Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Masochism Take Two

I was lamenting to Husband a few weeks ago that I would finally get the kids to bed only to have Dali, Pup Extraordinaire, put her face in mine and demand more attention than I had energy for. She's only 11 months and can go forever. He declared we needed a puppy and I declared he had lost his frickin' mind.

Meet Chaplin:

With Husband in town, we could check out puppies at the Rocky Mountain Puppy Rescue booth at the Boulder Creek Festival. Just check out, that's all. We'll just bring a cat crate, that's all. There were two perfect little pups for us--adorable, good mixes (Shepherd/Golden and Lab/Leonberger)--but there was also Chaplin, a 2 year old Lab mix. It was a puppy rescue, so there were no shortage of ridiculously cute puppies surrounding this guy, making it even less likely that he would find a home. Boy originally wanted a little one who showered him with affection and nibbles. I saw housebreaking, chewed kid's toys, losing the pup in the house. Chap lolled on the ground and demanded tummy rubs. He was already housebroken, was fine with cats, and had lots of energy. Husband and I liked the idea of an adult dog for our sake but also for the dog's. Boy was adamant he wanted a 2 month old puppy for 30 minutes, then suddenly he put down the ball of fur in his lap, looked up and said, "You know, I think Chaplin is the better dog. Let's get him." We passed our interview, and took this guy home.

He didn't fit in the cat crate, but turns out he's a pro at riding in cars already.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

UT: A Progress Report

This is not our first shot an unaccompanied tour. Last time Husband was in Iraq, Boy and I in India. That set-up had its own challenges, not least of which that was after, er, R&R number two, I was pregnant, working full time, parenting a toddler solo and, oh yeah, in India.

This UT is completely different, and more akin to those faced by most Foreign Service families. One spouse is employed in a warzone, the other is managing the rest of life divorced from OpenNet and any other resources that keep you connected to the Department. As an employee, I've watched my bidding season come and go, and unless someone can churn up a FS position at the closest passport agency (which I'd happily take), I'll likely watch the next come and go as well. We have no idea what resources Boy will need in school next year, so we are in no position to say whether we can go overseas again or whether we can both work full-time in Washington. There are a lot of question marks still, a theme of recent times.

So, three months in, with the first R&R halfway over, where are we? I am still on LWOP, Husband is still assigned to Afghanistan. His professional life is in flux, due to the crossroads of drawdown and tragedy, and therefore has some unanticipated stressors. I miss my work and colleagues. I miss seeing adults. I don't miss the panicked rush to find childcare or the always marriage-enhancing game of Who Is More Important  at Work Today? when the kids are suddenly sick. I don't miss the chaos of getting two kids to separate schools for their ten hour days, then taking separate cars to pick them up so we can get both of them in the narrow window between the end of the work day and the end of their school hours. I don't miss taking phone calls from Washington while trying to dress a screaming, exhausted toddler for bedtime. I don't miss the guilt when we explain that no, both of us can't be at a 6:00 a.m. event because someone has to feed our children, dress them, and get them to school.

On the flip side, at home I'm on all the time. No adult comes to rescue me (except for some awesome aunts*). No one takes duty calls. Boy wakes up by 5:30 (before 5:00 for the past week), and because Girl sleeps later and naps, she doesn't go down until 7:30 or even 8:00 some nights. I put in 14 hour days of full-on parenting more often than not, and follow them up with dishes and laundry. The extent of my adult interaction is some local family members (oh thank Jeebus*) and the great people at the gym. Coincidentally, I'm at the gym A LOT. Well, a lot for me. They have a daycare there and I lose weight. Everyone wins.

I've mastered ___________ to the extent it will ever be mastered. [Choices: Grocery shopping with two kids; Cleaning the house with two kids; Mowing the lawn with two kids; All of the above.]

I quickly learned that the only way to slow the inevitable losing of my mind was to insist that the children help with everything they can. Boy helps with laundry. Girl helps unload the dishwasher. Both dust. Boy cleans up his Legos every night. Girl helps put away toys in the playroom. Boy buckles himself into his carseat. They can both feed the pets. Boy lets the dog in and out. These are little things, but they make me feel like it is slightly less all on me.

