My 14-Month-Old Daughter, the Shoe Bomber
Last week the Transportation Security Administration announced that it’s testing a new system at Logan to weed potential terrorists from the friendly skies. The new approach takes a tip from the Israeli playbook by briefly questioning passengers. Anyone who seems unduly stressed will be pulled aside for genuine interrogation. Such behavior profiling will target those more likely to be terrorists than the 94-year-old Florida grandmother who was patted down in July.
While some cry civil liberties violation, I’m all for the change. Two weeks ago, on a flight to California with my family, I saw first-hand the twisted logic of the current approach.
We were sailing through security at Logan. Our older kids, ages five and eight, were removing their shoes and disemboweling their wheelies for electronic devices and the dreaded liquids. As usual, they wanted to know why.
“Mama, why can’t I fill up my water bottle?” our five-year-old daughter asked.
“Because the plane’s water tastes better,” I said matter-of-factly, not wanting to tell her the truth: “Because insane people want to kill us.”
I get it. I don’t want a bomb on my plane any more than the next guy. Give me a hoop to jump through — or, 5,000 things to remove from my kids’ wheelies — to avoid such fate and I will gladly jump through it.
As my husband guided our older children through the metal detector to the promised land of the gate area, I hoisted our 14-month-old baby, Annie, onto my hip, folded her stroller, and began to walk through.
“Shoes, please,” the agent on the other side said in a short, sharp tone, hands firmly clasped on his belt buckle.
I looked down at my feet, a big toe poking through a small hole in one of my socks. I looked back up at him, embarrassed by my holey sock but also confused.
“Not your shoes, Ma’am,” he said. “The baby’s.”
Recalling the TSA placard that reads, “Jokes about bombs are taken very seriously,” and not wanting to bring up the whole, “Do you really have to call me Ma’am?” thing, I bit my lip, stifled a laugh, and stepped aside to remove the shoes — slippers, really — from my baby girl’s miniscule feet.
Her shoes are pink, flowered Robeez made of leather that is approximately 1/16th of an inch thick. They are so thin, in fact, that the soles of her feet get hot when she walks on the sidewalk in summer. They are so small that I could stuff them into the pockets of my tightest jeans. I am not sure how or why one would inject such Lilliputian footwear with plastics explosives. Is this really what we’ve come to as a nation? Are we so afraid of flying, so terrified of one another, so haunted by the past that we see potential for danger in these:
But, there we were: A TSA agent, a plane to board, and a pair of baby shoes. I turned, stripped them from my daughter’s feet, placed them into one of those big gray bins, and watched as they were swallowed up by the cavernous x-ray machine.
As I walked through the metal detector, Annie babbled and pulled my hair, her sock feet dangling around my midsection. Safely to the other side, her shoes came rolling down the conveyor belt toward us. I slipped them back on, and soon we all boarded the plane.
As I could have predicted, Annie didn’t terrorize anyone but me and my husband on the flight, jumping and squirming in our laps for several ebullient (for her anyway) hours before finally falling asleep, at which point she became such a lump of soft, weighted perfection in my arms that I forgot all about the shadowy figures who’d have us falling from the sky. I forgot about our collective fear and anxiety, our strange laws, our searing x-ray scanners. The scene at the metal detector would become a funny story in a day of mercifully uneventful travel.
A week later, I read about the new TSA protocol at Logan. Embedded in the report was this tidbit: For two weeks at six test airports, including Boston’s, kids under age 12 will keep their shoes on when going through security. As George Naccara, the TSA federal security director at Logan, said, “We’ve identified that children 12 and under present a very low risk.”
I couldn’t agree more.