September 20, 2011


Some things turn out to be harder than you expected. And some things turn out when you least expect them to. Sometimes those things are one and the same. My husband just says, "September is a tough month for us."

We're referring to my recent obtaining of Mexican citizenship, and my daughter's first birthday. Both things seemed to be happening according to plan, with no kinks. But then for each event, in the eleventh hour, all hell broke loose. Miraculously, everything DID turn out "okay." But for both, it was touch and go until the very last moment.

In the case of my Mexican naturalization, I could have done like most of my expat friends here and just kept renewing my visa (the FM2, for legal stay in this country) until I got permanent residency. But for me, there was an irresistible draw to "no more trips to immigration (INM)" (only 2 years of renewing the FM2 vs. 5), and the ability to vote. As I saw it, I could be here indefinitely, so why not be a full-fledged member of society?

So the papers were dutifully gathered, submitted, and accepted over the course of months, from late 2010 to March of this year. It was a difficult, expensive, and sometimes stressful process that led me all over Queretaro and Mexico City jumping through bureacratic hoops to properly document my existence and qualifications for becoming Mexican by marriage. Then began the waiting game. In late July, we heard back that my application was approved. I figured it was just a matter of time before my naturalization certificate was delivered, and I was good to go—and put it out of my mind.

As August came to an end, my radar touched back onto the question of my naturalization certificate. Where the heck was it anyways? August is the time when, for the last five years, I start getting my papers together for the visa renewal—up to thirty days before its expiration date. But since my citizenship was on the table, I assumed I wouldn't have to renew this year. I was finishing up a chapter in Amor and Exile, and making plans for the baby's first birthday party, in other words, busy. So I merely shot an email off to my contact at the Secretary of Exterior Relations (SRE) to "check in" and continued to hope for the best.

When he got back to me, still no printing of the certificate. By this time it was early Sept. My visa expire(s/d) on the 18th of Sept., so I started to get a little worried. He told me to wait until the last minute if possible—which is not my style, but who wants to pay $300 more for a document they won't need if the one they're waiting on is almost ready? I decided to try and relax, and play a little roulette.

Meanwhile, plans were going well for the baby's birthday bash. When initially weighing how much to take on, we'd voted down dipping into savings for various home improvement projects prior to the party in favor of a low-budget bash. At first, I meant to keep it on the small side. But I love parties, hadn't had a really big one since the baby shower, and that invite list sort of took on a life of its own, so the budget got pushed to the limit. Luckily, a bunch of friends had committed to chip in with time and effort. But the amount of stress over preparation and expenses approached a level I wasn't quite expecting.

Normally, I am fairly conservative in my estimates when planning for parties and life in general. However, I indulged in a few fantasies that, in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have: First, that my baby would know (or care) that I was throwing a party for her, and would demand any less of my attention in the weeks leading up to it. Second, I assumed we'd have income around the time of the party, but then in a random stroke of bad luck, my husband was out of work for the two weeks prior. I also didn't have the cushion of the long-hoped for contract for the book (I know, I am crazy! But that's why I called it a fantasy). I also assumed that I wouldn't be reapplying for a visa in the days prior to the party—those of you who've done it before know that it's almost like a full-time job for the week before the renewal date.

The week before the party, and my visa's expiration date; which ironically are one and the same, I decided I couldn't just "wait until the last minute." I went into INM and SRE to beg them to give me clarity about what was going to happen: would I in fact get my naturalization papers in time, or would be I be dipping into my savings for a useless document that I'd have to reapply for on a technicality (in order for it to have validity, the naturalization certificate's print date must coincide with a date prior to the expiration of your visa)?

