Where Exile Grows

Seven years ago, two women’s lives were changing forever. They both had just made commitments with men who were a persona non gratas, undocumented and unwelcome in the United States, the women’s own nation. One of the women stayed in her home country in the hopes of finding a path to stability, to live without fear. The other left and moved south, into “exile,” with the same hopes as the first. They did not know each other at the time, nor that the life paths on which they’d embarked  would eventually cross.

Seven years later, they know each other. Paths have now crossed. The first woman finally moved south, just as the second one was considering when she’d ever possibly return North. Seven years have passed and not much has changed, except for the birth and growth of their daughters, and some deaths — not the least of them the passing of many hopes from those early days.

Nicole and Krystal
Nicole and Krystal

This past week, we welcomed Krystal and her family into our home. Krystal is a longtime blogger (currently posting at LoveMyHusbandMoreThanTheUSA, previously at A Year in the Life of Krystal) now newly fellow “exile wife,” to use the term she coined the night of our first meeting in person. It was a quick stop for them on the way to their own new home in the Central Mexican Highlands, not too far for where we live.

Our meeting was surreal in many ways — first because Krystal is someone I have only “known” virtually for just over a couple years, since around the time when we began writing Amor and Exile. Secondly, Krystal’s arrival to exile is something that I’ve been “watching” her prepare for for some time now — via her public postings of her family’s struggles. As a U.S. Iraqi war veteran and mother dedicated to justice for her family, she long resisted and tried very hard to make it work for them to stay together in the United States. And so it felt somewhat monumental that one of the warriors, a legendary character from our loosely organized but broadly cast net of immigration-affected families was finally “surrendering,” and making the move into exile.

A few days ago I hadn’t actually expected to meet her. I was aware of her family’s impending move south, the vague details of the approach, and where she’d be arriving. But I know how these trips go, having done one myself. When you have your whole life riding on four wheels plus the emotional momentum of a spouse only a few hours’ drive from reuniting with a family he hasn’t seen for years, your forward motion is unstoppable. Side trips beyond a brief foray at the beach seem frivolous, unreasonable even, given the main purpose of your viaje. I also assumed she’d be taking a more southerly route given her destination. So I expected to continue to wish Krystal well virtually, and mourn the inability of yet another one of us to obtain the rights to stay back home with our entire family intact.

But as fast as data flies in the interworld, another member of the network tagged me in a comment that Krystal would be driving through Querétaro. Suddenly, my virtual propriety dissolved and social pressure tactics emerged. I commented that I’d be hurt not to see her — half joking, but also aware of the unique opportunity her drive through our town posed. After a flurry of Facebook messages throughout the day and finding the geographic coordinates of my house so she could locate us (we have no physical address), I discovered I would have house guests that evening after all. I quickly set about making sure that Krystal’s family’s stay would be a moment of comfort in what can be a emotionally grueling journey, having left behind everything they knew and held dear.

The truth was, I needed Krystal’s visit probably as much as she needed a safe place to stay. Despite my abundant blessings, I’d become somewhat depressed recently about the lack of progress in many things I deem important in my life — all related in some way to my state of exile. Combined with a cold winter and my family being sick during the holidays, my mood was worse than blase prior to my friend’s arrival. I was trying hard to pull myself out of my funk, but it wasn’t quite working.

Part of me doubted they’d actually arrive. I surmised they might either get held up in traffic a state away, or decide to push through and make it to their destination by that evening. Later Krystal confessed that her own husband had his doubts, compounded by the fact that I couldn’t give them a house address. We laughed about it once they’d arrived safely, but my husband probably would also have questioned his wife’s wisdom for taking a winding rural route on the outskirts of an unknown city in the dark night, trying to find the town of a friend she’d met on the Internet and who she was Facebook messaging with to find.

But every message I received showed a location a few kilometers closer to my house, and my own husband had offered for their girls to stay in our daughter’s room so they could be comfortable (a rare move of generosity on his part, as he is often more reserved than I), an offer which I extended through the cyberwaves to her. I added that our property was gated and safe and that their dogs were welcome, after intuiting the stress that builds at the end of a ten-hour drive across a foreign country.

