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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Perks of Living in a Small Community

Last week I got an email from Brandon.  "Looks like we're going to get the time off this summer.  Make sure to say your thanks in your prayers tonight."  I did a little happy dance and then told the children who shouted for joy.  "Daddy's coming! Daddy's coming to the beach!!"

Later that night when Brandon came home I asked him what had happened.  He told me that he had an opportunity to explain to his management why we really needed to have that one specific week in July - if it was any other year we would be happy to take a few weeks in the fall instead.  In the afternoon, he got an email telling him that leadership had found someone else to fill in for the vacancy that Brandon's section chief would have had to do.  This left the chief in the section, which would let Brandon leave.  He was welcome to take as much time as he needed, they told him, as long as the section chief was okay with it.

And that is why it's great to live in a small embassy community.

Our first post was in Cairo which had, at the time, about seven hundred direct-hire Americans.  Add in the family members and that makes for a very large community.  Housing was scattered throughout the city and the embassy itself was made up of several multi-story towers.  I never knew anyone outside of Brandon's section that wasn't Mormon, and I never remember going to any Christmas parties, Easter parties, or Halloween parties.  The community was just too big.

When we moved to Baku, a family moved in shortly after we did.  While discussing previous posts, Brandon discovered that that we had been in Cairo together almost the whole two years and never once had we seen them the entire tour.  I've had lots of people ask if we knew someone that was in Cairo at the same time as us and I have almost never heard of the person they are asking about.

Here we have less than seventy direct-hire Americans and I know just about everyone in the entire community.  When just about any child in the embassy community has a birthday party, we're invited.  If somebody new moves in, we all know about it months before they move in.  Doughnut nights are an open invitation to any lady that wants to come.  We celebrate holidays together.  We go on trips together.  We camp together.  We party together.  The embassy community is our family.

In Cairo I saw the ambassador once, at the newcomer's orientation where we had finger food in her garden and then all herded into an auditorium to watch a presentation about life in Cairo.  I don't know how many times I've seen the ambassador here, talked with her, been to her house and had her come to my house.  Just last week while I was hanging out at the pool, she came down from the front office (which looks over the pool) just to hold William, who she hadn't met before.

And so I shouldn't have been surprised at all when Brandon was given his leave.  Leadership was willing to listen to his plight and do some shuffling and then suddenly I wasn't flying alone and Brandon was spending a wonderful week with his family on the North Carolina coast.

Management here didn't have to care if I flew alone or Brandon missed siblings he hadn't seen for years.  It wasn't their problem, especially for the ones leaving this summer.  Leave is always conditional and dependent on staffing availability.  That is the reality of this job.

But here in Dushanbe they do care if I fly alone.  They want Brandon to be able to see his family.  Our happiness matters to them.  Because the embassy community is our family.

So you can have Paris and it's wonderful sights and magnificent food.  I'll pass on London and all the amazing history.  I can even give up Thailand and its fresh mangoes and amazing beaches.  Those places may have great things, but here in Dushanbe we have great people.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

Sometimes I get a little grumpy on Mother's Day.  This morning was one of those days.  My parents are in town and we've been partying a lot, going hiking and swimming and out to dinner, and I knew that Brandon hadn't had time to go out and get me flowers.  We were gone almost twelve hours yesterday and I knew the children hadn't had time to make me cards or plan a special breakfast.  And I hadn't intercepted any packages with contents more exciting than twenty pounds of brown sugar.  I knew that Mother's Day this year was going to be a bit of an on-the-fly affair.

Last year I was in London and didn't get a Mother's Day either.  Sure, I didn't have to make dinner or anything, but I also didn't get the adulation that I had certainly earned by squeezing five children out and then keeping them alive for nine years.  So I was a little grumpy this morning, irritated that - for the second year in a row - I wouldn't have the picture-perfect Mother's Day I deserved.

As I showered alone (brownie points to Brandon for taking care of breakfast this morning) I lectured myself.  "Mother's Day is not about flowers or cards or presents or breakfast in bed or any of those things that you post about on Facebook to let everyone know how great your husband is.  It's about letting your family be grateful for you.  Not stuff.  Gratitude."

By the time I came down for breakfast, I was almost entirely not grumpy.  So when Sophia presented me with the creme brulee toast she made me and I saw the vase filled with flowers Brandon had picked and he apologized for not having a card, I was able to graciously thank Sophia for the toast and tell Brandon that it had been busy and not to worry about things too much.

