Friday, March 28, 2014

The Weekend So Far

This one's for their dad. Polar Bear Plunge and the first day of baseball.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Bedside manner: an international retrospective

Let me start by saying: it's not cancer! This story will be funnier if you know that up front.

And now, with that out of the way, let's begin, shall we?

There are things that are different overseas than they are in America. The milk is different. The traffic is different. The falafel are different. And the medical professionals? Oh, yes, they are definitely different.

There was that time in Armenia when the doctor wanted to treat my kid, who had a sty in his eye that wouldn't go away, with beef broth and blue lights. Yeah, okay. And the nurse in China who, when I showed up at the clinic, newly deaf and, coincidentally, newly pregnant, didn't really want to treat the sudden deafness syndrome but felt strongly that I should get an abortion because "China isn't really a good place to raise children."

Last week I got my Jordan story. I went to the dermatologist, as I do periodically, because skin cancer is sort of a thing in my family. (Aside: wear your sunscreen, people!) I'll spare you the details, but she found some things that troubled her, and we made an appointment for me to return for a biopsy.

So I went back, not really worried, because I've had biopsies before and they usually turn out to be nothing much exciting. I waited in her office for 45 minutes, sandwiched in between two women who were covered head to toe except for their eyes (what's wrong with their skin? I wondered...), watching their husbands smoke in the doorway. The nurse finally summoned me back to the doctor's office. She greeted me warmly before asking "and how are your warts? Are they better?"

Ummmm. No, I reminded her. Not warts. Biopsy.

She looked down at the chart, confused. She showed it to me and asked again, but, your warts? Since the entire chart was in Arabic, I wasn't really able to clear it up for her, but I held up my (thankfully wart-free) hands and repeated: no warts. I'm here for a biopsy.

At this point she got really confused and looked more closely at the paper in front of her.

It turns out - and what are the chances of this in the middle of Jordan? - that she has another patient with almost the exact same name as mine. And that lady has some serious issues, poor thing. Not gonna out her on the name, but weird. I've got a doppelgänger.

Anyway. Once we cleared that up and determined that it was a biopsy that I was after, she took my family history again. We covered the basics, which I've heard since I was a teenager: it could be any of three things we were dealing with here. None of them, interestingly enough, was "benign." No, we went straight to "it's probably one of these three cancers..." And then she explained to me, kindly and in great detail, that we want it to be basal cell carcinoma, because that is very slow growing. If not that, it could be squamous, which is more troubling. Or, she said with a slight shrug, if it's melanoma, "we could lose you in two to three months."

Riiiight. Two to three months. The room sort of spun for a minute while I contemplated this new and awful death sentence. I had to remind myself: a few minutes ago she thought I was covered in warts. I don't necessarily have to trust everything the woman says. Right?


Bedside manner, people. It's important.

She did the biopsy and then gave me a little jar of whatever it was she'd chopped off of me, with instructions to hand carry it down the street to the lab. Only slightly less gross than carrying your own urine sample around in an Embassy Health Unit when you go in for a pregnancy test. So I walked down the street, sun shining brightly overhead as I carried a small piece of myself in a jar, thinking, melanoma. And for the next three days, until the results came back negative, I contemplated her words. We could lose you in two to three months.

No thanks, lady. I have a pack out to take care of.

So that's the story of how I almost died but then didn't. I now have a few stitches in my leg and a newfound respect for doctors with good bedside manners.

What I don't have? Cancer.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Forks In Roads and Six-Pack Abs

When you're a foreign service spouse, you're constantly having to reinvent yourself. Normal people can say "I'm a teacher," or "I'm a pharmacist," or "I'm a lawyer," or whatever it is they are.

Foreign service spouses can go from nothing to something and back again in the blink of a time-to-move-again!

I've been a Russian teacher and an advertising executive and a consular associate and a CLO and a graphic designer and a stay-at-home mom and a human rights reporter and a Leahy vetter and a public diplomacy officer and a freelance writer and a web copy editor and I'm all of these things but none at once, you know?

Of course you know, if you're a foreign service spouse. You've been somebody new at every post, I'm guessing, just like I have.

