When a cousin in Canada invites me to his wedding, my initial reaction is, okay, I’ll try to make it. My aunt usually calls a few days later and asks me to emcee the reception. Now there’s pressure to show up.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good ol’ fashioned Indian wedding. Who doesn’t like to party for three days in a row and change outfits as frequently as a Bollywood star? But the issue was never whether I wanted to go, but rather the location: Canada.
Back in the day, pre 9-11, American citizens could cross the border into Canada with as little as a valid driver’s license. Now we need passports, and all six of ours are expired. Since hubby is busy with work, and the girls are too young to be trusted to fill out the extensive application, it’s all on me. So about two months ago, I embarked on the dreaded quest only known to those who have gone before me as – the Passport Panic. One that I assure you has rung my senses high and dry. I have officially placed it under the top five worst seasons of my life. Right up there with potty training my children and going to the DMV. Yep. It’s been that bad.
Let’s start with my initial attempt to apply on-line. After finding all the old passports and reading and re-reading all the pages on who can file for new passports on the Internet, I spent an entire day typing in each family member’s personal data, checking and double-checking all the dates, numbers, and details. Because I do not want to mess this up.
After the sixth application is completed, I hit send, but the screen does not change. After fruitlessly hitting the enter key on my laptop a few hundred times, I finally notice a tiny sentence in all red font stating that I cannot in fact file online.
But not to fret, I can print all the applications and take them to my local post office. I call the post office up and verify that they do indeed process passport applications, and the attendant asks, “New applicant or renewal?”
“Renewal,” I answer.
So I venture over to the post office the next day with all these print outs, and as soon as the woman behind the desk starts thumbing through them, the shaking of her head says it all. Something’s wrong.
“You can’t renew your passports.”
“But I read online…”
“You see the date on this passport?” She cuts me off to explain. “This is over the limit of years that you can renew. You need to file for new passports.”
“Does that mean new applications?”
“Yep.” She pushes all the papers back to me. “That’s a different form.” And then she disappears to the back and returns with a fresh pile of six applications.
“So you’re saying I need to start over?” I’m that person. Between denial and anger, I just need her to spell it out.
“Yes.” After handing me all the papers, she says, “Now, make sure you get new, valid pictures, and make an appointment before coming back.”
Pictures? Appointments? Sure. On it.
Ticked that I have to start over, but thankful that at least the wrong paperwork wasn’t filed, I take a deep breath and move to the back table to start filling out the first application.
“You know you can take them home, don’t you?” She’s trying to be helpful, but I’m not ready to accept that nothing got accomplished today. “You can’t do anything without the pictures.”
“I know.” I say, gritting my teeth. Then gather my papers and head home.
After three days of rounding up the kids, running to CVS to take passport pics and rewriting all the names, dates and data in the new applications, I venture back over to the post office after calling to make an appointment.
“You understand that both you and your husband and the children have to be present to file these new applications?”
Yes, I guess I had read it somewhere. “On the phone you mentioned that I could file my husband’s since he has an old passport.” She looked at me and just shook her head no. “I’ll just file mine today.”
One down, five to go. I text hubby to tell him he is on his own. He has to find time during a lunch break or somewhere before the post office closes and get his application submitted.
Next, I send in notes to the school and have the girls leave school a little early for their passport appointments. Only thing is, I cannot find their birth certificates, but somehow I have photocopies of them. All but my youngest, that is, who’s only saved document is her certificate for completing basketball skills and drills. That one’s in a frame. What can I say? Priorities.
So I call the post office and they assure me copies are just fine. Meanwhile, I bite the bullet and order a new birth certificate for princess number four. Her application will have to wait.
The appointment goes smoothly and after an hour of making sure all the applications are perfect, one picture gets rejected. Hubby’s. So he runs to CVS to retake it. Something about the glare on his glasses. But at the end of day, five applications are in. And by the following week, once Sarah’s new birth certificate arrives, the sixth is also in. And we are good.
Or so I think.
We leave for spring break, and upon our return, I find lots of official-looking envelopes. Yay! I immediately assume the passports are here! Unfortunately, only three come. My oldest three daughters’ applications got rejected. They wanted copies of the front and back of the birth certificates. Which would require the originals. Yep. The ones I cannot find.
Now with only three weeks left before the wedding, I apply for new birth certificates. The site guarantees that within seven to ten business days, they should arrive. This gives me a squeaking seven to ten days to reapply for the passports. Man, how I want tokill myself.. But I must live in order to see if it all works out.
A few days later, I decide to be pro-active, hoping a little phone call might expedite the processing of the birth certificate applications. The office assures me that the paperwork went through just fine, and all systems are a go. The new certificates should be arriving in a few days. For sure.
The next day I get an email in my inbox with the subject, “Do Not Reply.” Don’t you just hate those? And come to find out, they can find no record of my three kids in the NY State office. I’ve forgotten plenty of details in my life, but one thing I knew for sure: my kids were all born in New York. Well, apparently if they were born in Queens, that’s a different department I have to file with—New York City—not New York State. And to be honest, LIJ Hospital is right on the Queens/Nassau County border so I was bound to botch this up.
Well, except for the fact that I have a copy (hello!) of the original birth certificates that have the New York City emblem all over it. Sheesh. The wedding is ten days away.
After a little good ol’ fashioned, motherly pleading, the department agrees to refund most of my money, and I quickly fill out the applications. Again. Trying my best not to hear the words that mock me. Starting over again, huh?
I hit send and hold my breath for the next five days.
Then last Friday, my daughter texts me, (keeping in mind that we’re leaving in a few days for this wedding.) “The birth certificates came!!!”
I am thrilled. Because, in my worst case scenario Googled research, I discovered that kids don’t need passports to cross the border if they are U.S. citizens and have a valid, original, birth certificate. Canada or bust! Here we come.
Except that when I come home and open the UPS envelope, it’s void of any birth certificates. Only a hardcopy letter to say we’re sorry about the rejected applications from New York State. There are no birth certificates in site.
Then on Sunday night, I get an email that says UPS will deliver an important letter to your house tomorrow, and if no one is home to sign for it, it will be returned. This has to be the new and official birth certificates.
All day long, I wait and work from the living room couch so I can look out the bay window for the UPS truck. With a busted doorbell, I cannot chance missing the UPS guy. The day passes. The kids come home from school. No truck.
Then, close to 6:00PM, a brown truck comes up the street. I’m sitting on my front steps like I’m waiting for Santa or the Easter bunny. He parks across the street as I hold my breath. Not really. But I stand up. He walks over, smiling. I’m smiling bigger. I sign for the envelope, rip it open, and pull out the papers. The birth certificates are here! With three days to spare, I open the screen door and scream, “Giiiiirls!”
“What? What?” All four come racing into the living room.
I waive the envelope in the air. “It’s time to start packing.”
Hope you take heed lest you too suffer from a severe case of Passport Panic. And trust me, this condition will take over your life. You will cry. Curse. Laugh. And act out of character if you let it linger. So take it from me, even if you plan to leave your country with your kids ten years from now, get your paperwork in order. And put everything in a safe place. After you tell one person where that safe place is.
Rajdeep Paulus Rajdeep Paulus is the author of Swimming Through Clouds and Seeing Through Stones. She is mommy to four princesses, wife of Sunshine, a coffee-addict and a chocoholic. As of this June 2013, she’s a Tough Mudder. To find out more, visit her website or connect with her via Facebook , Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram .
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