Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Return

I am back in Jacksonville now, and have been for 26 days. Things have been non-stop busy and I am just now getting a chance to write. 

The trip back with 3 little ones by myself went really well. 

We left our house around 2:00 in the afternoon on the 23rd. Goodbyes were sad. It was hard to say goodbye to the ladies that have become such close friends. It was sad to leave the kids that my kids loved. It was sad to say goodbye to the Ugandans that we had seen every day for over a month and developed relationships with. It was sad to be leaving the country my son is from, and my heart has fallen in love with. It was just plain sad. (Don't let the smiles in the pictures fool you- haha)
Our WONDERFUL driver. Andrew preferred him to me. He would pick us up whenever we needed and went above and beyond to help us. He loved us well. We all miss him a lot.

This is the lady that took care of the guest houses we were in. She was SO sweet and did way more than I'm sure her job description required. Andrew loved her too! Apparently not here though...haha

Our next stop was the US Embassy. The boys waited in the car with our driver and I went in to pick up Jonathan's passport, visa, and packet of paperwork for customs in America. It all went smoothly and then we drove to the airport. The airport is a while outside of the city we stayed in. The boys did good even though it was right in the middle of nap time that we started our whole adventure! Andrew fell asleep standing up on the seat and laying on my arm. Crazy kid. 

Matthew was my helper. He did SO great. We started with him trying to pull our carry on. That didn't work so well so eventually he ended up pushing Andrew in the stroller. 

We got to the airport really early. We needed to make sure we didn't get stuck in holiday traffic, or random Ugandan traffic jams. We made it in PLENTY of time and had to wait in a waiting room for a while. Our driver left to go home and be with his family for Christmas and I was going to have to find a way to make the transition with all of our stuff from waiting room to check in. 

We made a friend in the airport that helped me with our big cart of luggage which was much needed. I don't think there would've been any way for me to push a cart filled with suitcases, pull a suitcase that didn't fit on the cart, and wrangle Matthew while he pushed Andrew in a third world umbrella stroller. The girl was from Denmark and very sweet. We made it through customs to leave easily. We had heard that we could be given some trouble at this point, but we had very nice people and made it through without any problems, ugly comments, or smirks (by them :)) We got a little snack (since we hadn't eaten since lunch and it was now around 7 at night. After our snack and diaper changes we packed back up and headed to the bathroom for Matthew and I. The bathroom trip went pretty smooth with everyone, and I only saw the cockroach of my trip there. After that we went through security (AGAIN for some reason...)and were waiting for our plane. While we were waiting I changed everyone into their pjs so that hopefully we could all fall asleep right away. Our flight took off at 12:30 so we were all REALLY tired. The flight attendants moved us to a row with an extra seat which was AMAZING because then everyone had room to lay down next to me. The boys slept A LOT this flight which was really good because they needed it, and it was a long flight. I'm not sure how I would've entertained them that long on my own. There was some turbulence at the end of the flight that got both Matthew and I sick, but as soon as we used our handy little paper bags we were good to go!

When we got to Brussells we went through security AGAIN! We had a little situation of Matthew and Andrew falling down on an escalator because there was NO elevator to be found for us and our stroller, suitcase, and three children. A man ran DOWN the escalator to help scoop them up which was a GOD send.

We made it to our gate again and waited a while. The boys had a chance to run around and we got some more snacks and did diaper changes. We boarded our plane finally and they had a bassinet for the floor for Jonathan which was really helpful because we didn't have the extra seat this time. The boys played a little, watched more movies, and slept again. It was another good flight. I cried as our wheels touched down in Newark. I whispered to Jonathan, "welcome to America." It overwhelmed me that my son was now on American soil. We got off the airplane quickly in Newark because I knew I was going to have to do customs which would take a while. We had 3 hours in Newark. When we went through customs we had to give our packet of papers from the embassy to the agent. He handed them to a police officer who took us to another room where we waited. I saw a man looking through the papers and then he called my name. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, but when I got to the counter he handed me Jonathan's passport and told me I could go. I was in shock that I didn't need to do anything, and just like the embassy...that was it. No confetti...nothing. :) We headed to baggage claim to get our bags and recheck them. I found a guy that worked there to help me, because if not I still would've been in Newark at baggage claim trying to figure out how to get my children and my bags where they needed to be. After that was done we had to catch a train to another terminal. Worst idea ever for someone traveling with 3 little ones. It went pretty well. As we walked around the corner I saw that we got to go through security AGAIN! I mean seriously... the amount of times I went through security for NEVER once having left the airport was RIDICULOUS! Each time I had to take the boys tennis shoes off and put them back on with Jonathan in the carrier. I also had to get out our liquids and my laptop and fold up the stroller. Absurd. The guy at the LAST security point I went through told me that the boys didn't have to take off their shoes... after they were off and I had done it a million times. I just laughed to keep from crying and moved on. We made it to our gate 12 minutes before they boarded. I had promised Matthew chicken nuggets, but we didn't have time. I felt bad, and he had a melt down, but I was not about to miss our flight to Jacksonville for some chicken nuggets. :)

The plane to Jacksonville was a little one. Matthew sat on one side of the isle with a stranger who was very kind to him, and Andrew, Jonathan and I were on the other side. Everyone was exhausted and fell asleep (except me). When we landed I could hardly wake up the boys. They were GONE! We had to gate check all of our stuff so the airline just sent it to baggage claim since it was our last stop which was really nice. 

