Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I Think He Got Taller

What a long, strange summer it's been. Happy, sad, lonely, busy, bored. Sometimes all at once. I'm a jumble of emotions over here, really. A mess.

But tomorrow is August already. I have one more day of work before I leave for a little vacation with the kids. By the time I get back, there will be less than two short weeks left of summer. I was dreading this long stretch of loneliness, of single-mom-ness, of trying to feed/entertain the kids and hold down a job simultaneously, but it seems I'm going to make it through. Barely, but that's okay. I'm going to make it.

Shay came back to me today, and I think he got taller.

He left, you'll remember, on the Fourth of July, and he flew back today, telling tales of Disney World and baseball camp and thunderstorms and shopping malls and drama. His suitcase is full of new baseball gear, clothes I've never seen him wear, and a school backpack I didn't help choose. Oh, and he brought back presents for his siblings.

I think he got taller.

He wants a new haircut, he tells me. And he needs new baseball gear. He laughed until he cried at dinner, telling me something funny CL said one night, but he was laughing so hard I couldn't understand what he was saying. No matter. It was an inside joke. I'm not sure I would've understood regardless.

I think he got taller. He put his laundry in the basket, hung up his new shirts, lined his new shoes up next to his closet, asked to go to the pharmacy to buy new shampoo and things.

While I was busy working this summer - writing memos, editing press releases, summarizing news headlines - he was busy growing. In so many ways, he was growing.

I'm so proud of my baby. So glad he had this experience. So happy he's back home where he belongs.

Shay and some Amman friends at a mini-reunion in DC.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mr. P Saves the Day

Awhile back, and when I say "awhile," I mean like months and months and months ago, I bought an Apple Time Machine to back up my computer.

I realized, you know, that if we had to evacuate in a hurry, I would lose everything, because I can't exactly hand carry a gigantic iMac as I flee the country in the dead of night. Not that I'm planning to evacuate, but in the Foreign Service, you just never know. And so you're always supposed to be prepared. The only time we actually had to evacuate from a post, we were given just a few short hours. My husband told me to start packing in the middle of the night, and by the time the sun rose, we were on a plane.

(Let that be a lesson to you, Foreign Service friends. Be ready. The post we left in a hurry wasn't one from which you'd picture an emergency evacuation. But there we were, trying to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. Back up your computer. Scan your photos, your report cards, your kids' artwork. Have a file folder with all of your important papers, insurance cards, cash and passports on your shelf. Be ready. Because you never know.)

So right. Be ready. I needed a plan, and the Time Machine was it. All of my Mac friends swear by it. So I bought one.

And it sat on the kitchen counter for practically ever, still in the box, backing up exactly zero percent of my valuable documents.

Right around the time Bart left, I bribed my friend CL with the promise of dinner if he'd come set it up for me so I wouldn't have to think about it. Lo and behold, he agreed to try. So while I roasted chicken and the kids watched a movie, he sat in the office and tried to set it up.

Tragically, however, he couldn't set it up because he needed a password for the router, which I didn't have and couldn't get. He left without finishing, but promised to come back and try again if I could track down the router password. Also if I got better at making chicken. Bygones.

Then he took Shay to the States, and the Time Machine sat there next to the computer, taunting me with its utter lack of back-up-ability. Until this past weekend, that is, when I had a brilliant idea: why not just reset the router to its factory settings and start over? It was a brilliant idea! Foolproof, even!


When I sat down to try it on Saturday morning, it killed the internet. Killed it dead.

I frowned. I cursed. I sulked. I hit all sorts of buttons, and restarted all sorts of machines, but I could not get the internet to come back to life. The kids sensed my stress. Especially Aidan, who immediately realized that without the internet, there would be no skyping his dad that evening.

(Aside: we've already started out first UT tradition: "Saturday Skype n Sushi." I order take out sushi, Bart drags some food home from the cafeteria in Baghdad, and we skype dinner together. Win-win: Bart gets to watch the kids fight at the dinner table, and I get sushi.)