Suddenly “they were here,” i.e. in my town, but I was still at work, and the cell phone connections weren’t working. She had thought she was lost but I told her she did better than most local friends at finding the place. I got home as fast as possible and found them at the local convenience store and they followed me home. Luckily, they’d found a taco stand across the street to grab a bite while they waited.

Nicole with Krystal and her family upon their arrival.
Nicole with Krystal and her family upon their arrival.

Meeting someone you’ve only known virtually, I’m starting to realize, is a really amazing experience. I remember when it first happened for me last summer when we went to D.C. to deliver our book and I met another Crystal, from PA, who’s also part of our network. So many dimensions emerge that are impossible to ascertain via Internet — and a knowledge of someone, and their heart, becomes whole. My first impression was to be deeply impressed that she found my place in the middle of nowhere in the dark, with only a pair of GPS coordinates to go on. Next, I saw a couple that was tired, but still propelled by the weight of their journey. I then saw the two young girls who were along for the ride, and loved and cared for very much. And then the four of them walked up our driveway, across our doorstep and into our home.[/caption]

At one point, Krystal and I were sitting at the dining room table chatting a mile a minute. She had mentioned that her younger daughter understood Spanish but refused to speak it, and I responded that it’d happen naturally, eventually. As her elder daughter, who had thought I was named “Michelle” at first, sat with us sipping Lipton cup-a-soup, she asked her mom a telling question. We’d been spilling terms like “retired” and “exile,” and the eleven year old wanted to know what the e-word meant. I smiled, and let Krystal take that one. “It’s when someone has to leave their home against their will,” she explained. End of the discussion. It hit me then that the girls were aware of the journey but not fully aware of the implications of what was happening — but how could they be? Even though they were every bit a part of the collateral damage of a policy that’s in effect declared war on immigrants, these two precious, displaced souls were happy just being my daughter’s playmates for a night. And that was just fine, because in my opinion, the less you understand of the reasons behind this nonsensical forcible exodus, the better. Afterward, the girls were playing board games, reading picture books, and running joyfully about the house until bedtime could be extended no longer.

After catching each other up on the various latest details of legal laments, family feuds and professional pinings, the parts that don’t get shared in Facebook statuses, we soaked in a moment to just be. Two sovereign women who, despite a lot of fear for having to leave behind something so integral to our identity — our home country — and despite having to become a part of a machisto culture that often fails to nourish our souls about us as much as our own cultures under-appreciated our partners, were still in this for the long haul, come hell or high water.

Her approach to exile will be different than mine — less bound to one location, and will take a proactive stance to try and make the most of it by traveling. It’s an admirable approach, and I truly hope it brings even more satisfaction than we have found in our situation — we are truly lucky to have the house and land we do, but we are essentially bound to it until we have the means again to loosen the legal/economic ties that bind us to this location.

Aside from the simply lovely aspects of having our families meet and hang out, I was struck by the nature of our reunion. How we ran to take the Facebook picture and what an achievement it felt like. How we recounted the meetings among “our kind.” When I met Crystal, when Krystal met Jennifer, when Raquel met Giselle, and so on. It’s as if every meeting is special — and it is — as we know, without articulating it, that we’re a burgeoning demographic, a movement without a leader, a spontaneous organization, allied without really wanting it — who asks for a sisterhood that is defined by a loss of autonomy? — but also absolutely needing it, growing bonds where they’ve been forcibly severed, by our own country.

This kind of alliance is the kind that reminds me of spontaneous healing, where the body patches up a scratch or a cut, where positivity takes over pain without thought or intention. I saw this in my daughter’s total welcoming of strangers in her happy Spanglish and when I heard the younger one finally responding in her own adopted tongue as naturally as I assumed she would. I saw this in my daughter’s stuffed animals I found among the bedding where the girls stayed, the ones she’d lent them so they could feel a little more “home” along their journey.

