Monday, July 14, 2014

California in Review

Can you believe it's time to leave already? We managed to fit in tons of beach time, grandparent and uncle time, a Dodger game, paddle boarding, Mexican food, a trip to the Petersen Auto Museum, Chipotle, fireworks, the Queen Mary, a Russian sub, Target, kayaking, a visit with some grad school friends, In n Out burger, naps on the beach, and so much more.

No time for blogging - have to get packing. On to Seattle soon.

This would be Liberace's car, with sequins and unicorns. Ainsley's favorite, of course.

Midway through our kayak ride, we stopped for Starbucks. Because, why not?

Party boat dinner with Nana and Pop.

What every Californian misses overseas....

Friday, July 4, 2014


Four years, gone by in an instant.

The entire process of leaving a post is designed, I'm convinced, to ensure that by the time you finally get on that plane, you are nothing but ready to leave.

It isn't just the incessant goodbyes. It's everything. Shutting off your cell phone service. Turning off the internet. Dealing with the people in DC who decide, after you've already packed your air freight, that they made a mistake in your weight allowance, and you either need to pay them thousands of dollars for their error, or you need to repack the entire shipment. Turning in the radio. Getting the last hair appointments. Picking up the school records. Turning in your car for shipment.

The plane tickets. Lord, the plane tickets - those could be a post in and of themselves.

First we had tickets, but no seats. Then seats, but on the wrong day. Then maybe Bart would be joining us. But maybe not, so please nobody tell the kids. Then Bart has tickets, but we don't. Then we all have tickets, on the same flight even, if he makes his flight - but again we have no seats.

And on and on until the travel office personnel and I were barely on speaking terms, so frustrated were the lot of us with one another. (If it weren't for our awesome GSO, who seemed to make it his personal mission to ensure I got out of the country without suffering a nervous breakdown, I'm convinced I'd be in that office still, waiting and arguing and hoping for some sort of resolution.)

Bart planned to meet us at the gate right before our flight - if they let him out, and if he made the tight connection out of Baghdad. But the day before that, thanks to my vast network of in-country spies and the fact that not a single USG employee can keep a secret, I started to suspect that he might be arriving a few hours earlier, on some sort of unscheduled and unconfirmable flight out of somewhere. This despite the fact that I warned him before he even went to Baghdad that I hate surprises, and under no circumstances was he ever to try to surprise me by showing up unannounced on my doorstep in Amman unless he was prepared to deal with an unkempt wife and an empty refrigerator. He agreed. But it seemed he was preparing to break his promise on his very last day in Baghdad. For shame.

At three in the morning, my phone rang. "I'm outside the door," he said. "Let me in." I staggered to the living room, very much unkempt as promised, and opened the door to find Bart standing on the porch, having been driven there by Mr. GlobeHopper. I seem to recall that I gave them both hugs and then unceremoniously went back to bed.

Kyra snuck into the bedroom an hour later. She felt around in the dark, finding two bodies instead of one.

"Daddy?" she asked tentatively, hugging him close before climbing back into her own bed.

Bart got up at 5am to go for a run, because who doesn't do that before an international flight? At 6am, Kyra came back in to find me alone. Disappointed, she looked at the empty space next to me and said "Last night I dreamed that daddy came home. But it seemed real to me."

There was much rejoicing in our house that morning when their daddy came back from his run. But only for a few minutes, because we had a flight to catch. Still with no assigned seats.

And now, just like that, we are a family again.

You stress and you fret and you cry, but then you touch down in America and you go to pick up "just a few things" at Target or Trader Joes, and next thing you know, you marvel at how surreal it all seems. Were you really just in Jordan? Did you really ever live there? Because now, you know, you are loading your shopping cart with edamame and whole wheat bread and chocolate milk. (And oh, the chocolate milk! Do you people here in America even realize what a delicacy it is, that jug of fresh chocolate milk?) You buy these things as you make casual chit chat with the checkout guy ("Jordan?" he says tentatively, his voice all full of question marks. "That's sounds, like, really cool?") You buy these things as you listen to the conversations around you, all easily understood for the first time in years. You buy these things, and you wonder, was I ever really gone from this place?

