Friday, August 31, 2012

Work Week One: Finished

I did it! I made it through an entire week of full time employment! (Okay, barely. But whatever). And in the process, I learned a few things about myself and my family.

1. I can survive back-to-back days without wearing jeans. (Get your minds out of the gutter, people. I am referring to the fact that I had to wear fancy clothes. I promise you, I was not pants-less in the office. They frown on that sort of thing in government work.)

2. Just knowing that there is a pair of flip flops stashed under my desk cheers me up.

3. If I don't make dinner, no one will. We will starve. Or we will become good friends with the pizza guy.

4. Even my children have a limit to how many times they will eat take out pizza in a week. Who knew, right?

5. No matter their age, when forced to pack their own lunches, all kids will pack exactly one sandwich and one fruit roll up. Nothing else.

5(b). Need to order more fruit roll ups, ASAP.

6. If my husband does manage to make it home from work early, and is witness to the post-work bedtime routine, gawd help him. The sight of his wild-eyed, stressed-out, practically-in-tears-from-exhaustion-and-too-much-take-out-pizza wife will send him fleeing the house, mumbling about some important meeting he has to attend right now, somewhere far from the house, sorry, gotta run, who are you and what have you done with my wife?

7. The next time I decide to take on a brand new job, I will make certain that it does not start the same week as school starts. Bonus points if my husband is not acting DCM that week, too.

Working moms across the globe, I salute you. Y'all kick some serious ass.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

First Day of School, 2012

The day is finally here. This morning, for the first time ever in the history of me, all four of my children climbed aboard the same bus and drove away without me. Bereft, I am.

They fight sometimes. What kids don't? But this morning, the boys helped the girls buckle in. Shay sat next to Ainsley in front, with the little kids, and Aidan sat next to Kyra. I didn't ask them to do that. They thought of it on their own. My babies. Forming their own team - one that doesn't include me.

Today, I am so happy that I have a full time job in addition to this parenting gig of mine. Because instead of sitting at home and moping, I can throw myself into something more important than me.

Though I'll confess, I did spend some time backtracking through my blog this morning, looking for the photos from last year's first day of school, for both the boys and the girls. And the year before. And even before, back in Beijing. My, life, she is flashing before my eyes this morning.

My babies.

Taken two days ago, when the three biggest started school.

Fourth grade

First grade

Seventh grade

And today, Ainsley started pre-K.

Gee, do you think Ainsley's excited?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An Old Article

Way back in 2010, shortly after we moved here, I wrote and submitted what would turn out to be my Last. Article. Ever.

I submitted it to one of my "dream publications" (I had just two), and guess what? They wanted it! Sold, on the first try out of the gate. I was ecstatic. I had arrived. I told everybody that I was going to have an article in (insert dream publication here).

But then, you know, the editor left her job and the column folded. It happens all of the time in publishing. She gave me back my article. I was dejected. I was a failure. And worse still, the article was no longer "green" when I got it back - no point in trying to sell it elsewhere, because it was out of date.

For some reason yesterday, I was going through my files of still-not-sold articles, looking for... what, exactly? I don't know; I guess I was trying to decide if I want to start submitting again or not. (You know, like, in my spare time? What can I say, I've always been delusional.)

Anyway, I found this old article, and I still sort of like it. I think it does a good job explaining the challenges of this Foreign Service lifestyle.

So I decided to go ahead and toss it up on this here blog. It's not my dream publication, right? But maybe you'll like it.

Here it is, uncut and unedited. Let me know what you think, FS-ers.

Globe Trotting With Kids

Our new house has no hot water and fluctuating electrical currents. In our first week here, we saw our first cockroach and had our first electrical fire. We’re still living out of suitcases – have been since the beginning of June. And as yet, we don’t even have a car.

But that’s all the easy stuff.

The tricky part is that we’re half a world away from everyone and everything we know, living as we are in Amman, Jordan, a small country bordering Israel, Iraq and Syria, right in the middle of the Middle East. And we’re here with four children, ranging in age from 2 – 10.

