Monday, December 12, 2011

A Very Foreign Service Week

Or, more accurately: A Very Foreign Service Two Weeks.

Or, even more accurately: A Very Foreign Service Working Mother Two Weeks.

Or, most accurately: A Very Foreign Service Tandem Couple Working Mother Two Weeks.

Nanny, the kids, and I returned from a week in Germany yesterday.

Oh, how lovely! A week in Germany!

Well, yes, Germany is lovely. Its countryside is adorable and its cities are comfortable, beautiful, and full of both obvious wonders and hidden delights. But I said this was A Very Foreign Service Blah Blah Two Weeks, so let's back up a bit.

I am the chief of a section. I have daily and weekly managerial responsibilities, and a small but incredibly competent staff. I am also the chief of a section in a small embassy and I am, after all, a Foreign Service Generalist, which loosely translates to "Someone Who Is Expected to Do Anything At Any Moment." I don't resent that. It's definitely part of the gig, and honestly it's one of the parts that makes the job so exciting, even though every few years you lose major pieces of furniture to mold on a four month journey from South Asia.

Um, I digress.

Anyway. Generalist. Exciting. Yes. In larger posts, this usually meant I handled my one little piece of the puzzle, and that usually meant I adjudicated visas, which I actually loved doing. I am now a midlevel manager, and when you put aside the fact that that phrase most likely conjures up a Dilbert character with funny hair, I can say I like what I do within my little section. But, as I mentioned above, my responsibilities often fall outside that section, and the past couple weeks are the perfect example.

In the past two weeks as an FSO I have:

  • Trained my colleagues on Duty Officer responsibilities (I cannot be on duty 24 hours a day, after all, although of course really all of us are).
  • Planned and emceed a holiday event for Estonian counterparts and American citizens (which included making decor and seeking out Kosher treats...I pretended not to love it, but I not-so-secretly did).
  • Presented awards to student inventors at an educational expo, in Estonian.
  • Re-taken a four day course to renew my certification as an Equal Employment Opportunity counselor (hence the Germany trip)
  • Sent a non-warden warden message
  • And, of course, fulfilled my normal duties of section management

In the past two weeks as a mother I have:
  • Had my children cry/shout for me while I emceed a holiday event they were attending
  • Waved goodbye to Husband at 4:30 a.m. while he left for a two week business trip to the States
  • Flown to and from Germany with two kids, Nanny, and no Husband
  • Blocked everyone's exit on the S-bahn with large luggage and an unwieldy stroller
  • Wandered around Frankfurt's red light district looking for our hotel
  • Administered the Heimlich, successfully, to my choking daughter (worst ten seconds of my life and damn you, broccoli)
  • Tended to coughing, sneezing, crying children in the middle of the night
  • Shared a hotel bed with two kids every night for a week
  • Driven on the autobahn in the dark, in the snow, with two children yelling at me
  • Run to H&M to buy Boy new pants because I somehow imagined children would keep their clothes clean enough to wear more than once. Ha. Ha ha ha.
  • Washed a lot of bottles in a hotel room sink
  • Waited 30 minutes for the car rental company to find two toddler seats that were wholly inadequate
  • Driven on the autobahn in the dark, in the snow, with two children yelling at me
  • Searched for parking in Munich for 80 minutes
  • Why does no one in Munich care that I am trying to get around with two small children? No one cares. They are all tall and apathetic to my plight. That is my summary of Munich. Oh yes, and it's beautiful and the Deutsches Museum is perfect for kids and I saw an old friend and her son.
  • Lost it, more than once, when dealing with my poor 3 year old
  • Been overwhelmingly excited to find a large Saturn V model in the parking lot of a German rest stop.
  • Scooped poop out of a bathtub. Thank you, Girl.
  • Picked up poop off the floor. Thank you, Girl.

Thanks to Foreign Service Scheduling, Husband and I are on different continents, which would be vexing normally, but was completely exhausting when we threw Germany in the mix. And expensive. Very expensive. There is no special allowance for tandem couples. When you travel for training, you get per diem for the officer. No big deal, unless you are a single parent or, in our case, tandem parents with orders to be in different places at the same time. In that case, you are paying for travel and upkeep for three individuals who aren't on orders, and aren't funded in any way.

Someone at the training asked why I didn't leave the kids in Estonia with Nanny for the week. The answer was two-fold and easy:

1) She would have been on 24 hours a day. They aren't reliable sleepers. That's completely draining for her and very expensive for us.
2) I will not leave my children in another country with an unrelated adult. I trust Nanny completely, but in the event of an emergency I'd want a parent or, failing that, a grandparent there.

So I was left with little choice but to fly the brood to Germany. In the end, the Frankfurt Kinder Museum was a mere jaunt from our hotel. The children also got to have their first doner kabob fare, and that's worth it for them. 

Pictures will come, and they will be awesomely odd, but here are my lessons learned:

1) You really are a Generalist when you are a Generalist.
2) If you are tandem with kids, avoid having to travel to different places at the same time.
3) If you spend a week in Germany and have only had one beer, you can legitimately feel sorry for yourself.
4) Every single establishment in the world should have a small play area in the back with tables. Everyone wins: kids, parents, kid-free patrons. 
5) At the end of the business trip, just go home. Small children will not appreciate seeing yet another foreign place.
6) Realizing that you would not be financially worse off if one parent were Stay-At-Home thanks to childcare, tuition, and taxes is depressing, and you shouldn't think about it too much.

And with that, I shall return to baking treats for Boy's school holiday party. I already failed at finding them a Santa, so I can't fail to provide the requested American food. I am going to miss another country's official holiday party for this, but sometimes motherhood really does have to trump work. I may not provide Santa, but I'll be there, and so will my pumpkin bread.

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