Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Trials and Tribulations of a Green Card Wannabe

"I need to see more evidence of your Maryland address."
"Oh no, this is just our mailing address, for the tour you see, Cory is an actor, we are travelling and-"
"I need more evidence of your Maryland base."
"I didn't make myself clear, sorry. You see this is just a -"
"I can't give you a green card if you can't prove you live in Maryland."

Thus began our doomed green card interview.

After expensive flights, a night at our old Baltimore haunt, a somewhat premature celebratory dinner at our favourite sushi joint the night before, we left Federal Hall numbed with disbelief. How could we have flunked the test so royally?! How could it have taken this strange turn after the upbeat pep talk with our lawyer all of 24 hours earlier. Did I miss the part on the application form that said the address you give MUST be the one where you reside? Obviously. This is usually what addresses appertain to. Two disgruntled and somewhat damp actors bedraggled their sorry selves into the gloomy Baltimorean morning trying their best to soak up the playful energy of their son, now free to run. Looking back I am grateful that our lawyer was in LA. With the time difference we had no choice but to wait two hours before his office was open. I think if I had spoken to him directly I would have come across more truck driver than compliant green card wannabe. Certainly every curse word flew through my mind as the dreadful realisation that months of preparation had culminated in an aborted trip. A simple mistake, albeit a rather obvious one in hindsight, threw me into depths of anger that I like to visit but rarely.
"I am so sorry," I offered the immigration officer, "At no time were we lead to believe that giving Cory's working address would jeopardise my eligibility. We thought this was the safest way to receive communication from you. To avoid delays. We were always under the understanding that the most important thing to prove was our marriage." No doubt I turned in a lowsy job of hiding my frustration.
"Excuse me." was her reply as she left the room to talk with a supervisor.
On her return, and, to be fair, with a somewhat more collaborative attitude (she had to do good and bad cop I spose) she explained that she would agree to carry on with the interview but that my green card would not be issued until such time as we could prove our ties to Maryland.
"We can't do that." answered Cory
"I am going to carry on with the rest of the interview now." she answered.
"I have a house in upstate New York does this help?"
"It shows residence ties yes but in New York state. You would have to move your case to the New York office."
"How long will this take?"
"I don't know. I will carry on with the rest of the interview now."
On she ploughed, verifying that I was neither Nazi, communist or terrorist and, after handing me a green piece of paper (oh the irony) which I was to return in 30 days with proof of our financial and residence ties to the country we were asked to leave her office to face the drizzle outside. I really wanted to kick everything in foot's distance on the way out. I was just in one of those rational frames of mind.

Cut to my angry facebook update an hour later over lunch and an almost immediate response from a very close friend who knew of a kindly man who works for a congressman, who, having heard of our plight, was eager to help. There I was, a little later, in the middle of what was supposed to be a celebratory hair chop with my favourite hairdresser down the Little Italy way, fiercely emailing said man with details of our case, the immigration officer who saw us and other requested details. By the next day Baltimore office had been spoken to by said man. Two days later he had had a private phone conference with the administrator batting for us and attempting to clear up the confusion which culminated in the decision to move our case to New York. Four days later our files had arrived in the new office and on the fifth day we had been called with a rescheduled appointment on Cory's day off. In Buffalo. It is true what they say. It's who you know.

Good people like these who fly in, angel like, in times of crisis. All the while we scramble for a file load of bills and papers to prove our financial and residence ties, calling on favours of friends to scan, fax and photocopy them, as the clock ticks and ticks away the time we have to secure my eligibility to travel for my best friend's wedding. I don't want to picture me saying goodbye to my boys at the airport as they jet off for ten days with family leaving me behind in the distance. People at my in-law's church are praying for me. My friend and mum are reiki-ing. People send us their best wishes.

It was not until 9am on Monday April 26th that either Cory or I could breathe a sigh of relief. We left number 130 Delaware avenue, downtown Buffalo, with a pretty stamp on my passport to permit immigration officers to let me in on our return, and a green card on its way. I don't think joy was what we were feeling exactly. More relief. Gratitude. Overwhelmed at the kindness and generosity of our friends. We have no idea how you can repay that kind of gesture, other than perhaps to be ready for when the same is required of us.

I have been the recipient of American spirit at its finest. Bravery. Energy. Efficiency. Generosity. An instinct to fight the cause. The utter, unswerving belief in freedom, opportunty for all. Many are those who knock this country for its historical and cultural immaturity, but all I know, is that when Cory and I needed help more than ever, it was there. Humanity transcends boundaries of every sort. Our friend has assured us he expects nothing in return, "This is my job. It's what I do everyday. I get great pleasure in doing what I do. I get to delve into the lives of others. Face their difficulties. Fight for them. Share their joy. I get to really help people. That's enough for me." Course you know, my Italian side rears it's head, as I wonder, if years down the line we will suddenly be asked for some incredibly difficult favour in return. I hush it gently. No doubt Dad will presume him a Mason....

