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still, the article was no longer "green" when I got it back - no point in trying to sell it elsewhere, because it was out of date.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.