Road Trip 2017 #1 – Flights and Fury

Last year’s Summer vacation comprised driving – in a big circle – from the Philly ‘burbs to Chicago and back, taking in 8 states (six of which were new to me) plus the nation’s capital.  This Summer, we decided to undertake another road trip.  Our journey would take us from LA to San Francisco via Arizona, Utah and Nevada.  Clearly, therefore, this time our road trip involved flying and then renting a car.  Normally I would not bother relating any details of the flights because those are pragmatic journeys and not really part and parcel of the vacation.  However, especially given it has been a while since I had a proper rant on my blog, I am going to share the stress that bookended our vacation.

Perhaps because our flights had been purchased with air miles, the airline felt it was acceptable to keep changing our flights right up until the week before we were due to travel.  We ended up with a very early morning flight out of Philly (one of the first flights of the day) and a very (almost too) brief stopover in Chicago before catching the next flight to Santa Ana in California.  When we arrived at the airport at stupid o’clock, we found that there were no staff on any of the check-in desks.  Or anywhere else for that matter.  It was like a ghost town except for the long, snaking queue of increasingly frustrated passengers.  When some personnel did finally clock in – very slowly and while chatting among themselves – they were among the most singularly unhelpful group of people I have yet encountered at an airport (and I have a lot of airport horror stories).  None of the electronic self-check-in machines were fully operational – either the screens were off, were glitching, or the printers kept jamming – yet every single passenger was told they would have to check-in that way and that they could not approach the desk until luggage had been tagged.  Of course, the printing of the luggage tags was the final step in the self-check-in process that was not working.  It was one of those “snake eating its own tale” circular arguments trying to get any member of staff to intervene in any way.  My children have been able to taunt me with the phrase, “But did you tag your bags?” ever since, knowing it will elicit the Pavlovian response of making my blood boil.  Meanwhile, the clock was ticking down and getting closer and closer to our departure time and we had not been able to either check in our luggage or get through security let alone make it to our gate.  When I pointed out this time pressure to one member of staff, she sneered at me.  Verbally and visually.  I had no blank poker face at that point as I mentally envisioned poking her in the eyes.  Finally, one of the bone idle staff members decided to reduce the ever-lengthening queue of disgruntled, stressed, and fizzing passengers by assisting at the few self-check-in machines that were operational.  Luggage finally tagged and dropped off, we sprinted to security.  That rigmarole took as long as it usually does and then we were sprinting again to our gate.  We just made it to our gate in time for boarding.  Stressed and puffing was not how I wanted to start my vacation.

On the return flight, it was a similar situation redux.  On attempting to check-in online the previous day, my husband discovered that only five of us were booked on the flight.  We checked our booking online and in hard copy to confirm that there should indeed have been six of us booked on the flight.  The one who had been skipped was our youngest son.  A tedious phone call later revealed the problem – some glitch nobody bothered to explain meant that our youngest child had been assigned a different record number from the rest of us but we were assured we should still be able to check him on to the flight at the airport since we had now been furnished with two booking numbers.  Lies.  All lies.  Back to dealing with those self-check-in portals again and, while San Francisco airport actually had ones that functioned, we could not check our son onto the flight.  The reason we could not check him in was because he had been designated as an unaccompanied minor.  Yup.  Having been separated from the rest of us by some sort of computer glitch, the airline had decided that an 8 year old was flying alone – despite five other people with the same unique surname travelling on the same flight, despite no record of him being booked as an unaccompanied minor.  We joined the queue for customer assistance.  It was another early morning flight and the clock was again ticking and adding pressure to the situation.  Staff managing the queue asked why our bags were not tagged yet.  I think I burned a hole in someone’s forehead with my laser stare.  Once at the head of the queue, we were directed to a particular desk.  Alas, the staff member on the desk refused to help us because she was only processing actual unaccompanied minors, not fake ones.  We were told to rejoin the queue.  Imagine that my face has turned a shade of puce, that my teeth are gritted, my jaw clenched, and my fists balled and you will be spot on for my demeanor at that point.  I somewhat loudly and angrily pointed out that this whole mess was a problem they had created and that they therefore needed to present a solution.  We were whipped across to another desk where someone checked us in, accepted our baggage (with labels she printed), and then we were on our way.  More sprinting to security.  More sprinting to the gate.

Now, firstly I am aware that this rant is very much about “first world problems”.  Secondly, neither of these challenges with flights curtailed the enjoyment of our vacation.  In all instances, we made our flights on time and our luggage arrived at the same time as we did (its loss was a risk given the tight turnaround time in Chicago).  However, all of the stress and friction was completely unavoidable had some people just done their jobs with greater diligence, had the front line members of staff presented themselves as helpful and flexible.  We happened to be funding the tickets with air miles but, regardless, flying for most of us is still a luxury and seats on an aeroplane are big ticket items.  We expect some degree of service in return for that financial investment.  Instead we are crammed onto flights like battery chickens and treated like a nuisance when something goes awry.

