My biggest fear yesterday – arrival day for the Latvian crew, and our W. – was that I would miss it. Their Uzbekistan Airways flight was scheduled to land at JFK at 12:30 PM; my DC – JFK flight arrived at 11:20 AM. The only options were a 6 AM and a 10:10 AM flight, and I went with the later. (Making the 6 AM flight would have meant a 3 AM wakeup, and I just couldn’t see it.) But then a couple days after I booked the flight, I started getting arrival info from P143 that stressed the importance of leaving ample time before the incoming flights. Apparently each year there are a couple families who cut travel too close and miss the arrival– a huge bummer for everyone involved. Makes sense. I kind of panicked, but by then it was too late. For nights beforehand I dreamed I missed the arrival. I gave W’s little gifts and our welcome sign to our friends who were driving to JFK just in case… But it turned out fine. I landed an hour before W’s flight came in and made it over the P143 host parent gathering about 45 minutes before the kids started arriving. In plenty of time for the group picture.
The volunteers who were handling the arrival were excellent. I connected with them to deal with a couple logistics and signatures. I chatted with a couple other P143 parents, though fewer than I anticipated. Interestingly, the other major hosting organization, New Horizons for Children, was also welcoming host children off the same flight; evidently this happens somewhat frequently. That surprised me. The P143 kids were wearing colored hats; the other group’s kids were wearing colored shirts.
When the kids started coming out, I was suddenly overwhelmed with nervousness. I recognized W. almost immediately – he looked older than the listing photo I knew him by and was taller than I expected. He was near the front, and as I greeted him it seemed that he equally nervous. It was definitely awkward, no way around it. I hugged him, which he didn’t seem crazy about, and I got a smile out of him. They require a photo taken together, and we got that done fast (we were the first ones). Then we were free to go. It all happened so fast. I tried to say something to W. in Latvian, and he didn’t understand me. I couldn’t call up a single one of the Latvian phrases I’d prepped in the adrenaline and emotion-rush of the moment, so I dropped it. There we were, a 30-something woman and a preteen Latvian boy, total strangers, walking together silently through the airport. It all felt so.very.random.
Once we got to our terminal, we hit the bathrooms and then McDonald’s (his choice, though I had to insist that he actually choose as he wanted to leave it to me). After we were seated and eating, I pulled out the photo book gift we’d made for him. He opened and looked through it, and he thanked me. Then he pulled some parcels out of his small black backpack – the only luggage he had with him – and gave them to me. The sweetness of it– it took me aback. It was Latvian candies, and he made sure to communicate to me that it was for all the family, for the children. I pulled out my phone and looked up Latvian and found out the name of his town. Translation apps don’t allow for Latvian voice intake – which means I can speak my English into the mic and it’ll capture my words, but he has to type his Latvian in (or one of us does). Which is a bummer. Anyway, W. has gorgeous penmanship – all in cursive – which I very sadly can’t quite make out. Is it a capital F or a capital J? (It was a J.) An M or an N there? Gonna take us some time to work this one through. [Though on the plus side, he speaks more English than I anticipated.]
Eventually I made out the name of W’s region and looked it up on the map, which was great. Then I gave him the other small gifts I’d brought – a transformer toy, some silly putty, a squeezable ball – and it was time to walk over to our gate. The awkwardness, still definitely there, was dropping noticeably by now, and I silently thanked God for the time we had to kill in the airport and the power of communing over a meal – even McDonald’s. I’ll take it. I napped onboard waiting for the flight to take off; then we played Uno, which he enjoyed. I was so glad I’d brought the cards. The last couple of hands I could tell that he was intentionally losing to make sure that I didn’t, which I took as a sign of respect and politeness. Again – so touching.
We got the car a little after 5 PM, midnight Latvian time. I later found out he’d been up since before 4 AM his time (9 PM the prior day for us) – so 20 straight hours. He crashed hard. I had brought a pillow along for him if he wanted it, but he didn’t; he just slept upright in the seat. He was groggy and dazed when he awoke upon our arriving home at 7:30. I got him to eat a piece of toast, showed him the house, got him into his PJ’s. He just wanted to sleep, but I wanted him to stay up at least a little in hopes of holding off jet lag. I needn’t have worried: he went to bed at 8:20 and slept through till after 7 this morning. Overall it went as well as I could possibly have hoped, and I was so thankful.
And today? Trampoline-jumping, bracelet-making, swim-lesson trying, light-saber-fighting, and sundries-shopping. And the portrait of a sweet, jump-right-in boy beginning to emerge. But all that will have to wait till tomorrow!
(Part of a blogging series on orphan-hosting with Project 143)
Originally posted June 27, 2014