One day in Warsaw

02/13/2010 at 11:20 PM Leave a comment

This was written 12 years ago when  my daughter was 4.


Allie is almost 4 years old now . She is so intensely her own person that sometimes my wife and I look at each other and wonder out loud “ how in the world did we get this little spitfire?”.

It was nearly 4 years ago that Carolyn and I found ourselves on our way to Lithuania to pick up a tiny four month old girl named Tatyanna. We had only two blurry pictures of her as a newborn and we were filled with joy and trepidation ( more trepidation than joy). We had already overcome numerous obstacles to meet the tiny baby who would forever change our lives. Our time in Vilnius (capital of Lithuania ) was brief, exciting, and full of stories. This story, however, begins with my trip from Vilnius to Warsaw alone with my new baby.

It was the winter of 91-92, and we had left the Eastern seaboard of the United States in one of the most severe cold spells in memory. Despite my efforts to prepare for the worst in Northern Europe, the weather caught us by surprise. They were having one of the warmest winters in memory. All of the Arctic gear I had so carefully packed remained packed. So, on this cloudy, dreary Thursday evening I was at the Vilnius airport (more like an abandoned warehouse) waiting for the last flight from Vilnius to Warsaw on Polish airways . Due to logistical problems, Carolyn would not be coming with me.  Instead, she would be going directly back home to be with our oldest daughter, Holly. Allie and I said our good-byes to ‘momma’ and passed through passport control.

At this point I need to digress for a moment. In Eastern Europe a man and an infant traveling alone was such a remarkable event, that throughout my trip I was repeatedly confronted. Did I need any help? Where was the baby’s mother? Was the baby all right?  Unspoken, yet present was… Is this baby yours? After many reassurances they would all leave shaking their heads, as if they had just seen the most incredible sight, and that it was a good thing that God looks out for little children and fools ( I knew which one  I was ).

Back at the warehouse, Allie was crying. She was getting hungry and I was trying to hold her off, so that she would take her bottle in the plane.  They soon allowed us to board.  Since I did not trust this airline with anything essential, I had several pieces of carry-on luggage.  All of our documents, baby supplies, money, and food was in three very heavy and bulky bags. I fumbled, stumbled and struggled outside the terminal, up the stairs to the cabin and then down the narrow aisle without any help. At the last moment, one passenger helped me stow my stuff so that he could get by sooner. I concentrated on making Allie comfortable and feeding her. As soon as she was settled the most horrible words came over the intercom (in very accented English): “we are sorry ladies and gentlemen but we have to deboard the plane and go back to the (now unheated) terminal.Apparently, they could not get the door closed and the only mechanic  had already gone home. They would do all they could but we might have to leave the next day.

Another digression is essential at this time. I was going to Warsaw because the US did not have an embassy in Vilnius and although Allie was now legally ours ( according to  Lithuania) she had no visa with which to enter the United States. Therefore, in order to go home I had to reach Warsaw to keep an appointment with an Embassy approved doctor who would examine my new daughter and her papers ( and by God they better be right). Then, I had to trek to the embassy to turn in the multitude of documents, pictures, declarations, income statements, etc.,  that are part and parcel of international adoptions (All of them notarized, sealed and homogenized). Next, I had to hope these bureaucrats  would not find some reason to delay or deny her a visa. I would have until 3 o’clock in the afternoon to obtain these entry papers. If for any  reason I could not keep to this schedule, I would miss my Saturday morning flight home and would have to stay until Tuesday (Monday was President’s day).

So when they said we might not make it to Warsaw that night my stress level jumped to heights not seen in recent history.  During the 150 minute wait in the warehouse, Allie could not calm down. I truly believe she could feel my anxiety as I wondered what to do. I walked her, I rocked her, I sang to her ( quietly so they wouldn’t call the social workers), and I desperately tried to will that mechanic to come and fix that damn door. It was after 8 o’clock  when they said we could go . The door was fixed. I leaped for joy!   Again, I was  about to struggle with my luggage. However, carrying a crying infant for several hours had been exhausting and my arms refused to pick up the extra weight. My back had decided this would be an opportune time to start aching. I was willing myself to greater efforts when providence intervened. The other passengers were all men obviously on business. None of them spoke any English. They had seen me try to comfort Allie for hours and at this time they came to my rescue and without a word picked up  all my luggage and stood by while I was allowed to enter the plane first and settle in while they stowed the bags. I was so touched  by these gruff businessmens’ concern and spontaneous help. I welled up with thanks and I have a hard time describing the elation I felt. After all of the struggles at home and here we were going to make it! The worst was over! (Fat chance)

I collapsed into my seat with Allie resting happily in my lap. To my utter amazement she greedily took the bottle she had been refusing for the last two hours ( I didn’t like the warehouse either). As I took a deep breath I let all of the anxiety wash over and out of me. With Allie satisfied, I started to think about myself. I suddenly realized I had missed dinner and I was ravenous. While the plane taxied to the runway, I patted myself on the back for having the foresight to pack several of my favorite granola bars, chocolate chip. While finding one was the high point of my day, eating it became the low point. As soon as the first bite touched my stomach, enormous waves of violent nausea washed over me. Fortunately for the airline they had those nice little vomit bags handy. I filled one and felt better. For about three seconds. I then used the one from Allie’s seat. This time I felt better for almost an entire minute. I abruptly reached across the aisle and took somebody’s bag ( he didn’t object ). This time the relief was more than passing.  I had already brought up every atom of granola I had ever eaten, now there were bits of stomach and intestine coming up( at least it felt that way), I knew I was not finished. The steward then brought me three more sic-sacs unbidden, an ominous omen. Within minutes we hit turbulence and those sic sacs’ ambitions were fulfilled. Throughout this ordeal Allie sat mesmerized in my lap and actually started to fall asleep. Only as we neared Warsaw did my nausea finally leave in search of another victim.

