Thursday, January 30, 2014

Well, no, it's not supposed to be a secret...

There is an article making the social media rounds, titled something like "the 7 guilty secrets of trailing spouses." The secrets are things like "sometimes I envy my husband's life," and "I don't find fulfillment in my children alone."

I read it, and I thought, well, duh. These aren't secrets. Everyone knows this, don't they?

Apparently, judging from the number of DS and FS spouses forwarding this article, everyone didn't know this already.

Listen up out there, all of my friends and friends-to-be: do not feel guilty, ever, about the bad stuff you're feeling as you make your way through your day. It's so completely normal as to be mundane. Boring. Nothing to write home about.  It never occurred to me to blog about it because, well, it's so universal as to be yawn-inducing.

Many bloggers, myself included, are guilty of putting a Pollyanna spin on our lives. Well, and why not? I don't need to wallow in my misery in such a permanent, public forum as this. I'd rather focus on the good stuff.

Because, when you get down to it, it IS mostly good. There are days when I'm driving down the road, past camels and mosques and storefronts covered in Arabic script, and I think to myself, damn. Here I am, and I'm doing this thing, and I rock. I know where the store is, and I know who my friends are, and I can toss off just enough Arabic phrases to make my way in this world.

But there are those other days, too, and if you say you've never experienced them, well, then, I say you're a liar.

A dear friend of mine - I'll call her StealthMode - will tell you with a smile now about those first raw weeks in Beijing, when she called her husband every afternoon at work, often more than once, crying hysterically and telling him to get his ass home now with a plane ticket because she was done, and she wasn't staying in this hell hole another day. But of course you know she did stay, and she learned to love it there, at least more often than she hated it. She and I and all of our other friends bonded over stories of those kind of days, so it never occurred to me that such feelings should be kept hidden, tucked away as guilty secrets.

No, no, no! You're doing it all wrong if you're keeping those kinds of secrets. Because the truth is, you're supposed to be scared sometimes. You're supposed to be lonely, and angry, and depressed. You're supposed to be jealous of your husband's job on those days when he's off having dinner with some Prince somewhere while you're trying to cobble together some form of dinner that your kids will actually eat. You're supposed to get mad on the days when you have to give up your plan to go to the gym because one of the kids got sick and he can't possibly break away from work in order to pick them up from school. You're supposed to have days when you walk into the lunch room, look around and walk out in tears because you don't have a single friend in there and now you have to eat alone at your desk. 

You're supposed to have days when you hate your life with a hate so powerful you can taste it, bitter and cold in the back of your throat. You're supposed to have days when you want to go home. You're supposed to have days when you just can't face getting out of bed.

But you know what you're not supposed to do? You're not supposed to keep these feelings secret. Not ever.  Because if you try to swallow that bitterness down, it gets stuck there in your throat and you get stuck there under your blanket and you let it take over everything about your life.

No. Don't do that. Own the bad stuff. Own it. Hold on to it, roll it around in your hands, examine it from every angle. And most of all, find someone else you can tell about it. Because when you tell someone, often as not it'll start to seem funny. Or at the very least, it'll start to seem normal.  And once you find the funny in it, you can let it go and start uncovering the good stuff.

Let it go. Everyone feels that way sometimes. You're nothing special. But this? This crazy life you're leading? This is special. This is worthwhile. Yes, it's maddening sometimes. And yes, when your Internet stops working on the same day as your toddler dumps the very last box of imported Trader Joes cereal on the floor and the grocery store is out of milk and your only friend in the whole country is too busy to talk and your dog ate your favorite slippers and your house ran out of water and your husband has to go out to a fancy dinner with some important visitors and why the hell can't you buy lettuce in this gawd forsaken country anyway, then yes, you will hate your life and everyone who had a hand in sending you here to this land devoid of lettuce and iced mochas and friends.

This is normal. This is okay. This will pass, and another day will come along and you will look around and say to yourself, I am doing this. And I rock.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

You know you're tired when....

I sat there in the dentist's chair, mouth open wide as she poked and prodded with her stabby little instruments and her drill and her water spray thingee, but instead of clenching my fists in terror, I dozed off a bit. In the dentist's chair! That's pretty pathetic.

Damn. Apparently I'm tired.

