Tuesday, April 30, 2013

24 hours later, life upside down

I often wonder what being in the foreign service was like before telephones, internet - and airplanes.  I was an expat kid before the advent of the internet, so I remember aerogram letters and phone calls costing $5/minute. But I was in Tokyo -- with highly reliable mail delivery and telephone systems, obviously.  What would it have been like being in a more remote location?  Perhaps over homeleave I'll try and search out a good memoir to read.

While somewhere over the Pacific Ocean today, I thought a lot about how airplanes must have changed foreign diplomacy.  Certainly lots has been written about Kissinger's "shuttle diplomacy" - and some has been written on how any government official can get on the plane and go (or read CNN), so we're in the process of sorting out what is the "value add" for even posting diplomats overseas. I could write on that, but that's not what was crossing my mind today.

Today, I was thinking about my family and how - in 24 hours - we left behind, perhaps (likely) forever, a place we lived for two  years. I can't say the flight passed in the blink of an eye, but it did go rather quickly considering all the emotions I needed to sort through when leaving.  In years past - ie, before traveling with three kids five and under - I might have used that time to write in a journal, documenting parting feelings. At my current stage, I felt lucky to have a quiet hour on the plane with all three boys sleeping to acknowledge that leaving is complicated and I still needed to sort through it all. (Thought ended there - flight attendant then shook me and Greg to tell us that Wm's foot was in the aisle. REALLY?!? Food, beverage, and duty free were over - 85% of the plane is sleeping - and she thinks I'm going to wake up a kid who has finally fallen asleep because his foot has slipped under the armrest and is partially in the aisle?)

If I ever get posted to Europe (doesn't seem to be where my career track is headed, but never say never!), I'm going to look into returning from post on a cruise ship. I could stomach 7 nights in transit.  Jet lag transition should be non-existent (right? it's called "jet lag" for a reason) and it would give time to slowly let go of the old place before having to face the new.  An airplane PCS is like ripping off a bandaid.

Or, maybe we'll get posted to Tokyo soon - and maybe I'll be able to save up vacation - and try the 13 night cruise (Tokyo-Vancouver) I just found online.  Then I could actually experience the foreign service in the not-so-distant past before jet planes.

For now, life is just a little upside down, starting with sleeping. Baby went to sleep at 7, and I followed. He was up at 10 and it's now 1:30 and he's still going strong. I'll leave Greg to take care of the other two.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Good bye thoughts from Bishop Jones

(disclaimer - blogging from iPad is super annoying)

Last Sunday at church. Thankfully, Bishop Jones was preaching and - even better - he was near the top of his game come sermon time. Rambling, for sure - that's de facto for a brilliant priest pushing 75 - but a careful listen yeilded some chuckles and gems to take with me "on my journey," as he says nearly every Sunday.

Meditation number one: Be an icon of love in the world, making an impact to mitigate its harshness, evil and injustice. This really resonated with me because of the portfolio I am wrapping up at work (human rights issues, including extrajudicial killings, trafficking in persons, and child labor). The portfolio is quite weighty, and the victims need love.  They need justice, too, but love can perhaps heal more.

He said this in the context of marriage and children. He officiated a wedding yesterday. His foster daughter (whom he and his late wife adopted later in the child's life) recently passed away. The rambling about a new commitment and the love needed to reach hurting children produced the meditative thought above. Eloquent and worth thinking on - just had to listen closely.

Timely comment: We dread the termination of anything beautiful in our lives.  Such a simple and obvious statement, yet so true. And so timely since our family is nearing an extreme terminus. We haven't fallen in love with the Philippines, but we've certainly found beauty, both in scenery when travelling domestically and in our coworkers. Ian was baptized in that church, so it will hold a special spiritual beauty for us - acknowledging the termination of that relationship brought tears at the end of the service.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Three boys, three personalities

Obviously each kid has his own personality.  I wouldn't expect anything less.  I'm wondering if, when they're older, I'll be able to look back and find out that certain aspects of their personalities were apparent in their different ways of falling asleep. 

Wm screamed himself to sleep from 6 months through nearly 4 yrs old.  You might think I'm exagerating, but I'm not.  Please ask my mother in law who after two nights visiting us in Manila said, "I finally figured out what is different about this house. Wm goes to sleep without screaming.  What a difference it makes!"  I concur having lived through over three years of a minimum of 15 minutes (and norm of 30 to 45) of top-of-the-lungs screaming. We tried many methods, finally concluding nothing worked.  My guess is that it was his way of relieving a day's stress.  I'm glad he's found other ways now that he's older.

