Welcoming Julia

When I tell my cleaning lady that my son, Sam, is engaged, and the situation, which is that Julia is British and working in the US, and that Sam lives and works in China, she becomes concerned about Julia’s status. 

“They must marry within ninety days,” she states authoritatively. 

“I can’t see that happening,” I say. “They live on separate continents. The arrangements will be tricky.”

She becomes agitated, opening and closing her mouth, clearly with something to say, but her English isn’t great. 

“She will be sent from here if they not marry in ninety days.”

Oh. She’s coming at it from what she knows. She’s in the US illegally and must soon leave the country. She married an American in April, likely in an attempt to meet the ninety-day deadline. She knows my son is a lawyer and asks if I will talk to him about an alternative. She desperately wants someone to tell her that her life isn’t fixing to be disrupted. I say I’ll ask Curtis, though he isn’t in the business of telling people what they want to hear. 

If she leaves Texas I will find no one better to do what she does. She fights dirt like a warrior and she sings while she works. She pays no taxes on the puny amount she makes, which I don’t mind. 

I share the woeful news of her pending departure with a friend. 

“You hired an illegal?” Lydia, shocked and indignant. “Why, Jenny, you’re part of the problem!”

“What problem?” 

I see no problem other than Maria having to go away. At least Lydia stands by her principles. She has no cleaner because there is no cleaner to be found who isn’t here without sanction.  

That Maria sees a comparison between Julia and herself is naïve and somewhat poignant. 

And none of this is to the point. It’s just me pondering the lives of two people from different countries and their relationships to the US. One of them is a forty-something Mexican who has no skills other than joyfully cleaning my house. And the other is my future daughter-in-law who has recently received her masters from the Harvard-Kennedy International School and is the Belfer Center’s Research Director on the issue of international cyber policy, specifically focusing on American and Chinese cooperation on the issue. As far as I know, Julia is a British citizen and has no intention of becoming an American, though she’s enjoying her time in the states. 

We went to Boston, yes, to see Julia walk across the stage, but primarily to meet her parents, who are themselves immigrants to the UK from Malaysia. Retired now, Julia’s mother was a midwife and her father was in IT in Plymouth for his working life. These days both of them are dedicated to bringing eastern treatments and remedies to their corner of England, which is timely in that lately old medicines are becoming new medicines and the established western medical culture is opening its mind to holistic concepts. 

Khim and David—yes, another David—Julia’s parents, were friendly and predisposed to like us, as we were them. We love Julia, they love Sam. Getting along was inevitable. David (not my David) seemed reticent, but a conversation with him revealed him to be a thoughtful man who holds his opinions until asked. Khim has an inclusive heart. She possesses no deception, no ulterior motives. As soon as we shake hands she merrily begins to share and probe. Within five minutes we’re merry pals with many things in common. Two family friends accompanied them to Boston—Helen, twenty-five; and Julie, early seventies. 

That these two women would feel comfortable accompanying them to Boston, sitting through a three-hour graduation ceremony, and participating in group activities is a revealing detail about the family Sam is marrying into. Julia’s people meet the world with open arms. I have no friends who would journey across the world with me and applaud my grown child’s accomplishments; nor, frankly, would I welcome the intimacy. But their ease with relationships is something to admire, possibly even aspire to. 

Sam has always been outgoing, comfortable with pretty much everyone, interested rather than judgmental. This sincere openness is something he and Julia have in common. Also, I see in their relationship a “got your back” quality, which is always good. They’re both proactive and ambitious, but also generous. Julia seems more organized than Sam, while Sam is an ideas guy. So, they’re balanced. As to what their future holds, Julia is in Boston for the foreseeable future and Sam intends to extricate himself from his interests in Beijing at some point. This vague plan is so opposite to the way David and I have done things that David becomes jittery just thinking about it. 

“So many uncertainties!” he says.

“Not our concern,” I say. 

My preoccupation is the melancholy that comes from having sons. They say if you have a daughter when she marries you gain a son; and if you have a son when he marries you lose a son. While both sons do a good job of keeping us in the loop, my older son and his wife live three blocks from her parents. And the eventual plan for Sam is that he and Julia will settle in the UK, which is where Julia’s parents are. 

I don’t mean to sound bitter or disappointed; and I’m not. The ultimate goal, always, was for my kids to be happy. But still, there’s a sadness that comes when your children are grown and gone. 

“That’s why you have a dog,” David hollers from the next room as he arrives at this point in the blog. 

And he’s right. I pet Dilly, who’s been sleeping in my lap for an hour, place her gently on the floor, and push away from the computer. 

Julia before graduation. Congratulations, Julia!

Julia before graduation. Congratulations, Julia!

Julia, Sam, Khim, David, Julie, and Helen drove to Niagara Falls. Sam’s license wasn’t up to date so Julia and Helen, both used to right-side driving, took turns behind the wheel. I was beside myself with worry!

Julia, Sam, Khim, David, Julie, and Helen drove to Niagara Falls. Sam’s license wasn’t up to date so Julia and Helen, both used to right-side driving, took turns behind the wheel. I was beside myself with worry!

Julia and her parents, Sam and his parents.

Julia and her parents, Sam and his parents.

The ring. She was giddy, Sam was thrilled.

The ring. She was giddy, Sam was thrilled.