On Mom-Blogging, Homeland Security and The Unbearable Lightness Of Explaining The Internet
By Her Bad Mother on August 02, 2010
BlogHer Original Post
When I was stopped the other week by US Customs officials for "giving suspicious answers" to their standard questions, I remain calm and composed and – although it took some effort – well in control of my temper. It was only when they ushered into me into the offices of Homeland Security and demanded that I explain more clearly what exactly I meant by "mom-blogger" that I started to cry.
I mean, haven’t I asked myself that very question eleventeen thousand times? And not come up with any coherent answer? Oh, God, I thought. They are going to arrest me and send me to Guantanamo.
They didn’t. I was eventually released to fly to San Francisco and to contemplate what the world has against mom-bloggers but end of the day, despite my cheek here, it was still one of the scarier things I’ve ever endured. And certainly one of the most frustrating.
I wrote about what happened in a post that I kind of vomited out some hours after I landed in San Francisco. I wrote about it again after I took some flack online for making too much of it. The rough outlines of the story are these: I had to pass through to US Customs to fly from Vancouver to San Francisco to get to Palo Alto for a Yahoo! event. I usually say, when asked, that I’m a freelance writer – I don’t expect everyone to understand the Internet – but in this case, the border guard asked me where I was going, and I said Palo Alto, and he replied, what’s in Palo Alto and I said Yahoo and he said why are you going to Yahoo and then I had to explain about their Motherboard and mom-blogging and it all went downhill from there. Because – and he minced no bones about this – what do moms have to do with Yahoo?
Um, because, um, the Internet? Yahoo is all about the Internet, right? And I’m a mom-blogger, on the Internet, and…
- Why would Yahoo be interested in a mom?
A mom-blogger… because, you know, the Internet? Moms use the Internet, and mom-bloggers...
- That just doesn’t sound convincing, ma’am.
And off I was marched to a fluorescent-lit room in Homeland Security where I was interrogated and left to wait and interrogated again and left to wait again and so on and so forth for nearly an hour. Because – and believe me when I say that there was absolutely no confusion about this – they found it "unconvincing" that there was such a thing as a "mom-blogger" who did things like go to conferences -- at Yahoo -- no less. They asked me to explain it over and over and over again; they pulled up my blog on a computer and asked me to outline, in detail, what it was about my "website about (my) children" that constituted anything more than a hobby. They asked – and if I hadn’t been so frightened, I would have laughed out loud at this – "who do you work for, really?"
They refused to tell me why my answers were unconvincing, which is, I suppose, their prerogative. And this was, probably, the most terrifying part of the experience: the fact – is it a fact? – that this happens all the time, this is what they do, this is what they’re there for. To identify and apprehend suspicious people. People like me. Mom-bloggers.
Later, when I tweeted about it, and later still, when I wrote about it, some people said that it had nothing to do with being a mom-blogger. Maybe, in the broader sense of the why’s and wherefore’s of international security, sure. It wasn’t because they perceived anything inherently threatening in my claim to being a mom-blogger. It wasn’t that mom-bloggers are a category on their No Fly lists. But it did have everything to do with their inability, or unwillingness, to accept "mom-blogger" as a credible professional description. They were suspicious of me, because my explanation for why I was travelling did not seem, to them, to be believable. And it was unbelievable because it was about mom-blogging, because – and about this they were very clear – they could not see how mom-blogging could be a job, never mind one that warranted travelling.
Which granted, maybe, because so many people seem to have this problem, this inability to understand what it is that we do, and it just gets so tiring, and when you’re finally faced with men with guns demanding that you explain this mom-blogger thing, and make it convincing, please, all the trolls that ever scoffed at you and all the whomevers who ever said, you do what?, and all the conversations and all the debates about what is this mom-blogging thing, anyway, all come hissing back at once, and also, guns. And that’s a little overwhelming, and – depending upon your level of comfort with authority figures bearing weapons – potentially a lot upsetting.
I’m over it, mostly. But for the record, when I cross the border next week, to go to BlogHer? I’ll be saying that I’m headed to New York for the shopping.