Whatever so, we say thanks to him, our friends and the workings of the universe that put us through the ups and downs so that we really feel we have earned this! Now the new challenge of creating residences in both places. Of really setting to work on our transatlantic dream. And I don't mean cultivating that grating twang most Brits develop after some time over here, even if, I will admit to asking for waddderr for the simple reason that waTer never gets me understood till the fifth attempt by which time any waiter is no longer pleased to help me and is silently not wishing me a nice day.

But nice days is exactly what we have been having here in Boston-land. If I ever thought Washington DC felt like London then Boston is the same but ten fold. The Georgian streets are breathtakingly red bricked and bay windowed. The cluster of boutiques and such along Beacon Hill a delight to the eye and the Boston Common, a hop and a skip from our hotel, dotted with 17th century graves gives a palpable gravitas to the place. Akin to London. You can really feel the history here. Quincy market, in all its cobbled piazza-ness harkening to covent garden, street performers and art stalls included. Newbury street with its clash of designer stores and thrift shops a whisper of Marylebone or Notting Hill. The grandoise of the houses clustered around manicured squares, mirror images of the back streets of Bayswater or New Bond street. It is all so familiar, and induces a welcome home-sickness, that allow myself to wallow in for fleeting moments in the knowledge that I can soak me up some London living in a few days time, albeit for just over a week. Just enough perhaps to enjoy the highlights of my town, chinwag with ma n' pa, watch my best mate strut down the aisle trying my best not to break into tears during the reading she has given me to say. Pint at the Hollybush perhaps. Quick trip into the BBC to see my producer and record a few lines of dialogue for the comedy children's series I completed back in September. Just enough of a breather before we start jaunting around the mid west....

For now, I kick back and send out a prayer of thanks for our little journey so far. In all aspects. Now to plan the green card celebration bash for tomorrow night. Have some ideas on a concoction involving food colouring for my own green card cocktail. It's gonna take new-immigrant parties by storm, I can just feel it. May have to iron out some teeth-staining issues...

I gaze about our huge suite and wonder how I will resist becoming accustomed to this luxurious way of life. Mind you, we never pretended we were living reality.

There's plenty of time for that.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Thoughts From Egypt

We have just returned from a brief jaunt to Egypt.

Twenty minutes in the car and there we were. Howsat? Yes siree, just past "Loud Road" we found ourselves in the "hamlet" of the above named, though the lush green of the rolling hills bared little resemblance to the dusty land I visited some years ago. A mile or so into the new world we arrived at our destination: Little Gym. Now before you go panicking that we have strapped our three year old to a diminuitive treadmill in order to counter act the vast amount of supersizing that has been going on over here let me explain. The location in question is like any three year old's dream, especially those of the ilk who believe sofas, walls, cases, windowsills have been constructed solely for their upsiide-down enjoyment. It is a place for those who have spawned tumblers, twirlers, general monkey acrobats and trundle through day to day living just hoping to make life inside and out as safe as possible so they can sommersault to their never tiring delight. Mum and Dad sat, on the edge of their seats with enjoyment, muttering barely audible coaching to boy who, on the otherside of the glass wall dashed in enthusiastic leaps around a padded gym, swung from high bars, balanced on beams and generally frolicked with others his size. The group is kept in line by the burly Tony and his colleague Tina, the two, a limber, energetic gymnast duo who put the "funny bugs" to work. The parents sit in a neat line of chairs. It was not disimilar to watching the monkey encampment in Colombus Zoo, without a Gorilla to suddenly thump the glass and scare us into submission. Come to think of it, Tony did poke at one of the more provocative older brothers who started pulling faces at his younger sister in a vain attempt to distract her.....

Boy and I revel in dad's weekend visits. Mum has done quite a job of finding daily activities for both of us to enjoy but Daddy coming home tops them all. Last night, after an impromtu trip to stock up at the local MEGA store, boyo was konking out in my arms after a rather late pasta dinner. Door opens, and daddy gives a "honey I'm home!" and our tadpole suddenly wriggles like a frantic electric eel, recounting his week without commas or breath whilst jumping around every piece of furniture. Jelly beans were taking effect also. It was Easter sunday admittedly, and the two us us had been riding a tidal sugar wave since breakfast. I don't think the boy knew what to make of the fact that mum was pleased for him to eat as much choco sugariness as he wished. He turned to me later to say his belly hurt. I gave him one of those told-you-so mum looks. Poor kid.

