We did not sleep our first night as parents. I watched the children militantly, monitoring their breath, their heartbeat, their temperature. I was their mother, their co-mother, the other mother in their lives. The thought continued to circle around me, enveloping me like the humidity.
We ate white watermelon, toast, and eggs for breakfast. Our daughter ate so much that the Haitian waiter exclaimed, “What a good sign! This is such luck!” Our son ate a small bit of toast.
We rushed through the morning with plans to catch a later stand-by flight. There were more papers to sign, a lawyer to see, a consulate to visit. I slogged through it all in a daze of confusion. I could grasp clarity only long enough to consider that it was not too late for something to go wrong, wrong for us, that is — that the children could be denied an exit from the country or our papers could be lost. I had no basis in reality for these fears. Barbara repeatedly assured us that all would go well for us. Still, they burdened my consciousness in shifts, vying for space with thoughts of the heat and its pervading weight.
Finally, just after a visit to the American Consulate, where we reveled in the air conditioning, Barbara announced that it was time to go to the airport. We were finished. The idea of it seemed almost absurd at that point.
We arrived only a few minutes before the flight was to board. They weren’t going to let us on, leaving us to stay another night in Haiti. I told the people at the airport that we had a family emergency we needed to get to in America. After three years trying to adopt, most of those months waiting for these two precious children, getting home with no further delays felt like a family emergency. They handed us four tickets and instructed us to run. We hoisted the kids onto our sides and did exactly that. We arrived to find we were the last to board; they were waiting for us.
It occurs to me know that with all I was thinking — how to get us all home safely, that I would do anything to make sure we were on that plane — there was a tornado of thoughts not receiving my attention: the people we were leaving, the country the kids would likely not see again for a long time, the changes they would soon face.
For me the flight to Florida was uneventful. Our daughter fell asleep just after we left the ground and remained that way the entire flight. Any attempts on my part to put her down in the seat next to me were met with a tighter grasp on my neck and a hearty,”No!” The flight attendants, perhaps sensing the nature of this tenuous bond, left us alone. My husband, on the other hand, spent the entire flight running back and forth between his seat and the bathroom, tending to his needs. By the time we landed, they were both exhausted and we were out of diapers. As we exited the plane the lady who sat closest to the bathroom patted my husband on the back and proclaimed, “You are a good pappa.”
From our gate at Miami International we were herded to Immigration, a glass-walled room filled to the brim with people awaiting clearance to enter the country. We prepared for a several hour wait. Maybe it was the two sets of dimple-cheeked toddlers in our arms, perhaps the sight of my bedraggled husband and sleeping son — whatever it was, we were called to the front within about 20 minutes. After two minutes of questions and a promise to raise good citizens, our children were declared American citizens without fanfare.
We walked towards the main part of the airport, desperate to find a store with diapers before heading over to our in-airport hotel. Suspending what I knew to be true, I half-hoped that we’d exit the walkway and find a congregation of well-wishers welcoming our children home with tears and laughter. There were families reuniting and lovers kissing, but our reception amounted to an airport staffer telling us she had no idea where we could get diapers. Truthfully, I can see now that it was probably for the best. A greeting might have been fun for us, but likely confusing for the kids.
Two hours and a great distance logged walking through an unfamiliar airport with a child on each of our hips later, we had diapers in hand and food in three of our bellies. We checked into our rooms at the hotel and fell right to sleep, our second night as a family and our children’s first night as Americans.