About a month ago my sister bought me a one-way airplane ticket from San Luis Obispo to Reno so Matthias and I could visit her and her family for a week in South Lake Tahoe. We planned for Chris to meet us here for the weekend. Even better, we planned for my sister to watch Matthias for the weekend while Chris and I celebrate our 3 year anniversary alone at my sister’s lake-front timeshare. Killer deal. I have been super amped about this trip for the past month… Up until 2 days before our flight. Then the nerves set in. We have flown with Matthias 3 different times, but this would be the first time I would be doing it alone. Since we were flying out on a Monday afternoon, Chris couldn’t even drive us to the airport to say good bye. I started seriously stressing and over-planning those 2 (each under one hour) flights to my sister’s.
Packing is a big enough stress for me. I have reoccurring dreams any time I am remotely stressed that I have just been told that I am leaving for a trip in a few minutes and need to pack quickly before I miss my flight. Seriously!? The worst dreams ever. Am I the only one? I don’t do many things quickly, and packing is definitely not one of those things. I take my time and thoroughly plan out each detail with multiple lists. I complained to my husband multiple times the night before we left just how much I hate packing. Packing for just me is one thing, but having to pack for a toddler is another. Add a carry-on bag full of items to keep a 16 month old entertained and I am going crazy. What if I forget something? What if I don’t pack enough snacks? What if the iPad battery dies mid Backyardigans episode? All the tragic possibilities.
I had totally been on the wrong track with the possible things that could go wrong on my flying solo with a 16 month old worries. I have read EVERY article ever written about traveling with a baby and toddler. And I am after all a three time veteran. I have it down to a science. Wear baby in the Ergo through security and onto the plane to avoid any mishaps. Best advice. At least on my three other flights I had thought so.
The normal procedure for those who choose to baby-wear through security is the mandatory extra screening of having your hands swabbed by a white, round cloth. The cloth is put into a machine and then you get the okay to continue through to collect your personal belongings. I always have found this to be a pretty ridiculous measure and wondered each time what they were even testing for.
Well lucky me, because I found out exactly what they were looking for on our flight out of San Luis Obispo airport on Monday. As the TSA agent was swabbing my hands, I was commenting to her on how I much prefer having my hands swab to having to take baby boy out of the carrier. I had hardly finished with my sentence when flashing in red on the screen of the machine that was doing the “hand test” were the bold words… You’ll never guess it…
I was quickly rushed away into a closed-off room by two female TSA agents after being sternly told to identify my carry-on items. So there I was with baby still in the Ergo, shoeless, not allowed to touch any of my personal belongings in a room alone with two women who seemed a bit baffled at what to do with me. So baffled that they still had communicated basically nothing with me. One of the agents was immediately on the phone with who I can only guess is her TSA supervisor notifying him that explosives had been detected on a white female wearing skinny black jeans, a button-up shirt, and a baby in a sling. (I can imagine that if he had any brain cells he/she giggled at the idea of a baby-wearing mama possibly bringing explosives on a flight… But protocol is protocol I guess.) The other agent at least had the heart to give me that half-“I know this is ridiculous”-smile.
While the agent waited to hear back from her supervisor, she proceeded to explain to me that since explosives had been detected that they were going to have to test ALL of my carry-ons for explosives. Great. All of my carefully packed baby airplane survival kit was soon strewn about the counter as two uniformed women wiped the test strips on every last nook and cranny. Oh and lucky me! Explosives were detected in the bottom of my purse that I had so carefully packed full of my son’s snacks for the flight. I like to store my explosives next to my son’s graham crackers. No one will ever expect that one! (Remember that all of these bags had already been screened through an x-ray scanner prior to being brought into this dark curtained-off-from-the-rest-of-the-world room that seemed to be closing in on me.)
I honestly had to keep mentally reminding myself that I had not packed any explosive materials. They have this way of completely invading your privacy (and personal space, but I’ll get to that later…) that makes you feel like you just might be guilty. So I was still standing there… 10? 15? Minutes later after they had thoroughly inspected and tested all of my carry-on items, including my baby’s umbrella stroller (apparently another brilliant spot to hide explosives) and they still hadn’t heard back on what they were supposed to do with this baby-wearing, possible explosive-smuggling mama. Finally, the one with half a heart pointed out the stroller and tried to communicate to the other TSA agent who obviously is not allowed to think for herself because her supervisor does that for her that we could put the baby in the stroller and let me walk through the security scanner without the carrier on. She ignored her.
