Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Making the Bilateral Sausage

That's how I spent my Monday and Tuesday. Well, more accurately, I sat at the table while others made the sausage. As I sat there I thought with a bit of an internal smirk about all the films depicting tense diplomatic discussions in dimly lit rooms with things beeping in the background. Representatives are eagle-eyed and armed with an entire list of esoteric answers that their savvy interlocutors immediately understand. People declare, "Good God, man!" regularly, or at least when the Brits are at the table. Diplomats reference opera and minor invasions in some medieval war while sipping martinis and/or issuing warnings of certain doom. And something is always on DEFCON 5. It's all very Aaron Sorkin.

No one ever says, "We'll get back to you with that." Or, "I don't know." Or, "Let's try this." It's never working out the kinks, only finding answers to the big questions. Why focus on the details of, say, double taxation when you can move straight to solving a nuclear standoff?

For the types of issues that fall onto my desk, you actually end up talking about technology. And by "you," I mean "the people with you who know something about technology," because that's never me. Well, technology or death. But today was not about death and I wasn't doing the talking anyway. Which was good. Because it was about technology. Death I can do, technology...well, I think I've made my point.

No nukes involved. Very few things were beeping. No one referenced the Ring Cycle.

I don't imagine we are going to find ourselves in a nuclear standoff with Estonia anytime soon, and that's for the best. Not only would we have to deal with radiation yadda yadda, but turns out us government types lack the dramatic chops to make any of it very suspenseful in the big screen recap.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Me: Pick out your school clothes.

Boy: I'm tired. I want to nap.

Me: That's because you woke up too early. Pick out pants and a shirt.

Boy: I don't want to go to school. I'm sick. Cough.

Me: Pick out your school clothes.

Boy: I'm a puppy!

Me: School clothes.

Boy: I want to wear shorts!

Me: No, you have to wear pants. It's snowy outside.

Boy: Why?

Me: Seriously. Pants.

Boy: Woof woof.

Me: Pants.

Boy: I'm a puppy! Say, "Good boy!"

Me: Pants.

Boy: I'm throwing a ball!

Me: Pants.

Boy: I'm going to hide from you. I'm hiding under the horse!

Me: Pants.

Boy: You're a silly, Mommy.

Me: Pants.

Boy: I'm going to wear shorts. Okay, Mommy? I want to do that.

Me: Pants.

Boy finally puts on pants.

Me: Now choose a shirt.

Boy: I want to stay in my jammy shirt.

Me: No, that's for sleeping, and you have ketchup on it.

Boy: I'm a puppy!

Me: Shirt.

Boy: Woof.

And so it goes.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Foreign Service Kitchen

I like Estonia. I do. There isn't much to complain about, other than 6 hours a day of dingy not-darkness in the winter (I would not call it sunlight)  and ice and snow falling from the tops of buildings onto unsuspecting pedestrians below. The people are polite, emergency services are diligent, the democracy is healthy and transparent.

So this isn't a complaint, but merely an observation: if you asked any Foreign Service family anywhere in the world what they miss most about the U.S., some liars might say "family," "friends," or "The Jersey Shore." All the honest folk would say: Mexican food, specifically Tex Mex. (To be fair, the many people stationed in Mexico would probably not say that.) Depending where you are, that answer could be expanded to: Tex Mex and Chinese takeout or Tex Mex, Chinese takeout, and brunch. Or, if you are me: Tex Mex, Chinese takeout, brunch, and sandwiches.

Estonia has many positives, but so far the restaurant scene is not one of them. There are some very good ones, to be sure, but they aren't cheap. There are a handful of reliably delicious mid-range places and you can get some mean pancakes (read: crepes), but there is not a ton of variety. Tel Aviv had some amazing restaurants of all types of food--a perk of being an immigrant culture--although the fantastic Mexican restaurant burned down. Seoul had some quality offerings, but tentacles always seemed to appear on my plate, no matter what type of food I was eating. Mumbai had killer street food (I actually don't mean that literally....street food is so piping hot that it killed most things. Restaurants were more dangerous.) and some fantastic upscale restaurants. Kuala Lumpur is worth a tour for the food alone. But Tallinn is Baltic, which means there is no love for spices and somehow herring is always on the menu.

