Fritz the Sheep

My elder daughter broached the subject of when she should start her Driver’s Ed course. Boy, was that a mistake. Not only did it bring back my own memories of Austrian Driving School, but she was really jumping the gun here!

“You know I am going to be 18 next summer,” she said.

“No you’re not.”

Moooomm!

“You are NOT! At least not if I have anything to say about it!”

We quickly agreed that this license thing was a topic she should take up with her Papa.

 

18! My first baby is going to be 18 next year! And the way time has sped up since we’ve had her – this is going to feel like . . . next month!

I suddenly remembered a box of little treasures I kept upstairs in my closet, because I’d had a vague plan of giving it to her on her 18th birthday. I dragged it out and found the blanket she was wrapped in when I first held her, the first baby bottle we used, her baptism presents and dress, her first stuffed animal . . .

And then I found these:

During the adoption process, I was teaching the third of a four year course and had developed a close relationship with a lot of my students. They were aware of my situation and even a little emotionally involved. When we came home with Mitzi, a lot of them visited us with presents in hand.  That is how this little stuffed sheep – whom we named Fritz – became Mitzi’s Velveteen Rabbit for a while. Two other students later presented me with the book “Fritz the Sheep”. They had drawn all the pictures and written the text themselves. Some people are so incredibly thoughtful and good at gift-giving! (I’m not one of them.) I adored this book from the start and displayed it prominently in my house. Unfortunately, it suffered a little water damage once when a wild thunderstorm blew open the porch door and caused some minor flooding. And Fritz himself is also looking a bit forlorn. But both still qualify as priceless. So I’ve decided to share them.

Here’s the (translated summary of the) story:

Fritz the Sheep lives in a nice place outside a small village, but for some reason, he is a little sad and a little lonely. He decides to take a walkabout.

 

He meets Lisa the Cow and tells her about his travels. Lisa doesn’t really understand why he isn’t satisfied.

 

Fritz meets Pino the Woodpecker. (Let it be known here that “Pino” was the nickname of one of the authors.) Pino tells Fritz that what he is really looking for is happiness and tries to teach him to fly. It doesn’t work out well.

 

As Fritz wanders away, Pino decides he could still help. He brings Fritz to a birdhouse where they meet Gina the Cat. (Let it be known that our Cat One was named Gina.) Gina is nasty and makes fun of Fritz at first, but after Pino flatters her, she decides to help. And, deep down, she is wise and has a good heart.

 

Gina leads them to a house, telling Fritz that she spends a lot of time there.  (Just like our house at the time, there is a rocking chair on the front porch, a basketball stand and a blue car.) Fritz asks why they are there. Gina tells him to figure it out for himself and takes off.

 

Fritz is greeted by a barking gray woolly sheepdog named Whitney. (Long-time blog readers will know her as “Dog Two” – and if they look closely down the hallway, they will see “The Nemesis”.) Whitney makes it clear to Fritz that no one can come in here – unless, of course, they have a reason to . . . then it’s okay.

 

Fritz saunters into the house and then goes out to the terrace where he finds me reading to Mitzi – who doesn’t look at all sleepy. He has an idea.

 

Fritz starts jumping over the fence again and again until Maria gets tired and falls asleep. This makes Fritz happy and he decides to stay with this family till the end of his days.

 

(The End)

 

So, the plan was to give these things to Mitzi on her 18th birthday – that is what a thoughtful and great gift-giver would do. (Did I mention I am not one of them?) But I suddenly find myself having a little trouble with the thought of letting precious things go. Maybe she will just have to wait a bit longer – like . . . say . . . until she has her own first child (assuming that happens).

Serves her right for growing up so fast.

 

Bureaucratic Baby Steps

So. The deed is done. My application for US citizenship for my adopted daughters is in the mail. My nearly yearlong odyssey to make this happen is nearing its conclusion. Now it is Wait and See time.