It was a positive force that brought our families together in the first place, the urge and instinct to unite with love rather than ostracize with hate. It’s what I wish more for our daughters’ world when we are no longer. This kind of encounter helped renew my faith that I’ve done the right things in a time when the results are sometimes so hard to live with, it’s so easy to question my own wisdom, question what the hell kind of world we are exactly living in, anyways.

Krystal and her family on their way to their new home in exile

So thanks for stopping by, Krystal. Blessed be your journey.

Dear Colleague, Re: Amor and Exile, From The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez

We are honored that Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Chicago) is recommending Amor and Exile to his colleagues in the House, all of whom received a copy within the last week… copied below is a memo that went out to members of the House this morning:

Subject: Immigration, Judiciary: Dear Colleague: Amor and Exile Tells the Story of Families Separated or Exiled by Immigration Laws

Amor and Exile Tells the Story of Families Separated or Exiled by Immigration Laws

From: The Honorable Luis V. Gutierrez
Date: 6/21/2013

This week, a remarkable book was delivered to your office that I hope you will read, share, and learn from.  Amor and Exile: True Stories of Love Across America’s Borders, tells the story of U.S. citizens who fall in love with undocumented immigrants only to find themselves trapped in a legal labyrinth, stymied by our nation’s immigration laws.

Journalist Nathaniel Hoffman visited both sides of the border to document the lives of couples split apart by borders or exiled from America.  His coauthor, Nicole Salgado, provides her firstperson account of life in the U.S. with her husband while he was undocumented, her decision to leave the country with him, and their seven years of exile together in Mexico.

I had the opportunity to visit with Nathaniel and Nicole in my office earlier this week and have found the stories they write about — and the story Nicole still lives — very powerful in conveying what is at stake in our nation’s immigration debate.  They raised the funds from supporters in 28 states to be able to provide copies of their book to every Member of the House and Senate so that we come to know and understand the American citizens whose lives we are talking about when we discuss immigration, deportation, and efforts to reunite families.

I hope you will take a look.

For more information, see http://amorandexile.com, http://facebook.com/amorandexile or http://twitter.com/amorandexile


Luis V. Gutiérrez

Member of Congress

authors with rep. gutierrez 6.13
Nicole Salgado and Nathaniel Hoffman, coauthors of Amor and Exile, with Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez, June 2013

The Final Countdown

Less than three days to go until we are on Capitol Hill delivering copies of Amor and Exile to our nation’s elected officials. The level of preparation anxiety and nervousness that everything will work out is indicating that the reality of our trip has finally sunk in.

Insofar as that we were able to successfully underwrite our “Send Amor and Exile to Washington” campaign by a diverse number of contributors nationwide, I feel very optimistic and confident that our project has the right kind of support from the public. And in terms of the two public readings we will be having, the first in our nation’s capital at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) headquarters in D.C., and the second in Baltimore at Ukazoo Books, I’m very excited about starting to gain wider exposure for our book.

On the other hand, I’m naturally nervous about how well our message will be received by legislators and how successfully we will execute our goal. I’m not a professional lobbyist and much of this will be new for me. In my role as author/activist, I hope that we are able to carry out what we set out to accomplish.

Publishing a book gives you a sense of unparalleled accomplishment and getting great feedback for the project is very affirming. It’s definitely a privilege to be able to travel to D.C. to deliver our book to our government as a result of the goodwill of so many others—both friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, those in similar situations—even people who don’t know us but who share our vision.

This author-activism thing is pretty exciting, but it’s not that glamourous. Personal sacrifice is required to fulfill this trip. We go into debt to initially order books, we leave our families and our day jobs behind to do this. In a rare splurge to augment my ratty 2006 or older wardrobe, I got some expensive new clothes to wear in D.C. I had to use my credit card, something I *never* use for shopping, because it just so happened that this very same week, I couldn’t use my U.S. debit card because my bank suddenly thought that I was fraudulently using my card in Mexico, until I explained I have a residence down here.

