Monday, 20 February 2012

Memories of a Flight - Or How Not to Import an Alien into the U.S.

Tortola to Toronto 1992

Boarding a small aircraft in the Caribbean with my two small children was originally undertaken with my usual nonchalant attitude; for I believed I was totally prepared with all the necessary equipment, such as diapers, wipes, nutritious snacks, crayons and toys.  Yet I was blissfully unaware what the next nine hours would result in.

I had taken this route many times in the past, Tortola to San Juan, San Juan to Chicago, Chicago to Toronto and back again. Living and working at a Hotel on the island of Tortola, it was necessary to make the trip at least once a year to visit my family.  But I never dreamed there would be so many requirements and regulations regarding even babies!  Also, my inquisitive little girl’s amusement that managed to sound off alarms and almost get us arrested.  Luckily this was long before September 11th or it may have been a different story.
Her small face was pressed hard against the glass; clouds strolled by like huge dinosaurs in a perfect Caribbean sky.  She turned and said, “Mummy, my tummy’s doing flip flops.”  The paper bag fetched just in time for her to be sick, this happened every time we flew.  My daughter, Alana a vivacious three-year old and my son, Tyler three months old and I were on a journey.  Tortola to Toronto.
First stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico where we proceeded through U.S. Immigration.   They studied my Canadian passport with Alana added and then took a look at baby Tyler’s newly acquisitioned British Virgin Island passport.

I explained that once I was in Toronto I would be applying for his Canadian citizenship and have him added to my passport as well; there hadn’t been the time to do this beforehand.  The smiling official seemed satisfied, stamped his approval, but as an afterthought, he enquired if I was sure that we would not be staying in the United States for any length of time.  I promised him that no, if he looked at our tickets, we flew straight out of Chicago and onto Toronto to stay with my parents, he seemed convinced and waved the three of us onwards.

Soon we were onboard our flight to Chicago O’Hare airport. Alana looked at picture books, sang songs and asked about what animals we might see at our planned trip to the Toronto Zoo with her Grandaddy. Tyler slept and fed.  Halfway through the flight, over the loud speaker came an announcement, “Would Mr. Tyler Fitzpatrick, please come to the front of the aircraft.”  How funny I thought, there’s someone on board with the same name, and so I forgot about it.  However, fifteen minutes went by and again but with more authority came the voice, “Would Mr. Tyler Fitzpatrick come to the front of the aircraft at once.”
“Mummy, someone wants to see Tyler.”  Said Alana during mid scribble. 
“Well, I guess we better go up there and see.”  I replied with a sense of unease.
Any young mother will tell you that it’s not easy moving around in small spaces particularly buses, trains, airplanes and washrooms with two young ones in tow.  The task of coming to the front of the aircraft was easier said than done.  All with one arm around the baby, I lugged the bag out from under the seat, coaxed Alana to gather up her crayons and books, balanced her cup of juice and stowed the tray table.  Then Alana scrambles onto the floor to find her precious teddy.  Upon rising she bangs her head, I wince feeling her pain and rubbed the ouch gently, reassuring her that she would be alright.  Next I carefully placed Tyler on my own seat, whilst I tried to maneuver out of the tiny space, inevitably I knocked the person in front’s headrest, said my apologies, then tried to pick Tyler up without waking him.  But of course this doesn’t happen and he begins to cry. Alana tries to console him by tickling his ear which makes him cry even louder.
Reading passengers glance over, some with a look of pity, some with a look of annoyance at being interrupted.
Finally in the aisle, Alana is barefoot and has managed to Houdini out of her skirt.  With living in the Tropics all her life, she hated the confines of certain clothing, finally she wriggles into her skirt and we are strolling up the aisle with Alana touching hands with everyone she meets.  The front of the aircraft seemed a long way off as Alana tries out empty seats in the First Class section.  A Flight attendant rushes towards us and wants to know if I need any assistance, we are not allowed in the this section, then again we hear the same command over the speakers about Mr. Fitzpatrick.  “Yes, I say to her, you’ve been calling for my son.”
“What do you mean?” 
“Mr. Fitzpatrick.”  I say nodding towards the bundle in my arms. “This is Tyler Fitzpatrick.”
“Where?”  She says looking around.
She looks down perplexed.  “Oh. Are you sure?”
“Well, I think I know my son.  But are you sure you have the right name?”

