KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo!
More later, for now we’re off to drink!
In 72 hours we’ll know.
Sometime after 3:30 p.m. on Friday a flag will appear on a wall at FSI. B’s name will be called, and we’ll know.
We’ll know where we are going. We’ll know what we (or at least B) will be doing when we arrive. We’ll know when we are going. And we’ll know what the training schedule will look like between now and then.
I’m feeling surprisingly zen about the whole thing. It’s out of my hands – the decision has, in fact, already been made and, somewhere out there, some State Department employee is putting together a package containing details about the post, the position, the training (language and otherwise) and many other interesting tidbits about our future.
There are definitely places I would prefer to go, and there are places I would prefer not to go, but looking at the bid list (yet again) in a futile attempt to remember which flag has the green star in the middle and which has the gold star (with the same three colors on the rest of the flag) it occurs to me that I’m ok with whatever the flag looks like when they call B’s name. Frankly, right now I’m more worried about keeping C occupied in a room full of hyped up people for an hour or more (can you say iPad…and grandparents…) than I am about what the fates hold for us.
In the meantime, with two weeks (or less) of A-100 left, the socializing has swung into high gear. There was a happy hour tonight, there is a Nat’s game tomorrow night, poker on Thursday, ice cream and cake after Flag Day, then drinking into the wee hours after the ice cream and cake. We’ve been to brunches, dinners, pizza parties and Oktoberfest, and it has all been a blast. Someone actually had to start a Google Doc to keep track of all the extra curricular goings-on. Many of these are not “spouse” events, so I get to stay home while B gets to go and make small talk (happy days for me as I am not such a fan of the small talk).
These are the events where B is supposed to be cultivating his “corridor reputation” – which will, in about 4 years, be important. After the first two tours, which are considered “directed” – FSO’s are given a limited list of posts to bid on and a group of Career Development Officers make the assignments to those posts – it’s a diplomatic free-for-all. You get a list of ALL the open posts in the world and you not only bid, you also schmooze, lobby, cajole and, I’m guessing in some cases, beg, for the job and post that you want. It is for this schmoozing that you need a good reputation. You want people to like you and want to work with you.
So what better way to make people like you and want to work with you than getting sloshed with them for 6 weeks in a row? I’m kidding, B hasn’t come home sloshed…much (no, really, I’m kidding…).
The social schedule is a bit overwhelming when you have a 3 year old, a dog and a birthday before 1990. And add to the FSI social schedule the fact that I have a lot of friends in D.C. who I have been meeting out for lunch (all in the name of business development, thank you very much), and the fact that we’ve been trying to get out and enjoy the city (see trip to Roosevelt Island below) and B and I have been crashing hard at about the same time we put C down every night. We’ll rally for the rest of the next two weeks though – we’ll all have a lot to talk about next week as things wrap up, since everyone will be able to talk about their actually post, rather than the theoretical one they are hoping for right now.
This A-100 thing has been a blast (and I’m not even really *in* it) and it’s sad to see it coming to an end, but I have a feeling we’ll be making the most out of the last 10 days. And hopefully, when the flags are shown and the names are called, most people walk away happy and excited and ready to party for the next 6 months…of language training.
I wish I could be that mother with all the patience in the world. You know the one. She smiles sweetly while her child screams. She bends down and looks her child directly in the eye and says, “Honey, it makes you very mad when you can’t have ice cream for breakfast, doesn’t it?”
Her child nods between sobs.
“And you wish you could have ice cream every morning, don’t you?”
“Uh, huh…” (sniffle, sniffle)
“But you understand that we can’t have ice cream for breakfast, don’t you?”
No more crying.
Mommy reaches down, takes her child’s hand and goes on her way.
Here is the equivalent scenario in our life:
“C,” I say, in a low hiss. “Stop crying please.”
Crying gets louder. Wailing starts. “BUT I WANT ICE CREAM FOR BREAKFAST!”
C collapses to the floor clutching her head. Wailing continues.
I stare down at her. My mind goes blank.
“Stop. Crying. NOW.” My hissing is sounding mildly hysterical now.
No response. Wailing gets louder.
I grab her arm (fighting urge to squeeze). “Let’s go. You are NOT having ice cream for breakfast.”
