A logistical daymare…

Doc McStuffins made me cry this morning.

If you don’t know Doc McStuffins she is a small, maybe 5 year old, cartoon character who is a doctor to her stuffed animals.  C loves her some Doc McStuffins and she earned enough “points” this weekend from being good to get to watch an episode this morning (no, this has nothing to do with keeping C preoccupied while I try and get ready for work, I swear…).


This morning the episode she was watching was all about Doc getting homesick at her first sleepover.  To make her feel better, her stuffed animals sing her this song:

“When the one that you love feels so far away

Just close your eyes try to picture their face

‘Neath the night sky you can see the same stars…”

Anyone see where this is leading?  Yup, to me, standing in the bathroom trying to put on makeup while crying.  Sigh.  I’m guessing this is not going to be the first time.

Now, back to the logistics at hand.  Do they have to do with packing? Nope. We’re surprisingly on top of that so far.  Transitioning C to a new home, new daycare, new world? Nah. So far she’s all good.  These are purely D related logistics related to moving my career without rocking too many boats.


D in 1997: Career Day 1

I’ve been a lawyer at the same law firm for 17 years.  I started here as a summer clerk in 1996 and they have been kind enough to let me stay here ever since.  And, while I’m excited about our new life in the FS, I’m not ready to jettison my career quite yet, so I’m going remote.  The firm has been extremely flexible in helping me figure out how I can transition and it has all felt very easy…so far.

Until I started having to schedule things in September.  Now, all of a sudden, I’m filling up my September calendar with depositions, mediations and hearings and none of them, not surprisingly, are happening in Washington, D.C.  These sort of logistics have never been terribly difficult before because B’s job was such that he could typically leave by 5 p.m. and could always pick up C (and drop her off).  He’s been a de facto single parent on more than one occasion while I’ve been in trial or out of town in depositions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when I went back to work B stayed home and took 12 weeks of FMLA.  It was (in a word) AWESOME.  I’d get up, feed C, leave, stop and get a coffee, work all day, return home and find a clean, happy baby and a fully cooked (often relatively gourmet) meal waiting for me. Seriously folks, it did not suck.  About two weeks IMG_0396after I went back to work I had to go to New Jersey for 5 days for depositions.  It was a grueling trip, but other than pumping and shipping milk back to C via FedEx (yes, you really can do that), I could concentrate on my work knowing C was well cared for and loved back home.

But as of August 25 we are not in a world where B has a 8-5 job any more, Dorothy (not what D stands for, but good try).  So, besides worrying about the actual depositions/mediations/hearings, I’m also worrying about how logistically I’m going to manage.

At least a few days of B’s A-100 training will be “offsite,” meaning he will not be able to drop off, or pick up, C.  Do we know when this offsite week will be? Of course we don’t! We *think* it will be the third week of A-100, but, as with all things FS, “it depends” on a number of other factors.  So right now I’m scheduling my work commitments and hoping B will be available to put his Super Daddy mantle back on for a few days.  Add to that trying to decide if it is better to fly (more expensive), or drive (longer, but WAY more convenient in terms of having autonomy when I get back to CLT), and whether to stay in a hotel (sleep guarantee) or bunk with friends (fun guarantee), and I feel a bit like I’m living in this parallel universe where part of me is pretending things aren’t really going to change.

I really want to make this flexible, portable job work for me, but I suspect this will be another aspect of my life where I will have to let some control go until I can get my bearings in DC.

Oh, and speaking of getting bearings, we have an address! And a phone number! I haven’t had a landline in so long I feel like I’m stepping back to the dark ages a bit, but I think I can remember how to work a regular phone (of course we’ll probably have to unplug it most of the time to stop C from calling either the fire department or Australia…).

As for Doc McStuffins, tomorrow we’ll be watching an episode where she fixes some toy cars; toy cars never make me cry.


Well…How did I get here?

As I’ve told people our news a number of them have asked me what made B want to pursue a career in the Foreign Service, so I thought I’d share that story here as well.

