Yesterday, my wife and kids and I celebrated 12 years since the day we returned home from 8 weeks in Kazakhstan adopting our two kids (now teenagers). Every year, we take the day (or maybe the week) off from everything, and spend the entire time celebrating by visiting someplace or doing something we’ve never done before. We celebrate because that day – June 29 – marked the end of the journey of a lifetime: international adoption. If you are considering adoption, do it. You will never do anything more difficult (emotionally, spiritually, financially) or rewarding. That’s why we celebrate.
The following post contains the words I typed into our adoption blog after we arrived at home in Atlanta at 11PM (ish) that wonderful night.
“24” – Sandlin Style
My name is Kevin Sandlin, and I am a new parent of two Kazakh children. I have spent 56 days away from my home. My children have been ripped from the only surroundings they’ve known for 3 1/2 years. We’re now free to come home. This is the longest day of my life.
The following events happen between 5AM Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday, June 28, 2005, and Midnight EDT on Wednesday, June 29, 2005. Events occur in real time.
5AM EDT (3PM Kazakh Time): We left the apartment, with all our bags packed, to go to our American Embassy interview and then head straight for the airport to leave for Moscow at 7pm. We had to be there 2 hours early to get through customs, passport control, etc. The embassy interview was simple, painless, and quick, and we were out of there by 430. On to the airport.
7AM EDT (5PM Kazakh time): We arrived at Almaty Int’l Airport in 2 cars, because Sam’s car was not big enough to carry all our luggage and the 2 kids. We went though the security scan, showed em our passports, and tickets, and headed to check-in. Marina is still waiting, watching to make sure all was well through check-in. And that was a good thing, because all was not well. We learned very quickly and clearly that we needed a visa just to arrive at the Moscow Airport (Sheremetyevo). Unfortunately, nobody had told us that before. Not the hotel with whom we had a reservation. Not the travel agency who sold us the tickets. Nobody. And, it takes 2 days – at least – to obtain a proper transit visa for Russia. Our flight left at 7pm, and we were without options. While Kevin discussed the matter with Marina, AirAstana, and Airport security, Lena and Dub had repetitive meltdowns in the middle of the airport while Angel struggled to keep her sanity for a few more hours.
8AM EDT (6PM Kazakh time): We arrived at the travel agency to (a) get our money back for the tickets, and (b) ask them why they would sell us such tickets without even the slightest mention of a visa. We had to leave a credit card with Marina, so she could go back the next day during normal business hours and get our card credited. They never did give an answer on the visa thing. I decided that they owed us at the very least the use of their phone to call Delta long distance. They obliged. I spent 75 minutes on the phone with Delta (long distance, agency’s dime) trying to find seats on a flight from Frankfurt to Atlanta, then Frankfurt to anywhere in the U.S. Meanwhile, Lena and Dub had a cracker for dinner, wet their pants several times, and got filthy playing all over the sidewalk in front of the travel agency.
10AM EDT (8PM Kazakh time): We left this travel agency with 2 kids with dirty pull-ups, no explanation of the visa thing, but confirmation that we were on a Delta flight from Frankfurt to JFK in NY. We also learned that we needed to get Lufthansa tickets to Frankfurt after 10pm when the Lufthansa ticket office opened at the airport. No, don’t ask why their business hours begin at 10pm. The travel agent assured us that there were “plenty of seats” on this Lufthansa flight.
1030AM EDT (830PM Kazakh time): We arrived back at our apartment (we’d paid through Wednesday) to get the kids something to eat, let them garshok, and gather our thoughts and options now that we were not going to Russia. I took a long hot shower and changed clothes (looking back, it’s a real good thing I did that, since I had not bathed that day, and was pretty rank from all the previously mentioned activity).
1230PM EDT (1030PM Kazakh time): We are sitting in the office of the Lufthansa ticketing agent, who tells us with a blank stare that this flight from Almaty to Frankfurt is totally full, and there are 4 people on standby. That said, she recommends we get on the standby list and wait it out. The flight is scheduled to leave Almaty at 320AM local time, 5 hours from now. I remark to Marina that she should never do business with this travel agency again, since they have as of this point totally hosed this customer.
1PM EDT (11PM Kazakh time): We arrive at the Almaty airport, against the pleas of Marina who offered to drive us back into town and take us out to eat, and set up camp for the next 4 hours in the general waiting area of the airport, which is noisy, crowded, cold, and filthy. We told Marina that we were very tired of driving, and wanted to be stationary and prep and plan for the next 72 hours. During these hours before the flight that we might be on, we fed the kids some more, and them let them lie down and sleep on their blankeys on the floor. No fewer than 8 people walked right up to us and demanded that we move the kids to the benches (typical airport bench fare, e.g., not real comfortable to lie down on) because they’d get sick for lying down on a cold surface or would wake up with a back ache. The kids slept hard for 2-3 hours while we waited on pins and needles to find out if we were going to get on this flight. Moscow was out…NYET! We tried to get a meal, but the nearby airport cafe was out of most things, including bottled water. As I reviewed the menu, the waitress hovered over me as if I were a restaurant critic.
5PM EDT (3AM Kazakh time): I’m in the men’s room helping Dub garshok – we’re almost exclusively on the big potty now, just in case you were curious – and Marina sticks her head in the door, and yells, “Kevin! You must hurry! You have to check in!” So we got on the flight! Poor Dub, to be on the other end of that speed-garshok!