She prostrates herself.
Everyone in the [insert location here – most likely to be a library, church or nice restaurant] is looking at us.
“I’m going to count to three,” I say. “And when I get to three so help me…I’m going to…” DEEP BREATH.
“You will lose [insert alleged punishment].”
This just makes things worse as now she is not getting ice cream for breakfast and is about to lose something else she wants. Wailing reaches a crescendo.
I grab her bodily and walk out. Echo of wailing remains behind us. Disapproving eyes follow us.
This is usually when I remember something I read about getting down on her level.
“C,” I say. “You are being mean. I don’t like you when you are like this.” (yes, I have now resorted to being a 3 year old as well.)
Yup, not mother of the year. Patience is not my virtue.
It is in these moments when I wonder how I will do this in Africa, or China, or Mexico.
My Pinterest page is FULL of *ideas* for fun and educational things to do with kids – my kid in particular, but really, do I have the patience to do these things? To spend my days overseas making “Frozen Slime“? I truthfully don’t know.
Days like today, spent trekking across D.C. on the Metro from brunch with friends, to the American Girl store birthday party of my niece L, and back home (33 Metro stops in total), losing patience slowly, but surely, all day with C’s whining, not listening, demanding little self. Feeling even worse by virtue of the fact that I heard this morning of a young mother in Charlotte who, along with her 3 year old, were killed last week literally just sitting at a stop sign. Wondering why it is I can’t revel even in the annoyances of my lovely, fabulous, beautiful, brilliant, LIVE child.
I KNOW – deep in my heart and with no hesitation – just how incredibly lucky I was today to eat a wonderful meal with friends and see my niece’s joy as she picked out her new doll, and to do all of that with C by my side, but sometimes the knowing isn’t enough to keep the edge of annoyance out of my voice. I wish it was.
These, clearly, will be the trials of my future. And these are the trials I need to win more than any that have come before.
Today, I dabbled in the law.
Tomorrow? Who knows, maybe I’ll do some law stuff, maybe not.
I spent the last couple of days in Charlotte prepping witnesses and defending depositions. It felt good. It was familiar. I knew what to do and how to act. I knew when to talk and when to shut up. My desk, empty though it was, welcomed me back. My assistant, M (which could stand for Marvelous, but doesn’t), laughed outside my door and the sound comforted me. The other lawyers I work with sought my opinion on lawyerly things. It was like pulling on a soft t-shirt and a favorite pair of jeans.
Last night I drove back to D.C. and today I sat down at my desk and I did some work, but I was actually wearing the t-shirt and jeans (instead of the suit), and when they tested the fire alarm in our building I took the dog for a long walk, and I did laundry and dishes and unpacked the boxes I brought back from Charlotte. It still feels unfamiliar. And it feels solitary. And less powerful…but I like it too, this dabbling.
Tomorrow I’m going to get a pedicure. I’m going to read a deposition WHILE I get the pedicure, but still, this is a different place and a different life than I have led in a long time. It feels very much like I’m in a kind of “no-man’s land” where I’m just slowly, slowly putting down the accouterment of my lawyer life and looking around to discover what the tools of my new life will be.
So what are the tools an EFM (“Eligible Family Member”) needs in the FS? A sense of humor? A duck-like ability to let things roll off your back? Curiosity about new things? A willingness to let go? A cunning ability to pack a life into 600 lbs?
Turns out those are all tools I’ve needed as a lawyer too (well, maybe not the 600 lbs trick), so hopefully even as I slough off my current persona in favor of our new life I’ll be able to drag those things along with me (B cannot complain as they do not weigh a thing).
I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to morph from “Partner in a law firm” to “B’s EFM” slowly, as I’m not sure I could have handled the jump to this new galaxy had I been forced to make it at lightspeed. But, I feel like I spend a lot of time sort of *testing* the water in my brain in terms of how I feel about this change. And I’m torn, I really am.
A big part of me doesn’t want to give up the rush of nailing a cross-examination, or the giddy feeling of putting the final period at the end of a great brief. It made me cry to think I might never try a case again – the most exhausting, overwhelming, emotional, physical, mental aspect of being a litigator – but also the most fun, and rewarding and, frankly, the reason we all put up with the rest of the B.S. The fact that I might never stand in front of a jury again makes me sad. But the idea that I might never have to put up with an unscrupulous, game-playing opposing counsel, who files a motion at 6 p.m. on a Friday just to cause misery and havoc, that makes me happy.
