Not your everyday trip to Social Security

Even though I adopted Juli two years ago, one of the things that I
just never got around to doing as part of that huge transition in
our lives was changing her last name on her social security card.
She’s been using my last name ever since the adoption, but for the
last two years I’ve been putting her old name on my income tax form
because I never made it down to the social security office to make
the whole thing truly official…with the U.S. government. And
today, as I was digging my receipts out of my shoe boxes, I
thought, enough is enough, today is the day I do it!

So, I went on-line and found my local social security office and
called to find out what I’d need. They told me the new birth
certificate, the adoption papers–official, not copies, her social
security number, and my picture i.d. Fortunately, I knew pretty
much where I kept all of that stuff. The next step was bracing
myself for the wait in the depressing setting which seems to infuse
every city, state, and federal office building.

In Manhattan, the Social Security office is on 48th Street between
Broadway and 8th Avenue. I know the area well so it didn’t seem
like it would be that hard to find when I was told the address. I
was wrong. I walked the block all the way from Broadway to 8th
Avenue. Nothing. I knew I was on the correct side, but the only
buildings on it were the Crowne Plaza, the Walter Kerr Theater,
this swanky apartment building, and the Sheraton. Period. So, I
turn around, furious that they probably tore it down a few years
ago and never bothered to update their system, and then wouldn’t
you know it, in the middle of my ranting inside my head, I see a
sign in the window of the swanky apartment building saying SSA.
Turns out they’re in the same building, just with a separate
entrance! I was thinking, wow, this is gonna be nice. Finally a
government office where the waiting room will be comfortable and
not smell. Anxiously awaiting the 21st Century government look, I
got off the elevator, saw the sign to turn right. Right into the
same drab waiting room we’ve all seen. Dirty linoleum floor, the
same worn plastic chairs, and the off-white counters lining the

After shaking off the disappointment, I got a number and proceeded
to wait for an hour. They don’t list the numbers. They shout them
out behind glass partitions. And if you miss your number, too bad.
Get another one. I passed the hour watching the furious people
trying to fight the bureaucracy. No wonder they have security
people in there!

While waiting, I didn’t really give much thought to the task at
hand–just happy I was finally doing something I had put off for so
long and then when my number was called, strangely, I found that I
was nervous.

I went to the window and explained the situation to the woman
behind the glass shield. I slipped my paperwork through the
one-inch slot and waited as she sat there and began reading the
adoption decree. Page by page. She wasn’t just scanning it looking
for the name change or something. She was reading it, for what
seemed like an eternity. I guess from reading it she wouldn’t know
the mother listed was my sister, but I wondered what she must have
thought when she got to the part that details how the “open”
adoption works with my sister as far as visitation, phone calls,
etc. are concerned. I kept thinking, does she really have to know
all these personal details about me and my family just to change a
name on a lousy security card?

She examined the seal on the back, looked at each and every
signature and then she picked up the birth certificate.

“Is this an amended one?” she asked.

I panicked. “What’s the answer? What’s the answer?” I said to
myself. Finally, I replied with a definitive, “Uh…” And then she
rescued me.

“Or does this replace the old one?”


“Yes, that’s it,” I said quickly.

Relieved, I looked out the window as she clicked away on the other
side, entering all this new information about Juli. And then it all
sort of hit me right in the gut. The reason I had put this off for
so long.

Her new name, her new address, her new father–me–all information
going into the system, while her old name, her biological father’s
name, her mother’s name–all information being deleted.

“You’re the only parent on the birth certificate, so I’m just going
to put mother unknown,” she said pointing to the computer

I wanted to say, “No, she’s not unknown. You’re talking about my
sister and we talk almost every day and I love her and she did the
best she could and Juli loves her.”

But instead all I could say was, “Ok.”

This seemingly simple step–changing a name on a social security
card–turned out to be so much larger than what I had allowed
myself to think it would be. All of the emotions came back to me
from two years ago when I adopted her. Joy that I finally had a
daughter. Pain that it was my sister’s daughter.

It was also surreal because I’m standing there, looking out the
window at the Broadway theaters below, wondering if it really would
be possible to have all of my dreams come true–have a child, a
husband, and a Broadway career.

“Sir, just check over this information and sign and date it,
please,” the woman said, snapping me back to the present.

I looked over the slip of paper which listed all of the new
information, I signed it, and then I slipped it back to her,
wondering if she could see the tears in my eyes.

“You should get her new card in the next 7-10 days. If you still
have the old card, destroy it when you get the new one.”


And the journey continues…