Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Guess Where I Am?

You guys.


Guess where I am?

I am sitting on a bed in a hotel room right now.

In Cairo.

No, really. Somehow I convinced my husband that he wanted - no, needed - to go on vacation again with STJ's family. And so we are here, and they are here, and it has been a whole day so far and we are all still friends. Well, except perhaps for Ainsley and CL. She loves that man, truly she does, but she has a strange way of showing it. I guess she knows he's a sucker for her.

Anyway, the ten of us (!) spent most of the day in airports, on airplanes and stuck in traffic. But we did manage to squeeze some shopping in. And some swimming. And some room service. A good day, all in all.

Big plans tomorrow.

Back soon with photos.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jerusalem, Again

I've been out of the blog loop recently, sorry. Partly because, as I've said, I'm thinking before I type. But mostly because - hello - there are six people in this family, and all of them seem to want to use my computer.

What's new, you ask? Nothing much. Work/life balance and all. I love that phrase, work/life balance, because it implies that there actually is a way to balance work and life when the reality is, there are never enough hours in the day, and no matter how you stack those hours up, one on top of the next, there will be days when your carefully balanced tower falls down and crushes you beneath its weight.

So. No work/life balance here. But we did manage to take one day off of work earlier in the month to go to Jerusalem for the weekend.

Jerusalem is super close. If there weren't a border, in fact, we could probably drive there in an hour and a half. But there is a border, an unpredictable border, and there's never a way to know how long it'll take to cross.  This time it took rather awhile to cross. They escorted us in, stamped our passports, and then told my husband to go move the car while we waited at passport control. When he went to move the car, the police stopped him and asked to see his ID. Which was, of course, in my purse, back at passport control. So they detained him in some random part of the building. He tried to call me, but my Jordanian phone stops working at the Israeli border. He started sending me texts, telling me to bring him his ID, but of course I didn't know where he was. Heck, I didn't even know where I was at that point, because they'd brought me and the kids to yet another part of the building to buy car insurance. ("Will you be the driver?" "No, my husband is driving." "Well, he needs to be here to sign the paperwork. Where is he?" Ummm, good question. Why don't you guys tell me where he is?)

Long story short, we eventually found each other, no thanks to the folks at the border, who wouldn't let me go anywhere to try to help Bart. (I actually sent Shay sneaking around in the building, all Mission Impossible-style, trying to find his dad, reasoning that since he was shorter than me he might make it further than I would as a search-and-rescue party. Every time I tried to move from the spot the border people stopped me, but they didn't seem to notice when he wandered away.)

We had planned to cross the border and head south along the Dead Sea highway to visit Masada, where Herod the Great used to hang out back in the day. It took such an interminably long time to cross that we weren't sure if we'd make it there before it closed, but we decided to try anyway.  Well, we did make it there, barely - just in time to catch one of the last cable cars up the mountainside. The views from the top almost made it worth the annoying experience at the border.
That's the Dead Sea back there, with Jordan on the other side.

Kind of makes sense why they chose this place as a fortress. That's a serious cliff right there.

Just once, could I get a picture where all four of them are smiling for the camera?

From there we headed back up the highway to Jerusalem, where we met up with the cousins for dinner. It is so nice to have relatives nearby - first and last time it'll ever happen that way for us in the Foreign Service.

The next morning we met up again for a walk on the Rampart Wall that encircles the Old City of Jerusalem.
That hole in the wall is the perfect size for a kid to slide through - it would never pass U.S. safety standards.
Kyra with cousin Tommy.

Ainsley and Julia.

Us, squinting.

Cousins on the Rampart Wall above the Old City.

Off the Wall now and back in the Old City. Ainsley was getting tired, and she wanted nothing to do with our pictures. But she stuck with it for the whole day - they all did, actually. It was a welcome surprise for their mom.

Here we are at some important site.  That's all I remember.

Heading toward the Garden of Gethsemane. (Which was closed when we got there. All that hiking for nothing.)

Uncle B and the new baby cousin, Patrick, at dinner that night.
Our last day, and the reason we'd come to Jerusalem: our brand new baby nephew was getting baptized. My bro- and sis-in-law had asked us to be the godparents, so off we all went to their church in the Old City to celebrate Patrick's big day.
So cute....

Patrick with his mama.

Julia holding her new baby bro.

Shay wore that little outfit when he was baptized, as did Kyra. And Bart wore it, too,  all those years ago.

Bart, thinking he wants another one. Ha! Dream on, mister!

The god-family.

The real family.

And that was it! We had a quick brunch together before heading back to our side of the River Jordan. And on the way back, we made it through the border in record time - no detentions or anything.

