An Unusually Happy Christmas © Julie Boyd
There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Albert Einstein
It was 4pm on the day before Christmas eve. A hot and humid evening, it seemed we were in for a typical Aussie Christmas, yet I felt momentarily numb. A highly disturbing email had just invaded my inbox.
I could only afford thirty seconds of fury to engulf me before forcing my brain back into operational mode and into immediate damage control. My son was supposed to be on a plane the next day to be home for Christmas Day. The first we’d share as a family since he left to travel overseas five years ago. My knuckles were white as I picked up the phone to call the lawyer in Japan. Insistence on speMaking to someone who spoke English took another couple of precious minutes.
‘What happened?’ I asked through gritted teeth. ’How can it be that we’ve spent hours and hours, and hours preparing documents over the past six months. We’ve re-written bloody business plans across yahoo messenger. We set up a company there so the authorities are obviously satisfied with what we have given them. Why are they now saying we can’t have him there to run the company? That was the whole purpose of the exercise. If he comes home tomorrow, he won’t be allowed back in again and he doesn’t have time to pack up his house.’
‘They did not have correct documentation,’ the stilted English of the Japanese lawyer accused back down the line.
‘You must be kidding. You told us just yesterday that it was all fine. We’ve given them everything they asked for and a lot more. That was your job as a lawyer to find out what was needed. You were paid for that. What more do they want?’ I could feel the wall of Japanese reserve going up. Yelling was simply not done. ‘OK this is what is going to happen. You will call the visa office right now and tell them that there was a misunderstanding in translation and that they will have the new documents they are now asking for by tomorrow morning.’
‘OK, I tell them. Goodbye.’
The next call was to my son.’
‘Hi Mum, what’s happening?’
‘Sorry, love, but I have some news you’re not going to like.’
As I explained what had happened, he simply listened. I sat tight while he called the airline and was told he couldn’t change his ticket from Japan. I had to call from Australia. He wouldn’t be home for Christmas this year unless Santa had a spare seat.
I’ve learned when to beg and plead and when to be assertive with airline staff but I’ll forever bless the supervisor I spoke to when I called them. He understood the situation immediately, his friend had been caught the same way.
‘It’s ok. I’ll alter the flight to give Jeremy another two weeks to resolve the visa situation and I won’t charge him. It’s not his fault the visa office has stuffed up.’
A total of ten phone-calls in the space of half an hour flashed across the globe while my daughter decided dinner was a no-go and headed out to find Thai takeaway.
At 3am I was wide awake. It was pointless trying to go back to sleep so I snuck out for a quick swim. Floating in the warm pool under a clear sky, I thought of the last Christmas we’d all spent together – when the kids had tried to bring in a flaming pudding for dessert. What we adults didn’t know was that the kids, then teenagers, had used an entire bottle of brandy trying to get a flame to stay alight. Grandma managed two bites before falling asleep on the table.
Climbing back into bed with my laptop I surrounded myself by a nest of papers. Feeling a little like the ugly duckling trying frantically to change its environment I then proceeded to spend the most bizarre few hours I’ve ever spent on Christmas morning, translating three years of financial figures from Australian dollars into yen.
As I faxed off the last page the rest of the household woke up and our Christmas started. Jorge-dog excitedly tearing wrapping paper apart to get to his new toys before turning his attention to helping everyone else was the only one showing any enthusiasm.
Two days later my daughter and her mates took off. The next five days that I’d expected to be spending with my son were the most unexpected, heart wrenching and surprising time of my entire year.
The visa office was in no hurry. After receiving the documents they went into an immediate go-slow. It was getting perilously close to the time when Jeremy would be forced to leave the country he had come to call home. Too bad that he was fluent in reading and writing Japanese. It wasn’t good enough that he had passed the highest possible level of Japanese culture exams. A feat that many foreigners never accomplish, and those who do usually take a minimum of ten years, I’m told. He had done it in two.
Too bad that he’d spent a year in Europe gaining another degree to bring yet more expertise to his chosen field of work. Too bad that he had worked his butt off to make a major contribution to the lives of the people he was working with. While I have every respect for the need for visa departments to carefully screen people before they are allowed in to a new country, their actions are unbelievably callous and often incredibly stupid. They have the capacity to destroy dreams and families in an instant and seem to not care less.
To complicate matters his sister was due to visit on her first solo overseas trip. Carefully timed so that they could fly back together and go snowboarding and skiing, her trip was now also looking shaky. If he was deported as she was flying in, they could have had to wave to each other across the skies. She doesn’t speak the language so she’d be stranded; he’d be frustrated and I’d be furious.
I hit the panic button. No longer concerned about what they thought, I rang the lawyer.
‘I’ll fly over myself if that will help.’
