….this crazy adventure called parenthood began for my husband and I, and if how we finally were brought together with our son is any indication, this will (and has been) a loooong, strange trip….
So, 5 years ago, right about this time, I was in a flurry of insanity as all our plans for a fabulous “Gotcha Day” were quickly going down the tubes.
The original plan was for us to head to JFK at 7:35pm to pick up our 3 1/2 month old son. Our family and friends were going to go with us, we had signs, we had people there to take pics for us…it was going to be a huge “WELCOME HOME!” that little guy would be able look back at through pictures, and he could see how excited everyone was for him to finally be here and was going to be a part of our family.
But Mother Nature had other plans….
This would go down in history as “The Valentine’s Day Ice Storm/Blizzard of 2007”
Now, looking at this map, it doesnt look too terrible around the Tri-State Area, as we are shaded in a 1-4 inch grey coloring. Well, what is not evident on this map is that we were not getting snow, we had ICE.
Oh wait, here we go…here’s a better one…
So yeah, you can see that this was a doozie…
EVERYTHING around here was pretty much shut down. Ice covered the third rail causing trains to be shut down, leaving thousands and thousands of commuters trapped at Penn Station. All the airports were closed, leaving passengers on planes for 11 hours. If I am not mistaken, it was this storm that rallied the cause to create an “Airline Customer Bill of Rights”, as leaving people on the tarmac for 11 hours, when they can see and walk to the gate, with no working bathrooms or food, just doesnt make good business sense. Jet Blue cancelled 1000 flights because of this storm, and I think there are still people sitting at JFK waiting to get home!
So you can see, our happy Gotcha Day Plans were probably not going to happen. Here is how it played out…
I had received the call that Seoul Man was going to be arriving home on February 10th. I was at work and my social worker emailed me to say to call her ASAP. I called her back and she gave me the great news that he would be flying in to JFK at 7:35 on February 14th – VALENTINES DAY. Now, part of the reason why we chose Korea to adopt from is that they offer an escort option (they dont anymore now). Being that sitting on a plane for 12+ hours is actually not good for me at all, in that I am highly prone to thrombosis (clots) in my leg due to all the surgeries and the radiation. Add to that, sitting for too long causes LOTS of pain for me, and has actually triggered cellutitis infections. I would have loved to have flown to Korea to get our son, but I dont think he would have been too thrilled to have his new mom in a hospital for a week after homecoming. We could have flown business, or first class, which would help A LOT as the additional space is good for me, but I dont think the other travelers paying top buck would want to sit next to a screaming infant for 12 hours.
So we quickly spread the news about the homecoming info, and let anyone come who wanted to come. We figured we would do this as little guy would already be in shock with everything, so throwing in a mess load of new strangers ooogling all over him would be alright, THEN we could retreat to our home and be uninterrupted as we all begin to bond with one another without interruption.
I had originally decided to work that day, as we wouldnt be going to the airport until 5:30ish or so, and I would have rather applied the day off to my maternity leave. Plus I would need something to keep me occupied! But by the end of that Monday, I decided it would be my last, as the last thing I would need is to get stuck in a storm on my way home from work.
I also intended to sleep in the next morning, as I knew my days of sleep were going to be over, and I might as well take advantage of it!
I watched the 10:00 news on that Monday night, and no one really knew what this storm was going to do. The City and Long Island were most likely going to be on the warm end of things so we would see rain, but before I turned in for the night, I heard the proverbial “…but any shift in the storm track could change everything”. Well it did make that shift.
I woke up Tuesday morning at 6:00am. So much for sleeping in! I immediately put on the news, where the new report was that the city would probably get some ice, but Long Island would still probably be rain. North of the city….Blizzard….
Knowing that Seoul Man was already in the air, as between the time difference and his 12 hour flight schedule, I immediately went to Flight Checker to see where he was, and he was departing Tokyo! The plan was to fly from Seoul, to Tokyo, then Tokyo to JFK direct.
At 6:30, I checked again, because…well…Im obsessive….
And what did I see in that 1/2 hour time frame? CANCELLED! What?! Its RAINING and the flight into JFK was ALREADY CANCELLED?! WTF!
Now, our adoption agency had a local branch, but their HQ is in Massachusetts, and the HQ is the one who monitors the travels of babies coming in. I waited a long two hours to call them, as they opened at 8:30, but got a message that said “Sorry! Because of the Blizzard, we are closed today.” Oh yeah, my rain was their heavy snowfall.