We don't see each other all that often, given the crazy work schedules and the differing weekend schedules. But it is nice having family so close. Maybe we can convince them to move to our next post with us?

And speaking of our next post - have I told y'all yet that we have a post-Baghdad assignment?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


When you're living overseas, you tend to bond hard - sometimes too hard - with the people who get tossed into the fishbowl with you.

For some people, this is a drawback of Foreign Service life: they don't want other people up in their business. For me, though, this has always been one of the biggest bonuses.

Take today, for example. It was a typical too-much-to-do kind of day. I had to work, of course, as did Bart. But also: there were parent teacher conferences, so the kids had no school and I had to juggle work with child care. Today was also baseball practice for the boys, right around the same time as our conferences were scheduled. Oh, and the car needed an oil change.

I rushed from meeting to meeting to meeting, trying to get everything done so I could run out to the conferences. Picked up the car and dashed out of the Embassy, trying to make it to the first conference on time.

My cell phone rang.

It was Bart, asking if I'd remembered to get his glove out of the car so he could go help out at baseball. Of course I'd forgotten, and there was no time to go back.

I took a quick detour and headed past STJ's house, which was on my way to the school. I rang the bell, and when her daughter opened the door, I tossed the glove in with a scattered explanation before running back to the car.

I made it to the school with one minute to spare and quickly texted STJ to warn her about the extra glove. She texted back and offered to get the glove and my kids to baseball - an offer I happily accepted, seeing as how I hadn't even begun to think about how that was going to happen. Then I hung up and called another friend, to ask him to track down my eldest child and send him home to get dressed for practice. And I started my marathon session of teacher conferences.

(Aside: no one warns you, when you first set out to have little babies, that some day you're going to have to spend half a day at the school attending conferences if you have too many. Four kids. Four conferences. Exhausting!)

I finished those conferences, eventually. (And yes, grandparents: your grandchildren are all brilliant and motivated and excellent readers and social butterflies and budding scientists and everything rainbows and unicorns!)

Checked my messages to find that Bart was on his way to the baseball field with coach CL, who happens to be STJ's spouse. Are you following this? Are you starting to understand the title of this post?

I headed back to the Embassy to finish my day before going home to make a quick dinner. STJ texted to ask if CL could drop their kids at our house for awhile after practice, because he had a meeting to attend and she was stuck at the office. No problem, I answered, and then set about adding some extra dinner to the table.

The six kids inhaled their dinner and then her kids entertained my kids while I cleaned up and started this post. It's 8pm as I type, and STJ just picked up her kids. Oh, but they left behind their catcher's gear so Aidan can practice with his brother in the morning.

Tomorrow afternoon I expect another round of Musical Kids, as some are dropped off here by one mom and others are picked up by a second mom.

Somehow, at the end of the day, all of us moms will gather up whichever kids we find in our kitchens and living rooms, and we'll toss them all in our cars before heading back to the Embassy for dinner. We'll share a table and share some laughs while the kids run around outside, playing and bickering and just generally enjoying one another's company. Someone will win tomorrow's sleepover lottery, and someone else will lose. None of us will go home with the kids we brought.

But that right there? That's one big reason I chose to stay here while Bart goes to his onward assignment. If we'd elected to return to Northern Virginia, I'd be friendless and alone, trying to find my way and juggling too many responsibilities as a single mom. Here I have STJ and CL and all those other folks who step in on an almost daily basis to help me out in one way or another.

So yeah. It's weird, sometimes, being so closely intertwined. I think it's safe to say we all know too much about one another in some ways. But there's a positive to all of this, too: with them, I don't have to pretend to have it all under control. I can ask for help when I need it, and offer it when they do. Somehow, it all seems to even out, and all of us get through our days intact. Most of the time we do, anyway.

I'm going to miss this big ole family of ours when I'm gone from this place.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Bampa

This picture is old - thirteen years old, to be precise. But I still love it.

Bampa, baby Shay and me...

Happy birthday dad. Thanks for showing me how to be a parent, and how to do most everything else as well. You definitely set the bar high. I love you, always.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Another One

We lost another colleague yesterday.

If you're in the Foreign Service yourself, doubtless you know this already. If you're not in the Foreign Service, well, the news might have passed right over your head as you went about your day.

A few hours ago, a Foreign Service Officer serving in Afghanistan was killed by an improvised explosive device. She died alongside several members of our military and a local doctor. Several others were injured, at least one critically.

The woman who died was young, only in her mid-twenties. She was midway through her second tour. I didn't know her, but it's a small organization, so we're just one degree of separation, she and I. We have mutual friends. Had mutual friends.  

She was delivering books to a provincial school when she was killed.

