Five years. That felt so far into the future when I was holding up my eight week old baby in front of a white background, begging her to stop crying so they could take a picture. (This is basically a ridiculous summary of that whole process.)
It's hard to believe she's already been to Argentina, Uruguay, and Guatemala a handful of times. But it's also stunning to me that she is now six and in need of an updated passport. So we did what any family with poor planning skills would do: We showed up at the post office and asked what we needed to do to renew her passport.
Since it eventually turned into a two hour affair for which I was unprepared, I had a lot of time for reflection. And I recognized how much the experience could be a microcosm of our everyday. So here are my five quick life lessons from a visit to the passport office
#1. Things go wrong.
It's a bit of a misnomer to even say "one visit" because it was actually our second try. When I wandered into the first post office, I learned that children cannot renew passports. They can only apply for new ones. Which required an appointment at that particular location. Also, we didn't know her social security number or have any idea how tall she is.
After two days of no one answering the phone line to schedule appointments, we visited a different location that accepted "walk-ins." This time we had the social and a measuring tape. But since I didn't estimate the extensive wait, we had little to no snacks or activities. At the passport office as in life, things just don't always go the way you hope.
#2. Creativity is a terrific problem-solving tool.
We waited two hours with our three-year old and globetrotting six-year old. Did I mention I forgot snacks and crayons? So I started giving Gabriella writing prompts - three random nouns from which she had to create a story. We heard some of the most delightful and funny tales about bears riding bicycles and cats at a dance party. When she discovered that writers have the power to make tacos talk, her world was changed forever.
Her creativity blew me away, and it also made the time go by. I have been thinking a lot lately about all the ways we lament and complain about the (inevitable per #1) problems in our midst. And I've been part of some incredible conversations recently about how creative problem-solving could actually make a difference in the world. In other words, what if tacos could talk?
#3. Kindness goes a long way.
I have possibly never treated worse than I am at the post office. My neighborhood post office is ridiculous. And apparently I have no idea what those women have to deal with because when I told the attendant I didn't care which stamp design she gave me, she told me I had made her week. At the post office passport office, it was a similar "my life took a wrong turn" vibe from the staff. Yelling at waiting parents to watch their children. Gruffly telling us all to move from tables, which were for "newly arriving customers" while there was no one in the arrival line. Ignoring us as a standard MO.
But when our number was finally (mercifully) called over the loud speaker, the gentleman who assisted us was friendly and kind. And I was like, seriously, that is all it takes in life.
#4. Notice the beauty.
Government bureaucracy pushes many of us to our darkest psychological spaces. (This is probably why we ended up at The Varsity afterwards.) But the weirdest thing happened about 35 seconds before our number was to be called: Gabriella had to go to the bathroom. Well, that's not weird. Her poor timing is legendary. But when we entered that public restroom, I heard myself think, "This is the best smelling bathroom I've ever been in."
No matter our circumstances, there is always beauty around us. There is always something to be grateful for. It takes that extra moment of paying attention, of acknowledging in the midst of our downward spiral just how wonderful the rest room smells.
#5. Kissing strangers is a mixed bag.
We applied for Gabriella's new passport! And maybe it was because he was so happy to leave or maybe because he's just so wonderfully half-Guatemalan, but Isaac tried to kiss the passport agent good-bye. The three of us were already half-way to the door when I turned to see my toddler: arms by his side, lips pursed in the air, teetering forward to lean towards the guy, who was politely but definitely scooting back and away.
If this isn't a life lesson, I don't know what is. You take risks, you go for it, you try to kiss a stranger, and you just never know what you're going to get!
Life comes with problems. Creativity is one of our best responses. Kindness should be our MO. Beauty is all around. And not everyone likes to be kissed good-bye. I hope these gems help you navigate the world this week!
What unexpected lesson has life tossed you?