Deep breath.  Rant over and out.  Moving on.

*PS  My husband thinks my moaning about this is disproportionate and that I should choose to focus on the positives of having made all of our flights on time and them all taking off and landing on schedule.  This is because he travels frequently for work and a flight actually being on schedule is a very rare occurrence.  He, therefore, suffers from low expectations and gets to experience the thrill of things actually going right.  I, on the other hand, as someone who is not a frequent flyer, expect the service I have paid for.  Nothing more and nothing less.  I, therefore, stand by my rant as justified.*

Pants, Pyjamas, Laundry and Hibernation

This week’s Documented Life Project challenge prompt had me scratching my head for inspiration.  Incorporating fabric onto the journal page seems simple enough but I don’t ever create with fabric (unless you count the occasional sock monkey or sock monster) so not only do I not have much in the way of fabric crafting skills but I do not have a stash of fabric of any kind.  Not even any old socks since those have been turned into sock monsters.  Being a tomboy mother of four boys, I don’t even have any ribbon or bows or anything.  It was suggested that I could utilise a scrap from some old clothing but we emigrated with very few clothes as it is so there was nothing that was not being worn for me to cannibalise.  One of my sons has ripped a pair of jeans but they are his favourites so he would not part with them and I also was not keen on the sewing challenge of trying to work with denim.  I kill my thumbs enough trying to hem denim jeans.  I was not about to put myself through that for fun.  My mind was wandering to ways in which I could loosely interpret the prompt and I was all set to produce a watercolour sketch of some crumpled fabrics when my husband announced that he had identified some old clothes that I could chop up and use: his underpants.

Yes.  Underpants.

At the risk of having my Green Card revoked, I am really not a fan of American washing machines.  Since moving here, I have had two top-loading washing machines – one at the rental house and one that came with our new home – and both have been awfully hard on our clothing.  Because they spin around a central axis point, it creates a sort of centrifuge (or does it?  Because I know even less about physics than I do about sewing) and all the wet garments just stick to the sides of the drum, becoming a tangled mess, straining and pulling against each other.  In all my years of doing laundry, I have become accustomed to using a front loading machine whereby the clothes spin around in the drum but also tumble because of the effect of gravity: whatever clothes are at the top of the drum fall down and rejoin the fray, so they are being constantly separated from each other.  The problem with the top-loading system is that the clothes pulling against each other leads to misshaping and tears.  A button or zip catches against a jumper and gets pulled to such an extent that a hole appears.  I have had more holes appear in laundry in the past year than I have had over the previous decades of my laundering experience.  Washing machine design is one of the few small differences between my domestic life in Scotland and America that really irks me.  When it comes time to replace our washing machine, I am hoping we can do so with a front loader.

Rant over and out but that explains why my husband was able to donate his under garments to my creative project: the blasted washing machine had created a hole in them.  So underpants it was.

It took me some pondering time to decide how I could use them on my page.  Some ideas were just too ambitious for my sewing skill level and some would have involved creating too much in the way of three dimensions which would make my art journal too difficult to work in.  Finally, last night, as I snuggled down to watch some TV while wearing my jammies and clutching a mug of hot tea, I had my inspiration: hibernation.

So this is the page that resulted from a combination of undies and hibernation.  Many days in winter I wish I could hibernate and just hole up somewhere cosy with jammies, a hot water bottle, endless supplies of tea and some favourite movies.  The undies were in a soft jersey fabric so I adhered it to some thin card stock and then used some embroidery floss to add details to the pyjamas.  The bear was painted in watercolour and then outlined in ink.  I used gel pen for the lettering and narrowed the size of my page to eliminate some of the white by using strips of colourful, patterned washi tape.  I have defaulted to my everyday illustrative style of drawing in order to create my DLP page again this week but using that fabric in a creative way was ample challenge.  It is always good to be shoved out of one’s comfort zone and try something new but quite honestly I don’t think I will be in any rush to repeat the experiment of incorporating fabric into my art.

2014-11-09 14.12.58

*PS The colours are not as washed out in real life.  That’s just my camera phone not capturing the colours accurately enough once again*

The Green Card Saga Concludes

If you have been following my blog since its inception a year ago, you will know that my year has been liberally peppered with stress over my oldest son’s missing Green Card.  It has been a long, drawn-out, sorry story of shambolic bureaucracy, acute ineptitude, willful inflexibility, an extortionate additional fee and a day of school missed so that my son could attend a biometrics appointment despite technically being a US citizen and definitely being under 14.  And lots of waiting.  Lots and lots of waiting.  But finally the waiting is at an end.  My son’s Green Card arrived in Friday’s post.  We could scarcely believe it.  Finally, over a year since we first pitched up in America, all five of us British Picts have our Green Cards.

