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The Paperwork Marathon Just Became a Sprint

28 March 2018

For about four city blocks last Monday it really was a literal sprint.

Okay, well, across intersections it was … and some super intense (and possibly contagious) speed-walking in between.

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(Partial) Background

There is a deadline coming up. Another one. It’s vague, so I won’t bore you with the details. It will suffice to say that it’s a deadline that we didn’t even think applied to us a week ago, because our paperwork has not been logged in, in China.

Because we were anxiously waiting for our approval from Immigration. It was the last piece of paperwork. Then I would take it on the same round of government offices that I took everything else on a couple of weeks agoThen we can send it all to China.

That piece of paper, however, is allowed 90 days for processing. Which means it is due mid-May.

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Still, I offhandedly asked our Family Coordinator about this nebulous deadline, and our approximate position on the waiting list, and she recommended that I call the USCIS and ask for a status update.

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I can do that? They’re about to be really irritated that you told me I can do that.

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If they could give me a status update, our Coordinator could start to estimate some dates. This deadline would pass, but we’d have a better idea about which of the next deadlines we might be looking at.

That was Thursday. I said I would call Friday morning.

The Starting Gun

Friday morning I had an early meeting. Breakfast and coffee, meeting, and then I’ll call.

Mid-meeting the mail came. The box is on the house. You can hear the lid on the metal box squeak open and clang shut. Plus I have a five year old who thinks part of his duties involve heralding the arrival of the mail.

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MAIL’S HERE!

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I got up after my meeting to grab it and immediately caught the seal in the return corner of the bottom envelope. 

I plopped to the floor just inside the front door and held my breath as I tore the corner of the envelope. My eyes started to well up and Man Cub leaned on my shoulder.

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Are you happy or sad, Mama?

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So, so happy!

At least … I think so …

I knew it would be a simple, unassuming-looking piece of paper. We were warned to look out for it, and to be careful not to throw it away. On the one hand it is pure gold because it has to go to China with us and getting another copy is next to impossible, but on the other hand … it’s just an 8.5 x 11″ piece of paper in a plain envelope – no cardboard, no stamp on the outside indicating its importance, no signature required.

Still … this was a very simple, unassuming-looking piece of paper. There’s a grid at the top and a lot of official, legal language at the bottom. I tried to slow down enough to actually read the words on the page two or three times.

I scanned it and emailed it to our Coordinator.

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It’s here! Right? Is this it? I think this is it?

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This poor woman fields more weird emails from me than anyone else on the planet.

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YES! 

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Her all-caps confirmation was immediately followed by questions about processing timelines, availability, and overnighting paperwork. I answered in a round of rapid-fire email exchanges and then … nothing.

Toward the end of the day I got an email that started with an apology and an explanation that she’d been talking with the China team at the agency to, “see what we can do.” She then outlined a very aggressive paperwork processing schedule that included expedited fees and overnight envelopes, and said that if we can do all of that we could probably get our dossier logged in exactly ONE DAY before this deadline hits.

Challenge accepted.

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When Days Became Minutes

The branch of the paperwork processing sprint that took me to the city on Monday started with a notarized copy of the Immigration approval over the weekend. Monday, I needed to:

  1. Take it to the Secretary of State’s office on State Street to have it certified while I waited.
  2. Take it across the street to Staples to make a copy of the documents and the certifications.
  3. Take it to Erie street (walk two blocks, one stop on the red line, walk four blocks) to drop it off at the Chinese Consulate office.

No problem. I’ve done this before.

I printed and filled out all the forms Sunday evening. I copied our passports. I got everything as ready as possible.

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Also Sunday evening, Man Cub threw up … thrice … so Husband arranged to stay home with him the next day, which would turn out to be a game-changer.

Monday morning I had another early meeting, and I had no desire or need to fight rush hour traffic. I counted hours and determined that even leaving toward the end of rush hour would probably get me to the consulate office just in time for them to close for lunch, which would mean wasting an hour sitting around.

So the meeting ended at 11:30 and I headed downtown. By the time I got there, parked, escaped the parking garage, walked a few blocks, and got up to the 10th floor it was just a few minutes past 1:00. Fine.

I turned in my form, made sure to ask for a certification instead of an apostille, and sat down. This doesn’t take long. 20 minutes.

But as I sat there, I suddenly thought (or heard, let the reader decide), Is the consulate office open until 5:00 though?”

So I pulled out my phone to check.

No. They are not. The Chinese Consulate closes at 2:30.

It is now 1:15.

Cue the cold sweats.

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I texted Husband:

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Just got to the Secretary of State. Waiting for certification. Chinese Consulate closes at 2:30. Pray this goes quickly.

