Keeping It Real

At least once every couple of weeks two things happen: someone will comment about what a wonder woman or inspiration I am and I will fail spectacularly at some aspect of life.  Clearly there is a disparity – sometimes of chasm proportions – between people’s perceptions of me and my reality.

I absolutely do not set out to convince people that I am some sort of incredible individual who has all of her ducks in neat and pretty serried rows.  Each and every time someone compliments me, I am flabbergasted and don’t really know how to respond because it is unexpected.  And also because I have never really learned how to graciously accept a compliment.  Anyway, I am not deliberately presenting a facade to the world or hiding my shortcomings from public view but somehow, nevertheless, people have this perception of me that is far removed from the reality.

When I first started blogging (over four years ago!), I made a promise to myself that I would “keep it real” on this blog.  My original intention had been to maintain the blog as a sort of diary of my early experiences of life in a new country so it would have totally undermined the purpose had I finessed the truth.  Obviously I now maintain my blog(s) for other reasons but I still hold to that aim of presenting the reality of what my experiences are, sometimes red in tooth and claw.  Clearly, I don’t write about the mundane reality of my everyday life.  My readers don’t need to know that my sock orphanage, where all the unaccompanied single socks accumulate, is currently a mountainous stockpile.  Nor do they need to know that I spend every single weekday morning yelling the same script at my children who must surely be bored by now of my voice loudly hectoring them to put on shoes and coats and pick up backpacks and lunch bags.  I yell so loudly that I understood entirely why my new neighbours, when we first moved into our house, knew the name of my youngest son without the need for introductions.

People seem to perceive me as being super-organised, efficient, a fantastic time-keeper, with an ability to juggle multiple and varied draws on my free time while somehow, miraculously, still having time for art and other hobbies.  Many of those things used to be true of me.  Before I had kids, I was anal retentive with my organisation and punctuality.  I was notorious for my To Do spreadsheets and my colour-coded everything.  However, as my life became more complex, I had to choose between maintaining that level of efficiency or my sanity .  These days I am still a massive control freak but one who regularly freaks out amid the chaos I have little to no control over.

The truth is that I am perpetually frazzled, am prone to yelling because I am apparently hard-wired to associate assertiveness with volume, and frequently over-scheduled.  I experience regular spikes of anxiety because of running late or barely making it on time when punctuality is one of my neuroses.  I juggle many balls and fail to keep them all in the air.  Frequently I drop the ones that can safely bounce; regularly I drop the ones that smash and need cleaning up; and ever so often I just drop all the balls everywhere.

And the truth about how I find time for my hobbies, especially art, isn’t that I am massively efficient with my time or am spectacularly whizzy at getting things done – though I do work fast.  The truth is that I make time for those things by sacrificing other things ranging from dusting to TV viewing to sleep.  I confess I sacrifice dusting a lot.  Furthermore, there are times when my scheduling of “me time” goes spectacularly wrong – such as times when we end up having the most random, cobbled together dinners because I forgot to prep a key ingredient in advance.

I am often in the midst of a scheduling mess.  Back in November, I had a day where I had to be in three places at once.  I am used to problem solving being in two places at once but three was just too much.  It was head-imploding crazy.  And then my oldest son asked if he could be dropped off at the cinema as if it was no big deal to add in being in a fourth place at once.  Clearly my kids think I have super powers too.

Then there was the day when I was already up against it at the thought of having to get my two youngest sons to the orthodontist for 3.30 only to receive a phone call asking where we were since the first appointment was actually 1.30.  This necessitated me dropping everything – literally since I was doing laundry at the time –  quickly organising myself while calling the school secretary to ask for the boys to be whipped out of their classrooms and ready and waiting for me at reception, and driving rapidly to the school to pick them up, and then to the orthodontists’ office.

And, in another orthodontist related example, there was the recent day when my youngest son finished getting his braces fitted at 3pm only to have snapped them by 4pm simply by fidgeting with the wires.  Coincidentally, he snapped them at precisely the minute that the orthodontist is supposed to close up shop for the weekend.  We quickly dashed back to the office in the hopes they had not totally packed up and gone home, which luckily they had not.  I cannot tell a lie – yelling was involved.

Yes, as previously stated, I am a yeller.  I yell a lot.  My kids turn it into white noise so I don’t know why I do it.  Cathartic primal screaming maybe.  When Pennsylvania experienced an earthquake on 30 November, for a fraction of a second I thought it may have been caused by my frustrated rage at supervising hideous mathematics homework.

So, yeah, I am not some wonder woman or role model of togetherness.  I will keep accepting praise and compliments when they are given but – for the sake of keeping it real – please know that my successes are absolutely balanced out by my failures.

