Nine months was nothing, they said

I’ve just learned that the NYC Dept of Education, in all their wisdom, decided to cut February break short this year in order to make up for lost instruction time due to Hurricane Sandy.

My first thought is that this is abysmally stupid.  Firstly, in high schools, it just throws things off.  High schools run on semesters, and teachers plan accordingly.  Getting days in February will not help cover material needed for the January regents.  In my own classroom, this would have given the kids three more days on Things Fall Apart, but we still would have lost major time in the heroes unit that I do in November as a prequel to the Odyssey.  Also, I’m sure those days could have been found elsewhere.  Plus, I’ve missed at least two days out of the schoolyear several times before, and no one’s had to make up the days.  I’m mad on behalf of all my fellow teachers and all my students that they’re being punished for something they couldn’t control.

I’m mad because I know if it had been me, I would have been gutted.  I almost always used that February break to visit friends in England.  Over this past year, I used it to visit my fiance.

This takes me back to the time when I was embroiled in trying to make the decision of what to do.  When MR and I got engaged, we blithely assumed that it would be no problem to live together in either country, so long as we were married.  Arguably, it’s one of the reasons we moved so fast, although we can never know what might have happened if I was an English girl.  It turns out that we were only half right.  The UK would let us stay together, but the US was much more complicated.  If we wanted to live there together, we had to get married there.  To get married there, we needed to apply for a fiance visa, which would be given at an indeterminate date, taking up to seven months to process.  Once issued, we would have had to get married within 90 days.  Try planning a big wedding under those parameters.  It’s impossible.

Several people suggested the City Hall option, but that wasn’t an option for me.  I know a couple who were in our position–he’s Irish, she’s American, and that’s what they did.  She described her sudden City Hall wedding as an adventure, and I can absolutely see the appeal.  But it wasn’t for me.  I was one of those girls who had planned her wedding from when she was small, and I wasn’t about to give up on that once I had finally found the guy.  Plus, by the time we found this out we had already paid deposits and started planning our wedding in England.  I already had the big white dress with a train that was begging for a church aisle.  And I’m admittedly religious.  Not crazy evangelical or anything, but having a church wedding was really important to me.  And to MR–although he’s not religious, the pomp and circumstance appealed to him, much moreso than a clandestine city hall celebration.

We went to a lawyer, and she told us that if we got married in the UK, he would have to apply from there for entry, and that process could take nine months.  Nine months.  First, it would take four to five months to approve our marriage and decide that we actually did want to be together, and then it would take an additional four to five months to get his green card.  To add to that, during that time he might not be able to visit me.  UK visitors enter the US on a visa waiver program, but of course MR would be trying to waive his need for a visa while simultaneously applying for a visa.  In a post 9/11 world, such information comes up on the border control’s computers, and depending on which border guard he got and what mood they were in (95% chance of surly bordering on scary–nobody ever smiles at me at US customs), he could either be let through or put on the next flight back to the UK.

When we found this out we tried every possible permutation of how to get around this.  We asked every question.  People were constantly suggesting things to me–what if he got a student visa? (No, you can’t have dual intent with a student visa.)  What if he came in through Canada?  All of these were complex and none of them were really helpful. I myself tried to get a leave from the Department of Education for a semester to shorten the length of time we were apart and was given a resounding no.  Thanks, Dept. of Ed.  I can see you appreciate my years of loyal service.

After a couple of months of hemming and hawing, it became apparent that we had only two choices: either I give up my job, my car (I had a gorgeous BMW which I got by luck and some very nice friends), my apartment, my life, and move to England, or we spend the first nine months of our marriage apart, that I get married and go on honeymoon, and then fly back alone.

People were shocked that I might even consider the second option.  While the school secretaries were very kindly helping me with paperwork and scheduling meetings, I remember them saying “You have to think about this, honey.  Nine months is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to a lifetime.  You don’t want to give up a good job.”

It was true.  My job was pretty fabulous–I was teaching some of the brightest, nicest, funniest kids in the city.  I had great colleagues.  I even advised a program called TDF Open Doors which took kids to Broadway shows for free, because according to playwright Wendy Wasserstein, theater is every New Yorker’s birthright.  As the advisor, I got to go along.  For free.  To see Broadway shows which I would have shelled out hundreds for, and happily.  I was teaching creative writing, which was enormously fulfilling.

