South Africa: Day 49, London, Chicago, and Home

Tuesday, February 23 (continued from Day 48)

Even with the lights off at 2:00 AM, it was hard to get to sleep. The plane was unnaturally warm and people seemed to have been revived by their ridiculously late dinner. Tisetso was definitely ready for sleep, so we, for the first time ever, had to figure out how to get this kid to sleep within the 2.5 square feet we all resided in. He didn’t want to stretch out, so he tried sitting up for a few hours. He kept waking up, which was no good. After some convincing, I suggested he lay across our laps. It took a little maneuvering, but he ended up with his head in my lap and his feet in Brian’s. 

With that settled, I was able to actually doze off for a little bit. My sleep was interrupted by crazy turbulence over Zambia which, if you remember our flight from London to Johannesburg, I do NOT like. I got super upset at myself for being unable to fend off a panic attack. I was trying to breathe and not freak out, with a kid in my lap. I was preaching Truth to myself, but was having a hard time holding onto it when the next massive bump hit. At one point, Tisetso woke up freaking out in his sleepy stupor and with Brian sleeping, I was left to comfort a kid while freaking out myself. It went well. (Was that convincing?)

After a night of off and on sleep, we woke up at 5:30 to the breakfast carts getting pulled out. These flight attendants were going to serve us dinner and breakfast if we wanted it or not, regardless of the hour! I couldn’t believe each of us had gotten any sleep, let alone more than 10 minutes. Brian and I forewent the breakfast as we would be landing at Heathrow and wanted a proper meal. Tisetso was only interested in candy, and because it was a special occasion of traveling for 29 hours, we obliged. 

When we landed at 7:00 AM, we were ushered to another security checkpoint. Unfortunately for us, we were not on our game as far as liquids were concerned, since rules were far less stringent at our departure point. We had some medication we had to bring with us, so we were concerned about getting that through security. Our concern for that getting through caused our brains to not remember any other liquids in our luggage. Out of our three backpacks, two rolling suitcases, and one purse, only my backpack made it through without being checked. It ended up being a 45-minute delay. The poor security officer who got us was flustered, the woman in charge of the team was downright rude, and we were embarrassed and tired. It made for a lovely combination.

After the frustrating ordeal of the security checkpoint, we headed to an area with bathrooms and restaurants. We each took a turn going and changing or freshening up before grabbing breakfast. Tisetso changed out of his Ninja Turtles pajamas into warmer clothes (we were now in winter weather). Tisetso requested lunch for breakfast. I honestly didn’t care what we ate at that point, as long as it was real food! We found a spot and had instant sticker shock. After spending 6 weeks with the exchange rate insanely in our favor (17 to 1), it was painful to be on the opposite end of it all (1 to 1.5). After paying $50 for breakfast equivalent to what we would have pay $10 for in South Africa, we headed to some benches to rest. Our next flight to Chicago didn’t leave until 12:15 PM, so we had some time to rest.

At the benches, Brian laid down for a nap. Out of the three of us, he had gotten the least amount of sleep. I was tired, but occupied myself with writing. Tisetso, who was beyond tired at this point, was needing a nap. I told him if he kept his eyes closed for 10 minutes, he could play with his iPad. He was excited to prove me wrong and not fall asleep—until he did. I definitely patted myself on the back for being so awesome at this whole parenting thing.

After short naps, we checked the departures board and found (not surprisingly enough) that our gate was far, far away. We hauled our stuff onto a train and headed to an extension of the terminal. Then we trekked to the farthest reaches of the terminal to our gate. When we arrived, there was a massive sea of people. I couldn’t believe how many people were on the flight! In a moment of realization, I remembered the last time we sat at that same gate, we were headed to meet our son. It felt like things had come full circle as we sat there with our son.

Once again, our amazing kid got us priority boarding (thanks, again). We got on our last flight to home. I felt the fullness of that truth as I buckled my seat belt. My moment of zen and tranquility was abruptly interrupted by a family with three young girls getting into the two rows in front of us. The girls (and probably their parents), as we would discover over the next 7 hours, were absolute terrors. 

Our plane was on the runway, ready to take off, when the flight attendant had to come over and reprimand two of the girls in front of us. They had unbuckled and were standing and jumping on their seats. The flight attendant told them they had to buckle up and she wasn’t telling them again. I wasn’t sure who to root for. If they did buckle up, we could take off. If they didn’t, they would probably have to get off the plane. It was a tough call in my brain (even only having sat by them for 30 minutes), but they ended up sitting down and buckling. 

When we took off, I felt sad to leave England. I loved our time there before our adventure in South Africa (more to come on that later) and have always loved Great Britain. I was also super excited to get home and sleep in my bed and drive on the right side of the road and be able to buy more than two days worth of groceries at a time.

Our flight home was turbulent for about an hour and a half (ugh) and filled with those crazy girls jumping over the seats, staring at us (like staring), and screaming/yelling. It almost felt longer than the flight over the whole continent of Africa! We watched our shows, read some books and magazines, and tried to take little naps. I wasn’t too concerned with sleeping as my plan was to arrive home as tired as possible.

When we landed, I couldn’t believe it! The last time we were at O’Hare, Brian and I were just the two of us, (somewhat) ready to take on an adventure that would change our lives. We landed looking rough, with bad breath, and needing a shower. What a change!

We departed the plane and headed for the massively long immigration line. Because we had Tisetso with us, we couldn’t just hop into the fast-moving line for returning citizens. We waited for about 45 minutes in line before we were seen by a friendly border control agent. That part of it all was actually quite easy. We then had to figure out where to go to get Tisetso’s visa reviewed and approved.

After finding the right spot, we put our paperwork on a pile and sat in some seats by a desk. It seemed a little too informal to be where people were welcomed to the US. At this point, we were so tired that sitting this long was a danger to turn into nap time. While waiting, there was a woman from another country who was getting her visa reviewed. One of the guys in charge yelled at her to get her kids under control and that if she wanted to come to this country, she’d have to keep them under control. He then proceeded to swear up a storm and then went to the bathroom. It was a little nuts because her kids were really not terribly out of control, but were running around in an empty open area as kids do. I’m presuming they had been on the plane for a while and had energy to burn. I really wanted to go up to her and apologize for the idiot, but was too tired to move.

When our name was called, we went up to the counter, answered a few questions, got Tisetso's visa signed, and then were told we could go. We pushed our carts out of the arrivals gate. Because we weren’t allowed to have our cell phones on in that area, we were able to sneak up on my parents who had come to pick us up. They were so sweet and greeted Tisetso with a Batman balloon anchored by a puzzle. He loved it! 

I was so good to see them! It was really exciting to introduce my son to my parents. He was excited to finally meet them, too, as he had looked at their pictures in his family book and talked to them briefly on Skype from South Africa.

We exchanged hugs, put on winter coats because we now needed them, and headed out. With our luggage loaded, we headed into the Chicago rush hour traffic. Brian was a trooper being the designated driver while I fought to stay awake. Tisetso crashed immediately in his new carseat. 

Our only stop on our way home was to grab dinner at Portillo's. Tisetso loves hot dogs, so I knew it would be a hit. We got there around 6:30, ate our food, talked a little, but mostly stared into space. My mom and dad were staying in a hotel, so we said good night there and headed back out into the night to introduce Tisetso to his new home. Brian had been especially nervous about how he would like being in the home we love so much (scared, overwhelmed, generally opposed), but Tisetso ended up being so tired that he wasn't able to be any of those things, so that was a relief.

Posted on May 4, 2016 and filed under adoption, In-Country Time, South Africa.