I am blogging in between dropping off my husband off at work and going to the passport office for 2 hours this morning. I will head out again this afternoon to pick him and the passport up before I dash off to work for the afternoon. Can’t forget the Mexican document that will allow me to leave the country without issue on Wednesday morning en route to the U.S.—I even managed to not forget to take my vitamins.

Even though it’s been twelves years of boarding flights without my life partner and the very reason why I’m taking part in this trip is because of him, I NEVER get used to traveling without him, have never stopped resenting having to leave him at home. But of course I am not alone in that. Just invoking the thought of why is enough to steel me for the hectic and stressful, albeit exciting days ahead. In just this past week, 3 friends will have major life upheavals due to the laws that we go to appeal to in Washington.

Nicole Salgado San Miguel 2013
The author and her family | Photo by F.R. Salgado

One friend had to leave her husband in Mexico while she returned to the states with their daughter. I thank her for alerting me to the need for a dual citizen to have both country’s passports to leave the country without problems. Another friend will leave the U.S. with her two sons to go be with her fiancee in El Salvador. Yet another will relocate with her daughter and infant son to be with their father, her husband, in rural Brazil soon. Their travels will be much more heartwrenching than mine. It is because of them and many more like us that I’ll happily incur the personal sacrifices to go to our nation’s capital to make good on the vision to make our stories known to the American government and public.

It’s why on Wednesday morning I will kiss my daughter and husband goodbye, leaving them with about $50 in our Mexican bank account, putting our fate into other hands now. The optimistic side of me, the one who knows how far we’ve come, agreed wholeheartedly with my Mexican brother-in-law last night when we were talking about what we were going to do this week, vetting every last misgiving down to the fear that our book could someday be used for some ill will. He said, “every good deed can be used for bad or for good, but you will never regret doing what you’ve done.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Countdown to D.C.

Seven days until we go to Washington to deliver Amor and Exile to Congress. Even though we’ve already bought plane tickets and are thick into planning trip logistics, part of me still “no le ha caido el veinte.” That’s what they say here when something still hasn’t hit you yet.

Maybe it’s because I’m still so far away, in Mexico. I haven’t been to Washington in decades, but its policies affect me daily.

Maybe it’s because I’m still incredulous—and not only that we surpassed our campaign goal to raise $11,000 to send a copy of our book to every member of Congress. It’s still sinking in that we are finally done with our book, something that took over 3 years to complete and that’s required some serious trials of endurance to accomplish as a team.

There are times when this whole ride still seems somewhat dream-like (sometimes nightmarish). I got on this roller coaster nearly 12 years ago, when I met my husband, who is Mexican, in San Francisco in 2001. That’s when everything began to change for me. I discovered that our country has an undocumented class. I discovered that in many cases, marriage makes no difference any more. I had to decide whether to leave my country to keep my marriage together. I had to say goodbye to my friends, my family, my career as a science teacher. I moved to Mexico.

I’m currently sitting in the office of the Secretary of Exterior Relations. I took the bus here in the scorching, pre-rainy season Querétaro heat to get a Mexican passport. I need it in addition to my U.S. passport because I’ve been naturalized here since 2011. Becoming a Mexican citizen isn’t something I set out in life to do, but it was something that made economic and practical sense since my husband and I have to be here at least 10 years until he is eligible to apply for an I-212 waiver of his permanent bar from legally immigrating to the U.S. I am getting a Mexican passport so I can legally leave this country to go to my home country’s capital next week to ask that my husband, my family and millions of others like us might someday have a chance at getting a passport too.

They are very kind to me here, but of course, they are just as much about the rules as they are in the U.S. When I had to pay an unexpected $90 for a passport that I would really prefer to not purchase given my bank account’s precipitously low level, I tried to remember why I am doing this. It’s all for the long run—for my family’s well-being, to travel in good international stead, so I can claim my rightful spot among the many voices asking for legislative redress of a decades-long difficult situation—in person—no longer from afar.

n and m sf march 2006
Nicole Salgado and her husband in San Francisco in 2006

When I was 23 and fell in love with my husband, I soon found out how much we were up against, and my world turned upside down. A long-time activist, I became silenced by fear, by disempowerment, for many more years than I could have imagined. I came close to losing faith in the system. But little by little, once in Mexico, as my cynicism about returning someday converted to self-reliance and survival (and sometimes thriving) in a developing country, I very slowly began to find my voice again. And then came Amor and Exile, after several years in it. I’ve regained some guarded hope in 2013—not just because of my own strength, but also with the support of others. I didn’t know it when I was 23, but I know now that I was never alone—that millions would experience my fate. Their stories, their struggles, are part of what propels me forward.