If I couldn't fix the internet, there would be no Saturday Skype n Sushi. Correction: There would be no Skype. But there would still be Sushi. Because, hello, I was having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Clearly I needed the sushi.

Anyway. It was a whole day of misery and frustration, for me, for the kids, for Bart. About every 12.7 seconds, Aidan would ask "Is it fixed yet?" followed by "How are we going to Skype daaaad?????" It was painful.

Late Saturday night, however, I remembered my friend Mrs. P's immortal words, spoken the day Bart departed: "If you ever need anything, let me know. I have a guy."

So I texted Mrs. P (she of Huffington Post fame): I killed the internet. Any chance I can borrow your guy?

Within minutes, the guy himself, Mr. P, texted back and said he'd come over right after work on Sunday.

Sure enough, the doorbell rang at 5:30 on Sunday, and in walked Mrs. P with her guy. Also with wine. Seriously. Don't you wish you had friends like mine?

I offered them no dinner. I offered them no snacks. I think there were still a few mangled cherries and carrots on the table, left over from the kids' dinner. But otherwise: nothing. Because I am a terrible friend sometimes. Also because who can think about cooking when the internet is dead? Nobody, that's who. I don't know how Ma Ingalls did it, truly I don't.

Mrs. P and I sat in the living room drinking wine while Mr. P sat in the office, doing his thing and occasionally answering Aidan, who asked every 14 seconds "is it fixed yet? Can I call my dad yet?"

Mr. P might perhaps be the most patient man in the universe.

It took him a couple of hours, which was okay by me, because wine! But he fixed the internet, Mr. P did. And that is why I am typing this ode to Mr. and Mrs. P today. Because they are awesome. And because I have the internet, so I can blog again.

Seriously. This is why I wanted to stay here in Jordan while Bart served his time in Baghdad. Because these are the kinds of friends I have here. Who would want to leave people like Mr. and Mrs. P?

Except for one teensy problem.

Mr. P is getting ready to retire from the military, which means that any minute now, he and Mrs. P will move back to America and become civilians. Mrs. P actually leaves post in three short days, and if you ask me, which she didn't, this is incredibly selfish of her. I mean, where am I supposed to get my wine from? And what if I need a guy?

I will miss Mr. and Mrs. P. They are truly special people, and I don't say that about just anybody.

So here's where you come in. Are you a religious type? A wisher-upon-stars? A finger-crosser? A Facebook-linker? Mr. P is transitioning to the civilian world after a long career in the military. And he is moving back to the States, not knowing yet what job awaits him there. That could be just a wee bit stressful, wouldn't you agree? But he is smart, and kind, and patient, and hard-working, and everything you'd want in an employee, as is his wife.

So say your prayers. Wish upon your stars. Cross your fingers. Link to this on your Facebook page. Whatever it is you do, do it today. And tomorrow and the day after that. Send all of your best thoughts their way as they make this transition. I, for one, am hoping that the universe throws something wonderful their way, to pay them back for all of the good deeds they've done through their lifetime traveling the globe for our military. If karma is indeed a boomerang, then they deserve to get hit with something pretty spectacular in the coming months.

I'm going to miss you, Mr. and Mrs. P.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

This Post is for Daddy

Because Kyra and I went to get haircuts together, and she desperately wants to show him her new style....

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ramadan Kareem

It's our fourth Ramadan here in Jordan. The first started days after we arrived at post, and it was pure awful: no friends, no car, all of the shops were closed.

I was miserable.

By now, though, I understand the rhythm of the city at Ramadan, and it doesn't seem so foreign, so frustrating. I still don't understand how my Muslim friends can seem so full of joy during their fasts - I'd be cranky and miserable if I attempted to go without both food and water from sun-up to sundown in the July desert heat, but they all smile and seem at peace.

I was in the gym yesterday evening, and the trainer, Raed, was in there working with a client. He and the client were both sweating buckets, as was I, working out nearby. I was chugging water throughout my workout - the gym is on the Embassy compound, so I'm not worried about offending the locals. I was surprised to see Raed there and asked him, aren't you fasting? Of course, he beamed at me. He explained that he works with clients all afternoon, then goes for his own 2-hour workout in the evening, exercising until the sun sets and he can finally break his fast. There I was, gulping water between every set, and he hadn't had a drop since the sun came up, yet he was smiling and working out just as hard as ever. Amazing.

