The thing you are looking for furiously is usually the thing you just cannot find. As we idled in the entryway of the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve with a string of cars behind us, I searched the glove box and the seat pocket for the disability pass I knew we had; it would allow us to enter for 50% off the day use fee. Not wanting to annoy the people behind us, I gave up as the attendant told us to go online and get a replacement pass. “Real easy to do,” she said with a smile. We paid, parked, and proceeded to enjoy our day at this oceanside wonderland.

A few days later I went online to get the replacement pass. Not exactly “real easy” but not complicated. I filled out paperwork, copied a school ID card, wrote a check, and mailed everything. Weeks passed, and the letter sent to us from the CA Department of Parks and Recreation stated that the ID was not valid. “Expiration date needed.” A phone call revealed that they only take IDs that have expiration dates on them. Hmmmph.  Alright. Simple. Time to get Zach a state issued ID card. I thought we’d just go to the DMV, fill out a form, take a picture, and go. I’d have both the ID and the state parks disability pass within a couple of weeks. Or so I thought.

When it comes to the DMV, you can just eliminate the words easy and simple. And – as is the case with us – when you add special needs to such a task, complicated does not even begin to describe it. The process of obtaining my teenage son with autism a state issued ID card was akin to being on the highway in a traffic jam, where you try to change lanes to make some progress only to find that the lane you picked is now the lane that isn’t moving. Silly me for thinking it would be fairly easy to get an ID for him.

toy cars


After reviewing all the information on the DMV’s website for how to get a card, it seemed like a piece of cake! Fill out the application, give your thumbprint, and have your picture taken. Oh – we’d also need a Social Security number and a document proving date of birth or legal presence.  Okay, I could do that. And, just to be extra sure, I’d provide even more…a copy of an IEP page that shows our names as well as Zach’s, a school bus pass with a picture, a utility bill, and an envelope from a birthday card with Zach’s name on it. I had the birth certificate and the SS number.  Good to go!

We made an appointment to assure a smooth visit. On that day, I gathered my papers, put on extra deodorant, and rubbed calming essential oil on Zach’s back. Off we went. From crowded highway, to crowded parking lot, crowded lobby, and crowded restroom, we made our way to the window.

“Hi!” I smiled widely at the woman who looked worn out and too warm.

“And what are you here for?” she asked.

“We need an ID card, for my son.” I tried sounding cheerful and not demanding.

“Do you have your application, birth certificate…?”

“Yes.”  I pulled each paper proudly from the envelope while clutching Zach’s elbow to keep him from bolting. She looked them over.

“This won’t work. Sorry.” she pronounced with lips as straight as rulers.

“What? Why?” Still trying to sound cheerful.

She proceeded to tell me that the birth certificate, which the hospital had given us 17 years ago, was not the right kind. I had no idea there was a “right kind” of birth certificate. Asking her to explain this turned her ruler lips into bent paper clips. “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”

“It needs a seal. This isn’t official.” She folded my perfect papers in half and forcefully slid them to me.  She cast a critical eye at Zach who was watching the giant blades of a fan spin on the ceiling and making aaaawwwwhhhhaaa noises. I turned so fast to leave that my flipflop flung itself off my foot.

“Damn it and super damn it!” I yelled (in my head).

A Facebook friend, seeing my post full of disgruntled sentiment, suggested going through Triple A. YES! Why didn’t I think of that? Triple A could help us with DMV services, and I’d do anything to avoid the lines and odors and crabby people. I called. Can you hear a game show buzzer in your head? It didn’t work. Triple A doesn’t provide this service in California. I rescheduled with DMV online and embarked on a mission to acquire the “right” birth certificate. Since I didn’t want to trek to Napa’s Recorder-County Clerk office, I went the online route. And for those who haven’t done this, be prepared for the steep fees and mandatory $20 mailing fee. About $100 and 4 weeks later, I had a document with all the same information as the hospital paperwork:  the difference was an embossed state seal.

Appointment #2 rolled around, and we rushed from a school campus to a government campus to get there on time. I reviewed the information on the DMV website the night before; glad I did because I had not seen the section on residency documents before. But having done that, I figured it was okay. I had the IEP paperwork and the birthday card envelope with Zach’s name and address. After all, he doesn’t have a mortgage bill or utility statement in his name!

I was less than thrilled to see the same woman at the window. But this time I would nail it! I pulled my unevenly creased papers from the portfolio. I positioned them in her direction and parked my sneakered feet next to Zach’s. I watched her lips. They couldn’t have been tighter if I stapled them shut.