We had church this morning and for our speaker, we watched an old conference talk by President Monson about mothers.  The boys made cards in their class (well, Joseph did.  Edwin told me that it was too much trouble to write).  My Dad and Brandon made dinner and cleaned it up.  Sophia made my mother and me several cards.  Kathleen told me what a great mom I am.

And sometime during the day I stopped being resentful about what things hadn't been done for me and I started being grateful that I get to be a mother for Mother's Day.

I'm grateful for my children, the ones who make me a mother.  Often they drive me crazy - like when someone forgets to put a top on the milk and half a jug is spilled on the floor.  Sometimes they make me mad.  Every now and then they make me sad.  But I would never ever trade the crazy and mad and sad for the tranquility that comes from being childless.

When the house is loud, it is because it is filled with people.  When it is dirty, the dirt comes from little feet and hands.  When it is quiet and clean, it is a blissful break from loud and dirty.

I am grateful for my husband, because without him I wouldn't be a mother either.  Sometimes he drives me crazy.  Occasionally he makes me mad.  And every now and then he makes me sad.  But I would never trade those things for the autonomy and independence that comes from being single.

When my room has three suit jackets hanging over the chair, they are the suit jackets of the person who goes to work every day to keep me and my children fed.  When I fold pair after pair of socks, they are the socks of someone who reads stories to my children every night before they go to bed.  And when I make the bed every day, it is the bed where I sleep next to the man who still finds me beautiful after twelve years and six children.

And so, in the end, Mother's Day isn't really about spa days or jewelry or flowers or brunch (as nice as those things can be).  It's about being a mother.  This job has lots of crazy and sad and angry and messy and exhausted and frustrated days, but those are the price we pay for having a life that is, in the end, full of happiness and joy and love and beauty.  And children.  Lots and lots of children.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

This week Eleanor turned three.  I'm a little sad about that because three is the beginning of attitude in my children and I'd actually not mind keeping her two pretty much forever.  I've got enough older children now that I like having a sweet little sidekick around.  Unfortunately, however, life is all about growing up and learning things so I can't keep my children little just because I like them that way.

We stretched out the birthday celebrations over three days, starting with Eleanor's birthday Saturday.  After a lot of quizzing (would you like to go to the park or go hiking or go to Madagascar?  Madagascar!!!  What's Madagascar??), I ascertained that Eleanor wanted to go to the embassy playground.  So we spent the morning playing games and getting burnt and then watched a movie (Rogue One wasn't Eleanor's choice, but I figured she didn't care that much) and had pizza.

Sunday we celebrated with cake.  When I asked what kind Eleanor wanted, she responded 'brown,' so I figured that meant chocolate cake.

Brandon covered Joseph's mouth and Eleanor got to blow out all three of her candles by herself.

And then open her presents.  Turns out when you're number five, you have lots of siblings who are very happy and eager to help you open presents.

Her grandmother sent her pajamas, we gave her an outfit for her baby doll and a book, and her sisters wrote her a story.  That's birthday presents when you're the fifth child.

The next day we met friends at the Botanical Garden (it was a school holiday that happened to fall around Eleanor's birthday) where the twenty-three children ran completely wild while the mothers enjoyed much-needed mom time.  We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch and one of my friends even brought Eleanor a pizza set, which all of the children are enjoying.

So now my baby girl is three, the girl that was seven months old when we moved to Dushanbe.  Eleanor is mostly sweet (except when her siblings take her toys) and is good company, chatting your ear off whenever she gets a chance.  We are very happy to have her in the family.  Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Living with the Foreign Service: Summer R&R

It's almost May, which means that it's one of my least/most favorite times of the year: time to plan summer leave.  Summer is a tricky time in the foreign service.  It is the time when most people move to their next post and it is also the time when most people go on R&R.  Theoretically we can take leave whenever we want because of homeschooling, but in reality we are part of the majority of foreign service officers that take our R&R in the summer.  Because WE may be free of traditional school calendars, but it turns out that everyone else with children mostly isn't and summer is the best time to see people.