But this week is the perfect storm of single-mom-hell. We have a big visit coming up in a few days, and I am the control officer, which means I have to work long hours in the hopes that it'll go off without a hitch. Add in the dentist, where I've been in the process of finishing up a root canal and a crown (My first crown! Welcome to middle age, Donna!) Oh, and did I mention that I have a terrible cold that seems to have turned into a sinus infection?

So of course I'm falling asleep in random places like the dentist's chair. And, also of course, I'm waking up in the middle of the night thinking of everything I've left undone.

The uber-amazing Trixie saw me dragging my sorry carcass around the embassy, hacking and sniffling and generally acting miserable, and the next thing you know, she showed up on my doorstep last night with dinner for the whole family. Don't you wish you had a friend like Trixie?

Hands off, people. Trixie's mine.



Sunday, January 19, 2014

After School Activities

After school activities sign-ups start in 3.... 2.... -

Oops, gotta run! Probably already missed our chance at gymnastics and mooooommmmm that's all I ever wanted to do is gymnastics why can't I do it? Ooh, wait, is Robotics still open? Mooommmmm!

(Wait til I break it to them that the new school in Moscow has a uniform requirement. Then won't I be the worst mom ever?)

Monday, January 13, 2014

800

This is my 800th post. And so I know I am required to say something profound, or witty, or profoundly witty. Because this is a Milestone Post.

But the thing is, and you've heard me say this before: I've got nothing.

There are times when I have so many things to blog about! So very, very many Important Things!



(This is not one of those times.)



It's been a bad few weeks. A bad month, if you must know. A lot of things hit me all at once, from all directions - work, personal, past and future. I was... overwhelmed. The holiday season is not the time when you want to be single-momming it, especially if you've neglected to request any leave from work and you have four kids at home, none of whom have any friends around because their friends' parents all thought to request leave and book flights and get the heck out of here.

So it was a long month, and I'm glad it's over. I take solace in the fact that my hilariously inappropriate friend Kate just went through her own long holiday of singleness over there in South America, where she apparently gave her kids nothing but duct tape for Christmas. And it all worked out in the end. Really, we need to get posted together some day, Kate and I. I suppose the families can come with us too, if they want to.

Anyway. In lieu of offering you any Big New Insights into life in the foreign service, or life in general, let me just say this: I'm glad I have a blog. Because through my blog I met Kate and Jill and Kolbi and Jen and Zoe and so many other people who travel these UT and DS paths with me. And even now it makes me smile when someone I know in real life tells me they read my blog. Just this week, my husband told me that a couple stopped him in the hallway in Baghdad to tell him they like reading my blog. Weird. But good weird, as you bloggers out there will know. I'm a few readers away from half a million page views. That's no Popehat; certainly it's no Bloggess. Not Diplopundit, either. But still. It seems crazy.

It would be nice some day if I could go back and add in my pre-blog "posts" from Moscow, Yerevan and Almaty. So many un-blogged adventures I had! I have them all saved up somewhere (inshallah), in email form, so maybe some day I'll add them in here somehow.

Meanwhile, if you're interested, you can click through the links to some of my previous Milestone Posts. I can't promise they're profound. Or witty. But, you know, for today, just maybe they're enough.

Post #1, written from Vienna, Virginia.

Post #100. (Okay,100-ish - it's one off from 100, but the 100th was simply a link to an article I wrote, so it doesn't count. This one introduces Ainsley, born in Beijing.)

Post #200. This one is boring. Nothing but bloody toes and Chinese iPhones. Don't bother.

Post #300. In which Shay does some interesting things with toilet plungers. Also in China.

Post #400. Remembering my life as a (younger) mother, new to Amman.

Post #500. Our first trip to Jerusalem.

Post #600. Our adventures in Arabic school.

Post #700. This is a post looking back at our old post, Kazakhstan. How very meta of me.

If all goes according to plan (ha!), Post #900 is likely to be written from Moscow, some time next winter. Time will tell. Stick around, would you?


Sunday, January 5, 2014

S Visit 9.3

The Secretary of State stopped by Amman today for a quick visit - his ninth so far. We've been calling it "9.3" because it's been cancelled several times, but finally the stars lined up and he made it to town.

Now maybe you've never worked an "S" visit before and you don't really know how much work it entails. I can tell you, as a 9.3-time expert: it entails a lot of work. An incredible lot. Especially as it's never the most - dare I say it? - organized process.

