Friday, May 30, 2014

And the hits, they keep coming...

The State Department has a terrific employment program for spouses. It's called the Expanded Professional Associates Program, and it allows qualified spouses to apply for positions that are the equivalent of Foreign Service officer positions - same job, same pay - when the position is otherwise projected to remain vacant.

This is the job I had until recently, and I loved it. I filled a vacant FSO job in the Public Diplomacy section, and really got to take the job for a test drive in order to decide if I wanted to become an FSO. (I passed all the tests awhile back but was allowed to put my name on a "wait list" while we were overseas rather than going straight on to the hiring list.) It isn't easy: you're expected to do all the same work that your FSO colleagues do, but with none of their training. The learning curve is steep. But given the fact that there are almost no other professional-level, decent-paying jobs available to spouses, this is a big, huge, gigantic, enormous step in the right direction for State spouses, as well as a bonus for our overworked FSOs.

I applied for the program back in 2008, when it started. I requested to be qualified in every category except ECON (because there were no such jobs available at the time in China) and Computer Stuff (because, duh, I don't even know that acronym, and I can hear Mr. GlobeHopper choking on his coffee even now as he contemplates the idea of me working tech support...).

Since then, the program has changed, and if you want to qualify for it, you have to go through a massive, confusing, soul-crushing process just to get your name on the list to even be considered for an interview. Seriously. It's so confusing that even me, a smart gal who is currently excelling at the exact same job, thankyouverymuch, struggled to understand the 247-step process to apply for consideration. It makes tax time seem like a breeze. Rumor has it they made it this complicated simply to reduce the number of spouses applying, because there are way too many qualified folks out there for the number of available positions.

As luck would have it, the only two positions available in Moscow this year are in the ECON section. The one section I didn't originally qualify for. Which means, if I wanted to apply, I'd have to undergo the soul-crushing process. Which takes hours and hours and HOURS (and that's just to read all of the cable traffic associated with the program). Seriously. I know all of you spouses reading out there are nodding your heads in sympathetic agreement.

But I wanted to apply. And so I did it. I read the cables and their accompanying links. I spent hours revising my resume, turning it into the 12-page behemoth required by USAJobs. I wrote the cover letter. I met with the employment advisor. I did it all. It took forever. But finally, mere days before the deadline back in March, I hit "submit" on my USAJobs packet. It was over. Now - to wait. Because of course I would qualify.  And I speak Russian! These people are so gonna want to interview me, I thought. I may not get the job, of course, because there are tons of smart, professional spouses out there. But 100%, I will qualify and get an interview.

I went back to my regularly scheduled life and forgot about it. Until this week, when friends started popping up on Facebook announcing they'd been notified that they qualified for interviews. Yay, them! I "liked" a bunch of posts and then started wondering where my notification was. My fabulous friend Jen, who is a CLO somewhere on the other side of the globe, told me to check in USAJobs. I did - and my application still read "pending."

That's weird, she wrote. The only thing she could think of that I might have done wrong is neglected to go over to a second website to fill out a second application, which is also required.

Yes. That.

Somehow, in all of my reading and researching, I missed the part where after you applied for the job on USAJobs, you had to put down your margarita and hold off on celebrating, because you still had to go to a State Department site and reapply, filling out more forms with the same information.

So I guess I won't be applying for that job in Moscow after all. And since we're only there for two years, I can't even apply during the next cycle, because I won't have enough time left at post by then to qualify.

Perhaps this is God's way of telling me I need to focus on starting up my personal training business instead?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I just can't do it

WARNING: Another rambling post coming up. If you like your beginnings, middles and ends all neatly wrapped up, come back tomorrow. Or next month, maybe.

It's been a bad couple of days, to tell the truth. You know those days when things just don't quite go right, and maybe it's just me, but I've noticed that I get into those loops where things keep spiralling downward until I crash.

Yesterday I crashed. Today I am trying to pick myself up and put the pieces back together.

It's a symptom of pack out for me. I'm a terrible packer-outer: the scheduling, the organizing, the little details everywhere. I am not a details gal. So I run from one thing to the next to the next, getting more and more manic, making lists and losing them and making them again, but never quite managing to cross anything off.

