Anniversaries and Immigration

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Two dozen years out and it’s still a humbling thing to think that someone chose to leave her family and home country halfway around the world in order to spend her life with me.

Perhaps if our decision to get married hadn’t been so essentially impulsive, we would have been a bit better prepared for the hassles we faced with what was known at the time as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)—now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) operating under the Department of Homeland Security.

Then again, if it hadn’t been for hassles with the INS, we might not have made the decision we did. See, M was here on a student visa that was set to expire. If she returned home, she didn’t know when—or if—she would be able to make it back to the states.

Get married, we thought. That’ll fix the situation, we thought.

Okay, we didn’t really enter into our marriage to address a situation with a student visa. But we were young and foolish enough to think that getting married, having known each other less than a year (and, really, only a few months at the time we decided to get married) was a solid enough plan, when the alternative was to be apart for months, perhaps even years. If it’s rash to get married after knowing each other only a short time, it is potentially deadly to so short a relationship to have a prolonged separation.

And so we married. And so began our long-term relationship with the INS.

I cannot express how fortunate we were to live in a city with a major INS office. The mind reels to think what the immigration process is like for someone trying to navigate it from outside the country, or even from a few states away from an INS hub.

Keep in mind, this was back before the Internet was a common thing in peoples’ homes. In fact, at the time, I wasn’t even aware it was a thing. We couldn’t just log on and download the forms we needed. We had to phone the INS, tell them what we needed, and wait for them to send out the forms in the mail. We then had to complete the forms, gather up the necessary supporting items (photographs, birth certificates, marriage certificate, translations of M’s birth certificate, etc.) and mail them into a government office that would then get back to us at some unspecified time, with essentially no means for us to track the progress of our case.

Adding to the complications was the fact that M was not legally allowed to work, so I was having to cover the immigration filing fees on top of all of our other living expenses, on what is perhaps best described as a meager income. I was trying to build a business screen-printing shirts, and occasionally temping in different offices around town when funds came up short. Making sure we had enough funds in the bank to cover a check to the INS, with no idea of when it might be cashed, was a bit of a strain.

I didn’t keep a count of the number of times we had to submit the complete package for M to get her ‘resident alien’ status, or ‘green card’. Perhaps overly optimistic, and clearly naïve, I didn’t realize just how many ways we could be made to re-do a few detailed forms, and ship off all of our supporting documents.

The packet was returned to us for the photographs (a strip of four for each of us) being the wrong size (we’d paid a professional photographer for that first set, not realizing we could’ve gone to Kinko’s for the correct-sized photos for much less).

The packet was returned to us, because it was not clear who had completed the translation of M’s birth certificate (we did—thankfully, the INS accepted that).

The packet was returned to us because we were missing a form. (It had been in the packet when we sent it). Did I mention we were having to mail in our marriage certificate and our birth certificates with these forms—not copies—the actual documents?

Rather than call the INS toll-free number to request a new form, I drove down to the office, thinking that, like with the Post Office, I could just pop in and grab the form. (The office was down near the wholesaler where I bought t-shirts anyway). Instead, I stood on line for over 45 minutes, as the number of clerks dwindled down to only one clerk at one window.

Then he was gone.

All of us in line stood there, looking about nervously, irritated, wondering how it was possible that they had just stopped dealing with us altogether. Roughly fifteen minutes later, one of the clerks returned and announced that if we had not already gotten an appointment, we would have to come back the next day, because all the day’s appointments were filled. That clerk, again, disappeared. Wait? Was I in the wrong line? I can’t just get a form from somebody? I had been waiting in line to schedule an appointment to get a form? I ping-ponged about the building, stopping and waiting in a few other lines, trying to find out if there was some way to just get a copy of the form. ‘Call the INS toll-free line,’ I was told.

Seattle INS

Love, Marriage, and Bureaucracy — The old Seattle Immigration Office–complete with holding cells.

The packet was returned to us another time because there was ink on our photographs. Sure enough, there was a smear of blue ink across the bottom of my strip of photographs—a smear that had most certainly not been there when I mailed the packet in.

The packet was returned to us because the date we wrote next to our signatures had passed the one-year mark.

Then, after we re-did those forms, the packet was returned to us again, because the INS had updated one of the forms—although, aside from the form number and issue date, I’m really not sure what was different.  But we had to fill out that new form, anyway, directly transferring information from the old form.

The whole process seemed designed to frustrate people into deciding that a green card just wasn’t really worth it—or to force them to pay a lawyer to file paperwork that really wasn’t all that complicated—at least on the surface.

By the time our forms had been approved and we had an appointment for an interview scheduled, our daughter was approaching the one-year-old mark. In all that time, M was unable to leave the country to visit her family, lest she be denied re-entry.

