Turbulence with toddlers: The long trip home from China


Choose your own adventure.

         A. Climbing Mount Everest.

         B. Running 26.2 miles.

         C. Traveling for 30 straight hours to bring your toddler home from China.

We’ve picked C—twice. And it wasn’t easy.

As I’ve mentioned before, John is not a fan of flying. And we’re not great travelers.

Add to that the difficulties that come with being a new parent and struggling to keep a child who barely knows you quiet for two flights—including one that lasts 14 hours. It’s either a horror story or the premise for a tedious reality TV show. Maybe it would be called “Turbulence with Toddlers” or “Parents in Flight.”

The promo for the show would feature a screaming child and angry passengers throwing pieces of pickled seaweed at a pair of bewildered parents who could barely remember the last time they had seen a bed or a shower.

During the show, maybe the father would spill a can of apple juice on himself in the first hour of the flight, leaving his clothes stiff and sticky for the next 13 hours.

As the minutes ticked by, the mother would feed a steady stream of lollipops, fruit roll-ups, gummy fruit snacks, M&Ms, and other snack food to her child. Then she’d let him unwrap every lollipop in the bag and drop the wrappers one by one onto the floor just to fill time.

The parents would lose track of how many times they murmured deliriously to themselves, “Every minute we’re closer to home. Every minute we’re closer to home.”

If the mother meekly asked a flight attendant for a new customs declarations form—lost in the aftermath of the apple juice spill—the attendant would say there were none left.

The child would issue his most hazardous diaper so late in the flight that all the bathroom trashcans would already be overflowing. Thank goodness for the Ziplock bags in the carry-on.

To make the show even more interesting, the parents would rarely pay for an extra seat for a child who was young enough to travel as a lap child. And the better episodes would involve a child who was more of an expert in screaming than sleeping.

If the family discovered that the last leg of the flight had been canceled due to an East Coast snowstorm, and that they would have to rent a car and drive through five states to get home—as we did on our trip home with Leo—well, at that point the show’s producers would just throw up their hands in despair and flee.

OK, so maybe “Turbulence with Toddlers” would never take off. But I’m no judge of what people want to watch on TV. After all, we watched Kung Fu Panda for hours on our flight home with Daniel a year ago, and—as long as it kept him entertained—I would have watched it for all 14.

When waiting adoptive parents ask us, “How’s the flight?”, there’s really only one answer.

It’s long.

And the layovers are almost worse than the flights.

But with a lot of board books, snacks, peek-a-boo, and as much sleep as we could coax out of each of our boys, we made it.

After the first trip home for Leo, John and I looked at each other in our jet-legged haze and said, “Never again.” A few weeks later we admitted to each other that we were starting to feel the pull to go back to China to adopt again. Even though we knew how long that trek would be, we also knew it would be worth it. And it was.

By the time we landed with Daniel, his formerly white socks were every color of the rainbow—stained by gooey fruit roll-ups. John and I were wiped out and barely able to speak.

We were done.

We were home.

And our little boy, snuggled fast asleep on his father’s chest, became a U.S. citizen the moment our plane touched down.

One year later, as we look back on that trip to become a family of four, and as I reflect on our first year with Daniel as our son and Leo’s brother, I can honestly say that the trip wasn’t even one of the most challenging moments for me as a mother of two.

As my husband says, “It’s not the adopting that’s hard. It’s the parenting.”

But we’ll take it—even at its marathon and mountain-climbing moments—with pleasure.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.