Friday, August 22, 2008

My cousin, who has a job I can't mention, will really hate this post

Although I take the border seriously, it is still difficult for me to see Canada as a completely and utterly foreign country.  I realize that this is wrong of me.  Clearly, I have spent too much of my life (age 0 to about 23 or 24) in close proximity to foreigners who are a threat to the national security of the United States of America.  

OK.  So my grandmother's people strolled over the border sometime early in the 20th century to settle in Keeseville NY.  And every other place name in the northern, particularly the northwestern, part of Vermont is a French-Canadian place name.  And over half the kids in my elementary and high school classes had surnames like Bessette, Boutin, Poulin, or Boulanger.  And my junior high French class took the train annually to Montreal with our teacher, an aide, a parent or two, and 20 or so minor children.  And the only people who had ID were the adults, and they had only driver's licenses.  And a list of the kids with the permission slips signed by their parents showing that it was just fine with them if they all went to Canada for the day.  

I know well that I should not feel so entitled.  Each of the past years that I've gone to Vermont with my kids there are more and more documentation rules about crossing the border.  And I try to stay on top of them, mostly--well, mostly.  There was the year I didn't bring birth certificates for my children.  Then the next year when I remembered them.  Then this year when we got to the Canadian border station, entering Canada, and the red-haired border guard gives us a horrifically hard time about U.S. laws and our need for birth certificates for all of us--with apparently relish and vindictive glee directed at our insane politicians and administration.  
Well--the last thing I'd heard that made the papers in Maryland about car travel between Canada and the U.S. just mentioned that the need for passports had been pushed back by a year--because our government's anxiety about foreigners was running far ahead of its ability to process passport paperwork.  But what they did instead was to add the requirement that you had a driver's license AND your birth certificate.  But the INS has only publicized that fact in the border states in the U.S.  Granted, I could have checked before thinking of traveling to Canada.  If I were to think of it as a country filled with menacing foreigners and corrupting influences.

Thus, I am returning to the U.S. on a Friday afternoon when the entire population of Canada has decided it would be a good idea to go to the U.S. for the weekend.  I am in line at the border crossing on the U.S. side for over an hour.  And, in the meantime, as criminals do, I have time to contemplate my many sins.  Only my children have the appropriate paperwork to re-enter the U.S.  And one of them can't walk.  And the other is too short and sleight to push his wheelchair all the way to Grand Isle.

In addition, as Robert's enteral feeding pump makes a loud sound to let us know that the battery is nearly dead, we start checking for the catheter tip syringe bulb we will place in the end of the extension tubing to flush the line with water at the end of the bolus.  It is also used as an alternative to the pump for feeding and hydrating him.  We discover at this moment that we have left his gear bag on the sidewalk outside the main entrance of Parc Safari Africain.  I handed it to Roger so that he could both put it in the back of the van and remove the wrench inside it in order to disassemble Robert's wheelchair.  Roger removed the wrench and set the bag at my feet.  We were rushed and I loaded Robert in the car, secured his car seat and various other devices, and got in the front seat.

All catheter tip syringes, one spare extension tubing, a change of clothes, a couple of toys, maybe a hat, all of the extra diapers and wipes, plus the nifty little backpack are all gone.  I am a horrible parent, but I have long suspected this.  And I know from the various horror stories I've heard growing up that the border guards can really do anything they want to you, including disassemble your car and slash the upholstery.  They can detain us in a small room for hours for no reason while they try to figure out how dangerous we really are.  I have no way to feed my disabled son and no way to diaper him.  I am in a lot of trouble.  I will have to beg for mercy, even if I'd rather not.  This is, after all, an enforcement of U.S. policy with which I really do generally disagree.  This is, as one of my cousins once called his structurally impaired house, a red-haired bastard stepchild of the ironically named "Patriot Act."

The border guard is not really happy that we do not have our birth certificates.  He keeps telling us we need proof of citizenship.  I am trying to figure out how my birth certificate would prove I am a U.S. citizen any more than my driver's license as the certificate looks like it was xeroxed in a college library basement by a none-too-bright freshman intern prior to the development of computers.  It does, however, have a vaguely raised roundish stamp in one corner that is so old it can barely be read.  I had to have a copy of this to get my driver's license to begin with.  It occurs to me that it would be much easier to forge a birth certificate such as mine than to fake my flashy Maryland driver's license with its various security layers and plasticized "watermarks."  

I do not say any of these things to the border guard, although I do begin to wish that the U.S. simply branded all of its citizens like cattle or inserted microchips in our upper arms similar to the technology developed for birth control.  I am suddenly weary of my country and its neuroses.  All my life, I have thought that my country would really just take me in or take me back the way Frost talks about your family being the ones who have to take you in in one of those deeply misread poems.  And here is this increasingly red-faced border guard with a military haircut getting bent out of shape by a group of people who have spent the afternoon at a lousy amusement park with a disabled child.  

We have nothing to say to him.  At the border, there's really no need to launch into excuses or explanations.  We do not have the documents he would like us to have.  We may not meet the new Bush Administration requirements for "loyal" Americans.  Are those posted?  Did we get a copy of them with our tax return?  We stare rather dully at him, like cattle, and with the same sort of dumb patience.  We have answered the same question from him regarding birth certificates several times, although each time he has asked it, he acts as though we might suddenly say, 'Oh, I forgot, I taped them under the car!'  Finally, he lets us know that he is required to tell us that the laws of the United States require us to have these specific documents that prove our citizenship.  He then allows us to pass and return to our country of origin.  

I look over the birth certificates of my children that he has handed back to us.  Below the information about each of them, on this rather splendid fancy paper with multi-colored scrolls and watermarks and its round, raised seal and the signatures of various unknown and unremarked officiants of the District of Columbia, there is a section that details some basic information on both my husband and my self: our full names, our dates of birth, our sex, our address, and the states in which we were born.  

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