Airport Security, Or, How I Learned to Stop Judging Others

We have some wonderful neighbors, who have taught us several important lessons, among them being that it is never too late to drop in for a cup of sugar; when making dinner, make enough for leftovers; never buy furniture without prior approval (our neighbor’s decorating skills make HG TV look like amateur hour) (also you will hear about it if you don’t follow said advice), and don’t judge others. During one of our first interactions with them, this piece of wisdom was delivered as follows:
Jeff: We don’t judge others, we don’t feel like its our place.
John:  But don’t think we don’t talk about you when we get home!! (Said with attitude and possibly a head swing)
Unfortunately, I didn’t always take this to heart… so, to every mother of a screaming child in A) a restaurant, B) Target, and C) an airport security line, I’m Sorry!  (However, D) church- not so much.  Take your child to the nursery or go outside.)  (Also- laptops and shoes have been required to be removed for over ten years now. Get with the program, fellow travelers. No apology is due to you. HURRY UP!)
As anyone who has traveled with a small child (whether or not its yours isn’t the point- everyone has been on a plane with a little one) knows, it can be compared to the Ironman triathlon, with the traveling being less enjoyable.  There is a point on every trip where one would volunteer to go compete in the Ironman RIGHT NOW RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND rather than the current reality (which is you, your child, a very small space, and angry, angry people attempting to kill you with their eyes).  As all parents know, that journey begins way before you even pull into the parking lot (of course it’s the furthest parking lot. It is the furthest parking lot known to man. And it is, of course, raining)Once you get everything, and everyone, rounded up and inside, the real fun begins.
Post 9/11, the airlines are rather strict about who is allowed past security. I doubt that Jesus Christ himself could get through security without the correct documentation. Thankfully, there is something called a “gate pass”. This pass allows someone to assist the passenger(s) through security and to the gate.  What a wonderful idea! Genius! The gate pass was my “Jesus Christ” of documentation! It really was a shame (devastating category five catastrophe) that my husband didn’t take advantage of the gate pass…
When my daughter was about nine months old, she and I went to visit Grandma and Poppa. As they live 600 miles away, flying is the preferred way to travel (I’ll spare the horror film that is the ten hour drive.  Did you know that eardrums can bleed? We found out that if one listens to Titanic level screams for a long period of time, it can happen.  It was suggested to my husband  to drive into overpasses just to make it stop.) Because of the amount of stuff we had, my husband came inside to the ticket counter with us.  I had the following: diaper bag stuffed to the gills, my purse, laptop, portable DVD player, stroller, carseat, sippy cup (must be sent through security separately), and a baby.  The carseat is one of those combo deals- the carseat fits into the stroller through a series of ridiculously complex plastic switches/knobs.  The ticket agent surveyed the traveling circus that was us, and offered my husband a gate pass.  “Oh no”,  he said, “She’s fine.”  “Really?”, the agent asked again.   “Yeah, REALLY?”, I echoed, as I glanced back at the mountain of things that could easily be more things than the average villager has in their hut at any given time.  “Yes, she’s fine. You’re fine”, he said one more time.  (Um, WOW- how did all of this stuff suddenly shrink? He helped me into the airport itself! Was it the rolly bag? Because, seriously? That bag was the least of my problems.)
