14 Nov Korea Trip 2: Visa to HOME
THURSDAY, APRIL 5
Our day started downstairs with breakfast again. We put Gideon in a high chair for the first time, and he was not a fan. So we scarfed down a bowl of cereal and headed back to the playroom.
Except this morning, Gideon started regressing, to the point his movements and posturing were almost infantile. He literally laid on his stomach like a baby, swimmer kicking the air and playing with the cups directly in front of him. This is apparently pretty normal, as kiddos sometimes deal with stress by going backwards. So we embraced it, thankful for his extra cuddles, and then, about two hours later, he suddenly got up and was back to his normal self. Adoption transitions are just plain strange sometimes, haha. Gideon also grieved for about 10 minutes that same morning, but he was able to accept comfort, which was a big step in our world!
That afternoon we had our Visa appointment. Gideon really didn’t like to leave the hotel at all, but he especially didn’t like being held or moved outside of his stroller. That made taxis and subways exceedingly difficult (in fact, we didn’t brave a subway until 6 months after we came home!), and that made us exceedingly thankful that Somerset Palace ended up being only a 3-block walk from the United States Embassy. We quickly made the journey in the rain and met our social worker outside.
Our Visa appointment took about an hour. You go through security and then up to the third floor. There is no elevator, so if you, unlike us, can avoid having a stroller, Brian’s back recommends it. 😉 We were the only people in the waiting room for the first 45 minutes or so, and then it got really crowded really fast, just as we were finishing up. You can only have one phone, and it has to be turned off, so we left mine back at the hotel and packed Brian’s inside the diaper bag, hence the lack of photos. We were called to the counter – which looked like a ticket window at the movie theater – to show our passports and be sworn in. Brian was holding Gideon in his right arm, so the super sweet embassy officer let Brian raise his left hand instead. We all got a laugh out of that one! Brian and I answered a few basic questions, like what date we went to court, Gideon’s full American name, what date we were leaving Seoul, and in which city we would initially land in the States. Then we sat down again, and a few minutes later we were handed Gideon’s Korean passport (with the Visa inside) and told we could leave. Our social worker took a few final photos outside and asked us to send an update to foster mom via the SWS email as soon as possible, because foster mom was very worried for Gideon. So we returned to our hotel, and, while Gideon napped, I sent a long email with several photos, hoping to set his Omma’s heart at ease.
I realized later that night that we were almost out of strawberry Yoplait, which, along with bottles of formula, was now the only food Gideon would eat. So I took off for the 7/11 on the far side of Insadong, and I got soaked in the process! Anything to get bud to eat though.
Gideon slept through the night again. Out of all the hard things that first week held for us, sleeping through every night was such a gift!
FRIDAY, APRIL 6
We decided to skip breakfast, as it hadn’t been the easiest task all week. Out of nowhere – and much to our delight – Gideon gently took Brian by the hand, walked him to his stroller by the door, and laid his hand on the seat to indicate he wanted to get in. This was Gideon’s first real attempt at communication, and I immediately teared up. Little bud was asking us for something!
So we put Gideon in the stroller and stretched out that glorious walk as long as we could. We walked almost four miles to a French bakery, down by Cheonggyecheon creek, and all the way to Gwangjang Market. The sidewalks and shopping centers in Seoul aren’t the most stroller-friendly, so Brian got quite the workout carrying Gideon – still in the stroller – up and down flights of stairs! We grabbed coffee, for the first time in a LONG time, and walking around Seoul, coffee in hand, was like a breath of fresh air to my tired soul.
We returned to the hotel and settled for a slow evening of rest and initial packing before our long journey home the next day. Gideon still didn’t want to eat anything but his strawberry Yoplait, and he was still very sensitive to touching different textures, but for the first time, he actually played with his food! He made such a mess, but we were so proud of him. At one point, I think he even got the spoon stuck in his hair! Little Bud spent half an hour watching Brian screw the cap on and off a juice bottle, and after lots of practice, Gid finally did it all by himself! We watched a little Discovery Channel in English before wrapping up the night with bath, bottle, and bedtime for Gideon.
Gideon, ever our little ice cube in Seoul, woke up in the middle of the night because the AC didn’t kick off like usual. He finally fell back to sleep, but it took two full pairs of pajamas, a sweatshirt, and lots of snuggles!