I can’t believe how convoluted this process has been from the very onset. And, of course, there were a few more stumbling blocks set in our path through the second to last stretch. Like the fact that permission from the Austrian government for dual citizenship took over six (!) months, meaning that the time window is now very small. (Although, when I picked up the documents, I saw that they were dated October 10th 2016. Seems like we could have had them five months ago, but no one got around to notifying us . . .)

Then, there was a new version of the application form – now 13 pages long instead of the 8-page one I filled out last summer. If I had sent that one in, it would have been immediately rejected. I only stumbled across the new form through sheer dumb luck.

And then came the dilemma of how to pay the (discouragingly hefty) filing fee from abroad? After reading every square inch of the website and consulting its Avatar “Emma”, who answered each of my questions by directing me back to a webpage, I took the desperate step of trying to call our – in this case, frigging useless  – embassy.

Unfortunately, there are only two telephone numbers listed on the embassy website – one for visa questions and one for dire emergencies. I dialed the visa number and went through an endless series of “Press 1 for lahdeedah. Press 2 for weebeejeebee . . . Press 269 for zippowingo. Hold the line to talk to a human being.”  I held. After what seemed like two days – finally! – a voice of a real person. To keep a short story short, here’s what he told me. He doesn’t know anything about my situation except that he knows that I can’t pay the fee through the embassy and, no, he can’t connect me to anyone else there who might know, and, no, it won’t help to come in person.

So how do I pay this stupid fee? The website makes clear that the application will be rejected if the cash is not forked over upfront and that the money has to come from a US bank.

I was without options.

Time to call Sister Ambassador.

We hatched a plan. I filled out the form for credit card payment that is used for different type of application and then wrote a cover letter saying that if it was the wrong one, my sister would write a check. Here’s all her contact information. Please work it out with her!  And then, in a blind leap of faith, I stacked it all up – my cover letter, my G-1450 form, my G-1145 form, my N-600K application form, my thick folders full of supporting documents (with certified translations!) – and I stuffed it all into a bubble envelope and addressed it to the USCIS. I drove to the post office.

May the fates be merciful.

Best case scenario: The payment is accepted. The application is accepted. We are notified. No more documents are requested. No specialized visa is necessary which would require me to visit the US embassy. We get an interview appointment in the Milwaukee Field Office during the time period I suggested. The interviews go well. My daughters are handed their Certificates of Citizenship. We celebrate.

And then, sometime next fall, my daughters and I go to the embassy and we watch with gratification as they hand over the US passports. A small part of the world has been righted: adopted children DO have all the same rights as biological ones. It just requires some extra paperwork. And a flight or two across an ocean.

 

Worrywart Worries

It’s March 31st, 2017. I want to remember this date.

In March 2016, two things were set into motion that have kept me internally rocking and reeling ever since. In March 2016, I enrolled my daughter officially in the Milwaukee Public School System for her high school exchange year and in March 2016, my school team officially applied to take part in a two-year European Union project in partnership with institutes in Portugal and Italy. Had both “projects” gone smoothly, I would be heading for Vienna on Monday to take part in a big Kick-off Meeting. I would also probably be skyping daily with my distant daughter from my very quiet household.

Things didn’t go smoothly. In either case.

The first enrollment set off a series of visa nightmares and disappointments, but then – as a silver lining – a year+ long quest through the bowels of bureaucracy to get dual citizenship for my (adopted) daughters. The second application set off a yearlong series of frustrations and added stress that had my idealistic and hard-working colleagues nearing the burn-out point. (Did I mention that the EU project aimed to find good practices for preventing Burn-out?) Both issues have kept the back of my mind working on overdrive for most of the year.

Today, within a span of 3 hours, both issues resolved themselves abruptly and unexpectedly. Shortly before noon and six months (!) after our original application, the mailman arrived with a registered letter from the Austrian government granting my daughters permission for dual citizenship. Two hours later, I left a meeting at the school in which we had extricated ourselves successfully from the EU project – with no bad feelings, no lingering resentments and no danger of tanking the project as a whole.