So, with a very dubious glance from the gate agent, Emma and I put on our game faces and went off into the great unknown.  One perk (possibly the only perk as near as I can tell) to traveling with a stroller is that you get to use the “Special Assistance” (rock star) line at security.  Since we qualified, we zipped on through. That was the only “zippy” part of the day.  As we neared the x-ray machine, like a General readying the troops, I took action.  I needed (count them) 5 bins (diaper bag, purse, laptop, portable DVD and general-shoes, etc).  I worked like Charlie Sheen on a high and had everything unloaded and reloaded. My plan was to push the stroller through the x-ray machine (common sense would say that if anything explosive was suspected, the scan would catch it. Also, they could use a wand. Sadly, like all things TSA, common sense did not rule the day.)  One of the helpful (hateful) agents politely (so f-ing rude) informed me that I would have to collapse the stroller, which also meant that I had to dismantle the carseat from the plastic (iron) clutches of the stroller, which ultimately meant that I had to get the kid out of the carseat.  I weighed my options(which didn’t take long as I didn’t have any), and put Emma on the floor. The floor of the busiest airport in the world, at the security checkpoint (so that floor had the most shoeless feet of any airport in the world), I set my crawling baby down. Emma’s favorite activities at that point in her life were 1) crawling and 2) putting whatever she could get her hands on in her mouth, and 3) screaming.  She wasn’t impressed with the offerings of things-to-put-in-her-mouth that the floor had, so she settled for option three… she screamed and cried. That was not only helpful, it provided a nice soundtrack for the other passengers waiting in line. I almost joined her in screaming and crying a minute later because I couldn’t get the carseat out of the jaws of the stroller.  No amount of turning knobs, pushing buttons, or just praying was working.  As Emma could sense that something was upsetting Mommy, she decided to stop screaming, and start crawling.  Away from Mommy.  At lightning speed. Here is a brief recap of what was going down:  four orphaned bins through security (did you catch the ‘four’? Remember, I needed five), an escaping baby, an incompetent Mommy, and some really annoyed fellow passengers.  It was great.  A nice man (guardian angel) came to my rescue and got the carseat out of the clutches of the evil stroller.  As I placed the carseat on the conveyer belt, I was helpfully reminded that the carseat had to go through upside down and backwards.  I flipped the carseat, and rescued Emma from two lines over.  Now, we were ready to go through security ourselves! The end was in sight! The polite (so hateful and mean) TSA agents reminded me that the stroller had to be collapsed and then sent through backwards and upside down.  Fine. (At no point did TSA offer to help me. Glad to see my taxpayer dollars are employing the best of the best.)  I collapsed the stroller, totally forgetting that the DVD player (which, as any parent knows, is key to keeping the kid quiet during travel. It is the holy grail of carryon bags) was in the basket under the seat. Emma, the TSA agents, our fellow passengers, and I  watched as the DVD player sailed through the air (someone shouted ‘FORE’) and landed in several pieces five lines away.  We made the hard decision to leave the wounded on the battlefield. We said a silent goodbye, and took a step to go through security.   The stroller was collapsed; everything else was waiting for us on the other side (Promised Land).  The nice (HATE HATE HATE) TSA agent then informed me that the sippy cup couldn’t go; it would have to be checked separately. Emma was especially pleased to hear about this, and voiced her opinion rather loudly.
We made it through the x-ray, collected all of our things, including our now broken DVD player and headed for the gate. As we made our way down the aisle on the plane, we encountered more death stares.  Perhaps our reputation had preceded us? (There is nothing more powerful than the stares of other passengers WILLING YOU NOT TO SIT NEXT TO THEM PLEASE GOD NO as you walk to your seat.)
We settled into our seat, and I had a moment to think about how much trouble my husband was in. And how many things he was going to have to do make it up to me.  I called Grandma to let her know we had survived the urban jungle that was the airport.  She was glad to hear it, and passed along a message to me, my husband had called her to let her know that he had dropped us off at the airport, that he had “messed up” by not taking the ticket agent up on her gate pass offer, and that he was “sorry”.  Sorry?! As I buckled us in, (and said a quick prayer that Emma didn’t contract the Ebola virus from her time on the floor at security), I thought of how many ways he could make it up to me…
After having some time reflect on this experience, I realized that it actually taught me a few more important things than just the obvious lessons.  Traveling with children will always be, um, difficult, to say the least.  (Benadryl does make travel a whole lot less painful, FYI). But, as parents, we don’t have room to judge others.  We are all doing the best we can, and in fact, remembering, some other “incidents” I have witnessed over the years, I am actually impressed with a lot of the moms (and dads) I have seen.  And, lastly, always, always, always, take the gate pass.