Sunday, December 15, 2013

Coming to America

I've had a break from my blog for a while and I used that time to sort out the next step of our lives.  We have news.....we are moving to America (as they say here).  We are moving to Houston, Texas to be specific!

We have been working on this move for months.  As our time here in Scotland was coming to a close we looked at different options for our next location and our best option is Houston.  My husband has rented a house for us to live in and we are excited about making a new life in our new neighbourhood. I am very happy to be moving to the hometown of one of my best friends in the is a comfort to know I have a friend already!  I also know so many people from Big Boy's school that moved back to will be exciting to see them all again.

The last piece of the puzzle for this move was getting our Visas.  The process of applying for and obtaining the Visas was stressful beyond belief and none of this stress owed to the actual Visa office!

A few weeks ago we submitted online applications for our Visas.   This process took hours since each member of our family of 5 required a separate application, but thankfully we could link the applications at the end.  After submitting the applications we booked appointments for the Friday before last in London for our Visa interviews.  We then informed the lawyers that were assisting with our application of the timing of the appointment.  They had asked for 2 weeks lead time and we gave them exactly that.  Then we booked our flights and a hotel - the plan was to fly out on Thursday night and return on Friday after the appointment.

The next step in the process was that certain documents would be sent from Houston and we needed the documents for our trip to the Visa office.  Problem is, between my husband's office and the lawyers, the documents were not immediately sent out.  He contacted everyone the Monday before our (Friday) appointment and they then started working on the documents that we needed for our appointment.  After a series of issues sending the documents out, they were sent at the latest possible moment via courier.  The courier was guaranteed to arrive at our hotel in London by 9:00 a.m. on Friday.  This was cutting it fine - our appointment was for 10:30 a.m. and the Visa office was located about 10 minutes away from the hotel via taxi.

On Thursday morning we found out that there were flight delays on flights heading to London because of fog and wind in London and a storm in Aberdeen.  We were not sure if our flight would still go, but we headed to the airport according to the plan.  Our flight was delayed but not cancelled so we waited a few hours in a crowded airport with other disgruntled passengers but eventually flew to London.  We were fortunate.  Many other flights were cancelled.

We landed in London hours later than expected and took the train and then a taxi to our hotel.  We stayed at the Trafalgar just off of Trafalgar square and on our way to hotel they lit up the Christmas tree!  We settled in at our hotel and then headed out for dinner.  We decided to take the kids to the Rainforest Cafe because it looked like it would be fun.  They had a great time!  At the restaurant we checked the tracking status of the package and we were thrilled to see that it was already at the courier depot in Stansted (which is in the greater London area).

With renewed confidence we went to bed hoping that our Friday would go as planned.

On Friday morning we woke up, got the kids dressed in smarter-than-usual clothes and headed downstairs for breakfast.  After breakfast (at around 8:50 a.m.) my husband went down to the lobby of the hotel to wait for the package (then showing as "in transit") and I stayed in the hotel room with the kids.

We were all packed so the kids didn't have much to play with in the hotel room.  I put on Cebeebies for the kids to watch and Baby Boy was practicing his standing using one of the hotel chairs.  I went into the diaper bag to pull out something and I heard him thunk to the ground.  He didn't cry, so I didn't think much of it.  When I had finished with the bag I turned to look at him and there was blood all over the place!

I couldn't tell where he was bleeding from exactly but I knew it was his mouth.  He still wasn't crying so I got a damp washcloth and started daubing around to see what was wrong.  Turns out he got a small cut on his gum (like a paper cut - probably from chewing on a piece of paper).  Unfortunately it was bleeding fast.  I took off all of his smart clothes and my smart clothes and sat him in the bath and gave him a quick bath while the bleeding clotted.  Then I cleaned him up and changed him to new clothes and put my clothes back on all the while clock watching and hoping my husband wasn't back soon.

I had nothing to worry husband wasn't coming back anytime soon.  I texted him when the baby was cleaned up and the package had still not arrived.  He called to check on the package status at 9:20 a.m. and they told him it would be delivered by 10:30!  What kind of service is that?  It was guaranteed by 9:00 a.m.

My husband came back to the hotel room with this new information and we decided the best thing to do was for him to take Big Boy and Little Boy to the Embassy with the documents we did have while I waited with Baby Boy for the courier.  Once it arrived I would join them at the courier office.

We checked out of the hotel and I started my wait in the lobby.  They left and Baby Boy and I found a spot to sit where we could see the front desk of the hotel.  My husband emailed me a few minutes later with the copy of my personal appointment slip in case I needed it to get through security.  Then he texted saying that I should leave my phone with the rest of our luggage at the hotel because there were no phones allowed in the Visa office and he had to take his phone to a locker at a nearby pharmacy.

I waited for the courier.  I waited inside the lobby of the hotel and outside on the street.  I stood, I paced and I fed the baby applesauce.  I chatted with the staff and I worried.  I watched the clock.  Time marched on....10:30 a.m. came and went with no package.  I wondered what was happening with the rest of my family (I will catch you up on them later).

