Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Old Lady

I've been struggling all week to write something meaningful and profound for my sister's birthday. The problem is, we have nothing but inside jokes between us. So I can't possibly write anything that anyone else would understand.

But my sister, she is awesome. We finish each other's sentences, laugh at the same dumb jokes, complain about all the same annoying things. She's smart and funny and beautiful and a complete and total whack job. If you are privileged, as I am, to call her your friend, you are lucky indeed.

Growing up, though, she was a real pain in the ass. I'm glad she grew out of that phase after 20+ years.

Happy birthday, Dev.  Can't wait to hit the gym and the Starbucks drive-thru with you this summer. Perhaps multiple times each day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Play Ball!

6:20am. The alarm goes off. I stagger awake, make some coffee. Boil eggs and cut grapefruit. At 6:40, I start waking kids up with my fake cheerful morning voice ("Game day!!! Everybody up!!"). From 6:45-7:30, I ask the following questions, approximately a gazillion times: "Have you brushed your teeth? Your hair? Do you have your baseball glove? Hat? Shoes? Water bottle? How about your glove? Did you brush your teeth? Where's your glove? Does everybody have their glove???"

I ask so many times whether everybody has a baseball glove that the kids look at me like I'm an idiot. Asked and answered: please move on.

It's 7:42 already, and we're late. I rush for door, asking one last time "Do you have your glove? Your hat? Your water?"

8:02. We arrive at the baseball field, where Kyra speaks up from the the back of the car.


"Yes, Kyra?"

"I forgot my glove."

I turn around and look at her, dumbfounded. "Do you have your hat?"

(Shakes head no.)

"Do you have your water bottle?"

"I wasn't thirsty."

Sigh. Just - sigh.

Mean mother that I am, I refuse to take her home to get her glove. I lecture her as we walk to the field, the entire way, about responsibility and teamwork and do you know how annoyed I am right now? I lecture her in my mom voice, loud enough to attract sympathetic stares from nearby parents, all of them hollow-eyed and lacking sufficient caffeine this early in the morning. I lecture her all the way to the entrance, whereupon Aidan sets his ginormous baseball bag on the ground, the baseball bag that is big enough to hold one hundred gloves stacked end to end, turns to me and says "Mom, I don't have my glove either."

And that is today's baseball summary.

What? You were hoping to hear about their games?

Okay, fine. Aidan borrowed his brother's glove for his 8am game. He got a hit! The other team caught it, sure, and he was out, but you're missing the point, which is: he got a hit! Kyra's game started at 10am, and she must have found a glove somewhere because I saw one on her hand when she fielded a ball in the infield and tossed it neatly to the first baseman (baseboy? basegirl?), getting an out. Seamus' game started at 12 - because why would any of them play at the same time? What could I possibly have to do today other than sitting at the Dirt Pit? - and he did a great job too. His team absolutely slaughtered the other in the first game of the season. They called it in the fifth inning when the score hit 31-12. It was one of those games that nobody wants to watch, no matter which side you're on, because it's just plain painful.

But then finally it was 3pm and time to head home.

Can't wait to do it all over again next Friday!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


I am sitting on a cold hard concrete bench, watching my 5th grader at batting practice. The field, affectionately dubbed the Dirt Pit, is all red-brown sand, studded with rocks. Many a baseball has taken a hard bounce off of those rocks and whacked an eager ballplayer square in the face. The same faded billboard looms over the field year after year, dark black Arabic script over a faded yellow photo of some sort of frozen chicken dinner. Beyond the fence, just past the outfield, an expanse of green grass that will be yellow-brown by season's end. A concrete block house squats atop the hill. From this distance I hear goats bleating beside the house. A man on a horse trots in lazy circles around the house as children look on from the stoop.

Behind me, what passes for a forest here in this desert kingdom. Stands of grey-green trees line the hilltop, somehow growing out of gaps in the boulders. Decrepit buses full of school kids speed past on the narrow road just outside the field, but the road crests a hill before they reach their destination, and for all the times I've been here at the field, I've never wandered much past that bend in the road. Still so much I haven't seen here.

