This May, we'll be taking a very special trip to Canada! My sister Janice just gave birth to her third daughter, Noelle Chapin Fisher, and I have the pleasure and honor of being her godmother! Lonnie and I plan to rent a minivan, pack up the boys and make the road trip to Toronto for the baptism.
Today we went and got James, at the tender age of almost 12 weeks, his very first passport. We picked up his birth certificate, stopped by Sears to have his photo taken (it's actually challenging to get a proper passport photo of a young infant, but the woman at Sears did a great job!), and then headed to the post office to submit the application.
He cooperated for the photo, but sadly his hair did not.
It seemed so odd to order a passport for my infant son when I did not get my own first passport until I was 20 years old. My first opportunity to travel abroad was my college choir's performance tour in Austria. (Actually I did go to Toronto twice during college, but back then passports were not required for travel from the U.S. to Canada.)
Growing up, my family rarely traveled far from my hometown of Charleston. Our "long" road trips were to Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. My parents raised eight children and sent us all to Catholic schools on a professor's salary. They sacrificed a great deal to make this happen, and that included their own dreams of seeing the world. My father spent some time overseas in the Army when he was young and was content to stay closer to home thereafter. My mother got to visit London in her later years, but her travel fantasies went mostly unfulfilled.
There seems to be an intrinsic part of the "American Dream" that we should all strive for a better life than our parents had, and then in turn we want our children to do better than we did. When I look at the life my parents provided for our family, I don't feel the need to live in a bigger house, drive nicer cars, or wear fancier clothes. I never have been misled into thinking these material things could improve the quality of my life. But if there's one thing I could provide for my children that my parents could not provide for me, it would be travel. The amazing adventures and life experiences they could gain by exploring the world would be priceless, and might in some way help fulfill my parents' dreams for themselves and for me.
I know I'm getting excessively sentimental over a simple visit to family in Canada, but just having passports can mean so much more. It represents a certain freedom and ability to seize fortuitous opportunities. Just recently, a friend posted on Facebook that she had come across an amazing deal on airfare to Moscow, around $250 round trip from DC. Without a passport, you can't just jump on a limited-time offer like that. With a passport, you can make a spur of the moment decision to travel halfway around the world!
A passport can also come in handy in emergencies as well. Lonnie's uncle just suffered a stroke while vacationing in Mexico. His wife, Lonnie's aunt, has had no choice but to deal with the difficult situation on her own, because no one else in the family has a passport with which to go join her. With some help from the U.S. Consulate, hopefully they will be back home in Michigan tomorrow, but in the meantime all the family can do from afar is pray.
The truth is, right now we can't afford international travel any more than my parents could. Except for the occasional visits to my sister and her family in Toronto, the boys' passports likely will go unused for most of their childhood years. (And really, the kids are such a handful right now that it's hard enough to take all three to the mall, much less to a foreign country!) But I like to think that just getting them the passports is the first step towards fostering their curiosity and love of adventure. I may not be able to provide them with trips around the world, but the passports provide them with possibilities. So in a way, I have already given them the world. I feel pretty good about that. :)