But we had already done eight months apart and it felt like an eternity.  Yes, I loved my job, but it didn’t compensate for how much I missed him.  That was a pang that was with me daily.  People said to me at least I had Skype, but I knew that.  We were already using every app available to us–Skype, email, What’sApp, gchat.  I will tell you this–nothing electronic can ever compensate for being with someone.  I didn’t know how much longer I could carry on.  Nine months didn’t seem like nothing.  In fact, the time frame seemed particularly significant when it came to being with my husband.  In nine months, I could gestate a baby.  And that started me thinking–I’m in my 30’s and just getting married.  What about having kids?  I knew I wanted them.  Three in an ideal world.  Would those nine months be crucial to the planning of my family?  Then I thought of getting pregnant during one of the few chances we’d have to see each other and doing it all on my own.  Not having anyone there for the baby’s first kick.  Not having anyone there to put together a crib or choose a carseat.  Not having anyone, and yet knowing there was someone who should be there, who would be, were it not for some really stupid immigration laws.

Well.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know what we decided.  I’m sitting on a couch in Birmingham, typing away.  I won’t pretend it’s been an easy decision.  I miss New York a lot.  I miss my family.  I really want to go out for dinner and drinks with my friends.  I miss my students–the kids I saw enter as freshmen when I started teaching at THHS are graduating this year, and I would give anything to be there.

But when I see this news, that one of my few chances to see my husband would have been snatched from me, I feel the echo of the helpless ache I would have if I had stayed.  When even the thought of something that’s never going to happen causes me that much pain, I know I made the right choice.  Marius Pontmercy, indeed all of Victor Hugo’s characters, taught me well.  I have always been prepared to make big sacrifices for love.  I was so ready that when I was younger I left a world behind to go and live in North Carolina.  When that relationship failed, I thought it meant that I had been stupid to do that.  Indeed, when I got into this relationship at first, I vowed I wouldn’t move for him, that he would have to move for me.  My friend said, “It doesn’t work like that.  You have to be willing to do for him what he would do for you,” and I realized he was right.

Now I see that failed relationship wasn’t proof of my idiocy.  It was training wheels, to show me what such a sacrifice meant.  And it’s made this leap a lot easier.  This time, I have a real partnership, someone who loves me as much as I love him, and we are happy.  I miss home, but I’m building a new life here and making another home.  Now I know this for certain: I miss New York terribly, but not half as much as I would miss him if I were still there.

Advertisements

Parting is such sweet sorrow

A couple of months ago, I would have scoffed at Juliet’s sentiment.  There is nothing sweet about parting, I would have said.  It is hard and miserable, and the only thing to do when standing in front of the security line at the airport is to think about the next time we’re going to see each other and swallow tears.

I spent a good ten months in a long distance relationship, and it was very hard to pull through.  At the beginning and end there were huge stretches of nearly 100 days where we couldn’t be together, and that’s a very long time.  There’s so much of a romantic relationship that comes from physical proximity.  And you get your mind out of the gutter!  I’m not (only) referring to that.  Although there is that.  But there is also being able to do things together, or just curling up on the couch and watch tv together.  Or doing totally different things, and then getting up to get a drink and, in passing, giving a kiss or touch.

When I was grappling with the decision to up sticks and move to England for love, a lot of people advised me to stay.  “Nine months is a drop in the bucket,” I heard.  And by way of additional comfort “You can talk through Skype!”

But let me tell you something–Skype sucks.  Ok, that’s not really fair.  Skype has been a great boon in a lot of ways, and the fiance and I used it to the hilt.  I sent my Skype conversation records to the British consulate for my visa approval and they showed conversations of 6, 8, 10 hours routinely.  It was good because we felt like we could be able to talk to each other all day, for free.

Still, though…while Skype is good for keeping the channels of communication open, it’s not very intimate.  And, if I’m honest, after awhile it gets boring.  Think about it–how much time do you spend actually conversing with your partner?  You probably talk to them most of all, but even so, two solid hours of conversation every single day?  That’s a lot of talking.  Plus there’s the fact that we were staring at a computer screen.  We couldn’t go for a walk together, or even go into the other room (my laptop at the time was 5 years old and had no battery life).