Girl has just weaned herself from a bottle and about a month ago started rejecting all purees. A year ago yesterday, we had Boy's tonsils out, and the surgery combined with a two-and-a-half year old's palette ("No like it!") resulted in significant weight loss and much fretting. Now he has a voracious appetite and is an adventurous foodie. I have growing kids and I'm not too keen on putting a bunch of preservatives in their little bodies.

Also, I work and come home about 45 minutes before Girl taps out for the night.

So if you combine those three things, I have a bit of a Parenting Challenge on my hands: the lack of local options, the need to actually nourish growing children, little time.

Foreign Service families get creative. People make their own beer, yogurt, mozzarella. They grow their own vegetables and occasionally pluck their own chickens. I've recently acquired canning supplies and a bunch of gardening equipment, and I'm eagerly awaiting the spring (ha! summer) thaw.

There will be salsa. Lots of it. My pressure cooker already helps me make refried beans and anyone can shred chicken, but local salsa is suspiciously reminiscent of tomato sauce. I cannot live that way.

Last weekend I made pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Every weekend usually sees pancakes and some sort of fruity bread. Last night I cooked up some killer potatoes au gratin and some very sad turkey burgers.

My late grandmothers would laugh if they heard me suggest any of that is roughing it. One was a farmer's wife and the other the daughter of a baker from The Old Country. One waited for my uncle and Pop Pop to finish skinning squirrels so she could cook them up (I'll never forget that meal). But as a child of the 80s, I saw potatoes au gratin come from a box and cinnamon rolls come from a tube. Doing things from scratch is a new idea for me.

I've started dabbling in freezer cooking, but I can never find a full day to prep and cook without a small child hugging my leg. I'm playing with ideas and since I know you are waiting eagerly to find out how I feed a family of hungry kids with early bedtimes during the week, I'll let you know what I come up with. I am open to suggestions.

(And no, Husband is no help on this: he literally has spent weeks at a time subsisting on beer, beef jerky, and chips, and as a result is a bit apathetic about what happens in the kitchen. Damn his metabolism.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Motherhood Revisited

On December 23rd, at two minutes after midnight Alexandria, VA-time, Girl turned one. Had I pushed more efficiently, she would have had one day more between her and Christmas. Sorry, Girl, I hope everyone treats them as different events for the rest of your life, although your own Grammy and Great Grandmother would probably assure you that, no, unfortunately they do not.

I haven't typed up Girl's birth story, but the occasion of her very first birthday is a good reason to do so.

When pregnant with Boy, I was determined to do All The Right Things, and I shared that with everyone who would listen. I was going to have a natural birth, breastfeed immediately, keep him away from TV until he was 2, etc. etc. Then I swelled like a water balloon (Husband's favorite metaphor), was induced from 0 cm and ended up with the totally unwelcome but predictable C-section. Boy was almost three weeks early, slept all the time at the beginning and then never again after that, and barely ate. The first 8 months of our relationship were centered around how much nursing or sleeping he was or was not doing at any given moment. It was not an auspicious start to motherhood, and in retrospect the experience robbed us both. I spent the next two plus years hating my birth experience and even hesitating when I would say, "When I gave...birth to Boy," because I just couldn't forgive myself for not having pushed him out.

With Girl, I wanted a VBAC desperately, but I had learned enough in the interim between pregnancies that having desperate desires was a good way to set myself up for failure. Plus, I was a geographically single working mom in India. I had other things on my mind. By the time I got back to the U.S., I was twenty weeks pregnant. The day after I landed, I went to the ER for my final bout of Intestinal India and was, predictably, sent to L&D. They neglected to diagnose my bacterial infection, but they did confirm that I was pregnant with a very healthy looking little girl.

I immediately set to nesting, interrupted by several hours each day of Estonian training. By the time December rolled around, I had gained 30 fewer pounds than I had with Boy, and I felt good, but ready. The anticipation was killing me and I read every sign as A Sign. My poor mother flew out and kept extending her return, but alas, Girl stayed put. Boy was pulled out three weeks early and Girl decided to start her descent two days late. It was the best thing that could have happened.

