I was almost shockingly well-prepared for today’s mission: Getting passports for my two children in advance of our Spring Break trip to Mexico. I mean, I’ve been around the international-travel-with-kids rodeo a couple of times before, and I know that it is terrible. But here’s a fun twist: it turns out that when you decide to both get divorced and take your child on vacation? The government goes fucking after you. (Because they don’t want you to kidnap your child. I get it. But STILL.)
See, when only one parent is doing the passport-acquiring on behalf of the child, the already-considerable amount of paperwork involved multiples like rabbits and requires the involvement of people like notaries. And if you hear the words “Could you get this notarized?” and think “Oh, sure! No problem whatsoever!” I do not think you and I can be friends.
Which is all to say that I knew this was going to be bad, and so I did my homework. I went online, and made an appointment for expedited passport services. Except when the automated service called to confirm my appointment, I was informed that my travel date had to be within 14 days of my appointment. But you couldn’t make the appointment more than 14 days ahead of the date of your desired appointment. So I calendared the date upon which to change my appointment. But when I called back 14 days from the date of my desired appointment, I learned that there were no appointments available for the next 14 days.
Next step: Figure out a way to speak with an actual, for-real human employed by the government. This was, of course, a completely straightforward process that in no way required me to abandon even the whisper of a productive workday. It was at this point that I discovered that the (government) website that lists all of the documentation you need to bring with you does not, of course, list all of the documentation that you need to bring with you.
Here, if you’re curious, is a complete list of what one must bring if one is attempting to secure a passport for a minor child and the other parent is not present:
- Certified birth certificates for each child
- DS-11 forms for each child
- Notarized DS-3053 parental consent forms for each child
- One copy of the front (and back!) of the absent parent’s driver’s license per child
- Any previously-owned passports
- Enough checks to pay for each child (and each service required by each child) separately
- The blessings of God/your preferred deity
I further discovered from this for-real human being that, in total contradiction to what the government website said, I could go to a post office in the Palisades any Monday-Friday from 1-3PM to get my kids passports! No appointment needed! AMAZING. (Well, “amazing” might be an overstatement given that the Palisades are most definitely over the river and through the woods from me, but let’s take what we can get.)
Once I felt confident that I had all the required materials, which definitely did not take me three solid weeks, I selected a date to pick up my children from school early so that the three of us could breeze through the post office all spectacularly organized and drama-free.
I should have known just how very wrong things were going to go when I realized that I didn’t have actual photocopies of Kendrick’s driver’s license – just photos I had taken on my phone – and had the following thought: “Eh, it’s fine. It’s 2019! I’m sure they’ll be able to give me an email address or scanner I can send the photos to.”
Here are the roadblocks with which I was presented upon my arrival at the Pacific Palisades Post Office:
ROADBLOCK 1: I know we said that you would be able to take your passport photos on-site, but we lied.
SOLUTION 1: No problem! The lovely people ahead of me in line have assured me that – based on the speed with which they have moved forward over the last hour – they’re not going anywhere for a looooong time, and are happy to hold my spot. And there’s a CVS right around the corner! I’ll just walk with – sorry, I mean “carry” – my two children the half-mile that constitutes “around the corner” in California-speak and take some pics real quick.
Are both of my children telling me they feel like they need to throw up?
My daughter’s passport photo is a pretty neat encapsulation of how the three of us were rolling at this point. (I’m not showing you mine. I look like a demon.)
ROADBLOCK 2: I know it’s 2019, but no, we do not have the ability to download/upload/email/scan anything at all. And certainly not the documents we have said that you absolutely must have if we are going to issue you a United States passport.
SOLUTION 2: No problem! I’ll just make my way back to the CVS “around the corner” with my two children and use their photocopier to photocopy the pictures of Kendrick’s license that I have on my phone.
…They don’t have a photocopier?
…Do they have a photo printer that I can somehow hook up to my phone?
(I want to take a minute here to give a special shoutout to the CVS employee who was helping me, if “helping” is what you call “a complete and total lack of desire to help, expressed via dead eyes and a tendency to wander away at the precise moment when help is desired, over and over and over.”)
Here is what I did next:
1. I hooked my phone up to the photo printer via HDMI cord. It registered a single photo of my daughter and me brushing our teeth which, while adorable, would not do very much in the way of getting her a passport.
2. I dialed into the photo printer’s Wifi, which told me to download the CVS app in order to proceed. Could I download the CVS app on the photo printer’s Wifi? I could not. I could, however, walk outside, use the Wifi in the ether to download the app, then return to the store to restart the process.
3. I walked outside, used the Wifi in the ether to download the app, and returned to the store to restart the process. I finally – victoriously, even! – uploaded my photos to the app, and hit the “Checkout” button.
At which point I spent ten minutes looking at this:
My new CVS friend, who we’ll call Chad, wandered over to (helpfully) disconnect me from the photo printer Wifi and send me on my way…but when he did this?
Suddenly – miraculously, even! – IT LOADED. My cart loaded! I brandished the checkout screen at Chad. “It worked!” I shouted at him. I asked him to please print out my photos on his printer-thingy, and expressed to him the urgency of my situation, what with the people holding a spot for me on line that I could not lose, or I would cry.
ROADBLOCK 3: Chad.
“Nah,” says Chad. “You didn’t use the photo printer’s Wifi, so it’ll be at least an hour. It takes that long for the signal to reach the printer.”
Solution 3: No! Problem! Whatsoever! I’ll just return to the post office, get back on line, wait for my little “your photos are ready now!” email ping to hit my inbox, and then walk with – sorry, carry – my two maybe-going-to-vomit children back to the CVS “around the corner.” Again.
At this point, just so you know, the entire post office was invested in my saga. Various people were holding my place in line, offering suggestions (like “use the photo printer at the CVS around the corner!”) and providing moral support. The woman in front of me was literally cheering me on: “You’ve gotten so far! Don’t give up!”
And so I didn’t. I PERSEVERED. I was going to beat the system that was trying to take me down if it goddamn killed me.
ROADBLOCK 4: I know that you researched this process online and spoke to an actual human who gave you a comprehensive list of all documentation and information that you would need in order to get your children passports…but come on, we’re not going to actually give you all of it. Where’s the fun in that?
…And this is where they broke me. At Roadblock #4. Because, see, you may have brought with you alllllll of the things that various websites and people told you to bring, but there’s one thing that they don’t tell you to bring, because they assume that if you are a decent parent or functioning human being, you will have committed this information to memory.
What is that thing?
Your children’s social security numbers.
I was able to acquire my son’s via a frantic phone call to Kendrick, who located it in a random email from 2013…but my daughter’s?
Nowhere. Her social security number is nowhere. (Except, of course, tucked neatly into the “Important Documents” file folder located in my desk, 45 minutes away). And so, five hours after I began the process of acquiring passports for my two children, the train came to a complete and abrupt halt. Did I finally realize that I had to leave at the exact moment when I was – at long, long last – called forward to hand over my paperwork?
Of course I did.
And if you’re wondering to yourself, “But Jordan, surely you remembered to add money to your parking meter during this fairly epic adventure so as to avoid getting a parking ticket!”?
The answer is “No. No, I did not.”