Wow! What a day! This was the big trip home and it was a 'BIG DAY' in more ways than one. In addition to going home and acquiring U.S. citizenship for the kids, it was just plain long. Our travel time was close to 30 hours and since we didn't get any sleep before we left, we were up for almost 48! But lets start at the beginning...
Our flight left Almaty for Frankfurt at 4:15 am on Saturday morning so we knew it would be a long night. After dinner on Friday night (see the entry for yesterday) Papa tried to entertain the kids while Mama got a head start on packing. This worked OK, but Temirlan couldn't stand it that he wasn't a part of everything going on and wanted to be right in the middle of the packing adventure. Of course Nikki can't let Temirlan do something out of her view so Papa had his hands full avoiding tantrums while letting Mama get some suitcases filled. So packing was even slower than usual while the kids were awake. I think we mentioned on our trip to Kazakhstan that three big suitcases and two carry ons was a lot to handle. Well, we now had our Kazakh rug and two additional travellers to corral half way around the world. The rug was placed in the vinyl carrying bag Mike bought (on Sasha's recommendation) at the green market. We bought the largest size bag available which allowed us to pack it full of the additional stuff we needed to take back. We were hoping to have less to carry back and even imagined that we might put a whole suitcase in the bag with the rug. However with the walker, formula, baby food, etc. we ended up with a tight fit even using the bag as additional suitcase room. The kids knew something was up as our belongings slowly disappeared while the suitcases grew big and heavy and, of course, were more difficult to get to sleep. This just gave us less time to get everything where it needed to be. However by about midnight or 12:30 we were packed and ready to go. Since Sasha was picking us up at 1:30 to make the airport on time, we only had about half an hour before we needed to start getting the kids ready to travel. So we had a (very) little bit of down time and then got the kids ready for the trip.
Sasha arrived at 1:30 and helped Mike wrestle the bags into his van. We had one last ride through Almaty and then arrived at the VIP terminal of the airport with plenty of time to get checked in. The VIP terminal costs an extra $50 or so per person (except Nikki) and we had the option of just using the regular terminal. However that was probably the best $150 we spent on the whole trip. Having extra help with the kids and baggage was well worth the cost. It was also in the brand new part of the airport terminal and had a spacious, comfortable waiting room. (If you go to Almaty, trust me and pay the VIP service fee--you won't regret it!) After getting checked in, we said goodbye to Sasha and hung around in the waiting room with another WPA family, Patricia Faust and her new son Anton (whom we had previously met at the doctor's office when we had our exit checkups). Anton played with Temirlan rolling a friction-powered car back & forth across the table. We had nice comfortable couches and even a big screen TV playing MTV Russia. The most difficult part of the airport was getting from the waiting room to the plane. When our plane was called we left the waiting room and waited in line for security for about ten minutes. The butterfly stroller had to be folded up to check at the gate so Mike had Temirlan and the stroller while Lyn had Nikki in the snuggli and the two wheeled carry-ons. So every hand was full of either luggage or a wiggling child! We travelled up an elevator, went through security, back down to the the first floor, and out to a waiting bus that took us out to our waiting Airbus 340 jet (Lufthansa airlines). On the plane we were able to get a bulkhead row with attachable bassinet for Nikki, so we settled into our three seats hoping for a nice quiet flight...
OK. Finished with the Cocoa Puffs. How long until Frankfurt again?
Unfortunately it just didn't happen. The biggest problem was that after waking up at 1:15 am, both kids were cranky from lack of sleep but too excited watching everything to sleep. Nikki wasn't too difficult and even slept for a couple hours in the bassinet. However when awake, she struggled wanting to crawl and explore the plane. Temirlan was more difficult at times. It was just hard for him to stay in our little area for the whole 6-hour trip. He did doze off a couple times in the middle of the trip, but near the end (a little over 1 hour to go), he really wanted to start running around the plane. Unfortunately the seat belt sign was on and we couldn't leave our area. He had short crying bouts throughout the flight but with about 30 or 40 minutes to go he really let loose! Of course Nikki then had to join in just out of solidarity for Temirlan. So when we landed, we decided to let the other passengers de-plane and then march our little army out as not to get in anyone's way. While good in theory, we couldn't have been more wrong. Since we were in the middle row, we didn't know that the plane stopped out on the tarmac instead of pulling up to a gate, so imagine our suprise when upon exiting the plane we see from the top of the staircase that they are holding both passenger busses for us! Not only did the kids serenade the plane with a screaming duet but we also were the last slow people off the plane. However, people seemed very understanding and I didn't notice any 'looks' aimed in our direction. (In Kazakhstan people always are very child-friendly and tended to offer help or at least sympathy when the kids were unhappy. We got the 'keep them quiet' looks when we got back to the U.S.).
