Or Why My Family Is Banned From the Hong Kong Airport Hotel Indefinitely.
I can remember spending so much time and thought in anticipation of the journey to China. I imagined every possible scenario and packed accordingly. Checked with those who had gone before. Prepared my heart for any response or encounter I could imagine. Double checked and packed again. There are so many details and so many papers and deep down, although people keep telling you that it will all work out, you half wonder if somehow the system will break down and you will end up without a child.
Or worse, in jail.
Note: Adoption from China is perfectly legal and jail time is not a rational outcome of the process, but something about the journey can mess with your head and two logical and educated parents can look at each other in a dusty government office on the sixth floor and whisper close to the other’s ear under their nervous breath, “This is legal right?” This rational couple can go from steady to “crazy town” in mere seconds on this journey to China and IN China. Or so I’ve heard.
After the months of preparation for the journey and the moments of what I will refer to as “crazy town” in country, the journey home can be an after thought. You are just hoping to get there and hoping to make it. And “crazy town” thoughts pop in as you envision someone jumping out and taking your baby back, right before you board the plane. “Just kidding!” they would laugh and disappear into the night with your sweet child, mocking you as you are carted off to jail.
Note: Again, jail time is not a likely outcome of the adoption process but by the time you are headed home, “crazy town” thoughts are getting more and more common. From what I’ve heard.
We started our last leg of our journey home, in a mini van headed to Hong Kong from Guangzhou. That journey, projected to take under three hours, ended up lasting more than six hours. Traffic was halted, and at best, jarringly stop and go, and our newest addition screamed at the top of her lungs for five of the six hours. Imagine a car alarm that won’t stop blaring for five hours. Now escalate that by about 150 decibels. And now envision being chained to that car. For five hours.
I’ve been a mother for a while so I knew our daughter’s trauma was temporary. The trauma that I was really worried about was that of our driver. I could watch little beads of sweat pour down his neck as he navigated that van through painfully slow stop and go traffic. His face was tense in the rear view mirror and we knew it wasn’t road rage he was battling. My husband whispered under his breath, “Do whatever you have to do to calm Grace down. I’m worried he is going to drop us off on the side of the road and never look back. “ There was the kind of pleading in his voice that let me know we were in desperate times. So, we ate through an entire bag of lollipops. Grace, me, our two precious biological children in the back seat just coping. Lollipops all around! As we eventually neared the airport, our bio daughter calmly and gracefully puked in a plastic bag. She essentially summed up that drive in one grand expulsive gesture. We stepped out of the van, grateful that we had not been abandoned on the side of the road and that we were alive.
And not in jail.
Once we checked into the hotel at the Hong Kong airport and finally settled in our room to sleep, it was close to midnight. Our crew of 5 people lined up like sardines in the little Chinese beds and we crammed a crib into a tiny open space for our new little daughter. My husband and I had to walk across the beds to get to the window or bathroom, as the space was crammed with furniture, crib, suitcases and bags. Literally no walking space – like a human game of Frogger where the parents are the frogs trying not to step on small children. So we slept.
We slept until around 2am when we heard the sound of our oldest daughter vomiting in her sleep. She was so tired and she was completely unaware of the projectile vomit going everywhere – bed, pillow, wall, floor – you name it, it was there. We jumped out of bed and sat her upright, then tag team Frogger carried her to the bathroom, stepping across beds and children. Once there, she began to cry, not because she was encased in vomit, but because she just wanted to sleep. And my husband and I just stood there looking at each other.
That’s when the “crazy town” gets scary. When two people who always know what to do, who are generally not affected and steady – just. stare. In silence. With a vomit dripping child between them. And then my husband said it.
“I don’t know what to do.”
There was panic in his eyes – this man is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force; a cancer surgeon who is not phased in high stress moments and there was shear panic in that little hotel bathroom. Without stopping to acknowledge how his words sent me into a panic, I said resolutely, not breathing through my nose, “We are going to pray, we are going to get back up prayer, we are bathing her and we are getting out of here alive.” A group text was sent that probably read something like, “Daughter covered in vomit, vomit everywhere, scary vomit that needs to stop – please pray.”
We put our oldest daughter in the bathtub, pajamas and all, and proceeded to clean her up. I remember reaching for the ruined pajamas to discard and crazy eyes husband in a scary whisper voice saying, “DO NOT throw those away. We will place them in a plastic bag (more vomit than pjs by this time) and clean them at home. It will mark that we actually made it. These are her favorite.” I knew better than to argue with irrational crazy eyes and gingerly balled them up into a bag and sealed them shut.
She was Frogger-carried back in the bed and we proceeded to get two more hours of sleep before our alarm went off around 6:00am. By an act of Providence, our newly adopted daughter slept through the night.
In the light of day, that hotel room looked like a combination of Bunker Hill and some sort of gross alien attack. Our daughter had been placed at the foot of the bed after her bath and several pillows stacked on top of and in between where she previously was and where her brother lay oblivious to it all, so that he would not roll into the pit of doom. We surveyed our damage and decided it was completely pointless to try and fix it. We instructed our children, you speak of this to no one. And then crazy eyes husband whispered low, “If we all have a stomach virus, your mission is to get on that plane and in the air before throwing up. You hold it in and get airborne and then I don’t care if we all puke the entire way to America. We are going home. We are making it home. Just get on that plane looking normal.”
We got on the plane. We made it home and thankfully by what I’m convinced was some major intercession on our behalf, no one else got sick and our daughter was fine as well. It’s probably a good thing that we feel our family is complete because I am convinced that our mug shots are on display throughout most of Hong Kong. Security footage likely exists of us carefully tip toeing out of that miserable room, over the hazardous waste that was expelled from our child and never looking back. I imagine figures like those in the movie ET were called in to completely strip the area, white suits and all, angry at the Americans who did God knows what in that room.
God knows what we did. We just made it and made it home.
And we are indefinitely banned from the Hong Kong airport hotel.
Note: I write this to offer hope and transparency to anyone traveling currently or preparing to travel. As people we love to hear about beautiful weddings and perfect pregnancies and baby deliveries, but we so appreciate when someone gives us the gory details of what can really happen. We try not laugh and we feel better in the midst of our own “crazy town” that we too can make it, because others walked it and survived. So, I giggle as I write this, remembering our journey home. I’m laughing now. Because I didn’t go to jail.