• Liz Lopez

The Final Days Stateside – when everything that could go wrong, DID go wrong

Did we really think moving out of the country would be simple? We should have known. Here are the abbreviated list of shit that hit the fan Monday-Wednesday, our final day before the 5:30 AM flight Thursday from O’Hare.

1. Monday morning; Aiden and Penny still NO PASSPORTS

2. Tuesday morning; Penny’s COVID test is Presumptive Positive

3. Wednesday morning; Bow’s Export Health Certificate, required for Export, was not certified properly by the USDA office in Madison

Monday afternoon, the Passport office confirmed that two of our five expedited passports were in fact ‘somewhere in Charleston, not yet processed.’ No other info – no ‘We’ll put a rush on SINCE YOU'RE LEAVING IN TWO BUSINESS DAYS' or 'SINCE YOU PAID EXPEDITED PASSPORTS', rather, ‘there’s nothing we can do ma’am until they see the request’. I checked the USPS site for Passport centers, and Charleston, + one other location are simply greyed out with no contact info, since they’re still in Phase 2 of re-opening. I call Tammy Baldwin’s office, no update. Then I call Ron Johnson’s office (hopefully he didn’t spread his Trump COVID to our passports, but not the point), and they at least sound more helpful. I filled out the PDF’s on the way to our COVID tests, while Faith drives, granting their office permission to represent our interests as it relates to Passport #’s X and Y.

Tuesday morning started off with a call from Jim Sensenbrenner’s office. I recalled seeing a fax sent (from my email) to their office, a final attempt at state representative’s help in the missing passport issue. Matt from the office was amazing, and we filled out similar paperwork for them and they ended up coming through! By 3 pm, he’d assure me Charleston was on it and would be overnighting it to the house. Tracking number was sent Wednesday morning and sure enough, passports were on the doorstep by 10:30 am, which I noticed as I left for Waukesha with the babies with me to pick up another suitcase for our checked baggage. Took an hour but hey, I had all afternoon to work!

Then my doctor calls, confirming that Penelope’s COVID test was Presumptive Positive. Presumptive positive is a general mystery to the medical community, and while the actual test result is NOT that the patient has COVID, but that one of the two COVID indicators was detected in the test, so the state must label you positive to avoid community spread from the patient. Spent Tuesday afternoon afternoon hauling ass a half hour to the Oak Creek test center for Penny’s second COVID test in two days, crossing my fingers that the results would come in as swiftly as the others did, so we could proceed on our trip as planned.

Wednesday morning, trying to get my work done and finalize packing; we have our parents coming over for a bonfire that night to say final goodbyes. Plus, Aunt Gwyn finally made it to town, yay! Mid-morning, I get a What's App message from my Customs Broker, Llewellyn. The required Health Certificate wasn’t properly certified and if I did not provide the original certificate, the National Vet would simply turn her away and she would be put on the next flight back to the States. After several panicked, unsuccessful attempts at reaching a live person at the USDA office, I finally heard back from Dr. Kirk, who I’d contacted after some coordinator I’d found online provided her number for me.

She told me that I would need to come to the office if I needed it handled that day, which I obviously did since we were leaving for O'Hare at 1 am. I reached out to my buddy Matt from Sensenbrenner’s office asking if he could help us with this too. He ended up getting back to me as I was merging onto 1-94 for Madison, prepared to clock in at least 80 MPH the duration of the ride to ensure I wouldn’t walk into a closed office. I asked if they could wait, given our families flights that night and she said they would in fact not wait, they were closing at two.

At the USDA in Madison, I facilitated multiple merged calls between USDA's Dr. Pontell and our vet tech (since of course Bow’s vet wasn’t actually working that day), spoke with Llewellyn several times, and was finally out of the office, (read: parking lot due to COVID), around 4. I’m still within spitting distance of the USDA office when Llewellyn calls again, telling me that what he told me an hour ago, that the ‘pet was treated for tapeworms and ticks within 7 days’ was ok to be 20 some days since here in the US, pet owners give their pet the medication on a monthly cadence, rather than the vet. Actually, he talked to the Bajan Ministry of Health and the vet will need to administer Inceptor and PetArmor and sign off on it.

But that was part of the certificate, and I couldn’t change that; the certificate had to have my vet’s original signature (which it did), plus the certificate. I couldn’t amend it after the fact! After Llewellyn tells me to breathe several times, he says it’s ok that it’s not certified by USDA and instead just my own personal vet. After much debate, it’s agreed that I will simply have my vet write a letter (on company letterhead of course) stating that they administered Bow’s tick and tapeworm treatment within 7 days of our departure. Also please remember to send copies NOW of the updated records with the certificate number and stamp.

On the ride home, Lopez calls; Froedtert confirmed there’s no way to get detailed results (PCR as the Barbados government would call it), other than to pick up a copy – in person- at the main campus location in Tosa, about 20 minutes north of us. He already picked it up for the kids and he had his full results from his doc, but they wouldn’t let him pick mine up without a hand-written note.

