Monday, December 31, 2012

An Accounting of 2012

The personal ledger:

Three trips to America.

One breast cancer scare.

One surgery (see above).

One non-surgical trip under general (Boy's tube removal).

Somehow only one trip to another foreign country (unheard of, really--2011 saw 5 in four short months).

Two hospitalizations (one for Boy and one for Girl).

Two teacher conferences. 

Five sessions with a behavioral therapist.

About a million question marks.

Twelve resolutions. Let's see how I did, shall we?

1. Sleep at least one night a week. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

2. Have a tough conversation or twenty. Ugh. Still hate to disappoint people and internalize every conflict. Yea for me!

3. Learn to garden. Um, no.

4. And then I will can it. Canning equipment still unopened.

5. Spend more date nights humoring my husband. What date nights? I have watched more of his movies when we hang out at home, I think. He will probably disagree.

6. Make academic goals for Boy. Yes, but turns out book-learning ain't the problem. Except in the way that it is. More on that later.

7. The dreaded baby books. HAHAHAHAHAHA.

8. Spend more time moving, and less time sitting. Well, I ran three races, including a half marathon. I was a no show for two others. Somehow I have ended the year a few pounds heavier than when I started, but I largely blame earlier snow and ice and a very festive series of holiday/birthday celebrations.

9. Make a financial plan and stick to it. Mostly.

10. Read more from our bookshelf. Well, not really, BUT I did read more on Kindle and I've indulged in more previously-unread classics (also via Kindle). Bookshelf still untouched.

11. Be a better emailer. HAHAHAHAHA.

12. Celebrate milestones on time. Hmmm. No.

So that's what, a 2.5 out of 12?

I'll post renewed optimism tomorrow. For tonight, Husband and I have already opened a bottle of bubbly, as we know we won't make it to midnight. Last year we were hanging with Digger and the Mrs. This year it's just the four of us. 

Head vana aasta lõppu, as the Estonians say! We'll cover the uut aasta tomorrow. Until then, I hope you are ending your 2012 wiser, healthier, and happier than when it started and even if you aren't, there's a fresh start tomorrow. Drink a lot, don't drive, have fun, and see you in 2013.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Intellectual Potential

There is so much to say about our trip to Baltimore for Boy. There is so much to say about Girl's second birthday and the year that preceded it. For now, I'll show you what Boy's developmental tests confirmed:

Building rockets at 2 and a half

Rockets as a newly-minted 3 year old.

And at a few days after turning 4.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Pardon the radio silence. With only a few days notice, Boy and I hopped a plane to Baltimore so Kennedy Krieger could evaluate his behavior problems. When our 13 hour trip turned into a 40 hour one, Boy--my child, my little monster--managed to keep it together. Mostly. We flew from Tallinn to Riga to Frankfurt to....IAD. The ellipsis there signifies a night in a hotel room in Frankfurt. Other than toppling over an 8 foot tall sign in Riga's airport, he was a trooper. As I waited in line in Frankfurt for an hour to get us on another flight to DC, he sat with his Taggie, his dearest lovey, and played on the iPad.

When I finally got our tickets for the next day and our hotel reservations for that night, I went over to him and told him how proud I was of him. He was tired and hungry, and as he so often does when slightly out of sorts, he was sucking two fingers and rubbing the worn ribbons that stuck out along the edge of his small square blanket. Well, trapezoidal blanket, really. It was a hastily sewn replacement for the one he had had since he was five months old.

He pointed out that my many repair jobs had not kept his Taggie from growing bigger holes. The pattern on one side had faded, the fuzz on the other side had dulled. Taggie had a series of mismatched stitches in mismatched threads in several places--the scars from my 6:00 a.m., pre-school run emergency remedies. Shoddy at best. He lamented its condition. It's because you love it so much. You've loved all those holes in it. I promised I would fix it again once we got to a sewing machine. But now, I told him, we have to go to the hotel.

We went through immigration, boarded a shuttle to the wrong hotel, stood in line, boarded a shuttle back to the airport, boarded another shuttle to the right hotel, stood in line, ate dinner, and got settled in our room. Somewhere in there, Taggie was lost.

We'd lost it before. Obviously the original was lost long ago, merely a few days after Girl was born. I once ran back to an outdoor museum to find it caught between the rocks along the Baltic Sea. It's been left in countless grocery store aisles. I thought for sure we'd find it this time, but I couldn't remember seeing it after we left the transfer desk area. I called the other hotel--it wasn't on their shuttle. I called the front desk of our hotel--it wasn't on their shuttle. I went to the restaurant. I went to the transfer desk when we went back to the airport the following day. I called Lost & Found. Nothing.

No Taggie.

It was gone.

I had a backup--the final backup--in our suitcase. Not sure why I brought it, but I was so relieved I did.

He was sad about the loss of his Taggie, with all the holes and terrible patch jobs--both signs of incredible love--but he was happy to have the replacement.

This week, as we went from appointment to appointment around Baltimore, he dutifully kept it with him. When he needed to wait, when jet lag was overwhelming him, he held it and sucked his fingers.

And then it was gone.

I checked the hospital, the rental apartment, everywhere.


Boy is almost four and a half, and while he is sad he has not yet been destroyed by this. I tell myself that this is good, that it's time for him to let it go. Oh, but do I ever want to cry and scream and grieve. I still have my security blanket and while it's tucked in a closet, I feel some comfort knowing that the item that brought me such peace and warmth when I was young and vulnerable has made it this far. I wanted to keep that Taggie and tuck it in his suitcase when he went to college, or give it a quick touch one night when he's being an impossible teenager. I wanted him to hold it when the pressure of schoolyard friendships was too much to bear, when he hoped his friends wouldn't notice that he still had it.

I don't know how this happens, how a child goes from crying in his car seat in agony when we left Taggie inside the house, viscerally needing his lovey for our run to the store, to shrugging off with a mere frown the fact that that same lovey is gone forever.

He might have been ready for this, but I certainly wasn't.

Friday, November 23, 2012

When I Grow Up

Boy wants to be a bat when he grows up. He and Husband had an exchange that went something like the following:

Boy: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Husband (who legitimately has no idea what he wants to be when he grows up): A pilot so I can fly.

Boy: I want to be a bat so I can fly.

Well. Can't argue with that. Actually I suppose we could and maybe even should, but neither of us wants to be the one to tell him that he can't shift into a different species.

He made me whip up a bat costume, which consisted of one poorly cut piece of black suit lining, a t-shirt, and precisely three safety pins. He had me tell him a story of a boy turning into a bat, which thanks to my lack of literary skills was essentially Kafka, because why re-invent the wheel? At least Boy's Metamorphosis had a significantly happier ending.

