So, there we were in the hotel lobby, sitting around in various hotel-looking chairs and couches, watching Animal Planet and checking Matthew's flight status via Jeff's dad's laptop. Kyla and Steve and Jack arrived, followed 5 minutes later by...SURPRISE!...my sister Ann Marie. They wanted to keep it a surprise! I was freaking out and crying and laughing and hugging her so hard. I was SO HAPPY she was there to experience this moment with us! We were laughing because all along while they were driving down, I was calling/texting Steve, then calling/texting her, when the whole time, they were in the same car together! At one point, when I was telling Steve the address of the hotel, he said, "Hold on, I have to get a pen. Am...I mean Kyla...do you have a pen?" But I didn't even notice his slip-up! Another time, I asked him what road he was on, and then I was confused about why he was on that particular road if he was coming from NJ. He did a good job of bullshitting his way through an answer...one that I actually bought!
We left for the airport shortly thereafter. We didn't have anything better to do; might as well settle in and stake our claim to the seats that were as close as possible to the doorway they'd come through! John and Donna met us there and videotaped the entire experience...thank goodness for that videotape. It's something I will always cherish. Even though Kyla did a phenomenal job getting 152 super-awesome photos that really captured the moments leading up to Matthew, the moment we met him, and our departure with him in tow...and everything in between!
I was so nervous, I started feeling ill. Especially the last half-hour or so before he was due to arrive. In one of the pictures, my mother-in-law Peg is sitting next to me rubbing my head and my back. (I did end up getting a bad cold for the first 10 days Matthew was home, starting at that moment, pretty much!) John videotaped us meeting with Margie to do the agency paperwork (this was well before Matthew arrived). He taped that moment that both of us signed the adoption decree, which states that we are authorized representatives of Catholic Charities and that Matthew is a ward of Catholic Charities (they are his legal guardian), and as such, we have the power to make all decisions regarding Matthew (medical and otherwise). We have been advised to photocopy this document and carry it with us wherever we go (typically people just stick it in the diaper bag), in case we have to "prove" that Matthew is indeed ours (it's complicated because legally, we are not yet his parents...we are acting as his "guardians" on behalf of Catholic Charities). So that moment of signing the paperwork was a pretty big deal.
And even though the government may not recognize us as his official parents yet, in our eyes, he's already ours! Six months from Matthew Day, we will be able to have a formalization hearing that deems him legally our son according to the good old U.S. of A.
But enough of all that. Back to the good stuff.
The plane arrived at about 11:30, and we anxiously watched as people streamed down that ramp and through those double-doors. There was one wave of people (with a disappointing realization that the boys were not among these people!), then another, and then another. That final third wave of people included our boys and their wonderful escorts, Mr. Kim and Ms. Park (a married couple). I remember seeing Matthew for the first time...I was crying and smiling and had my hands to my mouth in disbelief that this moment was finally happening. Our son was finally HOME! And he had a big crowd of well-wishers (complete with Ava's big orange "WELCOME MATTHEW" sign!) to welcome him. Most of whom were crying as hard as I was.
I knew which kid he was (the bigger one! ha ha!). Margie walked over to the escorts and put her finger over Matthew's head and was pointing at him, saying, "This is Matthew. Kathleen and Jeff, this is your son!" But I already knew from the photos we had received. We have that first moment we saw him preserved in a photo (thanks, Kyla!)...the very first time we saw our son. The emotions are very difficult to describe, so I'll leave it at that.
Then came "the transfer." Matthew was stuck to Mr. Kim like glue and was unwilling to let go. I had to peel him off Mr. Kim and then took him into my arms. Matthew was crying and was definitely out of sorts. But oh so cute! He immediately found his thumb and then settled for a while, looking around at all the action and wondering "what the heck is all this commotion about? And why are these darn lights so bright?" He cried on and off the entire time (we lingered for about an hour before we left for our car). The other little boy, Aaron, was quiet as a mouse and looked very calm. But Jeff and I were able to empathize with what he must have been going through, so we didn't take offense that he didn't seem thrilled to see us and didn't necessarily want to go to us (and where did that nice Mr. Kim guy go, anyway, Matthew probably wondered). Whenever Matthew really revved up, I'd move him physically away from the crowd, patting his bottom and "ssshhhh"ing him and stroking his amazingly thick (almost adult-like!) hair. He has so much of it! Oh, and he seriously had about five layers of pajamas/clothing on; my mom recommended removing some of them, that maybe he was so fussy b/c he was hot. Sure enough, we peeled them off of him; he was all sweaty. Margie tells us that the Korean people like to bundle their babies up in several layers, routinely (not just for long plane rides)!
