Boxes of fun

We received our HHE (make sure to pronounce that “heych, heych” if you are going to be authentically Australian) yesterday, so what better time to write a blog post, right?

It’s not that nothing has been going on here, or even that I haven’t written anything, but for some reason I just can’t find the inspiration and motivation to get pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write about – or finish when I start writing about – life on our latest adventure. In part I think it’s because Australia is so “normal” after DRC that it feels like everything I write is really booooring.

Let’s be honest, I spend my days going to the gym, Costco, Ikea, and/or the grocery store, then coming home and cooking, cleaning and – once school lets out – driving C around to her activities. Sound familiar to anyone in a first world country? Every once in a while I’ll be walking around ALDI or Costco and think “Seriously? Is that what we signed up for?” For me, leaving Charlotte and following B into the Foreign Service wasn’t about getting an “easy” post and enjoying all the comforts of home – because if I wanted to do that I’d do it at…HOME – it was about exploring different and unusual places while still serving our country. Most people probably think that everyone who joins the FS wants to serve in Paris or London, or Canberra, but, while I wouldn’t say no to Paris (or London), many FS officers actually want to explore the road (or country) less travelled.

Don’t get me wrong, Australia is beautiful and we are enjoying so many things about it, but there is nothing shockingly different about it. I think that is especially true for me because Australia often feels like a Southern Hemisphere version of Canada – lots of polite people obeying rules, enjoying universal healthcare, and spending as much time as possible outdoors barbecuing and drinking beer.  Instead of moose, we see roos here, and instead of groundhogs, we see wombats, but the differences are subtle and you have to dig a bit deeper to find them. By contrast, everything about our move to Kinshasa was different and new – I had to use my imagination and creativity at every turn in order to do the simplest things (ie: eat ice cream, a bagel or bacon) – and since my imagination and creativity were in high gear writing just seemed to come a bit easier.

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SO what have we been up to since we got here?

We visited Sydney for my milestone (never you mind which…) birthday and can’t wait to go back again – though the Sydney I first visited in 2000 was, not surprisingly given that she was hosting the Olympics, a much shiner version of what it is today. We visited the “coast” and were blown away by the virtually empty beaches with gorgeous views of mountains in the distance.

We’ve made friends with some magpies who now regularly come to our door to talk to us/beg for food, and we’ve revelled in daily seeing beautiful cockatoos, galah parrots and rosellas – in our backyard, among other places.  We’ve made friends with Eric, the half-a-bee keeper, while he helped us remove a swarm of bees from our garden (more about that in another post), and we’ve been lucky enough to make friends with other families here, which has made our transition a lot easier.

We climbed the hill behind our house (a couple of times),  had a hail storm, and B and I attended the Marine Corps Ball. C has started – and almost finished – school, or at least the last term of school. As of Friday she’ll be on summer vacation AGAIN. Never let it be said that sometimes the life of a Foreign Service child isn’t pretty awesome – altogether she’ll get 5 months of holidays this year – just don’t tell her that when we leave (if we go back to the Northern Hemisphere) she won’t get much of a summer holiday at all…

All in all it’s been a good couple of months. We are feeling pretty settled and we are looking forward to planning some trips in the new year. However, it’s pretty clear to me that this adventure will definitely be on the low key end of our Foreign Service life so far, and that’s ok, cause low key is good after chaos, and good when you don’t know what will come next…

Trials

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?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

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.)

Sigh.

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.

Brunch without toys? iPad to the rescue!

Brunch without toys? iPad to the rescue!

Amazing, delicious brunch!

Amazing, delicious brunch!

L & C - American Girl heaven

L & C – American Girl heaven

A new dishwasher

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.”

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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.

IMG_2396Postscript:  Everywhere we go we are reminded of North Carolina.  Check out the pig we met at the zoo…

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Whole Towel Living

Ok. So it turns out that maybe I spoke too soon.  The packout itself, both day 1 and day 2, were pretty painless and easy.  It was the post packout panic that was problematic.

If you have ever moved you’ll understand (and remember with no fond feelings) the packing of all the leftovers after the furniture is gone.  And the cleaning.  The never ending cleaning.

I, in typical fashion, bit off more than I could chew and opted to go back to work on Wednesday and Thursday leaving B to clean and pack, and sending C back to school.  Only sending C back to school was the right decision.  

Since I’m staying with the firm I actually had work to do when I arrived back in the office, so I didn’t really get a chance to properly say goodbye to anyone, and I was frantically trying to fit in calls to Duke Energy and AT&T to cancel utilities in between discussing discovery responses with my clients.  Luckily I’ll be back in the office in a few weeks for depositions, so maybe I’ll have time to wander around and say farewell then, but somehow I doubt it.

When I arrived back at the house on Wednesday evening there were two huge piles of STUFF in the middle of the dining room.  B informed me that one was going to get packed in the cars and the other pile was going over to a friend’s house to be stored until I drive down for those depositions in mid-September.  What was that about spending quality time saying goodbye to folks? Looks like I’ll be packing the car instead…

What is doubly unfortunate about this is that, as noted previously, we ended up with about 230 lbs of additional UAB space that we didn’t use.  I’m pretty sure a good amount of the STUFF would have fit in the left over UAB space.  We’ll be remembering that for next time and doing our best to get our UAB weight up to 599.9 lbs before we start loading the cars.

For all our worries about how C would react to the empty house, the teary goodbyes and the random moving men driving away with our furniture, she never stopped being our hilarious, laughing, dancing, singing little girl.  She sang while we packed, she danced in the empty rooms, and she laughed at all the hugs she was getting from everyone we know.  DSCN0309

Protecting our home - in NC and in VA

Protecting our home – in NC and in VA

She insisted that we were staying in a “whole towel,” despite our equally insistent response that it was, in fact, a hotel.  

She pressed every elevator button, and told every random stranger we met that she was moving to Washington. We could have learned a lot from the laid back way she accepted every change without question or complaint.  The only times she wasn’t happy was when she was hungry or tired.  Totally understandable.

So tonight we have made it to our new home.  There are boxes everywhere, and we need to figure out how to fit all that STUFF into a much smaller space.  Tomorrow afternoon is the first “meet and greet” for the 179th A-100.  We’ve been checking out the bios from B’s classmates – they look like an impressive bunch.  I’m looking forward to meeting them, and their families, though I’m also, frankly, petrified about how it will feel to be the “spouse” and nothing more.  I’m hoping I can take a lesson from C and accept each change that comes without complaint or question.  Change is what we signed up for.  And change is good…

 

 

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.