Friday, August 15, 2014

A visit to Social Security

Having received our daughter's "official" US citizenship (she became a citizen the instant the wheels of our plane from China hit the ground, but now we have a nice official form stating it), we took the next step and applied for her Social Security number*.

I must say that the people at the local SSA office were very friendly and helpful; it wasn't quite the "DMV experience" I was expecting.  Nevertheless, I was dismayed by a couple of things:
1. There was an armed guard in the lobby of the building
2. Meeting with the case worker (if that's the right term) was very like a visiting hours scene from a prison movie: one is buzzed through a locked door and proceeds to a small cubicle; the case worker sits on the other side of a glass window and documents are passed back and forth under it.  I remarked that I felt as though I should be muttering over a telephone to him about bringing a cake with a hacksaw blade in it.  He laughed and said that, regrettably, the workers need this sort of... isolation... from the people they deal with.  Likewise, they also need the armed guard.  I guess some people get really testy when they don't get their checks on time
I weep that this is the world that we live in and, worse, the world that my daughter will live in.

However, after DHS reviews the paperwork, she will get her number.  After that, we can do other things for her, like get a passport (which I hope very much she will need in the not-so-distant future for another trip to China) and set up a college savings account.

Filed under: Parenting Tasks I Never Really Thought About Before.

A REFLECTION: I was mildly surprised that DHS has to review her SSN application, but it makes sense because she is, in fact, an immigrant and immigration and naturalization falls under DHS's purview.  Now, I don't think I've ever been a nativist, having learnt early in school and through Schoolhouse Rock's "The Melting Pot" that we are a nation of immigrants, but I must say that having to apply for my daughter's citizenship and SSN draws this issue into rather sharper focus for me.

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883


(*) As a totally unrelated aside, SSA has a rather neat page on their website that allows one to research the popularity of baby names over the years.  It's interesting to see how some names fall in and out of fashion, or see just WHY it seems that every other girl I knew in high school was called Jennifer.  We gave this page some little attention while we were choosing possible names for our own daughter because we really didn't want her to have the same name as half the other girls in her class at school.  It seems that Caroline is becoming more popular (it was #63 in 2013, up from #79 in 2012), but it is not so popular that entire regiments of little girls will come running if we call it out on the playground.


  1. That does seem crazy that you need a security guard and a glass window in order to deal with the social security office! I haven't been in one of their offices in years. The last visit was 2005 when I got married and changed my last name. It was much more like the DMV than what you're describing.

    You asked about Rosetta Stone. I have not worked with a paid version, only with the trial version. Personally, I don't like Rosetta Stone. Here's why:

    1 - They are crazy, crazy expensive. People criticize RS for passing the marketing costs on to the consumer. Looking at their prices, and knowing how much they market themselves, I would believe that criticism. I can't believe it costs hundreds of dollars for a CD.

    2 - RS does not appeal to my learning styles. I do not like trying to figure out the word red based on "red train" "red car" "red hair" therefore this particular word is red. Ok, now here is a "blue train" "red train" "green train" so this particular word must be train. Give me the word for red. Give me the word for train. Ok, I've memorized them so let's move on. I just don't like RS's style of learning, especially with the pronunciation of Mandarin and its tones. The RS lessons do not teach pronunciation, so you are guessing what the speaker is saying. I found it essential to spend a couple weeks working specifically on pronunciations and tones before I even started on vocab and grammar.

    3 - I hate that RS's marketing is a bit misleading. I went to their website and tried out the demo version online. They were promoting online tutoring that comes with the RS package, something like a 45 minutes lesson each week with an instructor and three other students, using only what you have learned up until that point to practice conversation in Mandarin. That sounded really cool and I thought that might be worth the added cost. But then I took a look at the fine print to discover that the online tutoring is only a trial version and you have to pay an additional monthly fee for the tutor, in addition to the hundreds of dollar you already shelled out for online access or the CDs. No thanks.

    4 - As to why I like YoYoChinese in particular, the main lesson is a video of the instructor with the vocab and sample sentences digitally written on a blackboard behind her. I'm a visual learner, so this makes things easy for me. I can hear what she's saying and I can read along. There is a study schedule available to download, review notes for each lesson, and an audio review track where she quizzes you on vocab and sentences you've learned. The whole presentation is very well done and each lesson builds on the last. It doesn't feel like things are being used in isolation as each new grammar point can be used immediately in conversation. The website is a lot cheaper than RS and I just feel it's a better resource. A side benefit is that you're supporting a small guy instead of a big corporation. ;) And another benefit for me personally is that the website includes pinyin, simplified Chinese characters, and traditional Chinese characters. Because I am adopting from Taiwan, I need to learn traditional Chinese and very few websites teach with traditional characters.

    Are you learning Chinese? What resources are using?

    1. I tried Rosetta and found the same basic problem that you have: "Um... OK... I gather that this has to do with the photo of people jogging. So... does 'zai' mean 'to jog'? Or is it 'pao'? And doesn't 'bu' mean 'no'? Is it that they are NOT walking?" My preference (I think!) would be to learn it as I learnt German in college: start with basic vocab, then work into simple sentences while discussion the grammatical structure and "theory" of the language.

      We hired a Chinese tutor, a young lady from China who was a student at one of our local universities (how I regret that she's graduated and moved away!). It was useful to work with her if for no other reason than I HAD to do my homework! I'm sorry to say that I haven't cracked a book since returning from China, mostly because I find parenthood takes up quite a lot of my time and mental energy (how DO single parents do it???) and also because, frankly, I was so ashamed of just how bad my pronunciation was that I've taken an aversion to it. I should say that several of the Chinese I dealt with were complimentary that I at least tried to speak their language, though the blank looks I got on several occasions told me that my efforts were not as successful as I might have wished. One book we found quite useful was "Simple Chinese for Adoptive Families" by Amy Kendall. This includes an audio CD.

      I take it that you're learning to write the characters? I found that the website is quite useful in this regard as it has animated stroke orders.

    2. I'm with you - basic vocab and grammar, discussion of how things work and why. I need that to be able to understand and use it. how cool that you were able to hire a Chinese tutor! I hope that you're able to get back to it at some point because I think it's useful and will benefit our kids for us to speak their native language.

      I haven't heard of that book by Kendall. I will be sure to look it up because it does sound useful! Thanks for the recommendation!

      Yes, characters. I studied Japanese for two years and used Heisig's Remembering the Kanji book. It was incredibly useful. Japanese and traditional Hanzi use the same characters so all of my efforts with learning to read Japanese are helping me learn to read Chinese. Personally, I hate reading either Japanese or Chinese with Roman characters because it's so much harder that way. The Hanzi gives context because it's basically pictorial. I find that much easier than seeing "ma." Which "ma"? Horse? Mom? I'd rather see the character because then I would know right away. It's all about personal preference!