#2, on the other hand, loves sleep.  Still does.  Until he was about 3, going to sleep was a breeze -- as a baby, once we changed his diaper, put on pjs, and showed him his bed, he would dive for it.  We'd have to be paying attention or he would lean out of our arms toward the crib so strongly, he might fall out of our arms missing the crib.  While he still easily goes to nap, bedtime right now is a bit of a struggle - but if he has a book and a little light, usually he'll "read" until he's ready.

I'm still trying to figure out the baby.  He hasn't fallen naturally into a nap pattern, unlike the big two.  Which means no pattern at bedtime, either.  Some nights he'll nurse to sleep.  Some nights he needs a swaddle, paci, and Greg swaying for 20 minutes, not wanting me anywhere near. 

Tonight was different yet again.  Greg is at the airport dropping off Bagwelle, so I have all three at bedtime on my own.  Wm and Patch were getting a little out of hand, so I turned off the lights and put Ian in his crib to tend to the other two.  I could hear him making noise - not really crying, but not really happy either.  Thirty minutes later, with big brothers settled, I went to check on him and found him peacefully asleep. 

My prediction? #1 will be strong willed with committed emotions.  #2 will be easy going and chill.  #3 will be constantly looking for the new and different.  Perhaps I should print out this post and put it in their baby boxes - and when they have kids of their own, see how my predictions turned out.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This time next week

I will be on an airplane, about half way through what will likely be the second worst day in my life.  The first worst will always be our PCS (permanent change in station) from HYD.  The extreme trauma and sadness of leaving dear friends, the incomprehension of the airline making us repack five carry ons into seven, the frustration when an immigration official tried to tell us we (and the entire US consulate staff) were in the country illegally and we couldn't leave, the frantic run to get on our plane, the lack of sleep of two toddlers over 24 hours, a miserable connection in Frankfurt, a child wetting an airplane seat, the glare from the lady in front of me an hour before landing in Houston when my child started screaming (for the first time in 27 hours of transit).

I almost shouted at that lady that she had no idea what my family had just been through, and who was she to judge a crying three year old?  But, I resisted, disembarked, and collapsed into my mother in law's Accord for the three hour drive to Austin.  Knowing how bad it can be - and knowing that our kiddos were fantastic travelers on more recent Manila-U.S. flights - has obliterated my fear of the upcoming PCS.  But leaving a place is always hard -- even if we are going "home" to the house we have yet to see -- so I still anticipate it being the second worst day.

The house is packed out.  My last cable is out for clearances.  We've started the highly lengthy check out process (39 signatures required).  Bagwelle flies out Friday.  Our car has already arrived in MD.  Still trying to stay in the present, but it's becoming increasingly harder.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pack out!

The moving cycle continues. Third pack out of our FS life (well, one could say fourth, I guess, since Greg and I had separate pack outs the first time around).  The last two pack outs were highly organized activities with color-coded post-its marking everything, a pre-test of our suitcases traveling with us, and a room completely closed to movers.  (Really, would you expect anything less?)

This time?  I went on an all-expense paid beach vacation the weekend before packers came.  And the weekend before that?  We spent four days in Baguio.  So, organizing?  Pretty slim.  In fact, practically non-existent. 

I told myself: we're going to America! Where I can buy anything I need. Where I have already scheduled my storage lot delivery. Where my family and friends live near by to loan me things until the shipments arrive.  

More to the point, I was tired of organizing. Perhaps because of those aspects, I couldn't summon up my usual organizing inner drive.  And I decided to wing it. 

We returned from Palawan three hours late and spent a frantic two hours sorting out our closets and throwing things for our air shipment onto the sofas.  The next morning we woke up and continued the frenzy for another hour until the movers came.   You know what?  It was fine!  Though, we’ll see if I say the same on the other end J  I do have to remind myself that if I’m not going to America, perhaps I do need to revert to my normal self.

Our house keys were almost packed, and a library book was actually packed (costing one mover guy an hour to search for it – he found it in the second big air freight box he checked).  Otherwise, no horror stories to my knowledge.  Again, truth comes on the other end.

I have a small jewelry pouch made by my sister in law when I was in high school containing sentimental jewelry – a necklace with three hearts from my best friend at each school I attended (elementary, middle and high) which I wore practically every day from ages 10 to 18 (adding hearts at each move), a chain with my grandpa’s baby ring, and a pair of my great grandmother’s earrings, to name a few.  Low in monetary value but high in emotional content.  The last time I saw it was just before pack out of our temporary apartment in Rosslyn.  I realized it was missing after about two months in Manila. 

For two years, I’ve been hunting around my house, hoping I’d find it.  About 18 months in, I gave up.  I harbored a hope that it had accidentally been sent to storage or might turn up as we packed out … but realistically prepped myself that a mover somewhere along the way had slipped it into his pocket and I’d never see it again.

