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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Winning the “Husband Points” Lottery.

Three years ago, we had made plans to go vacation with out friend in France. His house is beautiful and the country side is rugged and inviting. The time we were planning to go was what they call the “shoulder season”, meaning that it was leading up to, but not quite yet, nice out. It’s a good way of avoiding tourists and crowds, although where our friend lived, that was hardly a factor. His house is located on a terraced hilltop out side of an obscure and minimal village in a little traveled province of southern France. Hardly on the tour maps. The weather would be chilly and rainy but we knew how to dress for that. On the positive side, that would mean lots of fires in the mammoth fireplace. I hade visions of me sitting, curled up on the couch or out in the courtyard, wrapped in blankets and writing for days at a time, interrupted only by wonderful food, wine and conversation. It sounded like heaven.

This was to be no ordinary trip for us either. This was our “Last Hurrah” trip. At the time of the trip Action Girl would be about four months pregnant. We both knew that long distance journeys would be out of the equation for the foreseeable future. We both wanted to see our friend again but to be honest, it was I, who was looking forward to this the most. Left to her own devices, she would have fancied something with more palm trees. Still, it was looking like it would be a fun time.

The first problem started in a Paris Suburb. In 2005, Two youths, fleeing from Police ran into a power sub station, over the protective fences and were electrocuted. The Minister of Saying Things On TV at the time was then Mr., (now President) Sarkozy. He managed to fan the flames of racial discord enough to really get the riots going full tilt.

We watched the news and the pictures at home of burning cars and screaming protesters. “No big deal”, we thought. “This is France we’re talking about here. Protesting is a national sport over there. I’m pretty sure that their version of the Boy Scouts offer a merit badge in protesting. It’s a way of life for them. It’ll blow over. Besides, we’re not going any where near Paris. We’re flying into Marseilles.”

Two weeks later, the rioting had spread to Marseilles. Great. After each new news installment of what was on fire in France now, friends kept asking us the leading question, “You’re not going to go, right?” No, we were still planning to go. The only problem that seemed to be looming was that I was still waiting for my new passport to arrive. As usual, I had waited too long. My old passport had expired and only through the less than subtle prodding from Action Girl, did I get it in, supposedly, on time. It was getting down to the wire.

About two weeks to go and the passport arrived. I popped it into the luggage and foolishly thought that we were good to go. The rioters even seemed to be burning fewer cars and shooting at fewer police. What timing! Four days to go and then… oh dear. While doing the final packing, Action Girl happened to look at her passport.

Expired.

Not to worry. It would be expensive, but the government does offer an expediting service. All you need to do is send in your old passport, new pictures of your self and a bank check big enough to make a mortgage payment. The new passport will then arrive in one day from the time they receive it. So, we did all this and waited. And WAITED. Two days until we leave and still no passport. Action Girl calls the processing center and inquires what’s going on. They haven’t seen her passport. WHAT!?

Through a set of unfortunate events and misleading instructions, Action Girl had mailed her information and old papers to the wrong place. There was no new passport coming. Not in time anyway.

What I got that afternoon was a phone call from my cursing/semi-hysterical wife, telling me that the trip’s ruined and that she was going to call work up and try to get her vacation time back. After talking her down from the edge, I told her to give me the afternoon to work this out. I got off the phone and put my brain into overdrive. Mind you, “overdrive” doesn’t get used much. It smokes a bit and makes a grinding sound.

Where could we go? Florida and much of the southern east coast had just been flattened by a series of hurricanes. So had most of the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. I didn’t know much of anything about vacationing in California, Washington or Oregon. We needed to find a place to go that didn’t involve passports but would be guaranteed to make my dear wife happy about this vacation on the fly. I had it! I called the airline and asked them, “What if we went west instead of east?” A couple hundred dollars paid to them for changing my mind, a quick call to my Mother to enlist her help in finding lodging and we were all set. I called Action Girl at home.

“Empty out the suitcases and start repacking for warm weather.”
“What? Why? Where are we going?”
“Don’t forget your swim suit.”
“WHERE are we going!?”
This was tough. I badly wanted to make this a surprise, but I supposed that she had lived through enough stress for today. I also guessed that she would have strangled me if I withheld this information until we reached check-in at the airport.
“Maui”

*Gleeful squeals*

“Do we have tickets?”
“Taken care of.”
“A place to stay?”
“Mom found a place. It’s on the beach.”
*More squeals*

So, we called our friend in France, gave him our apologies and flew from Boston to Maui. I hadn’t been there in about ten years and for Action Girl, it was her first time. We had a blast. I didn’t get much writing done. Most of our time was spent sightseeing and snorkeling. We had a blast.

I’m still looking out for a chance to get back to France. The fires are out and the rioters are just the local taxi drivers or school teachers and no one seems to be shooting at the police at the moment. I’ll get there yet. The trouble now will be convincing Action Girl to fly east, rather than west.

Bon Aloha.

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