Paper to plastic


I can still remember thinking — “What are they crazy?” — when just hours after the birth of our firstborn the hospital staff began blanketing me in what seemed an endless stack of papers.


Medical forms, insurance forms, social security forms and birth certificate information.

I gave birth to a 7 pound baby, and at least 18 pounds of paperwork. I can remember cradling our newborn in one arm while a nurse held yet another form for me to sign.

As a child grows the paperwork does, too. Pediatric care, preschool, permission slips, academics, athletic leagues, practices, lessons all have forms reams of them — to complete.

Apparently, the cost of raising a child is predicted to be somewhere around $250k and the definite deforestation of a swatch of timber roughly the size of Canada.

It took something like three pages of information and signatures just to sell candles or cookies or the $1,800 roll of giftwrap for fundraisers.

Scout camp forms became the bane of my existence. Loved the camp, but every year I struggled to complete all the proper forms in the proper order.

There was a sort of Venn diagram of infinite forms, and I never did quite crack the code.


Meanwhile, that firstborn once cradled in my arms while I balancing a clipboard and pen is now 16 years old, as are many of his friends. My social media feed is full of smiling teen faces holding up little cards with their likeness.

Suddenly, all that pertinent information that we gathered so carefully and repeated so often on so many pieces of paper has come down to a 3 Ω x 2 inch piece of government issue laminated plastic.

They are all getting their driver’s licenses. Being children of the modern age they smile for the camera while holding their hot off the presses driver’s permits with thumbs strategically placed over personal information.

This, after all, is the generation that knows the risk of — identity theft almost from birth. They will give you their whole life story, with pictures, on Instagram and Snapchat, but they aren’t sucker enough to let you get their driver’s license number.

As a parent, we spend so much time juggling paper because our children need us. We represent them and who they are and their place in the world.

Suddenly, we blink and they are given a piece of plastic, that in their eyes and that of much of society, defines them. If they’re lucky, most will carry some version of this for the next 80 years.

With this, identification society will be less likely to ask mom and dad to vouch for this child. In most instances, my son no longer needs me to fill out stacks of forms for every little thing he wants to do.

He was thrilled to inform me, in fact, that at 16 he was able to give blood at school (I did sign off on that one signature, it took just a second).

When working, he signs in and out and gives them his information. No one is looking over his head at me to confirm who this boy is anymore.


He is himself. The state just gave him a card that says so. It’s both happy and sad to realize that this milestone is the first of so many, but the foundation of almost all.

Nearly every other major step in life from this day forward will rely more and more on producing this identification and less and less on asking your mom.

Talk about identify theft. I feel like this process just stole mine. For 16 years I have been — and until the end of time I will be — Matthew’s Mom.

I hold the child and his history in my heart and pen. I speak for this child.

It’s interesting to me as I see these smiling faces, yesterday gap toothed toddlers and children of elementary age, now beaming drivers.

I realize that in another flicker of time, a blink, they will not need their parents to sign anything.

This same identification that today allows them to drive will, God willing, allow them to vote. To charge things. To marry. To leave the nest and fly literally.

Who knew the passage of childhood could be summed up in the transfer of endless papers your parents sign on your behalf, to having your identity summed up in your own government issued photo identification?

I’m thrilled for my son and his peers, but if truth be told if asked the question — paper or plastic? I’m okay with sticking with paper a little bit longer.


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