This morning I did my shopping in a nearly empty store. Most people stay home during the day, resting and avoiding the midday heat. Afterwards, I walked from the store to Coffee Bean - it looked closed, with the outside tables stacked up, shades drawn and lights out. But my own darling husband, before he left for Baghdad, had gone in to ask if they'd be open during Ramadan. (When he was here, he used to bring me a drink most Friday mornings, so he wanted to make sure I was covered when he left. Damn. Gotta love a guy who plans ahead.)

They told him back then that, yes, they would be open during Ramadan, for take out only. I tried the door, and sure enough, it was unlocked. A single barista sat in the dark inside, half-napping, but he happily took my order when I stumbled in from the street.

I thanked him and wished him a Ramadan Kareem before heading back outside, squinting against the sunshine. Noon prayers had ended while I was in the shop, so I sheepishly walked past hordes of fasting men who were leaving the mosque, hiding my contraband coffee inside my purse.

I drove home on empty streets, furtively sipping my drink. Along the way I passed two mosques. Cars were parked two and even three deep around the first mosque - traffic typically gets heavy near the mosques on Friday afternoons, but it's especially crazy during Ramadan. No one on the streets, anywhere, except by the mosques, where there are crowds of men in white and brown thobes, vendors selling vegetables, cars haphazardly parked all over the roads. A lone policeman stood in front of the mosque, gun casually slung across his back, sweat dripping down his face. As I passed, he took off his cap and slowly wiped his forehead with his hand, the rest of him unmoving as he watched the crowds. A skinny man in jeans and t-shirt sat in the bed of a pick up truck stacked high with tomatoes, head in his hands, making no effort to attract any customers in the noontime heat. Young boys chased each other in circles on the sidewalk under the bright blue tiled dome of the mosque while their dads and grandpas chatted in clusters.

I drove carefully - there was little room to squeeze past - and I took in the scene, just one bustling corner in an otherwise sleepy, thirsty city.

It felt like home.

Boot Camp Graduation

Our awesome Marines did it again. They organized a one-week Boot Camp for the older summer campers, and my kids loved it. I loved it, too: every night, they came home exhausted and fell asleep extra early - not, of course, before demonstrating push-ups and sit-ups, Marine Corps style.

We really have a great group of Marines here. One in particular, seen below giving my kids their certificates for completing Boot Camp, has been a godsend. He apparently loves kids, and lets mine follow him around everywhere. Once, when Aidan admired his goalie gloves while they were playing soccer, he said he might have an extra pair back at the Marine House. He showed up the next day with a brand new pair of gloves - I'm pretty sure he bought them for Aidan out of his own meager salary. Just last weekend, he spent a good two hours at the pool, teaching my kids to snorkel, for no other reason than that they asked him to. People like that are rare, indeed, but I find angels everywhere here at post. He has succeeded in distracting my kids from missing their daddy whenever he's around, and for that I'll always be grateful.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Forgot to Mention...

If you're a Facebook friend then you already know this, but for those of you who aren't, guess what? An edited version of a recent post of mine appeared recently in the Huffington Post. So that's kind of cool. Do a favor, would you? Click on the link and give it a Facebook like, or leave a comment. But be forewarned: if you're in the foreign service, especially if you've ever gone through an unaccompanied tour, a couple of the comments are going to tick you right off. Maybe not as much as they ticked off Daring Adventure, who went and got herself banned from the Post for commenting right back and getting all up in their faces. But you'll be pretty annoyed nonetheless. At any rate, click on the link and share some love, would you? Back soon with a real post, inshallah.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pearl Strikes Again

I was walking back from lunch today when I spotted my kids walking into the auditorium with their summer camp counselors. I gave each one a hug, and I introduced them in turn to a couple of coworkers who were with me.