When he woke up at O-dark-thirty* 5:30 the other morning, as he's known to do, I heard his trademark elephant stomping down his stairwell and then...nothing. Not the elephant stomping up our stairwell. Not a loud fake cry to announce his presence. Not a loud real cry to announce his presence. A good mom would wake up and check it out, but I was tired.

Eventually Girl woke up and did her trademark morning routine of sticking her face in mine and yelling various parts of speech that are best understood as commands: "Hungry! Thirsty! Milk! Up! Playroom! Dora! Mommy up!"As I carried her out of our room, I saw a little Boy shaped lump sitting quietly on a dark stair.

"What are you doing, Boy? Want to watch cartoons?"**

"I'm not Boy. I'm a bat. I'm hanging upside down on the ceiling now."

I wish we all were so committed to our dreams.

*It's November in Estonia. This phrase no longer effectively captures the time, as it is as applicable to 8:30 as it is to 5:30.

**Don't judge me. My kids wake up early. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A DIY Halloween

Last year was our first DIY Halloween. This year I wanted to keep up the trend. I think homemade costumes are fun, if not well-made, and it's one of those ways I try to atone for my other failings as a mother.

Speaking of Halloween, mothers, and failings: bear with me while I follow a little diversion. My mom went back to work full-time when I was six or seven. Until then, I could count on costumes and all those other things she had time to think about. Then Halloween 1988 rolled around. I was seven. I waited eagerly for my mom to come home from work, as she had promised she'd have my witch costume finished in time for trick-or-treating. I waited. And waited. And waited. (Keep in mind I remember this as a seven year old would, so maybe it wasn't such a dramatically long delay.) She did come home, but with nary a moment to spare before we had to get out the door. She took the black rectangle of fabric that she was supposed to have sewn into a tunic, folded it in half, cut a hole on the crease, popped it over my head, tied it with a rope, and called me a witch. At least I had a decent hat. I was absolutely distraught, and I carried that disappointment in me until this past year. Then I started making my kids' costumes after a full-day's work (or, more accurately, in the wee hours before a full-day's work) and I want to tell seven-year-old me to suck it up. There are real problems in the world, and selvage on your witch's costume is not one of them.

This also brings to mind the Halloween we brought the pony into the house and got in trouble.

Or the Halloween when I wrapped Ace bandages around myself and declared myself a Civil War veteran and no one got it. Not a one. I'm lucky I got any candy that year.

Or the year I was 13, and my hometown had made trick-or-treating and other joy illegal for kids over 12, so my mom said I couldn't go. I threw an honest-to-God tantrum in our kitchen that would rival my preschooler's worst outbursts. I won. Oh Mom, I was so close to giving up. You should have just hung in there. I was a total snit and didn't deserve even the crappiest of the candy I got that evening.

Or my senior year of college, when I was Punky Brewster (all the kids in elementary school told me I looked like her). One roommate dressed as a waiter at our college bar and the other dressed as a domino. Only she wasn't so much a domino as much as she was wearing tight black pants and black tube top--which she always wore when going out--and then taped two white dots to her torso. Which fell off. She's probably yelling at the computer as she reads this. Sorry, C, you weren't a domino. You were yourself on a night out.

I have lots of Halloween memories, you may have discerned. Some good, some not so good. Despite the fears of the crazies, it's not a night of evil. It's a night of good silly fun. I hope my kids enjoy it as much as I used to.

SO: back to 2012.

Boy said he wanted to be a spider. Actually, he initially said a rancor, but settled on a spider. Girl can barely talk, so I picked for her: DJ Lance Rock from Yo Gabba Gabba.

So, a blurry spider: black tights, black t-shirt, black dance slippers, black knit gloves. I stuffed two of my black knee socks and a cut up pair of Girl's black tights with rolled felt to make the extra legs. I found an old brown hoodie with print on the front and cut off the hood, the arms, and the pockets and turned it inside out. I hand-stitched (sloppily) one pair of legs into the pockets. I hand-stitched (sloppily) the second pair into the arm holes, leaving plenty of room for his actual arms. I added doubled thread to the bottom leg on each side, stitched the line to the second leg, and then hand-stitched it (sloppily) on the wrist of the knit gloves so that he could move all his legs. This was a very easy costume.

DJ Lance: orange pants, orange shirt, orange knit hat, white dance slippers. Used painting tape to mark the lines on her pants and shirt, and fabric paint to paint white stripes down the side of her legs and the orange and yellow stripes on her shirt. Hand-stitched (sloppily) a yellow star on top of a white starburst on her hat. Totally cheated on the belt: safety-pinned a piece of 3/4" elastic into a belt. Glued silver sequins to spell rock on a piece of white card stock and paper-clipped it to her belt. Voila.

Hope everyone else had a happy Halloween. I look forward to seeing what the kids pick out next year and maybe, just maybe, I'll slap something together the night before, instead of the morning of.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Down the MED Rabbit Hole We Go

I exaggerate only slightly when I say that no bureau instills fear in the heart of Foreign Service families quite like MED. I don't mean this as a reflection of the individuals who work in Washington and around the world; in fact I've had generally pleasant experiences with the doctors and nurse practitioners who have the sometimes daunting task of making sure we not only survive even our most exotic postings, but that we maintain a modicum of sanity while we do it.

For the past seven years, I've enjoyed the much-coveted Class 1 medical clearance. All of us must have one to be hired--all new hires must be worldwide available. I was hired as a single person, so it never occurred to me to worry about anybody else's clearance until a few year's later. Husband is similarly healthy and, for our first tour, Boy secured a Class 1 without any problem. Girl followed suit.

Why does your clearance matter after being hired? Simple: it determines where you can serve (or, in the case of dependents, where your family can join you). Not all Class 2 clearances are created equal, so those depend mostly on what services are available at each post for your specific medical or educational needs. A class 2 is scary because it makes what is normally a high stress bidding process go off the charts with hand-wringing. You do your normal lobbying, but then you have to submit a list of bids to MED so they can yay or nay each post for the health concerns of the family member(s) or employee in question. You may have your hearts set on Nowhereistan, but unless Nowhereistan has epi-pens widely available at hospitals, your child with a deathly peanut allergy just can't go, and so on. A class 2 is scary because it happens as soon as it's warranted, whether it's in the middle of your tour or when your on R&R in the States or...


So, like most FS families would do, when Boy received OT and other services through Fairfax County while we were in language training, we didn't make a big deal out of it with MED. We mentioned it briefly on his clearance update paperwork, and hoped they won't take notice. At the time, it seemed like losing our assignment after language training, etc., would be the worst thing that could ever happen. We were confident he would continue to improve.

