Seven Months. Wow. We’ve been home – with the girls – for a full seven months today – ok yesterday now, but I finished this up late last night.
I decided to commemorate the date with a recap of our trip home from Ethiopia. It was quite the adventure and an unbelievable story. I’m going to tell all the nitty gritty details because I think someday I will be able to laugh at it. Seven months is not quite enough time to laugh yet, but I can look at it and see some crazily amusing aspects. So I thought I’d share.
I must preface this story by saying that nothing – and I mean NOTHING – in this story is an exaggeration. I don’t think. I mean I say with every fiber of truth in my body that I am telling this story with the most honesty that I can muster. I mean it.
I wrote about Part One of our Embassy Trip that you can go read if you would like to read about the first part of our voyage…
And now onto Part Two…
So we had a series of three flights – my sweet Aunt Nancy and I with the babies. And lots o luggage. 20 pound baby on the front, 30 pound backpack on the back, and a cart FULL of luggage – whew! Look how sweet and smiley we looked – we were so excited just to be headed home. It was also about 11 pm or so in Ethiopia.
In the first flight – which was five hours I believe – we were doing great. Having had a baby on an airplane before, I was confident that I was at least as prepared as I could be. We’d need to keep them entertained, but what could go wrong? I had scoured the blogs and asked experienced traveling friends what to take, and I had it all. We were prepared.
This flight didn’t have any of the bulkhead crib seats available, but we were in three seats with the two of us (plus the babies) so we were excited to have the wee bit of extra room. Other babies on the plane were crying before we even taxied out of the runway – but not ours! We wisely saved our bottles for the takeoff where the drinking of the bottle would soothe their little popping ears. I mean, I’ve done this before – it ain’t my first time around the block. I surely know how to fly with babies. Nancy too.
We took off, and we popped those bottles in at just the right time. The girls sweetly relaxed and slowly drank their bottles while drifting off to sleep. Other babies cried – but not ours! I mean, why couldn’t everyone have it as together as we did? I mean, I’m trying to catch some sleep here…
I had Lyla, and Nancy had Sosie. At the end of her bottle, Lyla got a little fussy, but she did better when I sat her up. She was on my lap facing me, and seemed a little weirded out by the plane but okay otherwise. And then it happened.
Projectile. Vomit. The contents of that entire bottle were spewed all. over. me.
Lyla immediately seemed to feel better, but I was covered from my hair to my knees in putrid, rancid-smelling vomit. (Let’s insert here that I’ve never done well with vomit. Ever. Jason is a saint and bails me out most of the time to clean it up. Gag reflex on steroids from me. I just can’t do it.)
I stayed calm. Kind of.
I paged the stewardess and asked for some napkins or something. She wasn’t really paying attention, and she was like, umm, why? I said, “My daughter got sick, and I need to clean up.” She said, “Uhh, okay.” I shifted Lyla so she could see the sheer volume of vomit all over me, and she jumped into action. You know the hot towels that the stewardesses take around to you? She brought us a whole tray. And two whole packs of unopened cocktail napkins. And a large trash bag.
I changed and cleaned Lyla and stuffed all of the gross washcloths into the bag along with Lyla’s clothes.
My biggest dilemma was that I knew if I stood up and walked the 3/4ths length of the plane back to the bathroom that the rows and rows and rows of people behind me would be aghast at the vomit dripping off me all the way up the aisle. It would be a big show. So I stripped right there in the seat – as discreetly as possible – after checking out that nobody could really see me around us. I stuffed all the puke clothes into the plastic bag. I had clean clothes on, but I was still covered in vomit.
I headed back to the bathroom, and wiped off as well as I could. People, vomit had pooled in my bra. It was bad. I rinsed my hair in the sink and smothered myself with the scented lotion I luckily had in my backpack. I really just couldn’t get the smell off of me.
Can you scroll back up to the picture for a second? What do you notice about my hair? Yes! It’s wet! I would like to point out the fact that I very wisely waited until the last possible second to shower – I knew we had 24 hours of travel ahead of us and at the end there would be my gorgeous husband, my sweet kiddos, and many many people we loved like crazy waiting to see us. And lots of pictures being taken.
So back to the vomit-covered me…
Most of the rest of the flight was okay. I’d occasionally whimper/glaze over in wonder at the fact that I’d used one of my spare outfits just 15 minutes into 24 hours of traveling. And I spent the other four hours and 45 minutes holding a puke bag within inches of Lyla’s face – I jumped whenever she even flinched! But what else could happen?
