Friday, July 27, 2007

We Have Visas!

We also have six suitcases, four carryons, one computer, one DVD player, two car seats, one booster seat, one dog crate, one dog and three kids.

Somehow we'll stuff all of this into a taxi or two and get it all to Dulles on Sunday morning. We'll fly direct to Beijing (13 1/2 hours in coach). We should be in Beijing by Monday afternoon.

That's the plan, anyway.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Leaving

I hate people. Not specific people, mind you – just people in the abstract. I’m the kind of person who walks into a party and heads straight for the food table in the corner. That way, I don’t have to try to make small talk with people I don’t know. People I don’t know are slightly terrifying to me.

Which is why it’s so funny that I live this kind of lifestyle. It takes me forever to warm up to people. It takes ages to get past the “how’s the weather” conversations. And yet, I move every few years and have to start those weather conversations anew.

Back when we first moved here, I wrote an article for the Foreign Service Journal called “Sick Overseas: Health Care and the Foreign Service.” (You can find it here.)

When I wrote it, I had just moved to Virginia from Kazakhstan. We left Kazakhstan early because of Aidan’s health. So we were new to Virginia, fixing up our new house while juggling Aidan’s myriad doctor’s appointments at Children’s Hospital. In the midst of all this craziness, I suffered miscarriage #2. So we loaded the boys into the car and drove to the hospital. While I underwent surgery, poor Bart had to chase the kids around the waiting room. Afterwards, at home, he had to take care of them and me. We had no other options: no family nearby, and no friends either. When I wrote the article, I was feeling rather sorry for myself, alone in the great friendless state of Virginia.

Fast forward three years, and I’m preparing to leave this neighborhood. The view from here is quite a bit different. Since that article came out, I’ve developed a network of dear friends and kind neighbors upon whom I can rely. Just in the past few weeks, my neighbors have all pitched in to help with this crazy move. One took Kyra and Aidan for ten hours so we could pack out and go to the emergency room (see previous post). One took Shay for two whole days and nights. One neighbor brought dinner. Some have taken us out to dinner. Several threw a backyard barbeque for us. This neighborhood, where I felt so friendless just a few short years ago, has become a haven.

I’m going to miss these people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

bad mommy

In a spare moment yesterday, I was reading an article in a back issue of Parents Magazine, which is kind of like my bible. The article was talking about the importance of consistency: regular bedtime, naptime, mealtime, playtime, etc., to ensure that your kids are well-behaved.

Seems logical enough.

Then I thought about it. In the past three weeks, my kids have slept in 7 different beds in 5 different houses in 3 different states. They've visited 2 different emergency rooms. They've eaten too many fast food meals to count. And not enough vegetables. We're a walking disaster over here. These days, we're all in a hotel room with two beds, so the boys are sharing a queen-sized bed. Or rather, not sharing. Last night, after a pitched battle over the sheets, Shay gave a mighty heave and tossed Aidan out of the bed. Aidan, my accident-prone little Aidan, bashed his head into the nightstand and split his forehead open. Fortunately, no stitches were necessary.

Tonight, as I type, they are still awake, threatening to punch each other in the face. It's ten p.m. Just two short months ago, ten p.m. would have been painfully late for bedtime. Now, it's business as usual.

Kyra is asleep as of 15 minutes ago. She had her own troubles today: she's still an awkward walker, and she fell into the coffee table, splitting her eyelid. Again, no stitches necessary, but a bit of trauma. I'm waiting for Child Protective Services to come whisk my children away from me and find them a better mama.

What has happened to this crazy family of mine? Back in the springtime, I was a poster child for Parents magazine, truly I was. A healthy dinner on the table by 6. Bath, book, bed, every night at 8. Maybe it didn't always happen, but that was the goal, and we came pretty close. Now, however, all of the rules have flown out the window - thankfully none of the kids have flown out yet.

We're trying our best to keep some modicum of sanity at this point, but I have the not-so-vague sense that we're failing.