Perhaps what’s become clearer than ever as a result of this labor of bringing light to the very dark debate over immigration is the following: for every negative commentary or political prediction I hear about this issue, I observe something really positive. Not only is every single one of us who’s separated from our spouses, in exile, or living undocumented in the U.S. not alone—there are millions—but we all have families and friends who want us back safe in our communities. And they have friends too. We have friends and family who are willing to close the distance on thousands of miles and the seemingly similar distances in political rhetoric between where we are and where we want to be. That is the difference between what I knew at 23 and what I know now, and that is what I will try to remember every moment that I’m making it known while in Washington, D.C. next week.

6 down and 4 to go

Six years ago, ten years felt like an eternity. Our waiting period. Ten years, and then a request for a “pardon” and a shot at a visa application for my husband. Every year I returned to the States, alone, every time, feeling so sad about having to leave my husband in Mexico. Our hopes are about so much more than a visa. Our hopes are about keeping our family together. For me, having to travel alone for 6 years meant it started to affect me a little less every year than the first time.

Now, on this seventh trip back (one year I went twice), my husband’s the one with tears in his eyes.  For the record, I’ve seen Margo with tears in his eyes maybe three times in the eleven years I’ve known him. This time, it was at dinner. Tomorrow, he bids me and his toddler goodbye for three weeks while she accompanies me as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding in CA, and my grandmother’s 90th birthday in NY. It’s perhaps not as traumatic a separation as some families experiences when a parent is deported or jailed, but it hurts all the same. I tried to reassure him that we’d call twice a day, and we’d be in good hands, and I’d be as patient as possible with our daughter in his absence (he’s the good cop), but that wasn’t what was upsetting him. “I know, but it’s just frustrating,” Margo said “it’s difficult.”

I started to tear up myself in realizing just how rough this was going to feel for my husband this time around. But then he remembered the one beer I bought him earlier and the mini bottle of wine I got myself a couple days ago. “I want to be able to celebrate the night before we go,” I had said. “Se me estaba pasando,” Margo said, almost forgetting. We poured a glass and I reminded him of the possibility that when 2016 comes we might actually get lucky. “The first lawyer was a lying optimist, the second and third lawyers were truth-telling pessimists, so maybe this fourth lawyer is a truth-telling optimist,” I said, regarding some recent encouraging legal advice we’d heard about our case.

He managed a half-smile, and we toasted. “To 6 down, and 4 to go,” I said. Que sera asi.

Virtual Memory Lane (and border crossing)

Nathaniel and I have been away for a few months hunkering down on our next chapters in the book. But I’ve come up for air for the few days before we enter collaborative editing mode again (hooray!) this Thursday, when we’ll swap chapters and then tear them to pieces. It was a new thing for me, writing a chapter in between work days (I now teach at an English school as well) and at naptimes (previously, I hadn’t honed the fine art of only writing for a couple hours at a time while my daughter napped). Although I’m fairly content with the final product, I’m a little nervous about the collaborative editing process for this one. Not that Nate and I haven’t honed our process (we actually have come a long way in that, and think our way of doing things now brings out the better writer in each of us), but because this chapter felt like more of a doozy for me than my first two.

This chapter (unnamed for now) is centered on my husband and my departure together from the U.S. in mid-2006. It was fairly straightforward to write but mined innumerable emotions, the kind felt as we waffled back and forth on the decision as to whether we’d leave the U.S. to move together back to Margo’s hometown, and if so, when. I obviously get into it in much more detail in the book but suffice it to say that making the intentional leap to leave your friends, family, profession, and economic well-being is no small task. Going back through everything I thought, felt, and experienced along the way of making that decision and then going through with it (I draw heavily on my journals for my chapters) was emotionally intense, to say the least.