Now we can progress with applying for the boys’ US passports.  I can hardly wait to find out what bureaucratic nightmares that holds in store for us.

Change of Address Cynicism

As a parcel of immigrants, one of the things the children and I have to do is notify USCIS of any change of address.  They need to track our whereabouts.  Mr Pict also has to notify them of a change of address because he is our sponsor.  They need to know where to find him should any of we immigrants turn out to be reprobates.  Therefore, one of the first things I had to do upon moving house was to notify USCIS, via their website, of our address changes.  One per person.  Tedious but necessary.  With print outs as evidence.

Here’s the thing though: the last time we notified USCIS of a change of address, they entirely ignored it, despite apparently and allegedly updating their records, and sent our documentation to the old address anyway – which was, at that point, an unoccupied, flood-damaged apartment.  That total cock-up was then compounded by the fact that the Postal Service who should have been redirecting all of our mail from that address to our actual address failed to forward the documentation pertaining to our oldest son.  He, therefore, ended up with no Social Security Number and – when it happened again – no Green Card.  We have now been legal permanent residents in America for eleven months and yet still my oldest son has not received his Green Card.  This was seriously frustrating but it became downright infuriating when USCIS, having admitted fault, then made us pay to have his Green Card reissued and required that our son attend a biometrics appointment.  Ridiculous.   And that was five months ago and STILL we have not received his Green Card.  The Green Card we have now paid for twice.

You will, therefore, understand my cynicism and degree of anxiety surrounding the likelihood of the Green Card making it to us given that we have changed address and have set up mail redirection again.  There is only so much incompetence one can dismiss as a small glitch or a temporary blip.  When it happens over and over, it does smack of incompetence.  I would, of course, be delighted if my cynicism this time was proved to be without foundation.  I will no doubt perform an epically embarrassing happy dance should the missing Green Card make it to us without further ado, drama, stressful hassle or – gulp – expense.  If, for once, all the bureaucracy that seems intent on thwarting our son’s possession of a Green Card actually synthesises into something that functions adequately enough to deliver that document then I will hold my hands up and admit that I was wrong to be so sceptical.

This time.

The Four Boys Questions

*Warning:  If you like visiting my blog to see photos of my family exploring our new home country or to see my art work but you don’t enjoy my occasional ranting and raving so much then you probably ought to gloss over this blog entry and wait for the next one to appear instead.  If, however, you enjoy the schadenfreude of my gripes or you just find other people’s moaning diverting then do please read on.  Consider yourselves warned.*


As regular readers of my blog will know, I am the mother of four boys.

This seems to be something people – by which I mean random strangers – feel the need to pass comment on and lately I have been feeling that quite acutely.  It’s not an experience particularly related to our migration across the Atlantic: plenty of people passed comment on the fact I had four sons back in Britain too.  However, living in a very small community as we were for the past decade, I was somewhat insulated on a daily basis from people finding it necessary to comment.  Indeed, where we lived it was not that noteworthy to have either four children or more or for all of the children in one family unit to be of a single gender.  Of course, people would often refer to me as “the one with four boys” but only as a way to differentiate me from others with the same given name.  People in our small community did not feel the need to pass comment about it or interrogate me over it.  That would happen on ventures into bigger towns and cities but, of course, those trips were few and far between.  Now, however, I have been catapulted from a small community where everyone knew me to at least some degree to being in the suburbs of a major city where nobody knows us.  As such, meeting strangers is a frequent  occurrence and this inevitably leads to the passing of comments or the asking of questions about our family dynamic.

Probably the most common response I get from people seeing me with my gang is, “Wow!  Four boys, eh!”  Nothing to bristle about there.  It’s a mere statement of fact.  I cannot comprehend the element of surprise that necessitates me using exclamation marks to quote it but, yes random stranger, I do indeed have four boys.  Well done.  You get to pass basic arithmetic and get some credit towards your biology grade too.  Yet, unless this comment is made as I am walking past the stranger at a rate of knots, it rarely stops at this exclamation.  That’s when I start to get a little fed up but mostly, at this stage of motherhood, just bored with the tedium of people saying the same old things over and over about the products of my womb.

“You must be exhausted.”  Why, yes, I am exhausted.  As previously noted by you, I am the mother of four children.  That makes my life pretty busy and pretty hectic, balancing out all of their needs, making their schedules mesh, processing all of the relentless laundry, picking up all of the lego….  Honestly, this is not a remark I mind so much.  It’s true and in some ways I am grateful for the recognition that raising kids is really hard work.  Variations on this theme are things like “Your house must be noisy”, “That’s a whole lot of energy” or “That must be hectic / chaos / fun” and really it is.  There’s no inherent negative judgement in those statements, just an observation that having four kids makes me a very busy person.  “I bet they keep you on your toes” is another one I get a lot.  Why, yes they do.  But the thing I often tell people – because, of course, people ask – is that the most difficult transition I made was from being childless to having one child and then the next most difficult transition was going from having just the one child to having two because I had to split my attention and focus.  Adding the third and fourth did not actually make life any more exhausting or complex.  All parents of young children are exhausted whether they have one child or many.  Life is spent relentlessly at the coalface when you have kids who depend on you for their every need.  So, yes, I am exhausted.  Thanks for noticing.  Parenting is indeed exhausting whatever the shape of your family.

