Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And So It Begins

As I sought refuge in entry to our building, hiding from the cold rain while I waited for my cab home, one of the young guards said, "Welcome to Estonia. The summer is over."

To prepare myself--or at least my lower legs--I indulged in a new pair of Frye boots. They arrived today. Good timing, apparently.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

In Defense of a Philistine

Thanks to a friend's Facebook link, I stumbled upon comedian Jason Good's brilliantly accurate blog. I did so at lunch on a day when Husband was home sick, so I proceeded to bombard his inbox with link after link after link.

It's just so true. I feel like that's our marriage with our kids. It also makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, my kid isn't that way because I'm a horrible parent. My kid is that way because all kids are that way: insane.

This entry, though, is all Me. Husband and I go round and round on this frequently. I accuse him of music snobbery; he accuses me of music ignorance. I label his music "Girl with Guitar on Stool;" he labels mine "ridiculous, without merit, and for the masses." (He is a little bit of a snob about such things). My younger brother is a landscaper/professional guitarist (it takes a while in a musician's career to lose the slash) with impeccable taste for all thing rockabilly, jazz, and old old country. Meanwhile, I heart me some TLC. I do like some "good" stuff: The Roots, Spoon, Phoenix, etc., but in general I prefer to avoid self-consciously depressing music. Why are all you people so sad? And why do you want to make me sad too? And why can you not be arsed to enunciate when you sing?

The economy is lagging, one of two major parties in our country wants "believes in evolution" to be a disqualifier, women in Congo are raped repeatedly. I don't need a hipster's angst to assault my mood any more than real life does. If it doesn't put a bounce my step or make me dance at inappropriate times and in inappropriate venues, chances are I'm not going to be too into it. This is probably a flaw and an indication of why I am no genius, let alone an artistic one, but I embrace it. If you ever need a lift, ask for a Rachel-created playlist, and I'll happily help you out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Preview: Preschool

After much fretting, we have decided on a preschool for Boy, who turned 3 a few weeks ago. We are very fortunate to have a terrific nanny, but Boy needs more interaction than he gets at home and Girl needs to be the center of attention a bit. There are kids in our neighborhood, of course, but they are largely Estonian speakers and that doesn't work so well for Nanny (or for the kids, at this point). As we prepare for this transition, I'm having a teensy bit of PTSD, flashing back to the knot in my stomach as I'd walk up the stairs to get Boy at daycare, wondering how many people he had maimed that day or how many toys he had thrown. I don't want to set him up for failure again, and I'm not sure I could take more instances of listening to how naughty and how unwelcome my little boy is. It was really awful.

To prepare Boy for preschool, we've started dropping the phrase "When you are at school..." into our conversations with him. His reaction has been swift, with declarations of, "I no go school. I bad." or "I don't like school. I stay home." The former is particularly hard to hear. It reminds me of just how much I can't screw this up for him: two bad experiences in a school setting will sour him to the entire idea, and that's a lot to undo.

This morning we took him to meet his teacher and play for an hour. The school is quite small, with about thirty kids divided amongst three classes. In the summer, one or two teachers watches a mixed-age group in the morning. It was slightly chaotic, in a mostly pleasant way--kids were playing, the teacher was interacting, etc etc. Boy loved it, begging to stay when we told him it was time to walk to the bus stop. The rest of his day went well, and he repeatedly mentioned that he liked school and wanted to go again. It was a great start.

At bedtime tonight, I optimistically, enthusiastically, and completely foolishly asked him if he was excited to start school on Monday. His answer? "I no go school. I stay home."


To My One Reader

Apparently not all the pictures are loading, even though they appear fine on all our various Apple products at home. Will remedy as soon as possible.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Head Kahekümnendat Taasiseseisvuspäeva Eestimaale!

Nanny and I strolled over to the Lauluväljak this evening to celebrate Estonia's 20th anniversary of re-independence. The nights are getting shorter by about five minutes every day, and the sun started to set around 9:30 as we left the festival grounds. In the two hours or so that we were there, we heard some great bands (check out the Latvian band Brainstorm and the Estonian band Ewert and the Two Dragons), listened to President Ilves' speech, and took pictures of me having far too much fun. We also caught a gorgeous sunset on the way back.

Forest, forest everywhere. A scene on the walk from our neighborhood to the festival grounds.

Part of the monument to Russian something something (I'm sure that's how the Estonians feel about it). I was afraid the kid on the bike in the upper right corner was going to fall on me as I walked underneath. He didn't.

I glanced up at the entrance to the Estonian History Museum grounds as we passed below it.

It's true! Tallinn is the European Cultural Capital for 2011. I have a lot of culture to pack in these next few months.




We were off to the side, but close enough to see both the screens and the performers. Well, as best we could considering all the people in front of us were 7 foot tall Estonians.


The sky was lovely.

And so was the bungee-trampoline concoction.

The Old Town

I heart that sky.

Ducks splashing in Tallinn Bay

Estonian mothers on maternity leave.