So my time here is winding down and I've enjoyed my job here, truly I have, but there's the little matter of the Foreign Service hiring list to settle. You see, I passed all of the tests and made it on the hiring list two years back, but I put myself on the waiting list - you can do that, for up to two years, if you're married to an officer who is currently posted overseas.

But I think my job - which is interesting! and I'm good at it! - is just not quite the definition of me. I can be a foreign service officer if I need to be. But it isn't Who I Am.

Who am I, then? Well: a wife and a mother, a cook, a person who exercises, a reader, a writer.

My recent challenge, the one I face every time I stare down an international move, is: how do I combine as many of those things as possible in a way that fulfils me and supports my family, financially, emotionally, or some other way? At each new post I find a new and different approach. Some day I hope to find the right approach. Maybe. If there even is such a thing.

Last year, as New Year's approached, I thought long and hard about my New Year's resolutions in this context. I knew I had 6 months to accomplish something, anything, in pursuit of some goal. But I had to keep in mind that I was going to be, over the course of those 6 months, a single mom with a full time job. I had to be, in short, reasonable about goal setting.

(I am not a reasonable person.)

So this is what I decided to do. I decided to spend those six months getting myself certified as a personal trainer.

I figured: I'm already in the gym every day anyway. I'm all kinds of fascinated by the ways in which one can push one's body right up to its natural limits. I love learning everything there is to know about foods as fuel. And I spend a decent chunk of time helping out people in the gym, when they ask for help.

So I enrolled in a course and worked out a schedule that would get me through it by June.

But here's the thing - I finished already. I just kept reading and reading and studying and studying until suddenly I could spout off all sorts of facts about VO2 max and BMI and even how to calibrate a treadmill (answer: call GSO). I took the test a few weeks back, and I am now officially a certified personal trainer. Go ahead. Ask me anything. Except how to calibrate your treadmill.

I still haven't figured out how I'll use this new piece of paper of mine. I'd like to work with kids, who need to learn the proper techniques when they are starting off with weightlifting, or with middle-aged moms such as myself: if anyone knows how tough it is to get back into shape after babies, it'd be me - I've been pregnant 6 times and pushed out 4 kids. Plus, I run into all sorts of women who find the gym intimidating, and just need someone to help them start out. Add in my knowledge of nutrition and I'm pretty sure I could help any motivated mom to get back in shape or lose those last annoying pounds.

New Year's resolution, phase one: accomplished.

Now on to phase two: figuring out how to move this skill to Moscow. That's why I'm throwing this story out there into the universe. If you have any ideas for me, let's hear them! Hit me up in the comments, or via email, or over on Facebook. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dear baseball parent who hit my car & drove off without leaving a note,

You had no way of knowing this, of course, but I was already having a not-so-good weekend by that point. I mean, I was really ready for the stars to start lining up in my favor.

To be honest, it was kind of a lousy week. Too much work at work, too much work at home, too many people crying in my office, too many disagreements - okay, maybe I was to blame for some of them, but still: the drama! The trauma! It was a hard week for me, and the weekend had already gotten off to a rocky start.

I was really ready for the universe to cut me some slack.

I was in charge of track carpool that morning. I collected all of the boys and drove to the track, then ran around it a bunch of times myself, chasing who knows what? Another parent drove them all from there to the baseball field while I went home and grabbed my other kids before heading that way myself.

I sat by myself for most of the baseball game - enjoying the solitude, frankly. I mean, I knew lots of folks there, as one does after 4 long years in a place, but I was just needing to sit with myself for awhile. You know how it is.

I was supposed to leave early to pick up more kids and drop others elsewhere. But before I left, one of my favorite friends joined me and we chatted for a bit. One of the topics we covered was the crazy traffic in Amman over the weekend. "I almost got hit on the way here," said my friend. Ironically, it was just about at that time that you backed out of your space and straight into my left front bumper, hard enough to shatter your tail lights and push my bumper into the tire, denting up the left side of the car in the process.

And then? Then you drove away. No note. Nothing. You just drove off.

Lucky for me my friend CL was at the field. He came out and used a screwdriver to pry the metal away from the tire, so I could at least get the car home from the field.

