I am writing this while I watch the movers pack our things. I have to say: it really does get easier to move your household from country to country. (It really helps to have parents who will adopt your dog. Not having worry about Bella during a move, means a lot less stress.) People have been asking us for weeks, “are you in the midst of your move? Are you getting ready for pack out?” But I really didn’t do much planning at all. On Sunday, I packed up 4 big suitcases with all our most summery clothes, and set aside my carry-on items (laptops, cameras, jewelry). I then put half of the kids’ toys, most of our kitchen things, and our linens and towels in a pile by the front door. Those things will go into our unaccompanied baggage, which in theory will arrive in Yangon in just a couple of weeks. (In reality, I have never received a UAB shipment faster than 6 weeks after arrival at post. In South Africa, it took 12.) The rest of our things were packed up into more than 100 boxes called our “household effects,” which usually travels by sea, but in our case it will go by air. Again, in theory, we should get all of our stuff within a couple of months. But I have done this a couple of times now, and I know not to have any expectations at all. It’s much less stressful when you simply assume you might never see any of it again. You can be pleasantly surprised when it does show up, whenever that may be.
Let me apologize in advance, for this post is going to be very self-centered. What is a personal blog if not self-centered? And a year in review is always boring for the reader, but maybe I will come to some interesting conclusions in the end. (No promises.)
In January, I finally found a nanny and had some time to myself. After several months of non-stop child care, it felt pretty strange to have someone around who could help me with the kids. It meant I could help out a Charley’s school, go out to lunch once in a while (which I did maybe twice), and go to the gym (which I never did). Willa started walking and Charley was enjoying school. We were slowly getting settled in Addis.
In February I had my first photo shoot for Flytographer. I had started a photography blog in November 2013, but didn’t share the URL with anyone. Somehow, the wonderful people at Flytographer found me out there on the Internet and asked me to photograph Nicole and new adorable new baby. It was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had while working.
And then it was March, and Willa was a year old already. Around this time I realized that I really didn’t want to leave my family and go work in Washington, where I was assigned. I mean, I never wanted to leave them. But somehow it seemed doable, especially since so many of my colleagues have to do it too. One night, while Dan was away on a business trip, I was missing him and feeling overwhelmed by all the work that you have to do when there’s no backup parent around. I cried as I typed up my resignation letter, but I felt that it was the right thing to do. The next day, I wondered if I had done something really stupid. What if no one ever hired me again? But I didn’t have to wonder long. My amazing neighbor introduced me to a partner at one of the Big Four and just like that, I was back in business.
April was so crazy, I didn’t have time to think. I took on a bit too much work at once, and it was hard to get back into the swing of things after so many months off.
May was another long month of too much work. Charley would come into my home office after school and mope. “Mama, why do you have to work all the time?” I started planning our R&R to the US. Since I had ongoing projects, I had to get our nanny a visa, expecting her to provide part-time child care while we were in the US so I could work.
June arrived and I flew with the girls and the nanny to America. The nanny was overwhelmed by everything she saw. At one point she pointed to a squirrel and asked “why no eat?” I mean, they are so abundant and delicious-looking. I was only half-surprised when she disappeared one day after church. I haven’t discussed it on this blog or on Facebook because the whole thing made me feel so damn icky. She went to great lengths to make me think she would come back to Ethiopia, and I felt so foolish for believing her. I’ve emailed her to ask her if she’s okay, but no response. Sometimes I will try to imagine what she’s doing. Is she a nanny for another family in DC? Does she work at a parking garage? Is she happy? Was it worth it?
On the plus side, we got to spend some time at the beach in Michigan with family in July, which was just wonderful. But it also made me not want to get back on a plane to return to Ethiopia.
Although nothing really bad happened in July, I was not a happy camper back in Addis. I briefly hired a new (college-educated, highly recommended) nanny who turned out to be a crazy stalker. I had to cut back on my work projects because I was getting nothing done, the girls’ school wasn’t in session yet, and the rain. THE RAIN. It was cold, dark, dirty, and miserable in Addis. I kept thinking to myself, “we should have stayed in Michigan.” And did I mention the Ebola? No, we never did get a single case of it here, but back in July I was terrified. I even considered keeping the girls home from school until the outbreak was contained. (I would have been waiting a long time.) My rationale was that it would just take one diplomat from one of the Ebola-affected countries, coming back from a holiday, having visited family with Ebola. My kids’ school has a lot of diplomats’ kids from other countries, and you know how kids touch everything and put everything in their mouths… Obviously, I was being ridiculous and I got over it in time for school to start in August, but this gives you an idea of how the rainy season can mess with your mind.
Charley turned four in August and both girls started their school year. The new school yard was still unfinished and muddy. Both girls got sick a lot, as kids do.
Now you can imagine what I was thinking when an opportunity came up for Dan to get assigned to Burma around this time. I was not a huge fan of Addis after the nanny situation and the rainy season. I told him to go for it. And suddenly, the rain cleared up. I went on a trip to Lalibela with friends. I remembered all of the things I love about Ethiopia.
I started to like Ethiopia again, just in time for a fantastic trip to Barcelona to see Dan’s family. We ate great food, went to the beach, took long walks to all of the best playgrounds and parks. Uncle David and Aunt Becky got engaged in front of all of us, the kids got over their chronic coughs while we were there, and everyone had a wonderful time.
When we told Charley about moving to Burma, she was so excited. She asked, “can we go to the beach?” We told her, sure! Why not? The ocean is actually pretty close by. Then she said, “it’s going to be so great to be near all our family!” And we realized she thought we meant Barcelona, not Burma. Sorry to disappoint you kid, but I think Burma will be very different. (I’m sure she will still love it! This kid has a gift for being positive.)
Since Dan got assigned to Burma/Myanmar, time has moved at an incredible pace. I took business trips to Zimbabwe in October and December, Charley and Willa were Jake Pirate and Tinkerbell for Halloween, we went camping at Lake Langano with friends in November, I did at least a dozen photo shoots, and my parents came to visit in December. I hate to rush through all of this great stuff, but you get the idea: my life has been very full and blessed since the rainy season ended. Note to self: do not live anywhere with a rainy season! (What’s that? Yangon gets twice as much rain as Addis? Oops.)
I think this has been the best year of my life. I am so grateful for everything that’s happened, the good and the bad. I do not regret any of my many mistakes because I’ve learned so much from them.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I want to accomplish in 2015, and what I hope to do with our time in Myanmar. We talk a lot about moving back to the US after this tour, so I feel some pressure to utilize my time well. I don’t have to earn as much money overseas as I would have to earn in the US, so this could be an opportunity for me to master photography skills, grow my business, or start something completely new. But it’s also a chance for me to slow down and just focus on the kids. Not that you have to focus on parenting to the exclusion of everything else. Most of my friends who “stay at home” with their kids also have careers and jobs, just very part-time. But it’s worth thinking about: at what point will my interests, clients, and hobbies overwhelm me to the point where I am spending LESS time with my family than I did when I worked full-time outside of the home? I need to be very selective about which projects I take on. A client recently offered to fly me to Bhutan for a couple of days for a photography gig, and I said no. PEOPLE, I SAID NO TO BHUTAN. I must be the most devoted mother ever! But seriously, I am getting better at knowing my limits. I quit a really good job so that I wouldn’t have to travel so much. I am already teaching a class in Bangkok this year and doing a photo shoot in Bagan. That might be my limit right there. Charley is going to be in kindergarten in 2015, can you believe it? Perhaps a slow year (after the big move, of course) is exactly what we need.