Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Count from 10 to 1

Responding to an email to a friend today, who has recently gone through a similar experience (trans-oceanic move while very pregnant and husband following later), I realized that by August 10 - a mere ten days away - my outlook will likely be peachy keen. By the evening of August 10, I will have:

  • The dreaded plane flight behind me
  • Three days work experience in DC (and hopefully know the easiest way to navigate the faceless corridors of Main State efficiently to find my office and the nearest restroom without getting lost)
  • Confirmed meeting times to explore jobs I'm interested in for the next post
  • Seen that Wm and Patch are still happy to see me at the end of the day*
  • Checked in with my OB, confirmed all OK and start up the normal weekly prego last month check ins
Simple, right? All I have to do is make it through 10 days. Three days of work in Manila, two frantic weekend packing days, one miserable day on the airplane, one day to rest in DC, and then three days of work in DC. Piece of cake!

*Wm and Patch are pretty adaptable and this really is my rational expectation, even if my emotional stress level is piqued to a point right now that I don't fully believe it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Feeling unsettled ... prego-vac looms closer

The feeling was bound to descend sooner or later - I'm actually surprised it took this long. I've been pacing all evening trying to figure out what, if anything, I should be doing. After all, in six days I'm leaving for three months. During those three months I will (a) start a new temporary job on the Indonesia desk at the mother ship, (b) give birth and start to navigate the "zone defense" world of having three children, and (c) bid on my next assignment. The uncertainty of any one of those activities would cause a certain level of anxiety. I seem to like to load on the changes in heaps. After all, I found out I was pregnant and being reassigned from the consular to political section on the same day. Maybe it's only fitting I'll have the baby at the same time we're bidding on jobs. Perhaps this is an omen that this third one will thrive in the constant changing our lifestyle embraces. 

Oh - I forgot to mention other background things to think about: 
1. 29 hours on the airplane at 8 months pregnant with a 5 yr old and 2 yr old.
2. Two weeks of working while hoping that Wm and Patch behave well for my mom who is generously providing free care.
3. Being a nice big sister for my little sister's wedding on August 25 (ie, trying not to think just of me and my changes!  Umm... she's getting married. That pretty much ranks right up there with big life changes.)
4. How Wm and Patch will react - if at all - to being in the U.S. which does not qualify as "home" for them, regardless of how comforting it may be fore me. In fact, the 2-3 months Patch will spend there will precisely double the amount of time he will have spent in America. 
5. Hoping our nanny, housekeeper, and driver don't find another family to work for during their extended paid leave. Doubtful, but with so many embassy families moving here in August - and with our impending departure in April 2013 - it is a risk. 
6. That Wm won't miss out too much from being absent for two months.
7. A million other brief thoughts that flit into my mind which I banish before I start to go too crazy.

Thankfully, I'm making such good progress on my work to do list, I don't really feel worried about that anymore. Or, maybe I've just come to accept that my coworkers will, actually, manage without me - and probably do a fine job :)  

The short of it is, I feel like tonight I should be doing more to prepare. But with the suitcase of baby stuff already packed, my important must-bring papers in a neat stack by the computer, and a packing list for the rest triple checked, I just can't think of what that might be. So, instead, I wrote this post, hoping that documenting the worries might deminish them. We'll see tomorrow night if it worked. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Grocery Shopping List time!

Tonight's pre-prego-vac activity: making the grocery shopping list so my mom can have it all ready in the townhouse when we arrive. Kind of fantastic having my own personal "social sponsor." For those unfamiliar with the concept, people already at a post volunteer to be a social sponsor for an incoming family. The amount of involvement varies from family to family, depending on the relationship, but the mission critical responsibilities are (a) going grocery shopping the day before the new family arrives and (b) picking up the new family at the airport. Other added bonuses are answering questions pre-arrival, helping decipher the school situation, introducing the family to others at post, perhaps a casserole in the fridge or muffins for breakfast, taking the family out to lunch, etc.

Moving to Manila, I had the bright idea (or maybe Greg did) of saving our grocery list to Google Docs, so it was easily accessible the next move. After all, why re-invent the wheel? The staples for starting up a kitchen generally stay the same.