So I frantically went through the paperwork packet we were sent after our travel call and scoured it for additional phone numbers. Thankfully, there were 2 emergency phone numbers for after hours (or blizzards). I called both…and ya, got voicemail.
About a 1/2 hour later, I was finally called back by one of the ladies whose numbers I had. Apparently, the office was closed, but folks were working from home. Ellie was kind of like the administrative assistant for the Korea department at HQ and she was going to be the person to help me through this.
Right before she called me back, I checked the flight status, as ya, I knew it was cancelled, but….they had to land somewhere!!!! And that somewhere was LOS ANGELES. And not only was he cancelled, he was now GROUNDED in LA.
I told Ellie the new news….and she said “I wish they had landed in San Francisco. We HAVE people in San Francisco! We dont have anyone in LA!”
Now, here is the usual description of an escort from Korea who is going to fly with the baby to the US:
They are usually middle aged women, who dont speak a lick of English, and often escort babies to the US so they can visit family here. Usually they aren’t big travelers, and it is not uncommon for them to have to ditch and run to catch a connecting flight to somewhere else.
To help these folks, the American agency dispatches “a greeter” who will meet the adoptive parents at the airport, and will help the escort get through customs, help them go where they need to go after that, have us sign paperwork, etc.
There are no greeters available in Los Angeles for the Agency. No one. San Francisco is their usual hub, and there were people readily available to head there immediately to help out, but not in LA…
All I could think about is that there was this little Korean woman with a 3 month old baby who doesnt understand english and is alone in a different country and no one knows what to do.
So, Ellie was a VERY nice woman, but was not very helpful when it came to solutions of what to do, so I had to start guiding this situation
FIRST – “Ok, lets get the escort’s cell number. I have someone who could speak Korean and we could work something out”
The dont use cell phones.
HOW CAN YOU NOT GIVE THE ESCORT A CELL PHONE!!!!!!! GET A TRACK PHONE FOR EMERGENCIES AND HAVE THEM GIVE IT BACK WHEN THE GET HOME!!!! IT’S KOREA! I AM SURE THERE ARE NO SHORTAGES OF SAMSUNG TRACK PHONES!!!!
SECOND – “Lets call another adoption agency in California and explain the situation and see if they can dispatch a greeter to help this poor helpless woman get through customs in this foreign country”
Ok – that she can do – have to wait for PST 9:00 for agencies to open.
THIRD – “My local airport is still open and we are supposed to get just rain. I am going to call Southwest Airlines and book a flight for them from LA to Islip and I will put her in a hotel here, and then will get her to where she needs to be”.
Ok…that sounds good.
So while Ellie called around to get help on the west coast, I was able to book a new flight. Southwest was GREAT with the whole situation and ensured me that if things got cancelled, I could get my $$ back and flights still were on time for take off and departure over by me. I got this all together by 11:00am EST, and Seoul Man’s new arrival time will be 10:45 at the airport literally 5 miles from my home. Festivities were still on and folks were now going to go to McArthur.
But how are we going to tell this lady who is stuck in Los Angeles that she has to get on another flight!!!
So while Ellie called around to find a greeter in LA, I went to the adoption bulletin board I belong to, and asked if anyone was near LA. A good number of folks said they would go to LAX to find the escort and deliver the message if there is no greeter to be found!!!! OK, plan B if necessary!
Ellie found a greeter to head to LA and she was going to give the message to the escort to go to the Southwest terminal and away they would go! The downside? THE GREETER DOESNT USE CELL PHONES! WTF!!!! So if something changed, there would be NO WAY to tell them! Shoot me now….or rather….shoot me then…
But at least the little korean woman lost in the airport would have someone to help them and they wont be stranded in Cali.
I could breathe a sigh of relief finally and would just wait until late that night to zip to the local airport.
Then I went and checked Southwest’s flight checker….the plane hand not even arrived in LAX to eventually get to Islip, but at 1:30pm, the flight was CANCELLED! I wanted to vomit at that exact moment. Instead, I called my husband at work and told him to come home ASAP as I cannot do this anymore…
So now we were back at square one and I had nothing left in me. As my husband was driving home, the rain did indeed start to turn to ice, and within an hour, conditions had become hazardous.
By this time, I had finally received a phone call from the head of the adoption agency in Massachusetts. She was going to see what can be done with the airlines, but we all agreed that with worsening conditions, it was probably safest to just have Seoul Man stay in Los Angeles overnight, then try and fly him out the next day. Thats where we had left it at that time and that was supposed to be the final game plan.