So Skype helps, but it’s not a remedy.  Long distance relationships are still hard, because as nice as seeing each other’s face is, we were still living largely separate lives, and at the end of the day we still went to bed alone.  That is particularly painful when I had been waiting so long to be in a relationship and stop feeling lonely.

It gets so painful that eventually we both started to shut down a bit.  It’s impossible to miss someone constantly for days and weeks on end, so it’s easier to build a little wall around that feeling, keep my head down, and carry on.  I suspect this is the death knell for most long distance relationships, because it’s all too easy for that protective wall to be a real wall, and pretty soon you’ve blocked the other person out.  I think in my case, the fact that our long distance stint was relatively brief and that we were both so stubbornly and tenaciously committed got us through.  It’s not possible to date long distance casually.  By the time we got to see each other again, the joy of reunion had faded with too much anticipation, and the moment was instead full of weary relief, a sigh of at last.

In the midst of the last long stretch (mid April to the second week of July), my best friend’s husband went on a week-long bike ride through England.  Before his departure, she was fretting about being alone and how much she’d miss him.  At the time, I had very little sympathy.  A week? I thought.  What I wouldn’t give to only be separated for a week.  I was alone in the house every night.

Eventually though, I was forced to eat my words (thoughts?).  The fiance has had a trip to China planned for ages, since the week we first got together.  I couldn’t really complain about his departure, although the stuff we planned afterwards (like our wedding) made the timing less than ideal.  As the trip approached though, I found myself growing bluer and bluer about having to say goodbye.  There may have been some tears.  What’s more, these past nine days I’ve missed him more than I’ve missed him in all those long six week stretches.  I am so excited about seeing him tomorrow I’m practically vibrating, and I’m going to give him the biggest, most joyful hug.

At first I wondered why I had turned into such a hypocrite.  But then I realized–it’s not hypocritical.  When Juliet says “parting is such sweet sorrow” she adds “That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow,” fully intending to see Romeo the next day.  The melancholy of being separated is a novelty, an indulgence in emo romanticism.  A week is long enough for a separation to be noticeable, but not long enough for it to be real, or truly painful.  I have to say, it’s rather nice to have that luxury.

A rebuttal

So my fiance posted about the end of his bachelor-hood, as I am moving to England in one (1) week and we are both rather stunned by the fact that after a year plus all this long distance bs becomes a thing of the past.  He seems to think many other things are going to become a thing of the past, and you can read the original list here.  But as I read this, I think he needs some reassurance/ reality checks.  So, my response:

My (fiance’s) bachelor bucket list.