SATURDAY, APRIL 7
I had a really early morning date with our suitcases, as I crammed everything we had brought, bought, or acquired in Seoul into the tiny hotel bathroom, along with our two huge suitcases and myself, to start the not-so-fun Tetris game we called packing! Our suitcases were bursting at the seams – literally, in the case of one of our suitcases, which came home in pieces – but I managed to cram everything, organize Gideon’s diaper bag, and plan what needed to stay out for our overnight layover in Dallas.
Once Gideon was awake and bundled up, we went for another long, really cold walk to find more bread at the French bakery we had visited the day before. We found the bread we were looking for, then took a quick break from the cold to FaceTime Brian’s family. Lisa and Oliver were there and got to “meet” Gideon for the first time! Brian tickled Gideon, and it was the first time he smiled or laughed outside of our hotel room.
Our friend Tiffany and her family had just arrived in Seoul to bring home their own little boy, and they graciously stopped by our hotel to see us off as we got ready to leave for the airport. I was insanely anxious, but her sweet encouragement and presence were just what I needed as I told myself it was only 40 hours. We had made it 14 months, and now there were just 40 hours between us and HOME!
Our bags barely fit in the taxi, but one hour and $75 later, we made it to the airport. Gideon absolutely panicked as soon as we got inside the taxi – after all, the last time he had been in a taxi, he had lost everything he had ever known – but he quickly fell asleep on Brian’s shoulder and slept the whole way to the airport. Taxis in Seoul blast the heat, so we were again very carsick by the time we got to the airport.
When we arrived at Seoul Incheon airport, Gideon started crying again. And crying and crying, and then crying some more. Finally, we discovered that Gideon stopped crying so long as he was moving in his stroller, so poor Brian walked four miles around and around inside the airport as we waited to check-in for our flight. Pro tip for adoptive families: You must see a gate agent to check in, as the automated passport machines don’t understand our kiddos’ Korean passports with American addresses. Most airlines start check-in 2 to 3 hours before your flight, and then close check-in an hour prior to take off, so be sure to leave plenty of time! We waited probably 40 minutes to see a gate agent, another 15 for security, and then had to make our way to our actual gate. I’d plan to get to the airport a good three hours before take-off.
Four hours after we left our hotel, we found ourselves with passports and plane tickets in hand, about to board our 14-hour flight to Dallas, Texas. But at the gate, just before we boarded our enormous plane, Gideon absolutely lost it. He started sobbing, screaming, kicking, and hitting. People started staring, secretly hoping they weren’t the unlucky ones who had to sit next to the unprepared white parents and their uncooperative Korean toddler.
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as I also felt a soft touch on my shoulder. I turned around to find another white lady with her arms outstretched to take a flailing Gideon from me. She had kind eyes, and she smiled as she explained that she and her husband, who also smiled at us, had adopted their son, also smiling at us, from Korea 10 years ago. The three of them were just visiting this time, but she told us she recalled like it was yesterday how anxious and overwhelmed they felt waiting to fly back to the United States with their new son, a son they didn’t really know yet. Gideon stopped crying in the lady’s arms, and I told her we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. The lady laughed and said it was okay, that it would come and we would soon start feeling like a family too. I tried (and failed) to hold back tears, deeply hoping she was right. She handed Gideon back to me, and she wrote down their seat numbers, just in case we needed someone to hold Gid or change diapers during the flight. She checked on us several times until we landed in Dallas.
Despite the initial meltdown as we boarded the plane, Gideon was surprisingly happy for most of the flight from Korea! The total boarding-to-deplane time was about 14 hours, and Gideon slept about 6 of those hours. He cried maybe 30 minutes total, we went through 5 bottles and two sets of pajamas, and the rest of the flight he played with his two empty Play-Doh cups and watched Kung Fu Panda on repeat with no sound. We were so proud of him!
