Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Only in the Foreign Service

When I was in elementary school, we went on day-long field trips to museums, or cool places like the La Brea Tar Pits.

Foreign Service kids take it one step further, which is why Aidan left this morning for an overnight field trip to do some science exploration in southern Jordan.

This being the middle east, nothing is routine. There have been riots over the past week in the southern city of Ma'an. Police have been shot; protestors have been arrested.

The school bus is supposed to drive through Ma'an to reach the camp.

Late yesterday we received word from the school principal that, after consulting with the police and the Embassy's Regional Security Office, a decision was made to move forward with the field trip, but to take an out-of-the-way detour to reach the camp.

Me, I'm glad they didn't cancel. You see, Bart was supposed to come home today for his final R&R, but he called late last night to let us know that he can't get out. The kids were beyond bummed, but I got them all focused on Aidan's trip instead.

Aidan will be back tomorrow night, telling tales of scaling boulders and roasting s'mores and counting stars.

Bart will be back eventually, too. We just don't know when.

All decked out for the desert sand.
Gonna miss this little guy....

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

- Raymond Carver

Today was a day of goodbyes, from beginning to end.

This is what happens when you leave one post for the next. You start staring down the goodbyes, new ones each day. Every day another solemn last, even as you're laughing and loving and living in a place. Even - yes, it's true - as you're feeling annoyed and ready-to-leave.

Part of me is SO ready to be finished with work. I'm just... tired. Ready to be done. Ready for the next challenge. Ready to sleep in and write some chapters and plan elaborate meals in the middle of the week.

But the folks in my office threw a going away party for me and my pal MOOCie today, and it sort of hit me that, wow, I'm leaving. And I'm going to miss these people. I was supposed to give a speech, but I'm not much with words. So I kind of hemmed and hawed and said some stupid stuff before running out the door to baseball.

So this is my speech.

I have learned so much from this job. Not just that I hate working full-time, or that I'm reallyreally bad at work-life balance, or that the best part of my work day is the secret stash of chocolate chips in my desk drawer.

But also.

I have some smart, funny, beautiful coworkers. Some of them, like N, you just have to love from the moment they smile at you on your first day. Others I didn't love right away, you know? They sort of grew on me. Like D - she was a little bit intimidating at first, but it turns out she's as funny as she is serious. Or B, who knows the job backwards and forwards, better than I ever could. R writes poetry, M has the driest sense of humor, W makes the most delicious mousse, S keeps me sane.... the list goes on and on.

So I'm relieved to be finishing this chapter. But I'm also sad. I was kind of overwhelmed all morning, really, and it just built throughout my day, this sense of being not quite ready to leave. I'm leaving behind some people who are really worth loving.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Parenting is not an easy job. Neither is staying married. Both things, done well, take a hell of a lot of hard work, slogging through vast fields of no-fun in search of those few transcendent moments that make it all worthwhile.

I'm a lucky one, in that I have a pretty remarkable example lighting the way, both as a parent and as a spouse.

My parents, pain in the ass though they were when I was growing up, actually worked pretty hard at doing the right thing and setting the right example, in everything they did.

It's my dad's birthday tomorrow, so I've been thinking about the things we did together back when I was a kid. It's funny, the memories I can conjure up, right here at my kitchen table in Jordan: building dollhouse furniture together in the garage, dropping eggs into soup and watching them cook, learning to fish and tie flies, setting up tents and building campfires, putting my pink hair clips in his hair while he tried to nap, trying to figure out how he could drive the car with no hands, learning to drive! "Helping" him fix the car, waiting by the side of the road for him to come fix the car, sitting next to him at the kitchen table trying to learn math, hiking to a faraway lake and back. And more recently: watching him play with his grandkids, still building magical things in the garage, still cooking, still explaining the mysteries of the universe to the little kids at his side.

He was always busy, my dad, between going to college and working full time and fixing up their shell of a new house. But he was always, always there when we needed him. I never really thought about it - never wondered how he managed to always be there at the right moment. But I think about it all the time now, when I'm trying to be everything to everybody and always teetering on the brink of failure.