Part of the disorganization is, I'm sure, coming straight from the top. I'm assuming he's a last-minute sort of guy, making decisions and then wanting them carried out ASAP. Part of it is the nature of the process - when you're shuttling between various parties in different countries trying to get them to come to some sort of agreement, well, I don't know, but I'd guess it'd be hard to keep to a strict timetable.

This visit was no different, with the dates changing and the times changing, all the way up until yesterday evening. It turned out I had to be at work at 5:45 this morning - no easy feat with 4 kids plus a sleepover guest in the house.

Somehow I made it to work on time. It felt like I was the only person awake in all of Amman - I encountered not a single other car on my way in. But when I got there, I ran right into the hustle and bustle of a motorcade being staged: not just us press people but DS agents and protocol people and visa folks and airplane people and drivers and, and, and.

We all piled into our cars and took off for the airport, lights flashing in the dark night sky.

One nice thing about waking up early - perhaps the only nice thing - is the opportunity it affords to view the world in a different light. Driving down the airport highway as the sun rose in the sky to our left, we watched as the normally beige buildings took on a pink hue. The Bedouin tents glowed from electric lights strung within - and who knew they had electricity? The camels were nearly invisible in the dim light, and even my friend Ruba, who has lived here all her life, said she didn't recognize her own city. Beautiful. But odd.

Ruba and I were there to wrangle the press. You know those photos you see on the news, showing VIPs like the Secretary waving from the door of the airplane? Someone has to take those pictures, and someone has to be there to help the people who need to take the pictures.

This visit was a little bit different, because the Secretary only planned to be on the ground for a couple of hours - just long enough to meet with the King. He landed; our journalists took their pictures and left. But we stayed on at the airport, waiting for the motorcade to return and the plane to take off for its next destination. Then we hopped back into the motorcade for the more-ordinary daylight run back to the office, back to our regularly scheduled workday.

These visits can be a bit annoying sometimes. They happen so frequently, and take so much work to organize, that it can be difficult to keep track of your regular work when S rolls through. Then, too, it's hard to explain to the kids that, yes, I'm working on a weekend/holiday/evening again. Though I imagine the kids will forgive him for this fact if S ever decides to schedule a "Meet and Greet" with the kids (hint, hint, Mr. Secretary - they've met President Obama, both Presidents Bush, Secretary Clinton, Secretary Powell and Secretary Albright, but haven't yet gotten a picture with you. Perhaps during visit 10.1?)

So yes, sometimes it's annoying in the lead-up to the visit. But always - always! - it's cool to see that big ole plane rolling up, to know that the USG is trying to make a positive difference in a tumultuous region. I don't know if we'll ever reach a solution to the situation that satisfies all parties. But it's good to know we're trying. We can only do so much, I suppose, before the people who are directly involved need to make some hard decisions. But I'm sort of proud of our government for trying.

And that's the most you'll ever hear me say about peace in the middle east on this blog! You want to know what really happened in Amman today? There were plenty of big-name journalists travelling with the Secretary - go read their stories. They can tell you.

Meanwhile, here are a few pictures of my morning.



And finally: a gratuitous camel picture shot on the ride home. Just because.



Friday, January 3, 2014

Ups and Downs

There was a point last week when I picked up my purse and walked right out of my office, determined never to return. But then I stood in the hallway and talked myself out of doing anything so drastic. I mean, what am I going to do with myself if I'm not working? And anyway, I actually like my job a lot about 75% of the time - not a bad average. Then, too, I work with some seriously smart and funny people.

So I went back to my desk and carried on.

But DAMN. This single-working-mom thing is not easy, is it? The kids are still on winter break - no school til next week. I am trying to juggle their needs with work needs with my own not-small wishes.

The people I work with have, for the most part, been remarkably tolerant of my coming-and-going, as long as I still get my work done. But we have a big visitor coming to town soon (watch the news!), so everyone is all spun up, trying to prepare.

Today is Friday, a weekend day in Amman, but I had to go to work anyway. Went in early, hauled through it, then ran to the store. Home again to cook with my new supplies, only to discover - the stove is broken. I thought we were just out of gas, but no - there's gas, it just won't light up.

So I stashed the chicken in the freezer and put everything else away for another day. I can't get anyone to come fix the stove until Sunday. I guess it'll be a busy weekend for both the microwave and the delivery guy.

I sat down to do some writing instead of cooking - my other form of therapy.

And then I got called back to work.

Not the best day I could've envisioned.