This morning, Shukri the awesome mechanic showed up at my house to take the car to his shop. But he tells me it'll take three days and a fair bit of money to repair it. Three days without a car, right in the middle of track and baseball season! I'm going to be relying on the kindness of other parents an awful lot over the next few days.

It's Lent, you know, and so I'm trying so, so hard not to wish evil things on you and your car. My first reaction was to send every ounce of strength I had skyward, willing the universe to knock you off the road somewhere near Irbid. Or Tafileh; I'm not picky.

Okay, but maybe you were having a bad day, too? Maybe you just got scared and didn't know what to do? Maybe. I'm trying to believe in that scenario as I sit here in my house with no car in the driveway, the money in my wallet already set aside for these repairs. I'm trying to forgive you, preemptively.

But hey, just a thought. If you see me at baseball next weekend - you'll know me by the shiny new gold bumper on my car, or by the pack of kids around me, or by the fact that I'm just sitting by myself, enjoying the silence when the pack takes off by themselves - well, maybe you could stop by and apologize? I'd sure appreciate it.

Yours truly,


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Where were we?

The thing about taking a blog hiatus is, you come back totally unable to write, because this happened, and then, oh, wait, what about this, but first I have to explain this other thing or they'll never understand.

Yeah. Not enough time in my world for all of that.

So let's just say:

He was here. It was nice. He left. We cried. It sucked.

Single moms of the world: how do you juggle work with grocery shopping and cooking and baseball season and track meets and sleepovers at multiple houses and rain and mom I need to bake something round for pi day tomorrow? Oh, and taxes. Which, bye bye, danger pay, because it turns out the government gets it all back in the end. And don't forget a looming pack out, which means visas and plane tickets and finding a place to stay during home leave and...

I'm so far past the end of my rope, there's no end in sight.

So I was sitting with my friend S the other day. S just happens to be the regional global employment advisor for the whole of the middle east, which means she is about as brilliant as they come and I want to be just like her when I grow up. She was helping me rewrite my resume, because if I want to apply for my current job once I get to Moscow, I need to have a resume on USAJobs, and this is no small task. For example: take everything you know about writing resumes, write it all down on a piece of paper, crumple it up into a ball, set it on fire, and then do the opposite of whatever you wrote down. That, my friends, is USAJobs in a nutshell. The goal, in the end, is to have the longest damned resume on the planet, with key words and important-sounding verbs scattered across all 27 pages of resume goodness. And that is what S was helping me do: write a novel about myself. (Well, non-fiction, novel length, technically speaking. I guess they frown on totally made up stuff...).

There we were, looking at this gigantic behemoth of a resume, she scribbling furiously and me eating bacon and eggs because I couldn't remember if I'd eaten breakfast that morning, when suddenly she slammed her pen down, looked at me over the top of her glasses and said, "damn woman, you do all of this and raise four kids while your husband is in Baghdad? You're a superhero! They're not going to survive without you in that office!"

I paused, midway through bacon slice #3, and contemplated this thought. I realized that A.) if she thought that, it meant my resume was finally complete, a bloated and overwrought masterpiece, and B.) I love this friend of mine, S, even if she is a teensy bit wrong about me.

So, hey. Busy. That's me. But also? I'm a freaking superhero, people! The regional global employment advisor said it herself, so you know it's true.

(Also? I wonder if superhero is a workable search term for USAJobs.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014


My first very first baby turned 14 last week. Fourteen! 

Here he is at just five weeks old, en route to Moscow:
And in Moscow, at the Ambassador's Christmas party. (Aside: apparently I was fourteen years younger then, too.)
(As was Bart):
In Kazakhstan:
In Vienna, Virginia. He was five:
With the Jedi Jugglers in Beijing. 4th grade?:
In Hong Kong.
Running the Dead to Red in the 5th grade:
In Jerash, Jordan:
This week, with his dad, at home in Jordan:
Celebrating the big day with friends (oh, and happy birthday to you too, Scott!):
It looks like I'm still taller in this photo. But we just went to the nurse and demanded that they measure us. He's an inch taller than me, officially.

Fourteen. I'm so proud of him. So amazed at the man he is turning into. He's smart, articulate, stubborn, athletic, creative and funny. 

Fourteen. But still - always! - my baby.

I love you Seamus.

Please. Write your own stuff.