Giving guidance to a family that doesn't know you, who will be shopping in a city where you only have a vague idea of what is available, is pretty tricky. Especially because I, at least, don't want to sound too demanding when the family is helping out a lot. Rereading my list for Manila, I have points like:

  • Milk - whole and skim (if possible), preferably UHT and not fresh in packets, 2L each
  • cereal - unsweetened or not-to-sweet, along the lines of cheerios, mini-wheats, corn flakes, as available (if available at all)
  • chicken - prefer boneless skinless breast, but whole chicken is OK if that’s how they come

I'm revising this list for my mom to take to Safeway in Washington, DC.  I think I can safely take out all the side pointers - safely assuming that boneless skinless chicken breasts, Cherrios, and pasteurized milk are available.  And that everything on my "nice to have" list is also available! 

In fact, I think it's best that she's shopping and not me. I remember that first trip to the grocery store when we were back in DC for training. I had sort of avoided it earlier, because we had stayed with family. But after about three hours, Greg called me very nervous as to what was taking so long. I honestly answered I was just overwhelmed by the store and was coming home with only about half the list procured. The thought of having to face that huge grocery store, the day after getting off a 24 hour flight, with two jet lagged kiddos, at 8 months pregnant, could cause a nightmare if I dwelled on it too long. Better to spend the time tonight and finish the list.     

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Impending prego-vac and work...

Every day, August 6 creeps closer. I've mostly worked out the logistics of the prego-vac. Checked in with the hospital, doctor appointment confirmed for August 10. House found within commuting distance of Main State, near a park for the boys, with space for mom and mom-in-law to stay, and a manageable distance from selected hospital. Baby clothes out and washed, necessary baby gear arranged to be borrowed on arrival. Pre-departure medical check up for me scheduled. Pre-departure consultation with Wm's school scheduled. Greg's flights booked. Initial grocery list started. Not to mention a million and other one little things I've already done and forgotten about. 

But I really started stressing today when I took 30 minutes to write down my "to do" list for the next 2.5 weeks. The highlights? Send a cable on child labor after final clearance received. Draft cable on recent VIP's visit. Confirm details for a public speech by DCM on Friday. Confirm details for event for Ambassador on Saturday. Put together a starting draft schedule for a visiting speaker coming while I'm gone. Check if I can start soliciting proposals for a small grant. Review proposals for a different grant (with USAID), if the responses come in in time. Make sure to meet with five different people, of course all located in different parts of the city. Submit my reporting plan for the next 12 months. Etc. Etc. And So On. 

The fun thing is, reading the list, I realized I really do like my job - even if the list stresses me out, since I have very little time to finish it. None of the tasks seem tiresome, and I was genuinely upset when I had to decline two invitations simply because I just can't afford to be away from my desk and travel time in Manila traffic is a major consideration when accepting any invitation. 

My work to do list seems even more overwhelming right now than my home to do list. Sometimes, being a simple visa line officer has its advantages. After all, when waiting for Patch's impending birth, the only question was when to start dialing down the number of visa interviews scheduled for me and Greg, so our coworkers weren't caught off guard with 240 extra in a day. This time around, I actually need to practice saying "no" - something I've never been very good at!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Obits & FS Wives

I have a strange fascination with obituaries. In DC, I always enjoyed reading the obit featured each weekend of a regular DC area resident, usually a civil servant of some sort who, in his or her own small way, found a means to have a meaningful impact on a huge bureaucracy. Abroad, I make sure to read the obit in The Economist before the magazine can leave the house, to be reread by our driver or by someone in the embassy's American Citizen Services waiting room. Tonight, for the first time (surprisingly), I read through the obits in the Foreign Service Journal.

These I found so interesting since I'm at the relative start of my career -- the majority of the obits are for people aged 80+, so they lend insight not only to what a career with the Foreign Service might look like, but also what people do for another 20 years after retirement, having travelled the world and never really "settled" in one place. In this issue, I most enjoyed two obits for wives of officers - their ability to reinvent themselves every few years, likely for little pay (if any), astounded me. Excerpts for your reading pleasure:

Marguerite (Owens) Anderson, 92. Mrs. Anderson accompanied her husband to postings abroad for 20 years, including South Africa (where their twin sons were born), Thailand, Singapore, and Germany. Active in the community wherever she found herself, Mrs. Anderson helped start the American School in Singapore and taught fifth and sixth grade classes. She also helped start a school for Chinese women to learn home economics, and another that taught Chinese children to read. In West Berlin, Mrs. Anderson was president of the American Women's Club, chaired the American Red Cross Grey Ladies, and organized and taught English and American customs to German war brides. In addition, she chaired the "Conference of American Women's Activities in Germany." She wrote and lectured on business- and club-related activities.

