Thursday, November 15, 2012
Facing Your Fears
I haven't mentioned it on the blog before, but Adam and I have been embroiled in a bureacratic nightmare with the U.S. government for the past year or so.
You see, we are both dual citizens: me, because my parents are from New York, and he, because he was born in Boston. Neither of us have ever worked in the U.S., I've never lived there, and Adam only lived there for a few months before his parents moved back to Toronto. So it never occurred to either of us, or any of our parents, that we should be filing taxes with the U.S. government. We pay lots of taxes here, thank you very much.
When the laws for U.S. citizens living abroad changed, we decided to be honest and went through the process of trying to file. Unfortunately, this turned out to be not so easy. First off, we couldn't do so without having social security numbers. Adam never had one, and the one my parents had for me was apparently 'invalid'. Adam immediately drove to Niagara Falls and applied for one. I was told to speak with the U.S. consulate in Toronto, and apply through them. I waited 3.5 weeks for an appointment. At my appointment in mid-July, I filled out the application, and was scolded for travelling to the U.S. on my Canadian passport (I hadn't renewed my U.S. passport since I was a kid), and 'highly encouraged' to renew my U.S. passport. I did so. The woman at the consulate also warned me that getting my SSN through them could take a long time, so if I wanted to speed things up, I should go to the U.S. I made some calls and was told that the Niagara Falls office Adam visited was closed. We drove to Buffalo in August. After waiting almost an hour, the woman at the desk informed me that there was no request for a SSN in the system for me, but that they could not put in another request if the consulate had already done so. She was mean. She yelled at me. I was simply doing what the consulate recommended. We left with our tails between our legs and waited for my SSN to arrive. It never did.
A few weeks ago I called the U.S. again and asked about the status of my SSN request. The NICE woman on the phone said there was nothing in the system. She also told me that, (1) the consulate can't grant me a SSN, and (2) Requests take no more than 2 days to appear in the system so the folks in Buffalo should have known that the consulate had not put through a request and they should have done so for me on the spot. She was very apologetic but informed me we'd have to drive back to the U.S. She also informed me that the Niagara Falls office is open.
Last week Adam and I drove down to Niagara Falls, NY. After waiting at the border for an hour, we arrived at the Social Security Office. The woman at the desk informed me that because I did not have my Canadian birth certificate with me, as proof of my age, she could not put in an application for me. Although their website says they will accept U.S. passports as proof of age, because I was using my passport as proof of U.S. citizenship, I could not use it as proof of age. None of the other documents I had - including my proof of birth abroad form - nor my driver's licence or other ID with my birthdate were sufficient. Yep, all that driving for just 45 minutes in the U.S. which got us nowhere in dealing with this crap.
I may have had a little fit. I may have told this woman that my husband - who had now taken 2 days off work to drive with me down to the U.S. to deal with this, was going to divorce me if I came back to the waiting room and had to tell him I didn't have the proper ID with me. While this might have been a bit of an exaggeration, I know for a fact he felt like strangling me when I broke the news to him. Fortunately, the softie that my sweet husband is, he had forgiven my short-sightedness by the time we got back to the border. But he did tell me that I was now on my own and he was not driving back with me again. GULP!
The thing is, I only got my driver's license when I was 30. I am still not so comfortable driving on highways, particularly without Adam with me in the car. In fact, the only highway driving I've done alone was the few times I did it before my highway driving test. Ever since, it's been with Adam right beside me for support...although admittedly, he's often been snoozing. It's not just the high speeds, multiple lanes and massive transport trucks that could flatten me in a second that worry me, I also have this fear of creating an accident by suddenly swerving to avoid missing my exit, or, even more irrational and preposterous, that I will miss my exit and somehow end up stranded in some far away place. I have this image of calling Adam from a payphone at a gas station in Indiana, bawling because I don't know how to get home. Of course, now that we have a GPS, this is almost impossible.
In addition, I have never in my life driven in the U.S. I kept worrying that the transition from KM to miles would trip me up and I'd either get a speeding ticket, or cause an accident by going too slowly.
But I did it! And it went relatively smoothly!
Sooo, looking on the brightside, by driving back to Niagara Falls yesterday all by myself, I conquered one of my big fears. Two fears actually: driving on the highway alone, and driving in a different country.
I was pretty nervous beforehand. My stomach was in knots and my hands were shaking. I decided to break the whole endeavor up, in my mind, into manageable bits. First, making it to the Gardiner Expressway, then the QEW, then the border crossing, then the Social Security office, then back to the border crossing, back to the QEW, back to the Gardiner, back to the Toronto city streets, etc.
To be honest, I actually enjoy conquering my fears. It may take an external hand to force me to do it, but once you do it, it is so liberating. Now I feel like I could drive to Kingston to see my parents without Adam! Although I don't plan on doing it anytime soon...
Fear can be such a prison, you know? I look back at my life and think of all the missed opportunities because of my fears/insecurities/self-doubt. I think I'm going to make a habit of conquering a fear part of my new year resolutions every January 1st. Wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up one day and feel fearless?