Still. The house is clean and empty, and our earthly belongings are on their way to Beijing - even if we aren't. We're trying to take advantage of the lull and do some touristy stuff when Bart isn't at work. On Sunday, we took the kids to a Nats game. On Monday, we went for a hike on Roosevelt Island, looking for pirates, finding deer instead. Today, we walked the Asia Trail at the National Zoo. The pandas were cute, the fishing cat was cool (if unsucessful at catching prey), the sloth bear had a stare-down with Kyra.

We're trying to make this parenting thing work as best we can in a small space with short tempers. But if the editors over at Parents Magazine could see me now, I'm pretty sure they'd revoke my subscription...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Update - Sort Of...

Such craziness.

I don't have anything definitive to add yet, but here's what we know so far.

The Chinese gov't has said they can expedite our visas so we'll have them by Friday. Based on that, we made reservations to fly out of here on Sunday - one week from today. The flight is packed, but it looks as though we'll be able to sit near one another. And the dog is also cleared to fly. We lost our business class upgrade, however, and that's pretty disappointing.

So - assuming the visas are indeed ready on Friday, we'll be Beijing-bound in just one week. If not - well, we'll start this crazy dance all over again until we get it right, I suppose...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Because Something Always Has to Go Wrong

The last of the boxes was hauled away today, and the house is empty - except for the dust, the dirt, the crumbs, and all of the last minute things we need, like paint and glass cleaner.

The kids and I were at the house all day long, trying to entertain ourselves with very few toys. The boys watched Scooby Doo - again - moving from chair to chair until there were none left.

Meanwhile, Bart was running around D.C., trying to find out what happened to our visas.

It turns out that the State Department never bothered to submit our passports to the Chinese Embassy - that's why we don't have visas. Apparently, they made a mistake on Aidan's new diplomatic passport. They put an "F" into the space for gender, when he's clearly an "M," despite his love of all things pink. I didn't catch the mistake when I signed his passport. Apparently, I also forgot to sign Shay's passport. But instead of notifying us that there was a mistake, they just put the passports into a drawer somewhere. They compounded the problem by telling us the passports had been sent to the Embassy already when we called to check in. We called FIVE times to check on them, and each time they reassured us that everything was fine. And then, every day this week, when Bart called to find out if our visas were ready, they replied "check back tomorrow" instead of telling us what the problem was.

So here it is Wednesday night, and we have no visas. Keep in mind that it ordinarily takes about three weeks to get a visa. They managed to get a new passport for Aidan today and they shipped it off to the Chinese Embassy. It remains to be seen if the Chinese will take pity on us and give us visas or not.

So for now, we'll keep hanging out in our hotel room and watching Scooby Doo. I imagine we'll find out by Monday if we'll be able to fly out of here on Tuesday.

Sigh. Just when it looked as if things were moving right along...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Trauma

We left Oneida Lake early on Saturday morning and drove to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where we met up with some of my many Scranton relatives for an early dinner. Uncle Joe made the best pizza ever, and Rosie provided a chocolate cake, of which my two boys ate at least half. After we left Rosie's house, we checked into a nearby hotel to settle in for the night - we didn't want to keep the kids up late into the night by driving all the way back to Virginia.

A bit before nine p.m., we decided to take the kids for a quick swim at the hotel pool. Shay ran into the bathroom to wash up and Aidan followed. Next thing you know, we heard piercing screams coming from the bathroom. We ran in and - get ready for gross - discovered that Aidan had pushed open the bathroom door, which scraped over the top of Shay's foot and ripped off his entire big toenail.

Yes. It is that gross. I'll pause here while you all recuperate.

Back with me? Okay. The hotel referred us to a nearby emergency room, and the whole family set off to find it. We got there and checked in at about ten p.m. I should have known we were in trouble when I explained what had transpired and the check-in lady typed "injured toe" into the computer. "Injured toe" doesn't sound like much of an emergency - I myself would likely have typed something like "Holy Mother of God! This kid nearly lost his toe and is bleeding everywhere and his mother is about to pass out!" That might have gotten us quicker service - or at least an ice pack.

