Appointment? To file for benefits? What had I been doing for the last three-quarters of an hour? "I'm just getting all of your preliminary information so that they have it when you go in." So she gave me the next available appointment, nearly a month away, at 10:01 AM. She didn't find the "01" funny. That was the appointment time.
No problem. I'm an Air Force Brat. I know how to "hurry up and wait." "What do I need to bring with me?" "Your marriage license." Okay, got it.
The day for my appointment rolled around yesterday. I got up early to make sure I had everything I needed. Rule number one for dealing with bureaucracies: Take every piece of paperwork you've got. I took the marriage license, the kids' birth certificates, the death certificate, the kids' social security cards, and at the last moment, I stuck in my Certificate of American Citizen Born Abroad. Just in case.
I got all the kids settled in gymnastics practice or with friends, and I made the trek with Austin to the Social Security office. I walked up to the door, and I saw the hours: Monday to Friday, 9 to 3:30. Only the government can stay in business with hours like that. No wonder it took me a month to get an appointment.
We went through security. There are three security guards and one metal detector. That means one rifles through the bag while the two others watch him. They told me to hold the baby out eight inches and walk through the metal detector. After a brief moment of trying to judge eight inches, I held Austin at arm's length and we marched through. No problem. Then, I signed in at the computer, and went to sit down and wait. It wasn't 10:01 yet.
I sat down and tried to figure out what was so odd about the place. Then, it hit me. The rows of chairs are facing each other, so all of the waiting people are looking straight at each other. They've hung flat screens from the ceiling, but they're up so high that they're hard to see. They were playing endless public service announcements, telling people to PLEASE do their Social Security business online. (I had already tried.) And, don't let anyone have your social security number. (The people sitting at the desks a few feet away are loudly proclaiming their social security numbers, dates of birth, and names.)
At 10:12, my name was called, and I headed down the hall to my designated window. Austin and I are greeted by a lady in a smart leather cap with nails manicured into a feather design. She does not smile. Apparently, bringing a baby to a Social Security interview is a bad thing. I, however, am confident. I have already given all of the information to the lady on the phone. This was going to be a breeze.
She began by asking the EXACT SAME QUESTIONS that the lady on the phone had asked. I opened my mouth to say so and closed it again. Rule number two for dealing with bureaucracies: Never question the efficiency of the system. I handed over the kids' social security cards and gave all the details on their births. She wrote the information down on paper, and THEN put it into the computer. She needed to see the death certificate because he was so young.
Austin was crawling around, playing with my purse, and trying to get the attention of the people around him. He thinks everyone is his very best friend. Then, the Social Security lady got to my information. She typed in my social security number. "Are you an American citizen?" "Yes." "I need to see proof of your naturalization."
I wasn't naturalized. I was born a citizen. Rule number three for dealing with bureaucracies: Don't correct the bureaucrat. I slide my Certificate of American Citizen Born Abroad across the desk. "Oh. Hmmm. I'm going to have to make a copy of this."
(Note to those proudly serving our country overseas: This will be your reward. Your children will be harassed by every government agency for the rest of their lives. Just ask John McCain.)
The Social Security lady, after a few tense moments, decided that I am indeed here legally, and began to wrap up our interview. She smiled for the first time and said, "He's a good baby." Yes, he is. And, just as she said, "You're all set," Austin took a face dive, bumped his lip, and started to wail. I scooped up all of my paperwork, picked him up, and we beat a hasty retreat. As we passed the weird facing-each-other chairs, I noticed that some of the people had fallen asleep waiting.
My appointment had taken an hour and a half. The only piece of paperwork she didn't ask for? The marriage license.