Kudos to Estonians. As The BBC recently pointed out, they're doing quite well.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fantasy Bidding, Fantasy Motherhood

Every now and then Husband and I sit out back, glass of something boozy in hand, and fantasize out loud about the life we'd lead if we did something more...normal. We'd live in some lovely city with no humidity, we'd send our kids to a fantastic school, and we wouldn't hemorrhage money every few years moving from country to country. Maybe I'd work, maybe I wouldn't. Maybe I'd teach at a private school and get free tuition for the kids. Husband would do some morally-respectable job not for the defense industry.

Then late summer rolls around, and bid lists come out. Every bidding season, a list comes out with every job that will be available in the coming years (usually in one year, sometimes in two or more, if language is required), at every rank, at every domestic and international post.

If it's your bidding season, you have been doing early research on this for months, finding out what positions will be on the list, emailing incumbents, doing some general sleuthing. Once the Official List is out, it's frantic emailing, calling, dropping in some decision-maker's office. What will work for your timing, your speciality, your career, your spouse's career, your kids, your pets, etc. etc. You want Job A, but do Job A's decision-makers want you? It will be months until you find out officially, but sometimes someone will say *wink wink* and sometimes they'll say, "Yeeaaaah. It's not you. It's us." And sometimes they'll be silent until handshakes (yes, "handshakes") can be offered. It's awful and nerve-wracking and even worse when you are a tandem couple, each going through the process with no guarantee that a bureau is going to offer you each a job at the same place.

But when it's not your bidding season, you forget how awful it is. You peek at the list and see the entire world--literally--as options you can't bid on, because it's not your season. You sit outside with something boozy and fantasize about moving to Kiev, or to Manila, or to Bangkok.

That's how we know this job is probably for us.

The current fantasy is that Husband would bid on War College in Kansas and that I would take a year of LWOP. Terrible, terrible move for my career, but oh! a year at home with my kids, meeting their teachers at the end of the day and taking them to soccer practice. Kansas isn't expensive. We could live in Lawrence. I could be a SAHM without forfeiting my career. Fabulous. Or we could go to Tel Aviv, and Husband could learn Hebrew while I worked, then start a position and I could either extend a year or take LWOP at the end of that. Or, or, or. The options--although they aren't really options until someone has decided you are a good candidate--appear to be endless.

Estonian women receive two years paid maternity leave for each child. Before someone starts fretting about the European welfare state--not an unfounded fret, in some instances--let me assure you that Estonia has the fastest growth and the lowest debt portfolio in the EU. Their population is shrinking, and will disappear if they don't put social and economic weight into their birth rate. At any rate, a colleague remarked how hard it is for American mothers receiving, more often than not, no maternity leave. I responded that the sentiment is often "This is what you [women] get for wanting equality in the workplace." Or at least that's the impression I get. The reality is working mothers pull the load of anyone else in the workplace and then the extra social burden of raising children and, in most cases, the physical burden of bearing and nursing them. For working fathers, it's the same, minus bearing and nursing. It's not unreasonable that society would provide some structure and support to make that extra responsibility easier to bear. Yes, children are often a choice, but it's necessary that at least some of the folks in the world decide to do it, either biologically or via adoption. I don't think I'd be good at two years at home per child, but I'd take 3 or 6 months.

Or one year, unpaid, in Kansas.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Nanny, Mom, kids, and I took a short trip to Haapsalu, a stunning 13th century town of about 12,000 residents on the western coast of Estonia. The town was celebrating its annual Festival of the White Lady, in honor of its castle's resident ghost. It's a gorgeous area, unlike anything I've ever seen before. Naturally, I took lots of pictures...of the children. Look closely, and you'll see some Estonia in the background.

*Absurd title courtesy of Husband.

First of all: How cute is she? The largest 7.5 month old ever.

Nanny was excited to finally be out of the car.

I can't believe I birthed that giant head. That adorable giant head.

I can't believe I birthed that mullet.

Dancing, which Boy found thrilling. That is a typical blonde Estonian head on the left. I tried to edit it out, but the edits weren't saving, so I gave up. Sorry.

Three generations in front of the castle. Two of the generations are looking at the camera; the third cannot be arsed.

Boy was pouting when I told him his bounce house (yes, Ye Olde Bounce House) time was up, so he sought out his nearest cannon for a calm down spot.

Cute. We can all agree.

For Father's Day, I gave Boy and Husband matching wolves-howling-at-the-moon shirts. I ironically dressed him in one, or at least it was meant to be ironic. It ended up mostly meta-ironic. Between the size of the t-shirt (huge), the bagginess of the jeans (extra), and the mullet (rad), in the end the irony might have been that I thought it was ironic. Layers upon layers of irony.

In the craft market, I finally secured the children some Estonian woolens. Boy insisted on wearing his vest for the five minutes before he realized it was still summer. His mittens provided no end of excitement.

A full weekend of Estonian tourism was had by all: Tartu (see previous entry), Haapsalu, and a Sunday night dinner at Olde Hansa* in Tallinn's Old City.

