Mychael Gets His Driver's License (2002)

We arrived at the DMV at 7:30 A.M with the delusional expectation of getting in and out as quickly as possible. We’ve been waiting to speak with a supervisor for almost an hour. Apparently, there’s something wrong with the birth certificate that I picked up from the social worker yesterday.

I watch the second hand on the clock located just above the information desk. They only put one clock in the entire place, presumably to make it harder for people to recognize how much of their lives have been wasted by being here. At 10:10 and 32 seconds, Mychael touches my arm and nods toward the counter. I look up to see a man wearing a badge that reads “Supervisor”. He talks to one of the women we spoke with earlier, and she points in our direction.

“Hello, you wanted to speak with a supervisor? Is there a problem?” he questions, before we’ve even reached the counter.

There at least 300 people packed like sausages into this stuffy El Cajon DMV and at this very moment, I feel like 250 of them are watching us. I glance at Mychael, who is giving his best “I didn’t do anything” expression. He understands that we’re guilty until proven innocent and always manages to stay focused on proving our innocence. I, on the other hand, tend to get angry about us having to prove anything in the first place. I think that’s the difference between being oppressed and feeling oppressed. I have that sense of entitlement that comes with growing up in the middle class.

When we reach the counter, I’m still psyching myself up for the pre- qualifying conversation, which is up next. This is the point at the beginning of every conversation in which I am given the opportunity to prove that I’m Mychael’s Mother. I liken this to a suspect’s initial statement upon being detained. It used to make me feel insecure, like a suspect who has never been questioned by the police. However, over time I’ve come to expect it-like any career criminal would, I suppose.

“There’s not a problem, per se,” I tell DMV Dude, “we’re just trying to get Mychael’s permit and thus far, we’ve been unsuccessful in doing so.”

“Okay, well…who are you?” he presses.

“I’m Mychael’s mother.”

“Oookkaayy,” he says, half chuckling.

If I were a rookie I might be inclined to elaborate or further defend myself, ourselves. However, I’m not a rookie, and at this point, I’m comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” as my Mom likes to say. As a veteran, I allow the interrogator to draw conclusions based on my silence. Sometimes there’s power in saying nothing at all.

“Okay, so you’re his Mom?” he asks one more time, arrogance slightly reduced.

“And Mychael would like to obtain his driver’s permit,” I tell him, sliding the paperwork forward. He leafs through the paperwork, which includes Mychael’s birth certificate and another form from the San Diego County Health and Human Services agency confirming that the State of California has, indeed, granted me the authority to say that I’m Mychael’s Mom. I glance at the clock and note that the pre-qualification process has wasted just over four minutes of our time.

“Give me a second,” he says before disappearing behind a door marked: Employees Only.

I don’t know what he needs to do behind closed doors, but I can imagine. If I became a Mother following some drunken one night stand at Delta Sigs, I wouldn’t have to do anything to qualify myself for the role. I could just show up with my kid and rely on everyone else’s assumptions.

I certainly wouldn’t have to participate in weekly appointments with social workers. I wouldn’t have to be fingerprinted or provide my financial records, and I definitely wouldn’t have to participate in a psychological evaluation. Most importantly, every interaction we had with the outside world wouldn’t have to be marked with an initial pre-qualification process. I could have all the glory, all the tradition and all the wonderment of having a child who looks like me and is assumed to be mine.

And yet, I couldn’t be this child’s Mother, and at the end of the day nothing else matters. “Hi Mommy,” Mychael whispers. The grin on his face suggests that nothing is going to spoil his excitement about getting his driver’s permit.

I put my arm around him and tell him that the DMV is notorious for making people’s lives miserable. “When I was in Court last week, I was sitting with this DA who was telling the judge about going to the DMV the day before. The DMV can really make a person’s life miserable, she said. Isn’t that ironic? The DA was talking about the DMV having the power to destroy someone’s life?”

“Yeah,” Mychael says, staring hopefully at The Man walking toward us.

“Unfortunately this birth certificate just isn’t going to work,” he says.

“Why?” I ask him, wondering if he’s just doing this to screw us because we make him uncomfortable.

“Well, it’s just a certified copy and we need the original.”

“That’s the birth certificate that they gave me. That is the birth certificate,” I tell him. After ten more minutes of advocating on behalf of Mychael’s circumstances, he agrees to call the state DMV branch in Sacramento to find out if they have an “unusual circumstance” clause for these kinds of situations. After twenty more minutes, it’s determined that they don’t.

