Before I start, let me tell you a couple of words about how my children have reacted to the news that we are going to go to America. First of all, they were very excited to tell everybody around, and the funny thing is that nobody believed them! They would be at the playground, and would tell other parents: we are going to America for two years!!! And other parents would be yea, sure… And then I come and say that it’s true!
When Anna and I were talking recently about these weeks before our departure, she told me that she remembers there was one thing she was sad about, but she can’t remember what exactly it was. But I remembered! The Fall play in their daycare was in rehearsal at that time; it was a modern version of the Russian folk tale “Репка” (“The Turnip”). Both of them were playing leading parts: Anna was playing a role of Granddaughter, and Vlad was playing a Dog. And they had to miss their artistic triumph!
We were flying the KLM airlines. It was a strange flight; I do not think they even offer this kind of flight anymore: we would arrive at Copenhagen in the afternoon, spend a night in a hotel, and leave to Chicago in the morning. The hotel room and airport transfer were both paid by KLM. We did have some time to walk around the city, and I even remember that we went to see the Mermaid, but my mind was not there, and I could not fully enjoy the sights.
We had to eat somewhere, and I’ve asked at the hotel reception, where is the nearest place we can eat, and how much would it cost. I had to exchange some dollars to Denmark kronas, and I knew I wouldn’t need them after that evening. Money was scarce, I only had three hundred dollars, so I could not afford to waste any.
They directed us to the nearest McDonalds, which was a safe choice for kids, but also it was a luxury for us these days, and I could not stop thinking that I didn’t plan to spend that much money before we even come to America.
Fortunately, the hotel stay included breakfast, and we went down pretty early in the morning to be sure we eat before our bus comes. And we could hardly find any food my kids were familiar with. Neither they nor I were used to being served ice-cold milk, and they refused to drink it this way. I remember pleading them to eat some corn flakes with this cold milk, and I forgot what we ended up with, but I believe all of us had finally eaten something.
One thing which warmed my heart was that when we stepped on board of the airplane flying to Chicago, a flight attendant had given Anna and Vlad small Lego sets to build lego airplanes, and coloring books and some crayons. And that was so unusual for us! Real legos were extremely expensive in Russia, I would buy some Polish substitutes, which were also expensive, so they would only get medium-size sets for New Year or their birthdays. Having children be treated as special guests was a completely new concept to me, and I felt right away, that this new world is going to be a place of kindness.
During the long flight, the kids behaved well, didn’t make much noise, asked a flight attendant for some orange juice in English, and tried to connect with other children on the plane. So all was good. I stepped out of the airplane, holding my passport with my working vise (the kids didn’t have their separate passports then), and a note with the name of the company secretary, and their phone and address.
A border control officer took my papers and asked: do you know where you are going to go? I said: no, but somebody is picking me up. The officer said: what if nobody will meet you, what you are going to do? He’d sent me to the room with the wooden barriers, where other people were sitting and waiting, and he told me to sit and wait with them.
Imagine being after nine hours-long flight, with two five-year-olds, not even being able to tell them how much longer we need to wait, and why, and what we are waiting for in the first place. We ended up sitting there for about an hour: I and my five-year-old twins, with no food, no water, no toys, no books. They were doing great, being quite patient. And then an officer appeared at the doors and called on me. He handed me my passport and said: you can go! What? Can I go? No questions, no interrogation, no nothing? Yes, you can go.
We exited back to the baggage claim area. It was empty. No people, no luggage. And then we saw our boxes mounted on one cart, and a tall thin man standing by it – it was Val, and that was the first time we met him. I remember the kids walked towards him and clenched to his hands, and he was so surprised with that, that he just started walking, leaving me behind with the luggage:).
Those were our first steps on American soil.