Mr. Kim spoke limited English and was able to tell me the last time Matthew had the bottle, how much he had, etc. I kept repeating to Mr. Kim "com-som-ee-dah" (my attempted phonetic version of "thank you" in Korean). I even hugged him, which I'm not sure was culturally appropriate to do or not but I simply couldn't resist. Mr. Kim and Ms. Park told us "Merry Christmas" and, after receiving the gifts we had brought for them, hugged the babies good-bye and went on to book a connecting flight (with the help of my father-in-law, Ray). (I got Mr. Kim a huge chocolate bar that said "Nothing says thank you like chocolate!" and an assortment of coffees/teas.) Our friend Jungwon (the other new mom who was there with her husband, also named Jeff, to meet their son Aaron (Matthew's travel buddy) translated for them, so they could hold a conversation with Ray and he could help them figure out all of this flight rebooking. They seemed like such nice people, and I was so happy that Matthew was in their care during his long trip to America. I was hoping that the rest of their trip would work out OK despite all of these delays.
At one point, Matthew got really fussy and I transferred him to Jeff's arms. He really took to this (maybe because he traveled with a man all the way over here!) and seemed to calm a little. Then I had him playing with the pendant I had around my neck (my friend Debby made it for me and it contains a photo of Matthew enclosed in a see through circular piece of glass). He really loved that.
After more photos and some final video moments, we prepared Matthew for the walk to the car. We departed the airport about 1 a.m. We said good-bye to my family, who we wouldn't see again for several weeks. Steve, Kyla, Jack, and my sister were heading right back--driving first to PA, to drop off my sister, then onto NJ and home sweet home--they left at 1 a.m., made it to PA by 5 a.m., then made it home to NJ by about 7...how AWESOME is my family????!! I will never, ever forget what they did; it meant so much to me.
We put his jacket on (that was interesting...the first of so many wrestling matches to come!) and put the hood up, and Jeff carried him all the way out to the car (we were unwilling to put him in the stroller just yet, as he clearly needed human contact during this transitional time). As I walked slightly behind Jeff, I couldn't help but think how adorable he looked...his little head bobbing on his daddy's shoulder, hood covering him. The stroller carried all of our crap, so it was still put to good use (shout-out here to the original chariot-owners, Kellie, Reed, Calvin, and Nolan).
And then we got to experience putting him into the carseat for the first time. Ever. I don't mean "the first time in a carseat in America." I mean, "the first time in a carseat...ever." The Koreans apparently do not use carseats! Oh, he SCREAMED! It was so comical--Jeff, Jason, and a few others, trying to adjust the seat so that it fit well to Matthew's physique. Kyla has the pictures to prove it...even though it wasn't as funny at the time! But as soon as the car started moving, he calmed down (to this day, he does well in the car).
We gave him the bottle in the car, and he loved it and it calmed him right down. He fell asleep before it was done. He slept the ENTIRE car ride home. We carried him straight up to the nursery. We had put a twin size air mattress on the floor next to his crib, so Jeff and he slept there for several hours. Although we had two, maybe three, somewhat "trying" days getting him used to sleeping in the crib, we did successfully transition him to crib sleeping very quickly. And he did well with transitioning to our time zone and to his new schedule. Within a week, we had him on schedule and sleeping through the night.
And he's been sleeping well ever since!
It was such an incredible experience. Every minute, every moment, is carved into my brain. All of it: The looks on people's faces, the tears streaming down my sister's and sister-in-law's faces, the loving comments people made, Ava's big orange sign, the coffee runs (especially for the NJ/PA family members!) at the airport, friends who sacrificed their work nights/school nights to videotape Matthew's arrival at oh-dark-hundred hours on a Monday night, family members who drove pretty much all day and night (round trip) to be here with us but still get back to their busy lives, Kyla taking a billion pictures of the "Arrivals" board to show that magic Flight 100 from San Fran, my mother saying over and over "he's such a miracle," and the list goes on. The outpouring of love and support, and the resulting emotions and deep sense of gratefulness that we feel, can never be adequately described in words, but here, I humbly try.
I, and the mother I have become, will never, ever forget that day.