The nonchalantdad: Dad takes on Big Brother.
Here is something for all you parents out there that have travelled long distances with children. A little advice for those of you to tired to remember better: Do not insult customs officials. By the time I arrived with my two young children and my elderly Mother into London's Heathrow Airport, a notoriously busy airport, I was already fairly exhausted. Now normally, I'm not one to lose my temper. Nor am I anything close to impatient. I understand how things operate sometimes - I can accept that nothing is a straight line. However, nothing riles my temper more than the indifference of bureaucracy mixed with a significant lack of sleep.
We file off the airplane, as usual, after circling the airport for a while. You always have a long walk at Heathrow it seems, but in this case you don't really mind because you've been on a plane for some time. But the procession is slow going. My mother insists that I do not carry her bag for her, but repeatedly has to stop for a rest because it is 'to heavy'. Then, the kids are liking the idea of running down the moving sidewalks so that they get far in advance of us. I remind them while making a grab for my Mother's bag that they can run away from me all they like when they arrive at age 13, but in this case, and at this age, they best stay by my side! Anyway, I can't move so fast myself as I am now carrying my Mother's bag that seems to have gotten heavier on the plane ride over. And, I already have a large backpack on my back weighed down with god knows what. In addition, it seems the kids are not so interested in pulling their own small carry-on luggage (full of toys and games) and, as a result, I have that hoisted on my shoulders too. Now I'm beginning to see how my wife managed to manipulate herself out of the equation by blaming work and arriving later. The image of her sitting in first class (some type of lucky upgrade) leisurely sipping on champagne starts to make my face turn red...
With all this baggage and two impatient kids, a mother bringing up the rear, and a red face, we come down the steps into the customs hall. Problem is, it looks as though 37 other flights have landed their passengers at the same time. There are people everywhere. I glance over to the front of the customs hall, at the beginning of the long lines, and see that there are 2 men and 1 woman sitting at the podiums that are passport control. There are about 400 people in the line we are directed to... and it's growing. So, we take our place and stand for at least 10-15 minutes before I see any sign of small movement. By this time, my kids are playing on the floor with toys and a group of nearby Japanese tourists are taking photos of them for some reason. The cuteness is about to wear off when an official appears and offers us a place in another line, presumeably to speed the process along a bit. I'm thinking that they have a plan in effect to deal with the handicap, elderly, or overwhelmed-with-the-kids-who-can-potentially-destroy-anything-at-any-time types. I think I qualify for two of those categories. She obviously missed that memo in a meeting though. Because no sooner are we taken out of that line than we are put in another that looks slightly shorter, but only has ONE official working for the entire line of 100 or so people. Now, I'm not thinking patience - I'm thinking how I can make the system work for me. I need to play the game of bureaucracy - I need to play it better. The ideas are not coming though.
Near us a new line opens and I see a group of tourists getting situated. This line only has 25 people in it, and it is moving faster. So, thinking on my toes, I gather our little troop and duck under the ropes to the next line. My mother, meantime, has to walk all the way around the ropes to come join us. Now, if exhaustion isn't enough, I'm feeling guilty at making my mother work so hard.
At the front of the line is a sour faced individual who revels in the fact that he gets to tell me that we are not allowed in this line because we are not a group. I make a gesture with my hand sweeping over the heads of my family and say 'how many people does it take to make a group?' He does not smile, he instead stands up to leave. He repeats the same line. I stare at him - now I'm indignant. I say something under my breath... nothing offensive.. just something. He seems to have been waiting for this moment the whole of his professional bureaucratic life. I have managed to step over the official line and dared to question a government official. We stare at each other... perhaps he is not impressed. Perhaps he is hungry and would just like to have his break. Whatever it is, he walks away.
Now I have to return to the back of the original line, already joined by further arriving passengers. My mother, having probably resigned herself to my foolishness years ago, walks all the way around the ropes again and joins us. God bless her, she says nothing but smiles. Unfortunately, that does nothing to cheer me up. I hear a lady in the line say loud enough, through her own frustration, that people like me think they should have special treatment just because we decided to have children. Now, I'm sure I'm not the first parent to have heard this a few times over - and I can't say I totally disagree with her. But, given the situation and my own rising temperature, I am not at this point giving over any more dignity. I turn to look down the line in front of me to see her. I try to give her a purely evil look, taking advantage of my already red face. Now, what I want to tell the lady (and in hindsight this is always easier) is that when you really take her comment for what it is, then all things can be reduced and discounted. It is no ones fault that the elderly are older, they choose to get old. It is no ones fault that a handicap person is born handicapped perhaps, no ones fault that the sick are sick, etc etc... Why is it then that we give any privelege to anyone that seems at a disadvantage or in a weaker position? Why bother even opening doors for people, why do anything kind? We do this because it makes our society better - it is called courtesy. It is one of the remaining virtues of our human kind. I'm still looking at her.
And I say: "Lady, you can't say anything if you are wearing shoes like that" Now, I ask you, in the history of rejoinders, what the hell is that? It sounded as if I suddenly became the bitchy doorman at Studio 54 or something. Thankfully, I think there was some laughter. Before she could even say anything back to me I felt a soft tug at my arm and there stood another lady official. She escorted me to the front of another line this time and before you knew it, our family unit - with its red-faced leader, humble and tired grandmother, and altogether delirious kids - were standing in front of the passport control podium. The man looked me up and down, studied my passport and asked me why I was in England. I told him that at this point I was not really sure.... He was not amused and glanced up at me while repeating the question as if I were a little slow in the head.
"Why...are...you....in....England?" I briefly wondered what Oscar Wilde might have said were he in my shoes. "We are on holiday" I said, and with that we were stamped on through. That nights performance for 'Dad of the Year' was over, just like that.