I fill out paperwork and add Boy to waitlist after waitlist. Socialization groups, behavioral therapy, IEPs. We're waiting.

Denver was the right choice for us, and a blog post is evolving in my mind reviewing Denver for families. That said, this is the first time I've lived in America, but not in DC or New York, so my friends seem so close and far at the same time. Luckily I jet to my college reunion in a few days. Thanks to Husband for holding down the fort. I want to see my people.

Oh, and I pierced my nose. Sorry, Dad! It won't stay in forever, just for LWOP. Promise.

*When we made the decision not to go to Washington, we flirted with the idea of Portland or Austin. Thankfully flirting was all it was, because without the family that's here I would have been up a sad, frustrating creek. And all our stuff would still be in boxes.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Husband is en route for his first trip home.


Originally we were aiming for mid-June, three months after he arrived at post, but four after he left Colorado. The Timing Gods smiled on us in some ways, and it worked out that he could come home now. The theory was he could help me finish off the to-do list for the house (some things just go better with two people, like building a swing set and getting the master bedroom even slightly organized), but everybody involved just needs a break as well. He needs a break, I need a break, the kids need a break.

I had planned to surprise the kids with his arrival, but I envisioned their disappointment every time a trip to the grocery store or the zoo didn't end with a surprise appearance from Dad. That would be a long three months and while they lament their father's absence every day, without fail, I don't think I could bear the gnashing of their terrible teeth and rolling of their terrible eyes when he didn't show up in the dairy aisle. It would not only be heartbreaking, but it would also send me over the cliff of insanity. I am perilously perched on the edge these days. No need to push myself over. New plan: surprise them when he returns for good.

I've stocked up on good wine, ready to resume our late night mutual bitchfests. We preach to each other's choirs about politics, policy, and--I am certain about this--Benghazi and guns specifically. I've always been surrounded by other FSOs--colleagues, friends, and my spouse--but without them I have no safe place to pull my hair out about the former. That's about as much as I can safely type on a blog at this point, because it's not my lane and I'm not a total idiot career-wise (writes the woman sitting in pajamas in Denver on a workday--winning!). As far as guns, I'm sure our complaints will center around a) that Congress is not able to begin to pass a bill supported by 90% of Americans even with a majority of votes in the Senate because of the unholy intersection of the NRA and the filibuster and b) guns marketed to small children because what. the. hell.

It's just been me and Jon Stewart for 3 months. I need my husband back.

Friday, May 10, 2013


I sat in Girl's bed tonight, putting on her PJs, when I was caught suddenly and viscerally by the extreme frustration I feel for such large chunks of the day. I slumped, eyes misty, right hand forming a brim over my brow line to shield my face while I composed myself. Girl noticed right away. She place her hand--her two-year-old hand!--on my shoulder, rubbed it a little and asked with noticeable concern, "What's wrong, Mommy?" Her compassion is impressive, and I was too caught of guard to answer anything but truthfully. "I feel like a bad mommy," I said, probably unfairly to her. This isn't her row to hoe.

She asked me if I was angry. I said I was, sometimes, but mostly I was really really frustrated. She said, "With Boy?"

Holy smokes. Is this just who she is, or has living with me done this to her?

Our day wasn't so bad, taken as a whole. Boy started it at 5:15, but was chipper about it, until about 8:00 when I was trying to bundle them out the door so I could make it to the gym in time to humiliate myself in Zumba. Then he was too tired to move, too tired to be good at the gym, too tired to put on his shoes. I muttered through clenched teeth my usual schtick about how unfair that was and that he didn't get to take the rest of us hostage. I added that it was ridiculous to insist on waking up so early and then play the victim. There was lots of clenched-teeth muttering. I trust he ignored most of it, as he is wont to do.

He actually did well at the gym, earning 15 minutes of iPad time for the three positive checks on his behavior chart. We made it through lunch and nap (yes! a rare and pleasant occurrence). He played outside nicely with Girl while I mowed the lawn (super quiet, eco-friendly reel mower FTW). The two boys from across the street came over, and stayed with us while their dad got some yard work done. They were fine, my kids were fine, but I found that my ability to stay positive and energetic through the whole impromptu playdate waned quickly. When they went home and we started to get ready for our traditional Friday evening bike ride for burgers, it fell apart. I fell apart. Boy gleefully and repeatedly ran out of the house (once while I was in the shower, it turns out). Boy gleefully refused to let his sister in his room to retrieve her shoes. There were some fisticuffs on the way there (I wish bike trailers had a wall between the two seats). There were significant fisticuffs on the way back (Girl's face was red from blows, but I must note she was not entirely innocent in the throwdown and in fact is much more vicious than her brother when it comes to it).