But even more importantly, summer is the time when my family goes to the beach.  I was raised in North Carolina, where the yearly pilgrimage to the beach is an ingrained part of the local culture.  My family has gone to the beach every single summer of my life and they don't intend to stop any time soon.  It is the highlight of everyone's summer, and so that's when we go on R&R.  Because the beach doesn't work nearly as well in November.

This summer we have two weeks at the beach planned.  Brandon's family has a family reunion every three years and this time the reunion planning fell to us.  There was a lot (a lot) of discussion about what to do and I looked at a lot (A LOT) of places where we could house nineteen adults and twenty-four children for something approaching a reasonable price that didn't involve camping.  After months of research, Brandon and I settled on the beach.  It wasn't any more expensive than anywhere else, it provided easy entertainment, we could rent a house almost big enough to fit everyone, and most of all, we would get to fly in an out of the same airport.

So last summer, after a lot of discussion, we set the dates.  My own family usually takes the first week of August so we could take the last week of July or second week of August, both which were unavailable to various members of the family.  So my family agreed to move to the second week in August and the Sherwoods got the first.  I talked with the beach house owner and had them mark our rentals on their calendar (the owners are friends with my aunt).  I paid a deposit and rented another beach house.  Everyone in the family put it on their calendars.  They started looking for plane tickets.  I looked forward to spending my whole R&R in the same state.

After we came back from North Carolina, Brandon got asked for his summer R&R dates.  Every summer we take three weeks because it's just painful to spend forty hours traveling (with all the children) and four or five days getting over jet lag just to turn around and spend the last three days of your two-week vacation getting back home.  Maybe you could do it without children, but with six children it's less than pleasant.

But this summer his office is in one of those turnover times - two years ago Brandon was the only person in the office for a couple of weeks - and half of the office will be empty this summer because of officers leaving and their replacements not coming till the end of August.  Some of the leadership at post is also leaving, which means that Brandon's boss will be filling in and Brandon will be THE political section.  It's always hard on small sections when people leave.

We knew this, so when Brandon requested leave he only asked for two weeks.  I figured that I could fly out early with all (all!) the children by myself because the best flight options are 1. Saturday and 2. Saturday.  And when your beach week starts Saturday afternoon and you are coordinating the arrival of almost forty people and shopping for groceries for all those people and feeding all those people that evening, you don't want to show up with six children jet-lagged out of your mind at 9:30 at night.  It's just a very, very bad idea.  Very bad.

Brandon figured that he'd only get one week of leave, but we thought we could at least start by asking for two weeks.  Two weeks would mean that I would only have one trip alone instead of two.  One is bad but two is worse.  So he turned in his leave and we waited for the negotiations to begin.  I thought maybe he could counter offer with one and a half weeks and then at least he would get some of my family's beach week, too.  I didn't really care if he saw my family, I just wanted a little more help.  Because six children.

A few days later I got an email from Brandon.  Not only was two weeks out of the question, there was a very big possibility that he wouldn't get any leave.  I freaked out a little and started considering alternate plans.

1. I could go all three weeks by myself.  Horrible.  2.  We could reschedule.  Also bad - we have already paid several thousand dollars and booked plane tickets.  3.  We could just skip the entire lets-go-to-America idea and just go to Thailand instead.  My personal favorite.  After all, we had just spent three months in America, right?  But also the most selfish option because the children want to see their cousins, the grandparents want to see their grandchildren, and family and stuff.  Oh, and we're in charge of the whole reunion thing down renting linens and shopping for all the food and knowing which seafood restaurant on the island is the best.  But really I am so so tired of flying to America right now.  And doing it myself is really a depth of depravity that I can hardly handle considering right now.

I discussed it with Brandon's siblings (yea Facebook messenger!) and we all came the conclusion that moving it isn't really any better because somebody else would miss the reunion and also all that money is really a lot of money.  I still secretly wanted to go to Thailand instead.  But really it looked like option number one was the most reasonable one.  Sigh.

So right now we're waiting to see if really, truly, honestly, seriously, Brandon can't just take one little tiny short (well, regular-sized) week off this summer.  Brandon's not holding his breath and neither am I, but hope never dies until the life is crushed out of it forever and irreversibly.

But even if he can get that measly little week off, I'm still flying alone both ways.  I am already dreading it.  A lot.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Return of Adventure Saturday!

This Saturday we went hiking.  It's been over six months since we have been out adventuring because, as it turns out, I didn't much want to go hiking when I was pregnant.  And there didn't seem to be anyone else who really wanted to go, so we just didn't.

