Looking at my Facebook feed, you can easily tell which of my friends are Foreign Service moms and which are regular-job moms, just by the way they respond to my posts.
So, for example, when I recently posted about the celebratory gunfire in our Jordanian neighborhood that resulted in a bullet through the hood of our next door neighbor’s car, my Foreign Service mom friends started responding with their own “why do they do that?” stories of crazy goings-on at their posts, whereas my regular-job mom friends were advising me to be careful and take cover.
When I posted about the rioting that was going on here in Amman a few weeks back in response to the government’s decision to raise the price of gas, again, my Foreign Service pals seemed to think it was crazy, but not crazyscary. Meanwhile, my regular friends were asking when the U.S. government was going to evacuate me and my kids (my answer – not gonna happen – didn’t make them feel better).
And so it was just two days ago, when I typed as my Facebook status “Baghdad. Summer 2013.”
My husband just received word that his next Foreign Service assignment, beginning this summer, will be to Baghdad. The kids and I will stay here in Jordan while he moves on, because Baghdad is not an accompanied post.
My Foreign Service mom friends, many of whom have already done, or are currently doing, the unaccompanied post thing, responded with cheers. “Yay! Yay! Yay!” posted one girlfriend, “You got what you wanted!” Another wrote “Happy for you! Now you can cross it off the list.” Whereas my regular-job girlfriends posted their “so sorry” condolences.
The truth is somewhere in between. I’m not in “yay yay yay” mode over this assignment; neither am I grieving.
It will be hard, of course, to split the family for a year. But it isn’t as strange as it sounds. It’s all too typical amongst my Foreign Service pals that we split up for these kinds of assignments, and this is especially true for Diplomatic Security families. When the military pulled out of Iraq, the State Department stayed in – indeed, we increased our presence, and now federal agents with the Diplomatic Security Service are doing the jobs formerly covered by the military. There are a ton of DS agents serving in the region, which means there are a ton of lonely families left behind.
So it happens that my DS-spouse friends Mary and Jen and Jennifer and Jill and JennD all currently have spouses serving somewhere in the AIP triangle – that area encompassing Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan – while they stay behind raising the kids. For Jen and Jill, it’s a second unaccompanied tour, even. And with that as a backdrop, you can see why it’s no big deal to these friends that we are preparing to embark on the same unaccompanied adventure. They know it’ll be hard, on me and the kids and the husband. But it is what it is: you sign up to serve, and you know, if you work for Diplomatic Security, that you’re going to have to go to an AIP post at least once during your career. What you do is try to time it carefully, based on schools and current posts and health issues, so that you do it when it is the least disruptive to the family.
In our case, that meant now. The kids and I can stay in Jordan – just an hour or so away from Baghdad by plane, and in the same time zone, even. The kids can stay with their friends, and in their school, and in their house, for an extra year. Their dad will fly home a few times during the year. He’ll miss birthdays and holidays, most likely. He’ll miss school concerts and baseball season. He’ll miss sick kids and orthodontist visits and parent teacher conferences. But he’ll be close, as close as he can be during an unaccompanied tour, so we know he can get back to us quickly in an emergency. And I have good friends here who can help out when needed, and a job, and a nanny who works so that I can go to that job.
They sound strange, these congratulatory words from friends who hear that our family is splitting up for a year. But really, this is the best way to manage this necessary evil. And I have so many role models (a shout out to Tiffany, and Laura, and Melissa and Zoe) who have all rocked the UT tour, along with the friends I mentioned above – they’ve made it work and proved to me that it can be done. I know it’ll get ugly and teary at times – and I’m not talking about the kids here. But we’ll muddle through.
We’ll make it work, I’m sure of it, with the help of both my super-excited-for-you Foreign Service mom friends and my oh-no-praying-for-you regular mom friends. It’ll make for some interesting times, on my Facebook feed and in real life.
I’ll keep you posted as we work out the details. And you can decide for yourself: are condolences in order, or congratulations? I think perhaps both.