Thinking about everything we’ve done this year, I can hardly believe it was all the same year. 2013 was fantastic, really; we just packed so much into it, I feel like I’ve aged five years. Seriously though, we are blessed. I’d like to take a moment to reminisce and be grateful.
JANUARY: My year started with New Year’s Day Mass at the Vatican. While we were visiting my parents in Rome for the holidays, my mom got tickets for the Mass through her work. I was the only one Catholic/sentimental enough to join her. We got to see the Pope, and he gave a very beautiful homily in Italian. (We had to look it up online later to find out what he actually said.) This year, even my dad is joining my mom at Mass. Who wouldn’t want to go see Pope Francis? Jesuits are the coolest. He is such a celebrity, I can’t imagine how early they would have to arrive in order to get a seat. Wish I could go, too!
FEBRUARY: Mapule was Charlotte’s nanny for two years. She lived in our home during that time, ate meals with us, went on vacations with us, and she was like a member of our family. When she graduated with her associate’s degree in accounting, we were both thrilled and devastated because it meant she would quickly find a new job. We’re so proud of her, but we still miss her every day.
MARCH: Willa. She arrived on the last stormy night of the summer in Pretoria. It was an easy delivery and wonderful experience. After months of worrying about whether the South African (private) hospital would be a good enough place to deliver a baby, we discovered it was better than we could have imagined. We were so grateful for the excellent medical care we received. APRIL: Three weeks after she was born, Willa got a urinary tract infection. She spent a week in the hospital, missing almost all of my parents’ visit. Again, she received excellent medical care, but every night in that pediatric ward I would worry about moving to Ethiopia. The risks had never been so clear to me. But the thing I’ve learned a lot about this year is control. And how we don’t have any. There are excellent U.S.-trained pediatricians here; there is no malaria. If we need good medical care in a hurry, we’re a short flight to Nairobi and we would be medevac’d for anything more serious than a flu. It’s not that I don’t worry about it anymore. I worry ALL. THE. TIME. But I try not to see things in black and white anymore. No more “all or nothing” thinking. You can try to control every little variable, but those velociraptors will find a way to breed anyway. Next thing you know, they’ve figured out how to open doors! Obviously, you’ll want to take precautions against getting eaten by dinosaurs, but it doesn’t mean you can predict every possible outcome. Another thing: being especially anxious doesn’t make you immune from dinosaur attacks. In fact, they will probably want to eat you even more. I want to enjoy life instead of letting anxiety take over.
Back to April. Every day, I would go home to visit Charlotte for an hour (that’s all I had time for, given the commute and the demanding breastfeeding schedule of a newborn). I listened to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” over and over on the drive to and from the hospital, imagining a strong and healthy Willa kicking so much ass. Willa’s infection cleared up quickly and they ran a million tests to confirm that it was a random occurrence and not a symptom of a more serious problem. Sometimes, babies just get UTIs. (Sometimes, life gives you lemons…) Charlotte got to hang out with my parents every day. They took her to her first movie in the theater. They went out to restaurants for lunch every day and I’m pretty sure she had nothing but milkshakes. When Willa got home, we were all relieved and happy.
MAY: I went back to work pretty quickly because I had no leave saved up (rough pregnancy). My office was flexible with me, though, and I was able to do a combination of part-time hours, a little telework, and unpaid leave so that I could try to keep up the breastfeeding. (Like so many other women, I have had some major breastfeeding challenges, which I will write about some other day–don’t worry, I’ll warn you first in case you’re squeamish.) Not only did I avoid the milk supply problems that I had the first time around, but I also avoided postpartum depression this time. I’m sure luck was involved too, but I do give some credit to my boss for making things easier. To all of the American women out there who are anxious about their lack of maternity leave (my friends in South Africa and Ethiopia are always shocked that we don’t get leave in the U.S.), maybe a creative solution can work for you, too. It may not fit within your organization’s standard policy (my solution definitely didn’t), but if you are willing to compromise, so should your employer. In my case, I was available to my employer throughout my very short leave (my boss’ boss was already calling me when Willa was in the hospital with the UTI) and then I showed up in the office on most days after that. Even if it was only for a couple of hours, I think people appreciated seeing my face because it reminded them I was back and trying to help with the intense workload. I think that’s really important to remember: if you want to telework, find a way to let people see that you’re fully engaged in your work. I also kept a log of everything I was working on. It was like billing hours again, which I don’t love, but it made my boss feel comfortable with the arrangement because he knew what I was doing. Of course, I wish we all had a year off after having a baby or adopting a child. (I’ve had 6 months off this year–not due to the baby, but due to following Dan’s job–and it’s been glorious!) But until that becomes the norm, we all need to find ways to work together on this issue.