Easter is BIG here. Between the demonic pink eyed chocolate bunnies that overfill the shelves to the easter flags waving outside the houses and the egg hunts advertised spanning from the middle of March to the big day itself it is a bunny-lovers paradise. My sister in law organised an egg hunt for the tyke where he manically collected brightly coloured plastic eggs dotted around her lawn and beds. He then grappled them open to reveal a plethora of candy and socks, and cars and jelly beans and and and. It was a delight to watch my family enjoy spoiling him. Luckily for him he did not have to share them with anyone else, I suspect having a gaggle of children doing so would have unfolded into quite a different scene! After the hunt we all went inside and chowed on a brunch of wonderfulness, hand baked and cooked and whipped by my superwoman sister in law who bakes goods with the ease that most of us breathe. I ought to take a leaf out of her book. How differently she sways around her kitchen measuring, filling, whipping. I can safely say it paid absolutely no resemblance to my cock-eyed spirinting around our kitchen during my baking drive a month or so ago, which by the way, I am totally cured of. Something about summer in the near distance does not make me want to eat dough three times a day.

We had certainly worked up an apetite after the easter service at church. Of late, in attempt to integrate myself into the community I have enrolled in a group that I believed would give me the best taste of local life. The Walworth Methodist Church Choir. Yes you read right. I was brought up by a Catholic ma and a Jewish Pa. Methodist living was an absolute mystery to me when I first visited Cory in his homeland. My first memory was of his father exclaiming, on my first arriving that, "she looks so dark she could be an apple picker!" I was both confused and instinctively slightly offended. A secondary thought was dissappointment at my own snobbery; what was there to be ashamed of being an apple picker for? Years later that is exactly what I am especially around September down the plot and I love evry minute of it. But that is by the by now. Nor do I suggest that this has anything to do with Methodist faith. These days, visiting church is a staple of our stays here, Cory and I were married there, and I have to admit that there is something very special joining with a group of people in a moment of communal reflection. Nothing sitting in the audience of of Young Frankenstein won't cure I spose. I have vivid memories of the theatricality of the Catholic churches of my childhoods, all pomp and gold. There was something deeply alluring to a luxury aspiring child of the 80s drawn to the garish, heavily under the influence as I was of the gloss clad shoulder padded heroines and villains of Dynasty and Dallas.

For me to first step into the pared down sanctuary of a Methodist church was shocking to say the least. During my first service I watched, wide eyed, as people walked across the altar, held up their hands to share announcements, prayer requests. I gaped at the passing of the peace where people stood up and left their seats for a chin wag with their friends at the other side of the baby blue room. I admired the stained glass cross of the altar but wondered what had happended to all the other props and curtains and ingle nooks. I had a lot ot learn. On this visit we have become regular churchees. Sam has sung with the children on Palm sunday (he hammed it up centre, girating to Little Grey Donkey) and he has partaken of the sunday school. Most of it seems to have gone over his head, upstaged as it all is by his two friends Kyle and Kaitlin who together have mothered him for the entire mornings pulling him from arm to arm so, that he walks around the place like a mini Jesus on the cross. It is a deep love the three have for one another. They are children of one of Cory's first crushes and it seems fitting that tradition continue methinks. They are already on his wall back in NW2. Boy did turn to me the other day to ask who thei "jesus was anyway?". I took a bretah to find the words to phrase an answer that would not be tempered with religion but before I could respond he foudn the answer himself, "Oh yeah, he's one who rides a donkey!" I left it at that.

Back to the comedy that is mother in the choir. I thought I was doing rather well I have to say until the leading soprano had to leave rehearsal early and I carried on warbling full volume. I had the sudden painful realisation that the wonderful voice I had been hearing did not belong to me after all. Well, as Pastor Jenny said this week in her sermon, there are strengths we come to realise we have been blessed with and others we realise others have been blessed with. Tuning aside, it was quite cathartic to warble with the best of them, to wear a cream nylon disguise with a red satin collar and pretend to be the kind of person who is able to blend in a group, to take their part for the better good. It was a great balancer for my naturally more exhibitionist streak that needs careful reining at teh best of times. I cannot deny I felt somewhat hypercritical in proclaiming my personal saviour when really, I stand more comfortably spouting pseudo spiritual yogi teachings or the thoughts of Paolo Coelho. I grew up with Jesus on the near horizon but when it came down to it, even back in primary school, when Mrs Hampton asked us to draw a picture of God I offered her a piece of paper with a haze of yellows and blues scribbled in a "heavenly" fashion. No beard for me. Only my own as it came to pass....