At the end of the flight, we very wisely changed the girls before we stuck them into the baby carriers and lugged them through however many gates we would need to go through. We took turns changing them in the empty seat. I changed Lyla first. Then Nancy changed Sosie. She peels down sweet Sosie’s diaper and what happened?
Projectile. Poop. And not normal baby poop smell. Like rancid, I’m ridding my little body of all kinds of germs-smelling diarrhea.
All over Nancy’s pants. And her backpack. Like thick, permeating pudding-like poop. By this time, other people were filing past us to exit. Nancy and I kind of chuckled at what other people were having to smell and see, but we could do nothing but frantically scoop up the poop with the wipes we had – and our bare hands.
Did I mention how immensely grateful I was that Nancy was with me? How sacrificial she was all week? How I couldn’t have done it without her? Oh man oh man.
We cleaned as quickly as we could and reassured each other that we weren’t in a rush. We’d get off when we got off and it was ok. No reason to panic. The stewards were really rushing us and trying to hold the babies – which resulted in screaming from them.
We finally get off the plane only to discover that the back third of the plane was all crowded into a little tram anxiously waiting on whoever the holdup was so they could be taxied to our gate. Well we didn’t know that!
So we walk as quickly as we can, each with our extra 50 pounds of baby and backpack. Nancy smells like poop, I smell like vomit, and I’m now carrying a clear trash bag full of puke and poop-covered washcloths, baby clothes, and every item of clothing I had on. Poor Nancy didn’t have time to change and just had to wear what she had on. We crammed our stinky selves onto the tram with our impatient fellow travelers and made it to the exit gate.
Only to wait through five different lines of the Turkey officials checking, rechecking, verifying, and re-verifying our passports, the girls’ passports, asking for additional paperwork which I had to dig out of the backpack, and then rechecking everything again. I don’t know what the deal was, but boy they were doing their J-O-B…
FINALLY we made it to the ticket desk to request our bulkhead seating so we could take advantage of the cribs on our upcoming 10-ish hour flight. I felt very proud of us. It’d been a tough flight, but here we were. We made it. We’d get this little detail set up, and then we’d clean up in the spacious airport bathrooms.
I’ll spare you the details, but I spent the next hour and half begging and pleading with the Turkish Airline precious people to PLEASE let us have the bulkhead seats. Someone was sitting in those seats, but they didn’t have two babies – or one baby. So we should get them, right? No can do. It involved lots of the workers, language barriers, and the meanest supervisor lady I’d ever met. I cried. Poop-covered Nancy was sitting on a nearby bench holding two babies – both of which were crying. My vomit smelling little self had done okay so far, but we were only six or seven hours in and I was out of any traveling willpower I had. The supervisor even seemed gleeful in her denial of any fraction of sanity we could imagine over the next ten hours. Nothing we could do.
We freshened up best we could, tried to eat and get the babies calmed, and then trudged to our next flight. We got the third degree about our water – um, two babies, 10 hours of flying, bottles? Finally they let us through with the airport-purchased water. I don’t think we talked much waiting to get on the next flight. Nancy and I were both exhausted and dreading the flight. Our last hope was that we would meet a sweet stewardess.
I got on and quickly explained our dilemma to the nicest-looking stewardess I could find. And she was a gift from the Lord. She preciously and sweetly – but yet firmly – asked the people if they would mind moving seats. One man was very willing. The older couple though? No way were they happy. They were really upset to have to move. They came back to take our seats, and we both went overboard to wearily tell them just how appreciative we were for the seats while trying to explain. Stone-faced responses. Nothing. Ticked little old people.
What did we do in response to Mr. and Mrs. Grouchy? Well, Nancy and I tried not to skip down the aisle with joy to our spacious new seats!!!! We checked out where the cribs would go, happily kissed on the babies, stored our brick-filled backpacks (and the puke/poop laundry trash bag), and stretched our feet out. AAHH – we could do this! And we both said we didn’t feel one TINY bit of guilt about taking their seats. I think even Jesus would have taken their seats had He experienced what we had on the previous flight. Ok, maybe not. Well, maybe.
Anyway, the flight went pretty well. The old people kept stomping up to our seats because they left their carry-on luggage there – even though they could have moved it – and glared angrily at us while they slammed the overhead bin shut. Nope, still no guilt. Not a bit.
