For the average kid, preadolescence and the teen years are marked with many rites of passage: facial hair, deodorant, pimples, crushes and braces. There is the experience of wearing pants that fit yesterday but are too short today. There are awkward bus rides and annoying parents. And there is the moment you realize going to school without combing your hair only works for 5-year-olds.
Military kids have all these things, plus one more: getting a military identification card.
As soon as a military dependent turns 10 years old, they are required to go to the nearest base, have a picture taken and receive their very first laminated proof of identification.
Sounds simple and ordinary — maybe even tedious. Unless you’re 10. Then it’s mind-blowing. “Me, with an ID card?” Suddenly, after just a short decade on this Earth, you can fill your wallet with something else besides Monopoly money and trading cards.
I remember getting my first ID card. Unfortunately, it was the morning after I busted open my brow in the middle of the night on the headboard of my bed. I have always walked and talked in my sleep, so it was not surprising that I would sit up in my bed and have a conversation with myself. What was surprising was when I laid back down and misjudged the distance between my pillow and the headboard.
After a long night in the emergency room and several stitches later, I was back home waiting for my mom to take me to the base to get my ID card. I don’t remember why it was so urgent, why we had to go that day, when I had a black eye and dried blood in my hair, and I couldn’t take a shower or get the stitches wet. Maybe it was because filling out the insurance papers at the ER was complicated without an ID card, and Mom realized I needed my card … like, yesterday.
My dad was stationed at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., but in my memory, we were not on that base, which was so familiar to me. This is what getting your first ID card does to you: it changes an ordinary task into a “Field of Dreams”-style, light-shattering moment of inaccurate memories. For all I knew, I was at the Pentagon. I mean, this was serious. This was my ID card.
About two hours later — the ID card office is the military equivalent of the DMV — I had a laminated picture of my smashed eye and stitches. I put it in my My Little Pony wallet next to my favorite puffy sticker of a rainbow.
My next thrilling moment at the ID office would be when I got married and went from Sarah Rutherford, dependent of Lindell Rutherford, to Sarah Smiley, dependent of Dustin. And then, last week, it occurred to me, like my mother before me, that I had forgotten to get my oldest boys, now 13 and 11, their ID cards.
“We’re going tomorrow morning to get your identification cards,” I said at dinner.
“Like that laminated thing in your wallet?”
“We have to have one, too?”
“I want one,” Lindell screamed. “Do I get one?”
After I had explained that Lindell was too young, he felt left out. He noticed the excitement surrounding this ID-card thing, and now he wasn’t part of it. He started crying.
“It’s OK, Lindell,” Owen teased. “The military does this ritual first where they stick a needle in your eye and draw blood to prove you are a military dependent. You don’t want a needle in your eye, do you?”
Lindell cried more, now out of fear for his brothers.
I wondered how Owen knew just how painful the process would be. No, there wouldn’t be actual needles in the eye, but the military isn’t ultra efficient when it comes to paperwork and records. Sometimes, a needle in the eye is an attractive alternative.
The next morning, we drove to the base and parked in front of the Personnel building, which Ford noted was precariously close to the Recruiting one. It was 9:45 a.m. and Ford had to be back at school by 10:30 a.m. (the ID office is only open 7:30 a.m.-3:00 p.m., which are, of course, school hours. Convenient). Based on previous experience, I wasn’t hopeful we’d make it. (Have you ever gotten through the DMV in 45 minutes?)
Then something incredible happened. We signed in, and before we could even sit down in the lobby, a nice man in fatigues took us to the office to start the paperwork. No waiting. Twenty minutes later, the boys had crossed a path paved by many military brats — including their mom and dad — before them: they had ID cards.
Except the boys’ path seemed too easy. On the way home I told them, “Back when I got my ID card, I had to walk 2 miles both ways in the snow, and I waited 15 hours in the lobby…”
I’m not sure it really happened that way. But that’s how I remember it.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.