I imagine he sometimes felt like he was failing, too. But if he felt that way, he never let on - and he never stopped showing up.

So I guess that's what I got from him. Just keep showing up. Work as hard as you can, be as kind as you can, love as much as you can.

Also: don't sleep much. I'm pretty sure I must've gotten that from him too.

Thanks dad. Thanks for always being the example that I needed, even when I didn't - or don't! - want to hear it.

I'm always trying to live up to your example. And it sure helps to have the path ahead clearly marked by someone I respect so very much.

I love you!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter weekend in Amman

We kicked off the holiday on Friday, with a bunch of baseball games at the Dirt Pit. Because nothing says Holy Friday like baseball!

Oh, and then we went home to color eggs. But for some reason we got the bright idea to make it more complicated by hollowing out the eggs and filling them with jellybeans. That way they'd last (maybe) until their dad gets home for a visit in a week or so.

So it took awhile.

Then we went to STJ's house for dinner, because who can make their own dinner after a day spent hollowing out eggs?

They actually turned out sort of pretty - especially considering I'd forgotten to order egg dye and was down to the last few drops of the last three colors in my food coloring kit.

Then Reda the boab, who is of course a devout Muslim, stopped by with some flowers from the garden, to wish us a happy Easter. I love that non-Christians in Amman track our holidays and wish us well on our celebrations.

The next day was Saturday - the day of the much-anticipated Easter Egg Hunt at the Embassy. I think it might be harder to organize the egg hunt than a POTUS visit, given the sheer number of kids involved. Mrs. Cantaloupe, Annie K and Mrs. Globehopper somehow pulled it off, though, and my kids had a great time.

Well, sort of. Ainsley was crushed when one of her plastic eggs turned out to be empty. Turns out she's not exactly a "glass half full" personality. And Kyra was equally crushed when she failed to catch her limit of 10 eggs - some of the other kids grabbed more than their share, so my kids came up a bit empty. I tried - and failed - to convince her that the excitement is mostly in the hunt.

The day dawned bright and - oh, wait. Actually we walked outside into the biggest dust storm of the season. It was gritty and nasty and blowy andLOOKABUNNY! MOMMYMOMMY LOOOOOK!!!

We hung out at the Embassy all day long, swimming and playing and searching for the Golden Egg, which apparently went unfound, despite the best efforts of about 300 kids.

Then home to get ready for the main event. No, I'm not talking about church here. I think my littlest ones were far more preoccupied with arrival of the Easter Bunny.

Every year he leaves a jelly bean trail from their bedroom doors all the way to wherever he's hidden their baskets.

The big question in my mind was: with Bart in Baghdad, could I handle the jelly bean trail all by myself?

Turns out, I had some trouble with this oh-so-important task.

With no other adult around to corral the dog, I had some trouble keeping him away from the trail. And then, as I was trying to quietly place the beans outside the girls' bedroom while simultaneously shooing the dog away with my foot, I dropped a few beans, which went skittering down the hallway. I heard Kyra sit up in bed and ask "what's going on out there?" 

So I fled the scene, jellybeans still rolling around in the hallway.

Whatever - it looks nice enough in this semi-artsy photo, don't you think?

The kids were happy with their loot. They ignored the lovingly prepared breakfast of bran muffins and grapefruit, opting instead to gorge themselves on dark chocolate coconut eggs right up until it was time to go to church.

The Easter Bunny even remembered to bring something for the dog! Okay, not true: but STJ just happened to drop off a bag of rawhide bones. So it all worked out in the end.

Church itself was uneventful, except for the first 2 minutes. We somehow chose the only row in which the heavy wooden kneeler wasn't bolted down; within mere moments of arriving, we managed to dislodge the entire kneeler, which came crashing down with the full force of the Lord himself, right on my big toe.

I did not take the name of the Lord in vain.

Not out loud anyway.