But spring has come to Tajikistan and I'm not longer pregnant, so that means it's time to get back to the mountains!

Taking pity on my children and husband, we opted for an easy hike close to Dushanbe.  We walked up the hill for an hour (with a break), ate a snack and then went back.

Shockingly, everyone enjoyed themselves.  It may have had something to do with only hiking up for an hour.  I don't know.  Maybe.

William was non-plussed.  Little does he realize that he will be spending lots and lots of time being hauled up and down mountains in Central Asia.  Mwhahahahaha.

Eleanor was very generous about sharing 'her' baby carrier with William, making sure to let me know that Jesus is happy when she shared her baby carrier, and walked the entire time.

Edwin was a dinosaur for pictures.

The wildflowers and redbuds were blooming.

And William enjoyed his limited view.

One day Edwin will regret that picture (and many, many, many others).  

One day when Eleanor is a world-class trekker she can point to her beginnings in the mountains of Tajikistan as the spark for her passion.  The rest of her siblings will just be glad that I won't be forcing them to go hiking anymore.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sythroid + Sleep + Not Pregnant = Awesome

I am feeling really good.  On Wednesday I washed laundry, ran almost three miles, schooled four children, had a Russian class, baked six loaves of bread, folded and put away the laundry I washed, sliced and put away the six loaves of bread I had baked that day, cooked dinner, fed the children, cleaned dinner up, and took a nap.  All before seven in the evening.

It has been a long, long time since I've had a day like that and I had forgotten how great it felt to get a lot of stuff done and still have enough energy to be happy about it at the end.

William is sleeping through the night and so I can get a solid seven hours of sleep which hasn't happened in months.  No longer do I have to drag myself out of bed every time my deepest sleep is disturbed by the soul-sucking cry of a hungry baby in the middle of the night.  I can close my eyes at night without wondering how long it would be before I had to open them again.  The sleep-deprived haze of the first six weeks has cleared and it's amazing.

I'm not pregnant and so when I do sleep I can actually sleep without rolling over twenty times a night and waking up to go the bathroom a couple of times.  And when I'm awake I can do amazing things like bend over, hold children on my lap, and not bite people's heads off when they ask me to do things like tie their shoes or wipe their bottoms.  Waddling through my day is now a distant memory.

And to top it off, I have the miracle of Synthroid.  The symptoms of hypothyroidism crept up so slowly that I'm not sure when I wasn't suffering from it, but I know that they were noticeable a year and a half ago.  It's great to climb stairs without having to stop halfway through to catch my breath, run faster than Brandon's walk, and not need an hour nap each day just to function.

I suppose I can thank the last year and a half of feeling some level of exhausted constantly for helping me feel so happy about being normal again.  But really, it's great to be one hundred percent functional!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

On Having Six Children

I just tucked Eleanor into bed.  It has been a long Sunday today; we hosted church followed by a group dinner for twenty people.  Everyone had a great time but hosting is always work - work that is worth it, but work nonetheless.  This dinner wasn't too bad.  We finished dishes and had the floor swept by 7:30, early enough that Brandon could read a short chapter of Harry Potter to the children.  Usually at the end of these days my number one goal in life is to throw the children off to bed so that I can finally rest.  No stories, no twentieth kisses, no five-minute monologues on dinosaurs or horses.  Just bed.

But tonight wasn't that bad.  William is sleeping through the night, I'm not pregnant, and I don't have undiagnosed hypothyroidism.  Even after cooking, hosting, and cleaning up on less sleep than I'd like (William's definition of 'sleeping through the night' is waking up at five) and no nap, I wasn't that exhausted.

So when Eleanor asked for a story I agreed after only a few seconds' hesitation (even though I knew that her sister had already read her The Giant Cabbage).  I read Caps for Sale as Eleanor nestled into the crook of my arm, sucking her thumb and pointing out that the peddler really is small and the monkeys have different colored caps on.  After the story I prayed with her and tucked her in to bed.