Here we are, almost 2 years after his initial IFSP through the county, starting the process all over again.

After our meeting at his school, we had a talk about his needs, our priorities, and what we need to do as parents. Sorry, Taxpayer, though it feels the opposite on some days, I have to remain a parent first, a public servant second. We took a gulp and reached out to the regional psychiatrist, who referred us to the doctor and social worker in charge of the developmental assessments. We have a referral from Boy's school in hand, and I need to submit that together with his initial IFSP from Fairfax County to start the process to evaluate him all over again. And of course I have that IFSP, because what type of parent wouldn't have such an important document? Who wouldn't keep the assessment and services plan for your small child?

Um. Erf. Um.

SO. I have the binder with the county's services. I have the assessment from the counselor. I do not, for the life of me, have a copy of his IFSP, or at least not that I've found. I know we had it. It discussed where he scored on his speech, PT, OT, and social/emotional assessments. It's important.

I'm going to spend the rest of today digging through absolutely everything and, if that is to no avail, I'll email Infant-Toddler Connection and request a copy. No guarantees I won't tell them the dog ate the first one. I fear judgment.

(BTW, if you FS families out there in Fairfax are wondering about their services--they're great! They respond right away once your pediatrician refers you, and I loved our occupational therapist.)

I don't know what this will mean. We've advertised for a new full-time nanny, thinking that worst case scenario he can be taught at home while he matures and those impulse control synapses start firing. Perhaps we'll keep him in preschool part time with a nanny on the other days and some more OT or other services. Perhaps they won't let him come back. I don't know. We'll jump of that bridge once we get there, I suppose.

Until then, here we go...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Last night, while coloring engines on his paper airplane, Boy declared that if I keep living and living and living, I will die. And that if Husband keeps living and living and living, he will die. And Girl, and Boy himself. He didn't want to die, he said.

There are talks I dread, though they aren't the ones that seem to fire people up. Where do babies come from? That's a fact-based answer, and it's easy to make it an age-appropriate answer as well. Why does the new kid in school have dark skin? Fact-based too. These things I can talk about.

Will I die?


Boy knows death is the sad fate of goldfish and a potential side effect of running into the street. Someday he would have to learn that it is, in fact, the sad fate of all of us. Even his beloved parents. Even his precious little self. This was the conversation I dreaded.

I didn't want to lie. What would be the point? The first human death he experienced would then be such a betrayal. I didn't want to pepper him with promises of an afterlife that's all gumdrops and rainbows, because I don't know if it's all gumdrops and rainbows or if there's an afterlife at all. When you're four, you want certainty. You want your mother to declare that that certainly won't happen to you. You want her to say that's not true, that's not what happens.

But she didn't say that. She said, instead, that it's true that that will happen, but with any luck it won't happen for a long, long time. That there's no point in worrying about it, because she worries about it for you.

Welp. Good job, Mom. Yes, you will die, you probably won't for a long time, and your mother worries about it. I'm lucky he slept at all last night.

We had a conference with the director of Boy's school and, predictably, he hasn't suddenly become the glue holding the class together. He's incredibly disruptive and makes it nearly impossible for the other kids to learn. Why do you think that is? she asked. Does he watch too much TV? Is he like that at home? Does he need to try sports?

I strung together a few sentences. We know he's difficult. He becomes easily overwhelmed. He tries, but he only has so much self-control in him.

He has much weightier things on his mind, I should have told her. His own mortality, for instance.

You have so much to learn and see and do, I should have told him. You have a person to become with a life to lead. You do not need to worry about it, full stop.

I wish they saw the boy we do, in the way we do. He's very challenging, no doubt. He's creative, building complex LEGO creations with no assistance or suggestion from us. He's affectionate and curious and loves poop jokes. He is learning and seeing and doing, and becoming a person with a life to lead. He is four years old and worries that if his parents live too long they'll die.

Instead they see the kid everyone hopes won't show up that day. I was a teacher. I get it--I really do--but it's breaking my heart.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hygiene: A Decision Tree

Before I had kids, my morning routine involved my staring into my closet, wondering which pair of adorable heels I'd wear with my adorable size 4 ensemble. All while yawning, because I had only squeezed out 8 hours of sleep.

I hate that person. And I hate that she ever thought she was fat and that her shoe options were inadequate. She sucks.

Parenthood changed everything. Now I search for the clothes that are the least wrinkly and go together kinda while matching them with the flats I can a) find and (only if I find multiple pairs--not a given, I should add) b) don't have obvious holes. When my SAHM friends imagine out loud how nice it would be to do their hair and makeup everyday, I wonder right along with them. What must that be like? I've forgotten.

Here's my shower decision tree:

I'd present my wardrobe decision tree, but it's straightforward: Clean Enough Dress + Clean Tights + Clean Enough Cardigan or Blazer = Everyone Should Be Happy I Didn't Show Up in Pajamas. I attempted for a while to manage a nice stock of suits, but that was way too much Dry Clean Only to ever work, so I stick with dresses + another layer to cover tattoos/turn it work-y. Plus, it played nicely into my patented screed on why suits are another tool of the patriarchy to keep us chicks down (entitled, "Why Do I Have to Dress Like a Man to Be Taken Seriously?" or, when I'm being honest, "I Just Really Don't Like Suits, Okay?").

No matter what I put on, it will end up with child smudged on it before I walk out the door. What exactly "child" is is almost always a mystery.

But seriously, Patriarchy, did you know that the Estonian word for a woman's suit is "kostüüm"?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Girl and I returned home from a whirlwind trip to Washington, packed with a leadership course for me, quality family time for both of us, a little bit of spoiling for her, and a wedding for a dear friend. For anyone I didn't manage to see, I'm sorry. I did my best.

It's 1:00 a.m. and we are on our third episode of Dora. Doooora, as Girl says. It's a unique form of torture. Jet lag this direction is particularly hard because work dictates that I must rise before, say, 11 a.m. Waaaay before. While I'm so sleep deprived that I almost don't experience jet lag, Girl does not share that immunity, so here we are. Sleep deprivation + endless Dora episodes = Sad Mommy.

Girl is also alternating between drinking water and spilling it. If I try to take it, she yells, "Mine!" When she spills it, she yells, "Spill! Wet! Derrrryyyy!" I try to take it, she yells, "Mine!" I think you get the picture. It's a fun night.

