When I took my kids for a weekend trip to Canada while my husband was backpacking in the Cascades, I planned on having fun, but what I didn’t plan for was sweating it out at the border crossing.
“Everyone, be on your best behavior,” I told the kids as we waited our turn to cross the border in Lynden. I switched off the radio and rolled down the windows. Then I double checked that our passports were ready. When the green light flashed “Go,” I pulled up to the booth.
The woman looked at me and then back at my kids. “How long do you intend to be in Canada?”
“Three days.” I gripped the steering wheel tight. These types of situations always made me nervous.
“Where will you be staying?”
“Um …” I scrambled on the seat next to me for the paperwork and read the name of the hotel before handing the agent the paper. “The Pacific Gateway Hotel in Richmond.”
The agent looked at the paperwork for a long time. Then she looked at my hand, perched atop the steering wheel. I had stashed my wedding ring at home so it wouldn’t slip off in the hotel pool. “Do the children’s father know you are taking them out of the country?”
“Yes,” I tried not to sound defensive.
“And where’s he right now?”
“My husband’s on a backpacking trip in the Cascades.”
The agent looked nonplused. “Are you meeting anyone while you’ll be in Canada?”
“I’m meeting a friend at Terra Nova Park.”
“For how long?”
“Um … like, an hour.” My heart began to pound. Were border-crossings usually this specific?
“How do you know this friend?”
“From the internet.”
“What?” The agent’s eyebrows shot up.
“We’re both mommy bloggers?” I answered like I was asking a question.
The agent took a deep breath. “Oh. OK. Do you have any fruit?”
“No.” I was glad to have an easy answer. “But we do have some juice boxes.”
“Those are fine.” The agent smiled, like the presence of juice boxes confirmed my mommy-blogger backstory. “Welcome to Canada.”
I drove away filled with relief. But then complex thoughts flooded over me. As a white woman in my 30s, I am somewhat shielded by a bubble of “nice” stereotypes.
When people judge me in one glance, they think about positive things, like soccer moms and housewives.
What if I had carried forged documents and was actually a child trafficker meeting up with a contact from the internet? What if I was an estranged wife, sneaking into Canada to escape a litigious custody battle? How did the border agent make her snap decisions? Was white privilege at play?
The sun was hot and hair stuck to the back of my neck. I looked at my kids for a second before concentrating on the highway.
I was left with this weird feeling, especially for the beginning of a vacation. No matter where we travel, the big conversations we are having in America right now about racism, security and politics come with us.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.” Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.