Okay, admittedly, it sounds a bit odd when I write it all down. But this is our life. Way back before we even had any children, my husband joined the Foreign Service, and within months we were winging our way to our first international assignment in Moscow. Our first child was born while we were posted there, about a year before the Russians kicked us out because of a spat between the US and Russia.

Since then we’ve lived in Armenia, Kazakhstan, China and the U.S. Our second baby was born in Seattle, the third in Virginia and the last in Beijing.

Why do we do this, you ask? I have all sorts of ready answers, depending upon who is asking and how much time I have to answer. But the short answer is: we get to see the world, and expose our children to all sorts of different cultures, all on a government salary.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, or for every child. It’s hard on the kids when they have to pack up and move every two or three years. After three years in Beijing, my kids did not want to leave. “I’ll go to Jordan,” the 6-year-old announced, “and I’ll ride a camel. But then I’m coming back here to live.” He loved everything about China: his school; his neighborhood; his best friends, who hailed from the U.S., Hong Kong and Korea; and his “girlfriend,” who moved to Beijing from Sweden.

The kids didn't even notice the things that bothered me about Beijing: the pollution, the traffic, the dearth of chocolate chips. For them, it was simply home.

And now, home is an apartment in Jordan. It doesn’t feel like home yet, but it will. It takes time, after each move, to really feel settled. You need to find the grocery store, the Embassy, and the schools. You need to figure out what you can buy (coffee) and what you need to make yourself (pizza dough). Once you solve these logistical puzzles, you can throw yourself into exploring far and wide: We walked on the Great Wall at our last post; here we’ll float in the Dead Sea and tour Jerusalem.

It’s hard sometimes, as a mom, to sit with my kids at night and talk about the things we miss about China, or the people we miss back in the States. Simple things are more difficult, too: How to buy enough groceries for a family of six without a car? How to cook a simple meal when the contents of my spice rack are on a container ship somewhere, slowly making their way here? Where to buy a toilet scrubber, or school supplies, or tofu?

It’s working for us so far, though, this crazy life of ours. And while these moves can be hard on a family, they also provide new opportunities for bonding. For the first few weeks at post, we are each other’s only friends. We do everything together, as a family, for better or for worse. Without toys, we spend more time reading together. Without take-out options, we spend more time cooking together. Without a dishwasher, we spend more time cleaning up together. And for the most part, we find we really enjoy each other’s company.

Soon enough, the older kids will be back on a regular play date and sleepover schedule, and they won’t be hanging around with me so much. I imagine they’ll start complaining when I force them to go explore nearby archeological sites, or take a road trip to the Red Sea. They’ll whine about their Arabic homework, or fuss about the cold water running into the tub.

For now, though, we’re enjoying this new phase of our adventure, one big family roaming the globe together. And on one topic, we all agree: we could do without the cockroaches.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Imposter Syndrome

I used to have the best boss ever, back when I worked in advertising. Most large advertising agencies, for those who aren't familiar, are sort of similar to child labor camps. They take these young college grads, toss 'em all together, and let them work until they drop. But our office had video games, and a foozball table, and bean bag chairs, and all sorts of other things big and small that could entice us youngsters to stay and work our butts off. My boss, lex, was maybe a year older than me, but she was smarter and wiser and better in every way. Pretty much everything I've ever learned about managing people I learned from her.

Once, when I was stressing about taking on some new responsibility, and she was talking me down off the ledge, we started discussing Imposter Syndrome. She insisted every female has it and most men don't; over time, I've come to think she was probably right, as always.

Imposter Syndrome. That feeling when you're faking your way through your job, pretending you totally know what's going on, when inside you're cringing, waiting for someone to point their finger at you and exclaim "Hey! She's faking it! She has no idea how to do her job."

