adventures of an american housewife in the south of france

Baby’s First Passport

We're 15 weeks into this gig and, to be honest, Michael and I are still pretty Nervous Nelly first time parents when we're out and about with Ramona. Ok, so maybe it's just me. I don't know if it's being in a foreign country, parenting in a different culture, or the fact that we can barely communicate with the people around us, but I'm terrified of being in a situation where I'm out in public with Ramona and she is screaming her head off.  But, you know, it happens.  Often. A recent example of this involved both steps of getting Ramona's passport.  When you are a U.S. citizen born abroad, you have to register the birth with the U.S. Consulate in order to gain your citizenship.  At this time, you can also apply for a Social Security card and U.S. Passport.  Since the nearest U.S. consulate is located in Marseille, 2 hours away, we decided to take care of all this while Michael was on his holiday vacation and we had some time to spare. The first step was to get Ramona's passport pictures, which required us to take her to a special photographer in Montpellier.  I dressed Ramona in a really cute outfit that included a white onesie top with an image of an owl and a ruffled pink collar.  The three of us walked to the city center during Ramona's naptime, and when she woke up, we went into the photography studio get the picture taken. If you remember this post from way back when, you might recall that here in France, you are required to look your absolute worst for all government issued IDs.  No jewelry, hair tucked behind the ears, pushed behind your shoulders, and absolutely no smiling.  We weren't sure how this was going to go.  As soon as the photographer saw Ramona, she started tsking, No, no, no.  She told us that we'd need to bring her back in a different outfit.  This one would cause her to look "too washed out" in the photo. Really? Yes, really.  She was very serious about this.  But Michael and I were not about to go back home, change Ramona, and bring her back to the photographer all while missing this golden hour of post-naptime bliss.  I told the photographer that I would be right back and ran to the kids' clothing store around the corner to buy Ramona a new onesie.  I tried to pick something dark in color, but there weren't many options in her size.  There was a pink striped onesie, or a solid orange onesie with a mock turtleneck.  I decided to call Michael and have him ask the photographer which she preferred.  She told him that I should buy the pink striped onesie because "it is important to see the neck."  Uh, ok.  Clearly she hadn't looked at Ramona too closely, because I'm her mother and even I haven't seen her neck in months.  Girl's got rolls. Armed with the pink striped onesie, I raced back to the studio so that Michael and I could change her as quickly as possible.  Ramona was still in a good mood and we were determined to get this picture.  The photographer told me to "hide" behind a partition so that Ramona would not look for me.  Photographer Lady was all business, setting up the shot while Michael sat Ramona on the stool in front of the white screen and tried to hold her up while also hiding near the ground.

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Ramona was a pro during her first professional photo shoot and managed to take what I can only describe as the most amazing passport picture ever.

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We are obsessed with this picture. And do you see what I mean about the neck? After the picture was taken, we paid the photographer and started packing up our stuff while we waited for the image to be processed and printed.  All of the sudden, we heard a very distinctive noise and the room started to smell very, very bad.  I glanced over at Michael who was holding Ramona and he was red in the face from trying not to laugh.  We had a blowout.  A serious blowout on our hands.  Like, literally, it was on his hands.  Thank goodness we had Ramona's original onesie because she told us exactly what she thought of her new outfit.  She shit all over it.  We raced out of there and downstairs to the empty, private lobby where we proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes fumbling around with extra diapers, a million wipes, purell, and ziploc baggies (a huge thank you to my mother in law for telling us to keep some in the diaper bag!) while Ramona screamed her head off.  And she didn't stop screaming the whole walk home. So after that delightful first step of getting the passport picture, we prepared to go to Marseille to make Ramona an official U.S. citizen.  We had to get up early to make the drive out to Marseille before our 10:30am appointment, and Ramona decided to throw a little twist into this plan by basically staying up all night, something she hadn't done in weeks!  So fueled on about 2 hours of sleep, Michael and I got up at 7am to shower, eat a quick breakfast, and get everything ready to go.  Since Miss Ramona had been up all night, she wasn't very excited about being roused from her slumber for this little roadtrip.  I had to wake her up from a deep sleep, change and feed her and strap her into the carseat for our 2 hour drive. She wailed and screamed for the first 25 minutes of the trip.  I almost told Michael to pull over so that I could feed her and calm her down a little bit, but she finally fell asleep.  With the cutest, grumpiest little look on her face.
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I am mad, and don't you forget it!!