As we walked SLOWLY (sleepy kids don't move fast) through the airport in Jacksonville my mind was racing. We had made it!! Traveling from Africa to America with 3 little ones had happened! We were all alive and not too bad actually. I was excited to see Adam. I was wondering if anyone would have ventured out on Christmas Eve to welcome us home at the airport. I was in awe of the fact that God had written THIS story for us from before time began...and how I think He's a little crazy and A LOT faithful. 

As we rounded the corner and I saw Adam I started to cry. I cried because I knew I was finally not on my own anymore, and crying was okay because there was someone there to step in for me. I also cried because behind Adam was a big group of people that had come to welcome us home and to meet our little boy! Some of my favorite faces were there and ones that have walked different aspects of this journey with me. People I needed to see as encouragement to my worn out body and mind! They had balloons, signs, smiles, hugs, sweet words, and even a dozen chocolate frosted Dunkin Donuts. This may come as no surprise to you, but I'm crying writing this. What you all did that came to the airport on a night that is usually spent in tradition with families will never be forgotten by this mamas heart. Thank you. My sweet friend Carrie took are some of them.

Sweet friends.
Waiting for us...

This little boy missed his daddy!

 Meeting Pops
 Enjoying his donut. :)
 Some of Matthew's friends that were there.

 When we finally made it home that night, my house was decorated for Christmas thanks to some friends.
 Cutest little tree ever.
From friends who couldn't be at the airport. By the way this has not moved since we've been home. I love it and have no idea what else to do with it. :)
Our sweet boy's first night at home.

Adam had cleaned. Amy made us a DELICIOUS Christmas Eve dinner. My house seemed like it was fit for a queen after living in Africa. I couldn't get over how nice it was. :) After the boys went to bed Adam's family helped wrap Christmas presents that had traveled to Africa and back for the boys. I finally got a shower and collapsed into bed. It was so soft. The mattress in Uganda was...well...not so soft. I was out before I knew it...Adam said I was saying some funny things but I hardly even remember laying down. The boys slept to a decent time the next morning and we got up to celebrate Christmas!! Talk about a crazy return, but I think it was just what I needed. If the day after getting home had been normal I think I would've had a hard time. My heart was sad to leave Africa, so celebration was a good thing to come home to. One of my FAVORITE Christmas traditions is reading the Christmas story. After Matthew's first year Adam and I talked about how it needed to be more kid-like so it wasn't above their heads. Adam came up with something wonderful we have done for a few years now that I LOVE. He reads the story and we all play different parts. The kids love it and it helps them interact and pay attention instead of only staring at the presents waiting for them. :)

 Christmas day was great. It was fun to just be with family again. I also spent part of the day packing because the day after Christmas we drove to my parents house in North Carolina. This really helped with my jet-lag because every day around 3 in the afternoon I wanted to crawl into bed, but because there was family and fun things to do it kept me going! Not one single nap! :) It was so good to be with my family. Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Grandparents...everyone came. It was fun to have them meet Jonathan and to have some excitement to return home to...not just normal days. My brother who graduated this December with a degree in photography was there so...why not get a picture of all 5 of us together?! Thanks Max!

When we got home my sweet small group leader had cleaned the house again and stocked us up with groceries...and gotten me flowers. :) It was another wonderful surprise that helped my heart! Thanks Janet! I have been trying to get settled since being home. I'm not sure laundry has been caught up on yet fully. We seemed to have lots of doctors appointments, figuring out how to finalize the adoption here, home study visits etc. since being back. One thing I don't like about America is the pace of life and I feel like despite my plan ahead efforts to not get sucked up into it...we are right in the midst of it. I'm trying to figure out the balance. One of my favorite things about Africa was my NEED to abide in the Lord...and the opportunities to do that. I feel like in America I can have a comfortable enough life without NEEDING God moment by moment (false...but how I feel sometimes) and a busy enough schedule to not be able to have that time even when I want it. I am trying not to get frustrated...instead trying to figure out how to make my desires a reality. Part of the reason I felt like my heart was most at home in Africa was because I abided in the Lord...and that is how it should no surprise I felt FULL! I'm thankful for that time away to make me realize that, and I'm thankful that God will teach me how to do that here in America as well. 

Today is the day that we should've been returning home with the original tickets we had purchased. I have thought every day since being home that I was still supposed to be in Africa...and I have missed it. Today has been pretty hard knowing that from now on I won't be able to think that...and accepting that I am home now and Africa is a LONG way away. I am thankful to be reunited with friends and family here. I am also grateful for a husband who is understanding of me even when he doesn't understand me sometimes. Third culture kids are complicated...and me getting to live in Africa a while opened that up a little again. Here are a few pictures of Jonathan. It's crazy that I can post as many as I want out world. :)

Just a quick note that I don't have time to go into right now...WOW- this kid is growing and developing SO rapidly!! He can sit up, eat food, want mommy over other people, enjoy bath time, cry when he wakes up...all of these are miracles I celebrate daily!! 

 Grandma Great

 With my cousin...
 These boys have my heart...I'm nervous for their teenage years.

 Getting used to a car seat pretty well I'd say...

Thank you for all of your prayers while we traveled. God heard and answered. I'm thankful for you and your support of our family. We feel so loved!