A difficult farewell–getting a new passport

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This article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald about 7 years ago. I am now roaring towards another passport expiry date, and all the heartache attached to that. :-)  

After ten years together, it’s time for me to move on. Memories good and bad come flooding back. A decade long journey together has come to an end. My passport is about to expire, and it’s a difficult farewell.

This is not my first passport. I’ve had a few. My first expired naturally, while my second was stolen in New York (at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). Then came a temporary passport, which travelled with me until I next returned to Australia. That’s where this one came into my life, on a hot January day in Brisbane.

There was no immediate connection between the little blue book and me. It was simply a document that helped me fulfil my passion for travelling. But now, ten years later, as I prepare to welcome a new passport and it’s fresh, stamp-free pages into my life, I realize that I’m extremely attached to my passport and what it represents. I don’t quite know how to move on. I’ve walked away from long-term boyfriends more easily.

My expiring passport is a symbol of freedom. It is packed with many stamps and countless memories. Ten of the thirteen years that I lived overseas are in that passport. It’s proof that I do know Tokyo like the back of my hand. It reminds me of that night in Taipei with the guy whose name I forget, but who had a motorbike, which we rode through a typhoon. It reminds me that I even went to Guam.

I got married and had my kids during this time. The proof is in the passport. But I was still wandering. There’s London, where we married, and there’s New York, where we lived with our oldest son. I scramble through the pages to Austria, and the trip where son No. 2 was conceived. A few months later, after I’d been beaten down by constant nausea, I got my re-entry stamp into Australia. Next to it lays one last stab at freedom: a stamp for Vanuatu. But that just brings back memories of morning sickness and exhaustion.

That was the last entry.

I stare at my old photo and compare it with the new one. There is no comparison and I’m compelled to run out and have a new headshot taken. I want to look like I did back in 1998: younger, carefree, edgy, full of life…thinner. I want some of that energy to imbibe the new document. My photo now reveals countless sleepless nights, stubborn baby weight that refuses to budge, the fact that I never have time for my hair. It screams marriage and motherhood, school runs and dirty nappies, annual package deals at a resort with a kids-club. It’s not me, and I’m scared to declare to any immigration officer that it is.

I remember what it was like to travel back in ‘98, and I grieve. Travel was so much easier then. I had no fear of terrorists. Bali meant beaches, not bombs. When I thought of the World Trade Center, I thought of Century 21 and great shopping. Now I think of the countless cards and poems that papered the area in the months after the towers collapsed. Wandering the world was once a stress-free existence for me, and I feel ripped off because that has changed. I yearn for those days. I do worry when I travel now, but I refuse to stop.

I’m having problems making decisions. I wage an internal battle: should I apply for an ordinary passport, or live in hope and tick the frequent traveller box? Is it still acceptable to put my mother down as my emergency contact?

And then there’s the new photo. I could use it and be haunted by that exhausted, puffy stare for the next decade, or I could hit the gym, diet and fast, find a decent hairdresser, actually use make-up and take another photo next week when I look fabulous again.

I curse the 1998 me. Didn’t I realize that my passport would expire right in the middle of my childbearing years? The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should provide a fifth option when asking what type of passport is required.

  “Yes, hello, I’d like to extend my current passport for the two year new-mother-period…Yes, that’s right, I haven’t slept in ages… yes, that’s right, I’m still a bit of a porker, but I intend to give up breastfeeding soon.”

I stand in line at the post office and face the inevitable. I need to reapply now as I have plans to travel next soon. In fact, I have grand plans for my new passport. The line moves slowly, giving me time to dream. New Zealand, Japan, and then back to Europe. I picture my sons with me in Thailand, Hawaii… Estonia. There are so many places I want to take them, so many people I want them to meet, so little time before they go off on their own.

I make my way to the counter and hand the application to a smiling woman.

“Going somewhere?”

I feel the chains of routine slacken slightly. “Always.”

I leave the post office feeling excited. The new photo isn’t so bad after all. In ten years, when I’m applying for my next passport, I will look at it fondly and see the rounded softness of motherhood, and how a few extra kilos really does smooth out wrinkles. I will trawl through the ink-filled pages and remember the thrill of showing my children the world. And I will no doubt ponder the importance of living every moment fully, as I take possession of a passport that will eventually be filled with solo journeys again, as my sons come of age and embark on their own.

This current me, and all the excess baggage, is the one I will travel with for the next ten years, and that’s okay. Although, if it really does become too much to deal with, it can always go missing in New York… just like last time.

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