Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween: Or, The Day My Baby Lost Her Everlasting Mind...

I think you'll agree, after seeing the photos below, that mermaid Ainsley was just the teensiest bit excited about trick-or-treating at the Embassy. I have photo after photo of her, each crazier than the next.

After we finished trick-or-treating, we went to dinner. She fell asleep in my lap at 8pm, exhausted from all of the excitement.

And we get to do it all over again tomorrow at the school.

Meanwhile, Kyra was her own crazy bundle of excitement. She didn't know what she wanted to be until 10 minutes before it was time to leave. Then she threw on a witch costume, sat still while I put REAL makeup on her eyelids, and pronounced herself a "scary vampire witch." 

We started trick-or-treat on the non-scary south side of the Embassy before moving to the oh-so-scary north side. She wasn't scared at all. Seriously. Some guy jumped out from a dark corner and screeched at her - she waved cheerily and said "Hi! Happy Halloween!!!" We went in the "haunted kitchen," where volunteers were slicing up arms and stirring nasty pots full of cockroaches. One of them held out a pan of bloody bugs and asked if she wanted some. "No, thank you," she said politely and waved goodbye. She tapped the giant ghost on the shoulder and wished him a Happy Halloween.

Next up was the Marines' Haunted House, and she really wanted to go in because, as she said, "Halloween is supposed to be about getting scared!!!" I really didn't want her to go in because, as I wanted to say, the other 364 days a year are supposed to be about you not having nightmares and crawling in my bed.

But we went in, she and I, while STJ watched Ainsley outside, and it was both dark and scary. At least, I thought it was dark and scary. She wasn't scared at all. She held my hand, but she stayed in front of me, dragging me forward in the dark. Every time she saw or heard something scary, she announced loudly "well, that wasn't scary at all!" 

This is my daughter who has nightmares every second night. Not. Scared. At. All.

I don't understand my kids. I really don't. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Weather or Not

Today was one of those odd weather days, the kind that puts me in a mood, for no discernible reason.

I left the Embassy before the lunch hour because I had to take Kyra to the orthodontist (where, in the space of 10 minutes, she gained a palate expander and I parted with $700...). I got stuck at a stop light along the way and waited behind a dirty delivery truck, wondering why I was feeling glum, before noticing that the normally blue sky was yellow with dust - first dust storm of the season.

By the time I got to the orthodontist, it was raining - just a light rain, mixed with dust and mud. The sky was patchy yellow. My mood was sinking fast. I thought I'd take Kyra out for milkshakes after she finished, just to cheer us both up and finish off the last of the money in my wallet, but the orthodontist smiled up from her chair and announced "nothing to eat or drink for one hour!" So that plan, brilliant though it was, was nixed.

I dropped her back at school and returned to the Embassy instead. It was long past the lunch hour, so I ordered some soup and sat sulking by myself, near the window, which by now was covered in a streaky layer of dirty rain.

And I thought to myself: I am never going to survive my next assignment, if I can't even handle one cloudy day anymore. Seriously. I've gotten so used to blue skies and sunshine every single day that one small rainstorm sends my brain spinning into darkness. There aren't enough sad lights out there to cure what ails me.

But then I remember: I made it through three long years in Beijing, when we saw the blue sky probably a cumulative total of what, 35 days a year? And I survived. I thrived, even. It's all in what you're used to, I suppose. Jordan has taught me that I love blue skies. I'm going to miss the sky above when I leave this place in a few short months. But I'll adapt to whatever comes next. I will.

Anyway. Storms around here don't last long, and this wasn't even big enough to qualify as more than a light sprinkle. Tomorrow will likely be all sunny and sparkly. Just like me.

Many thanks to those of you who have written to me since I posted my last little story. Apparently my guess was right - there are a lot of folks out there who go through ups and downs with their UT reunions. It's just that nobody wants to talk about it. But I've gotten so many emails and Facebook comments that I see I touched a nerve. And you've given me so many laughs, with the things you fretted about during your reunions and even well after your UTs were over. I mean, really - how hard can it be to give a kid a bath, anyway? Or fill a gas tank? Or book a hotel? Or any number of things that went horribly, terribly, hilariously wrong. You guys are awesome. Every last one of you. But especially you, over there. It's good to know, isn't it, that we're none of us alone in this wide world. Even on the cloudiest of days.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Unaccompanied Tours - What Nobody Tells You

I have a lot of blogger friends: people I've never even met in real life, but to whom I'm closer in some ways than I am to some of my real world friends.