If I had to guess, when B and I met at a little pub on 5th Street in 2006, he could never have imagined that 8 years later the two of us (and C; oh, and Miller the dog) would be packing up, leaving Charlotte and heading to an as yet unknown foreign city to serve our country.  He had just bought a house, and a puppy (which he used shamelessly to entice me into accepting a first date), and, I’m pretty sure, imagined his life proceeding in the typical dating, marriage, kids fashion.

And, I’ll admit that, while I’ve always had some wanderlust – and had no dog and a house I’d been in for 6 years – I also saw my life proceeding forward in Charlotte – even if not in the typical fashion.

Then, for Labor Day 2006 I invited B to come with me to Mexico City to visit my friend J, her husband N, and their new baby, B.  With us were two of my best girlfriends from law school, who, along with J, formed a multi-sided place where I, to this day, go to get the very power that often sustains me = Girl Power. J was an FSO, in the middle of her second tour at the embassy in Mexico City.

So we went to Mexico City and visited J & N in their fabulous condo supplied by the USG, we ate wonderful food (and drank wonderful drink), we toured the Mexican Embassy, we visited the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico’s home (at the time he was married to the heiress of Modelo, so their home was, uh, quite nice) and actually met him and shook his hand.  To say that this was pretty cool is an understatement.


Then we managed to top even that and the seven of us (four women and three men, we left Baby B at home) drove to Acapulco and rented a house for 4 days.  It was, as they say, the bombdiggity. We had a wonderful chef at the house and a young man who brought us drinks by the pool as we lounged.  Let’s just say this, too, did not suck

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During this trip B talked a lot to J & N; he asked them a lot of questions about their lives, how they had gotten interested in the FS, and what had led them to Mexico.  And, while no one was under any illusion that the way we lived in Acapulco was in any way the way an FSO typically lives, the prospect of visiting and living in these amazing places got under B’s skin.

I didn’t have enough interest in the overall workings of the State Department and foreign policy (especially given that I was, at that time, not even a U.S. Citizen) for it to peak my interest the way it peaked B’s, but I’ve always had an interest in adventure, so I have been, and still am, B’s biggest supporter in making the dream that was born in Mexico a reality.

J and N have amazing careers in the FS – and I can only hope we get as lucky as they have been in that respect.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m so grateful that we have them (and our friend P) to help us along the way.

And we may find ourselves in another part of the world…

Controlling the uncontrollable

I’m beginning to feel that my life as the mother of a three year old is going to be good preparation for my new life as a “trailing spouse.”

Before C, at least before my adventures in pregnancy, I prided myself on my control of most situations.  I could plan for almost every eventuality, every possible outcome – whether of a case, a relationship, or a day.  I could make lists, make plans, direct the other attorneys and staff I worked with, and generally maintain physical, emotional and organizational control over my work and my life.

Then came pregnancy and, later, C.  And my control disappeared along with my waistline.  I’d like to think the waistline is generally back, but somehow the control seems to have been permanently displaced.

This morning C refused to get out of bed until I agreed that she could wear a tutu and crocs to have breakfast.


I tried to reason with her.

“We need to get dressed in clothes we can wear to school,” I cajoled.


“You won’t be able to play in the playground if you wear this,” I told her.

“I don’t want to play in the playground,” was her answer.

I’m sure a better Mummy than me could have sweetly convinced her to put on her (appropriate for school) clothes, eat her breakfast, wear her socks, and leave the house without a doll, three princesses, a light up ball, her umbrella and a purse, but not me.  Because I cannot “control” or “manage” or “organize” her; she is three.

And it turns out, while I can do a lot of planning, I cannot control much about what my life will look like in the next few months – and maybe even for the foreseeable future.


It seems crazy to me that I have no idea where I might be living next year. What happened to the “me” that needed to know what was happening, where I’d be, and what I’d be doing every day? I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and to find myself totally freaking out, but so far that has not happened.

I have started to lose a bit of emotional control – it started in earnest tonight.  I went to workout and when I arrived home some of our best friends in Charlotte were just leaving our house, a leather chair we put on our “sell/give” list in the back of their car.  C and their son, W, were kicking a soccer ball back and forth, their baby E was playing on C’s little push car.  It was such a scene of contentment and friendship. My stomach gave a little twist as I got out of my car and walked toward them all, thinking how much I wanted to preserve the little scene, but knowing I couldn’t.

