Passport Predicaments, or Have Your Documents in Order
By Dorothy Wilson ‘The Marion Mom’
My sister-in-law is having a baby today…
Her husband, the only doctor around, will deliver the baby. Oh, and they don’t have the happy drugs.
So, there’s that.
Back in April, my mother- in-law approached me with bright eyes and a wide smile. “So, are y’all going to let me take your daughter to Africa with me when Lori has her baby?”
I think you could have used my jaw to sweep the floor! “Ah, no,” I said, incredulously.
She didn’t understand my concern at sending two females, a senior and a 13-year-old, trekking across the world alone.
Final destination, Paris?
Well, okay, maybe.
Final destination, rural Ghana, closest market a three-hour drive away? You have to keep your children out of tall grass for fear of lions and snakes? You have to prepare your meat a certain way to prevent Ebola?
Absolutely not. Especially without me. But the question did start me thinking. My husband has a Master’s degree in Missiology, the study of missions. We worked and planned for ten years-a fourth of our lives-to live overseas with our families.
And I didn’t even have a current passport.
So while I had no plans to send my precious baby on a perilous adventure without adequate training and supervision, I did begin the passport application process.
For seven people.
Oh. My. Holy. Guacamole. The paperwork!
I located my birth certificate, driver’s license, and marriage license in a jiffy.
But we also had to procure passport pictures, a potentially expensive venture.
So we dressed in plain shirts, brushed hair, and headed to the local A A A office in Southaven. As members, we qualify for two free sets, then $5 sets after that.
The poor kid working that day pasted a smile on his blanching face when he politely asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes, we need passport photos,” I said.
You could virtually see the stress squeezing his vocal chords as he squeaked, “All of you?”
I expected the process to go smoothly. After all, snapping a photo on my iPhone takes all of three seconds. Even if you factor in a short printing time, the seven of us should have been out of there in 10 minutes tops, by my figuring.
Well, Squeaky brought out this hefty black box that I recognized as a camera only due to the long tube protruding from it. He stood my youngest on a chair so her head would hit a certain part of the wall, even though no part of the wall looked exceptionally clean or bright.
“Don’t smile,” he said.
Baby Girl obeyed, her rosy cheeks and lips full and unadulterated. Even though Squeaky snapped the photo quickly, he spent an inordinate amount of time fiddling with the box.
Well, it could have been all of two minutes. But two minutes feels like an eternity when you have six antsy kids awaiting instructions.
You know, besides “Stop hitting him. Don’t be so loud. Put your shoes back on.”
(That’s normal, right?) When Squeaky stopped pushing buttons, he called the next child up to stand in the chair. He snapped.
Then he squinched. I sighed, “What now?”
He hesitated. I suspect my frustration looked like claws on a bear. “Um, I think his dark shirt is throwing off the light sensor in the program,” he finally admitted.
I might have actually growled.
Why in tarnation can I take a cruddy photo on my smartphone and turn it into a county fair winner, yet a dark shirt throws off your passport camera?!?
We just swapped shirts, even though I secretly maintain the error lay squarely on the shoulders of the user, not the software, but the rest of the shots presented more of the same.
Squeaky fiddled, printed, and squinched. Ad infintum. I think there were 30 copies of photos on the floor when he looked up.
“Ma’am?” He faltered in the sights of my glare. “I need to retake these.”
I pasted on my “I’m a Christian” smile, took a deep breath, and retrieved the children.
The good news is, we did eventually leave with seven sets of passport photos at a reduced price.
I filled out form after form in black ink. I divided all the paperwork into separate envelopes. I retrieved birth certificates, my driver’s license, my marriage certificate, and my expired passport. I made copies of everything.
Then I headed to the West Memphis post office for processing.
Wait, I mean “we” headed to the post office. Both parents have to sign in person for the passport of any minor. And all minors have to be present.
I knew it would be a headache.
First, finding a time that Hubs could leave work for a significant amount of time during the work day proved six weeks in the making.
Second, the day we finally settled on, we landed at the building 15 minutes after the posted time for passport processing (not mentioned on the Internet, thank you very much.) Third, I found out from the cashier as she was deftly processing the paperwork that I could not pay for seven passport processing fees with one check — each application would require its own check.
Also not mentioned on the Internet. You know, you try to be prepared, but the world makes it impossible.
I did not have seven checks on me. But I did have a check card, with a slim possibility that I remembered the pin number.
Thank the Lord Jesus and all his holy cherub angel babies that pin number worked. Otherwise, in all likelihood, I’d be facing assault charges.
I will say the cashier did a great job. It’s hardly her fault the websites didn’t mention all the extra sticky rules or fees. All in all, the preparation took 12 weeks from start-to-finish, and our passports arrived in the mail six weeks after that.
“Ooh, where are you going?” my mother-in-law asked. When I admitted we had no plans, her face fell.
I smiled a genuine smile and added…
“Well, maybe Africa.”
Dorothy Wilson lives in Marion with her husband Chris as they enjoy all the adventures their seven children provide. Her columns appear monthly in the Marion Ledger, with reprints published periodically in the online edition of the Evening Times.