These are the boxes of our lives…

It’s PACK OUT DAY!  Well, actually, it’s the end of Pack Out Day 1, and B, C and I are sitting in our living room (furniture has not yet been packed) relaxing among the boxes.

Today was surprisingly ok.  Last night was not so ok. I was teary, sad and overall unhappy.  We had a fabulous dinner with our friends T & A (yeah, yeah…) and their littles (their son W is about 3 months older than C and they love each other), we cooked steak, drank wine and enjoyed a lovely, lovely evening.  Leaving their house was hard.  Really hard. Harder than I expected given that I keep reminding myself that I’ll see them again in about 3 weeks when I’m back in town for depositions.  

But then today dawned bright and early (particularly after the wine) and our movers arrived, and things since then have been pretty good.  

They're heeeeere...

They’re heeeeere…

The movers started with our UAB (unaccompanied air baggage).  We had an allowance of 600 lbs.  Anyone out there know what 600 lbs looks like? Nope? Well, me neither, because despite our worries our UAB ended up coming way under our limit at 366 lbs.  Here is what 366 lbs looks like.

UAB for BCD

UAB for BCD.

There weren’t a lot of surprises today, but one of them was that the “tri-fold” box that is used for UAB turns out not to be triangular as I was expecting.  I suppose if I had looked at the dimensions in our papers I might have realized a “tri-fold” box had 4 sides, but in my head I was imagining a tri-fold box that had three sides.  It seemed like it would be pretty inefficient, but since we are talking about the government I wasn’t about to put it past anyone.  So the mysterious “tri-fold” is a decent sized very sturdy box, three of which are now full of clothes and other things that will be delivered to our apartment next week.

A "tri-fold" box.

A tri-fold box! With 4 sides!

Security sealed for your protection.

Security sealed for your protection.

Rooms full of stuff became rooms full of boxes and here we are with our lives in boxes ready to ship them off and head to DC in a couple of days.  B and I mostly stood around feeling useless and making ridiculously detailed lists of everything going into each box.  I’m glad we knew to keep such a detailed list since the descriptions of the packers leaves a bit to be desired.  Watching them pack the kitchen I watched them load vases, roasting pans, muffin pans, salad spinner and half a dozen other things into a box and then write “pots n’ pans” on the box.  That would not have been very helpful in a few months when we are trying to figure out what boxes to call for when we go overseas.

We also knew (from reading other posts – thanks FS bloggers!) to have a “Safe Room” (or 3) where we could put things that we didn’t want them to pack.  We shoved a LOT of stuff into those rooms and kept throwing things in as we went along.  Once the movers leave we’ll have to pack all of that into our cars to take with us to DC.  

We’re having a picnic in the living room tonight then going to stay with good friends. Then we’ll be back tomorrow to watch them load and drive away.  Let’s hope Pack Out Day 2 goes as smoothly as Day 1 went!

Living room with stuff.

Living room with stuff.

Living room with boxes.

Living room with boxes.

Spare bedroom with stuff.

Spare bedroom with stuff.

Spare room with boxes.

Spare room with boxes.

B with notebook.

B with notebook…packout is hard work!

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Off limits!

Do not enter!

Do not enter!

Time is inexorable

Twenty (or so) years ago, my journalism professor Wiley Hilburn wrote “TIME IS INEXORABLE” in the margin of a piece I wrote for my weekly column as the editor of our college newspaper. The column was my last before graduation. In it I talked about my attempts to freeze moments of my last days on campus in my memory.  Now, Mr. Hilburn’s words keep floating to the surface of my brain. I thought I had TONS of time to pack, purge, go to lunch, go to dinner and generally be ready to move. Suddenly all the time I thought I had seems to have caught up with me.

I no longer have open days for lunches, evenings for dinners, or afternoons for playdates.  The days and nights are filled. All the food in my freezer will not get eaten and I have to resign myself to that fact.  I have five more outfits I need for work in Charlotte. I have five more nights in my dear house.

What happened to all the TIME I thought I had!?

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Does this look like the desk of a girl who has 5 days left in this office?

Mr. Hilburn was right about time.  It is inexorable.  It moves without stopping. No amount of wishing or hoping or ignoring (I’m quite expert at that) will stop it.  I’m just running trying to catch up with it. Like the quintessential movie character running, hand outstretched, to catch the last handle on the train caboose before it chugs off into the distance without me.

And yet…what am I doing now.  Writing, certainly, but more importantly, watching the Property Brothers.  See what I said about ignoring…

They moved our Packout date to Aug. 18 (yes, that is Monday) so we have one less day for packing, sorting, purging.  Kindly the USG will pay for us to stay for up to 10 days in a hotel, so we had a hotel in Charlotte booked for the 19th-22nd – somewhere within walking distance to both my office and C’s daycare.  But now we need a room on the 18th too and, wouldn’t you know it, the hotel hasn’t got a single room open for Monday night (bizarre, right?).  So we can either move hotels which, needless to say is not my first choice, or spend the night in C’s room using the blow up bed and her trundle (it is built-in, so it is staying).

I’m leaning toward “camping” in C’s room.  After all, we’re going on an adventure – why shouldn’t it start in our own home?

Rolling toward move day…

Who knew there were so many calories in joining the Foreign Service?

I certainly didn’t, but seriously, the number of dinners, lunches and drinks that I’m consuming as I make my way toward our move date is getting to be a little obscene. I really may be “rolling” out of Charlotte on August 22 in a very literal sense.

When we found out B had an offer to join the August 25 A-100 class, I started a “Charlotte Bucket List” thinking we’d list – and visit – all the places we loved in the city before we left.

Turns out all those places serve food.

So far we’ve managed to cross off Fig Tree (once for our anniversary, and once more for good measure for me with my amazing book club friends), Vivace, Soul, Bistro La Bon, Mert’s, Nikko…and the list goes on.  And that doesn’t count any of the lunches that I’ve been making my way through every day (B also admitted sheepishly that he has been doing a “farewell tour” of his lunch haunts).  Today I finally had to barricade myself in my office and eat a Lean Cuisine, lest I explode…

Beignets at Fig Tree...Yum...

Beignets at Fig Tree…Yum…

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From the Vivace balcony looking at Charlotte

We have managed to also visit a couple of non-food related places, including the Lazy-5 Ranch where we got to feed giraffes (or “G-giraffes” as C calls them), Bank of America Stadium (though to see UK football not US football), and Discovery Place, but the primary focus has clearly been food.

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

The thing about all these visits is that the food, and the places, have been entirely secondary to the people we’ve been with.  The real “bucket list” it turns out, is about people.  The people we love and will miss in this lovely Southern city we have called home for so long.

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Only two more weekends remain in Charlotte – so we’ve got a bunch of places – and people – left to visit.  By the end of the next two weeks I may have to eat plain broth for a month to fit back into my clothes, but new wardrobe be damned, I’m going to keep eating…and visiting…and sharing a last few precious hours with the people and places we love.

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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…).

sleepover

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.

DLE

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.

 

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.

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I tried to reason with her.

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

“No.”

“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.

Self-Control-alexmillos

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.

To pack, or not to pack

boxes

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).

csroom

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.

magnatiles

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.

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:

Home

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.”

OMS.

“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.

charlotte