The babies slept a couple of times in the little cribs, and Nancy and I actually got to like eat – well pick at – the Turkish food… (let’s say I’m not itching to go to Turkey anytime soon!) and rest our arms! Glorious! There were quite a few diaper blowouts – diaper after diaper, outfit after outfit. Our backpacks were becoming lighter while the poopy/vomity clothes bag got heavier. I was sooo grateful for packing SOOOO many clothes for all of us. Can I tell you at this point, we kind of giggled (in a maybe manical way) everytime we had to open the vomit/poop clothes bag to put another item in? Those clothes had been marinating in their bodily fluids for 15ish hours now at least. Yeah, we really felt bad for everyone around us – at least we knew to hold our breath!
We finally landed and taxied to our runway – whoooo hooo!!! We were in America! The babies were American citizens!!!! I was so excited and tearful. We just had one more little two hour flight and we had plenty of time to get there.
Until we sat on the plane for an extra hour at the gate. Who knows why. They wouldn’t let people pee or get up or do anything. The babies were okay, but I was dreading having to miss our flight – it would mean flying in on Sunday morning instead of Saturday night. It would mean our welcoming party would mostly be at church. And I couldn’t spend the night in the New York airport. I just couldn’t.
I must mention that while we were sitting there parked on the runway, there was a scurry of activity behind us and an oxygen tank was being rolled out. I turned around and there was Mrs. Grouchy laying on Mr. Grouchy’s lap and sucking in some oxygen for a few minutes. And then she was fine. I don’t think another foot of room would have helped her breathe, but I felt a twinge of guilt. Well, no I didn’t. Really, that’s horrible I suppose. But I didn’t feel one bit bad. Not a bit… She was fine.
We eventually got off, made it through customs FINALLY in spite of some cocky airport cops – seriously?, and claimed our luggage – still carrying the poop/puke bag. Then we trekked with the 20 pound babies and the 30 pound backpacks and the multiple suitcases to go re-check our luggage since we were coming from a foreign country to America. Which took about another hour. Time was ticking down for us making our flight on time.
Meanwhile Jason was texting me telling me Nolan had fallen off his bike and had gotten stitches. I was like, ooookkkk… why are you telling me this now? If you only knew the extreme duress I was under right now, you would not be telling me about a couple of stitches on his leg – or wherever it was. I’d kill for 1000 stitches for myself to get me home. I was like – he has NO CLUE…
Finally we get our luggage rechecked and we go to find our gate. I think we maybe had like 25 minutes or something. We had to go through hallway after hallway after turn after an elevator or five, and FINALLY we saw our airline’s desk and rushed to get our seat assignments. The ladies started talking like we were going to miss our flight or something, and I was like, really? What’s the big deal? We’re here! We just have to walk to our gate? They made a big deal about our gate being really far away (of course it was), but I knew we were in shape and would run if we had to in order to make our flight. I mean how long of a walk could it be? We had a few minutes still.
They pointed us toward our gate, and we hurried around the corner following the directions they gave us. And then I froze. In front of us stood probably 500 people – at least – waiting to go through security. Oh crap.
I lost it again. Cried right there. I knew that had to be it. I was praying, but I was crying too. We were sooo tired, and it had been such a looong flight – we were finally in America, almost home, and I wanted my family all in one place so bad that I couldn’t stand it. I ACHED for it. But yet it was sooo far away.
I trudged towards the line and prayed for a miracle. While I was bawling – like audibly bawling. I mean we’d had maybe a total of an hour or two of sleep in 48 or so hours (had full day in Ethiopia bc we left at 11pm, then had been traveling for almost a full day) – which came at the end of a hard, emotional week in Ethiopia. I just wanted home.
This lady was standing there that sweetly said, “Baby, what are you crying for?” I started rambling (while still bawling) about Ethiopia and vomit and 20 hours of traveling and poop and babies and my husband and America and our flight and sleeping in the airport. I think she thought I was nuts. But she so sweetly whisked us over to a short line and patted my arm and told us it’d be okay. Can I say that sweet sweet Nancy was so calm during all of this? Seriously – she’s a saint!
There were about 10 people in front of us, but we had about 15 minutes or so until our flight was supposed to be leaving. I was still crying. Happy to have 10 people in front of us instead of 490, but I still wasn’t thinking it looked too good.
The people in front of us asked what was wrong, and I tried not to tell them, but about half of the vomit, poop, husband, Ethiopia, baby details came out. The man sweetly encouraged us to get in front of him, and I said, “No, no, I’m okay – it’s just been a long long long day.” He said, “Do you want to miss your flight?” Me, crying more, “Well, no…” He said, “Then GO!”