As usual she asked for a kiss and then gave me a kiss, hugged me and then asked for a big hug.  Then, as usual, I tickled her.  Because when you're two and being tucked into bed, being tickled is the best thing ever.  As I tickled Eleanor and she giggled hilariously (two year-olds really are so easy to please sometimes) I thought about how one day she would be a teenager and I wouldn't be able to hold her close and tickle her and read her a story and make everything better with a kiss and so I kept tickling her, hoping to store up the memories so that they would be able to last for the rest of my life.  And then I gave her a few more kisses and hugs for good measure.  Because hugging a sweet little two-year old as they wrap their chubby arms around your neck and their wispy hair tickles your ear while their little hands pat your back is really one of the best things ever.

This story would not have happened when Kathleen was two.  Or Sophia or Edwin.  It might have happened with Joseph.  Maybe.  But probably not.  Because when they were two I didn't notice how quickly they were growing up and how sweet those little giggles were.  I was too exhausted from parenting my young children and too ready to snatch some time for myself after a trying day of saying no twenty times over and answering the same question over and over (and over) again.  Giggles weren't sweet, they were piercing.  Requests for one more kiss weren't endearing, they were maddening.  And my children couldn't grow up fast enough.

That is why I'm grateful that I've been able to have six children.  I've been granted the opportunity to do toddlers over and over (and over) again until I have been able to see how they are endearing even when they are driving you crazy.  I don't have to worry about whether or not they will grow up to be rational creatures because I know they will.  I don't fret about whether they will learn to dress themselves and feed themselves because all normal children eventually do.  I know that the threes will eventually end and I will enjoy my child again.

And even when they're driving me crazy I can laugh at them.  I don't flinch when their grubby hands pat my face.  I tickle them at night and actually enjoy it instead of counting down the seconds until I can bolt.  I finally understand why people don't want their children to grow up.  I understand why Jesus told us to be like little children.

And so when people ask how I can handle having six children, I want to tell them how really great it is.  More children to love, more chances to get things right, more hugs and more kisses.  I will never regret having all the children I have.  I don't care about trips I didn't take or stuff I didn't buy or even sleep I didn't get.  Those things are fun, but when I'm ninety-two I'll have something more.  I'll have my children.  All six of them.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Long Slog Home

At five am last Saturday morning we finally stumbled in to our house, shooed the children out of the toy room, put them to bed, and fell into bed ourselves right as the sun was rising.  We had made it home with everyone intact, no meltdowns, and even seats next to each other on every single flight.  Of course none - not a single piece - of our luggage made it, but we were just happy to be in Dushanbe with or without luggage.

William's visa came on Tuesday after it was issued bright and early Monday morning.  While on the phone with Air Canada unsuccessfully trying to get all eight of seats assigned together ("Well, it looks like there are only middle seats left. Sorry about that"), I checked our itinerary again.  We had had all our flights changed to be one week later, exact same flights.  But as I was looking through the flights I realized that 06:10 is not the same thing as 18:10, something I had failed to notice at 4 am when I told the travel agent to book our tickets.  

I had changed Brandon's tickets before noticing the am/pm problem - for the low, low price of $522 - and was looking at a fifteen-hour layover in Toronto by myself with six children.  After a thirty-second debate with my inner Scrooge who was dying a slow painful death over all the money we've been using to all of our problems, I laid down another two hundred so that Brandon could share the pain.  I'm very generous, I know.  

So at 3:30 (Hey, at least it's not 2:30 or 11:30, Sophia cheerfully pointed out) Thursday morning we crawled out of bed and began the Great Return.  The six am flight had us arriving in Canada at 8 am and out at the shuttle bus stop for our hotel by 9.  After some research had I narrowed options for surviving a 15-hour layover to 1. Take ninety minutes (one way) of public transportation to go to a local science center, 2. Shell out $770 (but hey, it's Canadian dollars!) for business lounge passes, or 3. Shell out $350 (American) to rent a hotel room for two nights.  Turns out when the check-in time is 4 pm they won't let you check in at 9:30 am.  

It also turns out when the free breakfast ends at 9:30 and you show up at 9:35, there is no more free breakfast.  But good news! Domino's pizza is open at ten in the morning.  When you haven't eaten in seventeen hours and you're nursing a baby, pizza sounds like an excellent breakfast.  

Two pizzas, an order of cheesy bread, an order of cinnamon sticks, two liters of Sprite, three hours of napping, an hour of swimming, an order of singapore noodles, sweet and sour pork, chow mein, five fortune cookies, a couple of showers and a lot (and I mean a lot) of stupid TV later, we were ready to return to the airport.  In the snow.  Because, Canada.  Remind me never to live in a country where its southern areas get snow at the end of March.