Moms do it, you know. We all nod and agree when other moms start talking about organic fruit or home schooling or tv rules. But secretly, inside, we're comparing ourselves, thinking "if they knew I feed my kids fruit loops, they'd never invite me back."

We do it on the job, too. We smile and nod and pretend we know exactly what's expected of us, and then, if we're good, we go figure it out, do the job, and breathe a sigh of relief. Fooled them, we think. They have no idea how incompetent I really am.

Imposter Syndrome.

I've got it bad, two days into this new job of mine. I think I'm going to like it, once I figure out what IT actually is. For now, though, I'm smiling and nodding and sounds-great!ing at everyone who stops in my little office. Then they leave, and I frown and think to myself, now, how do I fool them into thinking I know how to do that? They're going to know I'm a total fraud once they figure this out.

But okay. My new coworkers seem smart, and funny, and nice - all good things, right? So I figure they'll give me time to overcome my Imposter Syndrome and start producing actual results.

Now, if only I could figure out how to get those results. Or what, specifically, those results are supposed to be.

Also: a foozball table would be nice.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

And Of Course We Went To Disneyland...

To tell the truth, I was kind of dreading Disneyland day. It's one of those parenting rites of passage, like circumcision, or inoculations, or standing in line to see Santa at the mall. You can't be a parent and NOT do it. But that doesn't mean you have to like it.

We were going to Disneyland, dammit. I fired up the credit card and barely even flinched at the entrance, when they handed me 6 tickets and said "that'll be $504 dollars, please." Five hundred and four dollars, just to get in. That's before drinks, snacks, souvenirs and lunch. Ouch.

But okay. The good news is that we weren't in it alone. We joined our friends J & B, who were staying at the house with us, and our friend K, who lives here in Amman but was doing the Disney R&R thing. And even Pop joined us for the day.

It was perfect, actually. K knows her way around Disneyland, so she mapped it out for us. The dads ran ahead to procure fast passes while the rest of us dawdled with the kids. And we were able to split up by age - small, medium and large - so no one had to wait for anyone else to finish a ride they couldn't go on. Since each of the kids had a built-in friend, there was no fighting. A day without fighting? Totally worth the $504 entrance fee.

J even managed to procure bandaids. Yes, well, it turns out that I was so pleased when Ainsley got herself dressed that morning that I neglected to notice the fact that she was wearing brand new sparkly princess shoes. By noon her heels were covered in blisters. But she was so thrilled to be at Disneyland that she didn't even complain. I forgot to pay J back for the bandaids - given that they were Disneyland bandaids, I probably owe her at least forty five dollars.

Anyway, that's Disney for you. We were there far too late and had trouble dragging the kids out of the souvenir store at the end of the day. But the kids will remember the day for sure.

So it was worth it.

Look! They aren't fighting!

With Pop! And a princess castle! And cotton candy!

Lookee there! In the parade! Princesses!

And more princesses!

Dear God, mom, have you ever beheld anything so amazing as these princesses?

We waited in line for an entire hour to take a picture with Mickey Mouse. That's an hour of my life I'll never get back. For a mouse. He wanted to take a picture with me, too. I refused, just on principle. 

We tried to get a photo of all of the kids. It was late; they were tired. FAIL.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Santa Barbara

While in California, we paid a quick visit to my aunt, who lives in Santa Barbara. The kids took over her pool and we had to drag them out, kicking and screaming, at the end of the day.

I remember visiting her as a kid, and we always had so much fun racing around the yard playing hide and seek. It was nice to see my kids having just as much fun, and it was good to get to catch up with my aunt.

Have you ever in your life seen such a cool pool toy? Me neither.

(I suppose the pool's okay, too)

When I grow up I think I want to move to Santa Barbara...

(Bart might agree with me.)

Ainsley exploring the "Secret Path" to the beach, looking for princesses.

Nana and Bampa

"I was pretending to talk to a prince," explained Ainsley.

All of us...