The interview itself was rather anti-climactic. The agent who interviewed us, apparently taking the presence of our child as evidence that we weren’t in a sham, immigration-law-circumventing marriage, asked us a few brief questions about our wedding and our backgrounds, then signed off on all our paperwork and sent us on our way.

Our later dealings with the INS—to get M her full U.S. citizenship status—took place when the Internet was more of a thing, a new immigration office had been built in our region, and processes had reportedly been streamlined. It was much less dramatic and frustrating. And, despite her nervousness, M passed the immigration exam handily.

Still, even with all the immigration hoop-jumping we had to endure, I’m glad we made the essentially impulsive decision we made.

Happy anniversary, M. I love you.

 

 

 

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Thanksgiving Greetings from an Ingrate, 2016: Where’s the Mashed Potatoes?

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

Okay…this post has nothing to do with a lack of mashed potatoes.  I just love that line.  It’s become a staple of M and my faux-complaining about, well, really any meal–not just Thanksgiving.  Not that we want mashed potatoes at every meal, but anyway…

A friend recently called me out for not being an ingrate. This via a Facebook post, wherein I was responding to her efforts at working through the 24-days-of-gratitude challenge, or whatever it’s called when you note something you’re thankful for every day throughout November until Thanksgiving. I commented that I had been planning to do the same, although “planning” is perhaps too strong a word…it had occurred to me that I could engage in that challenge, and that I had done it in the past…although, maybe not in November. I might have just chosen 24 or 25 random days, having missed the point entirely…or maybe having expanded the point out in the most glorious of ways by refusing to confine my thankfulness to some specific stretch on a calendar. At any rate, not being an ingrate perhaps takes away from these annual posts, but at least somebody gets the point…that I’m not really an ingrate.

To those who don’t know me, it might be easy to imagine I am such. I enjoy complaining–embrace complaining–as an art form. It’s performance. It’s fun. It’s pure joy, garnering accolades and laughs when in the right company—and disturbed, ‘are-you-okay?’-furrowed-brow looks when in the ‘wrong’ company.

You see, when a big portion of your work is devoted to listening, absorbing, and redirecting the misery of the world, complaining is life-saving, life-affirming, the stuff of thanks.

Or not.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Much of the ‘wrong’ company involves people in my same field, but with a vastly different view of how we need to approach life in order to receive the blessings of thanks, or the thanks of blessings, or whatever life-denying positivity they think will cancel out the darkness of the season…that same darkness our ancestors feared was the impending end of time.

ingrate-thanksgiving

Blurry and off-color…just like misplaced anger!

When I set out to write this annual exercise in ingratitude/gratitude, I tried to think of a good Thanksgiving story from my past.

As I’ve noted in previous ‘ingrate’ posts, I have very few specific childhood memories of Thanksgiving. It was just some day off from school—two days actually–where things were, perhaps, much worse than school…having to put on church clothes only to have a meal that wasn’t particularly interesting.

Perhaps my emotional deficit around Thanksgiving is that it comes between my own balls-out/dress-up/mess-up-the-house-with-monster-decorations/get-candy enthusiasm of Halloween, and the hyper-sentimentality/religious significance/songs/smells/twinkling-lights/PRESENTS!! of Christmas.

How can Thanksgiving compete with that? New Year’s doesn’t fare all that well in comparison, either. Perhaps as a child, I was too close to family, too frequently in contact with them, to realize the value in being able to meet up yet again.  Getting together with family is something that’s become far too infrequent, with siblings spread out across six states, and cousins across at least four more that I know of.

In the absence of the frequent family gathering, I have grown to love, if not the sham history of the holiday, then what the idea of the holiday represents…coming together, helping each other out, recognizing what we have, and why all those elements are potentially so great.

Again this year, my immediate family and I are going out to eat for Thanksgiving–at a favorite restaurant where we’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner before. Again this year, it is a function of our work schedules. That is to say, we could request time off, but, as with every year of the last decade, I work in a 24/7 operation, and M works at a school that caters to doctors (who work in a 24/7 operation). So, we pick and choose which holidays to celebrate more or less enthusiastically.

M was insisting she wanted to make a Thanksgiving meal this year. When the idea was first proposed, I went along with it. Then, at some later time, the kid and I ganged up on her, and pointed out that she had to work the day before, and the day after, Thanksgiving, as do I.  Well, actually, I’m working the day before, the day of, and the day after Thanksgiving, which means a portion of the argument rested on what a pain it would be for me to help do the shopping and cooking and all that, while still attempting to get any sleep–have I mentioned that I work nights?  Coordinating the menu, the purchase of the food, and the preparation of the food, was far more work than we were all ultimately prepared to do, all for just the three of us.