“Oh?  Please wait while I go check.”
While we stand behind the curtain between First Class and the front cabin, Alana ducks beneath the categorizing curtain, and sits down next to a man working on some papers. 
“Your seat is so much bigger than mine, what are you doing?”  She asks and takes one of his extra pens and draws a small circle on one of his papers.  He looks up startled and says, “You can’t draw here, these are important papers.”
“I’m sorry,” I say rushing over.  “Come on Alana, you can’t sit here.”
“Look,” she says to the man.  “My mummy just had a baby, do you want to see her scar?”  Horrified I lunge forward, grab her hand and drag her out of the spare seat.  Thankfully this man proves to be an understanding individual, “Nice to meet you Alana, he says back to her. “My name is Tony and I have a niece just about your age.”

The Flight Attendant appears. “I’m sorry; you can’t be in this section.”
“It’s okay,” says Tony.  “This is my new friend, Alana.”
The flight attendant asks us to follow. “Bye Tony, can I visit you again?”   He nods and winks.
The tiny person, oblivious to the commotion he’s creating is beginning to get restless.
“I’ve been informed by U.S. Immigration that Mr. Fitzpatrick is to remain on the aircraft.  Please stay seated until everyone has deplaned to wait for the escort.
“You’re kidding.”  Tyler begins to moan.
“No, sorry I’m not.”
Back in our seats, Alana decides to visit Tony while I’m breastfeeding and before I protest she has zipped off delighting in the daring scheme of escaping the confines of her seat, knocking over her container of Cheerios in the process. “Alana!”
An older woman in front turns around and smiles.  “Having a few problems dear?”
“Just a bit.” 
“Don’t tell me that’s Mr. Fitzpatrick?”
“Yes, this is he.”
“Would you like me to find your daughter?”
“I’d really appreciate it.”
She returns with Alana explaining Tony wasn’t there and Alana was sitting in his seat trying to open his briefcase. 
“This is my new friend, Mary.  I told her about the scar on your tummy.”   Mary smiles sympathetically.  Alana says she needs to pee, Mary obliges and when they return she offers to sit with the children while I have a washroom break. 
In approximately thirty minutes we’ll arrive at our destination, Flight Attendants stroll by checking seatbelts and reminds me to wait for Immigration
After waving goodbye to Mary, who turned out to be a Romance novelist, and stopping Alana from squeezing through the queue to say goodbye to her businessman friend, Tony, everyone has now disembarked and I stood rocking my baby and watching Alana singing and strutting up the empty aisles.   
It’s funny how a small child introduces you to a whole new world whereby you would never experience.  I was always a naturally shy person who rarely spoke to strangers; however, my daughter was such an outgoing, precocious child that I was forced into a foreign frontier of socializing outside of my comfort zone.  Gradually however, I discovered that I was grateful for her happy, pure curiosity and her infectious ways upon others, bringing out the best in everyone around her.  I was privileged to meet many interesting, friendly individuals in passing that normally I would never have spoken to.  Anyone interrupted in their tasks by this adorable fairy creature became captivated; she managed to melt the most serious of souls.  

And so, when two of the largest, sternest looking men I had ever seen, stepped onto the abandoned aircraft, announcing for Mr. Tyler Fitzpatrick, I shuddered and there was a tense moment of silence as they glared at me. Until Alana, pirouetted barefoot, dancing like a miniature Isadora Duncan, she weaved her unknown magic and landed at their feet practically kissing their polished black boots.
“Shh, he’s sleeping you know.”
The men, looked down on her and one said, “Where is your father?” 
“He’s back at the hotel of course, you silly.”
Where we used to live and work, The Tamarind Club Hotel, British Virgin Islands