W & C - Friends forever...

W & C – Friends from the beginning…

Then, later, as I was putting C to bed she went to her basket of stuffed animals and said “Where is my monkey with the tail on it? And the daddy monkey?”  The twist intensified. I donated those monkeys last weekend.  I know she doesn’t need three stuffed monkeys (I kept Curious George), but her question just left an ache in my chest thinking of those lost monkeys and how much she loved making them a “Mommy” monkey, a “Daddy” monkey and a Baby George monkey.

And finally, as she was falling asleep, giving me a hug and playing with my hair, she said “I didn’t want W to take my big chair.”

“But W will look after the chair and we can come back and visit it, won’t that be fun?”

“Is W coming to Washington, Mummy?”

“No, sweetie,” I told her.  “W is staying here in Charlotte to look after our chair.  But we’ll visit him, and maybe he can visit us.”

She said “Ok” but I know she doesn’t understand.

I understand though.  I know that how often we might, or might not, visit is out of our control and there is nothing I can do about that.

There are no stupid questions, right?

An associate once walked in my office and said, “I know there are no stupid questions, but….”

And before he could get started with his actual question, I stopped him.

“Actually,” I said. “There are stupid questions, but you should feel free to proceed if you feel like you still need to have your question answered by me.”

It was clear he was not amused, and I admit it was harsh, but come on, we ALL know that there are stupid questions and it tends to be the same people who are always asking them, right?

I’m not saying all basic questions are stupid by any means.  But what drives me nuts are the people who ask me questions rather than look in the very obvious places where they are likely to find the answer (for the associate: the rules of civil procedure where many answers asked by young litigation associates can be found).

question markSo here I sit, mind a-whirl with, you guess it, stupid questions.  Or at least I perceive them to be stupid because I’m quite sure that out there in the hundreds of pages of information that has been sent to us in the last few weeks the answer is waiting.  No doubt it is lying around happily in some government document wearing a neat little red and white striped hat just waiting for me to find it and be enlightened.

The problem is that I’m running out of time to ferret out each of these hidden answers. All the information becomes blurry when I stare at it for too long so I’m left with two choices: (1) either ask someone my, no doubt, stupid question, and hope they are nicer to me than I was to my young friend above, or (2) don’t ask and end up with a SNAFU (hey, another acronym!) that takes way more effort than I want to impart to fixing it.

Here is the type of stupid question I’m debating: “do I need to remove dishes, silverware etc… from my kitchen cabinets or will the movers really do ALL the work and pack them straight out of the drawers?” I just cannot fathom that someone will actually come into my kitchen/den/dining room and do all the difficult and miserable work of wrapping and packing the dishes, books etc… for me.  Even when the answer appears clear, as in this question, I just can’t believe it.

My parents moved a lot – forget about moving from England to Canada, once we got to Canada they have, to date, moved at least 12 times.  Mostly within the same city.  And I’ve moved probably 10 times since I left home (not counting when I moved back home), and not once did I use an actually “moving company.” So not only did I do all the packing, but we rented the U-Haul and dragged our furniture from one apartment, city, house to another, usually roping friends in with the promise of beer and pizza.  Now you’re telling me that, except for the boxes we’re taking with us, someone will hire and pay other people to pack every last stick of furniture, every knife, fork and spoon, and all our many books, and will then take it somewhere and store it for us before we get sent to our first post and we get to demand either 7,200 lbs or 18,000 lbs of the stuff back again!?  Crazy talk.

Our “packout” is now scheduled for August 19.  Sometime before then the movers designated by the USG will show up at our house and “assess” the length of time it will take them to pack, how many boxes and crates, as well as paper and tape, they will need, and what special care they will have to take with certain items.  And then, from what I can gather, our job will be to stand back, maintain an inventory of what is going in each box, and supervise while they do the hard work.  For a girl who has been moving herself for almost 30 years this sounds like a dream come true.

Hmmm...what to pack?

Hmmm…what to pack?

And so, when they arrive for their assessment, my words to that young associate are going to come back to bite me, because I know, without a doubt, that I’m going to be asking them many, many stupid questions.

What is it they say about karma again?


We’re In! It’s not like getting into Harvard, but we’ll take it

When C was almost 4 months old, during a car ride with my Mum up at my parent’s lake house, I got a call.  I answered the phone.  I listened and then I started whooping for joy.  I was G*I*D*D*Y.  My mother, ever the calm, cool, former Brit, looked at me aghast.

“Good heavens dear,” she asked.  “What is it?

“C GOT INTO DAYCARE!” I yelled, fist pumping and doing a little dance at the same time.

“D,” she said (using my FULL name). “Don’t you think you’re being a little extreme.  It’s not like she got into Harvard.”

But, here’s the thing.  For us it WAS like she got into Harvard.

At that point, we were in the last four weeks of my maternity leave and the first four weeks of B’s 12-weeks of FMLA (yes, he is an awesome husband and Daddy).  Once that ended we had, as of the time of that call, nowhere to put our baby as we schlepped back to the adult world of everyday work.  We were on half a dozen daycare “wait lists” in Charlotte, none was looking particularly good and we were, I’ll admit, starting to panic.  It was easy to (sort of) forget about it as well enjoyed the halcyon days together living at the lake in a quiet Canadian town.  We saw moose, we relaxed, we spent amazing, precious time with our baby, but always in the back of our heads there was the call of “where will she go in 8 weeks…”

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On top of that, there were really only two of the six daycares where C was wait listed that we actually WANTED to get into.  Both were in downtown (Uptown, Center City, you pick…) Charlotte – minutes from my office, on an easy route from our house.  Only one was 100% what we wanted.  For us, that one was the Harvard of daycare (Yale, Oxford, you take your pick).  So when I got the call from Ms. Janice at First United Methodist Child Development Center – our FIRST choice, that they had a spot for C starting when B went back to work I went a little berserk.  And frankly, I never, ever thought we’d have to go through it again.   FUMCDC goes through pre-k, so C was set until she started kindergarten.  Only, she wasn’t, because now we are moving to D.C. and we had to find a new daycare.

So yesterday I got another call.  A call from the Children’s International School on Arlington Blvd., about 1 mile from where we will live and directly across the street from the FSI where B will spend his days becoming a diplomat.  They have an opening for C starting in September.

Don’t get me wrong, I was excited.  We had a “Big Three” of tasks to accomplish before we felt like we’d be “ok” – (1) confirming where we were going to live in DC, (2) renting our house and (3) getting C into a good daycare.  We’ve now checked the box on all three and things are really falling into place.  BUT, the loss I feel for C as she leaves her friends (her besties A and G in particular), and the amazing teachers and director at FUMCDC, is palpable.  I thanked the CIS director profusely. I called B excited. But giddy I was not.

Because, while I’m sure CIS is wonderful…it’s not like getting into Harvard.

To pack, or not to pack


Now that the house is rented and we’ve got somewhere to go when we arrive in Washington, we are turning our attention to inventories, purging and packing.

B tends toward purging, I tend toward going out and buying even more stuff…not exactly a good combination for eventually getting everything we own into boxes.

So here’s the deal. Typically there are three types of packing you have to do when you “Packout”: (1) your HHE (house hold effects); (2) your UAB (unaccompanied air baggage); and (3) your personal hand carried luggage.  There is also the shipment of your POV (car) when you are shipping out to an overseas post, but we don’t have to navigate that minefield quite yet.

In our case it is both a little more complicated and a little easier since we are driving to DC from Charlotte so we do not have UAB for this move, but we will take a bunch of things that would normally be UAB in our car (or, to be specific, the mini UHaul we will be towing).

Ultimately we have an allowance of 18,000 lbs of stuff.  The USG provides housing in most posts throughout the world, though there are a few where you have to find your own housing (Ottawa and Malta are two examples).  In the unfurnished (find your own) posts you are allowed to ship your entire 18,000 lbs.  In the furnished housing posts you are allowed to ship 7,200 lbs of HHE, the rest stays in storage.  In either case you get a (much) smaller allowance for UAB. B gets 250 lbs, I get 200 lbs and C gets 150 lbs – so 600 lbs total of UAB.  Our hand carried luggage has the typical airline restrictions of 50 lbs/bag with a 2 bag/person limit that the USG will pay for (don’t put it past me to pay a “premium” to take a couple of extra bags when the time comes…).

I doubt very much that everything we own comes close to weighing 18,000 lbs, so I’m not really worried about exceeding the weight limit, the issue is really about what to store, what to bring with us, and what to get rid of before we set off.  The complication part comes in terms of separating now what we might want for UAB later – while having no clue whatsoever where we will end up or when we will end up in said unknown place.  We assume B will have some language training – but Spanish is 24 weeks and Mandarin is 55 weeks, so we might spend 4 seasons in D.C., or two, or we might be gone by November – it all depends.

Right now we’ll put almost everything in storage, but we’ll take a few things with us: our good knives, the KitchenAid mixer, our cast iron frying pan, our clothes, and pretty much everything belonging to C except her furniture.  The struggle I’m really having relates to “sentimental” stuff, photographs, art, photo albums and things like that.  And there are two parts to this struggle. First, letting go of the irreplaceable life moments that inhabit things like photographs and baby hand prints to an unknown moving company, and second, the desire to make our D.C. apartment feel like home for however long, or short, a time we’ll be there.

I lived in corporate housing when I was a summer clerk at my law firm and, while perfectly serviceable, it’s not exactly “homey.”  I want C to feel at least somewhat at home while we are in D.C. so I want to be able to put out photographs, hang a few prints and use her own sheets/curtains.  I love our house, but I’m particularly sad to give up C’s room, with her built-in trundle bed and “secret” hiding place (see “Smurf-door” on bottom right hand side of picture).


She’s excited to move to Washington and be closer to her cousins, but I’m worried she’ll feel differently if we’re living in a ‘cold’ corporate apartment with nothing around to make her feel at home.  She understands we are not taking everything with us, but her grasp is limited to the world of a three-year old.

“Mommy,” she says. “When we move to our new house in Washington, can I take my Magnatiles?”

If you don’t know Magnatiles are these amazing magnetic tiles that you use to build – castles in C’s case.


They probably weigh 1/2 lb and fit in a very small box.  At least I can truthfully tell her that we will, indeed, be taking the Magnatiles.  But her bed, the Smurf door, those will stay behind and I’m not sure how to make her understand that, nor do I think, even if I am allowed to hang pictures, I can do much that would constitute “homeyness” in a corporate apartment.

I’m also wary of turning over the things that mean the most to me to movers, and to a storage facility I’m likely to never see or set foot in.  They can break every piece of furniture we own, but what if I send C’s little newborn footprint to storage and it gets ruined? I can never get that back. But do I want to drag it with us to Arlington where it’ll sit in a box taking up space (in a not so spacious place for three people and a 70 lb dog)?

Add to that the complication of trying to separate our stuff into “safe” rooms where the movers will not be allowed to go (lest everything get wrapped and spirited away to storage-land), and into “need now,” “need later,” “maybe need” piles and, to some extent, I’m paralyzed by the indecision of deciding.

If B had his way we’d probably throw it all out and live like nomads with nothing but the clothes on our backs, but unfortunately for him, C’s princess castle, and the Magnatiles, will all be going with us and fighting to find their own space in our little apartment.

And for now I’ll pack the footprints and the memories in boxes and decide whether they go with us, or in storage, another day.

Acronyms are U.S.(G)

acronyms ahead

This is the type of sentence I’ve been reading lately as we prepare for our big move:  The USG requires the EL FSO and his EFMs to identify their POV, HHE and UAB to the CDO and AO for CDA this CY for the TDY post at the FSI.

This is my reaction to this type of sentence: Huh?

Translated into English: The United States Government requires the Entry Level Foreign Service Officer and his Eligible Family Members to identify their Personally Owned Vehicle, House Hold Effects and Unaccompanied Air Baggage to the Career Development Officer and Assignment Officer for Career Development and Assignment this Calendar Year for the Temporary Duty post at the Foreign Service Institute.  Phew.

Before we embarked on this FS Odyssey my head was already swimming with the new(ish) language of acronyms on the internet: LOL, BRB, IMO, LMAO, TBH etc… And I thought I was doing pretty well given that my generation’s acronyms were pretty much limited to FYI and BTW.  I have patiently explained to my mother a woman I know that LOL means “Laugh out Loud” not “Lots of Love,” I pride myself on having some clue as to what my 13 year old niece says in her Facebook posts (though I’m still baffled by the emoticons…) and I deftly use a few of the easier combinations in my own texts.  But the acronyms of the internet are child’s play compared to the acronyms of the U.S.G.  In my view you should get language points for understanding and interpreting half of what is written in the booklets and on the web as you hop on the USG Acronym express to FS land.

There is actually a crib sheet at the Department of State (DOS, or more typically “State”) website.  A 16-page crib sheet.  Check it out here if you are curious (or want to learn a new language…).

alphabet soup

I’ve been a lawyer now for 17+ years and heaven knows we’ve got our own problems with complicated language and wording.  But acronyms are not so widely used.  And they are more about being lazy (saying TRO instead of temporary restraining order) than about inventing a whole new language.  I got all the way through law school without ever hearing the Supreme Court referred to as SCOTUS, but I guarantee every FSO inductee knows what SCOTUS, FLOTUS and POTUS mean.

B, of course, has adapted to the acronym heavy world of the FS like a fish to water.  I swear he often throws out whole sentences like the one I started this post with. I stare at him dumbly when he does this, mentally ticking through what “H” could possibly stand for in the context he has used it in.  I’m sure I’ll get it eventually, but I’m a little worried that before that happens my HHE will end up in the place my UAB is supposed to go.  I’m also going to start a “Glossary of Terms” page on this Blog and I suspect I’ll be referring to it often.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll check to see if the SNAP can help me figure it all out…

OMS! This is getting real

C is three.  The age of “I do it myself.” The age of repetition. The age of mimicry.  And she particularly enjoys mimicking me.

“Wow Mommy, that is AWESOME,” she says, as I finish cleaning up the front porch. “Great job!”

“Um, thanks,” I say. Hello Mini-me…

C = goofball

But it is even better for C if what I’m saying is loud and said in agitation. Bonus points for waving hand gestures and doing all this while driving.

So a couple of weeks ago we are driving along and she drops her raisin snack on the floor. “OMG!” she yells (though she says it all).

“Um, sweetie,” I start. “It’s not nice to say that. You need to say ‘Oh my Stars.'”

“But you say it?”

“Uh, yup, but I shouldn’t,” I agree. “I’ll try to be a good girl and not say it anymore, but I need you to try your hardest too, ok?”

“Ok,” she happily agrees.

So we are now living in the land of “Oh My Stars!”  C reminds me (probably more often than she should have to) that “we don’t say that we say ‘Oh my Stars,’ right Mommy?” And I’m trying. Really.

Yesterday was a big “OMS!” moment for us.  We put our beloved house on the rental market on July 1.  This is the house I bought in 2000 when it had 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and was a tiny little 950 square feet. I chronicled the changes from this:

little house

To the 4 bed/4 bath, 2850 square feet this:


at www.debandbrian.blogspot.com.

So as we sidled into July 9 without so much as a peep of interest we were a little worried, but not  too worried.  We still have lots of time, right? Plus it means our house is still our house.  At least this is what I keep telling myself.

Then I got a call from the management company that they had a couple who were interested in the house, but our manager was out of pocket, so would I mind coming by to let them in.  No problem.  I go over, let them in and half an hour later the realtor comes out on the back porch (where I am happily watching Property Brothers…Drew and Jonathan…such a lovely interlude in my day…) and says, “They want it. They wrote me a check for the deposit and the first month’s rent.”


“Say WHAT?”

Wait a minute. This is getting really real. We’ve got somewhere to live in DC starting on Aug. 23. Our house is rented starting Aug. 22. AND I’ve announced this on Facebook. This is REALLY happening. And it is such an incredible mix of joy and sadness.

I’ve been through a lot of hellos and goodbyes in my life – moving from London to Toronto to Louisiana to North Carolina – and our lives going forward will be all about hellos and goodbyes but this one is particularly difficult.  We have roots here. Roots that are painful to pull up; painful to sever.  We’re doing our best to temper the pain: not selling, just renting our house; not quitting, but staying with my firm and continuing to work remotely while we are in D.C.  Reaching out and pulling our friends close for a few last weeks while we call Charlotte our home.

But the day draws ever closer where Charlotte will recede in our rear view mirror and become a place on a map….a place with memories to fill a lot of pages, with friends who we hope we will always keep, and a place in our hearts that will always beat with love, and a little bit of longing.


And so it begins…the long and short of getting an offer to join the Foreign Service

You know how sometimes it feels like a new celebrity has just appeared overnight, but then you read her story and it turns out she has been struggling for many years to “make it?”

I’m sympathizing with that celebrity right now as we tell people that B is joining the Foreign Service (the “FS” once you’re in the know…). While some of our friends know that it has been B’s goal for a number of years to join the FS, most people I tell have no idea.  My announcement comes as a complete shock to them given our relatively “established” lives in Charlotte.

“So, B has accepted an offer to join the Foreign Service,” I say.

“WOW.” [typical reaction] “Did you guys just decide to do this?”

Here is where I hesitate. Should I tell the long story or the short one? They are both accurate, but does anyone really need to know just how long this has been in the background of our lives? I’m really not sure, but just in case you do want to know, here they are, short and long, long and short – both with same result: on August 25 our lives change and the world, literally, becomes our oyster…

Short story: Well, B took the Foreign Service Office Test (“FSOT”) [more on the absurd number of acronyms used by the FS of the USG in a later post…], in October last year.  He passed and was invited to submit personal narratives, which he did, and then he was invited to take the FSOA (Foreign Service Oral Assessment), which he did on May 5.  He passed that too and on June 5 was extended an offer to join the August 25 Foreign Service orientation class (or A-100).  And there you have it.  Simple, right? Or not…

Long story: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…or, more specifically, the train station in Hamburg, Germany in 2009 while we waiting for a train to Copenhagen…B got online and registered to take the FSOT.  As part of that registration he had to pick a “cone.”  The FS is made up of five cones: consular, economic, public diplomacy, political and management.  Want to know what FSOs in each cone allegedly do? (I say allegedly because: (1) having not actually been part of the FS community yet, I have no idea if the descriptions are accurate; and (2) I’m a lawyer, what can I say…)

If you’re still with me and want to see the descriptions, look here. In 2009, when B took the test the first time, he registered in the political cone.  If you don’t know B he is, notwithstanding a degree in engineering, a total political junkie.  To give a recent example, we were sitting at the free breakfast at the Embassy Suites in Dublin, Ohio, when a man with an earpiece walks by.  I assumed he was security for the golf tournament going on nearby and commented as such.

B looks past me, points (subtly, which he is not always known for) and says, “Don’t you know who that is?”

I look blankly at the man sitting at the table behind us. “No,” I say.

B, with incredulity straining his voice, “It’s John Boehner, the man who is two people away from being the most powerful person in the world.”




Meh, what can I say, I will not ever be interested in the political cone.

In any case, he wanted to be in the political cone and do political things, so that is how he registered.

In October 2009 he took the test, which, he tells me, is a bunch of multiple choice questions and a short essay question, for the first time. He passed.  The congratulatory letter arrived and invited him to submit 1200 character (about 200 word) responses to 5 or 6 “personal narrative questions” (“PNQ”) which are evaluated by the Qualification Evaluation Panel (“QEP”).

The PNQ’s are supposed to give you an opportunity to describe your amazing abilities, through examples from your own life, at all things FS, like leadership, management and communication skills.  B had about 3 weeks to draft these narratives and then submit them electronically. I’m pretty sure he hit “submit” at 2 weeks, 13 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes…it took that long to edit and polish the essays to fit in the space provided – and to cover the question asked.

Then, once again, we waited.

Who knows what the man (or woman) behind the FS curtain does at that point.  I will say that, despite what some others may think, B had basically no “international” experience, so I don’t think that is necessary to getting through to the next stage.  When we met in 2006 B had never been out of the US except a brief trip to Mexico.  We’ve certainly traveled since then, but I think the most international thing B has done (so far) is marry a foreign national (that’s me), so don’t be discouraged if you are not a former Peace Corps volunteer who did an advanced degree in some exotic locale and speaks multiple languages – you’ve still got a chance.

In any case, eventually you either pass FS muster or you don’t and you get an invitation to attend the Oral Assessment (“OA”) in Washington, D.C.  In 2009 B didn’t get an invite to the OA.  In 2010 he went through it all again – this time in the Economic cone, and, again, didn’t get an invite to the OA.  In 2011, notwithstanding our attempts that year to navigate the foreign land of parenthood, he registered in the economic cone and tried again.  Still no go. In 2012, B switched to the management cone. Setting aside his political fascination, the fact is that he has been an engineer for 14 years and has a lot more practical experience “managing” things than doing anything political or economic.

In 2012 he got an invite to the OA. It was a big day. B flew up to D.C. on March 16, 2013 – missing our annual St. Patrick’s Day party – and took the OA.  I flew up to surprise him and, thankfully (’cause it would have been a sad surprise otherwise), he passed.  One day I’ll talk more about my understanding of the OA – certainly about the various sections and the 13 Dimensions that they are looking for…but for now, suffice it to say that we both breathed a huge sign of relief, and then went back to stressing about the next steps in the FS journey (odyssey more like it) about 24 hours later.

After all this, we’re barely halfway to the end of this crazy process.  The passing score for the OA is 5.25, the highest score is 7.  I’ve never seen a score over 6.1 (not to say there aren’t any, but there is a “shadow” register on Yahoo and I haven’t seen any “raw” score over 6.1).  The first time B passed he got a 5.3.

After passing you, and your immediate family members (or “eligible family members” (“EFM”)), then have to go through medical clearances (the FSO candidate has to be “worldwide available” and her/his family needs to have a level of clearance so everyone knows where they can be posted) and the FSO has to go through a security clearance to be approved for a Top Secret security clearance.

Once you get through those steps, which can take from a few months to a year or more, then you are put on a “register” for your cone.  FSO candidates are ranked on their respective registers by the score they got in the OA.  You can only stay on the register for 18 months, although there are a couple of limited exceptions, but if you don’t get an offer in those 18-months you expire off the register and you have to start all over again

So if you got a 6.1, you are likely going to be at the top of the list when you get put on the register and, basically, have your choice of when you ultimately join the FS.  If you got a 5.3, you are, at least in the current hiring climate with the current budgets, likely not going to get an offer at all and will “time off” at the end of 18 months.

Thoroughly confused yet?

Let me add to the confusion… You can also get “bonus” points for scoring at a certain level in a foreign language (lower bonus points for a “world” language like Spanish or French, higher for languages like Mandarin and Farsi), and if you are a veteran.  So someone with a 5.3 who speaks French and is a veteran would get an additional 3+ points taking them from the bottom of the register to close to the top.  B had no bonus points, so in 2013 it looked like we would probably just watch B time off the register and spend our lives talking about “what ifs.”

October 2013 rolls around and B takes the FSOT again.  He passes the PNQs again.  He gets invited to the OA again.  He schedules his OA for the same weekend as last year – St. Patrick’s Day itself this time, which falls on a Monday.  Sunday night D.C. gets 7 inches of snow and the OA for that day is cancelled.  B comes home and schedules a “make-up” OA on May 5.  He takes the OA on May 5. He passes with a 5.7.  This time we don’t have to go through medical and security clearance because our prior clearances from 2013 are still valid, so B goes on the register in mid-May and on June 5, while I am in the middle of defending a deposition, my phone vibrates with a message: “Just got an offer.”

And overnight a new FSO appears…