On November 13th, I (Barry) travelled with Lisa’s parents back to Russia after a very hectic and busy 30 day waiting period (see previous post). It was very hard to have to go back without Lisa after looking forward to making the trip together for so long leading up to it, but I knew I had to get our son home no matter what. After flying for a full day and losing 10 hours we arrived in Volgograd EARLY in the morning (middle of the night) on the 15th. Based on our court decree we could pick up Elijah on the 16th, so we intentionally set up our flights to be there early enough to be able to visit him one day before taking him away from all he has ever known to hopefully ease the transition for him a little.
The first hurdle we ran into once we arrived in Russia was that only 3 of our 5 suitcases actually made it to Volgograd with us, and one of the missing ones was Elijah’s, which had all of his clothes (except one outfit, since I did think about this possibility) and all the scarves that my mom hand made for gifts to give the caregivers at the orphanage and the workers that would be helping us. Fortunately the two missing suitcases made it the next afternoon, so we had all we needed to go pick him up the next morning…so I thought. As I was going through the clothes to prepare for the exciting morning ahead, I realized that the brand new snow suit we had bought Elijah a couple months before (it was in the 30s in Volgograd, and they bundle up the kids even when it is like 60 outside, so not having a snow suit was out of the question) was not in his suitcase. After checking and double checking all of our suitcases, I had to accept the fact that it had been taken from the suitcase at some point while it was ‘lost’. Soooo, we went out and bought a new snow suit at a place near our hotel, and once again I was ready to pick up our son the following morning.
Hurdle two came the next morning, and it was a big one. We were getting ready, anxiously waiting for a phone call in the hotel room from our coordinator to let us know when she would be there to pick us up to go to the orphanage. The phone rang and it was her, but she didn’t seem happy. She said, “I have bad news, can you come down to the lobby?”. We went down, and she said that the judge who had to sign the decree that day allowing us to get the documentation necessary to pick up Elijah, was sick, and there was nothing we could do until Tuesday! (This was Friday) What a shock! All of a sudden instead of getting to have my son in my arms for good within a couple of hours, it was going to be four days of waiting around. Not to mention that we were scheduled to fly to Moscow on Tuesday evening because it was supposed to take a few days to process his passport information in Volgograd. It was a hard four days, but we got to visit him each day except Sunday.
Tuesday finally arrived and it was absolutely crazy. Our coordinator and translator managed to get everything that was supposed to take 3 days done in a matter of a few hours (it did involve me having to pay the passport office lady an ‘expidition fee’ to get it done in the same day, which I was assured was normal in Russia).
We picked up Elijah a little after lunchtime, and even though it was hard thinking about him leaving all that he knows, it was the best feeling in the world to walk out of the orphanage gate with him, knowing that he would never have to sleep at the orphanage again.
This is us leaving the orphanage!
We made our flight to Moscow just a couple hours after we picked him up, and everything there went much more smoothly. He was a great flyer, and despite only sleeping about 1.5 hours of the 10 hour flight back to NYC, overall he did fine.
Just when I thought we were in the clear and finally on US soil, hurdle #3 happened. We only had a one hour layover in JFK airport, and we were going to have to go through immigration (with someone that we hadn’t left with), get our bags at baggage claim, go to another terminal in a separate building, recheck our bags, go back through security, and catch our flight. Hard enough even if you aren’t in the worst airport in the world to navigate (seriously I don’t know how anyone who doesn’t speak English would ever get where they needed to go in JFK, because it was hard for us and we can read what few signs there are). Anyway, we got split up in immigration because I had Elijah, so Lisa’s dad took all of our carryons with him, so I could carry Elijah through. He just handed me mine and Elijah’s passports out of my backpack and went through another line. When I gave the already disgruntled looking agent our passports and the packet of documents I was told to present when we entered the US, he flipped them open and his only words to me were, “Where is she?”. I was at a loss for words, “What?” I asked, confused. “Where is she,” he said as he flipped Lisa’s passport around and showed me her picture. Lisa’s dad had handed me Lisa’s passport instead of mine (we had them both in the same bag with all our other important travel documents, and had left hers in there in case it was needed with me travelling without her). So there I was at border control, with a Russian child, and someone elses passport…and not mine. He seemed very angry, and when Lisa’s mom saw what was going on, and brought me my passport from the other side of the gate, it only made things worse, because then he said “why does this lady have your passport??”. Even though I explained the situation, he said, “I can’t say that you’ve officially done anything wrong, but it’s protocol that we report all occurrences like this, so please come with me.” Great…now we’ve already burned half of the time we have to catch our flight, and I have to go to some back room and explain why I have someone else’s passport. After another 10 minutes of hearing me talked about in third person among the guards, I got Lisa’s passport back, and we were on our way. The flight was already boarding by the time we got to our gate, and we walked straight on and then it was on to Atlanta, and then to Dothan. Elijah slept from the time the wheels left the ground at JFK until we got home.
We got back to Dothan on November 24th, and went straight to Healthsouth to see Mommy before we even went home. We brought Lisa home the next day and we have been a family of three at home ever since. It has been quite an adjustment for all of us trying to figure out the logistics of Elijah’s schedule and working out how we get everything done that we have to around the house with Lisa’s condition as well, and me returning to work. Our families have been great about helping us, while maintaining enough distance so that Elijah can get attached to us.