At 11:43 and 16 seconds we leave the DMV, having been advised to obtain the original birth certificate and return. When I arrive at my office an hour and a half later, I call the social worker, who admits that she’s in possession of the original birth certificate. “We just can’t let you take the original,” she says sympathetically.

“Why not?” I ask her.

“Well…the thing is we had to jump through so many hoops to get it in the first place. We just can’t take the chance of it getting lost.”

“If you let me pick it up after work tonight, we’ll go to the DMV tomorrow, and I’ll drop it off on my way back to work in the morning.”

“Wow, sorry Gretchan, but we just can’t let the original leave this office.”

My blood pressure is through the roof and my jaw is killing me, thanks to the TMJ that has recently begun keeping me up at night. “Okay, so what you’re telling me is that you trust me to take the child, but not the birth certificate?”

“I know it seems crazy.”

I ignore the obvious. “So what would you like me to do? He’s unable to get his permit without that birth certificate and you’re telling me that the birth certificate can’t leave your office. What do you normally do in these kinds of situations?”

“Well, normally, they don’t get their driver’s licenses. I mean maybe they do when they’re eighteen. I bet a foster care social worker has seen this before, but I’ve only done adoptions, so this is my first experience with it. Tell you what, let me ask my supervisor and I’ll call you back.”

Twenty minutes later she calls back and says that she can meet us at the DMV with the birth certificate. I admit that I find the situation to be incredibly insulting for a number of reasons. “But if this is the only way Mychael can get his permit then fine, meet us tomorrow at 8:00 A.M,” I tell her.

“Oh, I can’t meet you tomorrow, but anytime next week looks good for me.”

I explain that the permit expires on Friday and that I have an appointment already on that day, so tomorrow is the only day that works. “Had the adoption been finalized by now…like you originally said it would, this wouldn’t be an issue.”

“I know, but I didn’t know that Dad was going to contest.”

I explain that since she originally said that the adoption would be finalized by the end of September, we decided to wait for the new birth certificate before going to the DMV. “We didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle of changing his name. The ACT and SAT situation is already frustrating enough,” I explain.

“What ACT and SAT situation?” she asks.

I tell her that Mychael originally registered for the tests as Mychael Moore, and accordingly on test days he presented identification for that name. I report that I contacted the ACT and SAT to find out how to change his name in their system once the adoption is finalized. “Since he’ll legally be Mychael Thompson and have identification for Mychael Thompson, I don’t want there to be any problems on test day. Also, I want to avoid any confusion when it comes time to submit college applications,” I explain. “According to the ACT and SAT people, Mychael should just continue registering as Mychael Moore, and when he checks in for tests he should just tell them that his name is Mychael Moore.” I pause to let that sink in before going on. “I told them that asking him to lie was not just wrong, but really insensitive. Why couldn’t they just change his name if we provided the documentation showing that his name had legally been changed?”

“What did they say?” she asks.

“'We just don’t have the means to do that. It’s physically impossible to change a name once it’s been registered in the system.'” I tell her before going on. “I asked them what they do in circumstances like this-when an older child is adopted- and they said they didn’t have a policy in place for it. I told them they needed to have a policy in place and that asking him to lie because they didn’t was unethical.”

“Geez,” the social worker says, feigning exhaustion.

“So anyway we didn’t want to there to be a similar situation with the DMV, but since the adoption isn’t finalized yet, it looks like we can look forward to that, too. Whatever…I need you to meet us tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM.”

“I’ll be there,” she agrees quickly, wisely.


Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

Great story! That is something that gets complicated quickly, changing names. I can believe the SW was there on time the next day! The DMV was probably created by the daylight savings people anyway.
Just surfing other peoples blogrolls and thought I would say hi.

Tony and Rett said...

OH MY GOODNESS...and yet ANOTHER angle I hadn't considered...hmmmm


So you're suggesting to wait to get driver's licenses until after the adopt. is finalized and the name has been changed? They get a new birth certificate too? So much to learn! We have only completed class one so far!

Team Thompson said...

Hey Rett-

No, I'm definitely not suggesting you do anything, per se. I'm just telling a story of something we experienced. I've found that no matter what you do, you're going to face some element of drama that you didn't anticipate. It's a constant learning experience, so just keep an open mind and make sure you reassure your child that the system is insensitive (screwed)...that you/they/we are normal!