We arrived in Chicago quite early (to beat Chicago rush hour traffic) and since we couldn’t check our luggage (ahem, cough, 20 items) until 5:30pm Chicago time, we spent a few hours of the afternoon at a Barnes and Noble with both Tony and I’s parents as well as a dear friend from our small group in Pasadena, CA who just moved to Chicago and wanted to visit with us before we left the country. It was bittersweet to see Sam run laps around the bookstore with each of his grandparents… playing with toys, finding the lego table, going up and down the escalator (a hundred times), and sweet talking his grandparents into a sip of tea or a bite of a cookie. Eventually, we made the trek to O’Hare in our three-vehicle caravan where we pulled up to the International Departure area and Tony was greeted by a porter who made our trip very very comfortable. We then proceeded to unload our belongings onto carts and haul them inside. (Thank you Uncle Max for the hp touchpad that we put videos on for Sam!)
One of the many things I love about Tony is his sincere warmth towards strangers. I honestly think that it was his warmth towards the Bulgarian man helping us that then lead to all of his co-workers at the ticket desk going above and beyond to help us. Not only did the nice woman checking us in try to make it so we could have a block of four seats between the three of us (two paid seats) but she also checked a few of our ‘carry on items’ like our pack-n-play and Sam’s suitcase. Normally, this would be an extra fee – but she went out of her way to make it a good experience for us. They ended up not even weighing our 20 items…. which on one hand was awesome, but on the other hand, made us regret leaving out several ‘heavy’ but cherished items for our journey east. It would’ve been fun to see that almost all of the boxes were exactly at the 50 lb. limit. We eventually said goodbye to all four grandparents and tearfully (and as bravely as we could) made the march down the security line.
We had our stroller with us so we could get Sam to sleep before we boarded our 10:15 flight. Unfortunately, he woke up just as we were about to take off. But we were able to distract him in the huge space between Tony and I that spanned two empty seats. (Thank you God!!) We seemed to be mostly surrounded by other passengers who had an extra ounce of grace and patience for our sweet Sam which made the travel that much easier. We did get Sam to sleep for a 4-5 hour stretch on the plane and I’m convinced that he would’ve slept longer (across his two seats) had he not woken himself up with his terrible cough.
We arrived in our connection destination (after our 10 hour flight) with just enough time to get through security, re-charge our phones, re-fuel Sam, and get back on the remaining one hour flight to our new ‘home.’ All of our luggage had made it to our final destination. And I tiredly watched Tony as he single-handedly (in 10 minutes flat) removed every luggage item from the belt to a large pile and then carried it over to the customs belt… and then lifted it off the customs belt. He’s pretty much my hero. While he was doing this, I walked Sam around in the stroller until he fell asleep again. This time, he stayed asleep while our three friends had shown up to load up our belongings into their vehicles and drive this tired trio back to our flat. We proceeded to clumsily make our way to the elevator to take us up to our 14th floor apartment. Sam woke up just as we walked through the door and due to his extreme tiredness and the disorientation of waking up (yet again) in a strange and unfamiliar place, he began to cry/scream which continued for another 45 minutes while the four guys took turns riding up the elevator with our piles of boxes/belongings. I tried to calm Sam the very best I could – but he was distraught over his Baba leaving for each additional trip of stuff. He screamed: “Baba, baba, baba!” (For us, one indication of Sam’s anxiety throughout this transition has been his fearfulness when one of us leaves the room… even when we were at our home in Holland.) When the guys finished their work, our friends prayed with us and then we said goodnight. We closed the door and found ourselves in this strange, new apartment with an upset and overtired son and very tired parents. We gave Sam a bath in hopes that it’d calm him and de-germ him from plane travel — and then we took him in our room and laid him down between us. And yes, we utilized a Sesame Street episode to calm him down to a manageable state. I’m not sure how long we waited, but I woke up (after dozing off prematurely) to a sleeping Sam who was contentedly resting between us. While this is not our usual sleep situation, we felt like it was important for Samuel to feel the security of being right there with us.
That first night, Sam slept from 11pm-10am which was much needed. I think sometime around 3am, I woke up and just needed to cry and release all of the stress and changes that we had just walked through. I cried, I prayed, I read TRUTH, I journaled: (and here is a snippet of my journal entry from 3:16am)
I feel a lot of fear. What if I hate it here? What if I never learn the language? What if we are jeopardizing the emotional stability of our children… or our marriage? What if we regret this decision but we feel stuck in it? What if Tony loves it and I don’t? Or vice versa? What if the achiness in my heart never dulls? What if I’m not as brave as I hoped I’d be or adaptable as I professed to be?………………………..Lord God, cover over my broken heart and overwhelmed mind as we settle into a new normal…………….Lord God, grow me through this season that we just stepped into and now I’m nervous about…. I need you more than ever. Come Lord Jesus and be enough for me. Make me into the woman of God that you desire me to be… whether it’s the way that I would’ve chosen or not. You are good and worthy of my life, Lord God. Cast out my fear and anxiety and replace it with your PERFECT and INCREDIBLE love. Give me JOY in this season…. in unexpected ways.
and I went back to sleep. Joy comes in the morning, right Mom? And indeed, I did wake up with a better perspective than I had had during the dark and lonely night before.
But as I looked over a city skyline slamming against the Mediterranean Sea, I knew this (city life, life overseas, raising our children cross-culturally, being away from family and friends) was going to take a long time to get used to. But thankfully, we are not on this adventure alone… and we have blessed beyond measure by the prayers and encouragement of others.