Pre-Script: I wrote the following a few years ago (2004), but after witnessing a friend's child's homecoming this past Friday, I think it's a good time to publish it.
The airport is busy with the arrivals and departures of mid-day travelers. The number of people crowded into the waiting area makes it seem even busier than usual. Before 9/11 these people would have all been dispersed to various gates throughout the terminal, but now we’re all confined to the one waiting area just outside the row of security stations. I approach the waiting area, scanning the crowd for the people I’m meeting. I’ve never met them before; often I haven’t even spoken with them, but I can usually pick them out from the crowd. I’m a volunteer greeter for Holt International Children’s Services and the people I’m looking for are about to become parents, right here, in the middle of a busy airport.
For the families I meet at the airport, this is the end of a journey that began with an inquiry, “Is there a child for us?” A journey that took them through weeks, perhaps months of research, leading them through application forms, autobiographies, certified copies of documents, fingerprinting, homestudy interviews and waiting. They have waited for papers to be processed, they have waited for fingerprints to be cleared, they have waited for visas to be issued, they have waited for foreign governments to give clearance and they have waited for the arrival of their child. For the past few months, they’ve had a picture of that child and they have fallen in love. They have gone through the preparations that all parents go through anticipating the arrival of a child. They have prepared the nursery, bought the car seat, arranged for pediatricians and they’ve waited. There is no “due date”; they just wait for the phone call saying that their child is coming home.
As I scan the crowd of people at the airport, I notice a fairly young couple sitting quietly off to the side. She is leaning against him; he has his arm around her shoulders. There’s an older woman sitting beside them. I approach. “Are you the Holt family?” I ask. Before they even answer, their faces tell me they are.
Sometimes families arrive with whole entourages of friends and family members. The official word is to keep it simple, but my gut and my own experiences tell me that whatever works for the family is okay. Some families want their supporting cast to be with them during this wondrous occasion – grandparents, aunts, uncles, special friends and clergy. They bring balloons and video cameras; it’s almost like a party. One of the most memorable arrivals I’ve attended included a three-hour delayed flight. During those three hours, while we all waited – bored, tense, disappointed, a friend of the family who had brought her video camera went around the group and had each person gathered for this arrival say a greeting into the camera. When she came to the grandpa-to-be, he looked into the camera and spoke with enthusiasm and anticipation of the fishing trips he and his new grandson would be taking, of the experiences they would have together – grandpa and grandson. His love was so apparent that we all had tears in our eyes. What a wonderful gift that friend created during those hours of waiting.
The family I’m meeting on this day has chosen to keep the arrival of their child private. The only person with them is his mother, the older woman sitting by them. She is thrilled to have been asked to accompany the couple and she is excited about the prospect of becoming a grandma. The couple shares some of their story with me as we wait. They are, of course, excited. Within the next few minutes, they will become parents. They confide that they don’t have much experience with children. They want to know if they’ll know what to do with the baby. The woman says something like, “I’ve never been a mom before.” I assure her that it will be okay, she’ll do fine.
It’s time for the plane to arrive. Over the top of the security stations, we can see a plane heading for the right gate for this arrival. We begin to watch the emerging crowd. We’re watching for someone carrying a child and a blue flight bag, the telltale bag that comes with all Holt babies arriving here. There she is, a Korean woman carrying a baby and she has the bag. We watch her walk past the security stations to the exit corridor. She comes toward us down the corridor and I step out to point her in the direction of the waiting family. She approaches the couple, gives a little bow and gently hands over the baby as if handing over a precious gift. A minute earlier the man and woman stood there as a couple, married for years, committed to their life together; now, with the transfer of this child from the arms of the escort into the arms of the couple, they’ve become a family, with a new journey ahead of them and a commitment that now involves another person – their child.
I use the couple’s camera to take pictures as the baby arrives, to capture on film their first family “portrait”. We talk with the escort to learn about the baby’s trip, when he ate last. After much thanking and bowing, the escort goes on her way to catch the plane that will take her to her final destination. After seeing her off I turn back towards the family. Grandma is cooing over the baby, Daddy is smiling that big proud smile that we all know so well and Mommy is holding the baby – and she’s doing the “mommy rock”. Ten minutes earlier she had confided to me that she wasn’t sure she’d know what to do with a baby, now she is standing in front of me, holding her child and swaying her weight from side-to-side doing that rocking motion that I call the “mommy rock”. Sure she’ll have a lot to learn; parenting is a never-ending course at the graduate level, but she’d established herself as a worthy student – she had become a mom right before our eyes, right there in the middle of the busy airport.