As for leadership training: as I'm sure all you Foreign Service types out there are dying to know, I'm an ESTP. I was an ENTJ in A-100, but I think this assessment was more accurate. Essentially, I'm an outgoing space cadet who works well with firm deadlines and horribly with theoretical ones. This is not news, but I walked away with a few pointers for staff, boss, and coworkers on how to manage me. First on this list: if you want it done, give me a due date. Second: I think out loud, so don't think I'm wedded to every idea I throw out there. If it sounds looney and half-baked, that's because it is. It's okay if we skip that one. Third: I thrive under pressure, but if you call me to ask for an update on something that's not due for another week, I'll panic. Just trust that I'll get it done. Most importantly: if I'm sitting on something that you need, for the love of Sweet Baby Jesus just tell me. I juggle a lot of tasks at once, and if you need me to focus on one thing so I can hand it over to you, don't be shy.

Because I'm me, I also spent a fair amount of time sitting in class feeling sad about my weaknesses. I don't know why. In fact, I think I'm quite forgiving of others. I pride myself on acknowledging their strengths and putting their flaws in perspective, but I can't do that about my own merits and faults.

Believe it or not, that isn't the thing I'm going to focus on first. My immediate goal is to stick to my own deadlines and/or set deadlines that are more realistic given the nature of my day-to-day. I think I can I think I can.

Well, this has been riveting. Blogging about Myers-Briggs! What a treat for my readers! Doooora #4 just started and Girl is no longer wearing a shirt, having drenched her second one of the night completely. I think that is my cue to read Tom and Lorenzo and anticipate the brutal fatigue that is set to overwhelm me in approximately five short hours. Working Motherhood strikes again.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Living Americana

Whoops. Did I manage to go nearly a month without writing anything? Completely unintentional.

Since my last post the following things have happened:

  • a gecko has been acquired
  • one fish has died
  • two more have replaced it
  • one of those two died
  • I saw Lady Gaga
  • a puppy has been acquired
  • and other non-animal-related and non-Gaga-related things as well.
Oh yeah, and I ran-ish a half marathon. There was a slow moving virus that kept me out of work far too long (the kids' virus, not mine) and the arrival of our new Ambassador.

Wait, did I write a puppy has been acquired? I most certainly did! Let the fuzzy iPhone pictures attest:

This is not a puppy. This is Girl, who has the makings of a crazy bag lady.

This is a puppy.

This is a cold puppy. It was September 1, after all. Can't expect a small puppy to stay warm all on her own in September.

We can add "puppy" to the list of things these two bond over. Also on the list: Legos and poop jokes.

The cats aren't too sure about this development. Tupelo, the fat orange one, takes a swipe at her once a day for good measure. Klezmer, the fat black one, has never hurt a living thing in his life, so mostly hisses and then runs away, which Dali (the not fat puppy) finds to be great fun.

Nope, not scary at all.
More than one reasonable person has expressed utter horror at the idea that we added to our daily burden so dramatically. Two jobs, two kids, two cats, a dog, a gecko, and a fluctuating number of fish, all in a foreign country? Crazypants. 

Yes, it is crazypants. Everything about us is crazypants. Only crazy people drop life as they know it to take a weird government job with the very real possibility of sending you to Bujumbura. Only crazy people decide to drunkenly adopt a cat when they are just kinda dating and then, very sober, follow up on that decision the next day. Only crazy people get engaged after five months. Only crazy people have a child a little over a year into their marriage. Only crazy people do an unaccompanied tour with one person in a war zone and the other in the developing world. Only crazy people add another child to that mix while trying to learn one of the world's hardest languages.* And only crazy people insert a gecko and a puppy into the chaos in less than a month. 

The gecko, it turns out, is not a lot of work.

Husband and I crave a night of good sleep and some free time, but not so much that we will actually pursue it. All joking aside: the dog is something we'd have in the U.S. It's a simple as that. We've been married for over five years, and in this career for 7 (him) and almost 7 (me). Our kids know their grandparents over Skype and Boy thinks he's Estonian. Seriously: try telling him he's American. He does not agree. There are moments--an increasing number of them--when we are desperate for some normalcy. While a few acres in Colorado with a smallish gaggle of livestock (oh! the menagerie we would have!) is out of our geographic reach at the moment and would require a major lifestyle overhaul, a dog is doable. Come PCS time we'll be out a bunch of money and effort, but that's one move a couple years away. What's one more pet to ship?

So forgive me, dear reader, for not writing. A young pup, unlike the gecko, is a whole lot of work.

*Edited to add: oh, and tattoos. We can't forget tattoos. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sugar High

A year ago, when we arrived in Tallinn, Boy turned 3, and we didn't know any other child his age in the embassy community. There was one, it turned out, but we didn't know him yet and once we did he and Boy fought every day in preschool, so a birthday party might have been disastrous.

In the past few months, the embassy has seen a number of comings and goings and while goings are usually sad, I'm happy that the comings have ushered in a whole gaggle of the under-6 set, many of whom joined us for Boy's birthday party, together with their parents and siblings, some friends who didn't bring small children but did bring patience and a great sense of humor, and some of Boy's school friends.

Wouldn't pictures have been nice?

Throwing a kid's birthday party is like throwing a wedding. Not in expense, thank goodness, but in planning and managing, only on a much more condensed schedule. As in all things, when I started I fancied myself a Martha Stewart. I had a Pinterest board dedicated to Boy's chosen theme (bugs) and was ready to make jello worms with straws and other various unnecessarily difficult things. Then I started getting unreasonably mad at the sites people have created for kid parties. Why would you put your own label with the party's motif on water bottles? Cover candy bars with a custom wrapper? Put candy in glass dishes and label it bug food? I'm sorry, that is not a container of beetles, it's a container of M&M's, and the sooner we are all honest about that we can stop this ridiculous charade of out-wedding-ing a preschooler's birthday party.

My anger exists solely to justify the fact that Plan Martha Stewart fell apart pretty quickly. I did make the food (no Wegman's to turn to for party platters) and I did slave over a pretty hideous cake. It was made with love, if not precision, and had proper bug-shaped cakes covered in icing on top. My momentary fantasy of designing cakes for a living came to a brutal and sudden end when I realized I am really terrible at designing and executing cakes. I scrapped any attempt at making the food look like bugs.

At any rate, no pictures. The party itself wasn't super labor intensive. Boy didn't flip out and Girl was off shoving sugar into her mouth and then dancing so they didn't need me. I did top off the food table a few times and help some kids who were sad or frustrated. I ran a few activities. I didn't get to eat, because it is like a wedding in that sense, but I did get to chat with some guests (or their parents) I didn't know well and hopefully will get to know better. As a host, no matter how relaxed I feel, I scan constantly, making sure no little one is crying and no adult is left without a pulled chicken sandwich (or vice versa, I suppose). Inserting a camera between me and my AOR just wouldn't work. I've never figured out how to do both.

So, for Boy imagine a skinny child with a Scott Baio haircut (then, not now) in a Star Wars t-shirt fretting about his presents, and for Girl check out the below. That gray stuff on her face is supposed to be chocolate. In your mind, add toddler squeals and singing and some weird gyrations and you've got it. (That's a butterfly on her forehead.)