Thanks, Aunt A, for a great day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

At The Crossroads

Is it midlife crisis, do you suppose? I don't know, but suddenly I feel as though I am in a place where things are changing, and I am not always in control of those changes, and I'm not sure all of the changes are good.

I'm standing at a crossroads, and I'm trying to figure out what path I'm supposed to take.

It happens to me, periodically, when I face big choices. I can see where I've been, clear as day, but when I look ahead, there are several fuzzy outlines of paths. And no map. Never a map. This is never the best place for me. Put me on a path, any path, and I'll forge ahead. But, given a choice of paths, I'll stumble and stop and wait until it's too dark to make a move. Lately it seems my life is just a series of forks along various non-descript roads, and I'm growing somewhat weary of the big choices that keep blocking my path.

I have a new job, beginning on Sunday, and it's full time, and I really hope I'm ready for it. Always til now I've worked part time, or freelanced, and managed to just maintain that facade of balance. So I'm hoping a full time gig doesn't push me over the brink. It's time, though, I think. This will be Ainsley's last year of pre-school, and I need to start focusing on me, and on future me, and making sure I'm doing what I can to ensure my family's well being - and my own. But who will make dinner? And how will the kids get to the doctor? It boils down to outsourcing my current job, to trusting others to pick up the slack.

Then there's this thing called the Foreign Service. While we were in California, I got The Email. It seems I'm officially on the register, which means they could offer me a "real" FSO job at any minute. Realistically, it would probably be awhile, because I'm midway down the list (your position on the hiring list is based on the numeric score you received the day you took the oral exam; my score was enough to pass, but not impressively high). But - if I choose to take the bonus points for Russian, I'm likely going rocket to the top of that list. Or - I can defer for up to 2 years, which could theoretically make it so I don't have to split my family up to go home for training. I can ask to be taken off of the list until we're back in DC, which is probably coming up next.

But if Bart does an AIP job? Or if I can't handle the full time gig after all? Or if I don't want to leave Amman early? Or if...? So many ifs pile up, and I'm left peering into the murky haze, trying to decide which path to take. It seems one wrong step will mean disaster - yes, I'm melodramatic, always have been. But truly, the decision I take here, in this and other issues cropping up right now, will have a huge impact on, well, everything about me. So I have to decide: who am I? Who do I want to be? Where do I want to go?

And then I have to leap onto that path and just start moving, I guess. No looking back.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The First Few Days... In Pictures

If you aren't my kids' grandparents, then maybe you want to avert your eyes. I'll be sending a lot of pictures this way, especially for them. And while I think my children are endlessly fascinating, and they think my children are endlessly fascinating, you might not think so.

There. You've been warned. Annnnd here we go. Let's start with the Pearl show. (My Amman friends call Ainsley "Pearl" - long story for another post.)

Pearl with her Bampa

In every single picture we took, Kyra is digging in the dirt. I can't explain it.

How could you not want to live here?

Shay steers the boat.
Aidan's turn to steer.

...with Uncle Sean.

Who doesn't love a rooftop hot tub?

Then there was the day we went to the La Brea Tar Pits, which I remember from my elementary school field trips. Still as cool as ever.

At the La Brea Tar Pits. Is it ever possible to get all of the kids looking decent in just one shot? No? Okay then. Be sure to check out Pearl's classic expression.

Some of you complain that I never post pictures of myself. Lookee here!

Pearl wrestles an extinct bear...

The Gorman boys...

And of course we spent many a day at the beach....

Our grad school pal Suzik came to visit, along with two other friends who don't want me making them famous on this here world-renowned blog. Go figure.

Pearl thinks Uncle Sean is one giant walking jungle gym.

Dang if these weren't the cutest boys on the beach...

Okay, well, I'm jet lagged and tired and over this blog thing for now. More pictures later for those of you who hung in til the bitter end. For now: nap? Or head out in the sunshine and kick this jet lag? Any votes?

Please. Write your own stuff.