—Game show buzzer—

The IEP document did not include the date of birth. The birthday card envelope was NOT acceptable. All I could think of was why didn’t she tell me this at the last appointment when she looked at ALL my paperwork??? Well, cheerfulness got me nowhere last time, so I ditched the smile and scowled.

“I’m sorry…but last time I was here you saw all my papers and told me that only the birth certificate was not right. I have form DL44. I have the social security card. The RIGHT birth certificate! I can prove his residency, and you can see that he is a special ed student from the IEP! I’m only trying to get an ID card – not a license! What more do I have to do??”

She asked how old he is. “SevenTEEN.” I think I let my teeth show too long but I wanted to snarl.

“You’re his parent?” She tapped a pen on the counter top.


“Did you drive here?”


“Do you have your registration in the car?”


She paused.

“Registration in the car?”

“What?  I said yes!”

“So GO get it!” There were the paper clip lips again.

For some reason, she was going to accept the registration as the proof of residency. Problem was, leaving the building with Zach meant we were leaving the building to go home. I repeated twenty times that we were only going to get something. I wished for Zach’s understanding and cooperation.

“Now we have to go back inside! We’re going back inside! Let’s go this way, Zach! Back inside!”

And he complied. Pete Weber

But once inside, compliance was like a gutterball heading for the pit. I thrust the registration toward the woman as Zach pulled for the exit. Sweat rolled down my back as her eyes locked on the paper. She creased that one too and handed me a small ticket. F27.

A wait of 18 minutes felt like 50. We popped up when the monitor showed our number, and we headed to window 9. Juggling the ticket, the papers, and my checkbook was not easy with one arm around Zach’s waist and the other holding his wrist. Even so, he decided to straighten the employee’s workspace (the employee wasn’t amused). We managed the thumbprint, and because the other fingers were too clean, all ten digits ended up with black tips.

I thought we’d be doing the photo right there at window 9, but the employee (who finally looked up at Zach and seemed to figure out why he needed the stapler at a right angle) steered us to the opposite side of the building with her traffic-light-red fingernail. Another line. Another potential meltdown.

By now my arm strength was waning. Keeping Zach by my side had taken a toll. And just then, a baby started crying. The noise canceling headphones were magical, but they didn’t have the power to curtail this clamor. I recognized the look Zach gets moments before sensory onslaught gets the better of him.

I had to prevent the volcanic eruption.

Arm tickles. Eyelash kisses. Squeezes. Small toys. Distraction. I opened up that tool kit and used them all. Please please PLEASE take those mug shots FAST. It felt like someone turned the thermostat up and covered me in wool. “Next!” I saw a slim hand signal us to step up. Photo one: she asked him to smile and he opened his mouth widely. Click! She told us to wait while the image came up. I knew it wouldn’t be useable.

“No good. Do it again, and this time, mouth closed.”  I tried to explain and asked her to refrain from saying smile. This time, Zach decided his feet did not need to go on the painted footprints. I tried to squat and push his sneakers into place. I glanced sideways and saw the audience we had. I crab-walked out of camera shot. I didn’t hear her say smile. Click! In a flash, Zach reached over that counter to straighten more off-set office supplies. The woman declared that shot valid (hallelujah) and after making sure we were good to go, I bicep-locked Zach and we left. Exhausted.

Now you might think that’s the end. But we didn’t take the fast lane to an ID card; we were on the scenic route behind an RV with a timid driver. About a week later while my biceps were recovering, a flat envelope arrived from DMV. There was no outline of a little plastic card within. Sure enough:  the letter told us to return “at our convenience” to retake a picture. Now can you bring up a Jamie Lee Curtis in “Halloween” scream?  No no no no way. I was not going back for a third go-round.

Persistence pays off. It only took four phone trees and three people to end up talking with someone at the top. And that person, Virginia, sweet Virginia, understood my dilemma and let this ride come to an end. It occurred to me that someone may have seen the open mouth photo instead of the follow up photo and disapproved it. Her inquiry proved that true! And the “good” photo was available. The words we’ll have this in the mail soon were music to my ears.

Two weeks later, hello DMV envelope. I had almost forgotten the original reason for the ID card:  the state parks pass. Point Lobos, Columbia, or Calaveras Big Trees!  My mind pictured pristine lakes, giant redwoods, crystal blue coves. Not that we couldn’t go without a pass, but it sure would help. I glided the paper out of its sleeve and unfolded it. Not going to lose another state parks pass. I removed the wormy fugitive glue from the back of the card. We’re going to need this card for airline travel too, come to think of it! The arduous task had been completed. I turned the ID card over, and there was Zach’s picture. His mouth was wide open.

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