I woke up about 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, December 22 with a contraction. This was not terribly unusual, so I went back to bed. When I woke up at 6:00 with Boy, I felt another. Then ten minutes later, another. Then ten minutes later. Funny thing happens in late pregnancy: I was so convinced that I was going to be pregnant forever that I thought this was probably false labor. In reality, I was two days past my due date, sans mucus plug (TMI FTW!), and ready to go. I sent Husband to class and Boy to school, determined to enjoy my last few hours of silence and labor at home.

Keep in mind that I had never labored at home, or spontaneously, before.

Mostly I was bored. I fiddled around the house, tried to nap, took walks. My dad and stepmom were on standby. In late morning, I called Husband to tell him this was actually labor and that I wanted a milkshake and a Bureaucrat sandwich from Lost Dog Cafe, so he came home and obliged. Note to first time pregnant ladies: if you eat a big lunch during labor, you will see it later. It was still worth it (both labor and the sandwich).

My dream of a 9 hour labor came and went, and at 4:00 p.m. Boy came home and the grandparents came over to go on a walk around our snowy neighborhood. Contractions were still about ten minutes apart and I was pretty sure she would go to college in my uterus. Boy leapt on me, and I crumbled to the ground, unable to hold him. That was the first indication that my body was getting serious about this whole baby-expelling thing. Soon after, Boy cried in confusion as I bounced in the living room, mooing. (Note: everyone says sway, and nurses at the hospital kept saying it too. No sway for me, only the balls-of-my-feet bounce.)

By 6:15 p.m., I was sure I would split in half. Contractions were on top of each other, two or three at a time before I would get a two minute break. I was at least 12 hours into labor, if not more, and shit that sucker hurt. I had to be at least 14 cm dilated! Let's go to the hospital.

A snowy car ten minute car ride and three brutal contractions later:


In between my mooing (literally. mooing.), I said screw it to my natural birth plans and asked for an epidural. Oops. I know I would have survived, and if we had had a third, I would have tried for a drug-free birth again, but I'm going to be zen and not focus on that. Anyway: epidural. Only the right side worked. I actually ended up preferring that. I could still feel contractions, but more manageably.

A couple hours after ending up at the hospital, I was at seven centimeters, and the midwife said I would have a baby by morning. Girl was tolerating contractions perfectly and as I watched her heartbeat remain strong and steady, I flashed back to the constant decels with Boy. His decels were probably a result of the early induction--pitocin-strong contractions are rough on an umbilical cord--but it wasn't until that moment that I realized that Boy really wasn't tolerating labor. It wasn't a medical conspiracy because it was a Saturday. I won't comment on the induction decision, but the c-section was due to his heart rate. I forgave myself at that moment.

Then I barfed. Hello, Bureaucrat sandwich and milkshake.

Then Girl had her first decels and my heart plummeted to somewhere in the vicinity of my toes. The nurse came in and checked to see if her cord had slipped out, as the change was sudden. Nope. I had flown from 7 to 10 in thirty minutes and the baby had made her way to -2. It was time.

Twelve minutes of pushing later and there she was, screaming on my stomach as they suctioned her nose and rubbed her a bit, waiting for her cord to stop pulsating. My baby, my VBAC. The birth of a baby is the birth of a parent, and this time I wasn't conflicted. I made peace, finally, with Boy's birth and reveled in my little munchkin. Seven pounds, ten and a half ounces, and a voracious eater from the start.

She came on her own time and that lesson was hugely important to this mama.

By the time a baby is a year old, we have something of substance to say about that little person. We have a daughter who is the following:

Smiley. Tall. Chubby. Blond. Blue-eyed. Vampire-toothed. A dancer. A pink-elephant lover. Snuggly. A pea and carrot fanatic. A DJ Lance groupie. A walker. A climber. A sister. Loud. A cup master. A cat snuggler. A big brother worshipper. A cheddar bunny addict. A pattycake master. A Daddy's girl.

That child kills with her smile, with two canine teeth on top and her two middle teeth on bottom. She'll toddle right past me to see her father and I'm trying not to begrudge him that. She dances exactly like Nanny does, which Nanny is trying to interpret as flattery and not mockery. She's turned into a little teeny kid and she did it quicker than I could imagine.

