Malcolm Gladwell, whom no one could accuse of being an armchair journalist, hired a pilot to take him in a “graveyard spiral” so that he could understand how it felt when John F. Kennedy Jr. crashed his airplane into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999. Gladwell tells us, with his firsthand knowledge, that in a pressurized cabin, you can’t actually feel the airplane corkscrewing its way down toward its certain fate on the ground or water below. It’s only on the way back up–should you be so lucky to go back up–that you can feel full force of the G-load knocking you back in your seat.
I don’t have a pressurized cabin.
Cuckoo, bananas, Charlie Sheen, some days I feel I am spiraling into the depths of meshugaville, with all its metaphors. Or maybe that graveyard spiral is the normal domain of mommyhood gone on too long without break. I’m pretty sure that most people need to talk to a person other than one who can, almost, sort of, if you really listen hard, say something resembling “Dada” (of course “Dada.” Why would it be “Mama”? It’s always “Dada.” I only carry them for 9 months, push them out of my special spot, and then feed them from my once-beautiful bosom for a year. Of course the first word should be “Dada”). Also, I seriously need to get my eyebrows done. Lack of intellectual stimulation and money. These two points might not seem, immediately, related (although, one might note, the first makes me feel crazy and the second makes me look crazy). They share, however, a solution: a job.
OK, you say, Enough! Shut your trap, get off your lazy, no-good tuchus, and do it! GET. A. JOB.
And I would, really I would, but — I can’t.
You won’t believe me. But it’s true.
Here’s reason one: Childcare. Between the wait lists and the price tags, I don’t know how I could manage it.
Here’s another reason: Nobody hires English PhDs. I’m pretty sure we’re the least desirable candidates on the market.
Both of those are weak?
OK. Here’s a reason that’s not as easily refuted: I AM NOT AMERICAN.
I could have been. My refugee parents could have, as easily, ended up on these southern shores as the northern ones; I could have met a brilliant American man when I was in graduate school at an American university, married him, and taken his nationality, if not his name, as my own; or I could have stuck around after graduate school long enough to find a job that would have supported me for a Green Card, and, eventually, citizenship. But I didn’t. And although I have an anchor baby (my unAmerican little American boy), I can’t just go out and get a job.
Fortunately (for my sanity, before this plane banks too far to the left or the right), there is a way to fix this last problem. It turns out that I can apply for work permission because I’m the spouse of a scholar.
We call the visa office at the university for details. When can we apply? What documents to we need? Is our marriage certificate good enough? (it had already been scrutinized and criticized by the DMV here; apparently that which is not American is necessarily suspect; the DMV, by the way, made us re-take our driving tests, for the second time in the last decade, even though we have lived in this state before, even though they had our old records on file, and even though pretty much every other state in this otherwise civilized country is willing to trade in a Canadian license for an American one). And then, the most important question of them all, the question that would make this visa status even better than an F-1, a TN, or a J-1: “Can my wife work anywhere?” There’s a pause while The Scientist listens closely to the voice in the receiver. I don’t breathe in anticipation, straining to hear through his ear. I can’t hear. I tug his arm. He smiles. “She says you can even work at McDonald’s.” Oh PhD! How lucky I am to have you!!
I have to fill out a form to request work permission from the US Citizenship and Immigration Bureau. The visa office at the university stresses one point: the only thing I am not allowed to say in my application, under any circumstances, is that I need the money. After all, The Scientist, the primary visa holder, is supposed to be able to support us all just fine, thank you very much, and so my little pin money that I’m requesting to should be not for eggs, organic or otherwise, or rent in this princely town, but for reasons they deem suitable. And so, as I write in my letter to USCIS, carefully avoiding any sound of sarcasm, I am applying to work in the US “so that we can travel your beautiful country.” Which is not untrue. We’ve already made a trip to the Liberty Bell, an American icon, and the Statue of Liberty, and this summer, I’m hoping to take the kids to those other essential American attractions known as beaches (Virginia Beach, the Jersey Shore, the Hamptons . . . ); traveling this beautiful country is always on my list. I review my letter and worry it looks paltry, so I add another line: “and my children can take music lessons and swimming lessons.” I stop typing. Should I add “and live the American dream”? So tempting. Do you think customs officers have a highly developed sense of irony? I have a strong desire to remind USCIS about Emma Lazarus’s promise, on the soles of Lady Liberty’s feet, to take in the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Instead, I focus on reasons that have naught to do with financial fears and all to do with the carefree pleasures of the soul. I really do want to get work permission, so despite my perverse inclinations, I’ll keep it simple and stop short of citing the famous triptych from the Declaration of Independence.
I have a good feeling that my work permission will come through soon. And I’ll get me a job and quit my kvetching. Unlike Gladwell, I don’t know that I’ll feel the upsurge so much more dramatically than the down spiral, but I expect I will feel it. And next thing you know, there I’ll be: Poor Princess, PhD–your barista.