But tears may have been shed. And I'm not 100% sure that all of my bones are still intact. Because ouch.  So prayers, people - pray for my poor sad swollen toe. Hopefully all I need is some bed rest and a couple more dark chocolate coconut eggs....

That's pretty much it. It was a low-key holiday, but the kids seemed to enjoy it. Back to work for me tomorrow.

Happy Easter to you all from Amman - our last major UT holiday without Bart.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Left Behind

My kids have many talents. Chief among them: they know how to fight.

They can start with teasing, build to bickering and then morph into full-on fighting, all before I even make my first cup of coffee in the morning. Yes - it's annoying. Even if it is, practically speaking, typical sibling behavior.

They love each other, they really do. And they look out for each other. Sometimes.

The other night, Seamus and Kyra were both invited to a sleepover at Uhh-Ron's house, just across the traffic circle and down the street. We ate dinner at the Embassy before heading home to pack and walk over.

I grabbed a sweatshirt, but Seamus stopped me and said that he wanted to walk over with Kyra by himself.

It was 9 at night on a Thursday night - the beginning of a busy weekend night on the roads here in Amman.  The house they were going to isn't far - maybe a 5 minutes walk? - but it's across a traffic circle. And they're my babies: my fighting, bickering, teensy little babies.

So of course I said no.

Seamus insisted. He walks over there by himself quite frequently, but never this late and never with his little sister.

He insisted. Kyra stood next to him, nodding eagerly and bouncing up and down at the thought of this adventure with her big brother. "I'll hold his hand, I'll hold his hand!" she promised over and over, until finally, I relented.

I opened the front door. It looked cold and dark and scary out there to me. I wanted to slam the door shut and shout "I changed my mind!" But just as I opened my mouth to protest, tiny Kyra looked up at her big brother, who held his hand out to her. She reached out to grab ahold of his hand, and the two of them stepped across the threshold together, leaving me behind.

I watched them walk down the path together and through the gate. They disappeared into the dark, in the direction of the traffic circle. A truck rumbled by just at that moment. In the distance, horns blared. I kept the door ajar, listening, listening, waiting to hear a squeal of tires or a scream of fear.


The moon was out, just clearing the top of the apartment across the way. I stared at the moon as I listened, imagining their path down the street, imagining them waiting at the circle for a break in the traffic, willing them across safely, picturing them heading downhill toward the mosque, hand in hand.

Only a few minutes passed as I waited thus, but it felt like an eternity. An eternity passed, and an eternity still to come, as I wait in the coming years for parties to end and dates to bring them home and college semesters to pass.

They fight a lot, it's true. But I'm clinging to that image of my son, extending a hand to his baby sister, who takes his hand and steps out into the night, the two of them together, hand in hand, heading out into the wide world without me, ready for all manner of big adventures.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Old Lady

I've been struggling all week to write something meaningful and profound for my sister's birthday. The problem is, we have nothing but inside jokes between us. So I can't possibly write anything that anyone else would understand.

But my sister, she is awesome. We finish each other's sentences, laugh at the same dumb jokes, complain about all the same annoying things. She's smart and funny and beautiful and a complete and total whack job. If you are privileged, as I am, to call her your friend, you are lucky indeed.

Growing up, though, she was a real pain in the ass. I'm glad she grew out of that phase after 20+ years.

Happy birthday, Dev.  Can't wait to hit the gym and the Starbucks drive-thru with you this summer. Perhaps multiple times each day.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Play Ball!

6:20am. The alarm goes off. I stagger awake, make some coffee. Boil eggs and cut grapefruit. At 6:40, I start waking kids up with my fake cheerful morning voice ("Game day!!! Everybody up!!"). From 6:45-7:30, I ask the following questions, approximately a gazillion times: "Have you brushed your teeth? Your hair? Do you have your baseball glove? Hat? Shoes? Water bottle? How about your glove? Did you brush your teeth? Where's your glove? Does everybody have their glove???"

I ask so many times whether everybody has a baseball glove that the kids look at me like I'm an idiot. Asked and answered: please move on.