I nearly wet myself.  These men resembled prison guards!  Knees knocking, I managed to babble out, “This is Tyler Fitzpatrick.” 
“What do you mean this is Tyler Fitzpatrick?”
“Well he just is.”
There was another silent pause while the men peered way down at me holding Tyler, then they looked at one another with genuine surprise replacing their wooden expressions.
“Ma’am, may I see Mr. Fitzpatrick’s passport please?”  I handed over the alleged criminal’s passport and they both turned their backs on me while they examined the document closer.  Then “Ma'am, we are to escort Mr. Fitzpatrick to his flight to Canada and to ensure he does not leave the airport security lounge.”
“Okay, but he is a baby, you know.”  Was no one going to acknowledge this fact? 
They stood there like sentinels, a Goliath version of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, they watched as I changed the culprit’s diaper and coaxed Alana to get her socks and shoes on. Her Sippy cup had gone missing as well and I was on my hands and knees peering under the seats in front of us.  There was a stroller to be retrieved, stored at the front of the aircraft and the two men followed close behind in case we attempted a bold getaway.  
With Tyler safely strapped in, my carryon bag filled, we were ready to trail our guards, when Alana tapped on one immense calf, “You’re the biggest man in the world.  Can you give me a ride?”
I was just about to say no, when a transformation took place.  Something in her candid stare must have caught his GI Joe heartstrings or perhaps it was the realization that this situation might be different that this baby wasn’t going to crawl into the masses and disappear into their blessed country! Astonishingly, he helped her climb onto his shoulders, her giggle made him smile as she shouted, “Now I’m the biggest in the whole world!”
It was this man’s gesture that spurred his partner to follow suit, for suddenly, he noticed me, saw my shoulder sagging under the weight of a large bag, pushing a baby stroller and without a word, he grabbed then flung the satchel onto his own shoulder like it was a doll’s purse, he even pushed the stroller. 
Our new friends, Bill and Trevor, led us into an Immigration office for a briefing on the alleged crime of importing an alien. 
Filling in endless forms, while a pinched faced woman pontificated, that if we dare arrive on U.S. territory again without Mr. Fitzpatrick’s proper papers we would be refused entry, did I understand?  
 “Of course, it will never happen again.”  
And if he suddenly disappeared, I would be responsible, did I understand. 
“Of course, I’m his mother.”   
Alana’s laughter echoed through the sterile room as her new friend, Trevor bounced her on his knee.  Miss Pinch Face glowered at him.  

Finally we were dismissed just in time, our plane was boarding. Thank goodness, I just wanted to get to Toronto and to my waiting parents; however, our troubles were not over yet.
Alana hugged Trevor goodbye and we lined at the Gate.  As I bent over and rummaged through the side pockets looking for our boarding passes, Alana, suddenly was not where she was supposed to be.  I stood, looking frantically through the throngs of people, I unhinged Tyler from the stroller, abandoned my bags and with babe in arms, I speed walk and stand in a chair, searching, calling her name. 
 A loud alarm went off.  Then a scream.  Imagining all sorts of horrors, I race to where I see security men surrounding tiny Alana atop of some chairs, cordoned off by silky rope and orange bollards  where she had seen and been tempted by a pretty lever marked Alarm.  Trevor lifts her down, she bursts into tears, saying the button looked magic. The Immigration woman returns insinuating, I’d intentionally ordered my child to create a diversion in order for Mr. Fitzpatrick’s escape.  I finally, managed an angry retort, “Are you kidding me, do you think I want to stay here?  Believe it or not I don’t  and why can’t you acknowledge that he is a baby? " 
All I got was a blank look and another warning.  I can’t remember her exact questions but if it hadn’t been for Trevor’s interjections and Alana’s winning ways, we probably would have missed our flight, for Trevor took Immigration Lady aside and waved us away. 
Finally in Toronto, after a very large glass of wine, (or two) we related the journey to my parent’s amazement.

Alana and Tye arrive at my parent's in Toronto, Alana of course has removed her  restrictive clothing.

On our return journey, Toronto to Tortola, so afraid of a reoccurrence, I shook whilst passing through Immigration and yet because Tyler was now a Canadian citizen, no questions were asked, nothing was mentioned.  Alana however, sulked that Trevor wasn’t there and why couldn’t we go find him?

Today, Alana is twenty-three, a History Major and still throws up on planes.  Tyler is nearly twenty and despite the ruckus he caused on his first flight, he is a solo traveler, visiting Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montengro, Turkey, England, Germany, and has even braved the United States.  

1 comment: