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“This song is sad,” Patrick said, describing a woeful classical piece that came over the speakers in my truck.  My heart squeezed.

In that moment, I realized that even the kids could sense the quiet.  The overwhelming stillness was palpable in the air.  How does one explain this kind of loss, this kind of tragedy, to a three year old?   ...continue reading The Day the Horns Stopped…

Living in the moment is something I truly struggle with.  I know I’m not the only one with this issue, but I also feel that life abroad, especially for diplomats, brings an interesting nuance to this issue.

You see, I don’t just spend a lot of time wondering what’s going on with everyone else in my family.  Worrying about my grandfather.  Inquiring about my sister in college.  But I spend a lot of time hypothesizing about our future, since we live on this rotational two year calendar.  If we are lucky we get three years, or if we are really rolling the dice, DH gets a one year in a third world dump.  (He loves the work, but those twelve months are rough!) ...continue reading The Moments When

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Yep, that’s you Victory, Able, United- this is for you, for all the head shakes given while sorting through boxes containing winter scarves, ski pants and silverware, when one is posting to Cairo.  It’s for the time spent driving around a third world city in search of screws that fit American electronics.  It’s for the tears shed, and the wine shared, after my toddler shattered my late grandmother’s vintage lamp that should be safely tucked away in storage.  It’s for the countless hours spent in front of a spreadsheet inventorying our lives.  It’s for all the post-its and Sharpies.

You see, we are people too.  We’ve chosen this lifestyle that drags us to all parts of the globe, and while I know you and your people just assume that we are jet-setting globe-trotters that fly first class and go to diplomatic functions every day, we are actually Just. Everyday. People.  Like you!  And I get it, I worked in government contracting, I understand you are doing what you do on a shoestring budget that congress approved.  You are the lowest bidders, and therefore we must deal.  But we are all in this thing together!  I know if you didn't make money on the deal, then you wouldn't have bothered going through with the bidding!  Maybe to save money you can give me less coloring books and stress balls at moving exhibitions, and channel that to improving service.  Believe me, I'd much rather have that entire box of family photos that didn't make it here than another travel adapter.  [Keep those little bandaid cases though- we love those.]

So, in the interest of my happiness, let’s grab a beer together and have a little chat.  Here are a few tips/thoughts/musings from us everyday people to you:

  1. The parts box.  Whatever gave you the idea that all the hardware from every piece of furniture you unnecessarily dismantle, should be tossed in a single box?  Let me tell you, that box is a BLACK HOLE of puzzle pieces that are impossible to re-unite with their appropriate table, book case, {insert item here}.  And if you are truly lucky, like us, this “parts box” everyone speaks of is an enigma.  It is a legend like Atlantis, or Don Quixote.  Does this box exist? If so, where? You see, my kids love their train table, and it would be nice if their train table, and all its hardware, actually made it to this foreign land we now call home.  The hardware for the crib and our television would be great too!
  2. Halves vs. halve-nots.   Half a sofa, half a christmas tree, half a dish set, half of a coffee maker, half of tables, chairs and any number of things.  Let me assure you, this is NOT a glass half full situation.  A table top with no base is useless, so is a base with no top.  A Christmas tree, with no base and no top can’t even be MacGyver-cized into anything useable!  Where, oh where, did their other halves go?  (Hopefully in storage).  So, to reiterate - we foreign service folks love our glasses FULL (often with wine), so let’s pack ALL the bases and ALL the tops.
  3. READ THE LABELS.  Do what they say.  Enough said.
  4. This is not an all or nothing deal.  One does not need to use ALL of the packing paper to wrap each individual matchbox car.  That paper would have been put to much better use wrapping the fine china, or the vase that was a wedding gift.  Also, if I’ve carefully packed the fine china in their original packaging, then DO. NOT. TOUCH. IT.  Which leads me to my next point…
  5. An ounce of sense goes a LONG way!  Literally, it will make it across oceans disaster free, and we will love you for it.  Don’t open file boxes with papers and then dump the once organized papers in their own box and put the file box in IT’S OWN BOX.  Also if you could stop packing laundry detergent with our cereal that would be lovely.  There is nothing so infuriating as discovering your kids’ beloved Cheerios are crushed and mixed with the Tide, rendering them inedible.  Trash is probably just that, trash.  If I forgot to take the trash out before you arrived, please do not pack it in our storage shipment, where it will rot and ruin our nice things for the next two years.  And for God’s sake please tape the hardware to the furniture it belongs to.  [See “The Parts Box” above.] Oh, and, I was so thrilled you shoved all my hats in a box and covered them with my shoes.  I hear crushed fedoras are all the rage this season.  Please, please just stop putting fragile things (i.e., hats, vases, frames, glasses etc) under heavy things (books, canned goods, pans)…because
  6. It is your JOB after all.  My grandfather used to say, whatever you do, be the best at it.  If you want to be a fry cook, then be the best damn fry cook out there.  I don’t know what circumstances in life put you in this employment situation, but I have a general idea that the pay is better than what you’d get as a fry cook, otherwise you wouldn’t be lifting and loading heavy crap all day.  So just do your job- wrap things, pack things, load things into the right crates.  (Read the labels!!!)  And while you do that, please…
  7. Have a care.  Pretend for a minute that all of this junk you are putting into boxes is actually YOUR junk.  Pretend that you are uprooting your life and family to take them to some unknown land that doesn’t have bacon, or high speed internet, or HBO.  You are leaving your friends and family and support to get on a 20 hour flight to Dhoha or Nairobi or Bangkok.  Think about what it would be like if your kids didn’t get their tricycle, or their train table, or their action figures on the other end.  Then think about what it would be like for YOU if your kids didn’t see those things come out of the HHE crates.  Please, have a care with our things, because…
  8. We DO ACTUALLY care too.  In our circle, along side the never-ending list of things that you all could have done better, is an entire conversation about what we FS families can do to make your job easier.  While we are grieving our holiday decorations that are moldy and completely destroyed because you failed to wrap the snow globes, we are making labels for UAB and HHE.  While we are improvising with half a sofa, or finding a place for furniture we weren’t expecting, we are asking our colleagues what to tip you.  While we are struggling through another several months of the dreaded Welcome Kit, because the pots and pans and knives never made it into our UAB shipment, we are making suggestions to friends about what to get you for lunch.  We are entrusting you all with our entire lives while we embark on this adventurous life, so please, take a moment before you invade our homes and think about us, as people, like you.