The thing I often wonder about this remark, however, is if the same person would deliver the same remark to a mother of four daughters or the mother of a tribe of mixed gender kids.  I cannot answer my own query because I obviously have no experience of being the parent of anything other than boys but somehow I often detect an implication that I am more harried than the average mother, even perhaps more than the average mother of four, precisely because I have all boys.  Clearly boys are assumed to generate additional chaos and mess in a way that girls would not.  That would be the “slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails” trope at work I suppose.  There is also the inference that I look utterly and appallingly exhausted, which is not a particularly welcome “compliment” from a complete stranger but ho hum.  I know fine well that I have matching sets of luggage under my eyes, scruffy hair (and not in a boho way) and dress in a thrown together way but that is partly just motherhood itself – whatever form the brood comes in – and partly because I am a lifelong tomboy who doesn’t put much time or effort into my appearance.  I looked just as unkempt when I had just one child.  I am pretty sure I would look identical had I been the mother of four daughters.

“Are they all yours?”  Um…..yes.  Of course, occasionally I might have five or six boys trailing behind me.  I have had eight.  On those occasions I let strangers off the hook because, of course, the answer is that no, only a fraction of them are mine, albeit the biggest fraction.  Otherwise, however, this is another one of those boring, humdrum questions I have to deal with.  Yes, they are all mine.  That is why they look like variations on the same clone, right down to identical hair whorls that make buzz cutting their hair extra-annoying.  Plus, if they were not all mine then there is no way I would be dragging them all around the supermarket, kicking and screaming.  Taking my own four kids on such an “outing” is not exactly fun so taking along some extra kids is surely no one’s idea of a great playdate.

“You going for the football team?” and other variations relating to building a sports team.  I don’t watch sport.  I have no interest in sport.  Not only do I not want to discuss how many children I have chosen to have with a total stranger but I also do not want to engage in any sports-based conversation with a stranger.  Besides, often it leads to a probing question about how many kids we might have in future.  Something along the lines of “With Dad, you have a five-aside team; are you going to go for the full eleven football team?”  A large sigh and a curt no is my standard reply.  Does anyone truly think that random encounters with strangers are an appropriate forum for conversations about family planning?  Even if the lead-in question was sports-based?

“At least you won’t ever have to [insert gender stereotype of choice]”  And that is when I insert a huge sigh.  Correct, I probably won’t ever have to have a discussion about menstruation with my sons in the same way that I would if I had a daughter.  They don’t necessarily need to know the practicalities of how to deal with that particular ordeal.  But they already have regular contact with one woman who does menstruate so I am making sure they know about it just the same.  I am not sure ignorance of the biology of the other gender is helpful to anyone after all.  And, no, I won’t have to deal with a teenage daughter being into the latest annoying fashion.  But all but my oldest son have pretty firm ideas about what they will and will not wear and like to put outfits together themselves so I am pretty sure there may come a time when they wear something I think is hideous.  Teenagers try on identities and clothing is part of that and I am pretty sure teenage boys are just as annoying on that score as teenage girls.  If you have seen all those boys with jeans hanging below their butt-lines then you know this to be true.

I am not going to fib: when I knew for absolute certain that I was never going to have a daughter, I did have a wee wobbly moment where I thought about some superficial things like not having a daughter to pass my jewellery on to but every single thing that passed through my head in those couple of minutes was so superficial as to be meaningless.  Plus I might end up with some granddaughters to pass the jewellery onto.  Whether they like it or not.  Unless my magpie 8 year old son has already made off with it.  Because that is the other things about gender stereotypes – not everyone is going to fulfil them.

“Boys are SO much easier than girls.”  I often detect an agenda in this statement that actually speaks to pity rather than celebration but brushing that aside, really?  Are boys really easier than girls?  Because I am finding raising boys to be plenty challenging.  I don’t think I could every be that emphatic about how easy it is to raise any child.  Furthermore, I am pretty sure that my brothers as well as my sisters and I contributed to my parents’ grey hair, creased brows and gave them sleepless nights.  Raising kids is tough.  It’s the hardest job there is.  All kids present their parents with difficulties, I’m sure.  The idea that having a Y chromosome makes a child any more biddable or easy to rear is just preposterous.

However, all of those queries are pretty harmless really, are fundamentally well-intentioned and can be seen off with an inward sigh and a polite no.  It’s when we get into the more personal territory that I really start to get hacked off.

