"Wow! That was a long ride!" my little son announced as we took to the aisles after a twelve-hour flight preceded by a two-and-a-half-hour flight and an hour layover. The guy behind us and the lady beside us chuckled, which I took as a good omen after the kids' general (mis)behavior over the last half day.
Truth be told, they weren't actually bad, just normal kids who were leaving Daddy behind for the summer (very sad and nervous about that) to return to the land where they had made all of their childhood memories (very excited and nervous about that). I expected them to cry. They didn't, at least not then. I was surprised by how often I did though.
It was a twelve-hour flight punctuated with requests for hair and ears, for a different colored ring pop (usually the one the other brother had and which I could not find), for a different toy. It was filled with crying over the earbuds which are simply not made for children and so continually fell out over the 107 minutes of "Rango" and 115 minutes of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (it must have been a Johnny Depp children's month). Most of all it was filled with urgent trips to the bathroom, usually involving the complete relocation of a food cart so that a little crotch-clutching squirmer could make it in time.
For me, the funny thing about these US-Asia trips, which I am now 12 years into, is that I always feel I am leaving until I get to the other side. The weeks leading up to the trip are filled not with the anticipation of the wonderful things to come but with the full-on effort to avoid the known perils of the trip. Did I pack deodorant? It's really hard to get there. Chocolate for the in-laws? It's one of the only things that they truly appreciate from America (aside from honey) because it's one of the few things that isn't irrelevant to them. Tea for myself? Pracitice books for the boys? The plethora of medicines and vitamins which we might need but can't get there?
And then there is all the cramming. Have I paid all the bills? Have I left the checkbook? Is there something good in the freezer for my husband?
In the last few days, we said goodbye to all of our friends because, truth be told, life is short and even though we plan to return, you never know. We have seen too many examples of this.
We went to King's Family Restaurant so often that even the manager knew the little one likes his cheeseburger "with tomato on the side." We went through old clothes and set aside things to give the neighbors in the fall. We printed pictures with our daddy and made gifts for those we love. Well, some of those we love. I had a long list of those who should get the special beaded bracelets from the boys before I really thought about what it is like to MAKE those special beaded bracelets with the boys. Do you know how many pony beads can fit in a square inch? Do you know how easily an elastic band that seemed perfectly strong enough for bracelets in the store can break and send said pony beads flying? Do you know how far those pony beads can fly?
I also said goodbye to the summer I might have had--one in which my nephew came to stay with us and we traveled to Ohio, Michigan, and Baltimore/DC. One filled with swimming lessons, museum camps, and trips to various parks. That might have been an excellent summer. And it still might be. But not this year.
I boarded the plane with heavy luggage (both bags combined were 94 pounds--6 shy of the upper limit) and a heavier heart. I remembered all the reasons I love and married my husband. Why does it take a trip to make me remember that?
I clutched the hands of two little boys during each scary takeoff and several other times in between. We were leaving, leaving, leaving, and every 7 seconds put us a mile further from our most recent home.
But then, a day later, the clouds parted, and we saw the Korean coastline as we descended into Pusan. The white and orange fishing boats jauntily scudded over the deep blue water around the rocks poking out of the Sea of Japan.
"Is that Korea?" the big one asked. "Are those the same boats we saw with Halmoni and Halaboji?"
"Yes, it's Korea, but no, those probably aren't the same boats from Pohang although they do look the same, don't they?"
The very sleepy little one rode "obuba" (piggyback) true Korean fashion as we deplaned, passed through immigration, baggage claim, and customs (can you say "aching back"?). We walked through the gates to greet a beaming Halaboji and a weeping Halmoni. The smells of Korea--humid salt air, pollen, and kimchi breath--greeted us. Yes, we left on a jet plane, but strangely enough, we are home.