Baby Petra applies for her first US passport, Wade and Chaya renew theirs —
10 years is a magical number for a USA traveler.
No, this has nothing to do with the Pythagoreans or any other classical cult, but because of the fact that a US passport has a 10 year life time.
My passport has now croaked.
I used it, and used it well, for 10 years. Now it is dead. Though I must say that it lived a good, full life. I drove it into the ground: its pages grew furrowed, blood stained, and one unscrupulous Indian passport inspector returned it to me with a finger print smudge across one of its back pages that looked a little too much like human feces.
“When I am finished with this body, I want none of it to work anymore. I want to use it until it is broken,” an old time traveling friend once spoke to me.
This is how a traveling friend once described her physical body, but I very well can attribute this statement to my poor passport.
Applying for a US passport for Petra, and renewing the passports of Wade and Chaya
I walked into the town clerk office in Albion, NY.
“We need a passport for our daughter,” I announced to the woman behind the counter.
I handed over the forms that I had already filled out — I had taken the time to go fill the forms out online at the US Department of State website. She looked them over, nodded and “Uh, huhed” as she scanned down each page of the documents, felt the raised seal on Petra’s birth certificate to ensure its validity, and announced that everything looked good.
We went to take a photo in the back room of the office.
I opted to pay $10 each for our passport photos to be taken at an official passport acceptance facility rather than doing them myself. This would come to cost me $30, but I figured that this price was worth not having our applications rejected due to some minuscule fault in the photo. Though in retrospect, I realize that if I was in possession of photographic printing paper (I wasn’t) and a good printer (I was) that I could have done these photos myself just as well.
Though, as I stand again on the brink of a long journey outside of the USA, I was not taking any chances. I filled out the DS-11 forms with the precision of an anus, which is to say, I was highly retentive. Though, as retrospect has now shown itself clearly, a decade from now I will surely purchase photo quality printer paper and just take the photos myself. It is my impression that the task would have been a little easier, though, in the end, probably not cost that much less.
The problem: How do you photograph an infant who cannot even sit up on their own to meet the US Department of State adult criteria?
I had no idea, but as we sat little Petra up on the photographer’s stool, I knew that I was about to find out.
Passport photo criteria for infants
- The photos must be 2 inches by 2 inches.
- The photos must have been taken within the past 6 months.
- Baby must be facing forward, looking at the camera and set against a white or off-white background.
- The size of the head in the picture must be between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches
- No hats, headgear or cute little baby bonnets, please.
- The baby should have a “natural” expression-i.e. mouth closed, not laughing, screaming or crying
- The photo itself must be good quality, clear and in-focus.
- The baby must be the only thing in the picture-nothing used to support the baby can appear in the picture’s frame. That includes you, your hands, your arm or your baby’s car seat.
But what if the baby cannot sit up on their own? It was suggested by http://www.rushmypassport.com/blog/2009/01/180/ to lay a half way limp bodied infant down on a piece of white cardboard or poster board and take the photo over top of them, looking down as they look up. Though this was not really an option for us — we were in another photographer’s domain and were not prepared.
Petra went up on the stool just like a full sized, fully self functioning human. I knelt down below her and tried to hold her upright. She bobbled like a skyscraper made of puddy. I wished that I could have made a graceful exit in order to return home to play baby photographer myself.
As Petra looked at me and giggled, I arrived at the impression that this would never work. Little Petra would never look at that camera with a straight face, eyes open wide, in a formal pose for the amount of time that it would take to snap off the photo.
To complex matters further, the county clerk’s digital camera was archaic — it had a delay of over five seconds:
“Okay, we have her!” I exclaimed as Chaya somehow managed to get Petra’s attention from her position behind the photographer.
The photographer pushed the camera’s button . . . one Mississippi, two Mississippi . . . five Mississippi, Petra moves, the camera flashes.
“I think it will be alright,” the county clerk exclaimed, “they have to make some amends for babies.”
She then went off to get approval for the photo from her supervisor. I glanced a view of the LCD screen on the backside of the camera.
Petra was crooked and looking down at me — not the camera.
The photo would not be acceptable.
The clerk returned to announce that her supervisor OK’ed the photo of a crooked Petra. She repeated that they US Department of State would be lenient with an infant’s passport photo. I said that I knew for a fact that they wouldn’t be.
The last thing I wanted was to wait six weeks for my daughter’s passport to come only to be notified that the photo was not acceptable.
Chaya then sat in front of the camera. She took a glamor shot.
I was then pushed down onto the stool. “I want another photo of Petra,” I announced, “I don’t think the first one will be acceptable.”
The clerk conceded to my request.
Petra again sat upon the stool, only this time I stuck my hand up her shirt and grabbed her by the head. I did so in a way that I could support her gaze with my fingers but remain out of the photo at the same time. Now, sitting like an antique doll braced up in a display stand, Petra was given no other option but to look into the camera.
“Now!” I yelled.
The clerk pushed the shutter button. One Mississippi . . . I held Petra’s head in an iron grasp . . . two Mississippi . . . I tightened my grip . . . three Mississippi . . . I hoped . . . four Mississippi . . . take the f’cking photo . . .
The flash surprised a pinned up Petra, but she stood strong. I relaxed my grip, Petra slouched back into puddy.
The county clerk asked us where we were going to travel. Chaya said that we really did not know. I gave her the “about Vagabond Journey” spiel. She replied:
“Now tell me, how does it happen that a boy who played little league in Albion, New York comes to travel the world?”
“How did you know I played little league?”
“I saw you, you played for Carlton for Coach Canale. My sons are . . . ”
I played ball with her sons in little league.
I was in my home town.
I had nearly forgotten I had one of those.
Renewing US Passports
Petra’s application for her US passport was sent out directly from the county clerk’s office, after Chaya and I spoke her oath for her that the documents and all of the information we submitted were correct. Petra gurgled an oath of her own.
Chaya and I walked across the street to the post office to mail our passport renewal applications out ourselves.
I needed to renew my passport because it was about to expire. Chaya needed to renew her’s because her name changed when we were married.
Now we must wait four to six weeks in the USA for our new passports to arrive. This may prove to be a long wait. I am ready to go. We are ready to go. This entire passport fiasco was intended to be settled months ago, but a kink in the chain between filing Petra’s birth and her receiving her social security number staled us. We sent out the SS# request but a card never arrived.
So we waited. Put it off. I am realizing now the difficulty I am having with quick and timely action as I begin my travels as a family man. I could have expedited the three passports, but a $180 fee for this was a little too much to bear to receive our documents 1 to 3 weeks sooner.
So we wait.
The gates still have four to six weeks before they are again opened.
New phase to traveling life
A new passport means a new phase to my traveling life. When I received my first passport I was a fresh faced, highly impressionable 19 year old punk out for adventure. I found adventure — enough to fill up a crate, perhaps. But I was always running. 10 years of running. Chasing.
I am now married, I have a baby, a family. I have just embarked on the second phase of my traveling life. I will now find out if the lifestyle that I have been living for the passed decade really is sustainable: if the jewels of the wanderer can be passed through the generations, if I can form a solid, wholesome life of learning, discovery, and wonder together with my family on the Open Road.
I have stepped into a new phase of my traveling life, opened a new book, applied for a new passport.
Endings are nothing other than beginnings, beginnings are nothing if not endings.
Read more on Vagabond Journey about obtaining family travel documents