Friday, June 28, 2013

No words

Friends of ours experienced a unique loss today: after a week of being parents, they had to return a baby to a social worker because the birth mother asked for him back.  I'm crying for them as I write this, and if you have the strength, you can read their experience here:

Our friends have had to jump through hoops to become parents and, in the process, buried two babies.  Concurrently since the very end of 2012, her seventh pregnancy and adoption proceedings both tenuously progressed - each day alternate ways of becoming parents appearing more likely, but no guarantees.

Imagine their surprise a week ago when they brought home the adopted baby and it seemed like they really would have "twins."  I no doubt they had the strength (and stamina!) to take on that responsibility.  As if fate or divine intervention or whatever you wish to call it had meant for those two boys to be with this couple, one natural born and one adopted, both loved endlessly.

We were supposed to go meet Aleki tomorrow and celebrate his arrival - and Hiva's continued pregnancy - with them.  Instead, I know they must feel a very unique grief right now which I can't imagine.  I gave my own children an extra hug at bedtime, being thankful for my simple and blessed life of three pregnancies with three baby boys, and pray that her pregnancy continues and that Tau'aho is born strong and healthy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The "R" Word

Friends in Manila will laugh ... but I'm talking about "routine," not the other "r" word against which the Embassy had a campaign.

A few months ago I wrote about dreading the change in "routine" and if a "routine" could ever really exist in our family since we basically have six months of mayhem from the pre-pack craziness, the pack out, the home leave, then initial settling in, the readjusting to a new pace of work, the (still anticipated) arrival of our stuff ("house hold effects or HHE in the FS lingo), all the way to the start of school in two months.  We didn't need to go to the parent education gathering at Patch's new school this evening to know that kids crave routine.  We can speak from experience that a lack of routine is driving them nuts.

Case in point. Wm has decided to take control routine where he can get it.  By decree from my child-dictator, bed time routine must be: brush teeth, go to bathroom, get in pjs, (read story if not too tired), 39 pats on his back (yes, 39 precisely), hug only (no kiss), sleep.  No variance permitted.  With so much craziness and change, I can't blame him, even though, honestly, the degree to which he wants to follow this routine borders on compulsive, with dire consequences if it can't be followed.

I found myself telling a coworker today that I wished he could be a bit more flexible, so we could all go to a friend's house for dinner, for example, and I wouldn't have to stress out that we needed to leave by 7 or 7:30 at the latest so that I could avoid an evening meltdown from varying from the decreed bedtime routine.

My coworker's response? "Well, Pam, I don't have kids or a husband - so I'm no expert on these things - but if that's the only thing your son is telling you, considering you have moved him around the world every two years of his life, I'd say he's pretty flexible."  TOUCHE!  Thanks to coworkers for helping me keep things in perspective.  And reminding me that when we can't have a big picture routine, the little routines become all that much more important.  Even if I do find that "r word" bordering on burdensome.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Observations on America: DC Metro Area and Accessibility

I was in a meeting last week with a woman heading out into the field -- she had asked a group of think tank types to brief her on changes in the country to which she was headed.  Though she had just left the country three years ago, she said: "the danger in returning to a place you have been is that you think you know it and don't recognize that in your absence the country had changed."

That comment struck a chord with me as we've been adjusting to being back in the good old US of A.  Which got me thinking that I'm in a pretty good place right now to observe what has changed (for the good and the bad) while we've been gone for 4.5 years, with only minor vacations home.  And perhaps that, dear readers, can provide the interesting cultural commentary side of the blog (interspersed with the usual parenting and child rambles) during this domestic tour.

My first observation from two weeks of commuting on metro is the accessibility of the DC metro area.  I know from friends with kids with special needs that the area (like anywhere) is not universally accessible to people with disabilities and advocates strongly push for further increased access.  But, especially after my time abroad, I am struck by how many people with visible disabilities (mobility, visual and hearing impaired are outwardly observable in many instances) independently move around the city.  I'm sure the constant change in elevator outages on metro annoy them to no end, but I really admire their independence. And, honestly, feel a bit of pride for my fellow citizens who occasionally - and tactfully - lend a helping hand in a friendly way when someone is looking for it.

I had partly wondered why disability access was part of the congressionally mandated annual Human Rights Report; I personally (previously and privately) felt like this issue could be addressed elsewhere.  But, now, observing how an accessible transit system (for all its flaws) has facilitated independence for many persons with disabilities, I get it.  And for anyone out there wondering if the money spent and regulations passed in this country to ensure accessibility are worth it, I vote that they are - beyond just being a "nice" thing to do, but because living life to the fullest is a human right. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Leaving Montessori

Sadly, since we couldn't find a house near the DCPS charter Montessori school within our size needs and price budget - and since we don't have $25,000 in the budget for private school - Wm will be rotating out of the Montessori curriculum and joining Montgomery County public schools.  To be specific, joining MCPS isn't sad - just leaving Montessori is. And, he'd have to make the switch eventually, but if we could have, we would have delayed it at least three years (one Montessori "cycle" is three years).

We were reluctant Montessori parents; it was not a curriculum we sought out - but we were strong converts after seeing Wm blossom and really love his school and learning. I brought some parents for observation in his classroom, but those used to "normal" play-based curriculums thought it was a little crazy, with very little group work, minimal direction from the teacher, no assessments other than teacher observation, etc. I found myself on the defensive quite often, much to my surprise. But, the classroom moves at the child's pace, helps a child set order to his life himself, and shows kids through a mixed-age environment how children of differing abilities can harmoniously co-exist. His class was so peaceful.