My inner worrywart doesn’t know what hit her. It’s like she suddenly has no reason to exist. She’s dazed and confused and I almost feel sorry for her.

Running on Empty – (Reunions – Chapter 12)

Note: This post is part of a longer story. If you are interested in reading it from the beginning onward, use the links at the end of this post.)

Despite the whirlwind of last minute activity before my second trip to Ethiopia, it took every last iota of my energy to keep tamping down my worries. How is Lily doing? Is it really just chicken pox or is it . . . god forbid . . . the measles? Surely Monty would tell me! I had the hour count in my head of how much longer it would be before I had Lily in my arms. As I ticked them off one by one, each hour seemed to be longer than the previous. Time was slowing down. Still, by the time we got to the airport, my count had made it down to a maximum of 15 hours till I would see her, hold her – and with a little luck, maybe 14 or even 13!

My arrival in Addis Ababa for the second time was quite the opposite of the first experience – with one little exception. To begin with, I personally knew Monty who would be there to meet us at the airport in the middle of the night and I was ready when she flung herself at me and began a series of traditional three cheek kisses interspersed with strong hugs. She chattered away and began organizing us all for the drive while simultaneously being introduced to the others and laughing and then coming back to me for yet another hug. Somewhere in there I managed to work in my burning question: “Are the babies okay?”

“Yes yes yes, the babies are good!” she said and then got back to the business of distributing suitcases and passengers into the two cars.

I was surprised to find her husband, (I’ll call him “Daniel”), in attendance too. In contrast to Monty (not to mention the hapless, Mr. T) this man was quiet, reserved, distinguished. I would find out that he was a former Economics professor and an author, now self-employed and working to patiently reform the Ethiopian economy. His English was impeccable. His presence there was meant to honor us and thank us for our help to his son in Austria.

After the initial introductions, we headed to their two cars – neither of which needed any duct tape to hold it together. I ended up riding shotgun with Daniel. As we approached the one large intersection with traffic lights, I remembered how, two years earlier, Mr. T. had simply shot through it obliviously, despite the red light. It surprised me to see this man gunning toward the red light in the same way, with no hint of him even considering using the brakes. After barreling through, I asked him if it was customary there to simply ignore stoplights. He looked at me with a tiny smile. “When no other cars are around?” he responded. He seemed to be questioning me. I liked the twinkle in his eyes.

We got to the Mission we were staying at around 4:00 in the morning. After helping us with our luggage, Monty brought in bag after bag full of food, water, bananas, bread . . . Anything and everything she thought we might need in the next 7 hours before we would meet again. She ordered us to go right to sleep and then to be ready at 11:00 am the next morning, when they would pick us up again.

“And then we will go to the orphanage?” I asked.

“No, no. We will have lunch first. Sister Mariska said Visiting Hours are between 4 and 6 pm. Then we go.”

Monty made her vivacious goodbyes, ordered us to go to sleep once again, hugged and kissed me several times and then handed me a banana and told me to sleep well. And then she was gone.

I was so disappointed. 4 o’clock pm! Twelve more hours! How would I make it that long?!  I was so close to Lily now (or at least I thought) and still had to wait! Life was cruel.

I ate a banana. As ordered. And I went to bed. But I didn’t really sleep.

I waited till it was light and I heard noises of the others – the other adopting couple and my sister-in-law who had come with me. (My husband had stayed at home with our elder daughter.) We whiled away the time as best we could, battling impatience. We wandered around the garden and took strange pictures. Time had slowed almost to a halt. Monty and Daniel’s arrival felt like redemption.running1

running2

 

Our lunch was wonderful but I could hardly wait for it to be over. It was followed by an almost painfully long traditional coffee ceremony (which begins with roasting the beans). We asked intermittently about the babies, but Monty kept her answers short and quickly changed the subject. Once the coffee had been drunk and cups returned, I assumed we would be off to the orphanage – a bit early, but not by much. Monty had other plans and we proceeded to drive up the mountain Entoto by one of the back roads. We would take in the view of Addis and maybe look at the churches.