I am trying to be everything to everyone, to attend every going away party and take all of the last minute trips and bring the baseball snacks and sort through the clothing pile and write the letters of recommendation and I just can't do it. I can't.

Still I keep trying, until I tick off the people closest to me because I'm not there for them when they need me to be even though that's really all I was trying to do anyway. To be there for them.

I've managed to not schedule the haircut and forget the baseball snacks and lose the party invitation and I even managed to screw up another family's weekend plans somehow with my disorganisation, and you just know that takes talent.

The thing is, I'm forever telling other people to go easy on themselves during pack out time. It's hard, and you can't be expected to do it all. You have to let some things fall in order to keep the important parts of your life intact. You have to be kind to yourself and grant yourself forgiveness at every possible moment. I tell people that. And I believe it. So why can't I grant myself that sort of grace? I don't know. I guess I just expect better of myself somehow than I would of other people.

The other day, someone whose opinion I very much value called me "judgmental" and "snotty." Possibly because, at the moment, I was being judgmental and snotty. But still. It hurt rather a lot, and it made me retreat inside my shell. I'm still in there, thinking maybe it's a good place to be for awhile. There's too much going on out there in the wide world at the moment that requires my attention.  Maybe if I stay in here, give myself a bit of a break, it'll all work out.

We're moving. Whether or not I'm ready. Whether or not I've said my goodbyes, seen the last sites, eaten all of the food. There's no time left on the calendar, and I can't change that. So it's time to do what I tell other people to do: stop worrying so damned much! It all works out somehow, in the end.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

School Days

As the school year draws to a close, I always feel a weird combination of nostalgia and utter frustration. Mostly nostalgia: a whole year with these teachers, gone by in the blink of an eye! Frustration, of course: 4 kids times field day and fly up day and splash day and concert day and mothers day tea and crazy hair day and Graduation by Demonstration and STOP IT PEOPLE I HAVE A PACKOUT TO ORGANIZE! YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING MY KIDS FOR ME!

Sorry. Ahem. Where was I?

Ah, yes. The school.

For those of you transitioning to Amman and wondering about the schools, I have to say: I've been pleased with most everything about our chosen school, ACS. (Full disclosure: I served on the school board for two years.) (Even more full disclosure: On school board meeting nights, while I was off making important decisions on behalf of the students and community, my kids were at home, eating popcorn for dinner.) (Shut up! It's a whole grain.)

I seriously have no idea where this post is going. I spent last week lecturing middle schoolers about 5-paragraph expository essays and the importance of having a beginning, middle and end mapped out. Yet look at me go, seemingly without a point.

Really, I have a point, which is: the school, she is great. I was a little worried when we moved here from Beijing, because our school there was probably one of the best in the world - no exaggeration - so how could a little podunk school in the middle east compare to that particular powerhouse? But you know what? It really has. The school has around 700 students, Pre-K to 12th, which is actually a great size - big enough to offer lots of extracurriculars, but small enough to feel homey. I've been happy with the vast majority of teachers with whom my kids have worked. A few of the teachers I'd even put toe-to-toe with the very best teachers across the globe (looking at you in particular, Mrs. M and Mrs. T).

What I like the most about the school is that the faculty knows my kids. The Elementary School principal knows my stubborn little Ainsley quite well (yet she and I are still on speaking terms!).  The superintendent himself knows all four kids - pretty remarkable that in a school of 700, you can stop the superintendent in the hallway and chat him up about your kids. I regularly see my kids' teachers out around town, or at the Embassy - I've even become close friends with some of the teachers.

It's a little awkward sometimes, the fact that everyone knows you - because when your kid does something boneheaded and you see the teacher in church the next day, well, what to say? When you see the teacher out on a date, do you give her the thumbs up, or pretend you didn't notice her? And what about the teacher whose kid is friends with one of your kids, but teaches another? How to handle grading issues or communication problems?

