Sunday, March 25, 2012

So If One Day They Say They Wanna Be Astronauts....

(Okay, I know this isn't the best picture I've ever posted of my adorable baby girls, but it'll have to do.)

This afternoon they had a pretty cool event at the Embassy. The kids were invited to meet Marsha Ivins, a real live genuine astronaut. And not just any old astronaut, but a female astronaut. Cooler still.

She gave a terrific presentation, and even Ainsley managed to sit through most of it. (Though truthfully, she started to get restless about halfway through, until she spied a mom she knows in the back of the room. She happens to secretly love this mom's daughters, who are stunningly beautiful, with long black hair and golden skin, so when she saw their mom she ran right over to give her a hug and sit in her lap. The mom kindly permitted this, and after the speech was over, Ainsley told her wistfully "I wish you could be my mother." Cue sound of heart breaking.)

Kyra was riveted, and did you know, she asked me later, that they've sent a monkey into space? Also, in space you poop into bags. That is an impressive feat by kid standards.

Aidan's class is, by lucky coincidence, currently studying the solar system, so he thought it was pretty cool, too. I think he particularly enjoyed the videos of astronauts goofing off and the photos of the Earth from space. Our astronaut wisely included lots of pictures of Amman and the Dead Sea as seen from space, which impressed the kids enormously.

All in all, a good day. It was really nice of Ms. Ivins to take the time to meet with our kids. And who knows? Those girls of mine might end up rocking the astronaut suits some day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Teacher Conferences: Lost in Translation

It always drives me batty when Americans complain about immigrants who can't speak English, as if they are lazy or stupid or entitled or something, just because they can't speak the language. I mean, c'mon, lots of these people are working long hours at hard jobs for low wages and don't have the time or the money to enroll in language classes, so they are forced to get by with what they know. Not ideal, but that's the life they live.

Sometimes it's the life I live, too, which maybe adds to my sympathy level for immigrants back in the States.

For example: yesterday.

Yesterday was Kyra's parent-teacher conference day, so I skipped out of work for an hour to see what her teachers had to say about her. She attends a local school, where classes are conducted half the day in English and half in Arabic, with 30 minutes of French thrown in for good measure.

I met with the English teacher first, and it was all good, of course. Reading, math, writing, etc, etc, etc.

Then I went to the Arabic classroom, where I was met by three teachers, one of whom didn't speak English. So the entire conversation was conducted (on their side) in Arabic and (on my side) in nods and raised eyebrows. Seriously, I had NO IDEA what they were saying. Something about writing, maybe. Or behavior? And they sat there talking to each other, glancing at me occasionally as I nodded and brow-furrowed my way through the meeting. Finally, one of them remembered something critical.

"You don't speak Arabic, do you?" she asked, and I confirmed that my Arabic comprehension was just shway-shway.

"But how long have you lived here?" she asked, befuddled. Shamefacedly, I admitted that I have been here for a year and a half. To save face, I added, in Arabic "Arabic is very hard! And everyone here speaks such good English!" (At least I think that's what I said.)

She forgave me, I think, and we switched to English.

I explained that sometimes Kyra doesn't do her homework because I can't read the instructions, so I can't help her. Also, I don't really know my numbers (I can say them, but I can't read them), so when they send home math problems, I can't correct them.

We all had a good laugh, and they agreed to send home a number chart for me so I can learn my numbers alongside Kyra.

Really, though, it's embarrassing to go in there and admit that I can't even participate in kindergarten-level homework after a year and a half here. It's not a good feeling, not at all.

That said, now that I'm done with my Russian test (3+/3+, in case you were wondering, so it's not as if I'm a complete foreign language dolt), it's back to Arabic class for me next week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


The trip was a success.

I went to Target and bought all sorts of Target-y stuff. I went to Trader Joes twice and bought all sorts of Joes-y stuff. I bought some Easter candy in case the Easter bunny gets stopped by the U.S. government again this year. I ate as much Asian food of as many varieties as I could stuff into my little face.

In fact, I ate so much that when I went to put on my fancy interview duds for yesterday's test, I could barely zip up my pants. Seriously, people. Just one week in the US and I can't fit in my clothes. Not good.

But I passed! I passed the FSOT. Despite my pants, which seem to be a recurring issue in my quest for gainful employment.

So now I am taking my stuffed-to-the-gills suitcase and dragging myself back to the airport.

Time flies. So, it seems, will I.

Back soon...

Monday, March 12, 2012

From Beijing to Moscow

First I had my little reunion with some of my Beijing-ren. Then it was on to a Moscow reunion. I got to hang out with T, who once upon a time braved a Moscow snowstorm to celebrate Shay's very first birthday with us, and C, who once saved a life and, in so doing, saved us too. They're some of our oldest friends in the Foreign Service, godparents to one of our children, and I think they love me despite my peculiar west coast liberal leanings. We've been through PNGs and horrible medevacs together, and we've argued about politics on the banks of the Moscow River, and we've gone out on the town together in London, and somehow today I'm thinking of all of these things with a particularly smiley smile.

It's nice, I think, to spend time with people whom you have known for so long, and who have gone through so much with you. It makes me wonder why we can't do it more often.

It was a nice day.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Quick: what does every mom of young kids dream of having?

The dream has come true for me this week, because for the first time in a long time, I have more free time than I could possibly have hoped for.

No one knows where I am. No one needs me for anything. No dinners to cook, no lunches to pack, no homework to correct, no activities to plan. No fights to break up. No television to turn off. It's just me, alone in a hotel room.

