Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tandem-Induced Chaos

Caution: Much whining contained within.

Two weeks ago, my section bid farewell to the other officer in it. It was sad, not only because he was well-loved, but also because he won't be replaced. Literally. His position has been cut, or more accurately, sent to China. The reality of the State Department is that our mission is expanding in every direction: war zones, visa demand, nation-building, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Hiring doesn't keep pace--an oft-quoted statistic is that there are more military band members than Foreign Service Officers. It's true. In the world of limited resources and nearly unlimited demand, you put your people where you need them the most. If you compare the ballooning demand for consular services in India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Nigeria, Jamaica, and so on, our little Visa Waiver post can't compete. Fair enough. I get that.

Being a tandem couple has some challenges. Being a tandem couple with children has a lot of challenges. Being a section chief married to a key country team member in a small embassy with children has so far presented the most challenges.

Wednesday, as I prepared to make my way from visa interview to meeting to meeting to meeting to gym to meeting to visa interview to meeting (yes, five meetings), Husband took Boy to the ENT. Boy had gone to the ER on Sunday for what was quickly diagnosed as an ear infection, but three days of antibiotics had done nothing to lessen his pain. The ENT took moments to identify the problem: not an ear infection, but Boy's tube was trying to come out and was pressing against the wall of his ear drum. The solution? Minor outpatient surgery to remove his tubes.

Because of his pain, surgery was scheduled for first thing the following morning. Husband was set to fly to Munich at 6:30 a.m. and come back by midnight, and the tickets had been purchased. I had visa interviews scheduled for that morning, but what can you do? We frantically rescheduled our applicants so that I could take Boy to surgery. I got to work at noon and stayed until 7:00, adjudicating until 5:00 and then spending the next two hours clearing something through Washington. I could have stayed until midnight and still had more to do on my list, but Nanny was with the kids and I wanted to relieve her.

I am going to Stockholm for work next week (the horror!) and I'll return on Saturday. Nanny is going out of the country for the weekend, so Husband will hold down the fort. Unfortunately, he has a work event on Saturday. Our solution? He'll bring the kids and I'll come there straight from the airport. With any luck, Girl will keep the tantrums to a minimum and Boy will refrain from kicking her until I get there.

The cost and logistical nightmare of our December training trips still haunt me.

This keeps happening. One has to be someplace for work, the other has to be somewhere else, and those places are often across national borders. In the middle sit our kids, waiting for Mom and Dad to do helpful things, like feed them and not leave them alone. Nanny leaves for the U.S. in July and the panic is already starting to set in. Babysitters are a much-coveted and very limited resource here.

I imagine parents in the U.S. do this two-parents-working-oh-God-what-about-the-kids-thing as well, but my friends never seem to scramble the way we do. Are we doing it wrong? Is it because we don't have a deep bench at our embassy? Am I actually complete crap at multitasking? I hope not, otherwise I'd have to change this blog title.

The Service is experiencing a pretty constant uptick in tandemness, as it's the easiest way for a family to ensure two incomes with full-time work across a normal career span. So far we have learned that it's also an easy way to ensure you will be apart for large chunks of time, you will hemorrhage money on child care, and that you will always have challenges many of your colleagues won't. A meeting on Sunday morning? That's a tough one for us. This may be an inherent problem with both people having a career that is better described as a lifestyle.

If you've made it this far, thanks for listening. I recognize my fretting over our both being gainfully employed is a luxury these days, yet fret I do. There are a lot of balls in the air, and it often feels like we are one crisis, one hospitalization, one expulsion from preschool away from it all crashing down.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful honesty. As an aspiring FSO (currently on the register), I've been reading your blog with much interest and it's nice to hear (read?) about the nuances of being the service.
..and from what I can tell, you seem to be handling all the challenges rather well!