“Nothing better to do in the evening where you live, eh?”  Even without a seedy wink-wink-nudge-nudge tone, I really do not want to entertain this type of conversation with a stranger.  Or anyone.  Of course, in the wilds of Scotland, we still lived in stone bothies and washed our laundry in the stream and slept on straw beds next to our cattle to keep warm at night. Of course there was nothing better to do on that basis.  Breeding also keeps you warm on those long, dark, winter nights after all.  Once television reaches such remote environs, the population is going to decline into extinction.  Well by jings, if only I had not already read every book in the house or had a jigsaw to divert my attention, I might have just ended up with one child.  If I had learned how to play charades, I might yet be childless.

“You must be really fertile.”  Again with the questions about a really private aspect of life.  I am hardly that legendary Russian woman with 69 children.  I have four.  Just four.  That they were born at roughly two year intervals also does not make me some noteworthy example of fecundity.  Furthermore, my youngest is now five years old so my womb is well and truly retired yet people still occasionally say this to me.  It is one of the rarer offerings, I must admit, but it is one that makes me seethe inside all the same because, while I offer a controlled “No, not really”, I have to suppress the urge to explain that it is unkind and cruel to discuss the fertility of someone whose journey to parenthood you know absolutely nothing about.  It’s an assumption too far to think that all women with what you have determined is a large brood of chicks is super-skilled at popping out babies.  What I sometimes wish I could tell those people is that actually I am not super-fertile.  That actually my clutch of four boys was hard won through some emotionally gruelling trials and tribulations.  That actually we were once informed that the chances of us having even one biological child without assistance were pretty slim.  That actually I went through countless months of failure, blighted ovum, a devastating miscarriage and even worse tragedy to have my family of four boys.  But, of course, I am not going to share all of that personal information with a stranger* in the middle of a shop when put on the spot like that.  No, instead I just politely say, “No, not really” and move on.

But it gets worse.

“Were you trying for a girl?”  This one makes me want to karate chop people in the windpipe at times, the times when they say it within earshot of my sons, the sons they have just determined must have been failed attempts at having daughters.  It makes me spit feathers to think that someone would even look at me with my four lovely sons and even sub-consciously be thinking “What a shame she ended up with all of them.”  At no point did we try for anything other than a baby.  I hear tell there are all sorts of myths and legends about how one might influence the gender of the baby but I am pretty confident, even having done zero research into it whatsoever, that none of it works.  The fastest sperm wins the race and gets to choose whether baby develops a hamburger or a hotdog.  That’s it as far as I am concerned.  I had a strong feeling every single time that I was pregnant that I was having a boy.  By the time I had my second son, I felt absolutely certain that I would only pop out boys.  That didn’t stop us expanding our family.  That didn’t send me rushing off to read hokum about how to make sure the next one might be female.  By the time I was pregnant with my third son, I could even argue with people who posed such a wretched question that actually another boy was easier because of sharing bedrooms and hand-me-down clothes.  Still they would look at me with a somewhat pitiful look.  Sure, when we were first starting trying for a family I imagined having a mixed gender family not as any sort of hope but simply because I am from a mixed gender family myself so it was what I knew and where, therefore, my imagination wandered.  But each and every time, all we were ever hoping for was a healthy baby.  With my last baby, for reasons that will become clear, the doctor could have told me I had just been delivered of a bright green space monkey and I would have been thrilled as long as he was breathing and healthy.

That is because actually, in all truth, I am not the mother of four sons.  I am actually the mother of five sons.  My fourth son was stillborn.  He was no more a failed attempt at a daughter than his brothers.  Therefore, for very emotionally charged reasons, I was extra happy when I was told my youngest child was another boy because then I would not have to deal with people saying, “You got your girl at last” and have to process the fact that they must consider that the loss of my tiny baby boy was the price I had to pay to finally get a daughter.  So, for the most part, when some random stranger comments that we must have been trying for a girl I just say “No, not at all” but if they catch me at a time that is difficult for me emotionally, when my internal edit doesn’t function so well, then they might just be given some insight into why it is we should be thankful for healthy baby boys, girls or even bright green space monkeys.

“Are you going to try for a girl?” or “You will need to keep trying for a girl” are almost as bad.  Aside from the fact that I see no reason to discuss family planning with anyone other than my husband and doctor, do they really expect me to say, “Yes, these failed attempts at daughters I drag around after me are not fulfilling me as a mother so I am going to keep popping out babies every couple of years in the hope that I get a female one before I have enough boys for an American Football team.”  We wanted four children.  We have four children.  Our job here is done.  The only upside to this stupid line of questioning is that it implies that perhaps I don’t look quite as harried and busted up as a mother of four as some other interrogations imply.  Perhaps I am managing to make mothering four kids look like such a breeze that people think it would be a cake walk for me to have umpteen children to care for.  However, the real agenda to the question is the same as “Were you trying for a girl?”, that assumption that I must be disappointed to have four healthy, smart, witty, interesting children because they all happen to have the same genitals.