But for all the potential strangeness, there's an awful lot of good in this tangled web of relationships. One of Shay's assistant baseball coaches this year also happens to be the HS principal, whose wife was Shay's teacher our first year here and now teaches Aidan. I don't think Shay loves carpooling to baseball with the guy - I mean, that's a bit intimidating for an 8th grader - but it is good for him, I think, to see this high-ranking administrator in a completely different light, to see the man as a father and a coach rather than just as the guy who can scold you for misbehaving in the hallways.

There was a party for the baseball team a few weeks back, and the HS principal offered to host it. So I took Shay, and while the boys bonded over video games and pizza, the adults sat outside, chatting until late in the evening. Coach Kevin (whom I knew not at all until this year, when Shay was lucky enough to be selected for his team) was there,  along with the principal and his wife, and a few other teachers. We traded expat horror stories and talked about upcoming assignments. I sat there with Aidan's current teacher and reminisced about Shay's time in her classroom, and I thought, how lucky am I? Most parents only see their kids' teachers at conference time. But here I am at her house, just chatting and remembering anew what an awesome person she is, feeling oh-so-fortunate that two of my kids had her in their lives for a year. To my right sat a PE teacher who has taught two of my kids and chaperoned a third during a track meet in another country. She's the scorekeeper for the baseball team, too. We talked about Crossfit and cooking and exercising with kids, and discovered we have a ton of common interests beyond the well-being of my children. Small, small world.

At a school like this, overseas, your life intersects with the lives of the teachers and other adults whom you are trusting with your child's education. They all know my husband is in Baghdad. They all know I'm preparing to move. They all know the unique challenges that are shaping my kids, and they take this knowledge into account as they work with my children and with me.

I was nervous, moving here, that the school wouldn't live up to my expectations. In some ways, of course, it hasn't, because really - what school could?

But in the big ways, the ways that matter, this school has worked for my family. This year alone: what would I have done without Mrs. Mancuso, Miss Ripley, Mrs. Frazier, Mrs. Persson and all of the others who have kept my family on track? In years past: Mrs. T, Mrs. A, Miss Nadia, Mrs. O'Leary, Mrs. Stone, Mr. McIlvain and countless others. They made the school work for me, for my family.

I'm going to miss this place in a few weeks, truly I am.

But for now? For now, I don't miss it at all. I'm there practically every day, for some kid event or another. Teachers, please, I beg you: don't put any more end-of-year events on my calendar. I can't take it anymore!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Pope in Jordan

Seamus received his First Communion when we were living in Beijing. There were about 15 kids participating. Afterwards we all had a little buffet lunch over at Dragon Bay Villas.

Awwwww. There he is on his big day, with baby Kyra. Photo credit goes to the amazing Jennifer Davis - if she's posted near you, you must hire her to do a family photo shoot.

Aidan celebrated his First Communion here in Amman, three years ago. There were about 20 participants. Afterwards we had a potluck in the church basement.

Kyra's First Communion was yesterday. There were about 1,400 kids participating, according to the Jordan Times. 40,000 tickets to the event were distributed.

You see, the Pope himself came to Amman to preside over Kyra's big day. He might have had other reasons for being here, who knows? The main thing is, he led her Communion mass.

It was awesome and awful all at once.

I'm not the most religious person out there - religious education has always been my husband's domain - but I'm Catholic, he's Catholic and we're raising our kids in the Catholic faith. So to have the Pope show up on our daughter's big day was a pretty big deal. And not just any old Pope - I happen to love this guy and everything he stands for.

Still, it was a long, long, loooong day. We left for the Sports Stadium at 11:15am - this for a mass that wasn't scheduled to start until 4:00pm!

Ainsley wanted to go, but STJ invited her to go shoe shopping instead, so she spent the day with STJ and friends while the rest of the kids and I battled the mob scene. She watched the Pope on television while we roasted on the field and braved overfilled toilets. 

I had tickets from the Embassy and tickets from our church, so at the stadium entrance, I needed to make a choice which to use. Obviously I needed to stay with Kyra and the church folks, but the boys wanted to spend their day with Embassy friends. My friend Mrs. Slitherin offered to let them sit with her kids, so off they went to the other side of the stadium, and I didn't see them again until sunset.

