It’s time for my kids to apply for new passports. For the past week or more, I’ve been gathering up small mountains of documents, photos, notarized signatures, and nearly expired passports to take to a “Passport Acceptance Facility.” Coordinating the schedules of two teens and one soon-to-be-teen isn’t easy, so I’m grateful that there is at least one facility within 10 miles of my house that merely necessitated missing one soccer practice and eating dinner late. The woman on the other side of the counter was friendly and accommodating and the transactions required for obtaining two out of three passports were accomplished without a hitch.
Getting a passport for my 18-year-old son is a different matter.
At 18, he is an adult. He can apply for his own passport. He can also travel to exotic lands- like Afghanistan, Iraq and maybe even Libya- and kill people. I admit, it does confound me that the U.S. government permits him to decide whether he can hold someone else’s life in his hands and yet he can’t legally have a beer or a glass of wine with mom, at least not until we manage to get ourselves to Italy which is the whole reason for this passport renewal process. But the actions of the U.S. military and the legal drinking age are not what I had intended to complain about here, at least not today.
When my son turned 16, like most kids that age, he began to ask (on a frequent basis) when he could get his driver’s license. We talked about Driver’s Ed, I looked into the extra cost for auto insurance, and I pointed out that Boston, Massachusetts- with its nonsensical roadways constructed over colonial cow paths- was not the friendliest, safest or even sanest place to learn to drive. Time passed. His friends got their licenses and took him places he couldn’t get to on the subway. He stopped asking, and when I ended up asking him, he said he might as well wait until he was 18 and then the whole process would be simpler.
He turned 18 six months ago. He has senioritis and its hard to do anything except long to be done with high school and move on to whatever the next stage brings. I don’t mind. He’ll get his license when he needs it and in the meantime, my auto insurance (miraculously) has even gone down.
However, when it comes to renewing his passport, it’s another story. I guess the government does mind. He needs a driver’s license and his old passport to get a new passport. Without a license, he is required to dig up and photocopy five different forms of identification, in addition to all the supporting documents I’ve already collected.
“Does he have any bills in his name?” the helpful woman at the counter asked.
“Bills?” I asked. “I’ve been paying the bills.” (And there are going to be some really big ones arriving soon, unless he decides to take a gap year instead of heading immediately to college…)
“Bank accounts, school ID, library card… Anything with his name on it,” she prompted.
“Birth certificate?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “that is proof of citizenship and can’t be used for this.”
This? I wanted to ask. What this does the government want to know? I’m his mother, both our names are on his birth certificate. Without a doubt, I can tell whoever wants to know that he is who he says he is. Afterall, he already has an old passport. He didn’t need five sheets of paper with his name on it when he was a minor, so what has changed in the last 6 months?
We live in an age when the government (and the internet, and the banks, and the advertisers, and the social media networks, and the hackers and who knows who else) has more than enough information about every one of us, and yet there is still a need to bring in copies of more paper documents with our name on them to prove who we are…
One day, will this also be required of minors applying for a passport? I can just imagine bringing in a picture that one of my kids (or grandkids?) drew in their kindergarten class, their name etched out in bright wobbly capital letters in the corner. Now that I would enjoy. And I bet you the nice lady at the counter would ooh and ahh over the fine evidence of my child’s artistic skill. She would probably tell me all about her grandchildren. By the end of the process, I would know her name and where she lives. And you know what? I’d be happy to vouch for her if she ever needed anyone to confirm her identity.