The sun is setting as a sudden wind kicks up the dirt. The sounds of traffic float up from the highway, mixing with the nearby crack of a bat. I can't see them from here, but I know that just on the other side of the field, a family of camels stands tethered, mamas and babies waiting outside of the bedouin tents that line the highway.

My son Aidan takes his turn at bat as I watch. He was a second grader when we arrived in Amman. He's finishing up 5th grade now, about to enter middle school. He has a girlfriend, though what that word means to a 5th grader, I've no idea - he bought her a necklace last month, so I suppose it's serious.

And I wonder - where did my time here go? I still remember the first time I came to this field. My husband's colleague drove us here on a blistering hot August day in 2010; I wondered back then how long it would take before I could find my own way here.

I've found my own way, yes I have, both here at the field and out in the wide world of Jordan. I've worn my own path in the city. It's been four long years, the longest we've ever been in a place since we were married, but somehow - ready for the cliche? - it seems like only yesterday that we arrived, wide-eyed and shaking with new-post nervousness. It's already time to move on.

Its snowing in Moscow today, snowing there as I sit here and shiver in the 65 degree shade of the Dirt Pit.

I'm not sure I'm ready to leave.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Weekend So Far

This one's for their dad. Polar Bear Plunge and the first day of baseball.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bedside manner: an international retrospective

Let me start by saying: it's not cancer! This story will be funnier if you know that up front.

And now, with that out of the way, let's begin, shall we?

There are things that are different overseas than they are in America. The milk is different. The traffic is different. The falafel are different. And the medical professionals? Oh, yes, they are definitely different.

There was that time in Armenia when the doctor wanted to treat my kid, who had a sty in his eye that wouldn't go away, with beef broth and blue lights. Yeah, okay. And the nurse in China who, when I showed up at the clinic, newly deaf and, coincidentally, newly pregnant, didn't really want to treat the sudden deafness syndrome but felt strongly that I should get an abortion because "China isn't really a good place to raise children."

Last week I got my Jordan story. I went to the dermatologist, as I do periodically, because skin cancer is sort of a thing in my family. (Aside: wear your sunscreen, people!) I'll spare you the details, but she found some things that troubled her, and we made an appointment for me to return for a biopsy.

So I went back, not really worried, because I've had biopsies before and they usually turn out to be nothing much exciting. I waited in her office for 45 minutes, sandwiched in between two women who were covered head to toe except for their eyes (what's wrong with their skin? I wondered...), watching their husbands smoke in the doorway. The nurse finally summoned me back to the doctor's office. She greeted me warmly before asking "and how are your warts? Are they better?"

Ummmm. No, I reminded her. Not warts. Biopsy.

She looked down at the chart, confused. She showed it to me and asked again, but, your warts? Since the entire chart was in Arabic, I wasn't really able to clear it up for her, but I held up my (thankfully wart-free) hands and repeated: no warts. I'm here for a biopsy.

At this point she got really confused and looked more closely at the paper in front of her.

It turns out - and what are the chances of this in the middle of Jordan? - that she has another patient with almost the exact same name as mine. And that lady has some serious issues, poor thing. Not gonna out her on the name, but weird. I've got a doppelgänger.

Anyway. Once we cleared that up and determined that it was a biopsy that I was after, she took my family history again. We covered the basics, which I've heard since I was a teenager: it could be any of three things we were dealing with here. None of them, interestingly enough, was "benign." No, we went straight to "it's probably one of these three cancers..." And then she explained to me, kindly and in great detail, that we want it to be basal cell carcinoma, because that is very slow growing. If not that, it could be squamous, which is more troubling. Or, she said with a slight shrug, if it's melanoma, "we could lose you in two to three months."

Riiiight. Two to three months. The room sort of spun for a minute while I contemplated this new and awful death sentence. I had to remind myself: a few minutes ago she thought I was covered in warts. I don't necessarily have to trust everything the woman says. Right?