What put me over the edge, of all things, was Boy continuing to shout to the boys across the street that they were poop, as I repeatedly told him to stop calling people that. It was an entirely unimportant fight to pick at that time, but it was also an entirely straightforward instruction to follow. It was nothing short of defiant, just as running out of the house had been, just as holding his door shut as I stood 6 inches away telling him to open it was. It was a Screw you, Mom. It sucked. I sucked.

When asked to describe Boy's problems, I sometimes struggle to find a good example. In the end it's not often an isolated outburst. It's wiping toothpaste on the wall and running out of the house. It's turning on the TV immediately after I said no more cartoons or bolting off in a store. When he was in school it was chucking trains across the room compulsively, not so much acknowledging the adult next to him until she picked up him, and then he would turn into a writhing screaming mess. It's a steady stream of defiance. Defiance almost as a knee-jerk reaction. Defiance for no obvious reason.

It's an endless power struggle and it is exhausting.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

She's Here Too

Boy seems to be getting all the attention in this space, no? That could extend to other spaces as well, although Boy would probably point out that he gets all the negative attention. He wouldn't be wrong on our worst days. The Service gets almost no attention at all. I don't know what to say. I'm not used to thinking about the Department from the outside. Husband missed being in the wrong place and the very wrong time a month ago, but the officer in me reminds myself that we never know when the wrong place and the wrong time were a misplaced set of keys, a search for a purse, a last minute phone call away from striking us. Here in Denver. There in Kandahar. Maybe I'm a fatalist, but the other option is to obsess over all the things that could be happening to him at this very moment, and that doesn't seem like a wise choice either.

Girl, though, is here and well and is blooming in that way that nearly-two-and-a-half year old children do. Everyday she's more the child, less the baby. I don't know precisely when it happened, but she became the Great Communicator, mimicking everyone (for better or worse) and verbalizing her needs and wants (trust me: for better or worse). We are starting potty training, though we are still on that awesome stage where she tells me she needs the potty the second pee starts puddling on the floor. Nailed it! Today she made it to the bathroom three times, so we are making progress. In the meantime, she's nothing short of hilarious.

She's mastered the preteen Awww. The one that follows your announcement that no, she cannot play outside because it's bath time or no she cannot have a cookie. Awww.

She calls me by my first name.

She's mastered the preteen histrionics. I no want to take a nap. I no take a nap ever. I no do it. Not ever. (Followed almost immediately by a three hour nap.)

Our bedtime routine goes likes this:
Lights out.
Girl: Cuddle me! For one minute!
Me: Okay, but then I have to go clean.  [often not true]
(a couple of minutes later)
Me: Okay, Girl, I have to clean now [still not true]. I love you.
Girl: I love you too. I see you in the mornin'!
Me: Sweet dreams. 
Girl: Sweet dreams!
Me: Thank you, Girl.
Girl: Oh, you're welcome!

She's made a little friend across the street. Her friend speaks only Spanish; Girl only English, save for the occasional Mis on? or kampsun. They get along great, seeking refuge from the stressors of older brothers.

Only a month or two after calling every color blue, she's mastered the rainbow, showing her grandparents via Skype Candyland cards as they request a hue. Green pink blue red orange, they say. Okay, I try to, she says. Nails it. This time for real.

Girl really isn't ignored. She gets much more attention than she did when I was working. If we have to spend 15 hours a week focusing on Boy's, er, challenges, then we do that even if we only have 20 waking hours with Girl. But now I have all the time in the world. Not all the patience, not all the energy, and not all the confidence, but all the time. And I don't worry anyway, because I know when she's feeling a bit left out, she'll burst in the bathroom and when I ask for privacy, she'll shake her head.

No, I just want to watch.

Kids. If they weren't cute, they'd be total creepers.

Boy makes bubbles. Girl catches bubbles.