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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Party Saturday

According to the calendar, summer started this past week.  According to Tajikistan, summer started last month.  And so by now, a month into summer, it is hot.  We have hit the upper-nineties, low hundreds weather that characterizes Dushanbe's long, hot summers.  I water my outside plants every single morning so they don't die by evening, the air conditioner never stops running, and I don't go barefoot in my courtyard past ten in the morning.

Summer also means the end of adventuring.  My family is less than enthusiastic about hiking at best, and when you throw in ninety-degree weather, hiking is just out of the question.  So this means that we spend our summer Saturdays at the pool.  I've gotten lazy, so this suits me just fine.  There's nothing that makes you feel rich like spending hours under a sunny blue sky enjoying a nice cool pool.  Work?  That's for other days of the week.  I'm going to go for another swim.

That worked really well for Saturdays right until the pool got closed.  The embassy spent a week switching the pool from chlorine to salt water and somebody managed to hook up the pump incorrectly and kill it.  With the sketchy mail situation, this means an undetermined time before the pool is operable again.  Everyone is very sad.

So this past Saturday, we went for another adventure.  A good friend is leaving soon and wanted to finish off her time in Dushanbe with some fun, so she invited us to come with her family (I know, I know, I was shocked too that anyone would voluntarily spend their Saturday with all six of our children) to a little 'resort' about an hour out of town.

Tajikistan has lots of these little resorts, or 'rest areas,' scattered throughout the countryside.  The canyon north of Dushanbe, Varzob canyon, is littered with them.  Usually they have a pool, tapchans, a restaurant, and occasionally a hotel.  They look very inviting when you drive past them.  I always construct an ideal scenario where we spend all day swimming, lounging, and enjoying the good life every time we pass them.

But every time I bring this up with Brandon, he comes back at me with reality.  "There will be bunches of locals staring at you, the food will give us diarrhea, and the facilities will be filthy.  No.  Stop asking."

My friend had been to this particular resort earlier this summer, and so was able to vouch for it.  After a minimal amount of badgering, Brandon agreed to come, and so Saturday morning we packed a pool bag and headed south.

Everyone, especially Brandon, was pleasantly surprised by how nice the resort was, with nicely kept grounds, a decent pool, and even curtained tapchans to put William in while he took a nap.  We had a very nice day swimming, eating, lounging, talking, and watching the children play.  It was just like all of the daydreams I've been having for the past two and a half years.  By the time we left around five, Brandon (Brandon!) was making plans for our return visit.

We made it home around six, and having just spent the day relaxing, none of us were in the mood to make everyone do their Saturday chores.  So we didn't.  And then we weren't in the mood to make dinner.  So instead we watched the very last Harry Potter movie while having popcorn and ice cream for dinner.

Most of the time I like to make sure my children are learning to be responsible members of society by contributing to the running of the household, learning the reality that very rarely is life all play and no work.  But every now and then it's fun to just wallow in the decadence and throw responsibility to the winds.  And Saturday was one of those days.  It was fantastic.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Which I Solve a Problem Entirely on My Own

Last week we ran out of water.  It was, as always, on laundry day.  We have four 500 liter water tanks in our utility space/room/closet/area and so theoretically we shouldn't run out of water.  Dushanbe usually has a pretty decent water supply (until they turn it off to work on pipes and then tell everyone on Tajik television but nobody bothers to tell us) that doesn't go out for days at a time and so we should be fine.  But it turns out that a household of eight people and all their showers, hand washing, toilet flushing, laundry washing, dish washing, and milk pasteurizing takes a lot of water.

I never know that we have run out of water until I turn on a faucet and nothing comes out.  It would be nice if we had some sort of low-water alarm or I even bothered to check the tanks on a frequent basis so I could know that we were getting low and institute water-saving measures.  But we don't and I don't so this means that I don't know we're out of water until it's... out.

The first few (ten or fifteen) times this happened, I would go and check the tanks and realize that it wasn't entirely out, just coming in at a very slow dribble that would never fill up all four of those tanks in any kind of speed that would let me finish washing my laundry before next week.  I just figured that the local water pressure had gotten low and waited around until it filled back up.

After this happened a few times, I got savvy, ordered another garden hose, and just stretched all three of my hoses (real hoses, with threads and everything.  I think I'm the only person in the entire country with a threaded garden hose, and only because I jury-rigged my Tajik hose so that I could put a real hose on it) through the yard, up the front stairs, through the front door, across my living room, through my storage/coat room, and into the mysterious concrete space where all four of my water tanks hide.  Then I just filled the tanks up from our yard water supply that was working just fine.  And then I was okay until the water got low again on laundry day.

Then the water meter on the outside water tap broke and we had no outside water for five months.

So I had to call Facilities Maintenance to come and fix my problem.

