Friday, January 11, 2013

On the Other Side

As we prepared to leave for our R&R a year ago, Boy's school said it might be good for him to have a few weeks away from the social pressure of group rules and norms. They were right. While our trip was never easy, really, we all breathed a little better. Some space and a lot of sun did Boy some good.

Somewhere during that trip, or shortly thereafter, we started wondering if we were doing this parenting thing all wrong. Was it worth it to drag our kids around the world? What would we do if we weren't dragging our kids around the world? I, for one, am completely unemployable in the private sector.

I love my job. I do. Along the way, though, I felt like I couldn't do it well or parent well or at least not both at the same time. A small doubt crept in and blossomed into surrender. I'm not cut out for this. Every other officer who is a parent makes it work. What's wrong with me?

Well, as the avalanche of articles on doing it all would attest: no, not every person makes it work. And, for better or worse, many Foreign Service families have one parent at home to work as the family manager and do the heavy lifting when life gets difficult.

We brainstormed and brainstormed, wondered how we could survive on one salary (what salary? at what job?) and eventually decided the best thing we could do is deal with it in summer 2014 as we left Tallinn. No need to rock the boat. Got some tattoos instead.

I made one mistake, though, which is assuming I'd have to seriously consider leaving the Foreign Service after Tallinn to care for my children.

Boy's medical clearance for Tallinn was revoked this week. We knew this was a possibility when MED sent us to Baltimore and we agreed with MED that we would do whatever we had to do to address his needs now, even if there were no viable options in Estonia. That email, though, sent me into a tailspin of guilt. I felt I let Post down, let all of working womanhood down (seriously, Rachel, get a grip), let my friends who are coming to Tallinn to replace Husband down. How? I don't know. By not being a better parent and solving this without turning the world upside down? I should file that under "Would if I Could."

Then, in a moment that was almost embarrassingly emotional, I felt more than anything that I've spent the past two years letting my son down. Buried under layers of guilt is an immense sense of relief: I can deal with this now, and in a way I couldn't if I had to work full time in a foreign country. 

The kids and I will go the U.S., and Husband will go on another unaccompanied tour to allow us to do so. Turns out, if you email the Department in December and say you might not be able to stay at post because of your kid, but maybe you'll be able to stay at post, but you don't know so is there anything in AIP* available just in case?, they will find something in AIP. 

I hated to tell our front office. I hated to tell Washington. I hated to tell our friends. To a one, they have all been supportive. 

Here's the deal: this job is inherently not family-friendly. Potentially long hours, high pressure, lots of travel, increasing amounts of responsibility, no local support network. That's diplomacy, my friends! The Department, however, has shown itself to be incredibly family-friendly on this one. Let's be clear: this is inconvenient for everyone, and not cheap. No one has told us to do anything other than what works for the family. I thought I had to give up this career, but now I know I can hit pause and try again in a year or so. It's not ideal, but that's life. I'm thankful to everyone who has made it possible to be the mom I have to be, so I can ultimately be the employee I want to be.

And now to pack out.

*Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan

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