April 5th, 2016
In a society obsessed with image, where care is taken to produce a nonchalant selfie…
Despite hiring an attorney, facing the court to petition for guardianship for my S-Bear, and filing a ton of yearly paperwork, I was informed I needed a photo id for my disabled adult child. So, I took her to the DMV.
There was a wait, as anticipated. The surprise came in the “do not use cellular phones, electronic devices, or earbuds” sign. I stowed the devices in my purse. Beside the sign was another issuing a probation against eating and drinking. To keep from annoying the others caught in the purgatory that is the DMV, we sat off on our own. I did my best to occupy two short-attention-spanned young people. We petted S-bear’s service dog and talked with two other bored little girls. We played “I Spy,” but the prison-like walls offered little to entice wandering imaginations. I painted S-bear’s fingernails pink and M-man’s clear, ignoring the glares from people who apparently found the smell of polish offensive. We played word association games as the clock ticked a maddening progression.
An employee announced a state-wide problem with the computers. The lines would be shut down until they could be fixed. She hadn’t a clue how long that would take. “Sorry,” she said without a trace of remorse. I indulged an inner groan. Should I come back another time? I couldn’t. I had an appointment that day with a doctor’s office requiring S-bear’s photo id. I rubbed my temple and discussed our latest read-aloud volume, “Percy Jackson” by Rick Riordon. M-man demonstrated the demi-god’s prowess, much to the dissatisfaction of a grumpy-looking couple.
Finally, a woman called our number. 671. “That’s us!” M-man waved the scrap of paper with our number as if we’d won a post on a game show.
I helped S-bear from her seat, gathered dog’s leashes, kids’ jackets, my purse, and S’s paperwork, and we walked at S-bear’s crutch-assisted pace to the counter. M-man capered about us like an enthusiastic moon orbiting our slow-moving planet. On the way to the counter, a woman called the next number. I thought nothing of it. Three DMV employees worked from the cubicles. Must have another representative of PennDot ready.
My mistaken faith became evident when we reached the counter. The lady who called our number, thus inviting us to her cubicle number six, already had called another person. He presented slip 672 as I approached. The woman shook her head and said to 672, “Sorry, they took so long that I didn’t think they were coming here.” Interesting, since everyone else seemed aware of our intention after M-man’s announcement and S-bear’s perseveration about “I’m just getting a photo ID. Nothing to worry about, right, Momma?”
I presented S-bear’s raised-seal birth certificate, social security card, a piece of mail, and my driver’s license. The unsmiling DMV employee said, “I need two pieces of mail with her name.” I explained S-bear didn’t get much mail in her name. However, when I had called earlier to inquire, I was told coming with her and presenting my photo id would work. The employee scowled. “You were told wrong.” While trying to reassure my anxious daughter and corral my hyperactive son, I took deep, reassuring breaths. I found ballet tickets in my purse, S-bear’s Christmas present, but alas, they bore my name.
Feeling defeated, I packed up. Heat percolated under my skin as I put away my driver’s license. “Wait,” I said, pulling out the handicapped parking wallet tag. Relief melted over me, leaving me weak-kneed. It bore S-bear’s name and our address. The DMV employee condescended, “Well, there you go.”
She talked to me, though I redirected her time and again to talk with S-bear. When she told me “She’ll have to sign her name,” my nostrils flared. I explained to my girl what she needed to do. She balked. I reassured and talked her through. She’s signed papers before. Nothing to worry about. She signed the first paper. “I did it, Momma.” The DMV employee again addressed me. “She has to sign here, too.” I reminded, “Talk to her, please.” S-bear signed. The employee pointed to another page, “And she has to sign here.” I gritted my teeth. “Talk to her, please.” S-bear signed again, but frowned. “My hand’s tired.” The DMV employee handed me another slip and told me, “She’ll have to wait in the chairs by the photo booth.”
For some, the phrase “bouncing with anticipation” describes the internal feeling of waiting. For S-bear, it is a literal, physical manifestation of her anxiety. I calmed her as best I could. M-man and I played hand clapping games with her. As she grew more anxious, M-man suggested, “Take a deep breath.”
When at last her turn came, S-bear thrust out her chin. “I’m not going.”
My mouth popped open, dumbfounded. “What do you mean? Of course you’re going.”
“Nope. I’m not.”
“Don’t be silly. You sign your name, snap a photo, and we march out the door to enjoy a nice lunch.”
“Let’s just leave.”
“We can’t, honey. We have to do this.”
I sent M-man to counter to explain we’d be along in a moment as I continued negotiations.
The lady at the photo booth called to me. “We’ll have to give your space away soon. You’ll have to go back to re-register in the system.” I believe she meant to tell me as encouragement and a warning.
S-bear went into melt down. Full blown. Tears, screams, and threats. I felt like a spotlight shone on our dilemma, accenting our difficulty. No reasoning worked. Frightened words echoed through the facility. I lifted her as best I could and helped her walk to the chair. “Can I move the signature pad to her?” I asked. No. “Can I skootch her chair closer to the counter? I’ll move it back right after.” No. The chairs have assigned spots. Hand-over-hand, I guided S-bear’s signature. She tried to bite me. I dodged. I helped her to the chair and dried her tears. “Baby, you’re almost done. No more waiting. You’ll have a photo id, like Mommy and your big sister.” She wailed, “But my picture will show me crying.” I wiped the new tears and hugged her. “You’ll be beautiful.”
She refused to look at the camera. She bit her lip and tucked her chin, tears glossing her reddened cheeks. At that point, I didn’t care. I accepted the photo and rushed to the relative anonymity of our car, too embarrassed and baffled to face another second in the DMV.
Thank goodness I won’t have to show our faces there for another four years, or until my sixteen year old takes her driving tests.
To read more of our letters, click here!