After our newly-purchased-for-a-fifteen-hour-layover stroller tested positive for chemicals (which ones? we don't know), all six backpacks, my purse, the baby car seat, and our rolling carry-on got to be inspected by hand and run through the x-ray machine where, once again, it was found that Kathleen had put scissors in her backpack (When you asked me if I packed them, I forgot they were in there!).  Along with nine Breyer horses (well, I didn't want to wait until they came in the later shipment, okay?).

Even though we had spent about forty-five minutes going through security, we still made it in time to wait around for our 11:10 (pm) flight.  Thankfully when I had checked in Wednesday morning I made the happy discovery of a whole block of unassigned seats and assigned ourselves seats all together so nobody had to ask seven people to move so that they didn't have to spend a twelve hour flight seated next to one of our children.  The flight was long, uneventful, and many movies were watched.  William and I slept, some of us with the aid of sleeping pills.  

We had taken off an hour and a half late because of late incoming passengers and de-icing.  Our layover in Dubai had only been two and a half hours to begin with and so we didn't have much time to 1. get off the plane 2. get our stroller 3. get new tickets for our next flight 4. get our baggage transferred to the next flight (non-code share flight means our bags and tickets were only to Dubai, not Dushanbe) 5. take a shuttle bus to another terminal 6. go through security and 7. find our gate.  Thankfully nobody made us take William, who was sleeping so peacefully, out of his car seat and he slept through the whole thing.  

We made it to our gate just in time to get into line, board the shuttle bus, and squeeze into the cumin-scented cattle car that is a FlyDubai flight.  After boarding the flight attendants politely informed me that FlyDubai doesn't allow car seats for any child under six months old.  At that point I didn't really care what FlyDubai's policy was about car seats because William was going to be spending the flight peacefully sleeping in his car seat and not on my lap.  Which he did.

The flight, in contrast to our previous Fly Dubai flight, was once again uneventful even if it did take off an hour late.  What did I care?  We didn't have any more airplanes to catch.  

When we landed the expeditor walked us passed the crowds thronging passport control (who knew the Dushanbe airport was such a happening place at 3:30 am?) so that we could wait for our luggage.  After forty-five minutes of waiting the expeditor asked if maybe we would like to wait in the embassy van (oh yes, what a nice suggestion.  Was it my toddler sprawled out on the floor while I did absolutely nothing that gave you the idea?) while Brandon waited for our eight suitcases and three car seats that were never going to come - and weren't going to come until four days later.

As we staggered into the house, Kathleen announced that she didn't want to go on any more airplanes for at least six months.  And I am much inclined to agree.  While sitting in one of the four airports on three different continents while clutching eight passports, I asked Brandon if he had considered this particular combination of long-distance travel and multiple children when he thought about becoming a diplomat.  He confessed he had not.  It's probably a good thing neither of us did.  Because I'm not so sure he would have signed up.  It turns out traveling the world isn't nearly as posh when you're hauling six children along with you.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Still In America

I am writing this post from my parents' house in North Carolina.  If all had gone according to plan (ha), I would have been writing this post from Dushanbe - or more likely not writing this post, only having arrived home less than 48 hours before and therefore in the depths of jet lag.

But, as we learned from Edwin's birth and Joseph's birth, things rarely go according to plan.  Especially this time.  After all, if I couldn't even have William according to plan because of Turkish Airlines, why did I ever have the temerity to think that we could go home according to plan?

Last Tuesday we had already packed three suitcases.  My medical clearance had come through.  William's medical clearance had come through.  Even Eleanor's clearance had come through.  For a family of eight people, that's a lot of medical clearances.  William had been put on Brandon's orders which had gone to budget which had allowed William's ticket to be purchased.  I had even called Air Canada and gotten our seats together for the thirteen-hour flight.  Brandon and I had gone to the temple.  We had reservations for a dinner out with my parents.  The children had said goodbye to their friends at church.  We were ready to go.

We had everything - except William's visa.