Bedside manner, people. It's important.

She did the biopsy and then gave me a little jar of whatever it was she'd chopped off of me, with instructions to hand carry it down the street to the lab. Only slightly less gross than carrying your own urine sample around in an Embassy Health Unit when you go in for a pregnancy test. So I walked down the street, sun shining brightly overhead as I carried a small piece of myself in a jar, thinking, melanoma. And for the next three days, until the results came back negative, I contemplated her words. We could lose you in two to three months.

No thanks, lady. I have a pack out to take care of.

So that's the story of how I almost died but then didn't. I now have a few stitches in my leg and a newfound respect for doctors with good bedside manners.

What I don't have? Cancer.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Forks In Roads and Six-Pack Abs

When you're a foreign service spouse, you're constantly having to reinvent yourself. Normal people can say "I'm a teacher," or "I'm a pharmacist," or "I'm a lawyer," or whatever it is they are.

Foreign service spouses can go from nothing to something and back again in the blink of a time-to-move-again!

I've been a Russian teacher and an advertising executive and a consular associate and a CLO and a graphic designer and a stay-at-home mom and a human rights reporter and a Leahy vetter and a public diplomacy officer and a freelance writer and a web copy editor and I'm all of these things but none at once, you know?

Of course you know, if you're a foreign service spouse. You've been somebody new at every post, I'm guessing, just like I have.

So my time here is winding down and I've enjoyed my job here, truly I have, but there's the little matter of the Foreign Service hiring list to settle. You see, I passed all of the tests and made it on the hiring list two years back, but I put myself on the waiting list - you can do that, for up to two years, if you're married to an officer who is currently posted overseas.

But I think my job - which is interesting! and I'm good at it! - is just not quite the definition of me. I can be a foreign service officer if I need to be. But it isn't Who I Am.

Who am I, then? Well: a wife and a mother, a cook, a person who exercises, a reader, a writer.

My recent challenge, the one I face every time I stare down an international move, is: how do I combine as many of those things as possible in a way that fulfils me and supports my family, financially, emotionally, or some other way? At each new post I find a new and different approach. Some day I hope to find the right approach. Maybe. If there even is such a thing.

Last year, as New Year's approached, I thought long and hard about my New Year's resolutions in this context. I knew I had 6 months to accomplish something, anything, in pursuit of some goal. But I had to keep in mind that I was going to be, over the course of those 6 months, a single mom with a full time job. I had to be, in short, reasonable about goal setting.

(I am not a reasonable person.)

So this is what I decided to do. I decided to spend those six months getting myself certified as a personal trainer.

I figured: I'm already in the gym every day anyway. I'm all kinds of fascinated by the ways in which one can push one's body right up to its natural limits. I love learning everything there is to know about foods as fuel. And I spend a decent chunk of time helping out people in the gym, when they ask for help.

So I enrolled in a course and worked out a schedule that would get me through it by June.

But here's the thing - I finished already. I just kept reading and reading and studying and studying until suddenly I could spout off all sorts of facts about VO2 max and BMI and even how to calibrate a treadmill (answer: call GSO). I took the test a few weeks back, and I am now officially a certified personal trainer. Go ahead. Ask me anything. Except how to calibrate your treadmill.

I still haven't figured out how I'll use this new piece of paper of mine. I'd like to work with kids, who need to learn the proper techniques when they are starting off with weightlifting, or with middle-aged moms such as myself: if anyone knows how tough it is to get back into shape after babies, it'd be me - I've been pregnant 6 times and pushed out 4 kids. Plus, I run into all sorts of women who find the gym intimidating, and just need someone to help them start out. Add in my knowledge of nutrition and I'm pretty sure I could help any motivated mom to get back in shape or lose those last annoying pounds.

New Year's resolution, phase one: accomplished.

Now on to phase two: figuring out how to move this skill to Moscow. That's why I'm throwing this story out there into the universe. If you have any ideas for me, let's hear them! Hit me up in the comments, or via email, or over on Facebook. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Please. Write your own stuff.