Well, about an hour later, we get a phone call back from the agency head “I just spoke to Jeena the escort, and she needs to be back on the west coast for an obligation she must meet on February 15th, so we have to get them to the east coast somehow so she can fly out the next day.”
The first thing out of my mouth was “She speaks english?!?!?!?” to which I was told “She speaks wonderful english”. It turns out that she is a WORLD TRAVELER and not only does she speak english better than people who are born here, she goes to college in Canada where she is studying to be a teacher.
Then – “she has a cell phone?” – Yes, she has a cell phone.
Then – “HOW THE HELL IS SHE GOING TO GET TO THE EAST COAST- DID YOU LOOK OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW???” – We have to figure out a place for them to land then you will have to go and get him.
Then “HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO GO AND GET HIM! DID YOU LOOK OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW?”
So the director made some calls and said we may have to go to Chicago, Philadelphia, or Washington DC – the ONLY airports still open and accepting flights.
At this point I am numb – especially when the director’s response to “HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET THERE” was answered with “Take the train”. Again, did you look out the window????
So my husband, being the calm person he is, took control and just handled it, even though I made sure to point out that by that point in the day, the ice had SHUT DOWN THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD, CLOSED MAIN ROADS BECAUSE OF ACCIDENTS, and ALL the AIRPORTS WERE NOW OFFICIALLY CLOSED.
So about 1/2 hour later, the director called and said to get to Washington DC (Ummm…OK….see above?), their flight will be in around 10:00 pm. Book a room at the hotel Jeena will be spending the night at then she will fly back to the West Coast the following morning….here’s her cell phone, they should be boarding soon.
Ummmm…ok? So LIRR is SHUT DOWN, people are stranded at Penn Station, the airports are closed, we have now been upgraded to a Winter Storm Warning with significant ice accumulation possible….how are we going to do this.
Well, there was ONE branch of the LIRR still operating. Hicksville, which on a good day, is 30 minutes from our house. If we hop the 5:30 to Penn Station, we could then hop an Amtrak Acela train to DC, which was still operating. The 7:00pm Acela would get us to DC at 10:30pm, where we would then take a cab to the hotel and would hopefully get in around the same time and Jeena and our son.
OK, so there we were, scrambling to put together a diaper bag for a child we have not met. We didnt know what to bring, what we would need, etc so we just packed as much as we could carry. My inlaws would drive us to the Hicksville station in their AWD car, we would hop the train, do Amtrak, then Amtrak back up the next day, then to Penn, then to our local station. This should be easy, right?
Well, we gather everything we could as quickly as we could, being that the drive is going to take forever. The drive to the train station was the most terrifying thing I think I ever did. Cars sliding everywhere, accidents, etc.
We get to the train station after an hour and a half, just in time to catch the 5:30 train. BUT, the trains were SO DELAYED, we actually wound up taking in the 4:30 train that was an hour late! We didnt care! It went west!!!!
We got to Penn with about 1/2 hour to spare, so we grabbed some dinner and loaded up on some snacks and drinks to take with us on the Acela.
We hopped onto the Acela and for the first time all day….I could relax. And can I tell you? The Acela WAS AWESOME!!! We went business class so there was a food concession, and we had tables at our seats so you could read, eat, use your computer, etc. I opted to put my head down and rest as I had been a raving lunatic since 6:00am.
We got to Union Station at 10:30ish in DC, where we got a call from Jeena telling us that she too was delayed (she was supposed to be in the hotel already) and should be there about 11:30. Perfect as we would probably be there around the same time too.
We headed out of Union Station and searched for where we would find a taxi. Well….we were in for another delay. Apparently, all the travelers stuck up north decided to take the Acela down to DC too, so they could get home. There were, no joke, a good 100 people waiting on line for a taxi.
By 11:30, we are close to the front of the line. We have NO idea how far the Hotel is from the Train Station, but we were assuming 20 minutes or so…
We finally get into a cab, tell the cabby where we needed to go, and he tells us: THATS REALLY FAR AWAY!
Well, what are we gonna do. GO. DRIVE FAST.
Jeena called us while we were on our way, and she was finally in the hotel. We told her we will be there in about 40 minutes and we will call when we get there.