But no - we were labeled an injured toe and shunted to the back of a very large list, with just one doctor, one nurse and one resident in view. Finally, at about 1:30 a.m., when Shay still hadn't been seen by a doctor (and at least one man with an apparently broken arm had left the hospital because he was tired of waiting), I took the other two kids and went back to the hotel, leaving Bart with Shay.

When the doctor finally got to Shay around 3 a.m., he decided to block Shay's nerves by putting six shots into his toe (apparently they found lots of folks somewhere in the hospital to hold him down for this). They then surgically removed the rest of the nail (ewwwwwww), cleaned him up and sent him home with a prescription for Codiene. Just a prescription, mind you. They didn't give him any actual Codiene. Unfortunately, there are apparently no 24-hour pharmacies in Scranton. So when the toe block wore off, the poor kid started howling.

Suffice to say we both wished we'd bypassed the hotel and chosen instead to drive to Virginia in the dead of the night. It would have been easier for all of us.

We were instructed to soak the wound and change the dressing twice a day. So when we got back to Virginia the next day, we set out to do just that. We soaked it, but the gauze didn't come off. We soaked and soaked, then threw him in the bath to stew, then soaked some more. But no luck. The gauze stayed stuck.

The next morning, Monday, we tried again. And again. Then we took him to the pediatrician. They couldn't do it. So we drove to the ER in Fairfax. That is, I drove. Because Bart was home with the movers - attentive readers might recall that Monday was also the start of packout? So while our house was being swallowed up by boxes, I took a now-very-traumatized Shay to the ER. The doctor there said she wouldn't do another toe block - too painful for the kid. She recommended putting some crazy medicine into an IV and knocking him out so they could pull off the gauze and see if he needed further repair under there.

Shay had other plans. He refused the IV, even after 2 childlife specialists came on the scene and tried to talk him into it. He wouldn't let anyone touch his toe. So they put a bit of topical painkiller on the toe and gave him 30 minutes to get the gauze off by himself. The childlife specialists, two nurses and I all sat around and watched as he slowly and carefully peeled off the gauze - one... strand... at... a... time. Meanwhile, my dear neighbor Kristin was watching the other two kids for me. She'd agreed to watch them for a couple of hours starting at 10 a.m. It was now 6 p.m. with the end not quite in sight. And Casey the dog was at the vet waiting for me to pick him up before they closed. And that gauze - well, it is composed of many, many strands. Trust me. I've counted them.

We made it home, gauze free, in time to pick up Casey and the kids. I think Kristin might have even made her 8 p.m. movie date with her husband, though she missed the previews.

And the movers? They stayed until 10 p.m. and hauled away 800 pounds of airfreight and 6250 pounds of slow-boat stuff. After they left, we went back to our hotel, where we ate pizza and watched Scooby Doo late into the night.

Today they packed up the storage items. Tomorrow they'll haul them away.

So to summarize. We have a near-empty house and forty nine toenails between us, not counting the dog. We've eaten nothing but pizza in the last 36 hours. We've spent hundreds of dollars in the ER. The kids have watched countless hours of t.v., thereby frying numerous synapses.

And we still don't have Chinese visas. Noone seems to know why. Assuming we get them, we're flying out of here one week from today. With or without our toenails.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Life at the Lake


Tomorrow is our last full day here at Oneida Lake. The kids have had a blast, wrestling with their uncles, swimming in the lake and having ice cream before noon. I'm not quite sure how we'll wrestle them back to reality. But it's coming soon...


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Where We Stand

The rugs are all cleaned and rolled up against the walls. The furniture is pushed to the sides. The pictures are piled in corners, and the nail holes where they once hung are spackled over. The playpen is stuffed to the gills with air freight (towels, plates, diapers, dog food, pillows, toys, etc...). Every last item has a sticky on it: Air, Sea or Storage.

