Date: June 27-28, 2001
Location: Traveling from Guangzhou to New York
Hard to believe it, but it’s time to head home. After a last, almost-full day in Guangzhou, acquiring the last long-scoped-out objects (could we get better for less?), jettisoning what supplies we could (at Sherry’s Place, where adopting families share necessaries), taking in a long, lingering look at Susannah’s much-loved Pearl River from our windows at the White Swan, we stowed our stuff compactly as possible and prepared, in late afternoon, to leave with the others for the airport. The plan was to arrange things so that we could spend maximum time sleeping on the plane, pretending we were in one continual night for as many of the next 35 hours as we could manage. Note the rolled paintings, strung over Susannah’s shoulder like a wandering warrior’s scabbard. We felt like nomads, as well we might. Eleanor, too, had never lit in one place with us by this time for more than a few days—and there were well over thirty hours of air time stretching in front of us before we could hope we’d hit New York City.
Once on the plane, we discovered the folly of having purchased “premium economy” accommodations, which had cost us a pretty penny in upgrade fees.
The seats were huge—so big, Susannah’s feet couldn’t reach the floor, yet weren’t supported by the “footrest” supplied, yet not wide nor deep enough for Elle to get into a comfortable position. Worse, they were separated by fixed consoles housing individual screens and tabletops for our personal viewing and dining pleasure—and keeping us apart. The upgrade also gave us real glassware rather than plastic – not what we needed when traveling with a toddler. All in all, we considered it a waste of money and water under the bridge.
Unlike the flight over, which had chased the darkness, this trip flew east, pursuing the sun—the brilliance constantly threatened to pour in through any crack in the window shades, troubling everyone’s sleep. Poor Elle squirmed about unhappily for a while, eventually falling into a restless unconsciousness, while her parents alternated among dozing, eating “gourmet” meals, and vainly trying to make sense of snatches of the interminable reruns of “Gladiator” (neither of us ever saw it in full). In the end, we stretched Elle out on the floor and spent the next several hours fending off attendants who insisted in vain that she needed to be in her seat “in case of turbulence.” If only…. LAX couldn’t come too soon.
Terra firma—for a few hours, at least! Los Angeles was Elle’s first touchdown in America and, courtesy of federal recent legislation, marked her acquiring on-the-spot American citizenship. Now, imagine hundreds of people queuing up to go through Immigration. Imagine the guards who sort the petitioners—”Parents who have just adopted internationally—this line, over here. Everyone else—those lines, over there.” Imagine the frustration of the latter group, many of whom speak no English: without further explanation, we sail through, ten minutes for each family, tops, while their parallel process falters and stalls. Customs? Same deal: we, with our signature Asian babies, sail through. Everyone else is subject to search. Do we complain? Nah—we’re exhausted–but we notice, and feel privileged and a more than a little guilty. We comfort ourselves with the thought that these inspectors know the most valuable items we’ve brought back are out in plain sight: our children. Below, Elle’s expression captures the uncertainty of the moment: glad to be Stateside, but not so crazy about the exact circumstances (Mama’s blue shirt and tan slacks are visible in the back, as she labors to manage the luggage transfer between international and domestic airlines).
The seven hours back to LaGuardia may have been the hardest of all, coming, as they did after we’d been forced into alertness by Gummint Bidness in LA, but the fact is that nothing lasts forever and eventually we did touch down, to be greeted warmly by our very best friend, Sally Curtis. A parent herself, Sally knew just how to negotiate with a potentially, but not actually fractious toddler (how did we get such an adaptable, willing-to-adapt child?). Below, witness Sally holding our newly-blue-clad Elle, who’d been cleaned up and dressed for her adoring public just before we landed.
Sally had, however, also brought a puzzle: the car seat, the object of a day’s search through neighboring states during the 24 hours before we left (Susannah had stubbornly insisted we have nothing but this particular one after reading the Consumer Reports article Grandpa Gene faxed to her). Carseat acquired? Check! Assembled? Are you kidding?—but this was one task we felt compelled to complete before hailing a cab for the ride home. Maybe our dogged insistence was more a measure of how exhausted we both were, but anyway, here’s to responsible parenthood!
We landed in our La Salle Street home—and slept famously—during the morning and afternoon of Thursday, June 28, 2001 (U.S., Eastern Daylight Time).
All in all, from the time we left our hotel room at the White Swan in Guangzhou until we sat on our own furniture at home we had spent about 35 hours in transit.
More in our next dispatch about our adjustment to New York Life!
Robert & Susannah & Eleanor / http://eleanorjean.com