y mother was born in Uruguay where she met my father who was working as a medical volunteer at the time. According to my mother, this all happened in the 1980s, but that seems a little unlikely since it would make me about 12, not 40. But don’t tell my her.
Anyway, being born in Uruguay, and having nothing to do with the U.S. until she met my Dad, she had a local passport. Local passports, at least the ones issued around the time of her birth, were pretty primitive documents, printed out in booklet form with no lamination or super-secret Bat Man bar codes. It was like a tiny comic book with a picture of my mother, and she loved it.
The reason she loved it was that she could play with the date. See, my mother was born in 1951 (don’t tell her, she’ll deny it). But because of the way the passport was set up, she could easily take a pencil (or mascara) and make the one into a four, which is what she did for decades. My mother, born in 1951, became my mother of ’54, shaving three a cool years off her age to suit ego and suitors – not that she had any suitors after my father. I noticed her chicken-scratched passport change when I was in my teens and called her out. The first time she feigned ignorance. The second time she slapped me for meddling with her things.
This made it difficult when my wife asked me how old my mother was. I’d always answer, “Um, sort of fifty-ish, but maybe more,” a comment my wife found bizarre and disingenuous. Since I didn’t know what disingenuous meant, I agreed and said my mother was like that. Amazingly, my wife still married me. And even managed to get along with my mother, never once asking her how old she was.
This little game came to an end about a decade ago when my mother finally decided to get U.S. citizenship. That involved all kinds of tedious things like paperwork and oaths and knowing tidbits about something called the Constitution. My mother actually liked the process since it kept her busy and kept her from assassinating my father, which has been on her agenda since 1925 (oops, 2005). She finally completed the process and got a bright blue little book with a new picture (she had 17 taken until she found the “suitable face”) and an eagle on the cover.
This is when the bad stuff kicked in. Her new identity came with 44 layers of bullet- and terrorist-proof plastic sheen intended to keep every aspect of her identity safe and sound. Suddenly, to my mother’s horror, it was Marisa Gloria Stein vs. the United States of America, since that country had somehow decided she was in fact born in 1951 and couldn’t change unless she marred the passport, or tried, which, um, she did. Working with secret tools and pocket weapons of mass destruction, she again forged the one into a four. Problem is, it showed.
I’m telling you this story not so much because it’s funny, but to suggest you might not want to mess with your passport. When my mother went to get hers renewed, she was taken aside, detained, questioned, and had her new eagle book withheld. It could have been a lot easier, but you don’t know my mother.
When they asked her why a one had become a four, she explained that she was born in 1954 (um, 2004), and that got the passport people mad, leading them to go back to her original date and threaten her with a fine. “That’s fine,” she sassed back, “I’ll just go back to Montevideo.”
This is when my not-yet-assassinated Dad intervened to limit the hysterics and somehow issue an apology enough that my mother got a rap on the knuckles, and a new passport.
End of story, right? Good cautionary tale. Thank you, Joel. Last month my mother visited us and just after arriving left her new passport on the dining room table — beside an X-Acto knife and superfine eyeliner. Alcatraz has been closed since 1963. I hear it’s reopening as penitentiary for ageless mothers, preferably those who can’t stop thinking about the 1980s.