We’re going back to Australia for two weeks in July, right when the northern summer is at its scorching zenith and the great wide land is about as cold as it gets. Whoever heard of following the winter! But that’s that way it works out here with holidays and stuff. GET AWAY SUN, who needs you…
Before we get on the plane, we need to renew Rufus’s passport – it just expired. That’s terrifying, because it means he’ll be 5 this year. Where has the time gone etc.
The shot on the left is his current passport photo, and the one on the right is what he actually looks like at present:
I guess if he wore a baby blue singlet and got on the cakes a bit, he could still pass for that little dude on the left. I have to admit I take no joy in that photo, gorgeous (in a Humpty Dumpty kind of way) that it is, because I recall all too well the hellish test of patience we went through trying to get it. Getting a passport photo of a four-month-old baby is fraught with difficulty. It’s exactly the wrong age to attempt such an operation. They get jokes, they giggle, they can’t stop smiling. And the completely reasonable and not-alarmist-at-all requirements say the baby must have eyes open, mouth shut, be sitting freely with no parent’s hands or toys visible, against a plain background, in a plain t-shirt with no decoration, and wearing a neutral expression.
You might think that it would be straightforward to capture a baby wearing a neutral expression. In fact before I had my own, I used to think that’s the only expression they could do, that they not much more engaging than lumps of wood. I can now assure you that that phase lasts about 10 days and then they very animatedly develop hundreds of different expressions as the weeks progress, not a one of which could be considered neutral by the age of four months. Especially when there’s a flashing device in front of them.
The first time we used the passport, we were annoyed to have to pull Rufus out of his stroller, wake him up and present him face-forward at every Customs point on our trip. They can’t be too careful these days, you know, with border security and foiling terrorists from using babies as a plane-boarding cover. But insight tells me a terrorist is not going to travel with a baby. First of all, terrorists are very busy. With the current laws on travelling with liquids, they have a lot of research and development to do working out how to smuggle their lip balm onto the plane in their handbag. They don’t have spare time to take 1,397 photos of their baby to satisfy the bureaucratic strictures of international travel documentation.
Secondly, when you travel with a baby, everyone on the plane spends most of the flight glaring at you when your baby’s screaming interrupts their inflight movie viewing or precious minutes of snatched sleep. Everybody knows your face. They hate you because you take 45 minutes in the toilet changing dirty nappies (though, it has to be said, not as much as you hate yourself as you spend 45 minutes shut into that tiny space, dealing with the dirty nappy while trying to prevent your baby falling into the toilet during unexpected turbulence).
The only people who don’t hate you when you travel with a baby – so it is in the air as on terra firma – are old ladies, who hang around your seat pretending to do half-arsed DVT-preventative stretches while really trying to look at your baby. You’re twice as buggered with old ladies – they know your face, AND they’re the only ones who call terror hotlines.
Lastly, babies are cute. I mean even terrorists aren’t that fucked up.
My objections about the passports-for-babies process went unheard, probably because they were never actually voiced to anyone (righteous indignation v apathy: a common dilemma in my day-to-day life), and so eventually we had to go through the same thing with Zadie. I had a feeling things wouldn’t go smoothly. Call it my sixth sense, or just my past experience in dealing with these governmental wankers. There was a pressing imperative to get Zadie’s passport done, having already booked flights for a Hong Kong housing recon for very shortly thereafter. I was still breastfeeding Zadie at the time and had to take her with me. So I allocated an afternoon to making sure shit got done. I asked my nan to come and mind Zadie, all the better for me to only wrangle one kid at the post office.
Rufus, 2 at the time, and I drove to the post office. As we drove he pinched me continually in the back of the neck with his robot arm toy, at that time almost a permanent appendage. I relished the luxury of being able to deal with robot arm without also having to contend with a crying baby. My relaxed countenance was not to last. We arrived at the post office and queued for a long time, only to be told that we had to have an appointment for lodging passport applications (contrary to any instruction online). I think the lady at the other counter saw my always barely smoothed facade about to crumble, because she motioned me over and said she’d process it. Rufus pincered various stationery products off their displays with his robot arm as I began spreading documentation about extravagantly.
Zadie was a much smilier baby than Rufus, and it had taken hours of wrangling and about 685 snaps to get one we thought might be accepted. It wasn’t (apparently because it exhibited the tiniest bit of red eye). She wasn’t the only one – when the post office lady put that down on me, my eyes were glowing as if I had just contracted an unquantifiably virulent strain of infective conjunctivitis. She then said to bring Zadie in to the post office to get her photos done there. Right. So you’re gon stand there holding her up with an “invisible” hand, ensuring her eyes are open, mouth is shut, head isn’t on an angle, and she isn’t smiling or laughing. OK lady.
I despaired. I remembered standing in the rain outside my house that morning, bending over the car so my neighbour could use my back as a desk as she witnessed Zadie’s photo. I thought of the $1,800 I’d just spent on flights the day before that we’d never get to take. The airline meal I’d never get to eat. The stock Ben Stiller movies I’d not get to see for the 17th time. The fucking INJUSTICE OF IT ALL.
And then, like the little champ he is, my son brought me back to reality by shouting “MAMA I NEED TO DO A WEE!”. I wiped the hot tears from my eyes, picked up all the important documents of our life and shoved them in my handbag, grabbed his fat little hand and ran out the door. Because I knew we wouldn’t make it home, and also because I am vindictive, I let him whizz all over the carpark while I shook the robot arm angrily towards the security camera. Take that, Australia Post!
We eventually did get an internationally verifiable baby, obviously. Here is a small sample of the massive selection of photos we ended up with from the first failed attempt.
May the next two years, when she’s still able to travel on her current passport, go very, very slowly. Even though she now looks like this and would probably prefer a more flattering identity document.