Well, we drive right through the heart of DC. Our ice storm was their snow storm the day before, so snow was piled up everywhere, and the taxi windows were fogged from the warm air inside and the cold outside, but that didnt stop me from trying to take in the sites as we drove! Looking through a small, cleared spot on the window, we passed the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian, the Kennedy Library and some other stuff I couldnt tell because it was a) dark and b) 11:45 at night and I was bleary eyed!!!)
The taxi driver got lost…it was closer to an hour…but we FINALLY got there…
We walked into the lobby of the hotel where we were met by the guy at the front desk. We told him that we needed a crib for our room, as we were picking up our son. He said “Oh! The lady with the baby! Hes a little baby!!!”. Great, the front desk guy saw him before us…
So at 12:30…we head to our hotel room, then make that call to the room above us…..
Jeena said “Come on up!”
We decided to walk up the stairs as it was only one flight, and as we entered the stair well, the faint cry of a baby could be heard. As we climbed higher, the sound got louder. Then as we opened the door to the hallway, it was obvious the crying was coming from Jeena’s room.
My husband knocked on the door, where we were met with “One second!” yelled over the sound of the screaming baby.
Then she opened the door and there he was, in all his screaming glory.
The poor thing had just had enough…..afte rall….he was in the air for 24 hours……I had had enough…I could only imagine how he felt…
My husband took the baby from Jeena, who I am sure was HAPPY for the break. We exchanged small talk, exchanged gifts, and she told me how great he was through the whole thing, until about the last 3 hours of the flight to DC. The whole thing was just surreal.
So we headed down to our room with screaming baby and tried to figure him out and get him to calm down. Well, it didnt work…nothing worked….he just cried, and cried, and cried…
By 3:30am, I was crying, baby was crying….it was just ugly.
I then thought that there would be NO WAY we would be able to Amtrak back up to NY with a screaming baby. Nothing we could do would console him, and we would be surrounded by commuters just trying to get to work. I then began calling around to 24 hour Car Rental companies and found one who would let you drive out of state with the car.
I figured if he was going to scream, it was better that he do it in a car with us.
The drive from DC back to Long Island, on a GOOD day, is probably about 6 hours…after an ice storm? Who know….but we will just do it…
We packed ourselves and screaming baby up and headed to the front desk, where a shuttle took us to the car rental. While waiting for the shuttle, Seoul Man FINALLY chilled out, and fell asleep on his dad’s shoulder…
Its funny…..our original plans were such a hoopla….and we thought we would have tons of pics of the day…..but this is one of the only few we have – taken with a camera phone in the vestibule, waiting for the shuttle…
So we headed to Avis..I think it was….and rented a car. We opted for an AWD as we didnt know what to expect in NY. We got a Maroonish/Red Suburu Outback Wagon and a non set up infant seat….yeah, they dont set it up, and being first time parents…it was quite interesting trying to get this thing in the car safely without directions….but we did!
Seoul Man stayed asleep the whole time from the picture above…right up to when we pulled in the driveway at home….
He missed all the excitement of us having to constantly keep driver switching as we were both so physically exhausted and one would nap while the other drove….well….he would nap while I would drive, and then I would grimace in pain while being scrunched in the back seat watching the baby while he drove…
But we made it home – in great time too! The conditions seemed to clear up nicely as we drove north.
We took little man out of the car, as he woke up as we pulled into the driveway. My husband carried him inside where he was met by Sox, who had just spent HIS first night ALL ALONE…for the first time…EVER. I think they were both like “what the heck is this?!?!”, then went to introduce him to the parrot, who he was quite enamored with at first sight. Then we carried up the stairs so he could see his room, and get his first change at home. My husband wretched…it was funny, as I am the one with the wretch reflex.
Folks came over to say hello, then it was time for EVERYONE to crash, and boy, did we all crash….
So, it was a long strange trip for us, and 5 years later….its still a long strange trip. He really has no concept of the whole “Gotcha Day”, but we share his story with him and what happened that day. We call it “Planes, Trains and Automobiles Day” and make sure to give him a gift every year of a plane, train and automobile. Again, he still doesnt get “the whole thing” and asked us if we were going to take him to the airport today….we still have to work on this…
We are Facebook Friends with Jeena and always remind each other about the insanity of that day, and we have gotten together since them when she flew to NY escorting another baby.
Here are some pics when we finally got home….
So, I look back and sometimes get sad that we werent able to give him the hoopla reception that we had originally planned as it was replaced with just my husband and I hundreds of miles away in a hotel, but then I think to myself…..this makes for a WAAAAY BETTER STORY………