running3 running4

Never before and never since have I been so ungrateful for such kindness – but I was wilting inside. It wasn’t even nervous energy keeping me going anymore, it was just the fumes. It was already 4 pm when we entered the second church. My brain was calculating the shortest period of time we could spend pretending to look at it without being rude. That’s when the curator came over and offered us a private guided tour. I thanked him and tried to beg off by explaining how we were on our way to the orphanage, but Monty stopped me. She whispered “This is great honor!” So we traipsed from artefact to artefact as the curator droned on unintelligibly about which king or priest did which historical thing in which year, after which he stopped and waited for me to translate it all for the German speakers while I was dying inside.

It was . . . excruciating.

The other adopting couple – let’s call them Ellen and Ronny – looked at me with something like pain in their eyes. This was their first time in Ethiopia and their first adoption. My nervousness and anxiety were nothing compared to theirs. They both looked like they were about to throw up. So, instead of translating the wonders of the next artefact, I said in German, “I should be telling you what he just said – which I didn’t really understand – but I’ll use this chance to ask you two how you are holding up.” I then added a bit louder: “King Fasilides in the 17th century.” Ronny then asked me in German how much longer this was going to go on and weren’t we going to miss the visiting hours? I told them I would try to get us out of there and then pointed out the pattern on the artefact as if I were explaining it.

As we walked to the next display case, I whispered to Monty that Ellen wasn’t feeling well and needed some air. Monty and the curator then had an intense discussion during which he seemed a bit affronted and she talked a mile a minute. At one point he looked over at us and seemed to soften a bit. We all thanked him profusely and he almost smiled. (I think Monty’s donation to the church helped a bit too.) We were free! We were finally on our way to Lily!

running5

running6To be honest, I have almost no true memories of the next hour. I only have the ones my mind later constructed around the pictures we took. The red couch. The bundle. Lily in my arms, confused, straining away from this stranger and looking around for Monty or Sister Mariska. Those two women were in intense conversation, interrupted occasionally by one of them telling me “On the mend! On the mend!” In the pictures, a black splotch is visible on the corner of Lily’s mouth, but I don’t remember seeing it in those first moments. I do remember realizing suddenly that I had forgotten the Baby Bjorn back at the mission. I kicked myself mentally. I had had Lily for all of ten minutes and had already made my first mistake. I took off my sweater and tied it around my waist to fashion a make-shift baby carrier. It would have to do.

(Years later, Monty told me a story. She said that Daniel had watched me doing this with some fascination and then said, “Now THAT is a mother!”)

Sister Mariska had a lot of work to do, so she kicked us out after a fairly short time. Before I knew it, we were back at the mission and I had a sick baby to take care of. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know what I would have done without Monty and my sister-in-law (– I’ll call her “Sue”). Both of them were experts in childcare. (Despite having a surgeon, two dentists and a gynecologist in the family, it was Sue that we all called when we needed medical advice – and especially when it was for a sick baby.) In those first hours, Monty and Sue prepared the antibiotics for Lily and discussed how and when they should be administered. They helped me bathe Lily in specially prepared water to treat her scabies. It was Sue who sat next to me as I gave Lily her first formula. Sue kept me from panicking when I realized that Lily was too weak to suck it out of the bottle – even after we painstakingly enlarged the nipple hole with a pin. It was Sue’s idea to try spoon-feeding. We began pouring the formula drop by drop onto Lily’s lips and saw that she was taking it in. We kept this up for hours and through much of the next day until Lily was strong enough to use the bottle.