The possibility of running out of money hasn't occurred to me for at least 10 years, back when I was struggling to get on my feet as a recent college graduate. But when they turned me away at the SRE doors and I sat down on the bench outside with the baby, after 5 years of underemployment, and contemplating the possibility that my application for citizenship had been for naught, I wondered if heartless bureaucrats would continue to empty my pockets until I failed to even qualify for either a visa OR citizenship—and then how would my husband and I be together? I broke down in tears. So as to not get stuck in the paperless limbo land that my husband lived in the U.S., I decided to go ahead and reapply for the visa at the eleventh hour, on September 15th, the day before Mexican Independence Day. It was the last day I could submit my papers.

We were down in the commercial district making our way to the bank to transfer money to the INM coffers for the right to be here another year with my family when I got a phone call from my contact at SRE. Only that I couldn't answer because I'd just dropped my cell phone on the ground and I could hear nothing on the other end. I ran outside to get my husband's cell phone, ran into the grocery store to put credit on the phone, and ran back out to call my contact. "Is Syracuse spelled with a 'Y'?" he asked. I stammered yes, wondering if this really meant my wait was over. Half an hour later, at the bank, before I had to get in line behind 40 others before business hours ended for the next 4 days, I got word that the certificate had been printed, and I wouldn't have to renew my visa.

I couldn't believe things had turned out this way. The only problem was that I'd still have to wait to get my certificate in the mail, as it had been printed but not signed. So until then, I'd be unable to get a Mexican passport, and essentially unable to travel (back into Mexico is the catch—there's no problem going up into the States because of my U.S. passport). I wavered but after conferring with family, decided it was worth the risk. I hope I don't eat my words.

It was Independence Day, and I was officially a Mexican citizen. I should have been elated—and I was—I went out and partied like I hadn't for a long time that night with friends downtown. When I got home during the wee hours of the next morning, the baby had been up wailing for an hour with my husband, who'd stayed home to watch her. But I had no regrets. However, I had only two days to go before the party—I had to get my act together, raging hangover or not. I set about taking care of the last minute details and gathered a small army for the food preparation the day prior.

But then family hit the fan—Margo's side had a small crisis of their own and infighting had broken out, making me fear no one would show up at our party for not wanting to see each other. That made it sink in how upset I was that my own family couldn't be there with us to celebrate. Our situation doesn't make it easy for them either—the distance is considerable, tickets are expensive, mail is tough, internet is erratic. We'd had to make a choice—have them visit either this date, or Christmas, and pinned our hopes on the latter. But as the big day approached I felt more and more sad that we'd be apart for this one.

It's weird, because I don't usually feel this bad for my own birthday. Nostalgic, yes. Sometimes wishing my husband would do it up for me like only my family and friends can, also. But never with the dark cloud of dreariness that I felt creeping up on me like I did as my daughter's 1st birthday without my side of the family present. That caught me off guard.

So much so, that I woke up the morning of her birthday with paralyzing back pain. I'd been worn out the day before, and I'd been having hip pain for months, but having my back go out was completely unexpected, especially since I'd managed to make it all the way through pregnancy without that happening. What was going on? I tried to get my frustrations out with my therapist, who graciously spoke with me that morning. After skype didn't work ten times while trying to set up a happy birthday phone call with my parents for the baby, I had an embarrassingly upsetting incident with them and my husband. It became apparent how raw I'd gotten, or how the stress I'd been desperately trying to avoid had finally caught up with me. All of my attempts to hold it together—meditation, affirmation, visualization, gratitude—seemed to be simultaneously imploding.

On our way down to town to pick up the cake, I felt ashamed for the way I'd spoken earlier that morning, and could only look at my daughter next to me, who laughed as tears and snot streamed down my face. And I realized how silly I must have looked to her, and began to laugh myself. What felt like emergencies minutes prior seemed wholly insignificant, if only for a moment.

In the end, I was able to carry on and we were able to pull off a very fun, memorable party with plenty of friends and family present. My parents were even able to watch the piñata being broken and the cake being cut via Skype—the gods were willing this time. As a friend had predicted a week earlier, it was a celebration not just for our daughter's first birthday, but for us all having been able to make it through one more year—together. The pain may have yet to be resolved, but the commemoration is complete.

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