It's 7:42 already, and we're late. I rush for door, asking one last time "Do you have your glove? Your hat? Your water?"

8:02. We arrive at the baseball field, where Kyra speaks up from the the back of the car.


"Yes, Kyra?"

"I forgot my glove."

I turn around and look at her, dumbfounded. "Do you have your hat?"

(Shakes head no.)

"Do you have your water bottle?"

"I wasn't thirsty."

Sigh. Just - sigh.

Mean mother that I am, I refuse to take her home to get her glove. I lecture her as we walk to the field, the entire way, about responsibility and teamwork and do you know how annoyed I am right now? I lecture her in my mom voice, loud enough to attract sympathetic stares from nearby parents, all of them hollow-eyed and lacking sufficient caffeine this early in the morning. I lecture her all the way to the entrance, whereupon Aidan sets his ginormous baseball bag on the ground, the baseball bag that is big enough to hold one hundred gloves stacked end to end, turns to me and says "Mom, I don't have my glove either."

And that is today's baseball summary.

What? You were hoping to hear about their games?

Okay, fine. Aidan borrowed his brother's glove for his 8am game. He got a hit! The other team caught it, sure, and he was out, but you're missing the point, which is: he got a hit! Kyra's game started at 10am, and she must have found a glove somewhere because I saw one on her hand when she fielded a ball in the infield and tossed it neatly to the first baseman (baseboy? basegirl?), getting an out. Seamus' game started at 12 - because why would any of them play at the same time? What could I possibly have to do today other than sitting at the Dirt Pit? - and he did a great job too. His team absolutely slaughtered the other in the first game of the season. They called it in the fifth inning when the score hit 31-12. It was one of those games that nobody wants to watch, no matter which side you're on, because it's just plain painful.

But then finally it was 3pm and time to head home.

Can't wait to do it all over again next Friday!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


I am sitting on a cold hard concrete bench, watching my 5th grader at batting practice. The field, affectionately dubbed the Dirt Pit, is all red-brown sand, studded with rocks. Many a baseball has taken a hard bounce off of those rocks and whacked an eager ballplayer square in the face. The same faded billboard looms over the field year after year, dark black Arabic script over a faded yellow photo of some sort of frozen chicken dinner. Beyond the fence, just past the outfield, an expanse of green grass that will be yellow-brown by season's end. A concrete block house squats atop the hill. From this distance I hear goats bleating beside the house. A man on a horse trots in lazy circles around the house as children look on from the stoop.

Behind me, what passes for a forest here in this desert kingdom. Stands of grey-green trees line the hilltop, somehow growing out of gaps in the boulders. Decrepit buses full of school kids speed past on the narrow road just outside the field, but the road crests a hill before they reach their destination, and for all the times I've been here at the field, I've never wandered much past that bend in the road. Still so much I haven't seen here.

The sun is setting as a sudden wind kicks up the dirt. The sounds of traffic float up from the highway, mixing with the nearby crack of a bat. I can't see them from here, but I know that just on the other side of the field, a family of camels stands tethered, mamas and babies waiting outside of the bedouin tents that line the highway.

My son Aidan takes his turn at bat as I watch. He was a second grader when we arrived in Amman. He's finishing up 5th grade now, about to enter middle school. He has a girlfriend, though what that word means to a 5th grader, I've no idea - he bought her a necklace last month, so I suppose it's serious.

And I wonder - where did my time here go? I still remember the first time I came to this field. My husband's colleague drove us here on a blistering hot August day in 2010; I wondered back then how long it would take before I could find my own way here.

I've found my own way, yes I have, both here at the field and out in the wide world of Jordan. I've worn my own path in the city. It's been four long years, the longest we've ever been in a place since we were married, but somehow - ready for the cliche? - it seems like only yesterday that we arrived, wide-eyed and shaking with new-post nervousness. It's already time to move on.

Its snowing in Moscow today, snowing there as I sit here and shiver in the 65 degree shade of the Dirt Pit.

I'm not sure I'm ready to leave.

Please. Write your own stuff.