This post was originally published in 2017.
Ioana-Cristina Casapu said, “There is truly no other place bearing so much love as airports.” Our family has experienced that kind of love multiple times over, and we wouldn’t change it for the world.
I stood, transfixed for a moment, in the soon-to-be-nursery of our house. Such a familiar room, as I’d spent months painting a mural and getting everything exactly just so.
This was going to be the first time. The first time I packed a diaper bag. It felt momentous, a harbinger of many happy years to come. I picked out outfits, guessing on our son’s size. I packed diapers and wipes and nasal cannulas and fingernail clippers. Toys and books. (And oh, how I labored over exactly which board books to pack.) It felt like each minor decision was a mountainous terrain that I needed to labor over. Eventually, I zipped up the large duffel bag that would serve as our diaper bag. I wiped the sweat from my brow and declared that whatever happened, I would be prepared. And then we were off. Off to bring our son home.
As first-time parents, six years ago, my husband and I were probably a little clueless about a lot of things. Okay, scratch that. A lot clueless. But I’d been compulsively researching for years. We’d had to write out all of our beliefs about parenting and succumbed to all of the investigation and inspections of several social workers. I knew that all of my research had prepared us. And yet…there were so many doubts.
Would I be a good mother?
Would my son love me?
Will my husband and I live up to our expectations?
Would any of life be the same as before, or had we changed the course of all of history?
It was a pretty quiet car ride. My mom dropped us off at the Rochester International Airport, took some photos of us, and wished us well. We entered the terminal, about an hour early. I’ve always had this thing about getting to flights early. We flew from Rochester to Dulles airport, where we had a quick layover. Then we flew into Amsterdam, Khartoum, and finally Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was so grateful that our luggage had been able to be checked all the way through because, with that many stops, it would have been exhausting to take care of every detail.
We were greeted with the familiar smell of Ethiopia’s capital city, diesel fuel mixed with coffee and frankincense. It felt like a homecoming, this stepping into the country where our hearts had been held for several years. The scent lingering in the air meant we were so close to our son. We’d left him in Ethiopia seven months prior, not knowing if all of our paperwork would ever be approved. We headed gratefully to the guest house where we slept for the night. When we awoke, our family was unified. We spent a week in Ethiopia getting to know our toddler. These were some of the most bliss-filled days I have ever experienced. Everything our son did delighted us and amazed us. His first word in English was “light.” He was a talker. And has never stopped talking since.
A week later, we took this talkative toddler into the Addis Ababa airport at 10 p.m. I had been worried about altering his sleeping schedule or that he would be crabby on the flight. Contrary to my expectations, he was a gem on the flight. We had elected to get the “bulkhead” row on our international flights, mostly to have the extra leg space, but because of the bassinet that folded down. He didn’t use the bassinet and wouldn’t stay still. I really didn’t mind holding him on my lap, as I’d missed out on many months of his life already. Anxious to make up the lost time, I read him page after page of those agonized-over board books. The diaper bag soon became utilitarian, and the magic of that first-time packing wore off.
We landed in Detroit after a fuel change in Khartoum. From Detroit, we boarded a small plane, headed for Rochester. As I saw the cornfields below us, the lakes and rivers, I tried to explain to our little one how his life was about to change and how he’d be soon at home.
The airplane landed sooner than my emotions were ready for. My heart was in my throat. I vividly recall instructing myself to breathe. This was a momentous occasion, but I didn’t need to add the embarrassment of fainting to it. I put our toddler in my baby carrier, nodded to my husband, and let him collect our carry-ons. We walked a very short distance.
And then I started crying.
I saw faces. Faces of people who loved us and cared for us. Faces of newly minted grandparents on both sides of our family. The first grandchild on both sides of the family. My mom was crying, too. Balloons and banners.
We were home. Home safe. Home with our son. No need for more flights, we were only a few minutes from the safe refuge, comfort, and familiarity in our house.
Last year, Rochester International Airport, was our “delivery room” yet again. We added a 3-year-old boy to our family. We left two of our children at home, bringing our oldest to China with us. That was, to date, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Fortunately, we had grandparents who took care of our younger ones during our two weeks away. The two weeks didn’t exactly fly by, as I missed our little ones so much, but they were the experience of a lifetime. As we exited the terminal and into the lobby of the airport, I saw my two darling children with curious eyes, waiting to meet their newest brother and to welcome their oldest and much-beloved brother. And again, grandparents and friends. And again, relief swept over me. Home. Together. We are a family, and we’re heading home.