Happy Birthday, Girl. Thanks for being you.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Home Improvement

Jill over at Baby Rabies has thrown down the New Year's Resolution gauntlet, encouraging her fellow bloggers (of which I am barely one) to come up with 12 resolutions for 2012. Digger over at Life After Jerusalem noted she doesn't make resolutions, she makes (and meets or fails to meet) goals. I usually don't make real resolutions, because the second I do I start feeling preemptively guilty for not fulfilling them. I never fulfill them. Buuut....it's hard to reach a goal if you never set it, so I might as well. Putting them on the internets will help keep me honest.

1. Sleep at least one night a week. Meaning: kids go down, I shower, brush my teeth, read a bit and turn off the light by 9 at the latest. I depend way too much on coffee as things are now.

2. Have a tough conversation or twenty. I hate conflict and I hate disappointing people. I manage to make and enforce immigration and nationality decisions with applicants, but in all other things I need to grow a backbone.

3. Learn to garden. My stepmom generously gave me a bunch of both functional and adorable gardening gear. We have a large yard with berries and apple trees, and plenty of space to grow a few tomatoes and some other useful produce.

4. And then I will can it. I will make and stock salsa, tomato sauce, etc. You just cannot buy edible salsa here.

5. Spend more date nights humoring my husband. Or, even better, just have more date nights. Nanny returns to the U.S. this summer, and we'll miss having a readily available babysitter in the evenings. While I'll never be able to stomach much violence, I need to accompany Husband to his movies and his restaurants of choice more often. It'll make him happy. I will not, however, start watching Terra Nova.

[Pause...12 is a higher number than I thought it was.]


Yes! Okay, I've got it.

6. Make academic goals for Boy. He's in preschool, but not in a very academic environment. He's not really learning anything new, even though the social practice is priceless. I want to ensure that he is challenged and interested. He's a smart kid with a lot of questions in his little brain and I don't want to squander that.

7. The dreaded baby books. In Boy's case, started and abandoned. In Girl's case, entirely theoretical. This must change before they hit middle school.

8. Spend more time moving, and less time sitting. We have a Wii and, thanks to Grammy, now an Xbox. I have no shortage of exercise options right on my very own TV. I really have no excuse.

9. Make a financial plan and stick to it. We save for retirement and college. We pay our taxes and Nanny's salary. That's all well and good, but we are hoping to make some significant changes after Tallinn and that will require significant preparation.

10. Read more from our bookshelf. We have a lot of books, just billions, and I haven't read many of them and I've forgotten several that I have read.

11. Be a better emailer. I like living in Estonia, but I desperately miss my friends. My life is the same: kids, work, kids. Plus I have the Facepage and this trusty blog to keep them updated on all things mundane and fantastic. That's great, but I want to hear about them, which means ditching the mass messaging now and then and just typing out an old-fashioned email. I'd write letters, but considering my mom's Christmas presents are still in a box in my sewing room, I wouldn't hold my breath on getting those out the door. Speaking of...

12. Celebrate milestones on time. Mail those gifts a month in advance, actually send a card, order the right thing two weeks before. I miss a lot of big events and even more little ones. I want to be able to celebrate in this little way.

That's it, my thoroughly unexciting resolution list. What can I say? I'm thirty and in many ways I peaked long ago. Skydive? Check. Travel? Check and, well, that's our entire lives. Can applesauce? Hasn't happened.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


A year ago, on January 1, 2011, we trekked out to Roosevelt Island with our newly expanded family in order to run the little guy around a bit. A now-long-lost friend used to say Roosevelt Island was his favorite place in the D.C. area. I didn't ask why, and I regret never having asked to tag along. It's a beautiful, secluded yet easily accessible, little nook of national park. We got some great pictures of Boy in front of various Roosevelt sayings (Teddy, not Franklin) and even a couple of the 7 day old Girl nuzzled up to me in her wrap.

A year later and we're in Tallinn, where we've (finally!) been graced with a little bit of snow. What an amazing mood lifter. Estonia gets about 6 to 7 hours of daylight this time of year, and even that is more gray than anything anyone would ever call sunny. But a little snow brightens up the place, and for the past couple days we've actually seen the real, honest to goodness sun. We spent some of this New Year's Day outside. Boy and I had our first snowball fight. Girl drove her coupe around the neighborhood. The snowy trampoline got a bit of a workout. It just felt good.