Now, many of these ladies have already finished their UTs (for the newbies reading out there, UT stands for "unaccompanied tour"). And I've noticed that, in most cases, when their husbands come back for a break, their blogs go silent - as mine just did. And when their husbands return to post, they get back to blogging about how much they miss those spouses of theirs, as I will presumably also do.

But what happens in the interim? I guess I always just figured that when their husbands came home, they were too busy catching up on life together to stop and blog.

I think, though, that at last I know the secret to their silence. And how do I explain this in a manner that doesn't send my own darling husband through the roof with annoyance? (Sorry, my love, but you did tell me I need to blog more, right?)

The problem is, and I don't think anyone out there wants to admit this for the whole world to see, but the problem is, it isn't all perfect when they come home. I mean, you want it to be perfect. You plan for it to be perfect. You choose his favorite outfit to wear to the airport; you make his favorite dinner that first night.

But then.

Then there are dentist appointments and sick kids and a broken-down car and a work commitment that can't be changed and everything piles up and pretty soon you're back in the real world again, with all of its small pains and aggravations and seriously don't you remember that you need to cut the crusts off of the peanut butter sandwiches???

So you want it to be perfect, but it can't be perfect, because it's simply back to what it was before, which is ordinary married life, in all of its wonderful-tedious-fabulous glory. Except that you only have a few short days to make it absolutely perfect, so maybe, just maybe, you get a little bit stressy and a little bit pissy and I guess maybe what I'm trying to say here is that I know the kids will eat the sandwiches with or without the crusts, you're right about that, so I should've just let that one go, okay? I admit it. You were right.

The thing is, when you only have a few short days to cram everything in, you can't make it perfect. Really, what you need to aim for is to just show up and make it what it is, what it was before the UT started. Perfect or not, it's what you have. And when you think about it, what you have is pretty damned nice.

So yes, he was here, and yes, he is gone again, and yes, we had so much fun together, and yes, I still believe wholeheartedly that technically, the crusts do not belong on the sandwiches. But it was sure nice to have someone else around making the sandwiches. Even if he didn't remember how to make them.

Those sandwiches were as near to perfect as a PB&J can be, crust or no.

He will be back for his next R&R in February. February! That's a horribly long time to be alone with four kids. If you count the days in PB&Js, well, that's.... too many to count.

So no. It wasn't perfect. But it was perfectly wonderful to have him home again, reading to the kids and bringing me coffee in the mornings.

We miss him already.  I miss him already.

And now, if you'll excuse me, those sandwiches won't make themselves. Not this week, anyway.
Saying goodbye.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Uncharacteristically Speechless

He left us this morning.

Sorry I haven't been around much lately. I'm still gathering my thoughts. I'll be back once I have enough for a paragraph or two.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gov't Shutdown Can't Stop Us! (I hope...)

By now you've probably heard about that teensy little government shutdown thing going on over there in the good ole U.S. of A.

Small thing, really.

Unless, of course, you're one of the 800,000 people who just got laid off because a small group of congresspeople decided it was time to take their ball and go home if nobody was going to let them have their way. Or, you know, unless you're one of the millions of people who relies on one of those 800,000 people to cure your disease or forecast your weather or arrest those bad guys or defend those innocent folks or any number of things federal employees do for us every single day.

There's not much I can say about the government shutdown that hasn't already been said by people much smarter than me. I do fear for our little experiment in democracy if it's this easy for a small band of jack holes to hold an entire country hostage because they don't happen to like one particular law. A legal law. You know, that was passed and signed and made real and upheld and everything, all legal-like. It troubles me, really it does. As it should you - whether or not you count yourself among those 800,000 people who now have to decide whether to buy groceries or pay their electricity bills, because they can't do both with zero income.

We're both government workers, too. We're actually better off than some of those other government workers, though, because we work for the U.S. Department of State, which, because of the way its internal budget works, actually has enough money in its coffers to keep crawling along for a few (days? weeks? nobody seems able to say how long) while we wait for a handful of people in Congress to come to their senses already.

My husband works in law enforcement, overseas, in Baghdad, so his job is considered "essential." That sounds impressive, doesn't it? But really, what it means is that he is required to show up for work, every day, but they are not required to pay him. Right now, he's still getting paid, though not nearly as much as he is owed.

Here's the problem we've been facing over here, on a personal level. He is supposed visit us this Thursday. This Thursday! That's two days away! His first visit since he left us way back in June. He has the plane ticket - it was bought with last year's funds. But as soon as his plane lifts off of Iraqi dirt, he ceases to be essential, and his paycheck disappears. No more pay until he gets back to Iraq. That's right: he is not allowed to take the vacation days that he earned, and to which he is entitled. He can leave, sure. But good luck with your mortgage payments, sir.

