Friday, January 31, 2014

Blogging, the Foreign Service, and "Secrets"

Some of you may have seen a post going around the interwebs called "The 7 Guilty Secrets of Trailing Spouses." It has created a lot of spin-off posts and debates amidst the FS community, and naturally, I have my own take on it too.

First of all, if you've never heard it before, "trailing spouse" is the term for folks like me: husbands and wives who follow their working spouses around the world. Obviously not all trailing spouses are unemployed, but it kind of has that connotation, like we're just sherpas lugging the suitcases and children behind our significant others. And, okay, sometimes it DOES feel like that. This particular article isn't geared toward FS spouses - it's more of a general expat post. And considering it focuses on Brussels, of all places, I can see why it rubbed some people the wrong way.

So, what are the 7 Guilty Secrets? According to the author, "expat coach" Louise, they are:
1) You are not finding fulfillment in your children alone
(Hello! Couldn't this be said about stay-at-home parents everywhere??)
2) You envy your husband's life
(See comment for #1)
3) You feel second to the rest of the family
(I'm starting to feel like a broken record, but...see comment for #1)
4) You feel ungrateful for your privileged life
(Isn't this where the whole "first world problems" thing comes from?)
5) You fantasize about going home
(Is that really a secret?)
6) You're frustrated about the gap in your CV
(Seriously, haven't we covered this already?)
7) You don't know what you want
(And I'm done)

Okay, so these "secrets" aren't really secret at all, and they are far more universal than the author seems to think. Does that mean I haven't experienced these things? Nope. I've experienced most of them, both in the FS and out of it (except for #2, because I would a) never make it into the FS and b) have no desire to, and #7, because I know exactly what I want in life - it's the "making it happen" part that eludes me).

Still, all the conversations and posts that came out of this article have been fabulous as far as I'm concerned. Some people saw it as a reason to get angry ("I'm not like that! How dare the author insinuate I want my husband's job!") and some saw it as an opportunity to vent ("Totally! I feel like this all the time!"). The beauty of it, as far as I'm concerned, is that it got so many so-called "trailing spouses" talking, and it made me realize how perfectly normal my reaction to everything in the past two years has been. This is why I blog, and why I read other family member blogs: because no matter how isolated you may feel at post, there is someone else out there who has gone through the same thing as you. It might feel risky sometimes to put it all out there (heaven forbid we jeopardize our spouse's reputation by not being happy about everything all the time), but when we air our "guilty secrets," we often find we're not alone.

Friday, January 17, 2014

This is the Foreign Service, Too

Lately I've been having trouble deciding what to write about on this blog. Since I'm not living in Russia anymore, I feel like I don't have anything very "Foreign Service-y" to contribute at the moment.

But, at the same time, I have to remind myself that THIS - you know, this weird limbo where I live with my parents, have a husband who is still in Russia, and am raising a child who has definitely developed some odd habits whilst living abroad - is still the Foreign Service. I was perusing Foreign Service blogs today, and I came across someone whose first tour is in D.C., which is not uncommon at all. But even though they won't go abroad for a couple of years, they are still in the Foreign Service. Spouses who stay behind while their officer goes on an unaccompanied tour are still in the Foreign Service. Families who come back to D.C. for two to three years are still in the Foreign Service.

I think most people have an idea of what the Foreign Service is all about (including me, before we embarked on this journey) and while a lot of the time it IS all the cool stuff - traveling, experiencing new cultures, getting to live in exciting places and meet interesting new people - it is also a lot of strange in-between times, readjustments, uprooting our families, and feeling like we don't really belong anywhere. By the time I get to Lima next May, I'll have been back in the U.S. for a year and a half, and that's really hard to fathom. I'm hoping I'll be at the good point of readjusting: the bored point. The one where I'm ready to go abroad again, and not the one where I'm extremely comfortable and scared of going somewhere unknown.

On the one hand, I come across things like this and get super excited:

19 Reasons You Should Probably Up and Move to Lima, Peru

And then I read the comments and get a little freaked out.

For some people, this lifestyle is all fun and games (or at least they claim it is). But I'm guessing that for most people, particularly family members, it's a constantly tipping scale. Some days are great, some days suck, and frankly, isn't that just life, whether you're in the Foreign Service or not? I know I haven't been exactly positive on this blog lately, and I feel guilty for that to some extent. But I also believe that my feelings of uncertainty, disappointment, and anxiety are perfectly normal. The Foreign Service has so much to offer, which is why we decided to do this in the first place. I'm certainly not ready to give up after one measly post!

But I also think it's okay to remind myself that whatever THIS is, isn't exactly normal. And that, as far as I'm concerned, is the Foreign Service, too.

Friday, January 3, 2014

It's Complicated

As you may recall, my last post wasn't exactly positive. I was feeling confused and angry and fairly stressed out about 2014. To be honest, I'm still feeling all those things, but at least John has been here in person for a while and we've been able to discuss our future a bit. A few people have asked me what we've decided to do this year, and as of right now, here's what we're thinking:

I most likely will not go back to Russia with John this summer. As much as I hate the idea of spending two months alone with a four-year-old (who isn't in preschool) and an infant, I hate the idea of traveling to Russia with those same two kids, by myself, just to be there for 6-8 weeks, even more. Not only would I have to adjust a six-week-old to a reverse sleep schedule (the 11-hour time difference is a real pain in the arse) and then readjust him two months later, but I'd have to somehow explain to Jack that we were moving AGAIN. As it is, the kid will have gone from Russia to Montana to DC in a period of three months, and will then go from being an only child to having a brand-new sibling. If I were to go to DC from March to June and then go to Russia with John, we'd have nowhere to come home to for home leave, so we'd basically be nomads for six weeks, and then we'd have to move again in September. Instead, we're going to try (operative word being try, because our situation is so bizarre) to find a place to stay starting in March all the way until we move to Peru next year some time.

How does that work exactly? I have no idea, to be honest. See, there's this thing called "per diem," and it's sort of complicated. Basically, Jack and I will get per diem for six weeks pre-baby, then Jack, the baby, and I will get per diem for six weeks post-baby, and then John goes back to Russia and the per diem goes bye-bye. So for the two months John is in Russia, plus the six weeks of home leave when he comes back, we'll have to pay rent out of pocket. Not the end of the world, although not ideal. Then when John starts training in mid-September, HE'LL start getting per diem on a sliding scale until mid-April when training ends (something worth noting if you're in the Foreign Service and haven't experienced this yet - if you're in the US for training, only the officer gets per diem, no matter how many people are in your family. Not such a big deal if you're only doing a few months of training and getting the max per diem that whole time, but if you're going to be there for six months or more like we are, the sliding scale could severely complicate things). The reason most FS families live in FS housing is because you don't have to deal with all this per diem nonsense - everything is free the way it is when you're overseas. BUT the biggest apartment a four-person family can get is two bedrooms, and I really, really want a third bedroom. Plus I can't stay in FS housing even if I want to for the two months John is back in Russia and the six weeks of home leave, so it would require more moving.

So yeah, I wouldn't exactly say I've got this all covered just yet, but the bottom line is: the less moving we have to do, the better. If anyone out there knows someone who's been in a similar situation, please let me know! I could really use some advice right about now.