11PM EDT (6AM Germany time, the following day): We arrive at Frankfurt airport after one of the most miserable, hot, crowded airplane rides ever. Just to mention that it was Lena & Dub’s very first airplane ride is the only thing that was good about the flight. That, and the fact that it got us halfway home. Lena and Dub both cried mercilessly at every drop of the hat, such as when we put their seatbelts on, when we told them, “no, you cannot go wander around – in the middle of the night – and bother people”, and especially when we said no to their 17th request to garshok within a timeframe of about 30 minutes. When we got off the plane, it was cold and rainy in Germany – we had to get out on the tarmac and run to a bus – and it felt SOOOOO good! We met a bunch of college students who were returning from Kazakhstan after visiting for Campus Crusade for Christ. They were extremely nice, and they all regretted not approaching us earlier in the flight so they could babysit while we slept!
1130PM EDT (630AM German time): At the Delta counter, Angel learns two things. First, we are NOT confirmed from Frankfurt to NY because our tickets from Moscow to Atlanta never got cancelled, and she left her contact lens case and glasses case on the plane from Almaty to Frankfurt. While Angel babysat 2 very upset, tired, irritable kids, Kevin trapsed all over Frankfurt airport trying to (a) find the Delta desk to make an actual confirmed arrangement, and (b) trying to locate a lost & found function to get Angel’s contacts back. Well, 1 outta 2 ain’t bad, is it? We were confirmed on the 11:55AM flight from Frankfurt to JFK. We confirmed that Angel’s contacts might come to us in the mail, but we’re not counting on it. The Frankfurt airport is absolutely HUGE, and, perhaps it was the time of day (0630), empty. At times I was wandering down huge halls completely alone, not another soul in sight!
430AM EDT (1130AM German time): Dub and Lena get their first taste of what it’s like to fly first class. Ohhhhhh…swweeeettttttt! Looking forward to an 8-hour flight, we provided the kiddos a dose of children’s tylenol night time. “May cause drowsiness”. Yes, please. They both literally conked out at exactly the same time, as we waited on the tarmac to take off. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed an hour, significantly eating into the actual medication time. Dub slept hard for 90 minutes, and was then wide awake. Lena slept for all but about 2 hours of the flight. All of the flight attendants and many passengers gushed and ooohed and aaahhed over the kids, and all were blown away that this was their maiden voyage home from Kazakhstan to live with us. We need to remember the very special cabin steward, a very nice German man, who adopted us for this flight, babied the kids with everything we could ask for, and generally made us feel right at home. Thank you God for providing such angels in our path.
315PM EDT: William Roscoe Sandlin and Miriam Helena Sandlin touch down on American soil, thus becoming American citizens! Now for the paperwork part. Customs took a total of about 25 minutes, including standing in a short line at JFK. We now have all we need to make Dub & Lena active citizens of their new country, like a Social Security Card, an American Passport, etc. They each actually maintain dual citizenship until they are 18 years of age, much like their father, who held dual citizenship in Zaire.
415PM EDT: We find and go into the Delta Business Elite Lounge at JFK. Ultra sweet. Everything you could want to make a brief stay thoroughly enjoyable. Kevin walks over to gate 12 to find out that our planned flight to Atlanta is not only overbooked, but they hvae 44 people on standby. When Kevin was gone so long, Angel figured we weren’t getting on the flight, and we’d have to stay in NY (yeah, like she would argue with that!) or find another flight. But Kevin’s patience and God’s totally undeserved grace provided. At 645PM – the plane was due to take off at 520PM – Kevin came running into the lounge yelling “let’s go! let’s go!” We grabbed everything – except Kevin’s cell phone, which was charging in the lounge – and ran down the jetway and got on the plane. Angel realized the missing cell phone when she got to her seat (we weren’t sitting together; girls in business, boys in steerage), and the gate agent called the lounge. A representative from the lounge came sprinting down the jetway with the phone. Unfortunately, it wasn’t our cell phone, but someone else’s! The nearest flight attendant managed to get the airplane door open again and tossed the phone out so that whoever just lost their cell phone wouldn’t have such a hard time getting it back. Ces’t la vie! This flight was also delayed due to harsh weather in NY. As we waited on the tarmac, I decided to pre-empt Dub’s garshokiness. He had already made a mess, and these were our final pair of pullups. I got him all cleaned up, and, since he had JUST gone, I figured I was safe. My instincts are not good. We had been back at our seats maybe 5 minutes when Dub totally soaked his pants. I guess I reacted with some degree of disappointment, and that brought Dub to heartbreaking tears. He cried himself to sleep, and slept until just before landing, when we managed to find a change of clothes and a new set of pullups (I think we took Lena’s off her and put them on Dub).
10PM EDT: We’re in Atlanta! Woo hoo!! We decided, as we did with flying Business Class wherever and whenever we could, that Dub and Lena only get to “come home” once, so we called Carey Limousine and got a fancy shmancy car to bring us home. Mary Alice was waiting with open arms, and as of 215AM, they are still in awe at the pets, THEIR toys, their beds, their room, their bathtub, their new clothes…their new home.
10AMEDT: Everybody slept in this morning, Thursday, June 30. We’re home.
God is an awesome God. We will get some much needed rest, and then post some follow up messages to this amazing chapter in our lives, as it draws to a close, and prepares the way for an exciting new chapter!
Thank you for your prayers. They worked. We’re home with 2 beautiful children. I am stunned silly, and can hardly believe we’re actually home.
Kevin, Angel, William, and Miriam
PS – if it sounds a little like I’m blathering, that’s possible. Please have a little grace. We got home 3 hours ago, and I have actually fallen asleep 3 times on my keyboard, but I wanted to make sure everyone was up to date.