Monday, January 7, 2008

Safe and (Relatively) Sound

Warmest greetings from York! We are settled in after an exciting adventure in travel. It is 2:45am and jet lag has us awake, so I thought I’d make good use of my time.

Our journey began as scheduled when our cab arrived at 2:45 on Friday, Jan. 4th. We couldn’t all fit after we crammed our luggage in and so thankfully our friend Melissa was on hand to transport some of us to the airport. It was nice to have a familiar face to see us off. We were quickly checked in and had plenty of time to relax and get a coffee. The children seemed mildly excited except for Maddie who was complaining of an upset stomach. We assured her she was probably just a little nervous about the trip.

We headed to the security check and while in line Jamie and I were busy sorting our boarding passes and passports. It was then we heard a splattering sound and turned to see that Madison had thrown up. All over her backpack. And not a little. Jamie and I locked eyes, checked our watches and then dashed to the restrooms. He with the backpack and me with Madison. Let me just point out how difficult it is to wash up in a bathroom with automated taps and NOT automated hand dryers. We did our best and headed back out. A security guard was waiting for us and escorted us to the front of the line, where we were then informed that our family had been specially selected by our airline for extra security screening. The boys went in with Jamie and Jack volunteered to be first asking them if they were worried that he might have a bomb (apparently if you’re under 10, such jokes are still humorous, as no TSA officials immediately tackled him). Maddie and I were then summoned, at which point I asked whether they could wait while she finished throwing up in the trash can. They said they could. Satisfied after the frisk down and sorting through all our belongings that indeed we had no bombs, we were sent off to our gate with 5 minutes to spare. Thank goodness for our timely arrival.

We boarded the plane and settled into our seats. Maddie threw up once during takeoff, again around Gander, Newfoundland, somewhere south of Iceland and finally, approaching Ireland. We had a kind attendant who supplied us with wet paper towels and assisted me in cleaning the floor outside the bathroom.

At sunrise, Jack and I were gazing out the window and were excited to see the coastline of the Netherlands appear on the horizon. You’d have thought it was Mecca for my young, Dutch proselyte. I was a little excited myself to be arriving in a new country. And not just because I could add another dot on my “places I’ve been map” on Facebook. No, I was eager to see a new culture, different faces in the crowd. We deplaned. The children were no longer mildly excited. The wooden shoes in the souvenier shops did not excite them. They were homesick. It must have been all those tall, blonde haired, blue eyed people reminding them of whence they’d come. No worries, we weren’t there long. After only a little blip in the security line when they confiscated my tiny bottle of wine I’d received on the previous flight, we were off.

It was a short flight. We received tiny cans of coke and honey BBQ dorrito twists. We were mesmerized by the lush green of the British countryside and dazzled by the warm sunshine pouring through the windows. Yes, that’s right. Sunshine. I considered it a good sign.

We deplaned again and were pleased to queue up in a very short customs line. We handed over our passports and Jamie’s letter from York St. John’s. They asked a few questions, such as What will your kids be doing? Going to school, we said. Well, they can’t. You don’t pay taxes here. Well, last time we were here they did with no problem. Well, that was illegal. Oh, we said. Okay, I guess we’ll homeschool them then. Then they said to us, no, that won’t be possible. We are denying you entrance to the UK. You will have to leave and apply for a work permit before you can come back. We were then escorted to a holding area. They asked if we would like some water. Maddie said yes, she would. I was about to caution her, but then thought I wouldn’t mind if she threw up all over their carpet. The supervisor came back and said they were filling out the paper work for our deportation. They thought they’d give us a few days to rest up so how would next Thursday work? We told her we didn’t think we had anything on that day. It would be a great day to be deported. She said okay then, we should have this done in a couple of hours. In the mean time, Jamie could go with the security guard to claim our luggage and dismiss the driver who’d come to pick us up. The children and I sat in stunned silence until Grayson murmured something about someone needing to be sued. Coleson mentioned that he couldn’t possibly go back. They’d had a going away party for him, for Pete’s sake. Jack then lamented that he couldn’t go to the Viking Museum and Maddie sat sipping her water and holding her Motion Discomfort bag from the plane. I myself was wishing I had that tiny bottle of wine that the screeners back in Amsterdam had surely drank by now. And was wondering how long until Jamie had a nervous breakdown, and how messy it would be and if he would get arrested. That got me really irritated thinking about having to travel back to the US by myself with the kids and then realizing that we had no place to live since there were students renting our house. By that time, Jamie was back and I decided to go to the restroom to pray a little and perhaps cry a tiny bit. That done, I washed my face, noticing how bloated it was (flying always makes me retain water) and then looked in the full length mirror. Gosh, even my butt got bloated this time. It must be the long-haul flight. I’m sure it has nothing to do with all the Christmas goodies.

That done, I headed back to the holding area and noticed Jamie talking to the customs agent. They were both smiling. I took that as a good sign. Turns out they didn’t realize he was a visting academic. They thought he was on a business trip (the irony). Of course you and your family are welcome here. Yes, your kids can go to school. We’ll just stamp your passports and you’ll be on your way in about 5 minutes. So, I’m not sure what part of Jamie’s letter saying he was a professor leading a group of students and teaching them 2 courses was confusing to them, but we just decided to leave it. We all hugged. And smiled and cheered. And prayed thanking God for his help in our time of trouble. And then it dawned on me. The kids were excited. They were very excited to be going to England.


James K.A. Smith said...

Dee's Anne-Lamottish take on our trip here is a classic example of being able to laugh about something AFTER you've gone through it. Truth be told, we were both crying at some point in the airport while we were being held in the "deportation" area. But thanks be to God for another surprise!

David said...

Poor Maddie's adventures bring to mind a memorable trip my family made to the Netherlands when my son Klaas was about 8. We all came down with a virulent flu on the flight, but Klaas was affected more than most, and on the way from Schiphol Airport to my cousins' house in Haarlem we had to pull over more than once and rush him over to the side of the road to expel more of his lunch (what little still remained). Both of my kids were keeping a journal of the trip, and Klaas let cousin Wouter read what he had written. "Excuse me, Klaas," he said, "you are using English vocabulary that is too advance for me. What is 'barf'?"

Kari said...

Wow - what an ordeal! We're so glad that all ended well and that you're in the country and getting settled in. We're looking forward to meeting up with you sometime in the next few months. Welcome to England!

Julie said...

I am so, so sorry about your nightmarish travel experience, but I tell you the day I read your account I really needed the laugh! I think that was the day when I, as carpool driver, left one kid behind at his home and forgot another one completely. It's really great to be able to hear what's going with all of you