by Sarah, aka Ambassador Hen
I thought it would be fun. Walking through the Lisbon streets in the late afternoon, talking to my 12-year-old daughter while she pushed two-year-old Joshua in the stroller. We were going to the mall to get their passport photos taken, maybe do some window shopping, and have an evening café.
The calm before the storm.
Tomorrow is our Visa appointment. Imagine the DMV in New York City, but everyone speaks a different language. We have an appointment at 8:30 in the morning, but when we arrive the line will be down the block.
We will have a file case containing all our paperwork, including criminal records, school grades, insurance information, taxes, birth certificates, and bank statements. Plus, I always bring school honors and vaccine records. Maybe if they think my kids are brilliant scholars and don’t have any contagious diseases they will let us stay. We bring a picnic basket. The entire process takes six hours, but we come out legal residents for 15 more months.
We walk into the little photo and camera store in the mall, where my oldest child jumps into the chair and has her photo taken in 3 seconds. Now it’s Joshua’s turn. I take him out of the stroller and try to put him in the chair. He starts screaming and clinging to my neck.
I immediately have two feelings — overwhelming love and panic.
Love because Joshua doesn’t really like me most of the time. We suspect he has wanted a Portuguese family for a while now. But with his little baby arms wrapped around my neck, I feel reassured that deep down, when in extreme panic, he does love me.
But I also feel panic, because this is going to be ugly. Portuguese do not usually make their kids do anything; they talk to them and convince them of the proper course of action. For an impatient American this approach takes way too much time. But I have an audience, the entire store is watching us, and a huge glass window provides the rest of the mall with a wonderful view as well. So I begin talking and promising, but he only screams and hugs me tighter.
Then I make a fatal mistake, I put him down. In the split second it takes for me to bend down to continue my negotiation, I see the look on his face harden, and I know. He is going to make a run for it.
Joshua turns and takes off. Fat arms pumping and thick diaper wagging, he darts out of the photo store into the crowded mall. He weaves in and out of amused shoppers, smiling to see such a strong-willed and defiant baby. As I round the corner, I see him duck into a shoe store, weave in and out of shoe displays, and finally decide to hide behind the sales counter, much to the surprise and delight of the four salesladies.
I calmly enter the store and say he is my child. And that he doesn’t want his passport photo taken. Joshua begins asking them to help him in a mixture of Portuguese, English, and baby talk. I scoop him up and whisper that he is in big trouble.
Only he knows better. Within seconds, he is surrounded by women talking and kissing him, telling him it will be okay, and his mother is not so very mean. He leaves the store with a new comic book (a gift) and hugs and kisses from countless strangers. He’s won again. But he sits in the chair and lets the lady take his picture, so I won too.
We return to the States this summer.