Recently my wife and I decided to book the trip of a lifetime and take our kids to Europe this summer. She’s been many times (even living there for a while) and I’ve never been. She said she’d do all the planning (and knows I want to be as much of a tourist as possible…where can I get a fanny pack?), all I had to do was be in charge of getting our kids their passports. Boom. Simple enough, right? We had this conversation at breakfast, I figured our kids would be eligible for international travel by lunchtime.
I was mistaken.
First, I began my research online. There were forms I could print off and fill out, but our printer was slightly cutting off margins of the paper, so I decided to find a post office branch and pick up forms in person. There was no need to tempt the passport gods.
The form filling out process was very specific. BLACK INK only. Was I seriously not allowed to use blue ink, or did they just not want me to use my daughter’s pink glitter pen? I wasn’t going to risk it, and used black to play it safe. There were a couple of times I got confused, certain sections I filled out as the child and other sections needed to be filled out as the parent. This confusion caused me to almost check the “YES” box asking if I (meaning my five-year-old) was married.
After all the forms were filled out, it was time to locate documents. Original birth certificates, copies of birth certificates, copies of drivers licenses (front and back even though there’s nothing on the back), also, the directions made it very clear, copies could be bigger, BUT NOT SMALLER than originals. Oh, boy. I was bound to screw this up.
Then, I looked up the requirements for taking a passport photo; the type of paper, size of picture, direction person faces in the photo, type of background, all mattered for the photo. I didn’t stand a chance. Once I found out the passport office would take passport pictures I didn’t even bother trying to do this on my own.
I’d filled out papers and located documents to the best of my ability, next it was time to visit the passport office inside the post office. Hours for the passport office were limited and both parents needed to be there, unless I wanted to fill out another form (that had to be notarized the same day as the office visit), so we were stuck going on a Saturday morning.
I think it was just a coincidence that the Saturday after Donald Trump became President the passport office was PACKED, but I can’t say for certain. We arrived at 10:30 am, with forms and documents in hand.
“Next!” The postal worker shouted. There were 21 people ahead of us in line. We were in it for the long haul.
My kids were mad I told them they couldn’t bring iPads (why I said this, I have no idea). Within five minutes, they were annoying my wife and I, and each other. While standing in the sweaty post office, wasting my chance to be outside on an unusually warm January day, I couldn’t help but look around at the people in line ahead of me.
Many of these people had NO CLUE what they needed for a passport. I watched some people stand in line, with completely blank paperwork in their hands for over an hour, only to fill it out AFTER their names had been called. Others seemed SHOCKED they needed to know their social security numbers as they filled out paperwork while waiting in line. My head was about to explode from frustration.
My wife, sensing my disbelief in my fellow man, sent me across the street to get coloring books and markers for our kids. I happily obliged. On my way out the door, she encouraged me to get a coloring book and crayons for the little girl in line behind us as well.
Ten minutes later, and now maybe fifteenth place in line, I returned with coloring books for our kids, and one for the girl behind us. Her parents were grateful. It turns out, four-year-olds don’t like to sit on the floor of the post office for hours doing nothing either.
After I returned, and began paying attention to the line again, I noticed about half the people that made it to the front of the line were being sent home empty handed. They’d forgotten a piece of documentation or done something wrong (maybe they used a pink glitter pen to fill out their forms). I was nervous. Remember, this WAS THE ONLY PART of the family trip that was my responsibility.
After another hour or so in line, the mom of the little girl we bought a coloring book for, returned from her trip to the store. She came in with snacks for her daughter and snacks for our kids as well. Making some new friends, while waiting in line, was the silver lining in this dark cloud of a post office.
Finally, two and a half hours after we walked in the place, our names were called. Our moment finally arrived. We stepped up to the counter, weary from our morning of bureaucracy, handed over our documents, and waited. We waited as the incredibly patient postal worker took passport pictures of our kids. We waited as the camera broke after my son’s picture. We waited while they fixed the camera and took pictures of our other kids. We waited as the lady meticulously cut out the pictures and stapled them to the correct forms (Telling us if there was one tiny mistake, we’d have to begin the process all over again.) We waited. We waited. We waited. Then we paid. Holy smokes passports x 3 are expensive.
Anyway, we did it. We survived our morning at the post office. Three hours of standing, sitting, coloring, and snacking.
We walked out the door, giving a good luck wave to our new friends that had been in line behind us.
We were one step closer to our trip of a lifetime.