Shanghaiing the Son

My son and I just got back from a road trip to Vancouver, BC. His uncle lives there, and while I find it a daunting prospect to run across the border with a five-year-old (by myself, as my husband and partner-in-crazy was buried in work), to date I've been a fairly crummy visitor and needed to return the many, many favors to my brother who has been so giving with his willingness to sit in traffic. Misgivings of being in a car for six hours with a five-year-old aside (and trying to plan accordingly for any eventuality), I loaded our bags up, kissed my husband goodbye and drove off with a verklempt son, pining for his papa before we even pulled from the drive. ("I hate Vancouver!" he wailed. "I'm going to firebomb it!" "I know, sweetheart. You can bomb it when we get there."*)

We managed to skate through five of the six hours blissfully easily, this despite my son asking when we crossed into Vancouver, Washington if we were there yet. And then in Olympia, and Seattle, and Everett. (By the time we reached Bellingham and I asked him if he wanted to stop for lunch, he answered, "No! I just want to get there! Keep driving, Mom! Keep driving!")

At the Canadian customs booth I handed over our passports. "Where are you going then today, ma'am?" asked a border agent who sounded suspiciously Scottish, making me wonder if I had crossed an ocean when I wasn't looking. I told him. "Visiting who, exactly?" he asked, eyes narrowing on our pictures. I told him.

"And you've got permission from the father, then, have you?"

Here was the rub. The day before my son had eaten the handlebars on his bike and he now had a fat lip and a bruised cheek. A consequence of this little accident was a free-floating epiphany I had when loading up the car: my son and I have different last names. Now my worries were confirmed: the agent suspected I was poaching my son across the border.

"A note, perhaps? Notarized letter telling me it's okay for you to be traveling with your son?" I felt like I was in elementary school needing a pass to go to the dentist.

"You could call my husband," I answered.

His eyes flashed, slightly perturbed. "I could at that, you know," he huffed.

Chastened, I decided not to offer much else in the way of suggestions.

"So," he said, continuing to look over our unchanged documents, "what evidence do I have that you actually have permission to take this boy to Canada?"

"Um," I said helpfully.

"Roll down the boy's window, please." I did as he asked. "Get back in your seat ma'am." I sat back down with a goofy half grin on my face, trying to look placid and not bemused. I think I succeeded in only looking mentally challenged.

"Can you tell me who this lady is?" he asked through the rear window of the car.

For a brief moment I choked on the fear that my son would freeze up, that he would clamp down on his shockingly vivid vocabulary as a result of stress, but he answered crystal clear, bless him. "That's my mom," he said.

"And where's your father?" he asked.

"At home," said my boy, calm as a cucumber. "He's working."

"So he couldn't come with you?"

"Nope. He's working hard in the studio."

"You live with both your mother and your father?"


"You going to buy your father a present to bring back home?"

He paused thoughtfully before answering. "No, I don't think so," he answered earnestly. I laughed, both in relief of my son's casual demeanor, but at the fact that he was probably right. We never buy anything anywhere.

The border guard apparently got what he needed from my son and let us cross. We went to Vancouver where my brother proceeded to out-cool us to such a shockingly amazing degree that my husband and I may never recover in our son's eyes.

But I will always get permission from my husband to travel, an oddness of epic proportion in the era of enlightened individuality and post-feminism.

Or maybe I'll just change my name.

*When we got to Vancouver and his uncle put the whammy on him with his awesomeness, my son said, "I love Vancouver. I LOVE Vancouver! But I hate Antarctica. I'm going to firebomb it instead. Plus, it will get warmer, which is good." This unleashed a completely baffling discussion about climate change.

This is how it goes in our family, any excuse taken for expounding too much and too long on any subject at any time. The kid can never catch a break, poor fellow.