So here I am, straddling the line between desperately holding on to my old life, and desperately wanting to reach with both hands into my new life.
And tomorrow I’m going to do some law stuff and I’m going to enjoy it – even if it involves unscrupulous opposing counsel – and then I’m going to have dinner at an Uzbek restaurant with new friends who will speak Russian to the waitstaff and order new and exotic dishes for B and me to try. And somehow, in the next few months, I’m going to try and find a way to mesh those things – and all the old things I know like the back of my hands, and the new things I have yet to learn – into a D who can step over the line into a life where every step will take B and C and me to a different place and in a different direction than any place or direction we’ve been before. A D who will embrace the joy and luck I’ve had as a lawyer, and wrap it up with the joy and luck I’ve had as a daughter, wife and mother, so I can appreciate every experience (and the joy and luck) I have as B’s EFM.
I’m doomed today. My work is doomed today. My list of things to do? Yup, doomed. So sorry Miller the Dog, you are not going to the dog park. And dry cleaning? Yeah, you are staying in the basket. It remains to be seen whether I will even be able to drag myself away from my desk/computer long enough to have lunch.
Now, I have read quite a few FS blogs over the last 5 years while I have patiently waited for B to get into an A-100 class. When you want to try and understand what life *might* be like in the Foreign Service, these blogs are a godsend. FSOs and their EFMs are great writers and prolific bloggers, so you can learn a lot from reading their posts. But this? This is FS blog Mecca. The promised land of information on what other people living this amazing, crazy life are doing, feeling, seeing, wishing, hoping, eating.
Be prepared to see more of these blogs on my “Blogroll,” as I make my way through them (I’m on No. 3 right now, so I have a LONG way to go), though, it occurs to me that I have not seen my Blogroll lately…perhaps it didn’t move when I changed my theme? I’ll try and remedy that, but while you are waiting check out the link and SVO’s awesome list.
The bid list has been submitted.
Our fate is in the hands of the CDOs (Career Development Officers). We really only had one, relatively minor, disagreement about how to rank our posts, but that was sorted out (or, more specifically, I told B, “You rank it however you want, but be warned that if you rank it high and we end up there, C and I will be spending our summers elsewhere.”)
We went heavy on French speaking posts for our “highs” in hopes that I will get to resuscitate, revive, or resurrect (depending on how you look at it) my long dormant French speaking ability. B has to learn a language regardless, so why not a language that I have a pretty firm foundation in thanks to my parents’ foresight and 6 years at a French school.
If hindsight had been 20/20 and I had guessed in college that I might embark on this adventure (anyone who knows me can laugh uproariously now – I have degrees in equine science and journalism from undergrad – not exactly “foreign policy/world adventure” type majors) I would have actually taken some additional French rather than CLEP’ing out of the 12 language credits I required. I don’t know if they still have the CLEP program (College Level Examination Placement, I believe), but it saved my derrière, and my parents’ hard earned money, by allowing me to take exams for credit in French and (also somewhat ironically given the current circumstances) American History, rather than adding (yet another) semester to my college career.
So I’m practicing my French by reading newspapers, listening to French books on tape and playing French word games on my phone. Which means, of course, that we’re going somewhere where the language is Spanish, or Aramaic, or Mandarin.
Either way I’m going to be excited. It’s sometimes hard to believe that B is going to get paid to learn at least one, and possibly several, languages as an FSO. And that I, while not being paid to do it, will likely also have the opportunity to be taught, by top notch teachers, for FREE, a new language as well. SO. COOL.
Besides the turning in of the dreaded bid list, life in D.C. (yeah, yeah, technically we’re in Northern Virginia, but I can see the Washington Monument from my building, so close enough) is good. We’ve attended our first dinner party, we’ve had friends over to go swimming in “C’s” pool (which sadly will close for the season this weekend – Boo), and we have been making some great new friends among B’s classmates and their spouses, partners and children. We are fitting into this life, for the most part, like we are meant to be a part of it.
C is very into singing these days.
