Ok, it might be slightly misleading to call it his first trip to America, but he went to the American Embassy in Paris, which means he was technically on American soil (and the guards happily said “Welcome to America”).
We went to report his birth and to claim his American citizenship. Evidently, that his father is a full-fledged U.S. citizen in (generally) good legal standing is not, in and of itself, enough to assure him citizenship.
In order to qualify for citizenship, a parent must prove presence in the U.S. for five years, with two after the age of 14. Otherwise it would be possible to have multiple successive generations of U.S. citizens, none of whom have actually been to the U.S.
However, my mother had helpfully kept my school records and so I had my documentation for that.
I dropped the ball (not uncommon) and waited until the last-minute to do the paperwork; I had all the documents (for this form), and I’d assumed (why do I always assume?) that it wouldn’t take me more than an hour to collect everything. After a sleepless night, corrupted emails, and an international phone call to ask my mother to resend my records, everything was in order.
Well, almost everything. I needed to have documentation of my divorce from my first wife. Whether I in fact did or didn’t would depend on the consular officer’s capacity for logical thinking and leniency.
The ideal document would’ve been the signed divorce papers. What I had was the unsigned copy prepared by a lawyer, and my marriage certificate for my current marriage, issued in a state which does not allow bigamy (do any of them?), ipso facto my first marriage was terminated satisfactorily. Also, it stated that I had divorced the first wife. However, government officials are notable neither for their leniency nor logical thinking.
But time was up. So we were off to the Embassy. Getting there was easy enough. High-speed train, subway, GPS, and we’re at the Embassy. After eating some of the baby formula to prove it wasn’t explosives, we were in the Embassy with a number, waiting to be called.
While narrowly avoiding a full-on panic meltdown imagining all the wrong endings, I waited, mercifully partially distracted by the horrid aftertaste of baby formula and by my sons long line of female admirers. I was proud. Matthew didn’t care.
After being mistakenly called up, we were finally called up for real: I gave the paperwork, explained about the divorce papers, and was told by the woman that everything was in order, and that I should pay the cashier the fee. Except the credit card reader was busted, so they gave me a re-entry pass so I could go to the ATM. The ATM which ate my card right before shutting down.
After duly freaking out, retrieving my card from a bank employee, and getting cash at a different bank, it was back to the Embassy to pay the cashier and then to meet with the actual consular officer. He made me swear an oath that I was telling the truth, and then brought all my panic back by having me re-explain all of my documentation (he even seemed unsure of my school paperwork). After some time of interrogation, he turned to his computer and typed for ages, then went to fish something out of a drawer.
When he came up for air, he was holding a small American flag, which he then gave to me as he congratulated me on my little American. I was so relieved I couldn’t decide whether to cry or laugh – I settled for a wee bit of both.
Yesterday we received his official documentation in the mail. We’re framing it.