When toddlers attack

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Where's the Mommy? -- Leaving, Part III

A message from the Department of State
A half-hour back to the hotel, where I dropped off Adrián and the girls, comatose from the car ride and the heat -- then a solo trip back to the embassy to pick up the CRBAs and the missing stamps from the passports.  The embassy does a lovely job with the CRBAs, by the way -- suitable for framing and tucked in a fancy envelope -- but thanks, I think we'll keep them tucked safely in a file somewhere.

By the way, we did face a slight issue about hyphenating our surnames.  Even though Adrian isn't legally the father in India, we still were able to put both family names on the birth certificate.  The question was, hypen or no?  Even though people use both parents' names in Spain and much of the Spanish-speaking world with no hyphen, we decided that in the States, his name might be relegated to middle name status without it (similar confusion exists regarding Anglo middle names in Spain, where I've heard references to "Allen Poe" and "Luther King" as if Edgar and Martin had two family names).  So hyphen it was.

The problem was, it seems hyphens cause chaos with the agency that issues Delhi birth certificates.  So they officially don't exist.  So the girls' names are a la española on their birth certificates.  Which caused a brief hiccup during a phonecall from the embassy.  "Υοu want the names hyphenated, but they're not hyphenated on the birth certificate," said Gagan.  "Well, yeah, because they told me they couldn't hyphenate, but I know you can on the passport," I explained.  He paused.  A few moments of silence.  "Okay," he said. 

But no hiccups this time as I confidently strode into the embassy 15 minutes before closing, just a smile from Gagan and I was done, there and back in 45 minutes -- which I think is about the fastest you can get anything done in Delhi. 

Back at Svelte, Adrián and Usha were in packing and cleaning mode.  We'd tried not to collect too much stuff; ideally, only things that we could easily take back.  Since the bulkiest thing we'd brought in our bags were the preemie sized diapers, and since the girls had already graduated to newborn size, and since those were readily available back home, our suitcases were much less strained on the way home.

A quick goodbye dinner at Moti Mahal around the corner with Bernadette, Jan and Eveliis, then back to the hotel for four or so hours of sleep. 


Like the Labors of Hercules, one final tribulation awaited us:  Indira Gandhi International Airport.  Unlike last time, we remembered to print out our boarding passes before heading to the airport, and arrived three hours early on the dot. 

Our anxiety level rose as we approached passport control.  How would we answer what was sure to be a barrage of uncomfortably personal questions?  As the line in front of us whittled down, I could see we'd be directed to one of two men -- one looked kind, the other looked harried and already irritable as he processed a large Indian family gathered before his kiosk.  They were still there when we reached the head of the line.  Good.  Kindly, pudgy man it was.

I handed him all four passports. 

Please don't ask where the mother is.  Please don't ask where the mother is.

Shuffle shuffle shuffle.

"Where is the second baby?"  he asked, not seeing Clara nestled in her Cocoon at my feet. 

"Right here!"  I said eagerly, holding her up.

Shuffle shuffle...

He's going to ask where the mother is, I know it, here it comes...

"Purpose of your visit to India?"

I wasn't ready for that one.  I'm sure the look on my face was similar to what must have been on my face the first time I did a live shot for my station in Bakersfield:  deer in the headlights.

"Uh... uh..."  Pause.  "S...surrogacy."

No!  Idiot!  Why did you tell the truth?  If a glare could be an elbow in the ribs, the one that Adrián shot me would have left me bruised.

But miraculously... he was clueless.  "What?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.

Yes!  "Uh... visiting friends!"  No!  Stupid, who would you have been visiting?

But he was still clueless.  "Oh," he said.

Stamp.  Stamp.  Stamp.  Stamp.  "Have a nice flight."

That took us to security, about 50 paces beyond.  Here we encountered a short line, just enough time to empty our pockets, take off our belts, take out our laptop... hey, we're seasoned travellers, we know the drill.  But as we approached the conveyor belt, the line stopped.

A few mornings before, Αdrián woke up still shaken by a dream he'd had.  We were at the airport, right at the point in the security line in which we now found ourselves.  Our carry-on bags and laptop had already gone through and we were passing through the metal detector.  Suddenly, Adrián realized with horrror that we had forgotton to take the girls out of the Cocoons, and ran back, only to see them riding down the conveyor belt into the bowels of the machine.  Hey, don't laugh; it could happen.  Okay, laugh, I did. 

Still, I thought it was a joke when a security agent came up to us and said "baby, no put through."  I laughed, thinking he wasn't serious, as the guards around the x-ray machine shouted to each other in Hindi.  Finally, one said "we have problem with babies."

I immediately channeled my inner ugly American, puffed up my chest, looked him in the eye and fired back "I have all the documentation you could possibly need -- we've already satisfied the U.S. government and gotten their passports; we have an exit visa from the Indian government, I can prove whatever you..."

"No, no," he said.  "we don't know how to screen their carriers."