Lema bent down to give Ainsley a hug - everyone always wants to hug my Ainsley. Ainsley hugged her back and then stared, awestruck it seemed, at Lema's long curly black hair, bright lipstick and ropes of bracelets.

Finally Ainsley managed to whisper "I like your bracelets." Lema immediately took one off of her own arm and put it on Ainsley's arm. Ainsley looked from Lema to the bracelet in reverent silence.

"What do we say, Ainsley?" I prompted her.

She looked Lema straight in the eye and said "Can I have the pink one, too?"

That's my girl.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Write to Remember

I've been sitting here trying to think of something to write, but it's difficult because I am running-in-circles busy, which actually makes for boring writing. Breakfast work lunch work gym dinner read books brush teeth bed.



Tonight, I talked to Bart for awhile (he sends you his regards, by the way), and he was encouraging me to write something. Anything. Blog, book, letter, whatever. He knows it keeps me sane.

But I had nothing.

So we said good night and I went to bed.

Right then, an idea hit me. But I'm so tired - I didn't want to write it down. Instead, I reached for the writer's notebook that I keep by my bed, so I could quickly jot down the thought.

But I grabbed the wrong notebook. For some reason, there was an old notebook on top, with only a few pages left in it. I pulled it out and opened it up. There, on the very back page, was an old to-do list that I'd scribbled in our early days in China. "Kyra- well baby check up; maintenance - fix dryer; money to Dev; email Jasmine (who's Jasmine? I don't remember); finish preschool article..."

Weird. Now I can't sleep. I'm thinking about China, remembering the little office where I used to work, the kitchen with the grey-green counter tops, the sun room where the kids played, the never-locked front door, the garage, where the ceiling once sprung a leak and fell on my head while I was folding laundry. Peggy. Jen. Mary. Shawna. The dirt park. Jenny Lou's. Le Spa. The guard with the bathroom issues. The san lu che bicycles. The street vendor with the stuffed pancakes. Stealth mode in Starbucks. Snot rockets. Mosquitos. "Your house... is on fi-ah." The green river and Louma Lake. Walking on the Great Wall. Going deaf. Meeting Ainsley.

Did all of that really happen just a few years ago? How everything has changed since I wrote that one short boring list.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fifty Years Together

Switching gears here to wish my parents a happy fiftieth anniversary.

That's kind of a big milestone, no?

Love you two - looking forward to celebrating together soon.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Another Goodbye

Yesterday morning I set the alarm for an obscenely early hour. I left the house just as the sun was rising, and I'm pretty sure my eyes were only watering because of the early morning glare on the windshield. That must've been the reason.

Shay was with me, having given his little brother a big hug and an "I love you" before we walked out the door - the girls were still asleep.

We stopped by CL's house to pick him up, and then the three of us drove out into the quiet morning, heading toward the airport.

I dropped Shay and CL curbside at the airport, watching them both wheel their luggage away from me until they passed through the doors, out of sight.

Such a strange experience that was.

CL's family is in the States already, and since Shay is friends with both of his kids, he and STJ offered to let Shay go stay with them for the summer. So off they went into the morning, Florida-bound, with plans for baseball camp and Disney and all sorts of adventures.

It was, well, words fail here, really, but it was so kind of CL and STJ to welcome my son into their home for the month. Here, he's too old for summer camp, and since I'm working full-time, his summer would otherwise have been spent in front of the computer, alone. Instead, he'll be hanging with his Amman buddies, having a mini-reunion of sorts with old friends who left Amman a year ago and seeing something new of the world.

Of course, he'll also be figuring out how to fit into someone else's family. CL texted me before they boarded in Amman to report that Shay had uttered exactly two words, both in response to direct questioning. And this with a man at whose house he can be found pretty much every weekend! So he'll have a challenge ahead, learning how to ask for what he needs when his mom isn't there to step in.

And my challenge? To not worry, to not hover, to not email every day asking how he's doing - and to not miss him too much.

He's still my baby, after all.

Shay and friends in Egypt just 2 months ago.

Please. Write your own stuff.