The couple returned to Kensington, MD in 1960. There, Mrs. Anderson taught business courses ... and wrote a number of business-related pieces, including "How to Run a Club."  She was an active member of Business and Professional Women.

Susan Elizabeth Gilmour Callaway, 72. [...] During her husband's long career in the Foreign Service, Mrs. Callaway held several positions overseas. She taught at a private university in Caracas, tutored journalists at a major newspaper in Zagreb, continued her studies at Johns Hopkins University in Bologna, and established an SAT prep company in Rome. All the while, she also managed the responsibilities that came with being the spouse of a U.S. diplomat and raised three children.

Upon returning to the U.S., she edited the corporate newsletter for Vie de France, and then found her next passion advocating for homeless rights in Washington, D.C. at the Community Council for the Homeless. Over eight years, Mrs. Callaway championed a holistic approach to the problem of homelessness.

[back to my commentary]

Mind you, these women accomplished all this in a time without internet and Amazon.com pouch deliveries. In an era of the Foreign Service where married women could not be Foreign Service Officers and their husbands' professional evaluations included an evaluation of themselves, as well (i.e., the husband's supervisor evaluated the wife). Hats off to Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Callaway!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Total Diplomat Day

Most days the life of a diplomat are not that different from that of any other government civil servant, except that we live in strange countries. Whether on the visa line or in the political section, it's a pretty normal office job - and in today's era of budget cuts and a high level of awareness at all levels of the embassy to be good stewards of the tax money we do receive, very little of the high society cocktail reception type of stuff takes place.

Today, though, I experienced high level diplomacy first hand with the visit of Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, head of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The Philippines is serious on fighting human trafficking, and Ambassador Thomas has spoken publicly on the subject on numerous occasions, so though many back in the U.S. may have never heard of Ambassador CdeBaca -- he's a bit of a rock star in Manila.

The day's schedule: breakfast with the Secretary of Justice; round table discussion with three cabinet level secretaries and 10 other government big wigs; courtesy call with the Vice President; lunch with the various U.S. government agencies in Manila who work on trafficking; round table discussion with 7 NGOs; coffee with ambassadors from five other countries to discuss collaboration possibilities; and, finally, an art exhibition by young trafficking victims who are participating in a two year rehabilitation program (which includes art therapy).

Ending the day with the art exhibit was a brilliant suggestion by Ambassador Thomas. A long day of meetings - even with all those important people - is tiring. The girls, though, were so excited to be at the ambassador's residence and so obviously brimming with budding confidence. Their artwork was full of bright colors and hope. Talking with them provided a reminder that, even with the severity of the topic and the endless sad stories heard, all is not lost. I asked one girl why she painted a Philippine eagle, expecting an answer about it being the national bird. Her response? "Because an eagle is strong and reminds me that I can soar above to see further."

While I'm reflecting on the day's stereotypical "diplomat" meetings, the one young artist will be the one whose talk really sticks with me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mommy guilt?

I don't usually subscribe to "mommy guilt." After three months of being home with Wm after his birth, I was back at grad school asking a professor for some part time research work while I was waiting for the Foreign Service hiring process to be completed. I didn't really feel pangs of regret, either, when I went back to work after Patch was born (though the pumping part was miserable). Greg and I have taken pre-marital counseling advice to heart and do try to go out once/week with no kids and no mention of kids during the meal. Yes, this was pretty hard after Wm was first born, especially when I wasn't working and felt like my life was consumed by new baby stuff, but now that we're in the habit it's really become our "adult time."

(Side note on how I ended up keeping my mind from turning to complete baby-related mush: I used to read The Economist out loud to baby Wm. Maybe that has contributed to him being such a serious and intense kid?)

