Spring has finally arrived in Chicago. The last stubborn mounds of plowed snow along the alley succumbed to the warmer weather, leaving gravel, grit, old dog poop, newspaper and various other moraine flowing from the urban retreating glaciers. In spite of the balmier temperatures, Switchback headed south to Arizona to play several resorts over St. Patrick’s. The weather there was downright summer, and so Brian and I decided to take along our wives and little Áine and allow our families to thaw out a bit.
Traveling with a child by plane is an art form that all parents must learn. To properly prepare to bring a child along, one first has to find a large suitcase that can contain all the necessary accoutrements. This suitcase must carry all your and your spouse’s clothes, but all that is secondary to your child’s needs. Toys, diapers, bottles, floaty thingy for the pool, baby shampoo, baby toothbrush, sets of baby clothes, shoes, a folding booster seat, and monitors must all fit into the suitcase.
The next thing is securing the necessary items for the plane itself. These go into the carry on bag. So toys (especially toys that your child has never seen before), a bag of raisins, a bag of crackers, three bottles (two empty, but one filled with milk) are necessary items. A diaper change, wet wipes for changing, wipe downs to sanitize the plane seat, the arm rest, the seats on either side of you, and possibly the seats in front of you and behind you if you have the time and cooperation of everyone sitting in those seats must easily be on hand. Somehow they must be stuffed into the bookbag as one imagines a haggis must be stuffed. One doesn’t wish to see it done but is always happy to know it has been done. Annie somehow makes this magic occur and even manages to squeeze in her laptop.
Then there are the modes of transporting your child. At least a kid sling must be available, but the preferred mode of airport transport is the child stroller. This stroller must be cheaply made (it’s a rule) and be impossible to fold up once you get to security. At the gate, the same stroller (at this point mangled in your attempt to fold it) must be gate-checked. That gate-checked stroller must have your name somewhere on it, a special tag placed on it, and (if you don’t forget to take it out of the luggage you just checked) a special red “gate check” luggage bag that your wife insists is necessary to identify your mangled stroller from the other mangled strollers.
Since I am a travelling musician, I must have the bass in a heavy red fiberglass case that weighs more than the guitar and costs more as well. But it has the advantage that I can get creative on where to store my own personal items. So into the instrument case I add the odd shaving cream, razor, hairbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush, and possibly one day's change of underwear and socks, wedged tight enough to make it nearly impossible to remove.
So with one suitcase dedicated to Annie, myself and Áine, one bass, one carry on dedicated to Áine as well, that leaves one extra carry on, which usually takes the band business calendar, extra clothes, promotional materials, pens, pencils, a book to read, and finally a few more extra toys for Aine to play with on the plane.
Annie, wanting to make completely sure that Áine had enough milk to drink on the plane, bought organic milk packs that are basically foil juice boxes. They are “shelf-stable” which means that they can sit around for years, which is about the right amount of time needed to open them.
Áine never had tried these before, but Annie felt we should have them with our other necessary items “just in case."
Now, being prepared is not only the boy scout motto, but it is the motto of all parents traveling with kids. However, the motto for the TSA is “Don’t be prepared with hermetically sealed foil containers.” It is a very boring motto, but one that they take deep pride in and make sure that every family carrying such boxes are made to hear at least 50 times while they look over your hermetically sealed foil boxes.
For some reason, TSA in Chicago had very little problem with these boxes. But on the way home from Phoenix they became an issue. As we went through security the TSA officer pulled us aside and said "I'm afraid I'm going to have to pat down one of you," and he looked directly at me. "What's the problem?" I asked.
He held up the organic milk boxes. "We can't know for sure if these things have been tampered with," he replied.
So I volunteered to get patted down. I nervously glanced up at the clock which told me we had a half an hour before the flight departed. Annie and Áine watched to one side as I spread my arms out and went through the ritual of getting patted down by the officer. Áine seemed to like the display and waved at me. I acted as good naturedly as a man could when getting patted down in front of his family.
All seemed well and I thought I was ready to go, but then another TSA agent came up and stopped me. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "We're going to have to pat down your groin."
I was befuddled. "My groin?"
"Yes sir," he said, "we have to pat down your groin."
I looked at the other TSA agent in disbelief. "You mean I'm going to have to get patted down again because of sealed organic milk packages for my baby?" I said.
First TSA agent looked a little embarrassed. The second agent was all business. "It'll only take a minute, sir." He pointed toward a small room. "If you can go this way with us please, sir," he said.
I glanced at the clock: 20 minutes till departure. "Okay", I said. I looked over toward Annie and I shrugged my shoulders. She mouthed the words, "What is going on?"
"I'll be back in a minute, honey," I said.
So into the small room the three of us went. "If you'll just spread out your arms and legs again, sir," the second agent said. "I'm going to have to pat you down all over."
I awaited the dreadful groin patting.
"Sir," the second agent said. "I'm going to now pat your groin using the back of my hand."
I found that a bit amusing as I thought to myself, "Why would the back be any different from the front of the hand? The groin still gets patted!" But I kept this to myself. He is now starting to get anxious about getting all three of us onto the plane.
As groin pats go (or so I imagine) it was a fairly gentle affair. And over quickly.
"If you can remove your shoes so I can see if there's any bomb residue on your socks," the second agent said. This was a much easier and less intrusive feat which I accomplished quickly.
The first agent stood by, almost helpless, as he watched this all unfold. "You're good to go, sir," the second agent said. "Thank you for your cooperation."
The first agent translated that all to me. "Thanks for being so patient," he said. "Safe travels, brother." I thought that was a nice touch as I had been touched quite a bit.
I quickly reunited with Annie and Áine. We hustled onto the plane and were way in the back by the tail section.
"That's the last time we take those damn milk packs with us," I said to no one in particular. The irony of it all is that we tried to get Áine to drink one of them. She made a face and rejected it.
We all carry our crosses in life. For some of us, it can be having our groin patted for the sake of our child. For others, it is having to pat groins for the sake of their child.
~ Martin McCormack