Oh, but friends took pity on me. They must've sensed the dark clouds of despair rolling out of my cell phone. STJ took one kid to the movies, and Paleo took two kids for a sleepover. So for now it's just me and Ainsley, she in her pjs already, jumping on the bed, and me sitting next to her, typing away.

Tomorrow will be another crazy weekend day, with plans to work and get a root canal and work some more. Still no stove. Still no school. Still no time to take the dog to the vet or the girls to the hairdresser.

But its not all bad! Last night I went to a fun-and-funny birthday party (Happy birthday Paleo!), another of those raucous affairs where the jokes are flying and the wine is flowing and the bacon wrapped appetizers are on every table - a real Paleo-style party. There was a gift exchange game, so everyone went home with something funny or cool. And some of the funny ones were rib-snapping funny.

Between all the work and all the fun of the past 48 hours, I think I'm ready for a nap.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Crossroads

2014.

It's going to be one of those years that comes around pretty frequently in the Foreign Service, the type we all dread and love in equal measure.

This is going to be a year of Big Changes. We're leaving Amman in June, presumably to Moscow, although nothing is set in stone yet, so there's no planning yet to be done. Things change in an instant, so I've been cautiously telling people that we'll be there by August, fingers only sometimes crossed behind my back.

Leaving is hard, but now that it's officially the Year of Leaving, it's time to start facing it.

You know, I've loved and lost and laughed and cried here, sometimes all in one day. And of course, there's nothing special in that - it's a universal story. But 2013 took me to places I never imagined I'd go, emotionally, physically, geographically, even. I grew in ways I didn't expect I would, and I found myself facing troubles I hadn't anticipated. It's weird, the things life throws your way when you're not expecting them. Friendships change you, marriages change you, children change you: all around me, change, in every direction.

2014 won't be different. I expect to face a lot of big, life-changing decisions in the coming months. When to say yes? When to decline? Do I walk away smiling, or lace up my shoes and run like hell? Or maybe stay standing, right where I am? All real options for me in 2014.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see where I spend New Year's Eve next year, and in whose company. Everything is up in the air during a Year of Leaving in the Foreign Service.

This time around, the kids and I went to Mr. and Mrs. Cantaloupe's house to ring in the new year. The GlobeHoppers were there, too, and I think Mrs. GlobeHopper said it best when she said New Year's Eve was spent with "Amman Family." This because the people here have all become my family in the truest sense of the word. Not just the Cantaloupes and the GlobeHoppers, but CL and STJ, Paleo and VP, uhh-Ron and his wife, GF and her husband... These people have been large contributors to my laughter (and occasionally my tears) over the past few years. So it was an "easy" party for me. Normally I'm too much of an introvert, and too deaf, to really enjoy myself at parties. But this was fun, and funny, and comfortable. Inside jokes were created all evening long, many of them inappropriate (sorry, Kat!). Mr. Cantaloupe had a bit too much soda, and GF overdosed on the gluten - crazy crowd I roll with!

The kids were all there too, and all relatively well-behaved. At about two minutes til midnight, though, Ainsley walked in sobbing. It seems she'd managed to shut her fingers in a door. So she sat in my lap and cried while everyone counted down to midnight, glasses of champagne or sparkling cider at the ready. As the clock struck twelve, the kids bounced around trying to steal sips of champagne, the adults cheered, and Ainsley snuggled into me, sniffling heavily.

After she drank her cider, she went from person to person showing them her owwie, first CL, then Paleo, and so on, before settling into uhh-Ron's arms. He rocked her until she fell asleep, and then he put her on the couch, head in Mrs. Uhh-Ron's lap. Mr. Cantaloupe found a blanket and covered her up. She stayed there sleeping until the rest of the kids were ready to go home, and then CL picked her up, carried her to the car, buckled her in and kissed her sleeping little head.

I was overcome, really. This is why I chose to stay here while Bart pushed through the Baghdad tour. Because here, I have friends looking out for me, loving on my kids, expanding my definition of family. That small 15-minute story, played out by Ainsley and the grown-ups in the room, made me realize anew how very, very fortunate I am to have so many special people surrounding me.

So. Big changes ahead in 2014, both good and bad. All in all, I'd have to say I'm happy with what 2013 brought me - no regrets here. And I'm as ready as I can be for whatever 2014 decides to send my way.
Please. Write your own stuff.