I’m not talking about conventional signing, with lyrics, to a tune. I’m talking about taking everyday conversation (assuming you narrate everything you do) and adding a totally out of tune warble to it so that you are, basically, singing (off key) about all of the everyday things that are happening throughout the day.
My girl is never going to win American Idol (or [insert foreign country] Idol), which is TOTALLY fine with me, but watching her put her daily life to a tune is hilarious and has been amusing B and me for a while.
Last Friday C and I headed to meet good friends at the National Zoo. I (stupidly) opted to drive instead of take the Metro thinking (stupidly) that it would be easier. We did fine for the first 10 minutes or so, then I missed the exit to Rock Creek Parkway and we ended up stuck in construction traffic in the middle of D.C. Not fun.
I *might* have been providing my own non-musical running commentary on the situation, when suddenly C says to me, “Mommy, are you annoyed at the traffic?”
“Yes sweetie,” I said. “I am very annoyed because we’re stuck in traffic and I don’t know where I’m going.”
This prompted C to begin to sing “We are stuck in traaaaffic, and we don’t know where we’re go-oh-ing.” Over. And over. And over.
It was actually pretty sweet at first, but the out of tune repetitive signing combined with the devastating stand still traffic finally got the better of me and I said, rather loudly, “Pumpkin, I really need you to stop singing and be quiet. Mommy really needs to think!”
I felt bad. Truly I did. I was annoyed and angry at myself and C really had done nothing wrong, but I was at my wit’s end and I really did feel like I needed silence to contemplate my options (add my lack of movement to a fast dying phone – my only “map,” as a bonus).
I got silence. At least for a few seconds. Then very quietly from out of the back seat I heard a real song.
C was singing “Let it go…Let it go…” from Disney’s Frozen.
Out of the mouths of babes.
Turns out we made it to the zoo and had a fabulous time. C was right. I needed to “Let it go.”
What I find fascinating is that I struggle to let go of the little stuff. The traffic. The whining child. The dishwasher in our new apartment that doesn’t work properly. But I feel incredibly calm about the big stuff. Not knowing where we will live this time next year, for instance.
I know some of my friends think we’re nuts, and can’t imagine spending a year in sub-Saharan Africa, or in the Middle East, or anywhere but the United States of America. But no matter where we get posted – whether it is a “high,” a “medium” or a “low” on our list, the end will be in sight for us. Two years. Twenty-four months. 104 weeks.
Two years goes by in a blink.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years – 27! – in prison, and yet you rarely saw him without a smile. People live in horrible conditions every day all over the world – millions of people. I’ll be living in a government provided house or apartment, fully furnished, with clean, SAFE water and enough money to buy plenty of good food. C’s schooling will be paid for. We will get vacation, benefits, medical treatment from the best available physicians – and if they can’t be found at post we’ll be medevac’d to London, or Petoria, or back to the U.S.
Meanwhile, many (if not a vast majority in some places) of the people who live their entire lives in whatever country we get posted in will not have enough food, or fresh water, or medical care – not just for two years, but ever. They won’t know what vacation and benefits are. They can’t access Amazon Prime when they need something. They won’t have an Embassy pool, tennis courts, or playground to entertain them, and they will probably never have the opportunity to leave.
So traffic and dishwashers make me a little crazy, but two years in a “hardship” post. I’m ok with that. That I can let go, maybe because it allows me to appreciate the little things as well. Maybe it will allow me to appreciate a traffic jam because, after all, I’m on my way to a free zoo to eat ice cream and wander aimlessly with people I love. Or appreciate my not so perfect dishwasher because, after all, I’m not having to wash all my dishes by hand in water that was previously flowing through a sewer. Or even better, appreciate the fact that, with one call to maintenance I got a new dishwasher. Along with a note from Juan, our wonderful maintenance man, which said “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.”
I hope C and I will sing together about our new life in our new home in a few months. And I hope I can continue to learn the lessons she teaches me about enjoying life one minute at a time and letting go of the little things.
Kinshasa - Discover RDC with me!
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life of a globetrotting family of 5 in the US foreign service
just another story
“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.” -Cloud Atlas
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Travel Stories, Expatriate Life, Undiplomatic Commentary and Some Pretty Good Photos