As I started to explain how a normal US public school classroom worked, Wm had all sorts of questions: What do you mean all the kids need to do the same thing at the same time? What if one kid is in a math mood but it's language arts time? What if one kid needs more time to finish a work or another kid finishes up more quickly? What if at the end of the year one kid is good at math but isn't good at reading yet - how do you know if that kid can go to the next level? His list went on, and I had some answers.

Wm's initial verdict? "That sounds like a silly school. I think we should go back to Seafront so you can send me to my own school where kids can learn what they're in the mood for and it's OK to take extra time if you need it - or go faster if you want to." At least when it comes to that, I have to agree with him, but come August 26, we all will be adjusting whether we like it or not. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Back to the real world

I was thinking how special home leave is, and then a Foreign Service friend emailed me the same thought, so I thought I'd share: during home leave, we are utterly unplugged from work. 100%. No ifs, ands or buts.  I suppose in an emergency, my "losing" post and my "gaining" post both have my personal email - but since my successor has already arrived in Manila, and my predecessor is still in DC, there is no need.

Not to mention, I have absolutely zero access to work email and using personal email for work stuff is highly frowned upon (no surprises there, right?). My account has been in limbo since April 30. No Blackberry. No valid log on. NOTHING.

How many working professionals these days can take an enforced communication-free vacation?  My guess is very few. Which makes me thankful that Congress mandates home leave.*

Of course it comes with its own quandaries: where to stay? how to fill all that time, especially when your kids move so much they don't know anyone in the USA? How much to spend on what? How to divvy time between different family visits that have been deferred the last two or three years we've been gone? The list goes on, with no right answer to any question - and even what worked this time will be different in a few years when our family situation is different.

Sometime this week, though, bliss will end. I am taking an assignment in DC and becoming a bureaucrat again. I will be expected to regularly check my Blackberry at all times, I suspect. Boundaries between personal and work will fuzz over. And I will have to wait for the break before my next overseas assignment before I can unplug again. *sigh*

(*Home leave is technically mandated only for back-to-back overseas assignments, to reacquaint FS officers with the USA. Since I'm going to a US-based assignment, it is optional. Due to staffing situations at my losing and gaining post, I was able to take such a long vacation by adding on some annual leave to home leave.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Our new house is near a fire station, which is VERY COOL if you are three and six. VERY VERY COOL. Two weeks in, they still rush to the window every time time a truck goes by to check if it is the ladder truck, the pumper engine, the EMS, or what combination there of. On big days, the area chief's suburban also joins the parade. This morning, a minor head on collision occurred right on the street in front of us -- so of course we were all out on the street watching the truck help sort it out until the police arrived. Did I mention how COOL watching fire trucks is?

We have to pass the fire station to walk to the grocery store, so usually Wm agrees to walk to the grocery store if we make a side stop to check out the trucks. Yesterday, one of the firemen came out to chat a bit, and we talked about moving here from Manila. After we left the fire station, Wm started talking about his best friends from his school in Manila, wondering if they understood that he was never coming back and if they "got it" now why they couldn't come to his birthday party - after all, it wasn't that he didn't want to invite them, but he now lives in a different city.

And then he declared he wasn't going to the grocery store and turned back home. When we got to the front step, I gently asked if he went home because he was sad missing his friends - which he readily admitted. Then he stood on the front step a minute or two and said, "well, even if I'm sad, I guess I can still go to the store."  So we walked back to the store, skipping the fire station this time, did our shopping (all I needed was a green pepper -- but this took about 45 minutes, though I couldn't complain), and I wasn't sure exactly what would be next. However, the rest of the evening was non-eventful.

This morning, Wm came down dressed in the "I *heart* Manila" t-shirt his teacher gave him as a parting gift. I commented, "nice shirt, kiddo," and he replied, "I was sad yesterday missing Manila, so this shirt makes me happy." Thankful for a teacher's gift - and thankful for a kid who is starting to develop his own coping mechanisms for our constantly changing life. Really lucky on both fronts, honestly. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Two weeks to find Ordinary

The time it took us to unpack five of six shipments and fix the immediate needs of our new house. 

Our new house, BTW, is great. Maybe I'll always look for a house this way -- think about my objective criteria and then have someone else do the shopping!  Except, I don't actually plan to shop for another house for 20 years.  While most people I speak to are aghast we even considered this, through some Foreign Service blogging friends, I've discovered what we did is not uncommon at all.  I knew the FS has forced some quick decisions on getting hitched, but had no idea how many people had done what we did for the house. Once again, I contemplate the weird life we live that seems completely normal to us, but, in reality, is not -- emphasizing again that "normal" and "weird" are relative words.

I digress.  Today is the first day we could spend doing "ordinary" things.  Perhaps appropriate since the sermon at the local parish church we visited today (Grace Episcopal - I think we'll stick with it) was about how today is the start of the "ordinary" church season (no more special days until Advent, just endless Sundays after Pentecost) and we should take the time to reflect on our "ordinary" faith. Perfect timing for that reminder, since we need to start thinking about what will be our "ordinary" life. 

Our first ordinary day started with simple chores around the house, church at 10:30, lunch with family friends from Manila who have returned from DC, Wm and Greg going to a USA v. Germany soccer game while I stayed home with napping boys and catching up with our Manila friend, then - since boys from both families were having fun - ordering in Chinese and steak subs after the soccer game.  Except for collapsing a pile of boxes, not much unpacking-related work at all. 

More on home leave and the house later, but tonight, I'm relishing in the ordinariness of the day, signing off, and going to bed by 9:30.