At some point, this longest day of my life had to end. Lily was sleeping (if somewhat fitfully) when I placed her in the crib and then lay down. I listened to her wheezy, rattly breathing and worried. Then the sound stopped and I worried more, so I got up to check her breathing. After the third time, I realized this wasn’t going to work. I had read in a baby book somewhere that it is dangerous to have an infant in your bed, but I saw no other option. I rolled up extra blankets and laid them to the left and right of me. Then I got Lily and laid her on my chest and covered her up. Her breathing quieted, but I could still feel her lungs expanding and contracting. I drifted off and woke hours later in the exact same position.

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Between the Baby Bjorn and this sleeping arrangement, Lily spent about 100 of the next 120 hours at my chest. Heart to heart. We were soon both on the mend.

 

We spent another five days in Ethiopia during which Monty spoilt us rotten with attention. We were chauffeured around to sights and restaurants and visits to families of other children adopted by Austrian friends. We brought presents to people and went shopping for souvenirs. We watched Lily get stronger and stronger. We learned her noises and her ways. Once she seemed out of the woods, I finally maneuvered Monty into a corner. We were in the car on our way somewhere when I told her in no uncertain terms that I wanted to know the truth. “Lily had the measles, not the chicken pox, didn’t she?” I asked. There was a long silence.

“Yes,” Monty finally admitted.

“How bad was it?”

“You do not need to know this.”

We drove on in more silence for a while. And then I said, “Okay. But I want a promise from you. Someday in the future you will tell me the truth.”

She thought about it for a while and then made the promise.

 

In the absence of facts, theories and stories and, eventually, legends emerged about Lily and her medical history. Sue has come to believe and say that if we had arrived just one day later, Lily would not have made it. I know that she is telling her own truth and that with her expertise, I should believe her, and yet I don’t. Because I can’t. The what if’s are simply too awful to contemplate. And then there is the memory of Sister Mariska’s confidence. Lily was already “On the mend!” when I first held her . . .

And then there was Monty’s version of the truth, which I heard a half year later when she visited us in Austria. She told me that two nights before our arrival, she had visited Lily in the orphanage. Her condition was dire and Monty didn’t think she would survive the night. She recognized that it was in God’s hands now, and that if Lily was still alive the next morning, then everything would be alright. And that was what happened.

I know Monty was telling her own truth. And I should believe her. But I can’t.

Adopted children do not like hearing that their experiences were “meant to be” and I understand fully why that it is so. How could it ever be “meant to be” that a person loses his/her mother or father in infancy? Beginning one’s life in loss can only be bad luck and never destiny.

And yet.

I cannot and will never stop feeling that Lily and Mitzi and Hubby and I belong together for no other reason than there is no alternative. We four are NOT simply the product of a string of decisions and coincidences and timing and luck . . .

We are meant to be. It is my own truth. And I believe it.

 

——————————————————

The back story:
Reunions – The Prologue
Part 1 – The Decision
Part 2 – Nine Months
Part 3 – The 4 o’clock 10 o’clock Man
Part 4- Seeing is Believing
Part 5 – Whirlwind Departure
Part 6 – Out of the Question
Part 7 – Body Language
Part 8 – International Kidnapping
Part 9 – The Well-being of the Child
Part 10 – Poons and Moons
 Part 11 – Oh No, Not Lily

 

Agnes and Jorge’s Miracle Child

As a self-professed heathen, I don’t usually pay much attention to the goings on in the Catholic Church – or any other organized religion for that matter. But there is something about this current Pope Francis that is hard not to like. Strange to think he was once little Jorge running around the streets of Buenos Aires. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) Mother Teresa – once young Agnes of Macedonia – became a character in my own life story almost 16 years missionaries1ago, when I drove up to the gate of a Missionaries of Charity in Addis Ababa to meet my elder daughter.

I returned again 2 years later to the same place, where my younger daughter was waiting for me. So when I saw the headline missionaries2about her canonization today, I clicked and read. Then I clicked on “Related” links and read more. And more . . .

