Zen and the Art of Motor Vehicle Licensure Maintenance

A few days ago, after the warm glow of having recently had a birthday wore off, I realized that my license was expired. (Whoops.) Of course, it was MLK Jr Day, so everything on the planet was closed. (Double whoops.)

Somewhat fortunately, Monday through Wednesday is pretty packed full of therapy and the girls are I pretty rarely leave the house. It’s not until Thursday morning that we lumber out the front door, paralyzed by the cold and shielding our eyes from the harsh, angry light of the sun.

But today is Wednesday. Tomorrow morning, I have to pack the girls into the car (in single-digit degree weather, waaaah) and we will make the half-hour-plus journey to occupational therapy. I kind of need a valid license for that. But hey! That’s not such a big deal. I can just renew it online!

Now, if you know me, you know that I am super disorganized, and as a result, nothing I attempt to do ever goes very smoothly. My mom had the world’s easiest online drivers’ license renewal ever– it’s been ten years since she took a photo for it but she somehow renewed online anyways. Of course. Well, my photo is only five years old so that won’t be a problem!

Wait a second. An unpaid parking ticket? From six years ago?

Apparently you can’t renew a license when there is an outstanding ticket. Yet somehow, after thinking I’d paid the ticket that I got in 2008 (which I hadn’t– I had two tickets from parking hastily in Boston to run into grad school probably late for class, and I thought I’d paid both but someone I only paid one), I was able to easily renew my license in 2009. Why didn’t the 2008 ticket affect my 2009 renewal? Who even knows.

Anyways, 1pm today found me sitting on a bench with some strangers at the RMV that is, thankfully, three minutes from my house in the same town. And I knew that I had to take care of the parking ticket first or else I couldn’t renew, and since I’d already arrived and had a ticket to wait for 45 minutes, I had a ticking clock. I’ll fast forward through this part, but suffice it to say my cell phone was not terribly cooperative in getting my ticket paid online, but my husband at home with a computer took care of that for me minutes before my turn came up.

Now, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s being effusively nice to people in any sort of office, retail or service industry. Super nice! Friendly to the point of goofy self-deprecation! I can usually get a half-smile (maybe out of pity) from the most apathetic gum-chewing employee.

She had fluffy, chocolate-brown curler-pouffed hair, badly penciled eyebrows, a long droopy face and rimless eyeglasses. She did not look at me. She was going to be a challenge.

The parking ticket had been resolved, but of course that wasn’t the end of it. She told me, “It’s rejecting your renewal.” Oh, right… because I got married in 2008 and never actually changed my maiden name with the Social Security Administration. Again, something that was somehow not a problem in 2009.

She finally looked at me and I wished she hadn’t. “So, whaddaya wanna do?”

“Well,” I said cheerily, “I guess I’m not so good at doing paperwork, huh? I guess we can just put that my maiden name in there, too. Right?”

She had me spell my maiden name, then crossed out every instance of my married name on the form and rewrote it.

“Wait–” I said, “can’t I keep my married name on there? That’s the name I use.”

She sighed like I was the worst person in the world. “You’re not. supposed. to DO that.”

Jesus H Christ, how am I supposed to know? “Okay, I understand. I’m just confused about how it was done in 2009–”

“That was an override. You only get one of those. It’s done. All used up. You can’t do it again. If you want your married name on there, you have to go to the SSA office, change your name, wait 48 hours, then come back here.” Somehow, even more irritation built up in her voice.

“So I have to put my maiden name on my license and pay for that today, then go to the SSA office, change my name, come back here and pay again?”

YES. Until then, you’re going to have to have [common mispronunciation of my Italian maiden name] on it.”

Hadn’t I just spelled it clearly for her? Did she write it down properly? “It’s actually [correct pronunciation]–”

“I DON’T KNOW HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT. I JUST KNOW HOW TO SPELL IT.” She thrusts a piece of paper into my hand, indicating the address and business hours of the (thankfully local) SSA office.

We snap a photo in front of a pale blue screen. “Do you like it?” Was I really going to ask her to retake the photo? “Yeah, it’s fine.”

