My seven-year-old son has a knack of saying the most gobsmackingly inappropriate things at times. He’s a miniature version of my Mum – very loud, utterly confident and says the first thing that pops into his head.
Take for instance our recent holiday, Tim and I at the X-ray machine, untangling ourselves from the myriad of bags looped around our necks, the paraphernalia of two geeky adults, two small children and a baby. We’re frantically unpacking laptops, cameras, iPads, emptying pockets of keys, glasses, phones, USB sticks, trying to be as efficient as possible, acutely aware of the queue of travelers pressing in behind us and the stern bank of customs officers overseeing the chaos.
We’re so preoccupied with the mountains of carry-on stuff, juggling the baby, folding the stroller, convincing Charlotte to walk through the metal detector, that we forget Tom’s carrying a book with him – an enormous two inch thick hardcover copy of Hugo Cabret, a book that looks wildly out of proportion to the boy carrying it. A nice customs officer stops him as he goes to walk through the metal detector, reminds him to put the book on the conveyor belt where it looks even bigger and more ridiculous and draws the attention of the X-ray technicians sitting at the monitor, one of whom says theatrically “My! That’s an awfully big book for a little boy!”
“Yes” says Tom proudly, “There’s something hidden in it!”
Tim and I gasp. “Tom! Don’t say that!” my husband barks, letting out a nervous laugh that makes us look like a family of terrorists. “Why would he say that?” he whispers to me, as the customs officers watch the book travel into the machine and we are directed to the counter where they check you for explosives.
Who knows? Who knows why he said it, and who knows why he shouts “The plane’s out of control! We’re all going to die!” at the end of a bad patch of turbulence midway through the flight. Luckily the passengers are on his side, a few big men laugh loudly and the women loosen their grip on the armrests, but it could have gone either way. Tim and I give each other that look again, the one that says: “Do we pretend he’s not our child?”
Our troubles don’t end there, at quarantine a sniffer dog practically climbs into the baby’s stroller. The young, fresh-looking customs girl puts her hand into a netted under-compartment I’ve never noticed before and pulls out an apple with one bite taken out of it. She holds it up incriminatingly as if it’s a bag of marijuana I’ve been caught with, lets us sweat on the fact we’re up for a $400 fine for trying to smuggle in a browned apple.
We’re two exhausted parents, up since 5am, looking like we’ve been through a wind tunnel. We don’t even have the energy to try and explain. Luckily Charlotte confesses to the crime and, maybe because a five year old doesn’t have a Visa card, we are told that generously, just this once, she’ll waive the fine, but she’s taking our passports off to be flagged in case – we’ll be marked as potential smugglers and our baggage will be searched every time we try to enter the country from now on.
In our hotel room Border Control comes on the television. The kids watch fascinated as other criminals, just like us, are taken off to have their baggage searched, but instead of finding apples they find white powder. “What’s cocaine?” Tom asks. Maybe I should have changed the channel I think, but its too late now.
“Well… You know how you like Coke but it makes you go crazy so you’re not allowed to drink it very often… We’ll its sort of like that, but a hundred times stronger.” Tom’s eyes pop open in excitement and he turns back to the TV, and its not until a few days later when we’re having lunch in a nice restaurant that my explanation comes back to haunt me. The waitress is taking our order – a glass of wine, a mineral water, a pink lemonade, then she gets to Tom who asks loudly “Do you have any cocaine?”