 

I had already known that birth control and abortion were barring the church’s doorway to the 21st century, but I guess “miracles” can be added to that list. I read quite a bit about how the miracles get selected and verified and it seems like a lot of unnecessary work for results that will never be completely free of dubiousness. I could have found them their miracles much faster – two are living right here in this house! One of them is cleaning her room as I write this. (A third miracle!) With 100s of these orphanages spread over the globe in the world’s most poverty-stricken places for the past 60+ years, there must be tens or hundreds of thousands of other miracles. You’d think it would be enough to check that “worthy of sainthood” box.

Ducks Fleetingly in a Row

Lately I have scared off most of my readers with the continuing, nightmarish and convoluted saga of my quest to save my daughter’s high school exchange year. Yea, though I have walked through the shadow of the valley of the bureaucrats, I will get no visa. That ship has sailed.

And yet the odyssey continues. I am now on the path toward citizenship for both my daughters and the goalpost is slowly coming into focus. Today we formally requested dual nationality by the Austrian government – i.e. so that they keep their Austrian citizenship while adding the American one. (This requires forking over 1000 Euros up front.) Then I set up two tables on the screen porch and ordered all the documents – originals, copies, originals plus certified translations into either German or English, copies of the same . . . I made a little spreadsheet listing all of them and them making little checks indicating which ones I will need at which office or appointment . . .

And then I saw it: three document translations with no certification – about seven pages in all.

I do freelance translating and there are three things that really suck about the work. One is that people always want work done this instant. Preferably by yesterday, but by tomorrow at the latest. The second is that they refer to some mutual acquaintance when they call and hope it will grease the wheels. Thirdly, they always lie about how long the text is – if they say 4 pages, then you can assume it is at least 10. It’s a pain.

So what did I do? I called a translation agency in Graz owned by a former coworker whom I haven’t talked to in about 8 years. I then called that same coworker on her vacation – I assume she was lying on a beach somewhere in Croatia while we talked. Then I called the secretary back and made arrangements. I told her it was three 1 or 2 page documents (which, if you do the math, doesn’t add up to seven). And by the way, could it be done by Friday?

I did get to yes, but it seems I have to fork over 120 Euros before they will throw their stamp on those papers. Whatever. I will take it.

Our appointment at the immigration services will be eleven days from now. As far as paperwork goes, I think I am now all set. Of course before submitting it all, I’ll have to fork over about 1200 dollars in application fees first. That seems to be the way the world works now.

I’m down to two concerns. One is minor and easy: getting passport photos for the younger daughter. The second one will stick around and haunt me a bit longer.

While translating the adoption decree for my elder daughter, I discovered a factual error: it identifies me as an Austrian citizen. So that is going to be really helpful when I have to prove my American citizenship in order to claim it for my adopted daughter.

Help me out here. Government officials don’t actually read all those papers before pushing them, do they?

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/wallpaper/animals/photos/national-geographic-mallard-ducks/mallard-ducks-swimming-row/
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/wallpaper/animals/photos/national-geographic-mallard-ducks/mallard-ducks-swimming-row/

Fine Print, Red Tape, Epic Revision

 

 (Wednesday)

I am doing my very best to tamp down these feelings, but they keep peeking over the abyss of my desperation – little glimmers of hope. Maybe this visa problem can be fixed after all.

I’ve been reading and rereading stuff all day – legal notices, official websites, forms, instructions for filling out forms and internet help forums, etc. In preparation for my visit to the embassy, after compiling a huge folder full of documents (could these dental records be helpful? maybe! toss them on the pile! should I bring her baby teeth too?) I figured I’d print out an application for the passport and fill it out in advance too – what the heck. It included 5 pages of instructions in teensy weensy print. Somewhere hiding in the middle was this:

It seems we don’t have to ask for citizenship – we can “claim” it. “Legal custody” I can prove with documents, but “physical custody”?? (Maybe I really will bring those baby teeth along.)

I am starting to believe just a little – can it be true that my daughters are US citizens already?

But then there is the catch: “evidence of permanent residence status”. And the hope slides back down my esophagus.