And what was weirder for me this time is that it wasn’t so tough while I was writing it, but got tougher when I was almost done. I’d written quite a bit of the last part of the chapter (which is basically our border crossing story) years ago, but went back and carved it up and rewrote it for Amor and Exile. In doing so, and in rereading the chapter to my husband, I relived the whole experience, which brought up a lot of feelings I thought I’d put to bed a long time ago (guess again).

Leaving behind friends, family, and familiar places were tough, but I still have contact with them and I can still visit. What stirred up the most distressing feelings for me upon revisiting them were the parts about leaving my job, and the actual border crossing itself. I don’t feel like I ever quite got back on track after derailing my professional trajectory (although I have undertaken a number of satisfying projects), and so that’s probably why I feel unsettled about that piece still.

The move south in its entirety was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done, even though the actual border crossing itself was one the most stressful things I’ve ever done.  I’m not sure why, but I got the notion to take another look at our route on Google maps. Below are a few images that I came up with. They virtually brought me back down memory lane.

Our route south to Mexico

This was the route we took from the San Francisco Bay Area to Margo’s hometown of Queretaro, Mexico. We stopped off in Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon because we don’t know if Margo will ever be back in the United States again someday, and well, those are two places you’ve just got to visit before you die.

The border crossing in Nogales

This is a zoomed-in view of more or less where we crossed in Nogales, AZ to Nogales, Mex. Marker A shows where we had to stop unexpectedly, throwing a bit of a wrench into our plans.

THE dreaded parking lot in nogales

It was precisely in this lot/parking lot that we had to sit sweating it out (literally) for a few hours while our truck’s legal paperwork was being done (none for my husband, unfortunately).

I couldn’t find imagery for the Homeland Security Department building that we passed when were almost out of the United States (maybe for security reasons). But it was quite a cathartic feeling to both finally be in Mexico and be done with rereading that part of the chapter to my husband. As much as it tears me up what we had to do, and how much I have to retell the tale in order to carry out my vision of telling our story, I’m comforted by the following quote from Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa:

‘We wear out the shoe of samsara by walking on it through the practice of meditation…so meditation practice or spiritual development depend on samsaras.”

I see my story of leaving the U.S. and coming to Mexico as part of my own personal samsara—kind of like an emotional roller coaster ride. And so the trauma of having done so will eventually fade as I “wear it out” by telling the story over and over again. But in order to tell the story, I must have experienced it in the first place.

Mazatlan (third night in Mexico after crossing the border)

Or something like that.

An excerpt from “Commemoration”

As Nathaniel can probably also attest, it’s a juggling act to have two blogs at the same time. I tend to write deeply personal posts, often about motherhood, culture shock, and conservation issues on my personal blog. But when it comes to how my life is affected by the political circumstances we write about in Amor and Exile (that also affects many other couples), these subjects overlap.

This is an excerpt from my most recent post on my blog The Succulent Seer. It’s about me getting Mexican citizenship and celebrating my daughter’s first birthday within a few days of each other:

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.

I’ve included the link to the full post if you want to read it there.

Summer Family Reunion, Mission Impossible, Part II

A friend of mine is a midwife educator and we took a few classes with her before our baby was born. In one of them, on the topic of pain, she introduced us to a great saying: FEAR is False Expectations Approaching Reality. It buoyed me at the time in the hopes that labor wouldn’t be as painful as I expected. Although I can’t say the birth of my daughter was less painful than I feared, I can say that traveling to the U.S. with her was.

There were many things that allowed my FEAR to be just that—false expectations. Some things were better than I worried they’d be, and some things were worse. But overall, it was a much more pleasant experience than I imagined—as another American friend who’s a long-timer in Mexico has suspected may be the case with me, I might be psyching myself out to be pleasantly surprised in the end. Not a typical personality characteristic of mine, but when it comes to love and exile, it can be a useful tactic.

