Family Magazine

Late Night Paperwork Party

By Sherwoods
Working for the US Government is not for those who hate paperwork.  Since everything the government does is funded by public taxpayer money, everything that costs money has to be documented.  When William was born last year, before we could go get home we had to 1. fill out form OF-126 2. get a birth certificate 3. Apply for a diplomatic passport 4. Apply for a Tajik visa, 5. Set up a layette shipment, and finally, 6. book plane tickets.  This of course, had nothing to do with the insurance paperwork, which was actually less paperwork.  
After we got home, I got to file a voucher for our covered expenses from the last three months, which included scanning in all of the receipts, inputting the expenses, listing the lodging for ninety days ($0, typed in ninety times), figuring out M&IE for seven people (that took some calculating) for two different locations, and then telling the money where to go.  After that it only took five or six different adjustments to the voucher and accompanying email exchanges before the money finally made it to our bank account - when William was seven months old.  
Brandon has a severe dislike for paperwork, and so when we discovered a few years ago that I could do the vouchering for him, it was a minor miracle.  I had been bothering him for nine months to voucher Joseph's trip to London (cost: about $6000) and he could never get around to it.  
So, paperwork.  There's nothing that gets done in the US Government without a stack of paperwork filled before it's done and another after it's done.
Two or three months ago I started putting together our itinerary for our upcoming home leave, training, and departure for Tashkent.  Unlike Brandon, I adore putting together a schedule and so wanted to get everything nailed down as soon as humanly possible.  Our plane schedules (with the exception of last summer) always end up being strange and so I like to get the tickets booked sooner when they're cheaper.  Also, we always end up on small flights for our last leg and sometimes they don't have eight free seats on a flight with only twenty or so people.  
I checked with my mom, I checked with our friends in London, I checked with Brandon's mom, and I checked with the travel office.  Everything was in complete harmony and I was ready to get those tickets bought.  
But then, of course, I ran into the inevitable snag, also known as Forms I Cannot Fill Out Myself.  There are a lot of forms that I can download off the internet, electronically sign for Brandon, and send in myself.  I like those forms.  They allow me to get my job done without asking my poor overworked husband who is doing a lot of jobs right now to do one more thing extra.  I hate asking him to do those things because then I become just one more nagger instead of the one person who isn't asking him for something.
Unfortunately for my plane tickets, not only was this form not only one I couldn't get off the internet, it wasn't even one that Brandon could print off and bring home.  It was an entire system that could only be accessed from the State department intranet.  
So I just asked.  And then asked.  And asked and asked and asked.  But meanwhile the government shut down, Brandon had to fill in for an absent TDYer, there were cables to write, meetings to attend, and reports to write about the meetings he attended.  I'm really wondering where those lazy government workers are so that Brandon can get at job there instead of working ten- or twelve- hour days for State.  
So one night last week we were drinking hot chocolate.  Often after the children go to bed we will have a treat together because we're adults and we can do that.  While sipping our hot chocolate, I was asking Brandon about how progress on the TM2 was going.  "Well," he started encouragingly, "I opened it up today.  But then I realized that I didn't have our itinerary so I couldn't fill it out."
I reminded him of the itinerary I had sent him a month ago, but he said that it was incomplete.  I asked him if I could come to work with him one day and fill it out, but he said that I wasn't allowed in his office because I don't have a clearance.  I asked him if we could work at it on another computer.
He looked at me for a minute, looked at the clock, and then announced, "Let's go do it right now."
I looked at the clock - it was nine thirty, which is just about our bed time.  I thought about waking up at five the next morning and thought about how nice going to bed would be.  I thought about how cold and dark it was outside and how far away the embassy is.  I thought about going to bed much later than ten.  I thought about having to do school and make doughnuts on a lot less sleep than I prefer.  Then I thought about plane tickets ands schedules and certainty.  I looked back at him.  "Okay.  Let's go."
We quickly finished our chocolate, shook Kathleen and Sophia awake, and told them we were going to the embassy.  They seemed to have a vague idea of what we were talking about, so we left the phone by Sophia, threw on our coats, and went for a late-night drive.
I'm sure the Marine on duty was a little curious about why we were both signing in at ten o'clock at night, but I'm also sure that he's seen his fair share of strange goings on.
Brandon has been the acting consular chief since August, so we headed to the consular section, which I am cleared to go into.  He fired up the computer, put on some music, and we started filling out forms.  
"When are we leaving Dushanbe?" 
"May seventh."
"How many days are we spending in London?"
"Five.  But only one of those counts as a rest stop.  The other four days will be annual leave."
"Where are we sending UAB to?"
"DC and Tashkent."
After an hour we had filled out all the boxes in a way that the system decided was okay, figured out how to add Kathleen back to Brandon's orders (there are only five boxes on the form that lists dependents, so when we added William, Kathleen fell off.  Which is ridiculous because I know we are not the only people in the foreign service with more than five children), found and entered all of Brandon's training classes, and finished the itinerary with our flight to Tashkent.
As we clicked the last box and hit submit, I did a happy dance around the room.  Brandon looked like he wanted to die.  I turned to him, "Don't you just feel great?  I love getting those forms filled out! It's such a feeling of accomplishment!  One more dragon slain!  Hooray for our side!!"
He looked at me.  "No.  I just want to throw the computer out the window.  But the glass is bulletproof, so I can't.  Maybe I can just kick it to pieces instead.  I.  Hate.  Paperwork."
Every now and then, I have moments in my marriage when I realize that I have married someone who is so very different from me.  We have a whole lot of compatibilities, but sometimes I stumble upon an unexpected difference.  This was one of those times.
I shrugged, smiled at him, and gave him a kiss.  "Good thing you married me, then.  Any more paperwork you want me to do?"

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