by Lindsey Grant
We have a lot of gates around the house. Some were marketed as baby gates, others specifically for pets (NOT for use with children, the instructions read, in no uncertain terms). Regardless of the target population for each partition, all gates in this house are ‘used’ by pet and child alike. No way around that.
The first gate went up across the nursery’s threshold so we could keep the door open while preventing the cats from sleeping in our daughter’s crib or barfing on her rug. The second gate has a built-in cat door, enclosing a downstairs alcove to deter the kid from eating the kibble (or pulling the cats’ tails while they do). Then there’s another—sans cat door—for the guest room to keep that bed fur-free, and yet another—this one with the cat-sized hole—across the office doorway to allow Simba and Sahara access to their cat tower but keep our daughter away from, well, everything else in there that is tempting and breakable and electronic.
So depending on the room and the type of gate, the function of these barricades isn’t designed to keep anyone or thing in, but to keep one or the other out.
Upon seeing this elaborate system for separating baby and beast during a recent visit, my mother-in-law shook her head and said, “You are becoming more and more Swiss all the time.”
I wonder if I could quote her when we fill out our C permit applications, something we will be tackling imminently and for which we must cite evidence of assimilation. Proficient at vigilantly managing access and egress of individuals to and from designated-use areas. That’s gotta help our case, right? Hopefully they will forgive our presumptuousness, claiming facility for exactly the skill they are employing when they approve or deny us permanent Swiss residency.
With cats and kiddo underfoot, all creatures and their respective habitats cannot stay entirely separate at all times, but this current configuration feels sustainable, allowing for (mostly) peaceful cohabitation. I like to think this is what the Swiss are after, too. In reviewing our claim to stay here indefinitely, they are simply ensuring that we aren’t planning to fur up the proverbial Swiss bed; that this pristine throw rug of a country will remain unbarfed upon by us in our foreignness. No one will have to do any hands-and-knees scrubbing to clean up our American-made messes.
However, as one in voluntary exile from Trump’s America, I can’t ignore the less than altruistic intentions of these immigration—or anti-immigration—policies. A reality in which otherness is unsavory, and poses some purported threat to the country in question. As I abhor my motherland’s stance on immigration from afar, how strange to be an immigrant myself in this country that likely wishes I’d go back to where I came from, too.
In deciding to stay out of the USA and in der Schweiz, what proof have we that we’re worthy of a permanent pass? That we will not only mind our Ps and Qs to the Swiss standard, but show demonstrable cultural and financial investment in the country?
Not that I wish to use our progeny or our home as pawns, but having a child here, enrolling her in Swiss-German day care and purchasing a home all give us leverage. We pay Swiss taxes and have Swiss pensions. Our two cats have two litterboxes and lay eyes on another cat or human at least one time per day. I do not beat my rugs at lunchtime.
But, I dare say, it’s the subtler, more nuanced evidence the Swiss government is after. Proof that we don’t just toe the line, but we care to toe the line. That, I think, is harder to qualify. Yes, we bundle our cardboard correctly and make every effort to have the exact bus, tram or train fare wherever in the country we go. But can we prove that is because we care to uphold the Swiss pillars of orderliness and honesty? Would it help, for example, that I’ve roamed a rain-drenched field for upwards of 15 minutes looking for the right type of green growie to feed the day care’s rabbits? Can I legitimately claim how many phone calls I made last week in all-German, instead of asking whether we could converse in English? How grave an infraction would they see our trespassing on a private playground to swing my daughter on the good swing?
Bizarrely, every decision and action of late exist in the context of this application and my fitness for acceptance. And the small-mindedness, the myopia, of analyzing the implications of every innocent action when there’s so much horror elsewhere, so much that actually matters a lot, wears on me.
When my husband and I left the US back in the early days of 2013, we were moving to Europe to broaden our horizons, not in search of anything better or safer or saner. There were no superlatives to the rationale, only differences between our options. Fast-forward almost five years and, to put it succinctly, superlatives abound.
As I clamor at the Swiss gate for permanent residence, I am motivated as much by a desire to stay here as to not return there. ‘There’ being my once-upon-a-time home, my birthplace. But not our daughter’s. Not in real life, at least. She holds a US passport, but the only home she knows is this one. So am I turning my back on my own home by keeping her in hers? And, ultimately, does it really matter so long as we can live in the one that feels safer, seems saner, the one that is arguably better, without restriction?
The C permit would afford us all manner of bureaucratic advantages: Our residency won’t be tied to employment; we would be eligible for government benefits like unemployment; we won’t be taxed at source. Some characterize it as Swiss citizenship minus the right to vote.
Whatever the bureaucratic realities, the C permit makes me feel like my husband and I are on the same side of the gate as our daughter. The right side, at least for right now. Trump can build his fantasy wall to keep immigrants and ‘bad hombres’ out of the United States, but he doesn’t need one to keep this American away.
Lindsey Grant is the former Program Director for National Novel Writing Month, co-author of the writer’s workbook Ready, Set, Novel, and author of Sleeps with Dogs, a memoir. She holds an MFA in creative nonfiction and English from Mills College in Oakland, CA.