I looked at him for a second as the light bulb in my head slowly blinked on.  "You know, the babies do come out," I said.

He looked relieved as we removed the now screaming girls, and sent the now empty Cocoons through the machine.  I carried Olivia in my arms through the metal detector and held her as I was told to stand on a plywood box as a guard waved a wand around my crotch.

Then it happened.  The dreaded question:  "Where is the mommy?" asked a female agent, standing to my right behind the conveyor belt. 

The mental light bulb suddenly stopped flickering and grew brighter.  All of this was because they couldn't imagine asking a man to hold a baby.  That was why the female guard had been called, and why the line had been delayed -- nothing could proceed until she was there to hold the infants.

We walked away from security and towards the Star Alliance lounge.  The worst was over.

Airport lounges are like casinos -- they exist outside of the normal time-space continuum. Or at least outside our concept of when it's appropriate to have a gin and tonic.  But without fail, whatever airport lounge you're in, anywhere in the world, and whatever the hour, someone is always drinking something stronger than a mimosa.  So I had nice riesling with something breakfasty as we mixed formula for Clara and Olivia.  After all, it was 5:30 am in Delhi, but 5:00 pm in California.  I think it's important to reset your circadian rhthym to your destination as quickly as possible, don't you?

Our Lufthansa flight home couldn't have been better -- basinette seats the whole way, and rockstar status as all the big, tough, 60-year-old German flight attendants came back to pay homage to the twins.  Strangely, this is where I got my second "where's the mommy" question, from one of the flight attendants, no less.  She was being friendly, so I wasn't offended, but I said "he's right over there, across the aisle."  What I wanted to say was "bitch, please.  You're from Germany AND you're a flight attendant.  Can't you recognize two 'mos when you see them?"

But I refrained.  And she blurted "Oh!  Oh, I'm so sorry!  Okay, I'll stop asking questions now!"  I told her that after the overly-personal questions we'd been asked in India, these were fine.  But truth was, I would have expected a Western flight attendant to peg us as a couple of 'mos, especially since one of her male co-workers commented "Surrogacy?  Wow, I wish we could do this in Germany!"

The girls slept comfortably all the way from Delhi to Munich, and once there, we once again headed for the Lufthansa lounge for a two-hour wait to board our final flight, loading up on complementary pickles and pork products as we attempted our first public feeding (of the girls, not ourselves).  I saw a woman in full black abaya and veil at the buffet spreading something called "pepperoni spread" on slices of rye bread.  I debated telling her she may have been about to consume something that once oinked, but then decided she might have been more taken aback by a strange man approaching her.  She retreated with her plate to a far corner, munching in solitude.  Maybe she knew what she was doing after all.

When we arrived at the gate for our flight to L.A., the gate agent exclaimed "Oh!  These are the babies from India!"  A group of other agents rushed over from nearby gates to coo over the girls before we were allowed to proceed.  "You're in the center bulkhead row, and we've blocked out the two seats between you," she told us.  "We can't promise they'll stay empty, but we'll try."

We sat expectantly as passengers filed past us.  At one point, we heard a flight attendant tell a dissatisfied passenger "The only other seats empty are here," pointing between Adrián and me.  He looked dubiously at the babies in our arms.  "Uh... that's okay," he told her.  She shot us a quick, conspiratorial smile.

But the best thing I can say about the 11-hour flight to L.A. is that our girls were the best behaved babies on the flight.  And there were plenty of babies to compare them to.  Both outside rows on either side of us had babies.  A nearly two year old directly behind me, her poor mother trying to squeeze one last "lap infant" flight out of her before her impending birthday, even though she had already grown big and restless.  In the same row, behind Adrián, a squalling nine month old.  I've never been much bothered by babies on flights before, but then, I'd never quite been seated in a children's ghetto.  The flight attendants did a valiant job, but Olivia and Clara decided they'd had enough of the bassinettes on the flight from Delhi, thank you, and insisted on crossing the Atlantic and the North American continent in our arms.

No incidents at passport control in L.A., other than the customary insult of having to fill out separate family declaration cards, one for me and the girls, the other for Adrián.  This time, I didn't even bother arguing.  I tried last time we entered the U.S., last September on our way back from Ireland.  The agent sheepishly threw up his hands and mumbled "DOMA."  Yeah, I know.  I was fuming, though.

My mother had insisted she could pick us up all by herself.  Missing our minivan, though, we insisted our friend and neighbor Eric also come.  Good move.  As my mom pulled up to the curb, in the middle of a crosswalk, cars honked, traffic ground to a halt and an airport cop growled "If that's your ride home, you'd better drive!"  But seeing the babies dangling in their carriers from both of Adrián's arms, he relented, even though she was in a red zone.  I don't recommend airport pick-up zones when first introducing grandparent to grandchild, by the way.

So.  The "out-of-India" post only took me three weeks to write.  I think I can be more timely with subsequent updates.  Meanwhile, all is well!