Friday, June 27, 2008

Lucky Family

Well, today is a day that is quite confused in my mind for many reasons. Confused first because we are now safely home after more than 24 hours of continuous travel and I am not certain what day it really is for us. I am not certain if this is our normal blog schedule or if, as some have indicated, we have actually missed a day of blogging. While maybe not confusing, it is worth realizing that most of us--Bill, Linda, Melissa, David, Cole, Shelby, and Piper—are returning home. More interesting is that Luke has left a homeland of caring people to now come to a new home and become part of a family. Having started this process two and one-half years ago, it is a strange mixture of thoughts as the transition to Nicholson 7 (the way we count--six of us plus one dog Ginger dog) begins in Illinois. Enough deep-thinking, although I am not sure I can avoid it going forward either.

The day started very early for Melissa and me at 4:15a.m. because we had to have our bags outside our door for pick-up by 5:00a.m. That task handled, we organized our carry-on items, grabbed lots of papers and legal documents, and rousted the kids at about 5:30. Bill and Linda joined us early also and we all moved downstairs for our 5:50a.m. departure for the airport with the other families from our agency. It was a mostly quiet group of people who were all anxious to get to the States. Given that that were 11 or 12 new babies in the mix, it was still a peaceful ride. We arrived at the airport in Guangzhou and moved all the families and luggage through to the check-in for our flights to Hong Kong. I will say we never really had a major logistical snag during this trip because the agency reps are so thorough. There are just lots of things along the way “to make sure of”. Like, make sure your baggage gets checked all the through to your destination city—for us Peoria. The gate agent was more concerned about getting us to and through our customs port-of-entry—for us Chicago—so we had to “discuss” baggage and he ultimately gave me the look that said “hey guy who cannot speak Chinese, I know my job” so I relented and the bags were tagged correctly. We then said good-bye to our reps and those families not flying through Chicago and we pushed through Chinese immigration. Remember, at this point in our travels, we are all on visas as guest travelers and Luke is really Yi Duanlu traveling as a passported Chinese citizen. So, he is the easy process norm and we are more the exception. At all points, I am clutching an 8.5 x 11 “brown envelope” and Luke’s passport because they are our link to him. The “brown envelope” is sealed in red and can only be opened by a US Immigration officer. Everytime I show it or relinquish it I am explaining to people “do not open it” even though they already know to just read the cover sheet and not open the envelope. Hey, you do not get through 2.5 years of paper-chasing without being a stickler for the rules. Our flight from Guangzhou to Hong Kong was uneventful and quick—about like flying from Chicago to Peoria. We arrived safely and began a long walk to the transfer station to get boarding passes for United Airlines because they could not be issued early. So, we think we are going to have about 3 hours to do nothing and ultimately stand in that line for what seemed like 2 hours and 59 minutes. Basically, the flights were all heavily booked, maybe over-booked, because bad weather had come through Hong Kong days earlier and really jammed the flight schedules. At first, I am patient. After all, I am getting ready to travel a distance in 15 hours that probably 100 years ago took six months by boat. Patience begins to wear thin and I start thinking about being “so far back in line” that every person ahead of me is “taking the last good seat” and I am getting ticked. At that point, one of the adopted girls, facing outward in snuggly, spews her breakfast about three feet from me and I immediately relax, thinking “at least that’s not me”. Aaah, the sin of comparison. Ultimately, a guy I like to refer to as “Fast Freddy Wong” gets us checked-in to our seats. I am in the “do not talk to me and do not ask me question mode”, which does not work well for me in pressure situations, especially when Bill and Melissa and Piper – all of whom want details and control—are in the mix. Why am I stressed? Well, while in Hong Kong on day two of the trip, Bill and I went by taxi to a United agent in a Hong Kong office complex and began altering ticket assignments for the return trip. So, what a talented travel agent put together before our trip, Dave and Bill were trying to put asunder. I do not remember all the logic and details, but we used Bill’s accumulated miles to upgrade my economy ticket to a first class ticket. We did this so that we could then have Melissa fly in business class with Linda and with Yi Duanlu (not yet Luke). Recognize that Yi Duanlu was supposed to fly in economy and had to be upgraded to a lap ticket to fly with Linda in business class. If you are confused, you should be. We were basically locking up seats but not changing names and I was just absolutely panicked that what we had done would somehow be undone by “Fast Freddy”. Hence, I did not tolerate very well the innocent “How’s it going?” questions posed every 30 seconds by my travel group. Ultimately, it all worked and we moved through security and boarded the plane. The real travel arrangements—Bill in 1st class, Melissa, Linda, and Yi Duanlu in business class, and Cole, Shelby, and Piper and I in economy “plus”. “Plus” meaning four more inches of leg room. I was so rattled that when the kids claimed seats in rows 41 and 42 that I did not notice we claimed A and B seats rather than J and K seats. So, a very nice man came to take his seat, at which point we hurriedly grabbed almost all of our possessions and disrupted the crew in the galley so that we could cut through to the other side and take our seats. I say almost all of our belongings because Shelby inadvertently left a bar of Toblerone in the old seatback. We then had to have our flight attendant retrieve the treat for the sake of harmony between father and daughter. The flight went well. Bill was gracious enough to stop by a few times from 1st class to let us see Luke. Melissa says she came to see us once—a fact that cannot be verified because she says “you were all asleep”. I may have been a fatigue-induced coma but I was never asleep. Once the plane landed, my anxiety level shot back up because this was “go time”. Think of stepping off the plane, with a child you call Luke who is known paper-wise as Yi Duanlu, while you are holding a “brown envelope” that can only be opened by a US Immigration officer, and all the while you have Neil Diamond’s “You’re coming to America, You’re coming to America, today!” drumming in your head. So, again, when Melissa is gently questioning “Which line do we go through?” I am thinking, “Woman, we go through the line I tell you to go through, which is the line that very large woman with a very shiny badge and a very loaded 9mm handgun tells me to go through.” There is no question—only a process to be followed. So, we meet the US Immigration officer. Melissa tells all the kids, “Pay attention, this is a big deal”. The officer is named Hawk. He is very tall, very big, has a shiny badge, and a loaded 9mm handgun. I am Hawk’s whipping boy. He wants passports—he gets passports. He wants the “brown envelope”—he gets the “brown envelop” and I DO NOT tell him not to open it. He is Hawk and he carries a 9mm handgun. He places the words ADIT on our customs form and places all of our documents in distinctive pink envelope. His instructions are precise and short, “Get your luggage, take this folder to Customs agent, and he will tell you what to do next”. Do you think I asked Hawk what the next agent was going to tell me? No, that would be a process violation—Hawk told me the next guy would tell me what to do—if Hawk wanted me to know what the next guy was going to tell me to do then Hawk would have told me himself. See how this works? So, we get our bags and move through the next agent, again with a shiny badge and a 9mm handgun. He tells me, “Take your family to station number 2, turn right, give your pink folder to the next agent”. So, I know the drill now, and I just do what the man says. I give the papers to the next agent and he says, “Take a seat, I call you when I need you”. I am good with that, although Melissa suggests, “Shouldn’t we tell him we have to make a connecting flight?” Of course, I am thinking, this guy now has all my son’s vital legal documents, and a shiny badge, and a 9mm handgun, and a Russian accent and I am going to tell him I have a connecting flight concern? I do not think so. First borns (Melissa) and babies (David) just do not think the same. He calls us back up, I am pumped thinking here comes the Pledge of Allegiance, Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America—something, anything—and he says, “Here is your daughter’s, I mean son’s Chinese passport back. I stamped it here and I stamped it here. I wrote this code by this number, he is now legal resident. Take your bags and exit to the left”. Neil Diamond’s “You’re coming to America, you’re coming to America, today!” is just ringing in my ears. He is now Luke, although I love the rising tone inflected by the Chinese when they say Yi Duanlu because it reminds me of his playfulness.