Now I'm off the birthday hook until December, and Girl won't know she's turning two, probably, so I might be golden until next summer. Remind me next time to stay off the internet.

Friday, August 3, 2012


I walked the aisles of a large chain grocery store today, pulling a few things from the shelves to stock the house of a new family that arrives tonight.


Check, check, check

I remember when we walked into our house for the first time on that sunny evening in August and foods that were basic and familiar in almost every sense were alien in their names. I had spent a year learning the language, and while I knew the meaning of the words, this was the first time I had seen actual Estonian (singular nominative, natch) on something I knew as butter, milk, bread.


When you PCS, kids or pets or both or nothing in tow, you arrive in a place that is foreign and instantly home and new and familiar and exhausting and comforting all at once. You have known for at least a year--sometimes two or three--that this is your destination, that this isn't a two week package tour or a visit to an old college friend. This is home and it was always going to be, long before you even arrived. 

You've probably seen pictures of your housing, or at least heard about it, and unless it's your first tour you can be damn sure you've already seen the furniture. And while you hate the Great Aunt Gertrude gold brocade, it's familiar. You see it and you we go again.

But it's the food that makes you feel like the alien you are, homesick for familiar packaging and ingredients. Butter is butter is butter in most developed nations. Unless it's või or חמאה or a word you can't read but a picture that inexplicably connotes "butter." Maybe it's the obvious--a cow--or the less obvious--a field of flowers or a windmill--but you just know it's butter. And you know that this is what butter will look like, and this is what you will call it, and that in a few years, after you pull your welcome kit back out to sleep on papery sheets awaiting that final PCS flight out, you will stop looking for või and, in all likelihood, you will never look for it again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sluggy Diversions

There's too much awfulness in the world. I can't write about it. Not about Colorado (fires or shootings--take your pick!), not about Syria, and certainly not about the presidential campaigns. So instead I will write about


And I will type that in caps every single time.

Wait, bigger:


I was plodding along on my recovery run today (did I mention I'm training for my first ever half-marathon? I am), and because it's damp (as always) and the light was starting to dim (it was 10:00 p.m.), I took great care to leap over the many many snails that peppered the wet concrete. Snails are okay--they are slimy like slugs, but as long as I don't have to touch one I don't mind them. They politely have a house on their backs to obscure much of their yuckiness, and I appreciate that gesture. Unfortunately, they do make an awful crunch when you step on them and send you into a guilt-spiral in which you contemplate the Snail as Man and Runner as God arbitrariness of it before your Beastie Boys track snaps you back to your task at hand. (I said Beastie Boys because I want you to think I only listen to cool things on my runs. It could be Beastie Boys, but if I'm honest it could just as likely be Nicki Minaj.)

I avoid the snails. To do so, my eyes stay pretty trained on the ground in front of me, just a few feet out. As I was running tonight, my mind when something like this:

Starships are meant to fly-y-y-y. 


Hands up and touch the sky-y-y-y.


But wait! That was no chunky stick. That was a giant monster Estonian slug.


I never stop when I'm running because my body loves it some inertia. If I stop, I can't convince it to seriously get going again. But I was horrified at what could have been--the splat would have been unbelievable--and believed that Husband needed a picture of this thing immediately.

I tried to use my finger for scale, but I was too squeamish to risk touching the GIANT MONSTER ESTONIAN SLUG, so please keep in mind that my finger is about three inches from my phone and another three inches from the GIANT MONSTER ESTONIAN SLUG. To do this thing justice you have to keep the perspective in perspective. I'd say it was easily twice as thick as my finger and about four inches long.


Well, when I look at it now I think this picture doesn't quite convey the gawdawfulness of it. Such giant slugs in such a tiny country! Estonia is 55% forest and 35% slugs! That does not leave a lot of space for the people.

I'm aware the folks in the tropics scoff at my GIANT MONSTER ESTONIAN SLUG. Granted, it is not a stick insect the size of my arm, but it is a helluva lot slimier so that must count for something. The ick factor of a slug is pretty much unparalleled.

And since I know you are wondering, yes the rest of my run fizzled out. It was okay, though, because I was tired of breaking in my seriously tight compression pants and had to send out urgent text messages re: slugs.

Totally worth it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Years are Short

Yesterday was my birthday. In two weeks, we'll have been in Estonia for one year. A day after that, Boy will turn 4.

Four, my God. Four.

There is a common quip about parenting young children: The days are long but the years are short. As I round the bend to completing seven years in this career, I'd posit that that's equally true of the Foreign Service.

There are some days with small kids that seem they'll never end: diapers, tantrums, Dora, playing hide n' seek again, cooking, cleaning, more diapers, administering more time outs than is actually productive, reading a story for one-millionth time. Despite the fact that I average only two full days like that a week, I often catch myself eagerly awaiting bedtime, ready to move from the monotony of play to the not-at-all-monotonous state of watching TV on the couch.

Boy has a new babysitter after school, and on their first day together I hovered a bit after bringing him home, waiting for tantrums or to soothe his new-person nerves. Needn't have bothered. He sent me back to work with nary a wave. While he still has his baby moments, with every day he grows closer to the teenager who won't want me to pick him up from school, to the grown man I'll hope I hear from once a week. Where has this time gone? Why was I ever wishing it away?

I'm sure my parents were thinking something similar yesterday. My God, I get it now. Don't grow up too fast. You have your whole life to be an adult.

When people ask about serving in India, I now have the perspective to explain it in a similar way: it went fast, and was an amazing experience. Each day dragged and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I imagine even the toughest posting goes by in a flash, at least in hindsight. I thought my sweaty Mumbai days, trapped in an apartment with a difficult toddler, would never end. Here we are: 31 and almost-4, with a year in our new home under our belt.

When I consider each previous assignment and place--even pre-Foreign Service--I imagine it a box. It's packed, sealed, done. New York, Israel, Korea, India. Just like Boy's toddlerhood or Girl's infancy. It's over; the crucial memories are packed up and safe, but the details--the stuff that composed a lazy Saturday in Seoul or each day with a 15-month old--they're gone.

I'm terrible with time. I keep thinking I have more of it, and inevitably I blink a few times and understand that a day, a week, a year has passed when I had said I'd get to it in a moment, an hour, the next afternoon. I call it my adult ADD, but the truth is it's just a lack of self-discipline and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that this moment is all I know for certain that I have.