Then you get the people who over-share.  The people who, for instance, have two boys and confide that they would love to try for a third baby but are scared in case they get another boy.  I actually have no words for such people when this happens.  It sucker punches me every single time.  I am surprised my jaw doesn’t drop aghast and appalled each and every time this happens – which is more often than it ought to.  I say nothing on these occasions.  What I really want to say to these people sometimes (when at an emotional low ebb)  is that I am not entirely convinced they should have another child, that maybe they should focus on those “failed daughters” they already have, that maybe they do not even deserve to have a bright green space monkey, because if the idea of another beautiful baby boy fills you with such dread then you probably do not have the capacity for selflessness and unconditional nurturing required to be a successful parent.  I am not going to judge someone who feels momentary disappointment or even fleeting sadness that they are having another child of the same gender.  That’s OK.  Those passing thoughts I can comprehend.  Aside from anything else, pregnancy hormones make you go crazy.  But to articulate the thought that that transitory disappointment would translate into fear of yet another child of the same gender just beggars belief.  There was a time when I was more tolerant of people expressing such things.  I am afraid, however, that my experience of losing a baby has made me a bit more hard-line because every single baby is a little miracle of biology, a little wonder, and an amazing privilege to have in one’s life and all that superficial and stereotypical baggage that gets attached to the different genders is just such small beer, so absolutely meaningless, compared to the gift of a healthy, happy baby.  How can anyone fear that?

I strive to be a tolerant person.  I work hard to respect that not everyone shares the same perspective as I have on certain aspects of parenthood.  I am as capable of being as judgemental as the next person but I (mostly) keep the snippy comments in my head and sometimes mentally slap my own wrist for thinking that way.  And that for me is the key thing.  Be impressed that I exited the store with the same number of kids I came in with, that’s fine.  Marvel at the fact that I happen to have four kids who all have XY chromosomes because, I mean, what are the chances of that?  About 50/50 every time actually.  Be sympathetic about how run down I look because, you know what, parenting really is a hard job.  That’s all fine.  But please, dear random strangers, keep those thoughts to yourself.  Think it but do not say it.  And especially – absolutely especially – do not say anything about the fact my kids are all boys in front of my sons.  I really will never fathom why a person would find it acceptable to embark on a family planning conversation with a complete stranger because really the only thought that should enter their heads when they see me, tired and fraught as I may be, with my rag-taggle assortment of boys is “Isn’t she lucky” .  Because I am.  Very.



* And, yes, dear Reader, I am aware of the fact that in writing this down in my blog I am sharing these thoughts and experiences with random strangers.  However, I will justify it by stating that clearly it is my choice to do so in this context – and that on a busy street or in the middle of the supermarket is not the context I would ever choose – and that humans are fallible when it comes to hypocrisy as they are with everything else.  

The Green Card Saga Rumbles On. And On.

When my husband took our oldest son to the Biometrics appointment, we thought we were at least mercifully close to the conclusion of the stressful saga that has been obtaining his Green Card.  But no.  No, no, no.  This appears to be an epic tale of woe without conclusion.  Mr Pict was told that the replacement card would be delivered in two or perhaps three weeks from the date of the appointment.  He double-checked that USCIS had everything they needed (you know, like sucking us dry of funds, making us deal with the brunt of their own incompetence since it was they who lost the Green Card in the first place) and was assured (too cynical to be reassured though) that they did indeed have everything required to issue the replacement card and that they would do so in a timely manner.

Two weeks passed and no Green Card arrived our mail box.  Three weeks and still there was nothing.  Then we got to a month and thought the time had come to chase them up.  I have to admit I was already starting to feel volcanic ire at the thought they might have dispatched it to the wrong address.  Again.

Instead, when Mr Pict phoned up USCIS to find out where the Green Card was, he was not-so-politely informed that he should never have been told it would be issued that quickly.  That issuing a replacement would take six months.  Six.  Whole.  Months.  As in half a year.  As in over a year from when my son first entered the country.  Ridiculous, no?  He was told that USCIS are still working on processing Green Card approvals from August 2013.  The kids and I were all approved in August 2013.  The rest of us got our Green Cards in January.  How on earth can they still be processing Green Cards from August when we are now almost in June?

We are, therefore, going to have to find some other means of proving our oldest son’s status as a resident in America so that we can progress with things like applying for US passports.  That will be a whole lot more bureaucracy.  And no doubt more ineptitude, mess and stress.

One day this saga has to end after all.  Doesn’t it?

