No Backsies

Husband tells me from time to time that I’m a much better writer when I write more often.

Thanks, I think.

To be fair, he knows the only way I’ll take a compliment is if it’s hidden somewhere behind an insult.

On New Year’s Day, my mom stayed with the kids and Husband and I went to the outer burbs to run a nice little 5K. Mom kindly said not to rush, so we followed up with a drinkie brunch and a quick trip to a certain store that is known for it’s ridiculous fashion shows that involve very little apparel and, inexplicably, wings. I said I didn’t want to buy anything, but maybe I should pop in and see what’s there because I probably need some more stuff.

Husband heartily agreed, and went even further, using words like “homeless” to describe my current state of affairs. When I stopped guffawing at how hilariously insulting it was, I was momentarily flattered. Eight years of marriage, and he still cares. I said as much, and he repeated words like “homeless.”

That was a detour. I’m a better writer when I write more.

For those of you who who have met me in person, you know I jabber. I fill my division’s row of cubicles with chatter. When imbibing, I’m a happy chatterer. Occasionally a cartwheeler. I’m strangely quiet for large chunks of time at home. Partly I’m talked out.

Partly I’m comfortable.

Chatterers seem social and friendly and other nice words for “talkative.” We are, I guess, but I think I’m not alone in chat as nervous tick. Not always. Sometimes I’m just chatty. Sometimes I don’t know what to say, so I say everything. Some nights I turn over a choice phrase from earlier in the day/the week/the month/the year/my life and wish I hadn’t said that. I calculate whatever damage must have been inflicted on whatever relationship was involved: friendship, work, family, all of the above. I’m certain it’s a death knell for my career, my social life, my whatever.

When recently asked if I’d limit myself to phone calls or email for all eternity, I chose email. The backspace button is awfully handy.

I don’t worry too much about my marriage. I know I can ask to take back the wrong word, and he’ll let me. I don’t fill the blank space with talk. Don’t need to.

I just last week said no resolutions for 2015. I’m going to be zen, etc. Well, like most Americans, I have now broken my resolution and it’s only the second week of January. I’m going to try to simply do more. More writing. More running. More listening. More breathing. More forgiving.

I’m better at those things when I do them.

Onward, Interfaith Soldier(s)

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In 2006, or the earliest minutes of 2007, Husband and I toasted our paper marriage. A few days earlier we had strolled into the Mayor’s administrative office in Seoul, paid 10,000 won, and signed some stuff, all on his lunch hour. I was visiting from Tel Aviv. Though our proper wedding–our real anniversary–would be four months later, that winter holiday in 2006 and the earliest of early 2007 was the Start of Life. Not that I wasn’t alive before–I was! I certainly was!–but that lunchtime outing lead to a PCS to Seoul, a child, another child, a dog, another dog, a move a move a move a move punctuating those events. So many moves. Tattoos and motorcycles and last minute risks and a fair amount of creative destruction.

At the time of the above photo, we only had two cats and so many plans.

The past eight years have been both an entire life and a blur and I don’t know how or why those things coexist so completely, but they do. A whole lifetime in 8 years.

In previous years, I have accounted for the passing calendar year and planned for the next. I don’t even know where to start with 2014 and even though I have approximately 8 hours left, I don’t know where it ends. Where are we? What are we doing? What’s next? As 2014 broke, we fervently hoped that Husband would return safely from Afghanistan (check, thank God, check) and that somehow we wouldn’t leave Denver. But here we are. I’ve grappled with more than my fair share of existential questions this year. Who am I? What am I? Am I a Mother? Am I a failed brain? An ambitious bureaucrat? A tragically unambitious diplomat?

It doesn’t matter. What beautiful, excessive privilege to spend so much time navel-gazing. I could be more successful, slimmer, stronger, healthier, smarter, savvier. I could be more likable. I could be single and childless and adventurous. I could have two more children and care for them full-time. It doesn’t matter. How did I get here? Why am I here? What else could I be doing? Bah. Unless “here” is “in jail,” it’s not a super useful question. I am here, and the only challenge is to acknowledge those truly sacred moments when all your senses and self-doubt tell you they are not sacred at all. That’s where the life is.

So in 2015, I have no plans. Not really. In a sacred moment of marriage–a display of trust and faith and partnership, of asking and receiving–Husband and I agreed that he will join Diplomatic Security at the end of January. Another orientation, another flag day, two more directed assignments. A new type of Tandemhood. When people ask how we came to this decision, I have answers, but it boils down to this:

It doesn’t matter. We made a decision. We have no idea where this will take us. We have no plans. And we have a lot more than two cats.

The Space Between

Husband has been in Africa for two weeks and will be gone for a few more days. aside from a brief jaunt, this is the first time he’s been gone gone since he returned from Afghanistan in the spring. The kids and I were in the zone when he was on his unaccompanied tour, or at least I think we were. I think we were in the zone the way I think labor and delivery was the best part of pregnancy with Girl. If I pause, I’d have to admit that doesn’t sound like it is actually true.

