Monday, September 26, 2011


Estonia's largest island, Saaremaa, is home to, among other things: the best preserved medieval castle in the Baltics, a crater, former Soviet bases, a nature preserve, windmills, lots of livestock, cliffs, and about 12 people. Outside of Tallinn, this country is shockingly sparsely populated. Saaremaa was also essentially cut off from the mainland by the Soviet army, who used the island for various military purposes. Estonians needed a permit to visit, and islanders found themselves stuck on the mainland, separated from family and their birthplace by unfortunate history, infamous bureaucracy, and a significant number of guns. Today, there are about 14 ferries each way on any given day.

The weather this weekend was fortunately spectacular: sunny, but breezy and chilly. It was a perfect September trip.

On a side note, I've now gone through three years of motherhood with very few pictures of me with my children. I keep waiting to lose the baby weight before I step in front of the camera, waiting to remember to wash my hair. This weekend I came to Jesus, and realized that I, as I am now and not as I wish to be, am a part of the kids' lives, a part of their childhoods. I do them a disservice if I hide all evidence of my existence. So I bravely sought out opportunities to take photos with them, only to find that Boy, when asked if he would get in a picture with me, kindly answered, "Oh, no thank you." We did the best we could. A few of our attempts are below. More to come.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


When Boy was hovering on one side or the other of the baby/toddler threshold, I explained to a colleague what it felt like to work outside the home. It's similar to stepping off a plane after a long flight: it feels like you're still moving. When I went to work, I felt an absence, an empty heaviness on my right hip where he should have been sitting, on my right shoulder where he should have been resting his head.

At some point, probably as he rounded the bend to two, that weighty absence dissipated a bit. Partly because he was growing up and needed the stimulation he was getting with other kids, and partly because his behavior was becoming so challenging that I looked forward to the break of going to work. That might make me a bad person, but I'd venture to say I'm not alone. The image of the stay-at-home-parent who can be on duty 24 hours a day and stay smiley, patient, and bathed is a fallacy, I'm convinced. Parenting is a hard job.

There have been times in the past year when I've wanted nothing else than to walk out the door and into my pre-baby life for a week. In one moment of supreme consternation, I told Husband that I couldn't Do It Anymore and that it would have to be on him. He rightfully told me to get the hell over it and man up.

Lately, that weighty absence has returned, and I felt it acutely all day at work today. It wasn't a slow day. Far from it, in fact. I had plenty to do. But still I felt that ache, as if something unnatural were happening. I was separated from my baby, and I didn't want to be.

She stood up unaided yesterday for a brief moment. This morning she said "ball" and held on to me and screamed when her otherwise beloved nanny tried to take her so I could get out the door. Nanny and I later compared notes, and realized that we each thought we must have been mistaken when we heard her say "yellow," but it happened twice. Genius baby. In the span of a week, she's become clingy, mobile, and increasingly verbal. She sleeps on her side now. She's more and more like a little kid with every passing moment, and I see her babyness slipping a way, one unlearned skill at a time. She'll never not know how to crawl again, never not know how to say "ball."

She's always asleep by the time I get home, so on a workday I get maybe one waking hour with her. Two if I'm lucky. Thank God she has just the teeniest sliver of a tooth. If a gummy grin ends up being her last vestige of infancy, I'll take it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Signs Something is Amiss...

...include, but are not limited to, my declaration that a room is too messy even for me. I mean, really, that's a pretty high threshold. (Actually, it's not that high a threshold, but those who lived with me up to and including the age of 21 refuse to believe I could have been reformed.) The playroom was beyond a disaster. It was nearly impossible to open the baby gate to get into it, and everyone--adults, preschoolers, crawling infants--would stumble over something two seconds upon entering the room. The many many Ikea storage pieces were jammed with unorganized crap. I felt overwhelmed and vaguely claustrophobic, so this morning I passed the Mom Baton to Husband, who handled both children with aplomb while I organized. I touched every toy in that place (which is a lot) and organized them by type, creating labels for cars, airplanes, blocks, costumes, animals, and, of course, rockets. I threw out many things, including (gasp) some old artwork. Boy was home from school for many months post-kicking-outtage, and made many creations each day. I also stored the ride toys--too small for Boy, too big for Girl--in the sauna.

Sauna? you ask, incredulous. Yes, sauna. Of course we have a sauna. This is Estonia, after all. It's now filled with toys.

At any rate, Boy helped put his toys away before dinner tonight. He very seriously pointed out the labels on each of the bucket-drawer contraptions and informed me where each toy should go. The goal is to get him to do this in the ten minutes before dinner so that we don't start every day in complete chaos. Considering that Girl is now crawling and actively seeking out every choke-able item in a room, this has taken on new urgency.