Sincerely,

Your Everyday People (and new drinking buddy)

The situations described herein are either my own or “heard through the grapevine” or hypothetical in nature.  The opinions are entirely my own (although I imagine quite shared).  I am not paid to write reviews or opinions on this blog.   This is purely for your viewing (and sharing!) pleasure.    

Today is a day which I remember vividly.  I was a freshman at Carolina enjoying a sleep in day until I heard thunderous knocking on our door.  We were one of the only ones with a TV and cable on our hall. Friends of ours had heard what happened and wanted to watch the news.

My roommate's dad was a United pilot and they couldn't get ahold of him for the whole day, and her mom didn't know his schedule. He turned out to be okay, but she had such bad PTSD after that that she ended up having to drop out of school.

A few weeks later we had a football game and everyone was very nervous about the helicopters flying so low. And then a few weeks after that some guy drove his SUV on campus and stabbed several professors. That's when we started to learn and realize that the Raleigh area had quite a few extremists around.

To this day I always think of that day when I see a plane flying unusually low.

Today I've been reading other FS 9/11 stories, and it is both heart wrenching and incredible to see the uniqueness of each experience.  I think, for Foreign Service folks, it was perhaps the most difficult and the most unnerving for those who were abroad.  This was long before I ever even knew my future life would be as a FS wife.

But it seems as though many have already forgotten.  It is about 6 am Eastern Time right now, and the Fox News front page looks like this:

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I had to scroll down to see anything about 9/11.

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MSNBC didn't do any better.

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Atleast CNN had something within view without having to scroll, and with a photo no less.  One of the Editors must still really care a lot.

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Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, or maybe I'm right in thinking that the majority of the nation has become complacent.  I know it's early, and these headlines will (hopefully) change once the commemorative moment of silence is about to take place.  Will schools all over stop and remember?  Will teachers tell stories of where they were?  I certainly hope so.

To all those who lost loved ones one that day.  To the heroes on United Flight 93 who refused to give in to terrorists.  To the first responders who died to save others, or are still suffering from after effects.  To all my husband's comrades who fought for our country after.  To all those troops who gave their lives in the mountains of Afghanistan and elsewhere.  To all those soldiers who still suffer from the effects of war.  This community of people who have sacrificed careers and time with family and time at home will always remember.  We will always remember.  I will teach my sons to always remember.

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Warning, seriousness to follow.  And when I’m serious I ramble a bit, so apologies in advance.

Sometimes I have to take a moment and smell the roses.  Things are good.

In an All-American effort to keep working harder and keep self critiquing only to work harder, its nearly impossible to live in the moment and just take things as they are.

Occasionally I need to remind myself that things are good, that I’ve come so far from how I could have ended up, that I’ve achieved so much in a lot of ways.  And even if they aren't, it's OKAY!