We managed to nail down Christmas plans that would allow more time before and after that holiday to indulge in such excessive amounts of preparation and work, and still get in a fair amount of relaxation, all in the company of family. I’ll hold to my feeling that thanks shouldn’t be a chore, and that holidays should be centered around a desire to celebrate, rather than an obligation to go through the motions of celebration.

I am incredibly thankful, once again, that I have the great fortune to pay to indulge in the hospitality provided by others. And once again, I intend to tip with guilt-laden generosity.

Wherever you are today, I hope you have reason to recognize your situation as one of great fortune as well.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Happy Anniversary: Flagpoles and Drawers

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On the night I first met my wife, M, I climbed to the top of the flagpole outside the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. As I reached the top, one of our fellow party-goers shouted out, “Go, monkey-man!” So I did what anybody would do in those circumstances. I clung to the pole with only my legs and feet, and beat my chest, gorilla-style, then threw out a few flex poses before shimmying back down.

It was a display of bravado, born of a desire to show up two younger men at a party. Both had attempted, and failed, the climb. As a pair—perhaps one as the interested party and the other as “wingman”—they had attempted, and failed, to initiate multiple conversations with M that evening, never making it beyond an exchange of pleasantries.

M has no recollection whatsoever of the pole-climbing stunt.

What she remembers of me from that night is what she refers to as my ‘patience’ at speaking with her throughout the evening. M was born and raised in Japan, and her English was imperfect. Add in a raucous party soundtrack, and the swirl of a crowd, and communication could get choppy.

But patience didn’t figure into my perspective of the meeting. Having the attention of a beautiful and (per her own description) weird young woman was not the kind of thing that required a great deal of patience on my part. If seeking out mutually understood vocabulary extended the conversation, and scored me points for being attentive and ‘patient,’ then so much the better.

Out of control party people.

Out of control party people.

The guest of honor at that birthday party, our mutual friend D, had driven both M and me to the party. Shortly after our arrival, M set to work on the birthday gift she had brought–a sort of origami kit that formed a miniature chest-of-drawers. At first, D had intended to share in the crafty construction, but was frequently drawn away by other guests and obligations. After the umpteenth interruption, D suggested I take her place at the table where the paper furniture was being assembled.

The DIY furniture that brought us together--more complex and much smaller than anything from IKEA.

The DIY furniture that brought us together–more complex and much smaller than anything from IKEA.

In previous months, I had been subjected to some of D’s other attempts at matchmaking. And, at the time of the birthday party, possibly unbeknownst to D, I was casually dating the host of the party, D’s soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law (hey—I had nothing to do with the divorce—that marriage fell apart before I even met her).

After the initial, obligatory background questions, M and I quickly learned we shared an affinity for writing, hard rock, and violent cinema. It was a stiltedly animated conversation, with small bursts of excitement at each common reference point, and a fair amount of laughter over our often-clumsy attempts to bridge the language gap.

origami drawer

The actual miniature chest of drawers–still alive today.  Thanks, D!

The flagpole incident took place hours after the chest of drawers was completed, when we had all filed outside in the final moments before the party dissolved into various groups loading into separate cars and heading out in multiple directions.

I didn’t see M for another two months after that—when a family emergency led to D gifting M her ticket to an Alice in Chains concert that I was also attending.

The night of the concert unofficially marked the start of our ‘courtship’—a shaky period of largely reckless interactions, tempered somewhat by fortunate circumstances, that ultimately necessitated a definition-of-us conversation. To even our own surprise, that talk led to us abruptly moving in together and setting a wedding date—in no small part due to the impending expiration of M’s student visa, and the uncertainty surrounding her ability to return to the U.S. if she were to head back home to Japan.

Looking back, I’m still awed by the strange urgency of our coming together—a time I still picture as the two of us tumbling along on the front edge of an avalanche.

But I wouldn’t hesitate to ride that avalanche again, or to climb any number of flagpoles, in order to embark on that same path of mutually-sought understanding and love–a path we’ve been traveling for over half of M’s life, and almost half of mine.

Happy 22nd, M!

AM I REALLY SUPPOSED TO THREATEN TO SHOOT MY DAUGHTER’S BOYFRIEND?

I suppose the title question of this piece is something of a moot point, or rather, the threat to shoot my daughter’s boyfriend would be an empty one, as I don’t have any guns with which to shoot my daughter’s boyfriend—or anybody else. I do have a potato gun.  Home invaders take note.

That said, this is the first holiday season where my (adult but still teen) daughter has had a “boyfriend” important enough to her that we had to consider their plans when making our family plans.  And, happily, she spent time with his family, and he with ours.  And I’ll say I like the guy.  I feel that my daughter has chosen wisely and connected with someone who compliments her, and vice versa.