I reached the Warsaw airport terminal after 10 PM. The luggage thank goodness made it. The exchange booth, however, was closed and I had no Polish money with which to pay the  doctor early the next morning.  I was beyond caring.  I hailed a cab and he was more than happy to take  US. Dollars . I made it to my room at the Holiday Inn shortly before midnight.  I settled into my room quickly and gratefully ( also desperately).  I placed Allie on one of the beds and surrounded her with pillows. I then indulged in a long and very hot shower. I had just begun one of the most wonderful days of my life.

Allie slept the proverbial sleep of the innocent, which of course she was. Further, despite my fears that the travel alarm would not work (I checked it 6 or 7 times) and that the operator might not have understood my wake up instructions, I slept well and awoke, rested, five minutes before the alarm was due to go off. My baby’s karma must have done its magic on me. I felt wonderful, alive, energetic, full of optimism and ready to go. The heavy gray overcast that had enveloped us for days had vanished and was replaced by a stunningly bright sunny day with wisps of cirrus clouds decorating the sky. We made it uneventfully to the doctors office.  The doctor was wonderful. A grandfatherly type with salt and pepper hair just beginning to recede. He had a ready smile and welcoming manner. He treated us like friends he had just seen last week. He played with Allie, as he examined her and she smiled and giggled. I exhaled. He expertly prepared all of the documents. He took US currency and called us a cab to take us to the embassy. There were a few moments of comic relief when I tried to tell the driver I wanted to go to the United States Embassy. Only when I resorted to my Spanish did he understand and directly took us there.

By now it was nearly 10 am and I was in a hurry to take on whichever ‘bureaucrat’ was on duty today. I would overcome any of their objections, obtain my new daughter’s entry papers and be on our way home. On arrival, I was routinely passed through the heavy security at the embassy. The lobby was  so uniquely American that I felt like I had already made it home. I reluctantly refocused on my task and after registering, I gratefully sank down in one of their overstuffed sofas for the inevitable long wait. To my amazement, a lovely lady whose name did not register, came out  immediately and greeted us. She paid genuine attention to my beautiful new daughter and helped me through the process of finalizing the visa process (i.e. filling out another form). She assured me that everything was in order ( Thanks to dear Janice at our adoption agency) and she said there would be no delay. If I could come back after 3 o’clock, I could pick up my papers. As I sat stunned with delight, this lovely lady smiled, shook my hand, and said ‘this is one lucky girl. I know what it means to be wanted enough to be adopted, since I am an adoptee also.’ My heart leaped for joy. The worries were over. Allie and I were going home tomorrow! She was a part of our family and now she was allowed to join us in our home in Maryland.

As I breezed out of the embassy, I could have sworn that this little 11 pound bundle of happiness was  lighter. Even the baby bag was lighter. I laughed and sang my way down the street, noticing everything and nothing all at the same time.  People were walking by giving me extremely curious glances. In a true multicultural experience, a Polish grandmother came up to me and yelled at me in polish ( I think it was polish) for not ‘properly’ bundling my baby. She also without a second’s hesitation zipped Allie’s coat up to her neck, placed her hood on and tied the drawstring so the only visible parts were her bright brown eyes and cute speck of a nose. Of course as soon as she was gone I untied, unzipped and allowed Allie to experience this wonderfully happy day full of life and promise ( it was only 55F for Pete’s sake). I can hardly believe I went through this ridiculous pantomime three times. They were screaming. I was nodding and smiling. They were bundling. I was unbundling. It did not matter. I did not care. I had a new daughter and we were going home.

This was our chance to explore. I bought fruit at a stand. I had wanted three apples and two tangerines, I ended up with one apple and a kilo of tangerines. I also got yelled at for trying to pay with too big a bill. Around me Warsaw was bustling. Everyone seemed to be either in a hurry or having something to sell. There were beautiful stores with the latest in clothing , electronics, and business equipment. There were taxies galore zooming around the large plazas, missing each other by whiskers without hardly a glance. There were very few people strolling around taking in the sights.

At our hotel room we proceeded to have lunch! Formula for Allie, fruit for me. The apple was interesting. The tangerines however were devastating. They were what tangerines aspire to, but never quite achieve.  Sweet, tasty, succulent and so full of juice that despite my best efforts, some dripped down my chin. Daughter and dad both had lunch on their faces. I ate them all. I did not even offer one to Allie. To this day my mouth waters at the thought of those tangerines.

After nap, hers not mine, we trekked on back to the embassy and the papers were ready and waiting. Early no less! Bureaucrats everywhere I apologize!

We again went exploring. This time however, we had a mission. We had $80 in polish money to spend. At a little toy store with a Lego sign, Allie insisted on buying a toy for her new older sister. She chose a stuffed cat that meows when you shake it. Actually, it meows if you just think about shaking it( I disconnected the battery for the trip home). I bought a book of American idioms that still sits on my bookshelf with its protective shrink wrap intact. We bought some dinner, and went home to call momma and give her the good news.

In one of those quirks of airline scheduling, Carolyn’s return trip from Vilnius involved an overnight layover in Frankfurt, which meant we would be able to meet her in time to fly back on the same flight. We had four seats to ourselves and by the time the plane was in the air, I was asleep. My day in Warsaw was over.

To this day I cannot eat chocolate chip granola bars.


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OMG 2 the sales associate

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