We finally made it to the scanner line, and for the first time in all our security checks, they told us we had to take the babies out of the baby carriers to go through security. What??? I nicely refused. They said, “Well, you’re going to have to be patted down if you don’t.” Uhhh, pat away sister, but I’m not taking the time to take off these babies!
The dam had broken by then, and I cried all through our pat downs and was doing the like hyper-ventilating breathing. Another really kind lady was so sweet to us (I’ve said “sweet” a lot – God put some really sweet people in our path – THANK YOU LORD!) and helped us get our backpacks back on and kept telling us we were okay. I was quite the sight I assure you. I am NOT like that – like never in my life have I EVER been like that. It had been a long, long day.
We get through security and the little guy asks where our gate was and when our flight was. We told him, and he just said, you’re not going to make it. No way – it takes a good 15 minutes to walk down to that gate – it’s the farthest one from here.
But, we figured we could try. So we started running. Running while crying. Carrying 20 pounds of baby and 30 pounds of backpack (maybe 20 pounds by now?) along with a 20 pound bag of rancid puke/poop laundry in a clear bag for all of America to see. We’d run, walk to catch our breaths, run again, walk some more, cry, commiserate, and try to run again. It took forever. I don’t even remember what the babies were doing except kind of whimpering a little and trying to hold on. Sweet girls. I think God must’ve comforted them Himself.
We’d see the sign for our gate and pick up the pace only to discover that it was just pointing to another long hallway around the corner. That happened like three times. Finally I see our real real real gate at the end of a long hallway. I didn’t know how much time we had left, but I knew it had to be close.
I ran a little faster just to get closer and maybe catch the plane for Nancy and I. I ran past the gate check-in gate. They hollered something at me, and I just yelled back, we’re trying to catch the Nashville flight! They didn’t say anything back.
Of course there were like five turns and hallways, but I heard the stewardess yelling, “Last call for Nashville, last call!!!” I SCREAMED, “WAIT WAIT WAIT!!! WE’RE COMING!! WAIT!!!!” Oh my word, we made it.
We walked onto that plane two balls of sweaty hot mess. We sank into seats, stripped off our outer layers and stripped the babies down – even they were covered with sweat. I think we sat there just breathing for like 45 minutes – both of us crying off and on by then. It had been a long long long long 24 hours. But finally we were going to land in Nashville – barring something else crazy – and we would be done. I think we were crying from both the horror of the day and the relief.
The last thirty minutes or so we ate, and the precious stewardess brought us plenty of extra snacks and water and was so sweet. The babies got a good snacky-meal, and we did too. Then we changed our clothes into our final outfit – thankfully we each still had a final outfit. I re-smothered myself with scented lotion again – I was sooo glad I had brought it!
And then, we walked off of the plane, onto our ramp, and INTO THE NASHVILLE AIRPORT!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was such a surreal, miraculous-seeming, long-time-coming, precious moment. Here’s a gallery of pictures to look through: (A HUGE “Amesegenallo” to Amanda Humphrey for our airport pics!!! THANK YOU!)
Pictures are better than words – so “they” say. If each picture were to describe 10,000 words, there would still not be enough words to express how grateful I was to see EACH AND EVERY FACE at the airport. Thank you – from the bottom of my heart – to all of you that came out. It was the best, best, most perfect ending to such a long journey. Those precious people had supported us all along the way, and there is no better ending than having them there with us to celebrate our sweet girls finally being home. I think that moment is just one that I’ll remember forever – like Mary in the Bible, I stored those moments in my heart, and I’ll ponder and reflect on them forever. And be grateful beyond belief for our support network – every. single. time.
And oh the sight of my precious husband and my other three children! Oh my, the WHOLE UNDERHILL FAMILY ALL TOGETHER!!!!!!!! And my pitiful Nolan’s face – no wonder Jason tried to warn me about the stitches. I didn’t ask, but I assumed it was a couple of stitches on his knee! Nope, an all out face crash off his bike – poor baby. But there was no better sight to see!
And seeing all of those faces made the trip – every vomit and diarrhea-soaked moment of it – completely worth it. I would have rather had an easier trip of course, but it will make for great stories to tell the girls someday. And I think I’ll be able to laugh by then!
And once again (but not for the last time), thank you sweet Aunt Nancy. You made the trip and saved my very little crazy self! I love you, and I am so grateful to have you sharing that trip with me – every vomit and diarrhea-soaked moment of it.