The prospect of being confronted by an angry mother was too much for the poor bloke who suddenly lost his ability to speak English. The visa office then announced that the guy dealing with Jeremy’s visa had left on family business and wouldn’t be back for a week.
I decided to bombard them with faxes. In English, one every hour on the hour. Not abusive, very polite. Requesting an immediate answer so that plans could be made, as this was a matter involving many people.
A day later, on New Year’s Eve, they relented and called the lawyer who immediately emailed me. They had knocked it back again, and were refusing to say why. Bloody hell. All that work, all those sleepless nights, for nothing.
I called my son. Totally deflated, I felt as if I’d been ten rounds with Mike Tyson and just copped a knockout blow, and it was his visa, not mine! He sounded surprisingly upbeat for someone whose future had just been pulled out from under him.
‘So – do you have a Plan B?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Goodo – cos you’re going to need it. What is it?’
‘OK. Are you sitting down, Mum?’
‘I’ve got some news for you. Melissa already knows.’
‘How can Melissa already know? She’s on a houseboat with her mates…..’ My brain went into total meltdown.
‘I’m getting married, Mum.’
Body followed brain somewhere into the ether as I asked the question I had to ask.
‘Is this just because of the visa?’
‘No, I proposed on Christmas Day. We were planning to come home later in the year after I’d got the business up and running. But this visa thing has kind of upset our plans.’
‘OK. Well, that’s a relief. So, I assume this is the lady we’re not supposed to have known anything about. What’s her name? Are you happy?’
My son has always been a private person, but to conceal a whole relationship was still quite a coup for him. Now he tells me she’s the reason he moved to Sapporo. She’s the one who took all those lovely photos of him looking so happy during his holidays and trips around the country. I knew that something was happening of course. Mum intuition is not totally dead even if our kids like to think it is.
My daughter’s reaction to the news was great excitement. Mainly because she was the first in the family to know and she’d kept the secret so well – usually an impossible feat for her. Jeremy had thought a new sister would be a nice birthday present for her this year.
Her response when he told her was apparently ‘How big is she’. Only slightly taken aback by the question, he realised that pragmatic Melissa was just trying to figure out if she could borrow her new sister’s snowboarding gear so she wouldn’t have to carry so much on the plane.
‘Her name is Maki. She is tiny and very beautiful and I’m really, really happy.’
It’s difficult to describe the next few moments. Relief that there really was a Plan B – just not one I was expecting. Happiness that he had found someone he loved so much. Excitement that I was about to be a mother-in-law – how weird is that? Frustration that we’d been through hell with the visa department thinking that all was lost and I’d not known this was an option. Disappointment I wouldn’t be there for their marriage – even though there was no ceremony and it was ‘just like paying your rates’, I was told. A tsunami of emotions flooded my little house as Jorge-dog crawled onto my lap, not too sure what to make of the tears that were streaming down my face.
‘Can I speak to her? Is she there with you?’ There was dead silence at the other end of the phone as I wondered if I’d asked something wrong.
‘She’s here. But I’ve just realised she doesn’t speak much English, as we always talk in Japanese.’
‘OK. Just put her on the phone. I‘d like to say something to her even if she can’t understand me.
The phone went dead again and I waited. It seemed like hours but have been only a few seconds.
‘Here she is, Mum, she’s pretty shy.’ I heard nervous breathing.
‘Hello, Maki. It’s Mum. Welcome to the family. I’m very happy for you both.’
A tentative, ‘Hello Mum,’ came back down the line before the phone was quickly handed back to Jeremy.
‘You just exhausted her stash of English, Mum. You’ll both have to practice new languages now. Can you have a look at the astrology charts and let us know which will be the best day next week to get married please,’ he said. ‘I’ve just realised that whatever day we choose will be our anniversary for the rest of our lives’.
The new moon in two days for new beginnings was exactly the right time.
The frustration of the visa office was replaced by growing excitement and anticipation as yet another lot of paperwork was prepared for the marriage. Although Maki was in her twenties, her Mum still had to provide written permission as her parents are divorced. I discovered later that she and her brother had been forced to choose between parents as part of the process and she’d had to prove she’d not seen her father in seven years. We tried to figure out how to send flowers and small wedding presents that wouldn’t cost Jeremy a fortune in import duty. I got to know Maki a little by email, text and phone. Her English is much better than my Japanese. I’ve never heard Jeremy sound so happy.
On Tuesday morning I sat with Melissa and a bottle of champagne on the beach in Australia waiting while my son stood in an office in Japan. Finally a message beeped on my phone.
‘Hello Mum. I just became Mrs Maki Boyd.’
I know. I was standing beside you in spirit, I thought.
A message back ‘Welcome to the family, my new daughter’. They made it with one day to spare and a life full of future Chrismases to share.