When I tell people we're moving the whole family to Beijing in a few short weeks, the questions I'm most frequently asked are how? and why?
Why, at first glance, is easy. I mean, why not? When you move, as we do, every 2-3 years, you get the chance to start over from scratch each time. You see a new part of the world. You see a new way of living. You see, in essence, a new part of yourself. Because the truth is, every time you get off the plane in a new country, you stretch the boundaries of your own skin. Maybe a lot, maybe just a little. But you will learn, and grow, and change with every move.
Of course, stretching is exercise. And it can be painful. Packing up, saying goodbye, moving far from loved ones - all of this hurts. Jet lag hurts, too. You stretch, you tear. But this crazy foreign service lifestyle has pushed us places we'd never have otherwise gone. And for the most part, it's been worthwhile.
Once you get where you're going, that is. The preparation? The build-up? That leads to the other oft-asked question. How? How in the world do you pack up three kids, a dog and a house in the suburbs? How do you pick a whole life up and put it back down in one piece, halfway around the world?
Right now, in the middle of it all, I don't quite see how. But we've done it numerous times before: from LA to NY to DC to Moscow to Armenia to Kazakhstan and back to DC, with stops in between in Seattle, LA and Virginia to have babies. So I know it can be done. Even by the least organized person you could hope to meet: me.
My husband sometimes calls me "90% Donna" because of my tendency to throw myself into a project until it is very nearly finished, and then abandon it. An annoying trait, no doubt. But it's actually quite useful in the world of the Foreign Service. Because once you accept the fact that you'll never be 100% prepared, you're ready to leap in.
In the meantime, you make lists. At least, I do. I have a seven-month workback schedule to get us from January to July '07. It contains reminders such as "Buy more suitcases," "Find property manager," "Apply for visas," "Get Japanese encephalitis shots," "Get dog groomed." All arranged according to the month in which I'm supposed to do them. Another list I have: Things to Buy for Beijing. Another: Things to Pack. One list shows what goes into Air Freight (we're allowed 800 pounds), what goes into storage, what goes on the slow boat. I have a list of invitees for the boys' upcoming going away party. I can cross reference that with the workback schedule, where it clearly states, under May, "Plan going away party." It's June already, and the party isn't planned, but no matter. I'll get there. Or not. Just knowing it's on the list gives me a sense of control.
I read through my lists every few days, cross off what's been done and look ahead to what still awaits my attention.
90% Donna knows I won't finish the whole list. But the most important things will somehow get done, and come July 24th, the real adventure will begin. Ready or not.
At each of our last posts, I've emailed periodic updates to my family and friends, filling them in on our adventures. My group email list has gotten rather cumbersome, however, so I've decided to post in blog form instead. Somehow it feels less presumptuous to post out here in the wide world than it did to force my way into your in boxes every week. This way you can read about our goings-on, or not, at your leisure. There will likely be a few weeks here and there when I post nothing at all, especially after we pack up the computer in late July and before we get it set up again on the other end. But I'll do my best.
Now listen up - this is important. I loved sending emails because it always prompted a few of you to write back with details about your own lives. Please don't abandon me just because I'm no longer in your in-box every week. Take pity: I'll be way across the globe over here, missing you more than you know. Please drop me a line occasionally letting me know what you're up to. This will be a fantastic adventure, but it'll still seem lonely if you're not along for the ride.