I’ve been flying since I was three or four years old, flying alone since I was ten. I love airplanes. I went through a period in my early twenties when I feared flying. Some combination of motion sickness and tension over those thrill bumps at take off and during turbulence served to make me a less than confident traveler. And anxiety still tugs when the plane first starts to taxi. But after that bump when the wheels leave the ground, I’m usually OK.
I usually fly with my family these days, either sandwiched between Sam and Caroline or forming the bread with Scott on the other side. The kids are decent flyers now, though Sam had a rough period there when he was three or so. The last time we flew with both kids was decent. We had problems, but they were all to do with the airline, not the kids. Sam napped on the flight and spent his awake time trying to jump up and stab the overhead buttons.
I considered this an improvement over that one bad year when, besides having a previously undiagnosed ear infection that caused him to moan through take-off and scream through landing, he managed to shut down the Ft. Myers International airport security system all by himself. Oh yes. My baby did that.
I was flying alone with the kids, coming home from Florida, and we were running late. It is hard to get out of a hotel, return a car, and race through the concourse with two small grouchy tagalongs. I had Sam on a leash, one of those backpack things, and he loved it as much as I did. It gave him a sense of security, and it gave me the ability to yank on the other end if things got crazy. But the security folks made me unbuckle him way too soon. I had always planned to remove it before we went through the scanner. But my idea was to wait until the last second, rip it off, throw it in a bin, and stuff it back on the instant we reached the other side.
However, while I was still trying to get the kids out of their shoes, some watchdog of a woman informed me, “Ma’am, he’ll need to stow that in a bin right now.”
“He really needs it. Can’t I do it just before he goes through?”
So I stripped it off and, absent the force that he knew I was using to control him, Sam went nuts.
“Ma’am, he can’t stand in a bin.”
“Sam, get out of the bin.”
“Ma’am, make sure your bags are all lying down before they get on the conveyer belt.” And, while I was trying to comply with this command, “Ma’am, where did your son go?”
If there are five words in the English language a mother doesn’t want to hear in the airport security line, then those five words must be ‘where did your son go’.
I panicked, stopped fixing the bags (the conveyer belt had stopped anyway) and whipped around. I called “Sam!”
“I’m wight hewe,” he said calmly. He was nearby. I could hear his little voice. But I could not see him.
And then I could. There were two lines of people, two conveyer belts moving our items down the pike, and he was between them, lying on the floor.
“Ma’am!” said Lady Watchdog with a new note of urgency in her voice.
She never finished her sentence. She didn’t have to. Because right then, I realized both both conveyer belts had stopped. The little green and red lights where people walked through had gone dark. One guard monitoring a screen said, “Hey, what happened?”
Did you know that airport security can be turned off by pushing a single big red button?
I didn’t either. Nor did Sam. I have no idea why such a button even exists. Maybe in other airports it doesn’t. But TSA is really extra-strict in Ft. Myers, because it is a pretty common liftoff point for international travelers.
Perhaps that has something to do with it. Or maybe the button is a holdover from some earlier time when there might be some reason to suddenly shut off security.
Whatever its raison d’être, the button is supposed to live under a locked plastic case, so that someone like my industrious three year old can’t accidentally turn it off. But the case was open. Sam, sitting up, smiled at it.
“Pusha button,” he told me.
I said, “Sam!” But I couldn’t even think of what else to do or say. I had visions of arrest, of having Florida Children’s Services seize my kids while I was interrogated for terrorism. How in God’s name am I going to explain this to Scott? I wondered.
“I’m wight hewe,” Sam said again, patiently repeating the information I had clearly failed to absorb. “I pusha button.” Then, he popped out from under the line and went back to dancing in one of the totes on the floor. This time, nobody tried to stop him.
The TSA woman and I gaped at each other across the line. I wanted to say “I told you he needed that damned vest,” but I was still too stunned by the possible repercussions of his actions to even verbalize the thought. Other passengers, those immediately in front of us, and those behind us as well, had noticed the disruption, and they were all turning to stare.
Suddenly two burly men descended on our stuff. “If you want to just follow us this way, Ma’am, we’ll hand check you and get you on your flight.”
Seriously? My kid shut down your airport and I get by with a patdown and luggage deconstruction. But I wasn’t arguing.
Behind me, I heard the machines coming back to life and slowly booting up. And I clearly heard the phrase, “Why wasn’t that locked ?” at least twice. They seemed to consider the whole thing their own fault. Thank God.
I wonder if they still have that button. I wonder if it has been disabled or put in a metal box. And given Sam’s proclivity with locks of all kinds, I wonder if the box wasn’t really locked all along and he just so dexterous that it might as well have been open.