It's a rare sunny day in Tallinn, and I'm home with Girl, who is recovering from a mild cold. When she wakes up from her nap, I think I'll ditch the usual routine of helping her build a tower while I compulsively check my phone, and take her on a bike ride. After all, tomorrow it might be raining, and soon she too will have left her toddlerhood behind.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Report Cards

I'm having one of those weeks (er...two months, really) at work. We can file certain consular work under "N" for "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished." It is very demotivating.

So! Let's focus on the darling children instead. Nanny returned back to the U.S. on Sunday. Well, more accurately she left for the U.S. on Sunday. Because the airline industry is the airline industry, the fact that I paid more for her ticket so that she could be home in two connections and 16 hours mattered little to the The Fates. She left here at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and finally touched down in Kansas City at about 1:00 a.m. local time on Tuesday night (read: 9:00 a.m. Estonia time on Wednesday). That is one hell of a trip, and my understanding is the fine folks at LOT decided to scream at her instead of apologizing profusely for such egregious cancellations, re-routings, and baggage-losing.

Anyway. Nanny is gone. Girl started Estonian daycare last week, and Husband took this week off to rearrange the house. Girl finally has her own room, Boy moved up to Nanny's room (his own bathroom and everything), and we surrendered and turned the living room into a giant playroom. Seven-year-old me would be so jealous.

Girl is certainly a more relaxed person than Boy, but she hasn't been in daycare since she was a newborn and doesn't yet speak Estonian, so I was nervous. No need. Her report card thus far:

  • Joyful smile
  • Very well-behaved
  • Eats well
  • Dances during music class
  • Naps like a pro
  • Hates to wash her hands or her butt (no wipes, I guess?)
  • Will not walk to the park using the rope; insists on being carried or holding hands
Unlike Estonian children, Girl has not been potty-trained even though she is at the advanced age of almost 19 months. As for the walking, I haven't said anything about it, but she knows adults would normally freak if she walked into the street on her own. When she's intimidated, she wants to be held. I imagine walking down a sidewalk and crossing a street is a bit initimidating. To her school's credit, they aren't too worried about this and noted that she is, of course, the youngest one in the school. I don't want to be the parent who refuses to make the teachers' lives any easier, though, so at the very least we will practice spraying her little tush down with the bum shower (as the men of the house call the very European sprayer). The American in me shrugs at the hand washing and thinks, "She's small! Just make her do it. Ignore the screams," but from what I can tell the Estonians do put a premium on voluntary cooperation. I don't know that my kids are capable of such a thing, but I'll try.

Which brings me to Boy. At the risk of jinxing absolutely everything, we've gone most weeks with barely a negative remark from his teachers. He still gives us hell at times, but more often than not he's just ridiculous. His teacher mentioned the current challenge is his bug obsession. He collects all the bugs he can find on the playground, lays on his back, puts them on his chest, and let's them wiggle around on him. At home, he does such charming things as place two plastic bowling pins between his legs and declare, "My junk has engines!" (a la rocket engines). Someday he will HATE me for putting that on the internet, but I feel like that's his own fault for saying his junk has engines. Actually, at the time I placed the blame solely on Husband having taught him the word "junk" in such a context. 

Maybe it's the sun and the mild temperatures and all the outdoor time that comes with it, and maybe it's that he'll be four years old in just a few weeks, but perhaps we can hope against hope that he's turning a corner. Neither Husband nor I expects that Boy will suddenly be cooperative and have superior (or any) listening skills, but as long as the violence dissipates and the tantrums become fewer and farther between, he's headed in the right direction.

I'll take it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Playing Hookie

I took the afternoon off work today. I'm not sure I've ever done that before--just blow off work (aka "take annual leave") to explore the city I'm in.

After months upon months of No Visitors (no visitors in snowy April? Why ever not?), a long-lost friend who happened to be in Helsinki hopped over to Tallinn for the afternoon. A few instafriends and some fabulous moments involving Ye Olde Archery, Ye Olde Chainmail, and Ye Olde Beers later, I wrapped up my most relaxed afternoon in Tallinn to date.  It was much needed.

Husband and I bid farewell to Nanny this Sunday and our world will change. Not only do we lose someone who has lived with us for 15 months and cared for our kids while being ridiculously funny, but we lose the flexibility of having a night out here and there. Today reminded me that we can still use our annual leave creatively and shoot for an afternoon off once a month or so to just dink around this storybook town of ours without worrying about potty breaks and snack time and other kid-centric concerns. Our kids are the center of our lives, no doubt, but having spent a few hours in the company of some truly intrepid travelers, I'm reminded that this is quite a gift, earning money to live abroad. We should enjoy it while we have it.

On another note, enjoy your Independence Day. I will spend most of the holiday working at two official Fourth of July events, which is the trade-off for earning money to live abroad. It'll be too bright here for fireworks, so light a sparkler for me and grill a burger or twelve. Head iseseisvuspäeva!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Have Angst, Will Travel

As if I could not talk about the Slaughter article in The Atlantic. It's like someone got paid to express my angst.

I think Slaughter's article is good, but loses some of the best observations in a) her poor framing of feminism as striving to have a model, high-power career while raising happy children and a great marriage; b) forgetting that the "time macho" problem affects the physical and mental health of men as well; c) and failing to consider how single parents and same-sex parents conceive of the same overwhelming pressure.

And it is overwhelming pressure. My general experience as a working mother is filled with despair that I am half-assing it at work and half-assing it at home. Ideally, I let work happen at work and home happen at home, but even on my more successful days, the reality remains that parenthood does not have defined borders.  Only I can do my current assignment at the moment--literally, as I have no back-up in my section. Only two people can parent our small children and both of us are sitting in the same building all day. Husband and I have complete economic parity, and we are co-parents in the true sense of the word. This is good. We both would like to win the lottery and just stay home with our kids. This is unlikely. We frequently discuss the state of emergency the constant juggle feels like.

I'll be in Country A, you'll be in Country B. Who will have the kids? How much will that cost? I have to work late, can you put them to bed? You have a meeting, but I have a meeting! Who will pick up Child? How much do we owe Nanny in overtime?

This is something that every working parent deals with, as no matter what your profession or your marital status you have two opposing forces at all time: Your Income/Contribution to the Way the World Works, and the People Who Depend on You to Literally Survive. In some other places, you might have grandparents and aunt and uncles to help you, a village even, but not here.

Under no circumstances do I think there is a magical fairytale land where both parents have shining careers that result in Lots of Power while their well-adjusted children don't get thrown out of school or contract viruses and everyone rides unicorns ALL THE TIME. I think my colleagues with or without children who are helping aging parents or a sick spouse feel similar pressure. I do think, however, that we seem to have concocted a parallel fantasyland, where employees are beholden to their employer's needs above all things and shall never let real life interfere. Needs of the Service, and all. 