The zone, in case you were wondering, is where you are surviving. Game face on, emotions off, just do this thing. We just got into the zone a couple days ago this time around. Work is a complicating factor, and getting both kids up*, fed, dressed, down the stairs, into the car, and off to pick up our carpool makes mornings much less pleasant than they might otherwise be. Two drop-offs and approximately 15 minutes late to work. That’s my morning.

But weekend mornings. Oh! The best. Baking and pjs and fall adventures. Walks and playgrounds and pumpkin painting. Magic shows and homecoming.

Come Monday mornings I feel sad and just a little bit empty. I wasn’t exactly a rockstar SAHM. My dining table had piles on it; the front yard was always cut but the backyard not so much; I lost my patience just a little too quickly. Sometimes, if I’m honest, I didn’t want to play tea party. I just wanted to play candy crush. And so I did. Scandalous.

alright, dear readers, i kid you not–the shift key on my terrible keyboard just died on me. no more capital letters for you1. dammit. or exclamation points.

at any rate, not a great sahm. these great fall weekends remind me how much i miss my children. there is just no squeezing a day’s worth of fun into the couple hours that bookend the work day.

so now is as good a time as any, and perhaps even a better time than most, to give you a mercifully comment-free photo spree of our weekends in the zone.

husband comes back on halloween. i am ready.

*Ha! Boy gets Boy up. At 4:45.
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Unread

Whoa. Where have I been? On exotic, taxpayer-funded junkets, wearing pinstripes and pushing them cookies? No, my friends, I have been in Washington, where I have gone from fearing that my two relatively calm countries would amount to ten minutes a week of work to–at the peak so far–covering 29 posts. In case you were wondering, that is a lot of posts, with a lot of phone calls, and a lot of emails.

Since I arrived at this position fresh off an extended break from work, I figured that I should improve my habits when I return. Manage the inbox. Fill out HR forms on time. Dry my hair before work. I did all those things. Really. For about three weeks.

My inbox has 2500+ emails in it. I have at least one overdue form. And you know, my hair is almost completely dry by the time I pull into the garage, though thoroughly wild.

If someone in Washington shows me a neatly organized email system, I will accuse them of being married to their Blackberry or well-versed in the Dark Arts, because there is no other explanation. You get on one distribution list for one crisis, and all control is lost. There’s no coming back from it. Once you add in posts that are awake when you are asleep, Ops alerts, and press briefing readouts, well–you’re swamped. I do what I can with the flag system: if I flag it, I respond before COB. That worked great until the two weeks I found myself covering four portfolios, and then I fell immediately behind. It was all about the triage, and for the record it’s very hard to draft/clear/provide guidance on a super-duper burning topic via email when you are answering a million phone calls while trying to look up the related case on software that just. keeps. crashing. There have been more than a few moments when I just wanted to yell at the phone and the computer and will them, just will them, to stop so I could catch up.

The phone and computer remain undeterred, and the software gives no craps about my work needs.

That said, I think I like it. I don’t like happy to gladding, a phenomenon well known by government drafters around the globe. I don’t particularly like having our software shanghai efforts to get a repat done on time. I do like the hum and even some days, the craze. I like that despite how much easier it would make my work, I have declined to take a Blackberry. We have duty officers and they know what they’re doing. Constant connection may make my work easier, but it would certainly make life harder, so I won’t do it.

Full disclosure: I’m calling one of my posts in 20 minutes. On a Friday night.

But no Blackberry.

Pause

Tomorrow Boy and I embark on his birthday adventure: a trip to New York. We’re catching an early train and hitting all the sights sure to wow a six (6!) year old boy: the Intrepid, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and more. Girl is sad, and woefully declares that she just can’t wait until she’s six.

I’m excited to show him one of my favorite cities, now that he’s old enough to start appreciating it. And I’m excited for the secrets he and I will share, this adventure just between us. I don’t know how much he’ll remember. Six years is not a lot of years, and my own first grade year is fuzzy at best. Will he remember seeing the city from 80 stories up? Will he remember what a real aircraft carrier looks like? I don’t know. He doesn’t remember the Taj Mahal, or the train we took to get there. He doesn’t remember the naps on my chest, the late night nursing, the potty training. He is starting to hold on to the memories he would have let slip only a year ago. He remembers learning to ride a bike, learning to swim, learning to tie his shoes, and learning to read. He holds them a bit longer, but I know that one day those memories too will blur together into a time marked, “Childhood.” One day will become indistinguishable from the next, and when he ties his shoes he’ll do so without frustration or pride or really any notice at all. He might not remember this weekend or the skyscrapers or the aircraft carrier, but I will hold those memories close and try try try to distinguish one from another. The naps on my chest, the late night nursing, the potty training. It’s all blurred together in a time marked, “Motherhood.” I too am starting to hold on to memories that I would have let slip only a year ago. I don’t remember one bedtime any more than I remember one a year ago. One cuddle is the same as the next. I don’t know what version of our argument we had over getting socks on his feet this morning, but I remember that he started making breakfast for us when he was five. And started riding his bike and tying his shoes and reading and writing and swimming on his own. He learned to swallow pills and get a strep test and blow out for shots. All things that no doubt will soon become entirely unnoticeable.