*Medieval eating experience also courtesy of Husband.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ye Olde Estonia

Ten Days In

Thursday, as a gunman held a hostage in the Estonian Ministry of Defense down the street and my staff and I found ourselves moving away from the windows as instructed, one of my Estonian colleagues kept saying in disbelief, "This is so un-Estonian. This is so un-Estonian." It was Day Ten.

Ten days after I started in the office in Mumbai, The Attacks happened. Not remotely the same experience as a gunman in a Ministry that was quickly evacuated and surrounded by a SWAT team, of course. But I had a bit of a flashback, and I'm pretty sure at least one person in Washington blamed me, because, really, this doesn't happen here. In fact, I know at least one person in Washington blamed me, because I had a phone call that mostly consisted of, "Rachel! What did you do? This is so un-Estonian!" Mea culpa.

Of course, as all of us worked through the event, the overriding feeling, nagging in back of our heads and at times showing up in a quickened heartbeat or a sharp word, is: of course it can happen here. It can happen anywhere. It can happen in New York, Washington, a field in Pennsylvania. It can happen in Oklahoma City and Oslo. It can happen. It can happen in London, Madrid, Moscow, and Minsk. It happens almost daily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan. I watched it happen in Mumbai. It can happen on a subway in Japan. It can happen in Littleton, Colorado.

So there we are. Everyone is safe, except for the gunman, so in the big scheme of things it could have been much worse. Life trucks along.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


We've been in Tallinn for nine days now. I have the following observations:

1) Really, if you can't be happy here, you can't be happy anywhere.

2) My section is blessed with exceptional staff.

3) I am out of high-heel shape. My feet are killing me.

The kids slept through both flights, which is a parent's dream. It may have prolonged jet lag a few nights, but it was worth it. As someone who has heard all the reasons people hate traveling with kids on a plane, I am incredibly anxious that my kids may make other people miserable. Here are my thoughts on such things:

Not flying isn't an option for us, nor should it be. Kids are people...irrational and under-developed people, but people. The suggestion that kids should not be allowed to partake in a basic modern need is a bit absurd. This isn't a movie theater, it's transportation. Plus, they have paid seats. They are, like it or not, customers.

Parents who aid, abet, or ignore their kids' disruptive behavior are generally the source of the problem. But here's a little secret many parents have learned, most pediatricians would confirm, and most spectators would not suspect: the quickest way to end a tantrum is to ignore it. Little kids flip out either because they are stressed (read: on a plane, strapped in a seat, past bedtime, and with some stranger's reclined seat in their lap), or because they want attention. You can't slap or scold a kid out of stress. You can, however, soothe or, more likely, distract. I recommend every parent have an iPad for just such occasions. As far as attention, ignoring the tantrum is usually the best long-term solution. For the short-term need of keeping your fellow passengers happy, may I recommend: an iPad. As for babies: well, if you can show me a failsafe way to convince a screaming baby not to scream after you've exhausted all the normal soothing options, then I'll give you $20.

The sad truth, disappointing for many, is that you cannot completely control the actions of another person. The best you can do is predict, plan, and pray.

The airlines could do a bit more to make the flight a less stressful experience for every passenger, certainly, but particularly for parents and children. I suggest the following:

a) Pre-boarding. Most places and most airlines do this, but I know one did not until very recently. I flew from Dulles to Mumbai, via Frankfurt, by myself with Boy. That's a long trip, and only two hands to carry a small child, his car seat, my purse, and a diaper bag on the plane. If you don't let someone like me go first, that's a whole lot of other passengers' heads I'm going to bang into as I struggle to get to our seat.

b) Help. I traveled round trip from India to the United States by myself with a toddler (and one time with two cats as well) three times. We flew round trip to Europe once. Roughly 60% of the time, the flight crew would watch as I struggled down said aisles, with said small child, with said amount of crap, and roll their eyes and sigh if I dared to ask for a little assistance. The other 40% of the time a flight attendant stepped in, assisted, and went out of his or her way to not make me feel guilty about it. I shouldn't feel guilty about having spent money to fly on your plane. How rude of me for being a customer!

c) Increase your damned legroom. Business class is actually best for kids (they can lay down, sleep better, and have a footwell to play in--all resulting in better behavior), but that thought is very unpopular. So if we relegate families to coach (where I spend 95% of my time), please consider the following concerns: When the passenger reclines into your lap, it's very hard to get your poop-covered baby out of the seat next to you and to the bathroom. When the passenger reclines into your toddler's lap, it's very hard to feed him/her, set up the miraculous iPad, or keep little feet off the seat in front of them.

d) Seat me with my kids. Always. This should be a given, but it's so very often not.

e) Bulkhead seating. So many reasons: a bassinet for baby, a little play area for toddlers, easy to get in and out, no seats for little feet to kick, and easy access to diaper bags and all the necessities in them once you're in flight.

I say all this as a parent and as a business traveler.

At any rate.

Yes. The kids. They slept through both flights and arrived WIDE AWAKE in Tallinn. Compared with the twelve and a half hour time difference from DC to India, seven hours isn't too bad. Boy was happy to finally be in his Estonia house, as he calls it. He's even happier that there's a trampoline.