Passport, Part III

Normally on ferry rides with Short Stack I get to enjoy a bubbly and entertaining conversation with him. Like most his age, he converses almost entirely in the form of questions and we have a great time looking for new things and then discussing them. This trip however, I was going to be second banana to the Shuttle. We’ve watched videos of various launches roughly forty-three zillion times and in these videos, most of the camera angles are very, very tight. Many of the actual movie feeds come from cameras bolted to the shuttle, the external fuel tank or the solid fuel boosters themselves. Because of this and because my detail driven son is a stickler for.. well… detail, he insists on reliving the experience as closely as possible with his own Shuttle. What this means is that he holds the toy up to his face, keeping his eye so close to its surface that it would be within reaching distance of an aphid. His mother and I have tried to dissuade him from needlessly endangering himself this way, but you might as well try to convince a horse to lay off the clover. It just ‘aint going to happen. So, for the last few months, Short Stack has essentially gone about the house with a Space Shuttle for a face, making eye contact with him all but impossible. As I sat and watched him launch STS-2452, I realized that what I hadn’t brought along with me today was daddy entertainment. No magazines, no laptop, no book. Luckily conversational salvation came in the form of Doug.

Doug is a new friend who has recently moved back to Maine and is in the process of getting his various ducks in their assigned rows. Today, he was headed to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his license changed and the two of us enjoyed chatting away about home construction, the weather and especially the entertainment value of watching small children play when they are totally absorbed in what they’re doing. The red headed object lesson across the table from us obliged by resting the point of the orange fuel tank on the tip of his nose and, with a aspirated “FWOOOOSHHHHH!” separated the Shuttle from its back as it continued to his own personal orbit.

“He’s pretty obsessed, isn’t he?” Doug smiled at my boy as Short Stack hummed audibly while flying his Orbiter over his head for a few seconds, then back to the table for landing and a quick reassembly of the component parts as it was prepared for it’s next mission, STS-2453.

“Oh, you have no idea. This is all we see or hear. It’s going to be great taking him to the Kennedy Space Center, but it sometimes feels like I’m chumming the water, you know? Like he doesn’t get enough of rockets already.”

I then explained to him that every morning, Short Stack got a dose of NASA with his dose of medicine.

For the first three winters of my son’s life, things were pretty horrible. He’d get sick with cold after cold. He had croup, which made his cough sound like he had swallowed a harbor seal whole. He was always run down and tired. He’s a real trooper when he feels sick and never lets it dull his enthusiasm for living but to watch him go through it was simply awful. We were first time parents then and were wary of becoming “those” parents who treated their children like precious snowflakes, freaking out when they all but sneezed by dousing the house in antibacterial soap and Clorox wipes. Short Stack is a tough little customer and we did what we could. Besides, this was normal, right? He’s a kid. Kids get sick, right?

Wrong. Not like this.

It took us two years longer than it should have but a late night trip to the emergency room and some seriously frayed nerves finally got us to a specialist and an answer, He has asthma. One of the reasons if faked us out for so long was that it isn’t the kind of asthma that you’re used to encountering. He doesn’t get winded easily. He can play all day and laugh his little belly sore with joy and never show the slighted sign of distress. It’s just not that SORT of asthma. There are, as it turns out, a variety of asthmas out there and his is subtler than the wheezing, inhaler needing type. His creeps up on him and will slowly make his life miserable until it blossoms into full blown pneumonia, which he’s had three times now in the distance of his short time spent on this planet. The fix was long in coming but it has thankfully, arrived.

The medicine he takes is taken in with the aide of a device called a nebulizer. All it is essentially is a vaporizer that he claps in his mouth and breathes in until the vapor stops. All in all, it takes roughly six minutes to suck it all down and as some of you might know from personal experience, six adult minutes translates into roughly four and a half hours in three year old minutes. A distraction, if not entirely necessary, does at least keep things from getting needlessly antagonistic in the father/son relations category. Essentially, it’s better for all parties involved. I plunk my computer down at the table, set up the nebulizer and then find something for him to watch. In the beginning of this ritual, it was cartoons that he wanted. Now, it’s the “orange tank” video, and nothing else will do.

The video actually has a lot more to it than just watching the Shuttle’s orange external fuel tank for ten minutes, though honestly, I think he’d be fine with that too. It’s actually a very well done production from off the NASA web site highlighting the STS-129 launch of Endeavor that took place a little while ago. The music is good, the editing is well done and it follows the launch from the rollout of the massive Vehicle Assembly Building all the way through liftoff and the eventual separation of the orange external tank in upper orbit. My son lives for this video and it always gets him running over when it comes time to sit down and beat back his asthma with the miracle of modern chemistry. It’s sort of Merry Poppins for the twenty-first century.

“Just a short NASA video, makes the medicine go down…”

The end result is that my son can function normally for a kid his age and also, he can tell you in detail what the launch sequence is for the Shuttle program, and will until you beg and plead with him to talk to you about something else… which isn’t so normal. All in all, I call it a worthwhile trade. I do rather wish we could watch some cartoons sometimes, though.

As the boat pulled into the dock, I picked up our coats and hats and to mild protests, the little wooden space shuttle as well.

“I was going to play Space Shuttle!” The miniature scowl on his little round face looked more comical than menacing but I knew it was the look of displeasure with my actions. He’s a cautious kid and I know how to play that.