I have 33 years of blur, and I wish so much that some of it were clearer. I don’t notice when I tie my shoes.

Five was a big year. I want to remember it. I don’t know what six will be, but I hope that in the blur of memory, maybe he’ll remember our train ride or our view from the Empire State Building or the sheer size of a carrier. Maybe, if he’s lucky, he’ll remember all three.

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The Mothership

It was a long haul east. We left Denver in the early hours on a Tuesday and pulled into our rental–until that point sight unseen–on Saturday. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday nights were spent in KOA cabins, which is how we anticipated traveling from here on out. Kitchens, bathrooms, playgrounds, dog runs, swimming pools, mini markets, and even pizza delivery, all for less than one hotel room. We spent Wednesday day and night in Iowa visiting my in-laws and letting the kids run loose for a bit. By the time we made it to Omaha on our first night of the trip, we had already noticed the change.

It was flat and humid. By Iowa, we could add buggy to the list. As a Virginian whose time abroad has brought her to humid and buggy places (surprise! both Korea and Estonia were buggier than India, but with lower stakes), I should have been prepared for this climate shift, but it still hit me in the gut a bit and made me impossibly homesick for the place I’ve only considered “home” for a mere year and a half. Husband had long told me that the sun and dry air made Colorado irresistible and everything else unbearable, and now I believe him.

The homesickness comes and goes. Some days it is overwhelming, such as when we linger a little too long after an episode of Orphan Black and our Apple TV turns to a slide show. There are the kids playing on their swing set. Our teal living room. Girl’s five (count ’em five!) windows. The porch. Oh that porch. You can sit on the porch for three seasons a year when you don’t have mosquitoes to contend with. I miss that porch. Our street. Boy’s school.

The kids have adjusted to daycare quite well. Boy marches around, chest puffed out, leading the small gaggle of 3 year old girls who comprise his class. Three year old girls are his target demographic. It’s like a bunch of little sisters, and he is their fearless leader. He doesn’t feel threatened by them, or frustrated. He wants more siblings and now I can see why. With any luck he’ll start first grade in September as successfully as he’s mastered his summer care.

Girl does all right, as Girl has been known to do. She still misses her old school and her old teachers. She cried the other night for a friend from Denver. We made the mistake of telling her we will live in Denver again, meaning of course that someday, yes, we will return. She’s latched onto that, and expects our return to be imminent, just around the corner. We’ve had to dial back our open conversation of homesickness, because it just feeds hers. She soldiers on.

Returning to work has been both maddening and comforting. Until this point I have never, not ever, been able to leave for the office without worrying that Boy will have done something horrendous in school before pick-up time. Some child will be bitten. Some car will be thrown. Now I don’t worry. It seems luxurious. I don’t spend my day at the office dreading a phone call. I don’t Google other childcare alternatives, just in case they pull the plug on this one.

Which is good, because it took me a week to get a logon to the system. After it took me a whole day to get a badge (in my current name, which has been my name for the past seven years, the name on my last badge.) But don’t worry, it may take me an entire month to get paid. No biggie! Just paying DC daycare prices for two kids, a mortgage in Denver, and rent in Arlington! Take your sweet time, State.

I was stomping around, expressing my frustration at all this, when Husband blinked at me and asked, “Did you think it had all gotten better in the year you’ve been gone?” Fair point.

Never change, Federal Employer, never change.

Things are looking up. Come next week I may have a parking spot in our building, which is just a magical Washington perk. Those never happen. I may have the unicorn of employee benefits. Unlike many of my DC-based colleagues, I have reasonable work hours. I can choose to make them unreasonable, but I’m not going to do that this time around. Husband works two minutes from our house, so he helps me get the kids out the door and has dinner ready for us when we return from our 20 minute drive home. As far as DC logistics, that’s as good as we can get. I’m not going to mess it up.

And for Washington versus the field: well, I’m learning as I go. Washington is more legalistic and by the book, for sure. Lots of paper. The field just has to get it done with what they have, which can lead to some shrugging and Sorry not sorry moments. I think both have their merits, and in tandem they work well to balance the needs of a bureaucracy controlled by law and regulation, as all bureaucracies must be, and the very real needs of operating far away in a place that gives no cares about your regulations with an emergency standing right in front of you. One end of the process might roll its eyes or shake its fist at the other, but without the balance nothing would get done. Or everything would get done, but it would be done all wrong.

That’s what I have. We are together in Washington. We miss Denver. We are figuring it out.