At 10:30 a.m. I made my first call to the courier company to try to get some idea where the package was.  Unfortunately I realized during that call that I didn't have the tracking number.  The operator would not give me any information because the package was in my husband's name and I didn't have the tracking number.   That was frustrating.

A few minutes later I called again and I made a bit of progress, but at that point my phone cut out because I ran out of credit.  You see, the courier company phone line is a "for charge" number.  So I talked to the hotel staff and they let me use the hotel phone.  That was the start of a very long phone call.  During that call the operator could not assist me so I asked for a supervisor.  The supervisor could  locate the package and the tracking number but could not locate the delivery person.  She promised to phone me back on my phone.  This was about 11:20.

I had no idea what was going on with my family.  I was half expecting them to come back to the hotel or I thought that maybe they went in and got Visas without me.

At about 11:30 the courier company supervisor called me back.  She told me that she had reached the driver and he would be at the hotel in 20 minutes.  I asked her to confirm that he was making my delivery next before any other deliveries.  She could not and she said it was not reasonable to ask that.  I told her that I was now the priority and my package should be next.  I had waited all morning and it was now 11:30 a.m. and my guaranteed by 9:00 a.m. package was still not there!  I must have been speaking loudly because other people in the hotel lobby were looking at me.

The supervisor told me she would call the delivery person back and then call me back.

At that moment (at 11:35 a.m.) the courier walked into the hotel lobby.  I picked up the baby and grabbed the package.  All he said was "are you the one who's been calling my company?"  no "I'm sorry your package is over 2.5 hours late, etc., etc."  I turned to him and said "what time do you call this?  I'm an hour late for an appointment because of you...."

Then I was cut off by a member of the hotel staff who had a taxi waiting for me and I jumped into the cab.  I gave the hotel staff member my phone.

The taxi driver knew where the embassy was and that there were roadworks along the way.  He avoided them but dropped me off on the wrong side of the embassy block.  I gave him an enormous tip and skipped the receipt to make my exit faster and then ran around the block to the entrance of the embassy with the baby in my arms.

When I arrived at the security entrance they would not let me in.  I didn't have my passport or an appointment form.  I begged and pleaded and finally the security guard agreed to take my driver's licence and check my name against the list of appointments.  While he was checking I had to wait outside.  I looked around the corner and saw the rest of my family walking.  They had given up and had gone back to the pharmacy to retrieve my husband's phone.

At that moment the security guard found my appointment.  My husband ran back to the pharmacy to check his phone and me and the kids went through security with out passports.  We inside security but outside the office for him.  He ran back and then had to line up for security again and then he was back inside with us.

At that point we were inside the secured area, but we had a big problem.  The Visa office admissions are supposed to close 1/2 hour after the last appointment of the day.  We had booked the last appointment of the day (10:30 a.m.) and the admissions were closed at 11:00 a.m.  It was 11:45 a.m.

My husband and the kids had been chatting with the admission staff and they thought we had a chance of getting in so we went to the desk.  They let us in!

We went into the waiting area and I asked what had happened with them....they looked a wreck!  They had been waiting outside the whole time and it was cold outside.  The kids had been good but it had been a couple of hours and everyone was tired, hungry, thirsty and needed the washroom (unfortunately all of the snacks and distractions were in my bag!).  After we had a couple of minutes to catch up we were called up for our appointment.  Everything at the Visa office went smoothly and we left about an hour later.  The Visa office staff were polite, courteous, and efficient.

After our appointment we walked out of the Embassy and retrieved my husband's mobile.  We wanted to eat quickly (we had depleted the snack supply).  Most of the restaurants right in the neighbourhood were sit down places so we walked a bit hoping to grab a sandwich at a local sandwich chain.  The 2 locations of the restaurant we visited were packed and we could not get a table so we walked on.  We ended up eating at McDonalds.  The McDonalds was crowded but a staff member asked some loitering customers to leave so we could have a table.

We went back to the hotel to retrieve our things and then headed to the airport.  Of course, our flight was delayed!  The kids made good use of the time by playing at our favourite airport soft play.

We returned home much later than expected and had a quick pasta supper.  

At the end of the day, once the kids were fed and playing quietly, my husband and I sat down.  We were both mentally and physically exhausted.  The day and the week preceding it had been an emotional roller coaster and we were both tired.   I could have (literally) slept for about 48 hours.  Unfortunately, at that moment our house guests arrived from a trip away....we loved having them visit but we were tired!

Now we have received our passports and visas back and we are getting packed up.  Tomorrow the movers come and our house is no longer our home but a series of "packing zones."  Tonight we will have our last sleep at this house before moving to a hotel.  I bought the kids' favourite ready meal (the Asian box from M & S) for dinner.  

What bothers me most about our experience is that since it "worked out" there are no repercussions.  The courier eventually delivered the package, so no-one will be bothered by their massive service failure and the stress it called.  The documents were eventually sent so the delays by my husband's company and the lawyers will be ignored.  We had to worry and stress and run around to fix these issues, but no one will care about inconveniencing our family because it all worked out.

By the way, in case you are interested, the courier was Fedex. I am so disappointed in their service.

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