Blasted Biometrics

In bringing my blog up to date with all of our travels and some of the more relevant excerpts from my art journal pages, I got so caught up in the happy, positive stuff that I completely forgot to write an update on our ongoing tussle with USCIS over our oldest son’s Green Card.

I won’t bore my readers by rehashing the whole abysmal saga again but suffice to say we were already reaching the limits of mental exhaustion with USCIS’s attitude towards the missing Green Card when, lo and behold, a letter arrived into our mailbox informing us that our son was legally obliged to attend an appointment at the nearest office in order to have his biometrics taken.  Tolerance threshold breached.

I had to undergo the whole biometrics thing in order to enter the US as a permanent resident but our four children did not because they were and still are under the age of 14.  But suddenly, because USCIS sent out the Green Cards to the wrong postal address and because one of those envelopes was subsequently lost, they felt it was important to put our oldest son through the biometrics process.  The date in the later was a fortnight hence and on a weekday afternoon which meant missing an afternoon of school and my husband having to take an afternoon off work in order to take our son to the appointment – as I had to be home for the other three children.

The appointment was last Friday at 2pm.  Husband and son set off in the car with all the paperwork and documentation required.  At 1.45pm, my husband texted me to say that the whole operation was complete and they were heading home.  When they arrived at the office, they found a massive but empty room filled with chairs for a couple of hundred people but occupied by just a hand full.  There were more people manning the desks than there were people to process.  Consequently, they were taken early for the appointment.  My husband was required to fill out documents that fundamentally replicated all of the paperwork USCIS already had in their possession and that my husband had taken with him to the appointment.  Form-filling for the merry heck of it, in other words.  The biometrics bit of the appointment was so swift it was a blink and miss affair.

My husband enquired about the procedure for applying for a refund – given that we have now paid TWICE for our child to be issued with a Green Card and that the loss of the original card was due to a fault on USCIS’s part.  He was informed that there was no procedure for that and that this was the sole procedure for obtaining a replacement for a lost card.  No negotiations, no deviations, no exceptions.  We are not talking about small change here either.  We are left feeling as if we have been hustled.

I am now so pessimistic and cynical about the bureaucracy of USCIS that I am steeling myself for the next glitch in the process.  Perhaps they will send the Green Card out to a different random address this time and we can pay yet more money and attend yet more appointments, forever stuck in an endless loop of ineffectiveness.  But perhaps the Green Card will finally reach us and we can begin the process of applying for American passports for our four sons, thus effectively and officially putting their immigrant status behind them. 

And that will probably be a whole other bureaucratic mess for us to look forward to.

The Green Card Saga Continues

Almost exactly a month ago I wrote about a stressful bureaucratic mess regarding the difficulties we were having in getting USCIS to issue a replacement Green Card for our oldest son.  The email version of locking horns was getting us precisely nowhere so we decided to send off the required form with the requested extortionate fee but with a cover letter outlining our position and politely requesting that, with USCIS having admitted culpability, they not process the cheque.  It was the longest of long shots but they had us over a barrel and we needed the Green Card.

So we were not surprised but were still disappointed when a few days ago we got a letter from USCIS telling us that they were processing our request and had taken the fee.  I felt an odd balance of being enraged and resigned at the same time.  What is even more infuriating is that they informed us they might require our oldest son to attend an appointment to have his biometrics taken.  Since all of our children are under 14, this was not a requirement for their immigration.  The children were issued with visas and Green Cards without biometrics.  I am perplexed, therefore, as to why they have now decided that he needs to undergo this.  He will no doubt have to miss a day of school – perhaps all the kids will if the location of the appointment is too far away – and we will incur additional expenses and fees.  Yet the lack of a Green Card is entirely the fault of USCIS.

Lest we forget, my children are actually now technically and legally US Citizens.  Now that they and their USC parent are resident in America, they have that status.  We just have to formalise it by applying for passports for each of the boys.  So we are going through this ordeal to secure our oldest’s Permanent Resident status even though legally he now has the right to be here as a US citizen.

If we have to jump through any more flaming hoops to obtain his Green Card I will be spitting feathers.

Passing the Bureaucratic Buck

If you have been reading my blog for a while, then you will be aware that in an earlier rant I bemoaned the fact that some sort of snag along the way had led to my oldest son being missed out on being provided with all sorts of key documents.  We have been caught in a Kafkaesque mire of buck-passing since then.

We were required to have a co-sponsor when the kids and I applied for our visas because my husband (the US citizen) was not resident in America at that time.  A close family friend agreed to fulfil that role and, as such, when we went to our interview at the US Embassy in London and we needed to provide a US address, it was his that was selected.  Unfortunately for us but more so for our co-sponsor, his apartment was flooded shortly after our arrival in the US and he had to move out.  We set up with the Postal Service to have all of our mail redirected from that address as soon as our friend moved out.  However, two days after we arrived in the US, I had submitted the change of address forms that we, as aliens, are legally required to submit to USCIS to notify them of where we actually live.