  • Wake up when I want to.  —One of the reasons I’m marrying you is that we’re both not morning people.  This in my estimation will give us a whole heap of marital accord.
  • Announce the morning with a bottom bugle call. –Ok, yes, that’s got to go.  At least doing it under the covers does.  I don’t want the poison gas on me!  It’s my fear of nuclear fallout.
  • Have a wash without searching through all the girly soaps and creams.–Maybe some of them would do you good.  Everyone could use some pores unblocked.
  • Be able to use the shower without knocking over a hundred kinds of shampoo and conditioner. –If you let me get a shower organizer, everything would be…wait for it…organized. 😛
  • Spend an hour on the toilet reading.  –Maybe that’s not a bad idea because it gives the smell particles a chance to die.
  • Be able to use the toilet when I want (as there is nobody sat on it reading).  How I Met Your Mother wisely pointed out that if you’re not reading, it’s just lost time.
  • Leave the toilet seat lid up (every time I go in there I have to lift the lid up, how many times do we men have to tell you).  –At least you don’t run the danger of having your butt dunked in the toilet!  That’s why we win.  Also, should I be concerned that quite a few of these are toilet related, or is that just living with boys?  I’ve never lived with a boy before to know…
  • Sit on the sofa and switch the sport on without worrying that we were meant to go out for cushions.  –You already have cushions…we don’t need any more.  Although come on–would you turn down a trip for Ikea meatballs?  I didn’t think so.  This is the plus of being in a couple.  More meatballs.
  • Sit and watch sport without being told “what more sport” as I proceed to watch cricket/rugby/football/F1/tennis/Tour De France/Ryder Cup etc.  –Admittedly I do have a sports limit, but it’s higher than you think…
  • Eat nothing but meats and starch, and only using tomato sauce as part of my five a day. –We can do that on pizza night…  Also curry night.  Once a week.
  • Play computer games while watching sport. –Play away!  But you know, maybe you could acknowledge my presence once or twice over the course of such an evening.  
  • Not be questioned over the revealing outfits female characters wear in most games. If I was looking for a high brow discussion on modern post feminism I would watch Loose Women and not play Mass Effect. –I would treat you to my feminist rant here, but that would just mean spoilers for later on.  You gotta keep some mystery alive sometimes.
  • Watch TV shows without explaining every situation, especially if the question is due to be answered in 30 seconds.  –What?  I never do that!  Not ever.  Never.  Besides which, how do I know the answer is going to come in 30 seconds if I’ve never seen the thing before.  Exactly.  
  • Write a blog post.  –Write away!  If I tried to put any caps on writing in our household, that would put me in serious trouble.
  • Not keep my phone on waiting for a Skype call.  –Word.  And not having to deal with the vagaries of internet video chat, and being able to use non verbal communication for once…  Oooh, and being in the same time zone so that our window to talk isn’t three hours long exactly.
  • Do the clothes washing on the same setting for everything. –You will know and love your delicates cycle.  But you’ll also appreciate the things which need to be washed on the delicates cycle too, so it evens out in the end, really.  Also, someone else will do the washing like, 20% of the time.  That’s 20% more time for you.
  • Iron everything on the same heat.  –See above.
  • Organise everything in the flat how I like. Whether its books, DVDs or remote controls.  –No lie, this is a bit unnerving to me too.  How do people merge their stuff and sense of spatial order?  Is there a manual?  There should be a manual.  But you can be librarian still and always.
  • Own the remote control. –That is the end of an era.  You can watch your sport, but be prepared for some Downton Abbey in the evening.
  • Go to bed when I’m tired.  –This makes me think you think I’ll tie you to a chair and force you to watch an entire season of Downton Abbey in one night.  As long as you don’t make me go to bed with you, I’m fine.  Then I can watch Bridezillas streamed from America until two in the morning.
  • Sleep in the middle of the bed and have all the duvet. –Steal the duvet and I will put my cold toes on you in retaliation.
  • Keep the windows and doors closed to stop the pollen/vampires getting in.  –Not generally a problem, except on hot nights.  Could I postulate a theory that vampires melt in the heat?  Probably not–damn you Bon Temps, for refuting my theory.
  • Snore. –I think you underestimate how heavily I can sleep.
But there are some things I’ll be missing too.  For example:
  • I don’t think my ginormous Prince Caspian poster (complete with Ben Barnes pointing his sword right at me) will ever grace my walls again.
  • I will have to hear complaints about the number of bad reality tv shows I can watch, and the amount of times I can watch a sitcom rerun.
  • Farewell to the incomparable freedom of an open bathroom door.
  • No more dinners of candy bars and fruit (to make it healthy).
  • No more falling asleep on the couch at nine and staggering to bed at two.
  • No more sampling four different kinds of moisturizer at any given time.
  • I will have to put my shoes away.  And also probably my purse.  Even when I like it’s place ‘near the middle of the floor’ so much.
  • I’ll also probably have to explain why I have so many shoes.  It’s less than I used to have is an argument that probably wouldn’t make sense to a guy.

But then we both get:

  • Someone to come home to every night
  • Someone to go out with when we’re bored
  • Someone to make fun of stupid movies with
  • Someone to make a cup of tea when we’ve had a bad day/ are too tired to get out of bed/ just don’t want to do it ourselves
  • Someone to do a chore we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do
  • For me, someone to kill bugs
  • For you, someone to sew buttons
  • Someone to frequent Ikea and eat meatballs with
  • Someone to travel with
  • Someone to be loved up with.
  • Someone.

It’s obvious which side the scale tips to.