Getting a newborn back to post is a very involved process with many steps that start the day after the baby is born.  We have done this three times already and so we started early.  When he was a week old his birth certificate was ready to pick up and Brandon had submitted form OF-126 and received DS-1640 so William could get an official passport.  Everything was in order to walk in to our nearest post office and apply for that baby's passport.  But it seems that in the seven years since we'd had to apply for a passport at the post office things had changed, and you couldn't just walk in anymore.  We dutifully called the appointment phone number, followed the instructions and left a message, and waited.  The next day we got a call back.  The earliest appointment in Raleigh?  That will be on March 3.  I started planning an emergency trip up to the Special Issuance Agency in DC while the helpful lady on the phone started looking around for appointments in cities other than Raleigh.  After some searching she came up with an appointment the next day in Oxford, about an hour drive from Raleigh.  Someone had cancelled and we could take their spot.

So, nine days after his birth, William applied for his first diplomatic passport.  We sent it up by two-day mail (it was Saturday and Monday was a holiday) and it was in Sterling, Virginia by Tuesday.  I have nothing against Sterling, but it turns out that Special Issuance Agency is not in Sterling Virginia - it is in Washington, DC.  Three days later (I know this because I called the SIA every day) it was in DC.  A week later, on Thursday, the passport was done.  Unfortunately I had stopped calling every day by then and didn't find out that the passport was done until Brandon called to check in on Monday.  "Oh yes," the helpful lady on the phone told him, "it's just waiting for you to come and pick it up."  Unfortunately we weren't in DC and couldn't pick up the passport and had called four or five times to make sure that the SIA was aware of this and had the right address to mail the passport to.

So the passport showed up Tuesday afternoon.  Which was too bad as my aunt - who lives outside DC and had volunteered to avoid the Sterling-is-not-DC problem by hand-delivering the passport and visa application - had left Tuesday morning.

I got to work on the Tajik visa application, filling out the online form for the third or fourth time, and called Brandon (who was driving to Missouri with the children to see his parents) with a few questions.  Did he have his diplomatic ID?  And if he did, could I have a picture of it?  I said a silent prayer of thanks for smart phone technology as the picture showed up a few minutes later, taken on the seat of the car by Kathleen as they rocketed through eastern Missouri at ninety miles an hour (speed reported via text by Kathleen).

Next question.  What the heck is a hand-carry letter and did he have one of those?  Unfortunately for our timeline, this was something that had to be gotten from the SIA.  The letter showed up the next day and William's completed visa application was submitted online and his passport dropped off at the post office with a guaranteed delivery date of Thursday morning by noon.

Thursday morning came and went with no passport showing up at my aunt's house.  I cursed my cheap self for not using UPS.  Friday afternoon, right at noon, the passport showed up in Maryland and was in the SIA's hands by that afternoon.

Monday morning I got an email asking for pictures (which I had submitted online), a printout of the visa application (also submitted online) and an email confirmation that the visa application was submitted online (which never showed up.  I'm thinking the Tajik online application system still needs some work).  But, I was assured, once those things showed up, the Tajik embassy was ready and waiting to issue William's visa.  I submitted everything I had ten minutes after I got the email.

Tuesday.  Crickets.

Wednesday Brandon (who had pulled in to Raleigh around eleven the night before) checked in and was told that the digital file with William's visa application wasn't opening.  Could we send it again?  Why yes, we could.  In fact, we could have sent it again on Monday if you had asked.  Which you didn't.

Thursday (one week before departure) the passport got sent to the Tajik embassy.

Friday, after the daily check-in email was sent, we found out that nobody could find the Tajik consul on Thursday.  But never fear, they would look for him again on Friday.  And by the way, here is your UPS tracking number in advance so would you please for the love of everything good in this world please stop emailing us?!?

Later on Friday.  They did find the consul, but the consul didn't like the photos.  New ones being sent after lunch. Later. The Tajik consul says that the visa will be issued Monday.  Great partying ensues.  Plans for packing are begun.  Budget (who has yet to approve William being added to Brandon's orders) is emailed and called multiple times.  Prayers are put up for Eleanor's last doctor appointment on Monday to go well.

Monday.  Eleanor's appointment goes well.  William is added to Brandon's orders.  Post is given instructions to buy William's ticket.  Packing begins.

William's visa is not issued.  Vague assurances are given that 'hopefully' things will work out on Tuesday.  Brandon lets everyone in his office know that plans might change.  He emails everyone he can think of to start leaning on anyone who could get the visa issued in time.  We start looking at alternate flight dates and, after a lot of internet searching, realize that our options are Thursday or Thursday or Thursday.  Turns out it's really hard to get to Dushanbe.  Shocking.