After the Christmas round of holiday gatherings had come to an end, and I had returned back to work, I got to thinking about the all-too-frequent jokes and ‘memes’ I see in social media that involve threats to shoot boys who are taking peoples’ daughters out on dates (probably because I’ve seen several in the last few days—the most recent involving one of those Dick Dynasty beardos whose family values apparently include threatening to shoot other peoples’ children just for expressing an interest in dating his daughter).

Dads take note: if you want to shoot the boys who have had impure thoughts about your teenage daughters, you should probably shoot all the heterosexual teen boys who have ever seen your daughters.  Or so the predictable jokes go—relying on the idea that all dads used to be teenage boys themselves and so know how vile teenage boys are.  And is that how we as men think back on ourselves as teenagers?  That we really were so vile that we would have raped any time the chance presented itself?

And isn’t there some way that those “vile” and “impure” thoughts can be channeled into more positive outlets—say, like normalizing sexual thoughts and providing some guidance on how to deal with those, rather than tying sexual thoughts to threats of violence?  Or do we really believe that our sons are perpetually on the verge of rape?  Do we believe our daughters are so clueless that we cannot trust them with their own bodies?  Do we have to threaten violence against teen boys to make sure that our teen girls come home with their “virtue” intact?

And what if our daughters are not interested in maintaining that barrier?  Isn’t it better that our daughters are taught to understand what they’re comfortable with, and how to communicate that, and to seek out partners who respect that?  And while we’re at it, how about teaching our sons the same?  If boys know that it is okay for them to be “uncomfortable” with regard to sex, or to value girls for the same kinds of things they value their male friends for—common interests, for instance—they might feel a lot less pressure to be so gung-ho about looking at our daughters through such a narrow lens—they might be able to see our daughters as people rather than as sexual targets.

And beyond all that, what is it with adult males feeling the need to threaten the boys/young men who have expressed an interest in their daughters?  At it’s most base expression, this is a pissing contest over sexual access to the females of the species.  It is treating our daughters as property or livestock.  It is sending the message to girls not that their fathers want what’s best for them, but that their fathers don’t trust their judgment.  It sends clichéd messages that girls are not interested in sex, and that only men can be trusted with (and are never to be trusted with) protecting women’s lady parts.  On top of that, it, perhaps unintentionally, sends the message that all men are rapists that need to be stopped by other, more powerful men.

All of this takes on an even more twisted element when we look at how rape victims are treated in this culture.  Girls and women who come forward with complaints of sexual assault are viewed first in terms of what they must have done to invite the sexual assault.  Where were you?  What were you wearing?  Were you drunk?  Using drugs?  Why are you making these accusations?  Men and teenage boys are too often excused for rape, especially if they have some status in the community and/or if their victims can be shown to be (or it can be implied that they are) less-than-perfectly-pure in every way.

The whole “get my daughter home on time or I’ll shoot you” (read: you are not to have sex with my daughter or I’ll kill you) idea plays on the idea that boys/men are incapable of controlling themselves sexually when they have time alone with a girl/woman.  It plays on the idea that girls/women are not to be trusted with their own sexuality or sexual decisions.  Worst of all, perhaps, it plays into adolescent revenge fantasies where girls/women are perpetually the victims or prizes in contests between men–that girls’/women’s chastity counts, but girls/women don’t.

Men in our culture (myself included) are not generally taught how to engage their emotions in productive ways, but to channel everything into problem solving, feelings-dodging, and violence.  It is in this context that we tell our daughter’s boyfriends that we’ll shoot them if they “come home late.”  It is also in this context where we connect violence and sex on numerous levels.

If we as men think of teenage boys as little more than rape machines with faulty safety mechanisms, or worse yet, think that we were rape machines as teenagers, then we excuse the worst of male behaviors as nothing more than biology—hormones acting out the only way they can express themselves—violently.  And that’s simply not true.  It is not only as teenagers that people have powerful sexual urges, or multiple forms of confusion and angst over various aspects of sexuality and relationships; and it is never acceptable for those urges to be translated into violence.  It is as teenagers that we should really be learning how to navigate relationships in a positive fashion.  It is as adults that we should guide teenagers—and that means mentoring our daughter’s boyfriends, not threatening to kill them.

I would much rather welcome my daughter’s boyfriend into the family and make him feel comfortable than to threaten him.  But then again, I don’t imagine my daughter coming home with somebody who I would feel threatened by—someone I would feel the need to engage in a pissing contest.  This is not to say that I feel my daughter is immune to sexual assault, or even bad decisions in choosing guys to hang out with.  It is to say that I do what I can to convey my trust in her, but more importantly, to let her know to trust herself as a whole person.