However, it became apparent that they had not bothered to change the address as the social security cards and then the green cards arrived at our address through the postal forwarding system, having been sent to our friend’s former address.  Both were missing for my oldest son.  We got the Social Security office to issue him with an SSN with a modicum of hassle but no bureaucratic mess at least.  The same is not holding true for trying to get him a green card.

The Postal Service claim that they delivered it, at the end of December, along with all the other green cards for myself and the other three kids.  We, of course, know that it was not delivered because all of the other cards arrived in our mailbox together and that one was not among them.  USCIS state, therefore, that they will issue our oldest son with a replacement card since it has been lost but for a fee of $450.  Now this whole immigration process – the visa applications, the relocation expenses, the set-up costs and paying for properties on two sides of the Atlantic – has pretty much flat-lined our savings so I am not about to fork out $450 just to quickly resolve a problem that is not of my making.  We have, therefore, requested that they waive the fee and reissue the green card as a priority.  USCIS don’t want to do this as they claim that it was the Postal Service who were at fault since it seems most likely that they failed to put all five green cards through the proper forwarding process and that one errant green card was sent to the address originally on the envelope and has disappeared into the ether.  Except USCIS are at fault because they never should have marked the envelopes with that address in the first place since, yes, two days after arriving I submitted five forms informing them of our actual address, the one where they were supposed to send everything.  I took print outs of the forms as evidence at the time.  They have looked up the confirmation number and admit they received them.  They consequently cannot explain why they did not send the forms to our actual address.  

But they have still not said they will waive the fee and issue our son with his green card.  So we are in embattled positions and emails are flying back and forth between us, the postal service and immigration services trying to come to some acceptable resolution.  It is bureaucratic bedlam and no one is willing to cop to the responsibility of the stuff up that caused it.  Meanwhile my oldest son still does not have his green card.

Someone needs to accept responsibility, suck it up and find a route out of this labyrinth of red tape before I turn into the Minotaur.

Cyclical Ranting

Depending on how much of my blog you have read, you may or may not know that I repetitively encounter a problem with getting various organisations and departments to recognise me as a valid person.  I refer to it as my non-person status because somehow, despite legally, fiscally and financially sharing everything equally, my husband’s status as a US citizen makes him more of a person than I am.  This is another rant on this theme.  I somehow doubt it will be the last.

When we opened our US bank account, I could not activate my card because I did not have an Social Security number.  Then, when the SSN arrived and I phoned up to activate my card, I was interrogated because they insisted on further proof of my identity.  So my husband got to just push some buttons to confirm his debit card number and SSN without even speaking to an actual human whereas I had to answer questions about what was the dollar amount of my husband’s salary, when exactly was our bank account opened and so on and so forth.  And then we got into the whole “driving licence” hoo-ha where they just don’t comprehend that I cannot use a US driving licence to verify my identity because I am an immigrant who has only just arrived on American shores.  It must have taken over a dozen questions and answers for them to activate my card in the end.  That’s a big difference from punching some numbers in on a phone, the privilege of the USC.

I reported recently that the same debit cards had been revoked by our bank because we had happened to shop at Target during the period of their security breech.  After a week of whittling down my cash reserves, the debit cards finally arrived this morning.  With the reluctance that comes from that familiar sense of foreboding, I picked up the phone to activate the card.  I punched in my card number and was asked to punch in the last four digits of my SSN.  I did so.  I was asked to re-enter the SSN numbers.  Repeatedly.  By the fourth attempt, even the stupid robot system had decided enough was enough and put me through to a human – but not before making me listen to the most noisy hold music ever because it sounded like the feedback from an amp at a rock concert.

De.  Ja.  Vu.

Could I confirm my full name was the easy kick off point.  Then we were onto the usual bumf about passport numbers (not good enough evidence of my identity since it’s a UK passport number), my husband’s payroll details and the exact salary amount (which I have still failed to commit to memory because, you know, I have better things for my brain to focus on right now than the exact amount, to the cent, that his employer deposits in our account each month), various other questions about the joint account holder and – yes, siree, that favourite query of mine – the number on my US driver’s licence.  Groundhog Day conversation.

Seriously.  They have previously verified my identity to their satisfaction in order to activate the previous debit card but they want me to go through the same stuff all over again.  Trying to withhold sarcasm and annoyance from my voice, with moderate success, through gritted teeth I explained that, as my accent indicated, I was not American, had already indicated I was not American given our discussion about my passport, had in fact only been in America since October, and strangely enough did not yet had a chance to obtain a full US driver’s licence.

On hold again.  With the eardrum shredding feedback noise.

And then, just like that, I was told the cards were now activated and have a nice day.  No explanation for the sudden change of heart, no logic to my authorisation suddenly being approved, just that they were now activated.  Bureaucracy here is frustrating and fickle.