JUNE: A month of sad goodbyes. We spent as much time as we could with our friends, and hoped that we would see them all again someday. We miss them all so much. At the end of the month, President Obama came to visit. (Just to see us off and thank us for our service, no doubt.) Dan took Charlotte to a meet-and-greet event on a Friday night in Johannesburg. On the way there, Dan had to use the bathroom on the bus, and he didn’t realize she had followed him. He accidentally slammed her finger in the door. She had a tiny cut. There was much screaming, blood, and panic. Once they arrived at the event, covered in blood, he carried her in, past the sympathetic Secret Service agents. Charlotte has always been a big Obama fan, but at this point I think she was too traumatized and just wanted to go home. When the President walked in the room, she just screamed, “no no no! I don’t want to talk to him!” To this day, if you ask her about Obama she will tell you he is much “too loud” and she doesn’t want him to come visit.
JULY: Our blissful home leave in Michigan. We saw family and friends, went the the beach and the library a lot, and enjoyed small town American life.We prepared for our big move to Ethiopia: we bought a car, sold a car, stocked up on Nutella, did our wills and trust, went to doctors and dentists, and all gained a whole lot of weight.
AUGUST: Now it was our turn to visit Obama. We spent a couple of weeks in what has become our home town of Washington DC, went to museums, Chipotle, saw old friends, had plenty of quality time with family, got our hair done.
SEPTEMBER: Bella Roma. Dan moved to Ethiopia while the girls and I stayed with my parents in Italy for over a month. I didn’t see any tourist sites the whole time we were there (I’d already seen them and the girls are too young to appreciate them). I take that back–we went to the natural history museum one rainy day, and the zoo another day. Very kid-friendly. Willa was waking up every couple of hours, so all I had energy for was a daily walk with my dad, pushing the double stroller to Villa Ada or Villa Borghese, stopping once or twice for cappuccino or gelato. We ate dinner at our favorite neighborhood restaurant a lot, where I ordered the sausage and potato pizza or the veal meatballs. Despite all the wonderful food and ice cream, I lost all the weight I’d gained while on home leave. Walking is a wonderful thing.
OCTOBER: Just happy to be reunited with Dan and no longer living out of suitcases, we didn’t see a lot of Addis in those first weeks. We love our new house. We have so much space here. Willa finally decided to end her sleep strike, and Charlotte loves her new preschool. Home sweet home. NOVEMBER: I started to get settled into the routine of being home with the girls.
Just as it started to sink in that I could really enjoy these two years as a stay-at-home mom in Ethiopia by possibly extending my leave until the end of Dan’s tour in 2015, my employer denied my request for a second year of unpaid leave. Because there were no positions open for 2014 in Ethiopia, this meant I would have to consider positions in other countries. At first, I thought about quitting. Splitting up our family just doesn’t work for us right now, and it doesn’t make financial sense to earn two incomes just to run two separate households. But then I remembered my flexible maternity “leave” arrangement and thought, why can’t we work something out? As of now, I’ve been assigned to a Washington position that sounds like an amazing career opportunity. Late at night, I worry about how this will work, and whether we’ll get enough flexibility, and how much time I will need to spend away from the girls in order to do the job well. However, as I’m still working on this control thing, I’m trying to remember that I can only optimize so many variables. Things have a way of working out the way they do. I’ll just do my best to balance my family’s needs with my career and financial goals–and that’s really all I can do.
DECEMBER: Now that our car and all of our belongings have arrived, Addis Ababa feels more like home. Although my days are mostly filled with child care, I’m loving it. I have time for a little bit of photography, I’m really enjoying writing this blog, and learning Amharic is a great challenge. I am looking forward to 2014 and all of the new challenges in store for us. My one resolution is to let go and worry less. If you’d told me a year ago about everything we’d endure in 2013, I would have been too overwhelmed to accept it. But it turned out okay. Not okay–great. We’re all really happy and healthy (minus the parasite or whatever it is). No matter where you are in the world, not much is in your control. So we make the most of what we can, and we try to remember to be very, very grateful.