I know for a fact that this requirement doesn’t exist for biological children. My American friend T² has gone through this twice with her bio kids who had never set foot in the States and don’t intend to ever live there.

So – maybe no equity for adopted children. No matter what the “Child Citizen’s Act” of 2001 says.

I guess I will find out on Friday.

 

(Thursday)

My girl turned 16 today. The 16th birthday is a big one here. She can now vote in elections and legally buy alcohol – and as a proud mother, I will add that she is much more excited about the first new right. Her only real experiences with alcohol so far have been 1) eating rum balls in grade school and 2) babysitting puking classmates at village festivals. She’s not enthused by the whole concept of drinking.

We started today with an invitation for breakfast at the neighbors’ B&B, then went on to a lunch invitation in Graz with Omili. We did some shopping, came home and now she is out with a bunch of friends. She is aware of what has been going on with her plans to go to high school in the States, but she has been pretty okay about it. We will see what tomorrow brings.

The huge file of documents is compiled, the forms filled out, the photos and self-addressed, stamped envelopes prepared . . . I can’t think of anything else I can do to make this go well.

I’m exhausted.

 

(Friday)

Sucky sucky sucky day.

Up at 5:30. Three hour train ride to Vienna. Arrived 20 minutes before our “appointment” at the embassy. Traversed the security and metal detectors – which turned out to be the most pleasant part of the visit.

From then on it was being sent from window to window to window by clerks who were not capable of listening, much less comprehending our situation. We spent the entire hour standing and talking through glass with a succession of harried people. “Just a minute, I have to ask my colleague.” How many times did I hear that today? The best conversation was when one of them explained to me that in order to get a passport, my daughter had to apply in the U.S. for citizenship first and that she had to fly there for her interview on an American passport.

The next discussion revolved around my copy of the Child Citizenship Act of 2001. I had highlighted sentences that supported our view of the situation. The clerk’s rebuttal was that this version was old and out-of-date. I responded that I had downloaded it from the embassy’s own website. “When?” she asked. “Two or three weeks ago,” I answered. She left to go consult a colleague. Then she returned and admitted that I was right – they still had the old version on their website.

Oops.

The same woman later told me that with a J-1 cultural exchange visa, my daughter could live wherever she wanted. Back home, I immediately emailed the State Department to see if that were true. The answer:

Section (j) Subsection (2)  States that Exchange students are not permitted to reside with their relatives.

So I take everything I heard today with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, my daughter took it all with a torrent of tears. It became crystal clear to her that she was not on par with a biological child and somewhat confusedly stated “How am I supposed to prove who my birth mother is?” Or I should say, I thought she was confused. When we talked about it later, I could see how she connected the two situations in her mind. Her birth mother gave her up so she doesn’t really belong to her anymore. This difference in treatment at the embassy tells her that she doesn’t really belong to me.  This citizenship thing is now a symbol for her. And that means I can’t stop until we achieve it.

Unfortunately, there is no way to save this immediate plan of ours for a high school exchange year. At least, I don’t see a way anymore. The advice we got from the American side turned out to be true: “Find a different school or find a different living situation.”

Let’s start with “a different school” – one that is accredited to supply the forms for a normal F-1 visa. My internet search showed me my choices within 20 miles of my sister’s house:

Heritage Christian School, Kaplan Test Prep School, Wisconsin Institute for Torah Study, Milwaukee Jewish Day School, The Prairie School, Nashotah House, Christian Life School,  Magellan Day School, Cavalry Baptist School . . .

I’m sure they are all very nice schools. And yet . . . I do not think so.

How about a different living situation? Hey stranger! Would you take my daughter in? She is coming in three weeks.

Again. I do not think so.

So here we are. Stymied.

I have given up. I wrote a letter to the school (and a few other people involved in this situation) that my daughter planned to go to. I am not going to actually send it off. It was done more in hopes of some cathartic effect – but was ultimately unsuccessful.

