“Sweat” with my guest writer, my sister Francine as she gets tangled in red tape and bureaucracy at the passport office. Will she finally get ready for a family vacation with time against her?
My life, like many people’s, is not extraordinarily exciting. While there are thrilling hills and mundane valleys, up, down and sideways moments, on a whole, my life is certainly not the stuff of reality television.
Over the past month, though, life took on the feel of a reality television show complete with the typical reality show formula: a planned challenge fraught with obstacles and roadblocks that could almost rival an episode of one of those HGTV home renovation shows that my husband and I enjoy watching.
The Challenge: Organize and Execute a family vacation in Belize. For the past several months, my family and I have been planning a trip to Belize. We were hoping all of the immediate Toronto family could go and we could turn the trip into a family reunion of sorts. Sadly, for various reasons, only a small group of us was able to make the trip: Mom and Dad, my sister, Charlotte and her husband Andy, my son Malakai, my niece Marlee, and I.
The Goal: Be ready to fly on Friday, July 1st.
Roadblock: We booked our flights only to stumble upon (for some of us anyway) an obligatory reality show roadblock: expired passports. Mom and Dad’s and mine. Malakai had never travelled outside Canada and had never held a passport. Because our passports were so outdated, we had to apply as though we were applying for passports for the first time!
Plan of Action: Charlotte and Andy took Mom and Dad to get their passports pictures and Charlotte agreed to be their guarantors. I completed all of our application forms through the Government’s website, gathered up all the necessary supporting documentation, secured references and guarantors for Malakai and myself and took the whole lot to the passport office to submit them for processing. We were somewhat disorganized and procrastinated so were cutting it close. But everything appeared to be in order.
Obstacle: The passport officer was very kind when she explained to me that several components of each application was missing: consent letters to submit applications on my parents’ behalf, my marriage licence, a long-form birth certificate for my son, proper photo ID for Dad. My heart sank as the passport officer ran through the list of items I had to obtain and the reality TV show commentator’s dramatic voiceover resonated in my head: “Francine panics! She might not be able to get the passports in time! The trip is less than three weeks away and the passports could take up to ten business days to process once the proper documentation is obtained! The trip might have to be postponed or cancelled, but flights have already been booked!” Why, you may be asking, didn’t I find out exactly what supporting documentation was needed? Well, I thought I had but this is what can happen when one is working against a tight timeline – i.e. reality TV scenario.
Reality Show Reaction and next Plan of Action: Panic I did as I immediately got on my cellphone and started making phone calls – first to family members: Who is available to take Dad (my father is elderly and doesn’t drive) to apply for his new photo ID? Then, to the appropriate government agency to order Malakai’s long-form birth certificate. How quickly can I get the expedited certificate? I pictured my wide eyed self staring into the camera and voicing our dilemma to a captivated TV audience: “Well it looks like we have a problem with the bleep bleep passports.” (Reality TV scripts tend to inject an abundance of bleeped out profanity in their scripts which, I suppose heightens the drama). “So, I don’t know if I can get all this bleeping stuff together in time. Why the bleep did we leave it so late? Looks like this trip might not bleepin’ happen.”
Plan in Action: Somehow and with everyone pulling together to make the passport thing happen, we got all the necessary supporting documents together but our timeline was getting tighter. Malakai’s certificate took an extra day, so my husband took his application to a closer passport office for processing and pick-up. I returned to the passport office near my office and submitted the other applications. Anxiously, I tapped my fingers on the counter while the passport officer scrutinized the applications and supporting documents. He was a cool-looking, young guy with an attitude that made me feel like everything was going to be alright, until…wait for it…Obstacle number two: A problem with Dad’s ID.
Again, I heard the dramatic voice over: “Francine’s father’s name on his citizenship card is different than on all of his other ID: ‘William Maurice’ instead of ‘Maurice William’ – an old glitch that took place when he applied for and became a Canadian citizen.”
“But he’s been issued a passport as Maurice William before,” I pleaded to cool passport guy, hoping he could see desperation in my eyes and hear it in my whimpering voice. Apparently he did because he looked at me and gave me a reassuring little smile. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I can put in a special request for the passport to be issued ‘as is’ on all his other ID. It’ll be fine.” “So, you don’t anticipate any problems?” I asked. “Nah,” he replied. “Everything looks good. You can pick up the passports on the 29th.” I expelled a sigh of relief and took the Pick Up receipts from him. “Thank you, thank you,” I gushed. “Man, it’s a lot of work to travel,” I said. “I know, huh? Just try to keep your passports current for next time,” he reminded me. I wanted to hug him but instead gave him a grateful smile and said “I’ll bring back a bottle of rum for you.” He laughed and that laughter was the best thing I’d heard since the beginning of this whole passport fiasco.
Wednesday, June 29th – Pick up date – Two days before our scheduled flight: Like all good reality shows, this is where obstacles have been overcome and the end goal is well in sight, barring any further dramatics. On my lunch hour I rushed to the passport office nervously anticipating the pick up. This time, instead of the bleep injected narrative, I repeated a little prayer for success: “Please God, let everything be okay…Please God, let everything be okay”…and on and on. So far, all went well. The line up was short and moved quickly. I got to the counter. The clerk took my ID and first, my Pick Up receipt. I had my passport! One down! I gave him Dad’s Pick Up receipt and he handed me Dad’s passport. We were at the home stretch, but…I realized I did not have Mom’s Pick Up receipt! What da…?! I almost bellowed out loud. This couldn’t be happening! I checked the receipts just before I left the office. Where could it be? I laughed an embarrassing tinny laugh and dug into my purse, and my wallet. Beads of perspiration popped out on my forehead. My heart sank again. I wanted to sink to the ground in a puddle of pitiful tears like the wicked with in The Wizard of Oz. I had ruined everything! I rifled through my wallet again and…. finally! Success! There was Mom’s Pick Up receipt, wedged between two old retail receipts that should have been cleared from my wallet ages ago. I handed the receipt to the clerk. He retrieved Mom’s passport and handed it to me. I felt like an Olympic athlete receiving a gold medal. I had the passports! All of them! I wanted to shout hallelujah, do a happy dance and hug everyone.
The following day (one day before our trip!) my husband picked up Malakai’s passport. And, as is always the case with reality shows, all was well that ends well.
Postscript: Belize was awesome!