The cost was not a problem because I did not keep track of how much money I spent like I have on other trips. Why bother? Keeping track of my receipts wouldn’t change how much I had to shell out, that I’ve been unemployed for the last 24 months, or that my financial safety net is developing some seriously large holes. In the end, I had enough to get back home.

The family reunion was a success, if you don’t count the fact that my husband wasn’t there. But then again, neither were several aunts, uncles, and cousins…so why be nit-picky? The important thing was that my daughter got to see her grandparents (my parents) again, meet her uncle (my brother) and his fiancée, her great-aunt & uncle and a couple of their relatives, a good handful of my high school friends, and a large number of my parents’ friends from work.

One unexpected dynamic was that despite his absence, Margo had a much stronger presence than past trips, and I chalk that up to him being present through our daughter. She looks a lot like him, questions directed to me about her invariably brought him up, and many people intuited how much she (and me, by default) must miss him.  So it was nice not having to tiptoe around the subject of his absence like a big white elephant.

I’d done my grieving over not being able to get a Canadian visa for Margo for travel. I’d prepared myself emotionally and let loose a few floodgates en route to have the best mindset possible upon arrival. Sure, a few tense moments occurred as can happen with anyone traveling with kids and aligning parenting philosophies with the grandparents. But I was surprisingly solid when it came to not falling apart.

It might have been because I convinced myself, as I told our daughter, that there were some good things about him staying home: he had to work, we saved money, someone had to feed the chickens and the bunny and the cats and water the garden, someone had to watch the house. So when we’d make our phone calls, it felt more like he was serving a purpose back home than languishing lamenting about not being with us. That was fortunate.

I also might not have had time to grieve his absence since I was so darn busy taking care of the baby. Besides fully co-parenting with my husband, we also had someone coming in a few days a week to help with the baby for the month before we left, and so I was used to getting a large amount of help with the baby at all hours. Her grandparents were great with her, feeding, entertaining, and bathing her to everyone’s delight, but spending the nights getting up alone with her and putting her to bed during Fourth of July fireworks and the days prior were more tiring than normal.

One FEAR that was more true than I expected was the exhaustion factor of the actual bus and air travel by ourselves. But even so, it was kind of funny to see a couple in the airport with two young kids bickering over some aspect of parental care mid-escalator ride. In the state I was in, baby hanging from the sling, (albeit balanced nicely with backpack weight), with luggage in tow, I smiled knowingly at the woman and said, just breathe. She looked surprised for a moment but then smiled back at me. Then they went back to their bickering and I thought to myself, I don’t have to deal with that aspect of traveling together, even if my back is aching!

The author and her daughter at her parents' home in NY

Another silver lining to the exhaustion was that all of that extra time with the baby by myself also led to something special—we bonded like when she was a newborn, and that was perhaps the sweetest unexpected benefit of all.

When I got back to Mexico, I got some feedback from friends with children that gave me some insight about the fact that, although I may have unique circumstances as to why my husband isn’t able to travel with us, it’s surprisingly common for many of my friends to fall into the traveling alone with kids department. One friend related how her husband is stuck in the PhD program from hell for almost 10 years, which has forced her to strike out camping on her own with two small boys. A new American friend here in Mexico traveled alone with not one but two kids up to the States in June—not because her husband doesn’t qualify for a visa but because he forgot to renew it. Others travel alone because their spouses can’t get time off work.

Although I feel womanly solidarity in that we all face similar challenges with our children and I empathize with their spouses’ unavailability for travel (and I also bow down to their ability to juggle multiple infants alone!), when I mentioned this to Margo, as well as the pros of the “holding down the fort” argument, he wasn’t 100% convinced. “Yeah that’s all true, but I would like to go.” Knowing he’s someone who doesn’t express their wants and needs often, his words didn’t fall on deaf ears. And perhaps that is the one expectation that most disappointingly approached reality: that on the subject of traveling together as a family,  reunion or otherwise, bright sides or not, ultimately we didn’t have any choice but for Daddy to stay home.