We land in Philadelphia and everyone applauds. The children look at me like, "What the hell? What's with the applause?" I look at Luisa with the same expression. Luisa shrugs. We wait until everyone else has left the plane because it makes it easier for us to lumber down the aisles dragging children and bags behind us. We are exhausted but very happy to have the longest flight out of the way. Innocently, we believe that the worst of the trip is over. The smiling, receiving line of flight attendants compliments our children and wishes us well as they are paid to do. Sadly, that is the last pleasant interaction we have with airline/airport personnel for the next three hours. We step off the plane and wait to pick up our stroller. An airline lackey tells us that only one family member can wait for the stroller. I've never heard of that rule before and we ignore her. She gets serious and insists that I proceed with the children while Luisa waits for the stroller. Miguel bolts ahead and I swing Zeca onto my hip and head out of the jetway. We get to a small hallway with windows on both sides. I must corral both children (not an easy task after they have been sitting on a plane for 8 hours) in this area. There is another family with us and we are all monitored by another staff person. The children begin to talk to each other and laugh and sit together on the window sills. When Zeca finally nestles herself between the 3 other girls there and they sit smiling with their arms around each other, I think the staff person will be powerless against the cuteness and will smile. Instead, she admonishes the father for taking a picture. Our stroller arrives and we make our way into the airport.
It is time to claim our bags and we are anxious to get through customs and recheck them so that we can get some food for the kids. They are getting tired because it is 6:30 p.m. to their little bodies, though it is only midday in Philadelphia. For the next two hours, we sit in the baggage claim area waiting. Our only entertainment other than chasing our manic children is to listen to the calm, female voice that occasionally comes through the loud speaker telling us that the bags from the Lisbon flight will be arriving "momentarily". I believe her for the first half hour but then I grow jaded. The voice had made so many unfufilled that we don't believe her when she tells us the bags have arrived. Only the stampede of our fellow passengers makes us believe. We finally load our bags onto a cart only to head into the first of many lines. We wait in line to have our passports checked. We wait in line to go through customs. We wait in line to get bording passes. We wait in a different line to check our luggage because they can't possibly do that when you get your bording passes...even though they check luggage for flights that are not connecting. The luggage is gone and I suggest to the children that our family deserves a treat for how well we all did. We set off to get that treat only to find another line. We wait in line to have our passports and bording passes checked again. We get through that and I tell the children that we will now get our well-deserved treat and we round the corner and are stopped in our tracks by the mother of all lines - the security checkpoint. Crowds of people standing without moving. When we are 6 feet from the security checkpoint and conveyor belt, we are instructed by a highly irritated pregnant security agent who screams to the masses an incessant litany of instructions. We suck down all the water in the sippy cups and water bottles we have because there are no trash receptacles and we are not going to leave the line to empty them. We remove all of our shoes and place each pair in their own bin, even Zeca's tiny little tennis shoes. We put every bag in a separate bin and load them on the belt which gives the illusion that you may actually be finished with the process in moments. No. They are searching many bags. The pregnant woman shouts, the children squirm, the conveyor belt lurches, the security agents pull people aside for searches. The security agent at the metal detector insists that the children go through the metal detector alone. I can't go through first and have Luisa send the children because there is a terrible back up on the conveyor belt and she is negotiating the stuff. I send Miguel ahead and hope that he stops and waits. Zeca clings to me and will not let me put her down. Finally, I get her to toddle through the gate. I go through last and hope I don't get stopped because I need to keep the kids from wandering off. I make it through, followed quickly by Luisa. A security agent approaches Luisa and tells her there is something concerning in our backpack. Our minds race: Is it the small, metal can with the wooden bead for Zeca to play with? Is it the empty sippy cups? Do we have any metal objects? No, the agents says with a furrowed brow, something else. They are going to search our bag. They take Luisa into a glass room and remove all of the contents of our backpack. They find the dangerous object - a tube of Desitin. They confiscate it and let us go. From exiting the airplane to this moment, it takes over three hours. We are lucky - we have a seven hour layover. Most people miss their connecting flights.
The airport is dirty and rundown. There is a live band and I have to fight the urge to openly mock them. We eat airport Chinese food and the kids fall asleep. We board our flight to Minneapolis and then spend the next 1 hour and 10 minutes taxiing and waiting for permission to take off. It is a very special kind of cruelty. I vow that I will never fly through Philadelphia again.
We are home now and returning to our normal routine. Luisa and I are reluctantly back at work. Zeca returned to daycare and Miguel returns to school on Friday. We had a fabulous vacation...we just have to forget about Philadelphia.