What are my intentions? I don’t know. Do you?

May 11th, 2012

I’ve got at least four posts about dual citizenship simmering in my head – events are conspiring to make me think about this rather a lot: I have almost completed my application for Swiss citizenship and I should be able to pop that baby in the mail on Monday (long, long time readers might remember that this was on my to-do list about, oh, five years ago…); the whole Michele Bachmann gets-then-withdraws-Swiss citizenship saga (I could write about twenty posts about that alone); and this charming change in wording on the form I have to fill out as an American living abroad when I request a federal election ballot:

the new form leaves civilian voters only these choices: “I am a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S., and I intend to return”; or “I am a U.S. citizen residing outside the U.S., and I do not intend to return.” The Pentagon office says it needs the information to help election officials decide whether to send out just federal ballots or federal and local ballots.

You can read the full story here (and here’s a shout out to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for having that story not behind a pay wall).

I cannot answer that question. People living abroad on a time-defined work contract might reasonably be able to answer that question, or at least to attempt to answer it in good faith, but I cannot answer that question. I married a Swiss man. We’re living here right now and life is good.┬áR has a good job that he likes and the boys are growing up having a relationship with their only living grandparents and SB is thriving in his hockey program and for now, we’re here. We’re here for the foreseeable future if only because R’s parents are getting older and I don’t want to take the boys away from their grandparents unless there’s really no choice. But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t return one day. I’d love to live in the US again, but it depends on so much more than us just wanting it doesn’t it? I mean, we’d need to find the right job in the right place with the right timing – R’s parents aren’t getting any younger and I treasure these years the four of them, grandparents and grandchildren, have together. It’s exactly what Lucy Stensland Laederich of the Federation of Women’s Clubs Overseas says in the article:

At least half the group’s 15,000 members, she said, are living abroad not “because we wanted to, but because of marriage, employment, studies, NGO or church work, etc. I very frankly have no idea which of those two boxes to check because I do not ‘intend’ to return nor do I not ‘intend’ to return.”

Exactly. I don’t know what my intentions are here because I don’t have intentions, I have a life. Who among you can say you intend to remain in the state in which you currently reside forever? We’re living our lives, expats, the same as everybody else: our messy uncertain unpredictable human lives. I don’t intend to stay here forever, but that doesn’t mean I won’t. I don’t intend to go back to the U.S., but that doesn’t mean I won’t. I don’t intend to do anything but live the life that my family is building.

And say, for whatever reason, life plays out so that I don’t return to the U.S. to live. Do I then forfeit my right to my homeland? Do I forfeit my right to cast a vote for elected officials who pass laws that I as an American must obey no matter where in the world I live (hello, financial reporting requirements, I’m looking at you; hello registering my sons for the draft, I’m looking at you)? Am I less American? Do I love my country less? I suppose there are plenty of people who would answer yes to that last question but it’s so much more complicated than that when you’re in an international marriage. People with seven children have love enough for all of them, is it so hard to imagine that I have love enough for two countries, two languages, two different skies?

I’m living my life, finding my footing and making mistakes the same as everybody else. What are my intentions? To love my children, to be a better wife, to be a good person, to write just one perfect poem, to take one kid from falling down ten times in four minutes to skating backwards all the way across the rink. These are my intentions. Where will I do these things? My god, I have no idea. Does it matter?

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