By the time we got to Marseille, her mood had not improved.  We had to take her out of the carseat, waking her up again, and put her in the bassinet.  I thought about feeding her in the car before the appointment, but we were running late (of course) and I figured I could just do it once we had checked in.  By the time we found the Consulate office, which was a feat in and of itself, Ramona was crying.  She was hungry, tired and not happy about being woken up again.  We hurried up to the guard's booth at the entrance of the Consulate expecting to be let in quickly.  But nothing is that easy!  To get past the guard, he had to confirm that we had an appointment, collect and examine our IDs, and collect our cell phones.  After a few minutes of searching around for these items, he led us through the booth to...stairs.  A lot of very narrow stairs, down which we had to carry our very heavy stroller with the screaming baby inside.  We did this as quickly as possible, and then we reached the second level of security that involved another guard and a metal detector.  But this wasn't a dinky little metal detector like what you'd see at say, jury duty.  This was like going through the airport.  We had to take off our coats, our shoes, our belts, and remove all our electronic devices.  Michael had brought his computer and jump drive just in case we needed to provide any additional documentation not specified on the Consulate website (a very common occurrence when doing things like applying for citizenship) and we had our DSLR with us because we were headed to Aix after the appointment and we didn't want to leave our expensive camera in the car.  These items, along with our cell phones had to be cataloged   While Ramona continued screaming.  And it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r.  I was holding Ramona at this point and bouncing with her, swaying back and forth, whispering in her ear, offering her a paci, but nothing would calm her.  Well, there was one thing that would calm her, but I was not prepared to give it to her while walking through a metal detector.  I'm not that smooth yet.  I was feeling so flustered and close to tears myself as several people stared at us through the glass doors of the lobby. Finally, the cataloging was finished and we could walk through the metal detector and pass our bags through the scanner.  The trip through the scanner revealed that we had left some prohibited and highly threatening items in our bags.  We would have to find them, remove them, and send our bags back through.  It took all my willpower to not roll my eyes and start freaking out like Ramona.  Michael and I searched through our bags for these forbidden items, which turned out to be the Canon Powershot for me (forgot I had left it in the diaper bag) and some loose batteries for Michael (which elicited a big "what the hell?" from me.  Who carries around loose batteries in their work bag?  And why couldn't we bring them into the Consulate?) After those additional items had been recorded and stored for the duration of our appointment, we were finally allowed to pack everything back up and enter the lobby.  We were going on about 20 minutes of Ramona wailing and I was desperately trying to calm her down by speaking in a soothing voice, but I'd been rendered deaf by her piercing screams and could no longer hear what I was saying.  Michael and I passed her back and forth as we put on our coats and shoes and packed up our bags.  We finally walked through the glass door to the lobby and were greeted by another mother with her 3 little girls who said to us, "Oh man, I'm just so glad it's you guys today and not us." Happy to take one for the team, lady. After that, I got myself into feeding mode as fast as I could and Ramona was instantly calmed.  Michael started going through all the paperwork with our case agent, and by the time Ramona was done eating, she was red eyed, a little sniffly, but generally happy.  She charmed all the ladies in the office who called her a perfect angel and were thrilled to see her smile and coo at them.  Girl knows how to put on a show. The whole application process took about 30 minutes, didn't require any additional paperwork, and was done with a smile.  They said we'd receive everything in 2-3 weeks, and we did.  God, I have missed American bureaucracy. When the appointment was over, we took Ramona to the little playroom, complete with a changing station, to put her in a clean diaper for the next part of our trip.  Because after a morning like that, there was only one thing this Nervous Nelly first time Mama wanted.

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Hallelejah, Starbucks!! Can you believe it?  My first Starbucks since this weird experience, 5 months earlier.  This Starbucks in Marseille is the closest one to Montpellier and you can bet your bottom dollar I was going there, rain, shine, or screaming baby.  I've had people say to me, "but you're in Europe!  Why would you go to Starbucks when you are living in France?"  And to them I say, shut your face, you have no idea what you're talking about.  I would like to put them in a country where they have to drink teeny tiny cups of stale pod espresso for 2 years and see how fast they'd run to their nearest piping hot, 16 ounce, creamy latte.  First world problems, people.  I have them.
wow.  I look tired.

wow. I look tired.

So we walked the mile and a half from the Consulate and Michael and I enjoyed a very nice breakfast at Starbucks while our perfect angel slept.  It was the first time that Michael and I had a meal alone together out of the house since Ramona was born and it was really, really nice.
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Nathalie - my French alter ego

And we definitely deserved it.

12 Responses to “Baby’s First Passport”

  1. Tori says:

    Omg I couldn’t stop laughing about the blow out!! Brighton had one huge disaster blow out while out shopping with mom. We looked like crazy people in the bathroom cuz we were crying we were laughing so hard all the while poop was EVERYWHERE & Brighton decided it was the perfect time to practice his “wiggle worm”, bouncing, leg kicking diaper change routine (he was cracking up too)! I can NOT wait for our little ones to meet & play together!! Love & miss you guys!

    • Natalie says:

      These two cousins have more in common than just their birthday – Ramona does this same dance! Normally it’s adorable, but NOT during blowout time!

  2. Julia says:

    This is delightful. Well, I love the happy ending. Holy crazy experience!! I love her sleeping post-meltdown face. XO

  3. Colleen says:

    Bahahaha! First of all, this story (and Ramona’s passport photo) is still awesome. AND, I would just like to second your emotion about the Starbucks. Your feelings directed at French coffee sum up my thoughts exactly.

  4. Mom says:

    Thank you Natalie for giving me a laugh out loud read at the end of a long day at the hospital! I couldn’t stop laughing! Love your writing!

    Ramona is a trooper as well as mom and dad! Love you all! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

  5. Beth DePompei says:

    Natalie I just checked in to get the latest and this blog post is absolutely hilarious!!!!!! I love her adorable little face and ESPECIALLY that passport photo!!! bahahaha! Truly, love your writing and it keeps me coming back. You had me laughing out loud on this one! :) You should write a book!

  6. Jillian says:

    This made me Laugh Out Loud!!! Too cute!

  7. Tina says:

    Hello Nathalie,

    I am American living in Montpellier. I need to renew my passport. Could you tell me where ( name of the shop) you got your passport picture taken please ?

    Thank you

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