Years ago, when his eldest child was very young, my friend John had to travel a lot for work. He spent quite a bit of time in Korea and while he was gone his wife would do the daily tasks like grocery shopping and banking. When he was in town, he would run his share of errands. As someone who has travelled a lot, I too know that the person not traveling just figures that you've been having a good old time while they've been doing all the work.
So he was on one of these errands and the person behind the counter didn't know him and was asking for some identification. He had his hands full so first he put his son down on the counter and went to reach for his wallet. "Never mind", the woman behind the counter said, "I recognize your son."
I love that image of child as I.D.
I used to have two forms of I.D. and now have one.
When Maggie was in first grade, Elena and I would often go pick her up from school. If the weather was nice we would walk to the school and sit on a bench just outside Maggie's classroom window. Mrs. Eagleton, who we didn't know then, would stop by on her way to bus duty and chat with us. She mainly talked to Elena.
Elena was one form of I.D.. She was how people knew that I was connected to Kim. Gene, the crossing guard, saw me walk the girls to school and he saw Kim walk the girls to school. He knew that each of us belonged to the girls. I think it threw him on days that we both took the kids to school.
Growing up it seemed as if the identification worked the other way. "Oh, you're Priscilla and Ira's son." And that's who I was.
I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other.
The government, however, doesn't think that's enough. I started teaching at Oberlin College the year that Kim and I got married. I had to fill out all sorts of paper work including proof that I am a U.S. Citizen. I stood in an office with a woman who had known my dad since I was two. She told me she needed official documentation. I had worked for the college summers since I was sixteen working in the kitchens and teaching in the Upward Bound program.
Still not good enough. Eight years before this country was attacked I had to prove to a woman who had known my family more than thirty years that I was a U.S. citizen.
Yesterday I went to get license plates for a used car we bought. The agency had issued me my Driver's license but they would not accept that as valid I.D.. They needed my social security card as well. They had big signs every where saying they could no longer legally display our social security number on our Driver's license because the number can't be used for those purposes. They needed to identify me and they used my social security number internally so they required proof of social security number to register my car.
They sent me to the social security agency. A month or so ago I would have raised a fuss but I'm still not feeling up to it. At the social security agency I filled out a form and waited for my number to be called. The woman told me she would need some sort of I.D. to prove who I am. I gave her my passport issued by the federal government. She asked me for my Ohio driver's license.
You can't always hoist your child onto the counter as I.D., but I think we've lost something.