We talked about this - agonized, even. Because, let's face it: we have a mortgage and four kids to put through college. We save every penny we can. Sure, we can dip into our emergency funds to cover the shortfall. We can... but should we have to?

In the end, we decided we need to do it. We just need to take the hit and get him back here. The kids already knew he was coming, and they've been planning all sorts of daddy-centered events. Neither of us could bear the thought of telling them that he's not coming after all.

So he's coming. In just a few days, for just a few days, he'll be here with us in Amman. We'll make it work, but DAMN! We shouldn't have to.

It's funny, you know. Even over here, I can read the coverage of the shutdown, and everyone is complaining about those terrible people in Washington, fighting over our country. Yes: they are, geographically speaking, in Washington. But they're not from Washington. They are our nation's elected officials, all of whom came to Washington from wherever they were elected.

We're stuck with them now. Maybe you voted for one of them? Look it up: if it was one of your representatives who decided to push our whole country off of a cliff just to try to make some sort of point, well, then, it's sort of your fault, isn't it now?

Look it up: if it was one of your representatives who did this, you should be writing, and calling, and pledging your last dollar to support someone else the next time around, someone who takes our country's commitment to democracy a bit more seriously.

Meanwhile, I'll be over here in Amman, waiting impatiently for my husband to wing his way back to us, and hoping to see another paycheck soon.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Upside of the Fishbowl

So. I guess that was a whiny post, wasn't it? But truly - you'll have to trust me on this - I could've been much, much harsher and more judgmental. I'm old and cranky, I guess, and I don't have time for mean people.

(Sometimes I like to picture the DCM going home at the end of the week, putting on her oldest, comfiest pair of footsie pajamas, throwing herself down on the couch and thinking "I should've been a kindergarten teacher." I don't actually know if she does that. But I imagine she might, after a whole week spent dealing with the fishbowl.)

But enough about the evils of the foreign service fishbowl. Let's go back to sparkles and unicorns, shall we? Because there IS an upside to the  fishbowl. And it's pretty damned awesome.

Let's just use, by way of example, last Saturday.

Last Saturday was crazy. It was what you might politely term a not-so-good day, and frankly, it was coming at the end of a very not-so-good week, when I was struggling to keep it together, both at work and at home. I had one kid with a broken cell phone, 3 kids getting hair cuts, one kid on a play date, one kid facing an orthodontics consultation, one kid starting First Communion classes and church itself (always a good time with 4 kids and one adult, right at the dinner hour), all crammed into one afternoon. Plus, as you parents out there know: dinner wasn't going to make itself.

As a treat for good behavior at the cell phone store, I took the kids to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

(And here perhaps I should mention that this was a treat for my good behavior, not theirs.)

While we were there, my cell phone rang. I looked, and saw that it was an Embassy extension - which usually isn't good news on a weekend. I answered, though, and good thing I did. It was a colleague of mine who works for the Iraq Support Unit here in Amman.

It turns out, he knew someone who was heading to Baghdad the very next morning. Someone I'd never met, personally. But my colleague asked this new guy if he'd be willing to hand-carry something from me to Bart. (Normally, if I want to mail him something, it has to go from here and back to DC in the diplomatic mail, only to be transferred to the Baghdad address and shipped back here again. I tried that a few weeks ago - no idea where the package ended up, but it ain't in Baghdad yet!)

New guy said yes! Not only that, but new guy offered to come to my house to pick it up on his way to the airport, so I wouldn't have to get up early and track him down. My colleague was calling to tell me that if I could get a box of goodies packed up, he could get it to Bart within 24 hours.

Somehow, in the midst of my crazy day, I knew I had to find the time to bake.

We made 4 dozen chocolate chip cookies that night, along with a pile of homemade protein bars, and carefully packed them in bubble wrap, along with artwork supplied for the occasion by Ainsley and Kyra. I tucked the box in the fridge and said a silent prayer that the kind stranger wouldn't forget about us on his way to the airport.

Sure enough, early the next morning, my doorbell rang, and a man I'd never seen before smiled politely as I staggered down the front steps, still in my jammies, hair all crazy, holding that box of cookies aloft.

Late that afternoon, Bart called to tell me the surprise package had arrived and was being consumed by his office mates. He was touched and surprised and happy to know we were thinking of him. I think, honestly, that it might have been the one bright spot in his week.

The fishbowl. Sometimes it works in your favor. My friend in the Iraq Support Unit knows how tough this gig is, and he found a way - on his own, without me asking - to make it just a little bit easier: for me, for my kids, for my husband. And then, a stranger stepped in to make something good happen for us.

Amazing. I am so grateful for this week's fishbowl.
Please. Write your own stuff.