“Buddy, we’re about to walk off the boat on the plank. You wouldn’t want to drop your Shuttle in the water, would you?” That made him stop. Besides being neck deep in the freezing temperatures of winter, the water is also way, way down there as you cross the gangplank. The handrails are good and sturdy, but anything dropped while you walk across it is pretty much doomed to the frigid waters below. He thought about this and came back at me with the best that any three year old has to offer:

“Why?”

“Well…” I had to think for a sec. There were a lot of answers to ‘why?’ but only a few right ones. He’s a smart kid and does not cotton to the one word answer, ‘because.’ I’d need to do better than that. “Because if it did drop, there would be no way for me or anyone else to get it. It would float under the dock and you wouldn’t have it anymore.”

That did it. The scowl vanished and the protest ended. We said good-bye to Doug and I wished him well in his battle with the DMV: The Place Where Things Never Go Well.

I had my son, his birth certificate and a check. Our first appointment was a quick stop to get some official pictures of him and then it was off to the Post Office to fill out paper work. The only error being that “quick” and “three year old” never go hand in hand unless you are dealing with a small mountain of chocolate. After paying the seven dollar fee at our local AAA office, I watched in pained fatherhood-ness as the photographer tried time and time again to get a good shot of my son. Over the last sever paranoia laced years, the US has implemented strict guidelines on how passport photos must be aligned and set. Getting a small child to adhere to these rules, even for a tenth of a second is kind of like trying to push water up hill. You can do it, but you’re going to loose your mind in the process. In the end, the sixth try was the winner and the frazzled cameraman happily gave it his resounding stamp of, “Meh, close enough!”

With the hard won pictures in hand, we moved on to the Post Office, place of Passport submittal. I vaguely remember doing this as a child, back in my hometown on some sunny day in a forgotten season. As a kid, the Post Office only meant two things: Boredom and wanted posters. As my Mother stood in a lone that would have made the ones at Disney World look tame in comparison, I would inevitably drift off to look around. Besides the slow moving caterpillar of humanity that zigzagged though the velvet rope obstacle course which I was not allowed to play with, there was little else to do other than study the faces on the FBI’s most wanted criminals which were always posted prominently near the door. Could one of these individuals be coming through town right now? Should I look around at the others here even now? The topic would tantalize my mind for whole seconds until I’d wander away again to have my eighth drink form the water bubbler and start playing with the velvet ropes that made up the customer corral until garnering “the look” from Mom.

Getting my passport was a different experience. We walked right by the twisting line and got to go into a previously unseen office. There was a desk, a smiling clerk and no wanted posters or ropes to amuse my self with. That, and the fact that the attention was somewhat on me, made its mark on my memory. I though about that long forgotten experience as I walked into our local post office with my son hoisted high on my shoulders and proceeded to the one window set aside for such transactions. Apparently, an entire office was no longer needed.

“Sorry. We can’t use this birth certificate.” As the clerk handed it back to me, I was more than a little confused. The paper work had specified that what they needed was an official certificate with a raised stamp, which this one was and had. What it didn’t apparently specify was what KIND of official certificate was needed. Silly me.

“Ok…. Why not? What do I need?”
“This is from the hospital. It’s not official. You need to get one from the city where he was born.” That was unexpected.
Luckily, we live in the city where our son was born so I wouldn’t have to send away for it. In fact, City Hall wasn’t that far away at all, so other than having to deal with yet another layer of beaurocracy, the situation wasn’t so bad.
“Ok,” I said with a pleasant grin which I hoped gave the feeling that I was not boggling at the foolishness of having to get another official birth certificate while I held a different one in my hand, just as official but not official in the right ways, apparently. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with the right birth certificate.”

As I gathered up what I had, the clerk hit me again. “And don’t’ forget to bring the child’s mother with you too. She needs to be here.” That stopped me.
“Pardon?”
“Both parents need to be present when a child pass port application is submitted. You both need to sign the form here and with me as a witness. You’ll also need to make sure you bring correct identification before you are allowed to sign.”
After a brief, “are you kidding me” pause, I just had to ask. “So… What would be considered proper identification for us to bring?” I waited and was rewarded with the reply I most suspected.

“A passport would be fine.”

For reasons unknown, all I could envision was a snake devouring itself. Around and around we go!

In the end, Short Stack enjoyed his time with me as we skipped along though the various public buildings in search of the correct documentation for his very own little blue book with the eagle on the cover. I’m reasonably sure he has only a vestigial grasp of why we were going through all the trouble, but like most kids, he’s used to going along for the ride while having little knowledge of the final destination. Come to think of it, that’s a fairly accurate summary of much of the time one spends from age zero to eighteen. Some even manage to draw it out longer.

As we finally stepped off the ferry and back onto our island home, we happened to bump into Doug again in the small herd of passengers that disgorged from the boat. In our brief reunion as we walked up the hill and away from the landing, I made a discovery that made me feel a little better. He too had been thwarted by the bureaucracy and was returning home empty handed. At least we weren’t alone.

Short Stack, at least wasn’t empty handed. He clung lovingly the bag containing his Space Shuttle. Within ten seconds of waking back through our front door he was already launching mission STS-2454 in the living room. If only our civil servants were so dedicated in their duty.

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3 Responses

  1. I have some catching up to do on my reading.

    I’ll be back!

  2. I’m liking this passport saga. What happened next?

    The easiest place I ever got my passport renewed was in Australia. Everywhere else was just a headache.

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