It's Are You Mom Enough? versus Are You Employee Enough?

At any rate, as you probably know from reading my hand-wringing, I haven't yet grasped the solution. Below is the original article and some of the responses it has generated (along with excerpts that had me nodding along).

"Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter (Atlantic)

"Can Modern Women 'Have It All'?" by Rebecca Traister (Salon)
We don’t lay the same booby traps for men. We don’t constantly quiz and evaluate and poke and prod and take their emotional temperature, asking if they feel fulfilled and happy, if they have everything they want, if their every youthful aspiration has been met sufficiently, if they feel that they’re measuring up at the office, in the kitchen, in bed.  If we did, we might find out that they – especially younger ones, increasingly used to sharing workplaces and domestic and familial responsibilities with women – also feel stressed, guilty, anxiety-stricken, unfulfilled, questioning. But it’s not likely that we would then use their admissions of discontent to diagnose a larger male inability to balance effectively, or conclude that they are not realistically able to maintain the dominance they’ve enjoyed for millennia because having so much power is a) bad for them, b) unnatural or c) impossible. We’d probably just blame their dissatisfaction on feminism.

Can You Have It All? Talking About the Atlantic Piece That Everyone Is Talking About (Slate)
Farhad Manjoo: Even though Traister argues that "having it all" is a straw man, I suspect that a lot of striving young parents—men and women—really do believe they can have it all, and are shocked when confronted with the reality. I certainly thought so. I thought that my wife could continue in her career, I could continue in mine, and that we could simultaneously be the sort of extremely doting two-parent couple who used to annoy me. But in our situation, for more or less exactly the reasons that Slaughter describes, my wife's career had to go on hold.

I Don't Want to Have It All by Doree Shafrir (Buzzfeed)
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend who's a top editor at a women's magazine. She has two small children, and she's finding it increasingly difficult to balance the hours and stress of her job with raising her kids. "I just don't think I want to be an editor-in-chief," she told me. "I never thought I'd be someone who said that — I spent my 20s working harder than anyone else so I could get where I am now. But now that I'm here, I see what I would need to do to become an editor-in-chief, and it just doesn't appeal to me anymore."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Area for Improvement: Motherhood

Husband is out of town this weekend and for the whopping second time in my life, I find myself handling two kids entirely on my own for more than just a night. Neither napped this afternoon, but I boldly attempted to attend the going away party for a colleague and his (really lovely) family. Boy is younger than most of the community's kids by a few years, and Girl until recently was the only toddler. I am the only full-time working mother.

I dread these things. I like my colleagues--and I've come to consider a number of them friends--and their families. A potluck gathering of families, especially on a weekend when Husband is gone, is the perfect stage to illustrate just how in adequate a parent I am. Our potluck offering? The remainder of last night's dinner (I quadrupled the recipe so I wouldn't have to scramble today). My kids? Un-napped. Me? Though I've been hacking away at this mother gig for almost four years, and I did it solo for 15 months, I am thoroughly untested. Handling one kid on my own seems like cake in retrospect. Handling two on my own is a rare challenge. There are a decent number of work nights when one of us puts them to bed alone, but most of the time I'm off work Husband is there too. One of us might disappear for a run, or a quick errand, or a night out, but for the bulk of our time at home there are two adults splitting the load.

A number of my colleagues have four or five children. I have two. This evening, as they watched me try to carry things and scold Boy for God-knows-what, Mothers of Five offered assistance. Of Five. They can manage five, and I'm a big sloppy mess with two. Husband pointed out that Boy is uniquely challenging at times (although he also told me he witnessed a kid punch his mom in the face in Stride Rite, so yea! we aren't alone), but the truth is out of his 12-14 waking hours, I am present for a whopping 4 of them on any given day. For at least two of those hours, I handle one kid and Husband takes the other.

Would I be better at this if I were home?

Mostly I feel for Boy. He's socially challenged anyway, but when you add to it that his mom doesn't know whether to be a helicopter or a Yes Mom given his age and personality, and that all the kids are older, and that he just didn't nap, it seemed like he couldn't do anything right. Either I was giving him The Look (the kid is holy unaffected by The Look, bee tee dubs), or he was surrounded by older kids telling him he's awful, or he was just annoying them by being a preschooler (which is inherently annoying to any seven year old). He just wanted to play and when I finally chased him into the car to go home, he lamented that no one was nice to him. He didn't understand that he really did have to share a bit better and listen when they said they didn't like something he was doing.

Would he be better at this if I were home?

We both bring so much anxiety to his social interactions that I imagine my fear is hamstringing him as much as his immaturity. My mother assures me that my older brother was the worst behaved preschooler out of all of us, and by the time he got into elementary school he was decidedly calm. A friend confided that there was a chunk of time when she just couldn't let anyone come to her house to play with her preschool-aged son because he would be too wretched to them. He grew out of it. Now I'm looking for the story of a mom who spend most of her waking hours in an office and somehow became just as good and instinctive and effective a parent as the one who didn't leave her daughter crying every morning.

Lest you think I am being a total Eeyore, I will share one anecdote from this morning that epitomizes why I so adore the current manifestation of my beastly son:

As I did squats or something similarly ungraceful, Boy asked what I was doing. "Getting in shape," I answered. He gave a somewhat incredulous look, and said, "Are you going to be a rectangle? Here! I can be a circle!" and made a more-like-a-triangle by sticking his tush in the air as his hands and feet propped him up. The kid is alright.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Tattoos for Bureaucrats


Tattoo the Second. Unlike the elephant, this took more planning than walking by a tattoo shop and asking if they would, say, tattoo me.

About three months ago, I proclaimed over a lunchtime beer to a very tattooed friend and colleague that I too was a parent and a diplomat and I too wanted to have a secret that was awesome. Perfect, he said, I am finally getting my Estonian tattoo. You should come with me.

Wheee! I thought. This would solve so many problems. 1) He knew what he was talking about. 2) He had scouted the perfect local artist already. 3) I'd see how it works. 4) I'd score an intro to said perfect local artist.

I suffer from a chronic case of the Uncools. I want to be cool, I respect cool, but I walk in and just giggle my way through an obviously novice attempt at securing the cool. And by cool I mean the confidence in which one makes choices that make her happy without seeking the approval of others. When I first bought premium denim (pre-baby, naturally), I steeled myself for the experience by endlessly insulting my non-coolness on the way to the store. Don't screw this up. Don't let them know you are uncool. Don't act like you're cool because they'll know you aren't. Get in, get out. Do no harm! And I totally botched it. I acted like I was just awesomely prepared for this experience and look how great I look in denim that is premium! Doesn't premium denim just make it all better. Some people don't want to spend the money on premium denim, but I do! Let me in to your premium club. I am worthy!