This year, though, I volunteered to be treasurer for the embassy's employee-association-run pre-school, AmeriKids. I'm not sure if it's my volunteer spirit wanting to find an outlet, a sense of encroaching "mommy guilt," my missing playing around with financials and spreadsheets, or perhaps a combination of the above, which led me into this state of insanity, but here I am.

As volunteer work goes, though, I do find the location useful. I tried hard to volunteer with a maternity birthing home for low income women, but the commute to the home (45 minutes to 2 hours as traffic was totally unpredictable) proved too much for even one Saturday a month -- I would be gone from my own home an entire day without seeing any of my boys, and then the guilt really kicked in, chilling any warm fuzzies emanating from helping people. AmeriKids, though, is co-located with my house -- and most treasurer stuff I can do one evening a week or so after I put the (two small) boys to bed -- so it fits better with our family schedule's ebb and flow.

All the same, it's hard work running a pre-school! And that's with a president who probably spends at least 10-15 hours/week (unpaid) on administration, a secretary-cum-parent-curriculum-advisor (who teaches online college biology when she's stationed overseas with her husband), and two more parent volunteers (who have full time embassy jobs) also actively involved in helping with lots of other admin odds and ends.

Whatever caused me to volunteer, I'm under no delusion that Patch will ever be aware of the effort put forth. He'll continue to have his nanny attend most of the events which happen during the day which request caregiver participation (about one per month). I might not be the mom seen often in the classroom, but I'm definitely the mom who can whip up an Excel budget like no other. (and my chocolate cupcakes aren't too bad either, even if I'm not there to see the kids devour them!) To each her own!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Day Tripper

We're still figuring out a good day trip from Manila. Wm and Patch love the ocean. You'd think living in a nation of 7,000 islands, it would be easy for us to find a good day - or even one night - trip to the beach. But, sadly, anywhere too near Manila is just too polluted to take the kiddos swimming. Even the last trip or two to Anilao was disappointing for the amount of trash floating in the water.

We tried yesterday to go to Subic for the day - at a 3 hour drive, though, it was just a bit too far. Not to mention on the way back we hit miserable traffic extending the trip to 4.5 hours! While the beach we hit (Camayan Beach Resort) was pleasant enough for the day, we just didn't get the sense that it would be worth it to stay the night. Most hotels here seem overpriced to us, on the value to money scale. So, a day trip it was.

We did have fun while there - after all, how can you not with unlimited sand to dig in and ocean to float in? We even took Bagwelle who, it turns out, loves to just sit right at the edge of the ocean so the gentle waves wash up on her belly to cool her down. And, I think I've now learned a few things critical for a fun day at the beach here, assuming we can find a place within a manageable driving distance!

1. Just pack your own towels, even if the place has an entrance fee and is labeled a resort. Pack extra for the post-swim shower, too.
2. Pack your own lunch. Again, even if a place has a restaurant, the service and food might not be that great, so better to just make the effort the night before to bring your own. Most places have a "grill area," so cookout is usually feasible. Most places also allow you to bring your own water, juice, and milk - oh, and soda and beer, too.
3. Bring your dog - she'll have fun :)
4. Better to go with a big group, so that way someone can stay in/near the cabana at all times. Not really safe to lock things up in the car or just leave them tucked in other bags.
5. Don't forget the dump truck, bug barn, and fishing net (even if just for pretend fishing) - in addition to the digging tools. Lamby and Doggie are also critical for the zonk out on the ride home, with Blue Blanket and Lightening McQueen quilt being added bonuses.

One funny story: Wm asked me to get him chicken and pork adobo for lunch. I ordered, along with a clubhouse sandwich (hold the mayo) for Greg, sauce-less chicken kabobs for Nancy, a tomato/cheese salad for sharing, and extra french fries (who doesn't like french fries after two hours of swimming?). Everything came, but the adobo. Thankfully, we were able to fix that before a total meltdown. When the guy delivered the adobo to our cabana, Wm said: "Why did you forget to bring my adobo? I was very hungry!" The waiter, surprised to see a little white kid so excited about adobo said, "Oh, do you like adobo?" To which Wm replied: "I've been in Manila a long time now. Adobo is my favorite!"

There you have it. Idlis have been replaced.