Once off the bus, the umbrella stroller was worth its weight in gold! Temirlan loves riding in a stroller and was soon reasonably calm. Nikki was also better riding in the snuggli so we wearily paraded our now quieter troop through the airport looking for a quiet place to regain some energy. However we soon realized that a minor disaster had occurred: some of our supplies didn't make it off the plane with us! After a quick inventory, we found only two critical items gone: diaper wipes and Temirlan's sippy cup. (Looking back on the stressful end to that flight, we're lucky we didn't leave more!) We were informed that the cleaning crew wouldn't bring items found on the plane until we were long gone and there was nowhere to buy new without waiting in the long passport control line...so we just crashed at McDonalds and tried to at least keep the kids happy. At this point we were definitely at an emotional low tide as the prospects of another seventeen or so hours of travelling seemed 'unappealing' to say the least! Needless to say, Mike was the only one of us to emerge with dry eyes! Things did improve however as we found a quiet section in the lower level of the airport where Temirlan could run around and work off some energy. So Temirlan and Mike explored the airport while Nikki and Lyn regained some more energy.
We did however have one last curve ball thrown at us in Frankfurt. After checking through security (including document checks for the kids to make sure we were their legal guardians), we checked in at the gate. As with the first flight, we had three seats together (hopefully) in a bassinet row. Imagine our suprise when all three seats were scattered throughout the plane! Of course at the gate we heard the 'nothing we can do' story and they said that the flight attendants would see what they could do. Did I mention that at this point Temirlan was unhappy with the whole situation and now screaming at the top of his lungs?! We began to wonder how the passengers around him would fare since he was in a different section than us (just kidding!!). It was again very stressful, but the flight crew turned out to be excellent! The passenger next to our one bassinet seat didn't show up and the crew was able to move another passenger to put our three seats together! We even got the bulkhead bassinet row (that turned out to be perfect). A big thanks to that Lufthansa flight crew and to the guy who was willing to move! At that point we were wondering 'What next!', but getting our seats rearranged turned out to be the turning point of the trip. Temirlan cried (uh...screamed!) for the first 15 or 20 minutes of the flight, but soon calmed down and ate some snacks. The bassinet row was spacious enough that while Nikki slept in the bassinet Temirlan could sleep in a little bed we made him on the floor under the bassinet. Out of the nine hour flight, the kids probably slept a total of four or five hours! When awake, both kids were reasonably happy with only a few occasional sobs (usually when waking up from sleeping). Nikki and some returning U.S. soldiers behind us liked playing peek-a-boo for a while also. The only excitement was when the soldiers suddenly exclaimed 'Your baby! Hey! Your baby!' as they saw Temirlan try to go scurrying under the seats after waking up from a nap! In all a good flight, again helped the entire time by the excellent flight crew. Temirlan again cried on landing, but at this point it was no big deal because we were in Chicago, Illinois USA! (Almost home!)
Ahhh! This flight is a little better!
Are we there yet?...Are we there yet?...Are we there yet?...
Your answer should have been 'Yes'.
Once off the plane in Chicago, Temirlan again calmed down quickly when placed in the stroller (he loved the ride through the airport) and off we went. After an easy trip through passport control, we were escorted to the BCIS immigration line to process the children's paperwork. There was a long line of people arriving who would become U.S. citizens, but we and another adoptive family were placed at the front of the line! They took our 'diplomatic mail' packet from the U.S. embassy and called our name in only about five minutes. That was it! The paperwork was stamped and the kids were U.S. citizens! YEE-HA!!! We then grabbed our bags and took them through customs which again was no big deal. At this point it was even kind of fun to be pushing a loaded-down luggage cart with one hand and the stroller with the other! The customs people, like the passport control and BCIS, were professional and friendly so we had no trouble and after a short train ride we were standing at our gate to Columbus! We hung out at the gate and talked with another Columbus family with a little daughter who loved Nikki. Temirlan liked for Papa to take him on the moving walkway (again, and again, and again...). So our time in Chicago passed quickly and we were soon on our final flight to Columbus!
Temirlan cried on takeoff (what else is new!) but then both kids fell asleep on our laps. We also started to nod off so the one hour flight seemed even quicker and we soon headed into Port Columbus! However right before landing, Temirlan woke up and started screaming...and screaming...and SCREAMING! He was tired frustrated and just plain wanted off the plane (we were so thankful that he didn't reach this point until just a few minutes brfore landing). He screamed at the top of his lungs through landing, taxiing, and deplaning. He didn't even stop when placed in the stroller and nothing we tried comforted him at all! But then a funny thing happened...he lost his voice! He screamed continuously for so long that his voice just turned into a barely audible whisper. However, this just made him even more angry and determined to scream! This together with no sleep for 48 hours and overwhelming joy from arriving home was just too much for us and both Lyn and I just started laughing and laughing. So our waiting family saw something they didn't expect...two dead-tired, less-than-fresh-smelling parents laughing hysterically, a mute screaming two year old, and a snuggli-bound baby sleeping through the whole thing!!
Temirlan got his voice and personality back when we got home.
Playing with cousins Hannah and Mandy for the first time.
Mama-Ka! Mama-Ka! Look what I have, Grandma!
So that was our trip to Kazakhstan to unite our family. It truly was the adventure of a lifetime! Thanks again to our friends and family who gave us so much support during the process, to World Partners Adoption who made everything easy, to our new friends in Kazakhstan: Olga, Assia, Igor, Misha, and Sasha who always went the extra mile in all they did, and to YOU who care enough to read this story!!
Me Too, Me Too!! Paka-Paka!!