Pre-trip Fun: Getting our Passports

by Renae

Today was the start of our New Zealand adventure, as today we trucked down to the Hendersonville post office to apply for our passports. We leave three weeks from today, so the timeliness of this appointment is critical.

I have to tell you something. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. I like for things to go smoothly, without bumps, lumps or unforeseen events. So, to prepare for this mission-critical appointment, I printed out the passport instructions and read the fine print with a pen in hand, checking off that I had all the exact information required:

–Birth certificate with full name. Check.
–With parents’ names. Check.
–With gender. Check.
–With a raised stamp or seal. Check.

Shoot, my birth certificate went one better (or so I thought). It even had my baby footprints, my mother’s thumbprints, and a big, beautiful golden seal on it!

And on the back are instructions to keep this precious document safe, as it is proof of identity for, among other things, a PASSPORT.

I was set, for sure.

So we arrive for our appointment 10 minutes early. Being the type-A personality that I am, punctuality is important to me, too. But it is obviously not as important for the government workforce, as we learned while sitting there waiting and waiting in a large, barren hallway in front of a closed door. On the door was a peephole; I guess so they could make sure we weren’t burglars trying to get passports? There was also a sign next to the door: “DO NOT ENTER. RING BELL FOR SERVICE.”

So we rang the bell. And nothing happened. We rang it once again. Nothing. So then we noticed we still had three minutes to go before our appointment time–you know how government workers won’t ever open early, not a chance. So we sat there until a little after 1:00 and rang the bell again. Still nothing. I figured we had an appointment so we’d just wait for someone; they must be running late.

Meanwhile, another postal worker came out of that mysterious door, jangling keys. We got a glimpse of the darkened room before she shut the door–since it was dark we knew no one was in there. She mumbled something. My husband thought she said someone would be with us; I thought she was talking to herself.

Finally, at 1:15 the door to the passport portal swung open, a friendly face invited us in. We weren’t there for five minutes when she gave me the bad news: “You’re going to have to get a certified copy of your birth certificate; this document issued by the hospital won’t work.” Now remember, I’m pretty anal. I knew the importance of getting this done at this appointment as the appointments are booked for a week in advance. “Can you show me where it says this on the instructions?” I gurgled. I was trying not to cry. Imagine, a 40-something year old woman crying in the passport office. In front of her husband and child. “Not gonna do it.”

So she read me the instructions and, sure enough, there it was: a statement that said the certificate had to have a FILING date on it. How could I have missed it? So I choked back my tears and asked, lips quivering, “Can we still get this done in time?” She told me all my options, and I started feeling a bit better when I realized that we WOULD get the passport in time, even if it cost me tons of $$, even if I had to drive to Asheville, even if I had to get our congressional representative involved. It could be done.

In the meantime, she told me, go back home and look through your papers to see if your mother gave you anything else. She said she’d squeeze me in again this afternoon if I found it. I wasn’t hopeful. But I figured I’d get the passport one way or another, so I could relax a bit. My son and I had our mug shots taken. His passport application was paid for and out the door.

When we got home, I rushed to the envelope holding my childhood papers. And there, right on top, was a green slip of paper from the Pennsylvania office of vital statistics–just the paper I needed for my passport! It hardly looked the part: smallish, with my name and birthday handwritten in, issued in 1974, and with an almost invisible seal stamped into the paper. My big, beautiful TYPED certificate with the lovely golden seal and foot prints issued just days after my birth surely declare with more authority that I was born!

But not according to the Department of State.

I went right back to the post office and, after just a short wait, swore that the information on my application was true, paid my fees, and was out the door.

Lesson learned: read EVERY JOT AND TITTLE when you’re talking about official government documents. Even better, call in advance to see if thus and such a document will work.

Another lesson: sometimes even your best efforts at doing everything just right aren’t enough. And the only one holding it against you might just be you.

Stay tuned for the ongoing adventures of our first-time international travel to New Zealand!

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