Kyra and I sat and sat and sat some more, not 75 yards from the stage, until the mass finally began.

When Pope Francis came in on his Popemobile - not bullet-proofed at all, but wide-open to the crazies - the crowd went nuts, screaming and cheering and rushing the security line to try to get closer. It was remarkable, the level of affection and excitement surrounding his entrance. When Bart and I went to a mass of Pope John Paul's, in Armenia, years and years ago, I don't remember such a frenzied level of excitement. This was madness. 

It was great, because until that moment, Kyra really didn't get what the big deal was. "Who's the Pope?", she actually asked us a few months back when we told her what was going to happen. (So much for religious education!) but when she saw the crowds screaming as Pope Francis smiled and waved, she finally grasped it. She actually wanted to run to the rails with the rest of the crowd, but I was pretty sure she'd get trampled, so I made her stand on a chair to watch instead.

Anyway, it's done. We were told there would be a group photo for the communion kids and the Pope, and I was disappointed when that didn't happen. But otherwise, it was a great experience. I haven't quite wrapped my head around the whole thing, but I'm going to post this anyway because my husband is back in Baghdad eagerly awaiting the pictures. We were so bummed that he missed the big day - Kyra was asking to Skype with him all day long.

After the service, around 7 pm, we went to STJ's house, where the Slitherins reunited us with the boys. STJ ordered pizza and helped Ainsley to pick out flowers and a cake for Kyra. Qais stopped by to join the celebration too, which thrilled Kyra, who is not-so-secretly in love with him.

Below are the pictures, in no particular order. 

My baby is growing up.

Her nana made the dress and veil. 

Aside: he's two inches taller than me now.
No zoom - there's the stage. But lest you think I'm going to gloat about my super- awesome seats, I should point out that the Pope spent the majority of the mass at the back of the tent, and we couldn't see him at all.

Mother-daughter selfie...

The kids are up there with the Slytherins, the Cantaloupes and other Embassy families, in the shady section. Shade! Talk about VIP seats. In the foreground you can see just a few of the children waiting to receive their first Communion.

Look close - there's little Kyra, looking for her mama in the sea of white gowns.

The moment when the Pope came in. I was watching her reaction instead of looking at him.

There he is, in his Popemobile. Can you see him? I really do need a zoom lens.

I'll probably post a few more pictures later this week. But for now, and for their daddy, this is what we have.

Good night everybody!

Monday, May 19, 2014

I hate this part.

Yesterday I went to barre class with a new friend - so new she doesn't yet have a blog nickname. (And if you're in the Foreign Service, you know we don't easily or often welcome new people into our lives during the last few months at post, so this one must be worthwhile.) After class, new friend and I stopped at the house of my oldest friends to check on the progress of their pack out.

When I got out of the car and saw the giant pile of cardboard boxes piled outside of their door, I staggered back a bit and teared up. This despite the fact that I knew they were packing out. It still hit me hard, right there in the moment.

Why? Why do we allow ourselves to fall in love with these people, despite the fact that we know from the very beginning that they are going to leave us and break our hearts? We usually have a fixed date for the leave-taking, even, and yet we throw ourselves into these relationships without a thought of the end.

It wasn't all that long ago that I was saying goodbye to Jenn and Shawna and all of my other favorites in Beijing, was it? We parted ways in 2010, after three years of laughing together until we cried and crying together until we laughed. In the following four years, we've stayed in touch, of course, but seen each other almost not at all. That hurts. At post you see each other every day sometimes, but after you move to separate corners of the globe, years go by, with only emails and Facebook to show for it.

If all goes according to plan, we'll be in Moscow for the next 2 years, which means I won't be seeing these friends of mine again until at least 2016 - maybe longer if we land in places other than DC for our assignments-after-these.

This part of Foreign Service life? I hate it. Hate the boxes, hate the goodbyes, hate knowing you can never again have what you once had.

My pack out starts in 3 weeks.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What Six Looks Like

My baby is SIX!

May, 2014.

