Sunday, August 7, 2011

Clearing Customs

So last week, we went to Canada.

Invariably, I am questioned about having permission to cross country borders with my daughter. Ok, so we only ever went to Canada one other time.

So I was prepared. In addition to Jupiter's passport, I carried and produced Jupiter's Maine issued birth certificate for foreign born child. The birth certificate states "Sole legal legitimate parent". Which should suffice to answer any question about whether I am authorized to bring my child with me when I visit another country.

At Canadian customs, I presented my passport and Jupiter's birth certificate. I didn't present her passport becuase she didn't need it to get in to Canada, and becuase the night before I determined that it had expired in March.

The customs officer had me open the back window so he could view Jupiter and greeted her with a big smile and a "Bonjour, Jupiter!" So I love the customs officer.

He did question me about having a document which authorized me to take her out of the country. We discussed it in Franglish. I was confused because I thought he had already read the birth certificate and was still questioning it. I asked him if I needed a copy of the court decree or what. Then he read the magic words and he was satisfied. I can cut him a little slack because English is not his first language. He was a bit apologetic about it and neglected to ask if I was bringing any guns, mace, or pepper spray into Canada. Then he sent us on our merry way.

Two days later, we crossed back into the US at the same border crossing between Quebec and Vermont.

The customs officer is waiting outside her booth when I drive up.

I give her both passports and Jupiter's birth certificate.

"Where do you live," she asks.


"WHERE?" She seems grumpy. The crossing is busy right now, so maybe she's just stressed.

I tell her where.

"Where do you work?"

I tell her I'm an anti money laundering specialist at The Bank, slightly gesturing towards the work photo id hanging from my rear view mirror.

"How long have you been doing that?"

Since I got an incomplete on the last question, I figure I should be sure. And depending on what she wants to know, the answer is either one year or 13 years. So I ask her if she means AML or the bank in general.

"Anti Money Laundering," she says. So I answer that question.

She looks in the back seat.

"Where's her DAD?"

"Russia?" I ask. I explain that Jupiter is adopted, even though I don't think I should have to. As much as I want to yell at the customs lady, I figure that being detained at customs is probably not a wise move and I should just tell her what she wants to know.

"When did you get her?"

Are you serious, lady? When did I "GET" her? First, she's not a dog, or a car, or a contagious disease. She's a person. A full fledged US Citizen, in fact. Who, by the way, can HEAR you. And who also, by the way, is currently extremely sensitive about not having a father, and you've just completely pissed me off because if you had bothered to read what I handed you, this line of questioning would be entirely unecessary. And if you do feel the need to ask these questions after you READ THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE, you could do it politely.

I'm so mad I amost get the question wrong. I stumble between 2004 and 2005.

"At what age?"

Maybe it's a quiz to see if I'm smuggling an illegal 7 year old into the country.

"A year and a half," I tell her.

"Does she speak a language other than English?"

This can't possibly be relevant. Is there a reason she needs to know this, or is she just being nosy now? Jupiter actually said "Bonjour," to a store clerk in Montreal a couple hours ago. Should I tell her Jupiter can speak French? Or Swahili, just for kicks? That would be fun.

"No." I shake my head at her.

"Did you buy anything in Canada?"

"Yes." I tell her we bought three books, one t-shirt, and some chocolate. (They have dark chocolate Aero bars now. And we bought some kinder-Eggs because we can't buy those at home). She looks in through the hatchback window at the carrier bag from Indigo.

"Any food in the car other than chocolate?"

I'm traveling with a 7 year old. Probably, yes.

I start digging through the snack bag, coming up with a Z-Bar to show her. Should I show her the extra oatmeal packet next, or the rest of the animal crackers in the Ziploc bag?

She clarifies. "Any fresh fruits or vegtables?"

Oh. Well, then why didn't you just ask me that in the first place, if that's what you wanted to know.


She takes the paperwork into her little booth and scans the passports. I wait to have a fight about Jupiter's expired passport.

The customs lady comes out of her little booth and gives me all the papers back.

"When are you going back to work?"

Again, why exactly do you need to know this? What day AM I going back to work? I don't even know what day it is today. I think it's around the 15th.

"The 15th? A week from Monday."

Apparently I got the right answer, because she let us into the country.

I stay mad at her all the way through Vermont.

Wait, I'm still mad at her.

I'm mad at myself for not being able to protect Jupiter from customs officials who don't think 7 year olds can understand them. I'm mad at myself not having better answers to questions that shouldn't be asked in the first place. I totally get that they need to be sure that she's not the victim of parental kidnapping. But I was not expecting the invasive line of questioning that we got. I guess I should have been prepared for that.

Next time I'll expect it.


mainiac said...

That is so wrong. I hurt for you and for your daughter. I'm hoping your write a letter to her supervisors. It may help other families from having to be persecuted for being a nontraditional family.

M.J. Fifield said...

Stupid Customs Lady.

Somewhere Behind the Morning said...

Ugh, this is horrible! What an awful, power hungry lady! I detest ignorant people like this that open wounds they don't even know is there.