Saturday, 22 December 2007

'Tis the season to be jolly

Deck the halls with boughs of holly....we are off for Christmas in London and I am full of seasonal cheer and goodwill. The Fille is taking longer to get into the spirit. We arrive at British immigration control at the Eurostar terminal in the Gare du Nord just as she is having a hissy fit, screaming "Mama, mama" and "I want" various things, most of them edible and involving chocolate. (This is what you get if you listen to a French pediatrician and deprive your child of sweets and biscuits for the first two years of her life). I hand over our passports. Mine is still in my maiden name, The Fille's is in her father's name. Normally I have a copy of my marriage certificate in the back of my passport but it fell out in Prague and I stuffed it back in a bag or pocked somewhere and cannot now find it. I used to be super organised and efficient. These days I do scatty.

"Is this your child?" asks the woman immigration officer.
"Yes," I say as The Fille tugs at the hem of my coat, still nagging:"Mama, mama."
"But she has a different name."
"Yes, she has her father's name."
"Do you have anything to connect you to her?" she asks.
I think hard. Umbilical cord? No, that was cut some time ago. A photo of The Fille as a few month old baby? No, the woman looks scornful. The Fille's drawing book with dated pictures by 'Me and Mama'? No good. Perhaps her hanging off my clothes shouting "Mama" is a giveaway? Clearly not. "I'm sorry," I say. "I do this trip at least once a month with my daughter and nobody has ever asked me to prove I'm her mother before."
The woman glares at me. "Madame, have you heard of child-trafficking?"
I am needled by her officiousness. "Indeed I have, Madame, and I have written about it," I reply.
"Well you should know that the rules have been tightened. I say I understand, and I do. I am glad the rules have been tightened. I do not want any snatched or trafficked child being forced across any border anywhere. At the same time I am thinking, if I had snatched or was trafficking The Fille, would I have photographs of me holding her as a newborn baby, and spoon feeding the first solids and playing with her in an inflatable paddling pool at two years old? And would she be yelling "Look Mama, look" as she pulls out every single toy from the bag I have packed, while I say through clenched teeth: "Listen, I am already stressed, put Bear and Bébé and the rest back AT ONCE." Would I? Perhaps this is part of the child trafficker's kit. It strikes me maybe they think I am snatching The Fille from her father. I wonder if I call him on the mobile he will back me up or take the chance to have me put away. (You think you know someone but who knows?) My heart sinks. I can see Christmas in London disappearing faster than the new fast-tracked Eurostar. I begin calculating whether I have enough time to get home and find her health book. I decide I do not. The Fille has now emptied an entire bag on the floor and is saying: "Mama, mama, mama, mama," with different intonations each time as if trying the word out for size. She does this daily but I realise it might sound suspicious. I will her to be silent before we are arrested. By now a queue of huffing, shuffling passengers has built up behind me. The woman relents. "OK, I'll let you go this time, but next time bring some papers," she says.

I scoop up the scattered contents of our bag and find a wallet containing mine and The Fille's European Health Cards. I want to rush back and thrust them at the officious woman with a: "Look. She IS my child." I glance back at the long queue and shove the cards back in the bag with everything else. "Let it go. Move on," I tell myself. "'Tis the season to be jolly," I think. "Mama, what did the lady say?" asks The Fille. "She wanted to know if I am your Mama," I say. The Fille looks puzzled. "Why?"
"Who knows, who cares?" I tell her. "It's Christmas."

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