Funny world we live in, isn't it, when you can get blown up for giving books to school children?

This fact hits home for me, because this is one of my main jobs here in Jordan. I spend a good part of my day looking for books by American authors that ought to be translated into Arabic - books that might do some good in the Arabic-speaking world, not just in Jordan, but regionally. I work to secure the rights to these books, and to get them translated, and then to put them into the hands of people who most want them.

And while it's true that some of my friends tease me good-naturedly about my books (looking at you, CL...), it's actually an important thing we're doing. Some of these kids don't have very many possessions of their own. But we give them our books, with a tiny flag sticker on the back cover, to show that the books are really from you, my fellow Americans. Some of the books are for adults - we translate books on autism for struggling parents, and memoirs for people curious about America, and law books and books on journalism and self-help books and Pulitzer prize-winning novels.

This is not glamorous work. This is not the kind of work that will make you famous. It really isn't the kind of work that ought to get you killed, as happened to Anne yesterday.

But in a world that is increasingly divisive, in a world where lots of people simply don't like us, for reasons both good and bad, this is important work. It's small work sometimes. There are days when we deliver just fifteen books, for a college book club discussion, or maybe twenty, to parents whose kids are hospitalized with cancer. That's not a lot of people to reach on any given day.

But we reach them. We find them where they are, and we give them these small gifts from America, about America. We teach them to read, to think critically, to smile broadly. We show them, through our books, that America is a vast and wonderful place, full of all sorts of people and amazing ideas. So: a small, small program. And yet so big. What could be bigger than a book, really?

This is what Anne died doing. It is important. Her work was important. And I'm betting that if she'd reached that school yesterday, she would've had an amazing story to tell. Those schoolchildren would have each gotten their own books, still smelling of glue from the print shop. At least one of those kids would have hugged her by way of thanks. And she would have gone home smiling.

She died instead, and I guess those books were destroyed in the attack as well, pages fluttering down the highway, useless.

I hope her parents know that there are people like me all across the globe who know exactly what she was doing there, and who are proud of the work she accomplished in her short life. I hope they know that there are teenagers in Afghanistan tonight, reading books that she gave them, thinking new thoughts that she helped put in their heads. I hope they know that there are young girls holding their own textbooks thanks to Anne, and that there are parents reading to their children tonight because of her gift of books.

I don't know how that knowledge can help them as they grieve. But I know they raised a daughter who made a difference out there in this wide world of ours. She made a difference.

Thank you, Anne.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Well, And in Other News

My husband is back.

That's right. We made it through two whole months of training. Technically I guess he's the one who made it through the training, which he said was all kinds of interesting and difficult and apparently standing out in the elements for whole days at a time in an east coast winter is less-than-fun.

But he is back, and I managed to keep all four kids alive and reasonably fed most days and so what if they outgrew all of their clothes and I didn't replace them? That would have happened whether he was away or not.

Now we have two and a half months to get used to each other's daily routines again. He seems to have remembered that he is required to bring me a Starbucks mocha (full fat, iced, no whipped cream, please) on his way home from the gym on weekends. And then he needs to leave me alone while I drink it and do absolutely nothing involving his children, his laundry or his dog. So far, all is well. We'll see how long it lasts. Probably until he asks me if I remembered to organize the summer clothes, or alphabetize the spice rack, or file the taxes, or something else equally unnecessary, while he was away.

In two and a half months, though, the real fun begins. Every day we get more information about his onward assignment, and I ponder how exactly this is supposed to work. But we got through the first separation without too many issues. Sure, there was the time not long after he left when I got a notice from the mail room informing me that I had a package, and when I went to pick it up it turns out it was a 100-pound box of dog food. The mail room guy kindly said "you should wait until your husband comes back and let him take care of it," and I very nearly burst into tears. It had never occurred to me until that exact moment that I was destined to drag 100-pound boxes of dog food home, by myself, every single month until mid-2014. It was a startling revelation, and I did not handle it well.

My biceps will be powerful indeed at the end of this tour, because 100 pounds of dog food is heavier than it sounds when you're carting it through heavy security doors and down hallways and across the compound before somehow hoisting into the trunk of your car that dear god did someone back into me again and not leave a note? and then out of the trunk and up the stairs and all the way back into the laundry room, where you somehow shove that sucker in and slam the door with your foot before glaring balefully at the dog who, by the way, why in the world did your husband have to choose such a big dog anyway? What was wrong with a dainty little poodle or something else that doesn't consume 100 pounds of food every month in addition to a steady diet of Legos, board books and Barbie feet?

So anyway. He is back, and we are happy.

His dog, though. Seriously, what was he thinking?

Please. Write your own stuff.