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13 minutes later it was done. I double-checked, paid my two dollars, and practically ran for the elevator. I had missed my mini sidekick on the drive in, and I laughed at the pigeons for him at the parking garage, but now I was so, so glad he wasn’t with me.

The Part Where I Run Through Chicago

I am so. Glad. I’d done all this once before.

Across the intersection to Staples, card swiped, copies made

One

[Would you like to checkout or make another copy?]

Page

[Would you like to checkout or make another copy?]

At

[Would you like to checkout or make another copy?]

A

[Would you like to checkout or make another copy?]

Time.

Sorted, paid, and out the door in seven minutes.

Two blocks. Red line. Down the stairs. Buy a single ride ticket. Down the stairs.

Wait.

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One stop. Off the train. Skipping stairs on my way up.

I am so. Glad. I’d done this once before, and I now know which office is the real Chinese Consulate office.

Four blocks. Intersection. “Don’t Walk.” RUN!

I actually got stopped at one intersection and some poor woman—at least a foot taller than me—who was also on her cell phone, leaned over to me slightly, “Excuse me, honey, do you know which way is Erie Street?” The light changed, and I think the way I very energetically yelled, “This way!” as I sprinted off the curb caught her off-guard—but was also a little bit contagious—’cause she very awkwardly exclaimed, “Oh-KAY!” and suddenly moved very quickly … but with a look on her face that definitely said, “Why am I running?”

And then she slowed down and I can only assume she did eventually make it to Erie Street.

Erie Street. Turn the corner. 1 East. Sign in. 5th floor. End of the hall.

B372

I take a number from the little machine and look around for a seat. There are none. The waiting area is packed and there are a dozen more people standing around the perimeter. 

It is 1:53 pm. I am number B372. There are two windows, and the electronic signs above them say B349 and B350. I take my coat off because I am sweating, and I watch.

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Not that there is any way to assess how quickly the lines are moving. One person has a simple question, or doesn’t even show up when his number is called, and the “line” moves quickly. The next person wants to bargain or make small talk or just has a thousand questions, and the “line” stalls.

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15 numbers ahead of me. 27 minutes.

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I pray. I remember that our approval notice showed up in the mail the day I was going to call to ask about it. I remind myself of all the other ways in the past six months that God has either shown up or gently closed a door at every juncture, and that he will do it again today. If this deadline is our deadline, nothing can stop it. If it’s not, he will close this door too. I have done everything I can do.

… I also text Husband every two minutes with updates (for me more than him – he never responded to them anyway) and at least one, “Jesus, take the wheel” GIF.

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A family sitting in the row near where I am camped out gets called to the window. I watch their vacant chairs for a few minutes and then slide into one. It is close to the window. This is a mistake.

I can now hear every conversation going on at the windows. I can’t understand most of them, but the ones I do understand include a British man who doesn’t have a copy of his passport and wants to discuss it with the woman behind the glass—who is powerless to change the policy for him—rather than just go make a copy of his passport, and a woman who I am fairly sure did not take a number and just walked up to a window in between actual civilized people.

This is making me even more anxious.

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7 numbers. 10 minutes.

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A family of three is called to the window and something is wrong with the paperwork. Something that they’re going to fix right there at the window.

I make peace with the death of this deadline. It wasn’t the one.

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B369

Still, I take out my (sorted, organized, very neatly clipped together bundle – including passport copies – of) paperwork. Just in case.

2:25 pm

B370

I stand up and move toward the window. Not pushing in. Just standing at a respectful distance, as I’ve seen other people do, because my number is getting closer. I still suspect, though, I will end up turning around and leaving from this spot—two more customers in less than five minutes is not really possible.

2:26 pm

B371

The woman at the window looks at me. I smile and shake my head.

The robotic voice calls B371 again.

2:27 pm

B372

B371 bailed.

I try not to leap toward the window. I slide my bundle under the glass and look up at the clock behind the clerk’s head.

2:28 pm

Made it. With 90 seconds to spare. I hold my breath while she scans my application form, my documents, my document copies, my passport copies. She staples. She reaches for the pink pad of paper and I exhale.

Pick up on Wednesday.

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I want to hug her. I settle for echoing her instructions and thanking her. I tuck my precious pink receipt in my folder and slip out the door, down the hall. I hear the doors to the office closing behind me as I press the button for the elevator.

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I stroll leisurely back to the red line.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gloria permalink
    28 March 2018 9:36 PM

    I LOVE how God keeps stepping up and getting it done for you!

  2. Jennifer permalink
    29 March 2018 8:43 AM

    This was the most intensive blog I ever read! I could barely breath, I was chewing my nails, and I literally jumped up and yelled “YES!!!!” at the end (scaring the dog right out of the room, LOL).

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