13 June 2016

Hello from the Other Side

I'm sitting in the Wellington airport waiting for my phone to charge.  Pax is having some floor time and claiming a whole new hemisphere as hers with her spit-up markings.  We are here!

I arrived at the LA airport a full four hours before departure and said tearful goodbyes to Benjamin and Bear.  This part is hard.  Gut-wrenching, still-tearing-up-just-thinking-about-it-now hard.  Leaving your child and husband in another country for an unknown length of time - this is not an experience I would wish on anyone.  The whole situation makes me feel powerless and hopeless.  And anxious.

And guys - this is just really privileged we-wanted-to-have-an-adventure type immigration.  We're not fleeing war.  We're not unable to provide for our family in our home country.  Pax and I flew here on a very safe plane - no lifejackets required.  And it is still really, really hard to be separated from my spouse and child.   It is still really hard to be in a country where I don't understand how cell phones work, even if I do understand the language.  All I am saying is, please go hug a refugee.  Hug them and then offer to take them grocery shopping and get their kids enrolled in school because this stuff is hard without any associate trauma.  

After the tearful goodbyes, I got checked in for my flight, dropped off my baggage, and headed to security.  There was a moment where the gate agent didn't think my visa was valid and I had a second to fantasize about having no choice but calling Benjamin to come pick us up and getting back in the car with him and Bear and deciding not to do this whole crazy thing anyway.  But then her supervisor showed up and verified that yes e-visas are a real thing and they took our suitcases and sent us to security. Pax and I were spared the X-ray machine but we both got our hands swabbed for explosive residue.  Yes, they swabbed my five month old for explosive residue.  I think the TSA has not studied developmental milestones because she cannot sit up on her own, she definitely cannot make any improvised explosive devices.  Promise.

So we got through security and got to the gate with plenty of time to spare.  I panicked and decided I could not do this without one of those little neck pillow things, so I bought one of those.  I called Benjamin and got myself crying all over again.  I called my mom and got her crying all over again.  I ate a pork quesadilla.  Then it was time to board.

Everyone was quite polite and helpful about the baby.  I didn't catch any eye rolls or anyone desperately trying to change their seat.  And Pax behaved herself pretty well.  She didn't think much of the bassinet that screws to the bulkhead, but she was content to sit on my lap and nurse for pretty much the whole time.  I watched three movies: Zootopia, Joy, and The Force Awakens.  I got a total of three hours of sleep.  Using the tiny airplane bathroom while holding a squirming infant was a bit of a challenge but we made it happen.  There was only one moment where I got really antsy and just needed to be off the plane, but I breathed and that moment passed.  When we disembarked, four separate people congratulated me on how well she did.  And when I struggled a little to put on my backpack, a man behind me wordlessly held it up and slipped the straps over my shoulders.

We filed out of the plane and into the line at immigration.  The immigration officers laughed and joked with people, ribbing the Australian for his team's recent rugby defeat and playing peak-a-boo with a toddler. Being an American, I thought that this was physically impossible.  When it was our turn at the desk, Pax and I were welcomed to New Zealand and ushered through to Customs.  Another long line.  Ultimately, my hiking boots were inspected and found to be not suspicious.

At this point I looked at the clock and realized that my flight to Wellington left in 40 minutes.  Also it turns out the international terminal is about a mile and a half from the domestic terminal following an outdoor path through several dark parking lots.  Also, I was carrying two suitcases, a backpack, a baby, and a car seat.

So I arrived at the domestic terminal a bit sweaty and breathless.  I checked the suitcases and car seat again and then had to go through security all over again.  Luckily the New Zealand version of the TSA does not require belt and shoe removal and does not suspect babies of bomb-making.  I sprinted to the gate and was the second to last party to build the plane.  The folks behind me were a family of four - two parents, a baby, and a sick toddler.  Their seats turned out to be right in front of ours.

The flight to Wellington was short but turbulent and full of screaming children, only one of which was mine.  Pax impressed her neighbors by spitting up a truly impressive volume of milk all over her, me, and the aisle of the airplane.  So on landing, our first order of business was changing our clothes.

So, fresh clothes, snacks, coffee, electricity, and free wifi have all been accomplished, and now it is time for me to actually leave the airport.

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