Thursday, January 3, 2013

Traveling Blues

Nearly 4 years ago, we boarded a plane during "family boarding".  It was Kurt, Maddy, the boys and me.  Boarding passes in hand, we walked together to the jetway.

A woman from the airline stopped Maddy.  "I'm sorry, this is family boarding only.  You'll need to wait your turn."

Maddy was beside herself.  "This IS my family!" she said.

I get how she felt.  No one wants to feel like they don't belong, especially in their own family.

Not a second glance at our black kids, but the white girl who looks so much like us, was presumed not be ours.   That may have been the only time that the boys weren't the ones confusing airline personnel.  It is during travel by plane that we have the most frustrating, weird and occasionally amusing questions  or encounters.  I wrote about one of these encounters in this post, which unfortunately was not an isolated incident.

We travel by plane with the boys several times a year. These kind of encounters have become the norm.   I don't know what it is about plane travel that makes this happen.  I wonder if this happens to other transracial families or if we just have the misfortune of encountering people who appear to have never seen a family like ours.

the look
Several months ago, Kurt and the boys were settling into their row as I took my seat across the aisle.  An African American family was seated in the row behind them.

The flight attendant said hello to the boys and then said, "Would you boys rather sit over here?", she gestured to the seats across the aisle from the African American family.

In spite of the fact that Kurt was doing his dad thing, helping them take off sweatshirts and stowing away their backpacks, this flight attendant assumed that the boys had been separated from their family.  Is that taught in flight attendant training?  All black people are on the plane are traveling together?  Kurt ignored her. Mikias smiled and declined her offer.  Jem gave her his look.  The one that says he is not amused.

Recently we were boarding a flight.  The boys first and Kurt and I right behind them. The woman collecting the boarding passes looked at Mikias and then behind him "Are you traveling alone today?"

Mikias touched her arm and spoke slowly (like he does with the very young and very old), "No... I am not alone.  I am with my little brother, Jemberu."

She looked at Mikias, bewildered.

"You can call him Jem-Jem."

Jemberu quietly told Mikias to shut up.  Jem-Jem is not his nickname but for some ridiculous reason, if Mikias thinks a person is not "getting" one of their names, he offers up what he thinks is an easier to  understand alternate name.

Mikias does not get her confusion.  He thinks she is just making conversation.  He thinks she is confused by Jemberu's name not by the fact that she thought the boys were  unaccompanied, after all  there wasn't a black adult in sight.

Jemberu on the other hand, is completely tuned into to her confusion and doesn't like it one bit.  He gave her the look and jerked his thumb toward us.

We told here they were ours and went on our way.

I find these situations annoying.  Not all families match.  This is not news.  What happens to people inside of airports that makes this knowledge disappear?  The next time this happens I am going to be ready, and speak up.

I wrote the above after traveling at Thanksgiving.  Because of the tragedy in Newtown, CT. I delayed posting.  We recently traveled again for Christmas. I was ready if we were questioned, not to make a scene or big deal, but to say something.

This past Sunday, we were at an airport in Florida, the boys and I loaded our stuff on to the belt to go through the scanner.  Kurt and the girls were a few people behind us in line.  As we waited to walk through the scanner,  I was talking to Mikias and I had my hand on his head (a combination of affection and an attention getting technique).

The TSA guy said to Mikias, "Who are you with?"

Mikias smiled, wrapped his arm around my waist and said, "My mom!"

The TSA guy said, "Where is she?"

For real.  Where is she?  We are touching each other and talking.  Is this a conversation we need to be having?  Here's my chance to speak up.

"I am her.  She is me...."  I may have gone on and become more eloquent, or at least understandable, but I lost my chance.  He was on to Jemberu.

"This one, too?"


I sure told him.


  1. I always think of the witty things to say just a moment too late. UGH.

  2. This makes me nuts. We were looking at Christmas lights the other night when we saw a toddler all alone. I put my hand on his shoulder and said "who's child is this?" A woman next to me put her hand on MY child and said "I'll help her find her Mom." Um, no. A more understandable mix-up, but it still drove me nuts.

    1. It is enough to drive you nuts! Especially since you were right there with your child!

  3. People are amazing. There seems to be no grey area with this issue either. it's all black or white (excuse the pun). I (white) was in the store with my son (black) the week we brought him home. So he was only about 3 weeks old at the time. A man behind me in the checkout line asked how old he was, and I said, "three weeks." He then replied with "wow! good for you!" meaning, wow, you look great for having just popped out a baby, and now you're out shopping. PS: adoption is much easier on the body than pregnancy. But there was a guy who didn't think twice about the fact that I might possibly have a black husband at home to help me make this baby. I don't, but I was still thrilled with his forward thinking (and then lack thereof for not considering adoption). Then another day I was in a different store and some woman walked right up to me and asked where I got him. She immediately assumed that I adopted him. She was right, but my faith in humanity's open-mindedness about inter-racial couples went back out the window in the blink of an eye. Can't win, can we?

  4. No, we can't!

    It's funny, every once in a while, someone will ask me if the boys are adopted. I am always impressed when people don't assume.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!


  5. We are in the process of adopting a son from Africa. I love reading about your experiences because you just don't think about how much people will not "get" it. Thanks for helping to prepare me. We don't fly very much so maybe we won't have that one to worry about. :)

    1. Hi Jenn,

      It is good to prepare, people can be odd :)
      The good news is that most people do get it or want to get it.
      All the best to you as you prepare for the arrival of your son!


  6. I love "the look" - thanks for sharing a photo!

    1. I love 'the look' too. Unless he is giving it to me :)


  7. Oh that would so frustrate me! Ugh!