Imagine my happy surprise when, checking in a box at the very back of my closet with Greg’s near and dear possessions (some baseball cards, his tassel from his college cap), I found the pouch at the bottom!  And quickly put it in the drawer with my (monetarily) valuable jewelry to carry on the plane.  I may have teared up a bit. Just maybe J

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Teaching Manners and Responsibility

Teaching proper manners and self responsibility is something parents around the world struggle with, I'm sure -- but I think rearing children in the developing world with loving nannies whose culture and training is to do everything for the child complicates a difficult task.  Don't get me wrong - going to work each day is made easier by having the loving nannies at home.  But, we not only have to work at teaching our children - but also teaching the nanny (in cultures where direct criticism is not well taken).

I admit - I've often taken the path of least resistance, letting nanny be a nanny how she thinks is right and throwing my hands up when my child doesn't act the way I actually think he should.  And then suffer from extreme embarrassment on home leave and R&R when back in the USA where actions such as a three year old expecting an adult to feed him or a five year old refusing to clean up his toys are completely unacceptable.

After three months of (nanny-free) prego-vac, followed by immediately finding out (ie, on landing in Manila) that our next assignment would be DC, I plucked up the energy to commit to being a better parent.  After a few months, we've finally established a dinner routine with Wm actually sitting at the table with us (sometimes for as long as 30 minutes) and clearing his own plate.  They're getting better at cleaning up their toys.  And the nanny now understands the concept of time out.

Tonight, Patch surprised me.  We had finished his nightly episode of Octonauts, and he was running from the living room towards the kitchen (ie, the opposite direction of the bathroom to brush his teeth).

Exasperated, I barked out, "Patch, what are you doing? Brush teeth!"

Equally exasperated, he huffed back, "Mama, I need to put my sippy cup in the sink and the sink is THAT WAY!"

I apologized and thanked him :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Travelogue: Baguio

Getting there: Drive from Manila.  Friends who have left at 4AM say it has taken as little as four hours, but leaving between 6:30 and 7:30 AM (both directions), it took us about six.  The first two to three hours from Manila is on a relatively well built highway (NLEX and SCTEX), but then you have to go through towns on McArthur Hi-Way.

Of course, the towns afford some interesting views, so it's not terrible -- unless you get stuck going 10 km/h behind a tricycle (or even worse, a pedicab) whose driver refuses to pull over to the side so you can pass.  The construction to add a second lane both directions on McArthur Hi-Way is almost complete.  The last 30 minutes is on Kennon Road - a twisty turvy drive up into the mountains.

Where to stay: If you are a foreign service officer - or directly employed by Embassy Manila - there's no where else to stay except the Ambassador's Residence!  The residence itself has seven rooms (some with shared and some with private baths) - but if you have kids, the cottage (sleeps 6 to 11) or the cabin (sleeps 4 to 6) are a better bet.

What to do: With kids, a must do is Burnham Park.  You can boat and rent bikes, and there's a good playground, too
Other sights include Baguio Cathedral, Mines View Park (take coins for a wishing well and take your photo dressed in Ifugao costumes - which my children refused to do), exploring the pine forests at Camp John Hay, BenCab Museum and nearby Tamawan Park (we didn't make it to either)
Where ever you go, be prepared for the hills - and even better if you have a brother to help you along

What to buy: Even Greg said that he found the shopping in Baguio worthwhile - so that's saying something.  Check out the Baguio City Market to experience a clean - and functional - city market.  We bought super sweet strawberries for $3/kilo, santols for 50 cents/kilo, broccoli for $1 for three heads.  Our nanny stocked up on some short sized brooms and hit the ukay-ukay (second hand) clothing stores to get some winter things  to bring to the U.S.

Sausages at the market (not purchased)

Mines View Park also has some great stalls - we bought textiles (e.g., three king sized lightweight blankets which we will use for top sheets at three for $22).  Narda's is a must for woven items - and we found some great sweaters for Greg and Wm. Good Shepherd Convent has famous peanut brittle and strawberry jam.  Lots of people buy hot chocolate, too -- but with our imminent departure, we didn't want to buy food.  I had wanted to check out a third textile place run by the Episcopal Church, but didn't make it, sadly.  A friend sponsored a guest pass for the Baguio Country Club so we could get the famous raisin bread.  Oh - and the obligatory Starbuck's city mug, with a sunflower!

Where to eat: We self-catered for a few meals, which is so much easier with kids.  We ate at Oh Mai Khan (mongolian bbq) and 50's Diner with kids. (plus one stop at McD's when we were starving and it was there).  Greg and I had nice dinners out at Hill Station and Cafe By the Ruins - both delicious!