Speaking of. I tried to get some photos of La Jefe crawling. She kept stopping and starting, and it took a few clicks to figure out why. Five awesome points to the first person who can identify the reason. Pardon any fuzziness, her claw marks on her tummy (self-inflicted), etc.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

That Explains the Gray Hairs

I've come down with a proper cold, so I left work early today and picked Boy up at preschool with the goal of passing him to Nanny and cuddling under the covers for a couple hours. I got to the school just as his teacher was putting him, half-naked and very sleepy-eyed, on the potty. I was excited, because potty training wasn't so much happening at home, but they have had more success. As I helped him get dressed, his teacher mentioned that we needed to work on the hitting, and that today he bit another child. Boy has taken to reacting to everything he doesn't like (and when you are three, there are a lot of things you don't like: brushing your teeth, broccoli, your sister, etc. etc.) by making threats. "I'm going to hit you, mommy," or "I'm going to throw the toothbrush." Most of the time, they are empty threats. I initially reacted fiercely, picking up a toy to toss in the "trash" just in case he made good on his promise. I decided that he was trying to provoke everyone around him, to intimidate us into giving into his toddler demands, and from that moment simply responded, "No, you won't hit me." It mostly works.

But he remains quick to anger, as a lot of three year olds are. Before we use to think he wasn't verbal enough to process his emotions in a non-destructive manner, but we can't legitimately make that claim now. I can only hope he's at his wits' end trying to control everything around him, that he's given up crying and moved straight to ridiculous threats (tonight he said he was going to hit the watermelon if I didn't give it to him). Someday soon, he will wake up and be reasonable, patient, and pacifistic.

Until that day, I can only say that hearing about your child's violent outbursts continues to be one of the worst feelings a parent can experience. I feel guilty about the well-being of the other kids. I feel guilty about putting such a wrench in a teacher's day. I feel guilty about not doing whatever it is I need to do to ensure that my son is well-adjusted, liked, and happy. This time around, though, rather than looking at me and telling me to "do something," the teacher just said, "Talk to him about it, and we will keep working too. Don't worry. He'll grow out of it." I still felt crummy, but I felt a little bit of hope. Enough hope, that when he threatened to hit the ceiling light because he didn't want me to turn it out at bedtime, I only tousled his hair and told him I loved him.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Move #7

New York to Washington. Washington to Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv to Seoul. Seoul to Mumbai via Washington. North Mumbai to South Mumbai. Mumbai to Washington. Washington to Tallinn.

And that's all before I cross the threshold to Year Seven.

For all the griping I do about my job (and, to be fair, it's never about my actual job, it's about the HR nightmares, politics, Continuing Resolutions, etc. etc.), this is the only part that makes me loathe my career, even momentarily. The sheer logistics of moving from Point A to Point B, dumping it out and setting up house are panic-inducing. Yes, I feel blessed that The Taxpayer pays for my move. Thank you. I also feel blessed that the movers pack and unpack me. Thank you again. But being knee deep in several thousand pounds of crap after they clear the boxes and packing material out is one of the worst feelings out there. (I will acknowledge it probably doesn't feel as bad as being unemployed, so thank you one more time.)

We are allowed two days off of work to deal with our sea shipment when it arrives. Our HHE (one of those acronyms is correct, at least three more are applicable) came thundering down on us yesterday, our street blocked by two (yes, two!) shipping containers, straight from the ship. Each had a car and several crates in it. And now, for the seventh time in my career, I am dizzy with one sentiment: Why do we have all this crap? In the month between leaving the U.S. and the arrival of our stuff, I had acclimated to living with our UAB plus a stack of boxes kindly sent by my folks. I didn't need the extra 7000 pounds of things. I was happy to see the cars, and I know Boy was happy to see his bed (the twin mattress on the floor was a little less homey), but much of it is just excess, collected from place to place to fill the housing we had at the time, to dress the body I had in the climate I was in. No two housing assignments at two different posts are the same, and it's impossible to know what you can fit and what you can't before you get there. In five overseas housing assignments, three were apartments, one a duplex ranch, one a house. Two had not a single closet, one had no rugs, and one had water pouring out of an electrical socket. It's hard to know what you are getting into and it's easy to err on the side of bringing far too much. At least the furniture is always the same, in design, if not in quantity.

So, friends, when you visit, and I sincerely hope you do, please bring at least one empty suitcase, or possibly a shipping container, and help us unload.