The theme of this year's birthday (aided by our impending pack out, which requires us to get rid of approximately 418 pounds of cake sprinkles) was SPRINKLES! ALL THE SPRINKLES!!!

(Because ALLCAPS! That's pretty much how Ainsley talks these days.)

She decorated her own cupcakes for her classmates, and her own cake for her family. We still have one pound of SPRINKLES left.

For dinner, she requested sushi. And how awesome is it when your kids are old enough to ask for something other than pizza on their special day? Because I got to be the BEST MOM EVER! And also? I got to eat sushi.

Of course, I also had to down a stomach-cramping pile o sprinkles. Blech...

That right there is more FD&C red than any one person should consume in a year.

With her daddy at her school celebration.

Trying on a new birthday dress.
She loves that daddy of hers.
.... the dog, too.
2/3 of the family is actually smiling for the camera. An impressive statistic.

She says her favorite color is "pink-and-purple." And when she grows up, she wants to be a pop star.

She wasn't always this big, you know. I may have spent much of the day looking over old photos.

No idea where this was taken. But I love her little arm around my shoulder...

Great Wall of China, 2010.
Hong Kong, 2010. That tummy...
Hong Kong, 2010.
Baby's first ice chair, Beijing, 2010.
Yes. I took my baby out on a frozen lake and rode around on that rusty contraption.
That's me: Mother of the Year, every year....
Longqing Gorge, China.
Easter,  2010, Beijing.
At our going away party in Beijing. Summer, 2010.
The Citadel, Amman, 2010.
Jerash, 2011.
Iraq al Ameer, 2011.
Petra, 2011.
Petra, 2011.
Her 3rd birthday party, here in Amman. 2011.
Tel Aviv, 2014.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Quiet Days at Home


Because I know you're wondering what I'm doing to fill my days now that Bart is here and I've quit my job.

I finally have some wide-open days strung out, one after another, with no work-outside-the-home, with nothing to do except the usual gym-going-grocery-shopping-dinner-making trifecta.

I can sit at home if I want, quietly drinking coffee, reading, napping, writing...

So what did the landlord decide to do this week?

He hired a team of workers to clean the entire outside of the building. 

By sandblasting it. 

They've been outside for the last 24 hours and they aren't even halfway finished. Sand everywhere, despite the fact that the windows and shutters are sealed shut. We're sitting here in the dark listening to the oh-so-relaxing sounds of machinery and shouting and dog-barking.

It could be worse, though. I could be this guy:

That's a rope ladder he's dangling from up there, four stories up. I'm hoping it's tied to something secure, and it isn't just being held by some guy sitting up on the roof. He doesn't appear to be tied onto the rope. He's just sorta standing up there.

The whole team has scarves tied around their faces to keep out the dust. No ear protection whatsoever. Meh. Hearing is highly overrated.

Well, we have been somewhat busy purging for the upcoming pack out. Bart found an old Russian hat stashed up in the closet somewhere. Here Ainsley is, modeling. I think she's ready for Russia, don't you?

And now, in honor of our soon-to-be home, we're going to download another episode of the Americans and get in some quality tv time before the kids get home from school.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What We've Been Up To...

Well, he made it to Amman at last. Ainsley was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

Kyra, on the hand, was feeling a bit shy and nervous as we waited. She forgot all of that once she spotted her dad in the terminal, though.

That afternoon, Bart celebrated being home by going to the dentist for an exam and a filling. When she saw us there, the orthodontist said she'd fit Kyra in at the same time so we wouldn't have to go back later in the week.

And that is how our day got even more exciting - Kyra got her braces off! 

The next day was a baseball day. You know - the same thing we do every single day around here. Yaaawn. But Bart, being new to the season, was excited to go to the games. All 18 hours worth. What can I say? Apparently he misses domestic life.

He even brought Yogi. Yogi nearly passed out from excitement and heat stroke. But he had fun cheering on the teams and chasing the other dog spectators. 

Catch with dad on the sidelines of his big brother's game.

All in all, it was an ordinary, boring, almost-summer weekend day.

It was nice.
Please. Write your own stuff.