We then re-checked our bags for the last flight to Peoria. We experienced a few delays with that flight and ultimately boarded it a little before 6:00p.m. We arrived in Peoria around 7:00p.m and as we were pulling into the gate, we see a massive gathering of family and friends on the airport’s outside viewing platform holding signs welcoming Luke. It was just a sight to behold. On the plane we laughed and told fellow passengers to “Be careful getting mixed in with that crowd”. Now I just cry thinking about it. That throng of people then moved inside to meet us as we exited the gate area and the cheers erupted and the hugging began. It was just the finest moment of the trip. To have so many friends and family members take time from their life to visit at the airport return, to “blog” throughout the trip, and to pray continually for Luke and our family is phenomenal blessing from God! As part of the adoption process, we were asked questions like “Do you have a support network?” and “How will friends and family respond?” This airport greeting and the last few weeks on-line with you all were our answers to those questions. Thank you.

Everyone is now asleep at 65 Blackberry Lane. I am not because I am writing and crying. Melissa has “caught me” crying a few times lately and said as only a first born can say, “What is your deal?” I can muster a one word response—“Lucky”. Now, some in China think that Luke and other adoptive babies are “Lucky baby”. But, I know that we are “Lucky family” and it is blessing from God.

We “eye knee” all.
The Nicholsons

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