I leave the RMV with the wrong last name on a paper license that cost me $50. The man at the counter next to her was chatting with the lady at his station, laughing about growing up in the next town other and Toby Keith.

I was at the wrong booth, clearly.

I’ll skip over the next part, but suffice it to say I also wasted a half hour on a trip to the SSA office, just to realize that not only are the hours not 9:00am-3:30pm like the paper she gave me said, but it’s only open until noon on Wednesdays anyways.

At least I got to be first in line to stop for a commuter rail train?


One of my 2014 goals is to try to be more positive. It’s just vague enough to work, right? I’m trying to end each day calling it a win, whatever happens. I’m just reframing the same life I had before, but with less negativity and stress. It’s not even about changing my behavior at this point because I just need to start with not treating myself like crap, which means not beating myself up all the time. (I’ve already gone back and edited that self-deprecating stuff that seeped into this post. It’s a hard habit to break.) Before I even worry about eating less, I have to not participate in my usual “eat-guilt-eat more” cycle. Before I start worrying about cleaning my entire house perfectly, I have to start with one small space at a time, do what I have the time and resources for, and then ending the day feeling good about the piece of my house outside normal home maintenance that I made a little cleaner and more manageable.

It’s just reframing, but it’s been pretty powerful so far.

So I was staring at the train racing by (yay!) trying to figure out how to reframe this experience.

“I’m so mad at myself that I messed up and didn’t pay that parking ticket and change my name with SSA and forgot to renew my license for about three weeks.” –> “I’m lucky that I have the extra hundred bucks on hand to make up for these paperwork and organization lapses. I’ve been working on being more organized lately, so this issue will hopefully not be a problem anymore in the future. It’s really not the worst thing to have to go back to fix this. It would be really hard for someone whose spouse didn’t work from home and who didn’t have an RMV and a SSA office 5-10 minutes away. I can go at nap time.”

“That woman was a horrible bitch and there was no reason for it. I was being friendly and trying not to ask too many questions or cause her any trouble.” –> “You can’t win everyone over. In the end, who really cares? Miserable people will never really be happy; it’s its own punishment. I’m glad I went to her so I could be reminded of how kind so many of the people in my life are. I’m sure she has someone in her life who loves her, so she’s probably not all bad.”

And then, as the train finally zipped past and the red lights stopped flashing, I started getting all metaphysical and thinking about how we’re all made out of carbon and bones and water and how maybe we’re just all one giant soul that gets broken into small pieces for a while. That made me feel better.

(The white mocha Frappucino that followed helped, too. I can reframe that later.)

6 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Motor Vehicle Licensure Maintenance

  1. Whew, I would have had a hard time dealing with that lady!! I’m like you, I try to be pleasant with people, at least at first. But for her to be continuously snappy for no reason is uncalled for. I like your positive spin on it though; you are right by saying you can’t win everyone over. And the train, oh the train. Gotta love em, at least I do because that’s what pays our bills. 🙂

  2. Good for you for reframing. 🙂 I try to remember that the people at the RMV deal with people who aren’t so nice all the time, so they may just be drained by the time you get to them. The guy in the next booth over that was laughing and being totally pleasant? He’s the unicorn of the RMV. LOL And good for him–a job like that gets to someone really quickly.

    And I like your wondering if we’re all pieces of the same soul. 🙂 I fell like there are groups of souls that remain intertwined through every life they live. A group of friends that stays close knit for life? Soul mates? Intertwined. 🙂

  3. I thought I was the only one who never updated their name. I’ve still got a credit card and my 401(k) to go — almost 8 years later 🙂 I like your reframing. Mine always involve my anxiety somehow, like “oh well, by being stopped by that train, I probably avoided some devastating car crash that was waiting for me on the other side… but what if the train holding me up puts me in the right place for that car crash? Which is it? Shit!” So yeah, your way is better!!!

  4. Darn that lady would have frustrated me!!! Grr why do people have to be so grumpy?!? Sounds like you handled it so well though!! I still have my maiden name on my bank card and drivers license and it drives me nuts but they just don’t make those things easy to change. Grr. Can’t we just do it all with an online form people?!? Sounds like you are doing a good job with your positivity goal… good for you!! 🙂

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