Upstairs, the boys' beds are stripped and covered with everything that needs to go into suitcases: suits, shoes, clothes, toiletries, dog food. The carry-on bags are in the kitchen right now, as I'm packing toys and snacks for the boys while they aren't here to observe.

There's a pile of clothes for Goodwill in the entry way, along with a bucket of things to be returned/exchanged at various stores.

And yet here I am, in the dining room, updating my blog. It's an avoidance technique.

We're not leaving until the 24th, but we have to get everything ready by Friday, because on Saturday we're waking up early to make the 8-hour drive to New York. We'll spend the week at a lake up there with Bart's family. We'll return to Virginia one week from Sunday, and our packout begins early the next morning.

We'll then have one week to get haircuts, see the doctor, tie up loose ends at work, say goodbyes to friends, get the dog groomed, send his doggie paperwork to China, touch up the paint, get the house cleaned, get the rugs shampooed, get the car picked up for shipment to China, finalize the lease details with the property manager, sign a contract with the gardener and, oh yes, get to the airport.

Shouldn't be hard to get done.

Yesterday, on the Fourth of July, there was a massive afternoon thunderstorm. The emergency broadcast system kicked in with a "tornado warning" for our little town. We were advised to take cover in the basement. So we did. We sat around amongst our little piles of "Sea" and Storage" while the dog quaked and peed on the rug. Rain poured down, along with nearly non-stop thunder. I admit that as I looked around, I was mostly worried that if a tornado did hit, it would blow away all of those little stickies. And then where would we be?

But there was no tornado. The stickies are still stuck, and I guess we're really going.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

T Minus 24

Today is July 1st. Just 24 days left until we hop on the plane.

The only words I've managed to learn in Mandarin over the past year are "Hello," "Thank you," "I don't know" and "wife." All of which will prove extremely useful at the grocery store, I'm sure. I have, however, learned to play a mean game of Mahjong on the computer.

Bart, on the other hand, has apparently learned quite a bit of Chinese while I've been studying Mahjong. He took his language test on Friday and scored a 2+/2. For those of you not-in-the-know, the State Dept. scores its employees on a number system. You get an oral score and a reading score. You can get anywhere from 0-5. My Chinese right now is at 0/0, meaning I can't speak or read. A 5/5 typically only goes to a native speaker. After 9 months of studying Chinese ten hours a day, State Dept. employees are expected to score somewhere between a 2/0 and a 2/2, which indicates "minimal professional proficiency." So Bart's 2+/2 is actually about the highest he could get after all of his work. He has a 4/4, or a 4+/4+ in Russian. Russian, as you might imagine, is pretty damn hard. According to Bart, Chinese is impossibly, unimaginably harder. (After a comparable amount of time studying Russian, the State Dept. would expect you to get a 3/3, so apparently they believe Chinese is harder, too).

My point is this: how am I ever going to learn Chinese in the next 24 days? I'll have to squeeze in a few hundred words a day just to get to a 0+/0+.

We are in the throes of pack-out preparation. The boys have gone to visit their grandparents, so we are cleaning and organizing and buying and discarding and trying to get it all done by next weekend, when we'll join up with the boys again in New York. In the midst of all of this, Kyra has come down with a nasty rash, a cough, a sinus infection and a double ear infection that oozes out of her ear tubes in a horror-show kind of way. Don't even get me started on what the antibiotics she's on do to her diapers. Ewww.

And Casey the dog? Brian and Carolyn stopped by for dinner the other night. "Can Casey eat rawhide?" they asked, as they pulled out a T Rex-sized rawhide bone. Sure he can, we answered, why not? Umm, well, we found out why not at 4 that morning. And every 30 minutes subsequently.

So as you might imagine, it's a little crazy over here. But at least I have my husband back. After nine months of suffering and 3 hours of labor, he's pushed out a beautiful little 2+/2. And he didn't even need an epidural.
Please. Write your own stuff.