Friday, June 15, 2012

Up in the air.

Over the course of our first night together YH slept reasonably well--but as morning drew near he began to thrash. First his legs kicked, then his arms flailed, then his head whipped from side to side. His not-quite-awake little body rolled, and punched, and tried everything it could to make us (his new reality) retreat.

Eventually his mind caught up with his limbs and he opened his eyes.

Hello small child.
Hello small child I have known for less than 76 hours.
Hello small child.

He was eager to get out of bed. To run and explore and eat. To do anything but think about what was going on.

We had several hours to kill before we headed to the airport, so we ate breakfast and headed out to the closest palace to wander.

YH didn't want to be carried. He struggled in the ergo. He wanted to run, without holding anyone's hand. We didn't approve this plan. He screamed. Heads turned. We scooped him up quickly and walked. He struggled and then fell asleep in Sean's arms. People stared openly at our family. It was uncomfortable. I worried that passers-by were judging us, and we were falling short.

We entered the palace and I took YH from Sean so that he could go procure drinks and a snack for everyone. The big kids played hopscotch on the ancient paving stones as I sat on a nearby bench with YH on my lap. He woke up, and leaned into my chest. I stroked his back as he watched Miss A and Sweet Bubs laugh and chase one another.

On the bench next to me sat a young Korean woman in her late 20's with her companion--an older Korean woman. They stared at us. I smiled at them and looked away, resolute in my desire to escape any harsh glances.

The younger woman got up from her seat and came over to us. She said, with an American accent, "Your children are beautiful. All three of them."

I nearly wept at her kindness. She will never know how much that meant to me.

***                  ***

Our flight was scheduled to leave Incheon airport at 9:30pm. We opted to leave the hotel at 3pm and take a taxi-van to the airport. We would run the kids ragged in the airport in hopes that they would all sleep on the first, longest leg of the journey home to Texas.

Luckily our departure gate was very close to one of the indoor playground at Incheon. YH ran and played for four hours straight. Four hours.

At this point it was clear that as long as his body was moving, his wounded heart would be ok. If he allowed himself to sit still for more than a minute a look of pain would settle on his features. He would literally shake it off and jump up to run off somewhere.

I watched him and worried about what this would mean for the arduous flights ahead.

***                 ***

On the first flight--Incheon to LAX--YH had a seat between Sean and I in a middle row. My mom and the big kids were in their own row, just to the left of us. After an initial resistance to the seat belt YH settled down in a nest of blankets and tiny airplane pillows. Against all odds the plan worked and he fell asleep. He slept off and on for the majority of the 11 hour flight. It was supremely uncomfortable for Sean and I--as our arms were trapped by his heavy snoring body--but magnificent to behold.

When he would wake up he would fuss and mess around with all the knobs and headphones and buttons he could reach. He would loudly protest any restrictions to these activities.

I mention this because that behavior was in character with the YH we had come to know; and it was in stark contrast to his behavior on the second flight, from LAX to Austin.

***                ***

By the time we were ready to board our flight in LAX we were all hungry, tired and cranky. We were dirty and smelly. Our hair stuck up in weird tufts. We hated to be around one another but we were glued to one another in collective misery.

(Ain't travel grand!)

Little did we know that the 7pm Friday night flight from Los Angeles to Austin is in fact a giant happy hour in the clouds. A giant happy hour at the grossest bar you can imagine--and not gross in a fun dive-bar kind of way. No-- it was gross in the "Hey, is that the cast of the Real World over there?" kind of way.

A man and woman in the row in front of me began flirting with one another before take off. They downed several drinks in quick succession and their pre-coital banter grew ever louder. Her hair flipping was violent.

Across the aisle and behind Sean and Sweet Bubs sat a group of dudes who appeared to emulate the cast of "Entourage". They hooted and hollered and lived large over the duration of the flight.

My mom sat with Miss A several rows ahead of us. Their heads were barely visible in the sea of well coiffed youngsters discussing which bar in the warehouse district was the best.

And in the middle of all the boisterous, sexual energy-fueled, power hungry partying sat me and YH. Tired and wrinkled. Bags under my eyes and a travel-zit emerging on my jawline. Ignoring the seeping warmth on my lap from the leak in YH's diaper. Feeling the frenzied beat of YH's little mouse heart against my collarbone.

YH had shut down.

As soon as English became the only language being spoken around us he shut down.
He refused to sit in his own seat.
He was not leaving my lap.

His fists clenched my shirt with superhuman strength. He buried his face in my neck and refused any offer of food or drink. He scrunched up his eyes and hummed to himself until he fell asleep.
He did not move or shift position for the entire three and half hour long flight.

The woman in the window seat of our row said, "Wow--he's a great traveler! I hardly knew he was there."

A great traveler. Hardly knew he was there. How wonderful.


Not great, not wonderful.

Sad. Scared. Blocking it all out.

I have never not enjoyed a child's silence on a long flight--but this time, YH's motionless form broke my heart anew.

I said a prayer to the nameless deity in my head: "Let him get through this. Let him come out of this. Let him get through this."

***                   ***

And then we were home.
And he got through it.
And he came out of it.

And each day is better than the one before.


  1. Oh those travel days are rough! That broke my heart and I can so relate to all of it!

    About a year after Matthew came home, I went back on our computer and looked at the pictures of when my family met us at the airport. My aunt had taken tons of video that I had never watched. As I watched it, I was horrified. Of his blank stare, the absolute trauma of his face. I've never watched them again and I never want to. It was nauseating to relive that pain.

    I'm so glad to hear that every day is better with your son.

    1. We actually skipped taking pictures at the airport for that very reason! I realized that while the rest of us would probably be grinning ear to ear, YH's face might tell a very different story.

  2. I just wanted to thank you for sharing the story of your family, all 5 of them! You write so beautifully and I have teared up so many times reading your story and looking at your pictures. Thank you!

  3. We're still traumatized by our 16 hour flight alone with two non-happy babies, ha. And I'm so happy that each day is better than the one before...imagine where you'll be in six months, which is the standard time 'they' (whoever they are!) to really evaluate your new family.

    1. Oh MTL--we're still traumatized from a flight when Miss A was 7 months old! I know how hard that can be.

  4. You have a way with words Nora....I definitely tear up at the end of each of your posts. Thank you for sharing. Also, your "travel-zit" line made me chuckle :)

    1. Thank you Amy! Travel-zits are the bane of my existence. How am I supposed to be arrive in a swoosh of glamour with one of them growing on my chin???