The day ended in a skype session with the sister in which I cried and she made plans to contact our congresswoman.

 

(Saturday)

The day began with an email from fired up Sister Ambassador and instructions for making an appointment at the USCIS (the INS’s new name, as I now know).

I tried. Here’s a screen shot of my results:

uscis

I then relinquished the driver seat to the Ambassador for the rest of the day and headed for the couch. I spent hours binge-watching old episodes of “Friends” mostly because the remote control was out of reach and it was too much effort to stand up. A slight headache came and went. The pukey bucket stood ready but was never used. My husband remarked at how bizarre it was to see me watching TV. At some point, I realized how long I have been fantasizing about spending a day like this.

Which is really kind of sad.

 

The couch potato afternoon did do me good. It seems something akin to hope really does spring eternal. Or else, as my sister and I discovered, we are both insufferable silver lining spotters.

By evening, I was sufficiently soothed to get active again. First thing on the agenda was a talk with my daughter. I explained that these problems had nothing to do with the comparative value of bio and adopted kids. It is just that some people could use adoption as a way of getting around the system, so there are some extra precautions taken. I made sure she really understood.

Later, in another bout of internet research, I miraculously I stumbled across a new form to download – one specifically for my situation (applying for citizenship for adopted children living abroad). Up to now I had been going by the information on the US Embassy in Vienna website, which, as I discovered yesterday, is hopelessly out of date. Luckily, this find made me feel better rather than even more frustrated. My mood was improved again after a nice Skype session with my mom (probably instigated by the Ambassador.) In this talk, I realized that it is time for a new plan. (Which plan is this now? Plan J? Plan K?) First step: the foreign exchange year (which will probably not happen) and the citizenship quest (which has to) have now separated into two distinct issues. There is the tiniest of chances that they will come together again once we reach the States, but I am no longer counting on that. Somehow I don’t think our congresswoman is any match for the Department of Homeland Security.

So, as of today, Plan J is to get the school to allow my daughter to be a guest student for a month and then we will fly her home for the school year here. (They owe us at least that much, don’t they?) At least she will get a little taste of the American high school experience and have things to tell her friends.

Plan K is to set the citizenship process in motion for both daughters this summer. At some point – if all goes smoothly – we will all be asked to come back for the interviews. The upshot: two visits home in the space of one year!

Fantasy Plan L – way off in the distant future – is to return to the embassy with our certificates and forms and receipts and documents and then to watch in satisfaction as they hand over the passports.

 

(Sunday)

I woke up today strangely inspired. I had this idea to write a modern version of Homer’s “Odyssey”. Here’s a summary of what I have so far:

The story begins in media res. It’s been seven years since the end of the war, but Odysseus is still hanging around Troy waiting for his appointment at the Greek Embassy so that he can finally sail home. Someone takes pity on him and he is allowed to enter the fortress. Rough winds blow him from one mythical creature to the next. The first is a Lotus-eater who confuses him so much that he almost forgets why he is there and what his goal is. He is then blown off to the Cyclops whom he tries to blind with the bright highlights on his copy of the Child Citizenship Act (I’m still trying to work that little detail in). This incurs the wrath of the Cyclops’s father Poseidon, God of the USCIS. From there it is on to Circe whom Odysseus is able to get on his side for a while, but then he is tossed back into the Waiting Room of the Dead. What follows is another epic battle with a six-headed monster and then suddenly all Odysseus hears are the Sirens, so he sticks his fingers in his ears, closes his eyes and says “la la la la la la . . .” until he escapes the fortress and lands back in Troy.
After some more delays that seem like years, the Goddess Esta grants him a waiver and he finally returns to Ithaca in the guise of beggar. In order to prove he really comes from there after being gone for so long, he first has to shoot an arrow through a dozen axes.

odyssey

Okay. So it needs a little work. But I bet “Hamilton” sounded like a pretty dumb idea at the start too.