Wednesday, the first day of four days of Navruz holiday and the day before we are supposed to leave, the Tajik embassy is closed and empty.  After a flurry of emails, it is confirmed that yes, we will have to change all eight tickets and leave a week later than planned because nobody in Dushanbe is around to enter William into their system and confirm that yes, he is not an international criminal or any other thing that would prevent him from entering Tajikistan with the other seven members of his family that have been granted diplomatic status.  Brandon calls Dushanbe and tells them to reschedule tickets.  He lets his office know that we'll be getting there a week late.  The children are happy or crushed, depending on the child.  We stop packing suitcases and make plans to go to the zoo instead of unpacking school books.  I sigh and don't let the delay ruin my life.  Brandon despairs of every getting any leave ever again.  My parents swear that they really really don't mind having us for a thirteenth week.  I almost believe them.  Almost.

And so tomorrow is the day.  The new day.  It is the day that the Tajik system will be turned back on, William's visa will be issued and overnighted to Raleigh, and unicorns will eat rainbows and poop butterflies.  I'm not holding my breath.

I imagine that all will turn out and we really will be leaving to go home this Thursday.  And if not, Brandon and the children will be leaving to go home this Thursday and William and I will leave the Thursday after that.  Either way, we're going home.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Fingers crossed.  And toes, too.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Brandon Shows Up, Shortly Followed by William

Brandon did, in fact, make it out of Dushanbe on Monday, although nine hours later than the flight was supposed to leave, at three in the afternoon instead of six in the morning.  So in total his flight was delayed by two days and nine hours.  He arrived in Istanbul around six or seven in the evening.  As his flight for Frankfurt didn't leave until 11:15 the next day, he found a quiet spot and got a full nights' sleep.  The next day, Tuesday, he flew through Frankfurt and made it to DC by eight in the evening where his last flight was, of course, delayed.  But this time it was only an hour.

He finally landed at 12:15 in the morning Wednesday, having spent forty-three hours traveling.

After getting to bed around 1:30 Wednesday morning, we spent Wednesday running errands, taking the children to swim lessons and the girls to an activity at church that evening.  As my induction was elective, it was scheduled for the evening.  We were told to expect a call from labor and delivery after shift change, which was around seven.  My phone rang around ten (after a false alarm which was Brandon's bag arriving because, of course, it had been lost) and Brandon and I left for the hospital to finally get the show started.

We checked in around eleven and spent the usual two hours getting settled, IV started, information filled out, and baby monitoring.  My pitocin drip got started at one and we settled down to wait.  I always enjoy the waiting part, the expectant calm, waiting for the baby to show up.  Brandon napped (not having had a full night's sleep since Sunday) and I read and napped.

At three I asked for my epidural (according to my Mom, natural childbirth is delivering without makeup) and it was started about forty-five minutes later.  I had had some problem with low blood pressure while I was in labor with Eleanor, and ran into trouble again this time.  My blood pressure never got above 90/60 for the rest of the labor and the nurses gave me dose after dose of medicine followed by bolus after bolus of IV fluid.

The doctor was finally able to break my water around five (William had been too high before then) and, just as with previous labors, his heartbeat dropped.  Oxygen and a pause in pitocin helped him get back to normal and shortly after he was stabilized, around eight fifteen, I was ready to push.

Ten minutes of pushing and William obliged me by coming out in the fashion that sixth children are supposed to come out - without any trouble.  He was a nice, average weight of seven pounds nine ounces, falling in the same six-ounce range that everyone but Eleanor has fallen in to.  After starting off with some healthy screaming, he calmed down pretty quickly and consented to being adored by everyone around him, especially his siblings when they visited later in the day.

We are grateful to have William join our family and grateful that he arrived without any trouble or problems (and even after Brandon arrived in the US).  I still can't quite believe that I have six beautiful children.  I never, as a child and young adult, imagined that I would be one of those people who have a crazy big family.  Too loud, too busy, too much work, I thought.  Not something I am interested in.  But now that I am one of those people (and yes it often is loud, busy, and a lot of work) I wouldn't have it any other way.  Because even though all of those children have taken over my life and made it something other than I had planned, they have made it better than I could have ever planned.

Welcome, William!  We're happy to have you here!