes. We again all got about 1.5-2 hours of sleep. This was the last sleep I saw until Friday night in my own bed.

For the last 6 hours or so of our flight, I'm honestly not sure how we passed the time. It is a huge blur that involved snacks, some amazing burritos, a full meal, movies, suckers, candy, walking in the aisle, trips to the bathroom, and finally, looking out the window of the airplane as the sun was rising to see the United States of America below. HALLELUJAH! That puts a little pep in your step for sure!

Tucker was finally going back and forth between Ryan and me for the last couple hours. When we hit the one hour left mark, I started to get giddy. We had survived an almost 13 hour flight from Korea with a 2 year old after a 6 hour layover and a flight before that! We were rock stars!

When we landed in Chicago, I was on Cloud 9! Tucker was officially a US Citizen the second we hit the ground. It was so exciting!! We had to go through Immigration where they took some paperwork we received in China and processed it there at the airport. It went pretty quickly. Then we grabbed our luggage and went through Customs without a hitch. We re-checked our bags with American Airlines and got our last set of boarding passes. We took yet another escalator to the second floor, jumped on a train, and rode to our new terminal. I couldn't believe we were just one flight away from Noah and Liam.

Once we reached our new terminal, I went to the restroom to freshen up. It was SO nice to put on a fresh shirt, pop in my contacts, and put on some makeup. I could not believe we were almost HOME. I mean, our journey began July 19, 2012 in that hotel room in Cincinnati, and this chapter of our lives was finally coming to an end. I met Ryan and Tucker at Chili's and had my first salad in nearly 3 weeks. None of us had much appetite but knew we needed to eat something. Before too long, it was time to board the plane. We sat in almost the last row, Tucker and I on one side, and Ryan in the one-seater next to us. He wasn't feeling great and quickly fell asleep. I got Tuck a sucker, knowing much of the flight would just be up and down and that it would help with pressure in his ears. He sat on my lap for take off and fell right to sleep before we even hit our highest altitude.

While Ryan and Tuck both slept on that last flight, my mind kept drifting back to different things we experienced while in China, many of which I've written about, but some of which I haven't...and never will. There is just so much to process - things we've seen, experienced, smelled, tasted, loved, hated. Things that broke us to the core. Things that made me want to shake my fist and cry to Jesus to come back and end this world because the darkness is just too much to bear. The trip to China was so exciting, so amazing, so incredible...and at the same time so difficult and so intense. I am thankful for the opportunities we had to see get acclimated to the culture and time zone during our trip to Beijing. Learning about and experiencing some of China's history was incredible! We are grateful for the week in Chongqing to get a sense of the city, to visit Tucker's orphanage, and to have a chance to see his finding spot. These are things that will be invaluable as Tucker grows older, and we share what we can about his past. The week in Guangzhou was long, and we enjoyed the company of other American families who were also adopting while we waited for our Consulate Appointment.

The trip home was long...lots of waiting and patience and feelings of will-this-ever-end...much like the entire adoption experience. :) God has used this time to awaken parts of me that I never knew were there. He has grown my heart and shaved off pieces of me like impatience, selfishness, and my love for comfort and easy. I have prayed that this experience would make me a better mom - that Tucker would help me be a better person. I can already see how each day, this prayer is being answered. So during those last 50 minutes, I thought about all of those things...how far we'd come in just 15 months since being called to adopt. I couldn't believe we had traveled across the world to bring this little boy home. In fact, I see Tucker all day long now, and I still can't believe it.

This was the 17th day away from the boys, and when the plane landed, tears filled my eyes.

We had made it.

We patiently gathered our belongings and exited the plane. We walked toward the gate and through the terminal. Ryan was holding Tucker, and he put his arm around me. Again my eyes filled with tears. This moment that we had envisioned for so long was almost here. We were about to see our sweet sons, many family members, and many friends and introduce them to Tucker.

As we got closer, I saw Noah and Liam standing there. My heart couldn't hold out for another second, and before I knew it, I was running to them.

...and I just couldn't stop hugging Noah. I just held him and cried. He just stared in my eyes for the longest time without saying a word. It was a moment I never want to forget.

Liam kept looking at Ryan and saying, "Where's Daddy? Where's Daddy?" Ryan said, "You mean Mommy?" Liam said, "Yes!" He pointed to me crouched next to him and said, "She's right there." Liam looked at me for the first time and said, "Mommy!" I loved feeling his arms wrapped around me. He quickly rushed me over to the window to see the airplanes. I stayed a few minutes and then went back to get another hug from Noah.

After having several minutes with just the kids, we started making our way around to our parents.


After many more tears, we started introducing him to our friends.

And I snuck in as many kisses and hugs as I could with the boys.

I think the only person missing here is my friend Abigail. So sad we didn't take the group picture before she had to leave. You can see two of my friends to the right who have already adopted from China. I met Stephanie through a mutual friend from church, and my friend Jenn (in red) is one of my 3/20 sisters. :) The girls in the middle are several of my very closest friends here in Greenwood and their children. These women each prayed us through this journey, donated money, celebrated with me, cried with me...all the things your dearest friends do. Lisa was on a mission trip to Africa helping perform heart surgeries on children, and her presence was very missed this day, as she and her husband Andy had done so much to help bring awareness to orphan care and to raise funds to bring Tucker home. To the left you see Ryan's parents, my parents, Ryan's sister, and our nieces and nephew. This picture shows some of the greatest blessings God has given us. I love each of you!

One of our first pictures together...

Before leaving, everyone gathered together, and Ryan led us in prayer. It was beautiful and perfect and just the way I hoped to end our time together. What a special homecoming for all of us!

We love you, Tucker YiMing Abell! You have so many people who have prayed for you and loved you right alongside us. We cannot wait for you to fall in love with all of them, too.

We drove home, all three boys in car seats next to one another in my CR-V. Tucker was a little afraid of the car seat, as he had sat on our laps for 11 days in China whenever we were driving anywhere. Noah held his hand, and then he was as happy as could be. As we pulled in front of our house, we saw that our yard was neatly mowed. We had fresh mums on the front porch along with several pumpkins, including three little ones for the boys. A welcome home balloon was floating above our mailbox. We were home! When I walked inside, I seriously didn't recognize the place. I know that sounds crazy...I mean, we weren't gone that long, but that is how I felt. Everything looked brand new and so so clean! My fridge was full of groceries. The mail was stacked neatly in a pile. We were home!  So many people worked very hard to make sure our transition home was a smooth one, and it has been exactly that. We have been able to spend the last 4 days pouring into our children and being super engaged with each one. It is exactly what each of us has needed. Lots of love...lots of hugs...lots of kisses. There is no place like home.


Kelleyn Rothaermel said...

Happy Homecoming! I am happy you made it home safely! My husband and I decided we want to hire summer while we are in Beijing. MY husband isn't a big group person. How do we go about finding him?

Brooke Wilson said...

Welcome home, welcome home. As we sat waiting for the final immigration stamps, way off to the side at LAX, I started crying. There were 2 other families there from our flight. We.had.made.it! Enjoy those kiddos!

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