 

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Lego as a Metaphor for Immigration

In the Summer of 2013, when we knew for sure that we were going to be emigrating from Scotland to the US, I had to go through the process of selling, donating and ditching loads of our possessions and packing up what we were keeping in order to prepare it to be shipped across the Atlantic.  One of the more tedious jobs I did was to spend an entire day packing up my sons’ very many Lego sets.  I took each set in turn, broke it down into individual bricks and pieces, placed those bricks into ziplock bags, and labelled each bag according to the information on the building instruction manuals.  It was the perfect job for a control freak mother like me but goodness it was laborious and my thumbs were throbbing by the end of the day.  Still, all the effort was worth it as it meant all those Lego sets could be safely transported across the ocean, taking up as little space as possible, and could be easily rebuilt set by set once we were settled in Pennsylvania.

That was the plan for the Lego.  It was also the plan for us.

We were packing up our lives in Scotland, breaking things down into fragments, compartmentalising, putting things in order, imposing a system on the chaos.  I assumed there would be a difficult transition period, a settling in phase full of stress and glitches and the odd set back, a need to feel our way through the jumble just like all those loose bricks jumbled in their labelled bags.  But we would be rebuilding a new life on another shore, piecing it all back together again in no time at all.  Lickety split.  Tickety boo.

That’s not how it turned out with our transition period.  It’s not how it happened with the Lego.

Not long after our shipping container finally arrived, a visiting child took it upon himself to rummage around in all the plastic storage crates full of toys.  One such crate contained all of the ziploc bags of Lego.  The child opened up every single one of those ziploc bags, about 50 in total, and emptied them all out onto the floor.  My kids were incandescent.  I felt bereft.  And stressed.  And overwhelmed.  A full day’s worth of work, my attempts to impose order on the chaos, to make rebuilding easy and fun, were all completely and utterly undermined.  All my hopes for an easy rebuilding project were dashed.  I looked at that Lego all over the floor, thousands of bricks in a tangle of mess, and I felt deflated.

Settling in and establishing our lives in a new country did not go to plan either.  There were big things I expected to be much more trying but which were pleasingly easier than anticipated; however, there were other things that proved much more difficult to navigate, things we did not anticipate.  We had been focusing so much on the challenges of living in a new country that we overlooked the challenges born of changes to our family dynamic, the schedule and shape of our everyday lives.

That transition period has still not concluded over two years into life in America.  We are really only starting to come to grips with everything immigration has involved now.  I had to be gentle with myself, accept that things were going to be rocky for a while, that we would stumble a bit, and give myself permission to feel frustrated and annoyed and stressed and anxious.  I had to give myself the gift of more time.

Likewise, I left those Lego sets for a while.  My kids played with the few we had already built and the rest of the bricks languished in a huge storage crate waiting for me to feel ready to tackle it.  It was too stressful to contemplate rebuilding from that scale of chaos.  I had to gift myself more time.  A few months ago, I decided to tackle the issue.  I decided that I would organise the bricks differently, there being no possible way to recreate my first approach.  I made up a bag of red bricks, a bag of blue bricks,a bag of barrel shaped pieces, a bags of wheels ….It took me a couple of days but gradually order was imposed on the chaos.  It still takes us a lot longer to rebuild a set since we have to look at each instruction and rake through the bags to find the right piece but at least now we are only looking in the bag of small grey bricks to find the required small brick rather than raking through the entire huge tub, a lego needle in a haystack.  The new approach is working.  We are rebuilding the Lego sets again.  Progress is being made.

I had to change my expectations, develop a new approach to problems, and accept that it is going to be a gradual and slow process.  For Lego.  For immigration.

 

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?

Green Cards

You don’t have to have had any involvement with US immigration to know that possession of a green card is your portal to legal residency in America.  Even if you have not picked it up from proper general knowledge then the hideous movie with Gerard Depardieu will  have taught you that.  As we took the Direct Consular Filing route through immigration, we applied for the Green Cards and Social Security Numbers in one fell swoop and were given a three month outside estimate for their arrival.  Until then my life has been in stasis as there are various things I have been unable to progress without both documents.

So my green card finally arrived in today’s mail.  That should be cause for celebration.  Unfortunately the positive of receiving my green card was undermined by the fact it was accompanied by green cards for three of my sons.  Three.  Not four.

As happened with the SSN, my 10 year old has been missed out.

It is now becoming apparent that our oldest son’s immigration paperwork has been lost in the mix somewhere as it is too much of a coincidence that he has been missed out twice.  When my husband went to the Social Security Office in Philadelphia (because we have no closer office and every time I phoned I was put through endless push button menus just to be unceremoniously hung up on each and every time) they had no record of our 10 year old having been processed for an SSN.  Thankfully he had gone with all the relevant immigration paperwork and supporting documentation so they agreed to process and issue an SSN for him.  Just an annoying glitch, we thought.  A one-off anomaly.  But, no, it is now evident that that was just part of a larger glitch.  Despite the intensive bureaucracy of USCIS, somewhere along the line our oldest son’s immigration packet has been misplaced, misfiled or just plain lost.

So now I am going to get to spend a day speaking to numerous USCIS personnel until I get put through to one who can actually assist me and see if we can get to the bottom of why he has been missed out.

But not today.

I am too stressed out for other reasons do deal with that whole shebang calmly today.

And once we get all of this green card mess sorted out, we will be able to apply for US passports for each of our four sons.  I can’t wait to see what glitches we encounter then.