So off to Froedtert I was, since they closed at 5 and our awesome vet was open til 6. To Tosa I go to grab my own detailed negative COVID results, and then home to scoop Bow, her medication, and take her to the vet. In the parking lot of he vet, I reviewed the doc and requested one change, asking them to remove a date reference, because I didn’t need any additional details f’ing up this process.

Then I was out! Home free! My parents had taken the babies to the park around 3:30 and they’d be over around 6:30 with pizza. Lopez and Faith and Alex were at the airport grabbing our rental SUV that would fit all our luggage plus rented car seats, so we could return it to O’Hare before our flight. Michelle stopped by with Tommy to grab Cal’s 3T clothes that wouldn’t fit him by the time we got back, and Kerry and Oly stopped over, and then my parents and Gwyn.

Around 8:30, Kerry and Oly and my parents began insisting they leave. After all, much of our house checklist wasn’t checked, and we still hadn’t totally finished packing. Faith had tried to ‘just run to Starbucks’ at lunch, and I told her she was not to leave for ANYTHING until she was packed thank you very much. Aiden hadn’t helped too much either but I was chalking that up to typical crazy Liz, who was, in standard Paula fashion (that's my mama), a total ball of stress before any trip that required extensive packing. This was times 9, to say the least, but I wanted to enjoy our parents before leaving them, and we had until 1 am, plenty of time!

I cried as I hugged Kerry and then more when I hugged my dad and then I sobbed like a baby when I said bye to my mom. I’d never gone this long without seeing them and I see them ALL THE TIME. My life without that weekly interaction would be very different.

The house looked like shit, the yard wasn’t winterized, but my dad had assured me they would come over and shut everything down. They would clean out the fridge and unplug it, turn off the water, bring the patio furniture in. Our dads would also take the trailer to the dump, since Lopez was carless due to Faith’s final ortho appointment and my impromptu daytrip to see the Madison sights. I felt terrible about leaving it that way, but we didn’t have a choice. Lopez printed off the last certificate we needed, the Customs and Immigration form (one for each family member) and made copies of the stack of paperwork for Bow and then copies of our COVID results. We checked and re-checked and then re-checked again, and we were off! We all nostalgically said bye to the house and turned on Bob Marley in the car, ready for our crazy family adventure to begin.

We arrived at the airport around 3, which is when the American Airlines baggage checking counter opened and hot damn was it busy. Lopez was off returning the car and I was trying to keep cranky Aiden calm while handling Bow for the first time in such a busy environment. The babies were tired and Faith was my godsend because she kept me calm and in check, helping at every turn. When we got to the counter, we had anticipated zero problems after all the due diligence we’d taken. Then, the crew member asked for our Customs and Immigration receipt, which we handed over casually. “Ohhh,” he mumbled. “Hm folks, this wasn’t signed 24 hours prior to departure, that’s not good.” Lopez and I look at each other quizzically. “Soo what’s that mean?” I asked, genuinely unsure. This was barely a step in the process and certainly not a focal point of our triple checking. “It means you can’t get on that flight. You were supposed to have it filled out at least 24 hours before leaving”

No, no, no. We showed him on the Barbados government site where it says nothing of the sort. One part recommended you fill it in prior to 24 hours; one section said filling it out prior to your trip would make the process much easier, and another area said it should be filled in within 72 hours of your flight. He had to be joking!

He printed out a sheet of paper, looking like a half page essay from my typewriter growing up. “See here, it says you need to fill it out 24 hours prior.” But this isn’t on ANY of the website, we argued, but he didn’t care. So he said no big deal, just fill it out and I’ll book you on the same flight tomorrow.

We were exhausted, and we hadn't slept in two days, literally. We didn’t have any fight in us. We spent $400 dollars on another SUV to take us home, our tails between our legs, dejected, wondering if this is why people don’t do fun, crazy things to keep life interesting. Because it’s really hard, it’s stressful, and sometimes disastrous. I felt embarrassed, angry and dejected. The babies cried, not understanding why we woke them up in the middle of the night to LEAVE FOR BARBADOS YAY!, and then stand in the cold for an hour while mommy and daddy figured out what to do. We needed more COVID tests. We just spent hundreds of dollars, and we might not even be able to go the next day. What if we couldn’t get in for tests? We were supposed to be on the flight to Miami, not freezing outside of O’Hare, surrounded by a million bags and crying children.

If we pushed it out further, we’d likely pay more for all the Customs expenses. Plus, we’d pay – for a THIRD time – to rent a stupid car. Oh also, since the ahole worker didn’t actually give us much of a say in anything, we realized, after we’d had new placeholder boarding passes printed, that any other change outside of that first change, would cost us the difference between the flights. And flights had nearly doubled since we purchased them. The day delay would in fact cost us several days extra in quarantine, paying for extra days on the condo because of the way the days panned out between testing days and weekends accounted for. All the frantic, stressful, insane work we’d done up to that point was for nothing.

And just like that, we were back at home. Less that 12 hours since our emotional goodbye’s to our home, we pulled back in the driveway like the last 8 hours just hadn't happened.