Finally her phone rang. He/she doesn’t know yet obviously because he/she has to hear back from his/her brain (aka: superior) on what they should do with me. Finally her phone rang again.
She proceeded to tell me that since I tested positive twice for explosives that I would need to submit to a full body pat down. Which meant that I would need to remove my baby, who had been such a good boy this entire ridiculous time that we were shut into this scary dark room. The other TSA agent, who I am pretty certain by now has a whole heart and at least half of a brain once again kindly suggested (again) that we could unfold the stroller and put the baby in it while his mama got frisked. The other agent agreed. So I lugged out the stroller from behind all of my strewn out belongings, unfold it, and removed my sweet boy who was past-due for a nap that I had planned to lull him into once we got through security, and strapped him into the stroller. At this point he was facing away from the rest of the room because I figured he wouldn’t really want to watch his mama get frisked by a strange woman. The TSA agent turned the stroller around and said, “he can look at his mom, he doesn’t have to face the curtain.” I realize she was trying to be semi-nice at this point and there was no use in arguing… Just get this part over with.
She explained what she was going to do to me in detail and thus entered the most uncomfortable 45 seconds of my life. I won’t go into detail… You can look up the protocol of a pat down online yourself.
She communicated that I was all clear and may gather my belongings. She also recommended that I take my baby out of the carrier to go through security next time. I didn’t respond. At this point (and maybe it was the stress, and maybe I am a bit dramatic at times) my head was slightly spinning and my hands were shaking over the events that had just occurred. I quickly gathered up my things and tried to re-pack the bags back to how they had been perfectly organized for our flight. I put the babe back in the carrier where I would have liked for him to have been all along and exited into the waiting room.
Did I mention how small the San Luis Obispo airport is? Security opens only when a flight is about to board, so you wait in a room before security with the small group of 20-30 people that will be on your flight and you wait to board after security in another room with those same people. As I exited the room I looked down to avoid the looks of those waiting in that room who I know had been oh-so-curious about what was happening on the other side of that curtain. I honestly felt ashamed walking out of that room. I had done nothing wrong, yet I felt accused. That feeling sucks. I set down my things and bounced baby to sleep in my beloved Ergo carrier. A few minutes later I gathered my things to board the plane with my sweet sleeping baby and the nicest man whom I will never forget offered to carry my folded umbrella stroller out to the plane for me. My faith in humanity was restored by such a simple gesture. There are nice people out there who offer help (instead of trouble) to an obviously overloaded and stressed-out mom. Thank you, Sir.
Of course I was reminded that I would need to take off my carrier for take-off by the flight attendant as soon as I stepped onto the 12(?) row prop-plane. Another one of those measures that I find rather ridiculous. I plopped down into my seat, kicked all my bags under the seat in front of me, removed the straps of the Ergo to appease the flight attendant and settled into a row (2 whole seats on that prop-plane) all to myself.
After we took off I asked for some ginger ale (my standard airplane drink) when offered my complimentary beverage. I sipped my ale (of the ginger variety), snuggled my sleeping baby, and dipped my toes into my new favorite book…
And I was reminded of my word over this year… Grace. While I was a bit traumatized by this experience, I must offer grace. And amazingly, in that moment, looking back… While my thoughts inside my head were everything that I had shared with you. My actions and words towards them were gracious. Maybe some of this grace-filled living is beginning to sink in! Or maybe I was just too stunned to respond. Either way, on that flight I chose to have grace for those TSA agents who were just doing their jobs. They don’t deserve it… What they did to me sucked. But I don’t deserve grace either… And my heavenly Father has bestowed his favor upon me anyways. Grace. What a beautiful thing.
Oh and if you are still curious about how I ended up in this situation in the first place… Baby wipes. Yup. I did some research after my flight and glycerin (found in baby wipes and lotions and millions of other products I am guessing) can produce a false positive on the explosives hand swab. Right before we went through security, baby boy had been enjoying a slice of pizza that I had packed for him. Before stowing him away in the Ergo, I had pulled out a baby wipe to wipe pizza sauce off of his face and hands. That baby wipe was the last thing to make contact with my hands before going through security. And now thinking back, I wish they would have tested baby boy’s hands for explosives too. What a hoot that would have been.