We were not so proud of our flight crew, though. We are so very grateful for Adoption Airfare, as they helped us save $700 booking flights with humanitarian passes from American Airlines, and to save $700, we’d take the experience all over again. But we don’t have fond memories of that long trip home with American Airlines. We’re pretty low-expectation flyers, mostly the kind of people who smile at the attendant and then prefer to spend the rest of the flight sleeping and watching movies and minding our own business. My past job experiences have included waitressing, customer care, and nursing, so I’m also particularly empathetic with people who have to deal directly with the public all day, every day. So when I say the staff were rude, I’m telling you, they were rude. We had one sweet flight attendant who came back and literally apologized for how snippy and unhelpful the other staff were when she overheard me asking a question about rinsing out Gideon’s bottle and using the changing table. She even stuck extra snacks in our seatback pocket when she thought we were asleep. But the rest of the experience was far less than impressive, and the domestic flight was even worse.
In case anyone is debating, we bought a seat for Gideon (we had to, as he was over 2 years old), and it was one of the best purchases we’ve ever made. His third seat gave us the whole row, and I literally don’t know how we would have managed without him having somewhere dedicated to sit. The international portion of our flight home allowed us to hold Gideon during take-off and landing, which was wonderful, but it was also really nice for him to be able to sit or lay down between us the rest of the time.
We arrived in Dallas 14 hours later, overwhelmed with relief. A sweet Korean airport worker escorted us to the “best” (his words) immigration officer, which allowed us to skip ahead of the rest of the plane, and our immigration officer was pretty amazing! Gideon, for whatever the reason, thought Officer Yow was hilarious, and I cried (again) as Gideon officially became a citizen of the United States of America!
We made our way through baggage claim (we again got to skip the line because a security worker thought Gideon was “too cute to have to wait”) and then out into the greeting area, and I teared up again as we saw our friends Yun and Dae waving and cheering for us! They took our first photo on American soil, complete with American and Korean flags, and then they were the BEST hosts for three exhausted, emotionally weary travelers. Yun and Dae even gave us the sweetest sweater for Gideon, and it’s still one of my very favorites. It made its big debut during our airport homecoming!
SUNDAY, APRIL 8
That night in Dallas was a rough one. Gideon screamed all night long. By this point we had all been awake for going on two full days, and we were all at our wits end. But by some amazing miracle, we found ourselves packed and headed back to the airport again!
But the airport was even more dreadful. Gideon screamed through security, screamed through our whole breakfast, threw three containers of non-Yoplait yogurt, and refused any comfort or distraction. By the time we prepared to board our final flight back to Kentucky, Brian and I were both done, and I was melting down. We waited until very last to board, trying to spare the other poor passengers from Gideon’s earsplitting cries.
We found our seats, only to discover Brian and I had been split up across half the plane. We asked the flight attendant if Brian could sit in Gideon’s seat – meaning, obviously, to hold Gideon, like we did on the international flight – but she super sarcastically said, “Oh, you mean put your baby back in the emergency row alone?” By this point, I was emotionally over the travel, the day, everything, so I set my jaw, sat down, and started stuffing the diaper bag under the seat. I prepared Gideon’s bottle, pulled him on my lap, and let the tears stream down my face, totally overwhelmed and scared to be alone with our crying buddy for the very first time. But then the ridiculous lady came back, told me I was holding up the whole plane because Gideon wasn’t in his seat (they hadn’t even made the final call yet), and told me he needed to get buckled immediately. I tried to explain that he literally didn’t have the core strength to sit up that long by himself, but she insisted. So I buckled a terrified, clingy Gideon in the seat next to me and propped him up with all the jackets and blankets I could find. He slowly slumped lower and lower throughout the flight, his core literally not strong enough to hold him up, and the dang lady came back again to tell me that he wasn’t sitting up correctly. I literally had visions of being escorted off the plane, mid-flight, haha. Needless to say, we don’t have big plans to fly American Airlines again.
But, at last, we made it the final 2.5 hours home. Gideon stopped crying shortly after take-off, and then spent the remainder of the flight looking like a little old man with his slumped shoulders and tiny legs crossed. He entertained himself with the same two empty Play-Doh cups, and he only got nervous again as the plane made its bumpy landing into Louisville! We are seriously so proud of how well he did on our long, exhausting trip home (minus the overnight layover ;))!
It was a surreal feeling touching down in Louisville, our home, as a family of three. Homecoming day is the one little piece of post-custody you can almost envision, and I had daydreamed about this moment for literally years. We grabbed our American and Korean flags, dressed Gideon in his precious little sweater from Yun and Dae, and waited nervously to exit the plane and find all of our friends and family waiting for us…