Jordan is finished for me now. And I'm left to wonder: how much chocolate milk should a reasonable person consume in one day? And also: how many shower curtains will I need to buy for Moscow?

Because Moscow.

Moscow awaits, just a few weeks from now. Jordan is finished.

Between now and Moscow, though, there is that chocolate milk. There is In n Out Burger. There are sunburns and sandcastles. There is running on the beach. There are grandparents. And still ahead: sushi with my sister in Seattle, barbecues with my brother, baseball games. Somewhere there will be a trip to the post office, to mail my Moscow self snacks and clothes and those blasted shower curtains. ("Moscow?" the postal worker will say, and this I know because it happens every time. "What's that like?")

But of course there is no answer that makes sense.

Monday, June 23, 2014

UT Ceremony

As we get closer to the end our unaccompanied tour (UT), people often ask me: was it worth it?

And the answer, for me, is: I don't know. How can I measure worth here? I mean, it's worth it in the sense that it's almost done, and we shouldn't have to do it again during his career. It was worth it in that I found out I was capable of doing it (most days, anyway). Inner wells of strength, blah, blah, blah.

I'll be interested, once Bart finishes (soon, we all hope), in what his answer will be. Because he's faced completely different challenges over there than I have over here, and any rewards he may have gotten from the work are things I can't speak to, can't really even know. Was it worth it? Should I ask him to guest post, do you think?

One interesting thing came of this UT tour recently. Others have blogged about this before, but in case you don't know - the State Department gives medals and certificates of appreciation to children whose parents serve at unaccompanied posts. It's something State gets really right: recognizing and appreciating the sacrifice that these kids make in service of our country. They give up dads and moms for a year so our country can make use of them, and it is not an easy year for these kids. (I feel relatively fortunate: we haven't had any serious issues, health-wise, psychologically, etc., because of this year apart, but there are lots of kids who suffer both mentally and physically, and there is just no way to know which kids will be hit the hardest. We've all heard the scary stories of kids who fall apart under the pressure, and we all watch our kids closely for signs of beyond-the-normal suffering.)

Here in Amman, Ambassador Jones has made a tradition of presenting the medals and certificates to the children in a formal ceremony at his house. (Perhaps because he has kids and has done the UT thing himself? At any rate, he and his wife have been incredibly supportive of the UT families throughout his tenure, and not everyone can say that about their Ambassador!) And so it happened that earlier this month, we received an invitation to attend this event with the 4 other UT families here at post.

The Ambassador gave a thoughtful little speech, directed at the kids, letting them know that he knows each of their parents personally and appreciates the work they are doing. It was a nice speech. Then each child got to take a picture with him. Ainsley was shy at first, but then turned all stalker-like and wouldn't leave him alone. Apparently shaking his hand was so fun the first time around that she needed to do it again. And again. And....

Also: Ainsley happened to be studying the concept of "abstract art" in school that week. I told her that the Ambassador and his wife have some beautiful artwork on their walls thanks to the "art in embassies" program, so she galloped right in and demanded to see their abstract art. She marched from one wall to the next, pointing out all of the abstractness like a little museum docent gone mad. This was right before she started her compulsive handshaking. I'm pretty sure the Ambassador and his wife collapsed into spasms of laughter the moment the door shut behind us at the end.

Afterwards, we all hung around and made ice cream sundaes topped with m&ms and other awesome kid fare.

Well, not all of us hung around. Seamus and his friend G were late for a baseball game, so as soon as they got their certificates, they grabbed their sundaes to go and took off with coach Uhh-Ron. We caught up later, because you know me, I never miss a chance to hang at the Dirt Pit!

Anyway. It was a lovely afternoon, and while I'm not sure if my youngest kids understood why we were there, I know the older ones did.  

The whole family posing for pictures.

K with her UT besties. No photo of her with the Ambassador, alas.  She was too quick and it came out too blurry.

Please. Write your own stuff.