I apportion entire blame on my airy fairy views, much to the likely desperation of my brother in law Craig who together with my lovely sister in law Robin form a central role in their Christian fellowship, on my father, who from when I can remember poured over books on Atlantis and links to outer space over the dinner table. I am still fascinated with these thoughts today. Despite starkly different views on religion and its place and purpose in the world, I was delighted to watch Craig deliver his erudite sermon on Good Friday down in the city what is Rochester. His fellow Christians, bibles in hand, muttered in agreement as he passed through passages of the bible with the ease of a learned historian. It was very impressive. I was lost after the first five minutes. It was like being in a literature class when you haven't even read the first page of the book in question. My knowledge of the bible was based on the first seven years of my eductaion. After that that part of my brain was filled up with tit bits of knowledge about almost every other religion on the planet thanks to my inspiring religious studies teacher. She used to jump on the tables to get our attention. It worked. She was also a Hindu-phile and would describe her weekely visits to Southall with such vigour that we felt as if we had actually been with her that Saturday. Lush.

The whole notion of resurrection is something I am very interested in however. Nothing feels more like a rebirth of sorts than leaving your normality to go nomading with your family. Putting yourself through weekly changes and the major and minor challenges it throws at you. I know now, after only a few weeks without Cory to help in the day to day rhythm of life with our son that I have more patience than I actually realised. Travel days have taught me that my son and I can create any place we wish within the commercialised flouresence of any airport. And that there are a host of things to play whilst sitting for hours on a plane. If you take the time. And the breath. And don't fight where you are. This appears to be the biggest lesson being offered to me at the moment. My long suffering in laws have had to put up with Sam and I's rampaging chaos and noise for the past few weeks and no doubt it is beginning to challenge their daily routines. I'm sure they enjoyed my twirls about the kitchen the first week but I am also sure they will enjoy having their home back to how they know it. Not so full of Sara's concoctions and potions of the culinary kind.

Over these past few weeks I have had a chance to reconnect to my family here in a different way than I would have done with Cory by my side. I have had more one to one time with my mother and sister in laws. It has been a huge tonic to have such great women to spend time with. Cory's dance teacher for one and her affable husband, who, grandad like, took the Sam man under his wing and teased the daylight out of him until they were both slightly tipsy with outdoor fun. My sister in law Sid (the baker extraordinaire) and Cory's borther Kris even lent me their car so I could take a few hours away whilst they enjoyed Sam. I found myself an antique emporium, a coffee stop and a few hours of utter relaxation. Nothing makes me happier than trawling through anitquities and wowing at pretty china. My great aunty Rosa, named Duchess by my father because of her unbridled need to collect silver and china and who swanned aroudn our house on her trimesterly stays in high cork platforms and fuschia nail polish wioth lipstick to match. I remember resisting her influence as she tried, desperately to make me into a lady like sort of gal aged 9, dragging me around Alfie's of a saturday afternoon pointing out the royal albert here, the sheffield silver there and other stuffs in between. I do recall enjoying the costume jewellery but that is where my appreciation appeared to end much to her frustration. She also tried to persuade me that eight chips was quite enough for one girl. This always perplexed me because I grew up with her niece Patricia, who was of the school of thought that if all the food was eaten at a dinner it was clear that not enough had been made. Besides, you never know when the Russian army might stop in for two or three bowls of pasta each.

And so, here we are like a slowly retro coiling spring waiting to bounce back into our travelling life in just a few weeks. There is one, important task on the ever so near horizon that must be successfully be completed before we can all truly move on. On Tuesday, April13th, at 10.30 am sharp, the pleasure of our company has been requested at an immigration office in Baltimore where we will present our case for Green card to a kindly official, who, I have decided, will take great shine to Sam, and stamp my passport there and then. Least this is my fantasy version and I am sticking by it your honour. I mean your honor. Ladies and gentlemen wish me luck, say your prayers, light an incense stick, send some reiki. Whichever God or goddess you turn to in times such as these, I urge you to invoke them for their support. You will be rewarded ten fold. I might even learn to write in shorter sentences....

For now, we play in the spring greeness of the back yard, do the pre school run, enjoy coaching high school kids in the english accent way for Jekyl and Hyde, cook for the family, take in the breathtaking spring sunsets and sunrises of our upstate retreat. There will be a time I will look back nostalgically at our 5 week stay.

Time to go; our boy is doing an experiment on top of an 2 ft high antique coffee table, I mean, steamer trunk, which Dad picked up in Toronto for 100 Canadian dollars....