I was reminded of this when we had new friends over for a play date.  Over coffee and the sounds of our children’s laughter I had an educated conversation with one of H’s coworkers.  It was so nice to speak with someone who shared a very similar outlook on life.  We talked about the kids and I blushed in embarrassment when I gave Little R a bottle.  It was close to nap time and he was getting cranky. Oh, and did I mention that he’s 18 months old?  I can see our pediatrician, hands off as she is, scowling across the ocean at us.  However, we’ve been through so much transition over the past several months, and, well, I seriously doubt he will be 2 or 3 or 5 years old and still wanting his Ba-ba.  H and I have always parented off of instinct.  We were also blessed with a very independent first child who let us know when he was ready to quit things.  In Little R's case, I'm glad he isn't a thumb sucker, nor does he like pacifiers, so I feel blessed that we are down to 2-3 bottles a day, only before nap and bed time.

“I know…he shouldn’t have a bottle at this point.  I feel awful that he still does,” I explained.  Wow, well that was self-deprecating.

And then my guest scoffed at my embarrassment, “Bah- whatever works for you and yours.”

I could almost here the collective gasps from all my suburban neighbors back in Nova, ready to rattle of a list of reasons/recommendations/judgments as to why “whatever works” is precisely not okay.

But for me, a fifty ton weight was lifted off my shoulders.  Why am I so concerned about how things look or what others think?

It happened again during another visit, with a new family here for the military, when I was chatting about how I think Little P is too over the top for the playgroup, and I feel bad taking him.  I feel like maybe the other moms think him overbearing.  “You probably fit in better than you think!,” she surmised.

Yep, she’s probably right.  And even if she isn’t, what does it matter?  What matters is whatever works for me and my family, and that means getting my boys out to socialize, even when it makes mommy nervous and shy.  It's times like this when I really miss CG (Colorado Girl), because she's like my kindred spirit introvert soul sister.  We get each other so well its scary at times, and she's always the best at encouraging me to follow my gut and get over myself for what's right, or to tell the world to f*&# off if it's appropriate.

Being overseas is just solidifying my opinion that Americans really have overthought and over analyzed things to the point of absurdity.  (Read more about that here.)  We’ve lost all capability to operate off of our instincts, whether romantic or parental or from common sense.  Mothers are constantly comparing themselves to one another or grading themselves off of whatever book they read recently.  Not to mention the obscene levels of judgment shown toward every other women they know.  I mean, obviously my close group of friends are loving and wonderful, but we all frequently discuss the judgment we get from others around us.  Not that we are innocent victims mind you.  I’ve been guilty of this very thing I hate in others, reading about the latest thing to keep a baby happy, then celebrating success for the nanosecond that it works, followed by allowing my ego to inflate to the point where I feel like I can tell everyone else how to do things.  I try, at least, not to do that, and I’m usually too shy to actually speak my thoughts, but it doesn’t make it okay that my internal monologue is lecturing and pontificating like a PhD student.

I recall last year that I ranted about our neighbors who kept their twin girls up much later than we did, and we could hear them crying and fighting to get them to eat dinner at 8 pm….  I was so quick to silently ridicule their schedule, and say “well they just really need sleep” as I smugly enjoyed a drink with my husband.  What I should have realized was that we rarely heard them on Saturday and Sunday mornings, when their girls slept in, probably offering them some precious extra zzzs.  My kids never sleep past 7 am, and rarely past 6:30.

When did Americans become such know-it-alls, in such an amazingly UN-knowledgable and UN-educated way?  When did the encouragement of innovation and individuality and instinct die out?  To each their own right?  I mean we love to throw out cliché after cliché that we claim describes our lives, but in reality most of us are secretly comparing and judging with the rest of them.

And if we aren’t actually being judged, or doing the judging, we all have this nagging inner judgment because we are so paranoid that we are Doing. Everything. Wrong.  That kind of negative thinking puts us on the defensive, and so turns this vicious cycle round and round like a cheap county fair ferris wheel.

The thing that gets to me, though, is that for introverts like me, who already have a hard time fitting in and meeting new friends, this cycle makes us retreat even further into ourselves.  We trust no one.  I’ve been catching myself assuming that I’m unwelcome here because of what I’m used to from back home.  And I know now that it isn’t the case.  So I’m going to try a little harder to come out of my shell.

I’m finding life abroad refreshing.  I feel as independent as ever, because I always have been.  But independence and confidence are two very different things.  Everything happens for a reason.  I think this lifestyle we've chosen is going to bring me new confidence and strength and a renewed faith in humanity because I’m meeting so many wonderful women who have also chosen this crazy life.  And they too, are able to distance themselves and gain a similar perspective that I have.

Whatever works for you and your family.   That's the practical thing to do.  That’s what you should do.  That's what I am going to do.

Love and Happyness to all,

~M