by John Kelly

We’re waiting at the international arrivals gate at Dulles, My Lovely Wife and I, trying to guess when our daughters are going to emerge. The board says their flight from London has landed, but that’s no guarantee we’ll see them anytime soon. Lots of other flights from lots of other foreign climes have landed, too, and the area is a swarming, expectant, mini United Nations.

By scanning the new arrivals who push through the doors, we try to deduce when the passengers of United 925 from Heathrow have made it past passport control and customs.

The people who look like they’re trying to look American but not quite pulling it off are obviously from Europe, but where, exactly? These ones are extremely tall, so they must have just gotten off the Amsterdam flight. (Did you know the Dutch are the tallest people on Earth?) The tan, ­relaxed-looking people in flip-flops must have come in from Cancun. (Won’t they be surprised when they step outside into the freezing air?)

The doors open and a man wearing a black duster strides through. Blue hair down to his shoulders spills out from under a leather cowboy hat. Ah, the transport from the mining colony on Rigel 7 must have arrived.

Limo drivers stand holding up iPads bearing the names of the fares they must magically rendezvous with. Their faces have that slightly bored book that limo drivers adopt, except for one baleful fellow who doesn’t have an iPad and has scratched a name in blue ballpoint pen on a crumpled piece of paper. He walks through the crowd, holding up the paper, desperate to connect with his mystery man.

Some people carry bouquets with which to surprise a loved one. One man is clutching a single red rose. Balloons bob lazily on strings. “Welcome Home,” reads one. Another is in the shape of Patrick the starfish from “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

There is a rolling series of reunions: delighted squeals, respectful bows, babies pushed into arms, adolescent nephews shrinking from old-lady kisses. Occasionally a couple meets in a passionate embrace, right in the middle of the exit aisle, and returning passengers flow around them like stream water around a rock.

I’ve started to doze. We’ve spent the weekend readying the house for our daughters’ return — making sure their beds have clean sheets, vacuuming, dusting, going to the grocery store, buying a Christmas tree, pulling decorations down from the attic — and I’m bushed.

In my fatigue, I think of all the times I’ve waited for them: outside school, outside the dance lesson, at the morning pickup after the sleepover, in the lobby after the spring musical, at the hospital when they were deciding to be born.

My wife nudges me awake, and I spot two grown women pulling suitcases. Even in the crush of people, their gaits are instantly recognizable.

It’s our children, home for the holidays.

A little fundraiser

Carole Bobst Ingraham has been donating to Children’s National since 1952. Back then, she was 10 years old living with her family in Washington’s Brightwood neighborhood.

“That summer I got some friends together and we put on a little front yard carnival,” she wrote. Carole’s mother helped make a sign that read, “Kids Care. Please help us raise money for Children’s Hospital.”

The kids set up penny-pitch games and balloon-breaking games in front of their apartment building on Nicholson Street NW. They sold homemade cookies and brownies. “Our best customers for the baked goods were the police officers from right up the street at Station #6,” Carole wrote. “When we felt we had sold all we could to the passersby we were allowed to take the pan of goodies up to the police station where we sold them to the prisoners.. . . They would write a slip and we would take that to the front desk and the officer there would give us the money from their wallets.

“The next day, my mother drove me and two of my friends down to Children’s where we were so happy to turn in a jar with $17.63. I’ve been sending money each year ever since. It’s a wonderful tradition for me.”

I hope it’s a tradition for you, too. If not, why not start one this year? The money that you donate to The Washington Post’s annual campaign goes to the hospital’s uncompensated care fund. That’s the money that’s used to pay the medical bills of underinsured children.

To make a tax-deductible gift, visit or send a check (payable to “Children’s National”) to Washington Post Giving Campaign, c/o Children’s Hospital Foundation, 801 Roeder Rd., Suite 650, Silver Spring, Md. 20910. Our deadline is Jan. 10.

Bill and Joanne Conway, through their Bedford Falls Foundation, have generously offered to match all gifts to The Washington Post Campaign for Children’s National. All donations, up to a total of $150,000, made by Dec. 31 will be matched dollar for dollar.

Your gift today can make a difference in the life of a child.

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