Reflections on Six Months in the US

Next week will mark six months since my four kids and I emigrated from Scotland to America.  Really I ought to have written this blog entry next week, therefore, but things are already crazy busy and are going to be even more hectic next week (all to be related here) so I am pausing to take the time to reflect now on what has happened in that six months.

The minute I walked out into the airport at Newark to be greeted by my husband, having been processed through immigration with relative ease, I felt instant relief.  Partly, of course, it was because we were reunited as a family again but it was also because that last step was the culmination of a very stressful eighteen months of discussions, decisions, applications, learning immigration law, interviews, sorting, packing, donating, fraught goodbyes and separations.  At the time it did feel stressful because it was an awful lot to juggle but I don’t know that I had appreciated quite how much of a burden of stress it was until I was relieved of it and it had all been worthwhile because we were there, in America, as a family.  All of that effort, stress, expense and upheaval had actually achieved the goal.  Of course, the immigration saga has not completely ended since USCIS stuffed up and my oldest son still does not have a Green Card.  However, that is stress borne of frustration and annoyance and a sharply honed sense of injustice which is not on the same scale as the stress of the previous eighteen months.

Driving was a major cause of anxiety for me in the build up to relocating to America.  I really thought I would find it a struggle to switch to driving on the other side of the road and to get to grips with driving an automatic car since I have always had a manual car.  I decided, however, to flood my fear so the morning after the night I arrived in the US, I clambered into the driver’s seat of the car and set off.  I have never once even accidentally almost been on the wrong side of the road and my lane positioning has been pretty good from the get go.  I still hesitate to turn on red but I think that is sensible.  It’s evolutionary instinct surely.  I managed to pass my theory test without even studying (not because I was nonchalant or complacent but because I had not understood I would be made to sit it when I went to get my permit) and recently I even managed to pass my driving test despite the fact I was wigging out over the parallel parking element.  That said, as much as I have driving sussed now, I still suffer from left-right confusion here.  Just the other day I went to a grocery store and tried to enter through the exit because the doors are the other way around and then, driving home from there, when a driver kindly let me into his lane, I held my left arm aloft for a wave of gratitude.  A wave he could not see because that was not the middle of the car.  He would have seen the wave had I used my right arm.

Conversely, I thought shopping and cooking would be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy but that has not been the case.  The supermarket layout defies the logic I am used to.  Shopping consequently still, six months on, takes me much longer than it should do as I double-back on myself or type things into the console so it tells me what aisle an ingredient is in – just for me to not then be able to find it in that aisle anyway.  However, progress is being made since in just this past month I have weaned myself off asking members of staff where on earth something is.  The cooking thing is complicated by the lack of access to ingredients I simply took for granted in Scotland and then even if I do find them sometimes those ingredients (spices in particular) are way more expensive here than they were in Scotland.  So I am learning to cook with lots of substitutions which involves some experimentation with varied rates of success.

Our biggest accomplishment since transplanting our family to the other side of the Atlantic – and the kids only had a short while to get used to the idea – is how well the kids have not just settled but have established themselves in school.  Our oldest son has had to undergo quite a lot of relearning in order to accommodate the American curriculum and things like weights and measures and general knowledge that is specifically American but he has absorbed it all like a sponge and acing tests.  The younger ones had it easier because they are that bit younger so the learning is fresh to them but still things like their vocabulary have just switched in a way that they have not for me even when I am trying to make a conscious effort to speak the American way (trousers never emerges from my mouth as pants and Z is still zed and not zee).  They all love being taught by subject specialists for certain areas of the curriculum, love not having to wear a uniform and have generally been positive and enthusiastic about their new school in a way that Mr Pict and I never could have anticipated.   In fact, we anticipated resistance and rebellion.  We were very happy indeed to be wrong.

The kids are also enjoying the proximity of everything to home.  If they need new shoes then it’s a five minute trip rather than an hour at the shortest.  Within a half hour radius we have access to cinemas, museums, galleries, parks, anything they can think of.  Where we lived in Scotland, it was over two hours on crinkly, windy, travel-sickness inducing roads to get to the city to have access to those things.  My womb is retired so this is no longer relevant but to deliver all of my babies I had to travel 90 miles to the maternity hospital.  Now in under two hours I can be in the centre of New York City.  Mr Pict and I have lived in Edinburgh and in the orbit of London so this is a lifestyle we are used to but the kids have only ever known life lived in a more remote community so this is a very different experience for them.

I still cannot get used to how the TV works here.  We have the internet version of cable (what is that even called? Streaming?) and Netflix.  These are both systems that are new to me even if they are not new to other people in Britain.  I watch some TV shows on demand but cannot remember the last time I watched anything (other than BBC World News and the Oscars) live which means I no longer have that experience of just stumbling upon a documentary or a great drama.  The flipside of my TV viewing being intentional now is that I watch a great deal less of it.  That’s probably a good thing.  I do, however, need to remind myself to watch the On Demand programmes before they become extinct.  I miss Sky+ for that reason as I guess I have become so used to series linking things and having them automatically record for me to view at my leisure that the bit of my memory bank that used to hang on to the TV schedule has atrophied.  Netflix just drives me kind of batty.

I miss the clubs I used to attend – a camera club and an art club – and I miss the camaraderie I found in being on the committee of the art club.  It was great to have that impetus to get out once  a week and do something creative with like-minded people and be inspired by them and learn from them.  I definitely miss that.  However, a new location has brought me new challenges as I joined an art journaling meetup group and am participating in an online art journal weekly challenge called The Documented Life Project.  As a result, I am forced to find the time at least once a week to sit down and do something creative and, being new to mixed media work, I am learning new skills which I might take into my “regular” art work.  Then once a month I get to meet up with a group of creative people and chart about art and be inspired by them and just (gasp!) be a grown up and do something for me.  I would, however, like to eke out more time for my usual art work, ink drawings and lino block prints.

Considering we moved to this town on spec, having never even visited this area of Pennsylvania before, we are really very pleased with our selection.  We knew the school district was great because that was the basis on which we chose to live here but we really like the neighbourhood and the people are really friendly and welcoming and the geography works for us.  We definitely want to put down roots here.

Which is where the big stress comes in because – as much as all of these other things, the littler things – are coming together – the albatross around our necks is our house in Scotland.  It still has not sold.  There has been ample interest in the house but either people have houses to sell or they cannot obtain a mortgage.  Living somewhere more remote and rural meant we could build a home (which was really our dream home) affordably but being somewhere so remote with such a small population means the real estate market is slow in the extreme.  We have had people approach us with a view to renting from us but we have no desire to be landlords, especially absentee landlords, and even if we could overcome the logisitcal, financial, legal and taxation ramifications of becoming international landlords, when it comes down to it we need the house to sell in order to release the equity so that we can buy a house here in America.  We, therefore, cannot risk taking it off the market for twelve months while someone rents it from us.  We do love the house we are renting – the house itself, the street, the neighbours, the location – but it remains “the house” rather than our home because we cannot allow ourselves to get attached to it when we are merely tenants.  Relinquishing control over property and permanency when we have been homeowners for such a long time is unsettling to say the least and the insecurity and instability of knowing what the future holds for us in terms of accommodation.  That’s the stress that keeps me up at night if I let my mind linger on it.

So that’s how things stand six months in to my life as a Scottish immigrant in America.  I wonder what the next six months has in store.

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