This panic attack was largely brought on by the fact that I was not only aware of my general lack of coolness, but a recent newspaper article revealed that the owner of the place was known to turn people away who just weren't ready. He didn't turn me away, and after that trip I actually learned to shop there as a normal human being who was just, you know, shopping. But that first trip was terrifying.

This time I got to sit on a couch while my friend got tattoo number a million. Over dinner that night, he explained why the tattoo artist was so good and why he had picked him. I walked away with the shop's card.

Husband was totally behind me on this. Yea him!

I had been pinning tattoos I liked on Pinterest, but I needed to send the artist a number of photos and an explanation in my simplest English of what exactly I wanted. In no way was I going to try this in Estonian.

After a lot of consultation with the Home Team (Husband and Nanny), I sent about five photos of tattoos and other things, and explained which parts I like from each. I nervously awaited a sketch, and when it showed up, I thought for sure I would have to send back an email asking him to adjust some things as I wasn't even quite sure how I envisioned the final product. He was expecting that email as part of the whole process: I explain what I want, he sketches, I ask for changes, he tweaks, we agree, he sets an appointment and a ballpark quote. But when I opened his email, all I could think was:


As in no changes. Just add color.

Today, two months after our initial meeting, Husband accompanied me for my big day. I had my little elephant--one color, twenty minutes--but this was bigger. This was entirely custom and was going to take up to 3 hours.

The first 90 minutes didn't hurt, really. Not more than a slight scraping feeling. Once he started doing the color, my skin got a little angry, and the flower on my shoulder was quite uncomfortable, but at no point did I grit my teeth or hold my breath. I wish I had been so zen through childbirth. Two and a half hours later I could not wipe the stupid grin off my face. All the preparation in the world couldn't help me handle that moment coolly. I was just too thrilled with the final product.

So were the children, of course. Boy poked my arm (still bandaged, thank goodness) and declared it hot. It was hot. That was some seriously annoyed skin. Girl squealed "Bod!" (bird) and poked one of the birds. Poking, turns out, is not comfortable.

And as for the tattoo shop. Yes, the artist is very cool. He is quite confident in his choices and his appearance (which is rad: mohawk, piercings, tattoos, etc.). Turns out, he too is a parent of a small child for whom vacation is more work than just staying home and going to work.

I have at least two more planned, both of which could be hidden away when the time calls for it (read: work). It is truly an addictive experience: the sounds, the vibrating needles, the slight pain, the finished product. For those who ask the question that had always stopped me from getting a tattoo before, the answer is simple: when I'm old, I don't anticipate being a supermodel anyway. Might as well conceal those wrinkles and liver spots with some beautiful ink.

Happy Tattooing to all those who are taking a similar leap soon. I highly recommend doing so.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Haapsalu Redux

Today was a beautiful blue 68 degrees. On a whim, we loaded up the family, medicated the hell out of allergic Husband, and drove to Haapsalu. It's been over nine months since we were there last. Oh my, the children have changed.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fate Successfully Tempted

What was I saying just the other day? Something along the lines of another hospitalization would derail this crazy train we are on?

This is Boy, on Night One of his hospitalization:

His father is with him on Night Two. I have got to stop tempting fate.

I shall back up. As I've mentioned, I was in Stockholm for the last half of the previous week. Stockholm is really amazing and when our conference ended a bit early on Friday afternoon, I had at least seven hours of awake alone time left. Perfect time to acquire one of the many tattoos I am planning.

*Brakes screeching*

Yes, yes, this thirty year old married mother of two with a respectable job is working on tattoos. I am looking forward to nothing as little as I am looking forward to telling my father. But that's for later.

I emailed a few Stockholm shops, but they were booked. Luckily, one took walk-ins on Friday and had a solid reputation. Come back at 8. And so I did. 

Behold, my first tattoo, an elephant for my Girl:

Normally my t-shirt covers most of it, just leaving the face poking out, but I pulled it aside for you fine folks. I very deliberately faced it that way, so that I wouldn't end up risking just an elephant ass sticking out of my neckline. Easy to cover for work, quite small, very cute: I love it.

Despite Girl grabbing at it as soon as I arrived back in Tallinn on Saturday, I've managed to keep it very clean as it heals. I was anticipating wearing a suit on a work trip to Haapsalu on Tuesday, but picked out a soft cotton top that wouldn't irritate it. When Boy dumped an entire container of fish food in the tank and Husband and I set out on an emergency tank-cleaning mission, I carefully avoided splashing fish-poopy water on it. 

When Boy woke up that night crying and spiking a high fever, I stopped worrying about it.

His symptoms were such that we nursed him through the night and Husband took him into the Children's Hospital on Monday morning, where he was immediately admitted. I visited at lunch, but I had visa appointments in both the morning and afternoon, and thus was a bit tethered to the office. Nothing makes you feel like a horrible mother with misplaced priorities more than that type of situation. To be clear: if the doctors indicated that anything were a dire emergency, then I'd be the first to forget everything else and get to the hospital. But they didn't, so I was doing the best I could. I ditched everything when Girl was in the hospital, but I had backup then and, if I'm honest, a 14 month old needs her mother even more than a preschooler does at times.

I feel like a jerk even typing that sentence. You know what I mean. Husband was locking it down.

I switched with Husband yesterday evening so that I could spend the night with Boy. I stayed there today so Husband could go to work, and we are doing the reverse for tonight and tomorrow. I canceled my trip to Haapsalu, or rather foisted it on someone else. It had been long planned and kind people were going out of their way to welcome the U.S. Embassy. If my son hadn't been in the hospital, I would have been horribly disappointed to miss it. Alas, these crises never happen at a good time.

Today, as Boy regained much of his normal verve, I lolled about on the hospital bed, playing jets and lizards and whatever else he requested. At some point, it occurred to me that the worst place to have a fresh tattoo still in the healing process was a hospital, the land of MRSA. I suddenly became an insufferable Felix to Boy's fairly disgusting Oscar (a role reversal, as in all other circumstances he's the particular one). I'd squeal and wave my hands defensively if he sent a blanket my way. I washed my hands twice every time I ventured in the bathroom for whatever reason. My jacket hanging on the coat rack became suspect, as did the straps of the bags I had brought with me.  

My tattoo hasn't erupted with flesh-devouring anything. Yet. It's a good reminder to be cautious, though, and as Girl sleeps upstairs and Husband tries to convince Boy to settle in for another night of fitful sleep, tethered to an IV pole, I am shopping online for a few cheap long sleeve t-shirts, preparing a thin layer of protection for round 2.

Boy will come home tomorrow, with any luck. Never fear, if he weren't faring well this would have been a very different post.