And it's really, really weird.

It's great to be back in the U.S. for the first time in a year and a half. I finally got to meet my already-a-friend-on-the-Internet pal Jen, and how cool is that? She's as smart and as funny and as thoughtful in real life as she is on her blog, and I've long considered her, along with a couple of other DS-bloggers, to be one of my inner circle of confidantes, so it was way past time to meet up, don't you think? We got to exchange views on life as a DS spouse, and the perils of blogging, and she was remarkably tolerant of the fact that I kept splattering her with udon noodle soup.

I also got to spend an entire day with my Beijing pal Shawna, who took me to Starbucks (twice!) and Target, and even fed me lunch at her m-i-l's house so I could catch up with her fabulous husband and her two very tall sons. We met up with two other Beijing friends for dinner at the famous - and crowded beyond fire code - Peking Gourmet. It was just like old times, except the food was more expensive and the bathroom was clean. When you meet up with friends from old posts, you speak a different language. No one else understands your inside jokes, your complaints, your gossip. Frankly, no one else cares. So it is always fun to rehash it all with the people who remember that crazy karaoke night, and the frightening color of green that was Louma Lake, and the crazy drivers on Jingshun Lu, and shopping at J Los, and the 10-day freak out, and the peculiar taste of loneliness that is life back in the states, and on and on and on...

So this is fun. But it is also odd, to be here, when I was there for so very long.

I am wandering up and down the streets near my hotel, marveling at all that is the same and all that has changed in my absence. And I don't quite know what to say about it all, as my head spins with the glorious freedom that is no kids, while at the same time I miss those kids and that husband so much that it takes my breath away. It does not seem natural, or normal, or good, to know that my four babies are on the other side of the planet, without their mother, because what if something happens and I am not there to jump in? My place in this world is with my family, whereever they are. Of this, I am absolutely certain. But then, just as I start to dwell on that fact, to think I should not be here, I lose myself in the aisles of Trader Joes, staring at the $3 boxes of cereal, and the chocolate chips, and the 87 different kinds of nut butter, and it doesn't seem natural that I don't live here anymore.

So that's what I've got for you all today. I am here, and it is wonderful, and I would be happy to stay here forever, quietly reading a book in my hotel room, and yet I want to be back there now, this minute, annoyed by the bickering and praying for just one moment of peace.

Also: I love Trader Joes.

That is all.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Of Leap Years Past

This year I spent February 29th in a flurry of craziness: going to Aqaba, or no? Snow day tomorrow, or no? Work tomorrow: how to finish all of my tasks in time? I spent the whole day thinking about the day after. So much for living in the present.

Last time around, we were in China. My oldest baby had just turned 8. My youngest baby wouldn't make an appearance for a few more months. I was planning a birthday party.

The leap before that I didn't have a blog yet. I was in the midst of a frozen Kazakh winter. Shay had just turned four. I didn't yet know it, but baby Aidan, just a few months old, was terribly ill, and we were about to face a medevac, a curtailment out of post, and an awful year of sickness and sadness.

The Leap Year before that? Shay was just a few days old and we were in Los Angeles, at my parents' house, thinking we wouldn't be allowed back into Russia and wondering what was going to happen to us next.

Further back still, also to Los Angeles, 1996: We were married, I was an advertising executive, Bart was a graduate student and we hadn't even started talking about this crazy thing called the Foreign Service. We talked about maybe having a baby, someday.

One more back and we hadn't even met yet. I was still in college, in fact.

Further back I dare not go. It makes me feel too old.

How about you? Do you remember all of your Leaps?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Snow, Part Two. Now With Tanks! Uhhhh, APCs. Really Big Cars? You Be The Judge.

The weather forecasters were half right. Apparently the Dead 2 Red route ended up relatively clear, which is good, because I'd guess that a majority of the runners opted to risk it and stay in the race, despite the scary forecasts, prompting Embassy-wide jokes and debates about which group was more manly - the "I'm smart enough to know not to risk this" folks, or the "I'm so tough a little flash flood warning doesn't scare me" group. Either way, I understand that by now everyone has finished safely, which is good. I'm sure I'll get teased next week for pulling my son out of the race, but I still think it was the right decision to make for my child.

So the forecasts for the southern part of Jordan were wrong. But the weather in the northern part of the country, where we are, is pretty much as predicted. Snow, and ice, and hail, and all sorts of craziness. Today, though, is fabulous, at least if you're a kid. It has been snowing on and off all day, and it is sticking. We had four sleepover guests last night (yes, we're that crazy), and all of the kids spent some time outside in the snow this morning. Even the boab got in on the action: Reda was up on the roof clearing off the snow and tossing snowballs down at the kids.

At one point during the morning, a tank drove past. (Full disclosure: I am told by my friend T that her husband said it was an "armored vehicle", not a tank, to which I say - there's no difference! It looked tank-y, therefore, it was obviously a tank. Duh.) Apparently the police are using these armored-vehicle-tank-like contraptions to change their guard staff today instead of the usual buses. Reasonable enough - but it was definitely a "never in the States" sort of view. I didn't catch a photo of my changing of the guards, but T sent me hers. Tell me: if you saw this driving down your street in Northern Virginia one weekend morning, would you stop and stare?

And here, for the grandparents, are some gratuitous grandkid shots. Enjoy your day, everyone!

Please. Write your own stuff.