One of the great things about living in embassy-provided housing is that you never have to fix your own problems.  Lightbulbs need replacing?  Put in a work order!  Need to hang pictures?  Work order! Washing machine broken?  Put in that work order and they'll bring a new(ish) one the next day.  Your four year-old colored on all the walls with a Sharpie?  That's what work orders are for!

But one of the downsides about living in embassy-provided housing is that you can't fix your own problems.  We have had power issues since we moved into our house over two and a half years ago, and they still haven't been fixed.  One of our kitchen lights started smoking while we were eating dinner.  I put in a work order, the FM guy came when I was out, and insisted to Kathleen that there was no problem.  See?  No smoking lights right now!

So when the water is out, I have no choice but to call FM to come and fix it.  And until they come and fix it I don't have any water.  After this had happened for the thirtieth or fortieth time, Brandon made me sit and watch the entire process.  "Look," he told me, "it can't be that complicated.  They come, they do something, and ten minutes later you have water again.  Just watch and see what they do.  Then you can do it instead."

So I watched.  I watched as they fiddled with one part of the elaborate filter system that was installed last year and then updated a few months ago.  I kept watching as they fiddled with another part, removing things and washing the cake of dirt that had built up inside, and then watched as they backwashed the sand filter.  As the FM guy finished up, he turned to me.  "See," he shook his finger at me, "it is very difficult.  Very hard to do."  I nodded.  Sometimes it's easier to nod then argue.

Last Tuesday it happened again.  I came downstairs from school to find a trickle of water and not clean clothes where clean clothes should have been.  As always, the water coming into the tanks had slowed to a trickle.  I considered calling FM.  Then I considered pulling all of the hoses through the house and just filling it up and getting on with my day.  And then I put on my big girl pants and pulled out my wrench.

First stop was the incoming water pipe.  I turned off the water supply (very important!), wrenched open a side valve, and cleaned out the screen that had filled with miscellaneous gunk.  Then I put it all back together.  Next I moved on to the first filter bolted to the wall.  I managed to wrench the plastic wring holding a clear plastic cup assembly up to the water supply, but was stymied when the cup itself would not come off.  I wriggled and pulled, but it would not budge.  I had visions of pulling everything off the wall and THEN having to call FM and explained how I had ruined their elaborate set up.  I backwashed the sand filter to release the water pressure, but it still stuck fast.  As a last attempt, I got a butter knife (a very useful tool) and managed to break the seal.  The whole thing came off.  I washed out the screen in the yard, scrubbing as much silt as possible off.

I came back inside, put everything back together, and turned the water on.  Still a trickle.  So I moved to the next filter assembly, two large blue cylinders further on in the system.  Once again I wrenched and wrestled but this one would not come off.  I wrenched some more to visions of ruining the system again and it still wouldn't budge.  One more time I attacked it and finally, with a flood of muddy water, it came off.  And was empty.

Some time ago, I had noticed what looked like a big roll of paper towels next to the tall blue filter cylinders.  After a long while I realized it was a filter core.  Then after another while, I noticed a second filter core.  Evidently last time the water stopped, somebody got the bright idea of just yanking the core instead of replacing it.  It's just a little silt after all, right?

So I moved on to the next filter, yanking this one off a little more easily, and found a filter core inside plugged up with mud.  It turns out that water in Dushanbe is really silty.  The mud in this filter had made it through two other filters before being stuck in this one.  I looked at the back-up core, looked up at the muddy one, decided that the back-up one looked cleaner, and plopped it in.  Then everything got screwed together, the water turned on, and the system charged.  I waited a minute or two and then, miracle of miracles, water came gushing into my big, white, plastic water tanks.

Then I did a happy dance and told myself how awesome I was.  I had fixed a problem entirely on my own without anybody helping me.  I told the children how awesome I was and they were kind of impressed, but not really.  After all, mom's job is to fix problems, right?  So I called Brandon and told him what an amazing wife he has.  He said that yes, I truly am amazing, and thanks for fixing the problem.  I hung up and gave myself a few high-fives and watched the water run into the tanks at a breathtaking speed.  I felt the sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming impossible odds.  I did another dance and told the children (again) that their mom is pretty cool while listening to my imaginary theme song playing to crowds cheering.  I did a few fist pumps.

And then, I went back to doing laundry.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Story Time

Right now Brandon is reading to the children.  Last month he finished the last of the Harry Potter books, and since he's already read all five of the Fablehaven books and also the Wrinkle in Time series, he's started reading The Lord of the Rings.  Old Man Willow just trapped Pippin and Merry in its tree trunk but luckily faithful Sam will rescue them as he does every time.

I remember being Sophia's age and rushing to get ready for bed on the nights when my dad was home so that I could listen to my own father read The Lord of the Rings.  He had an infuriating habit of reaching a point of extreme suspense and then, while stretching his arms and yawning, announce that it was time for us to all go to bed.  We would groan in disappointment and then beg for just one - only one! - more chapter and then we would go to bed like good little children.  Sometimes he would relent and sometimes we just had to go to bed.

The memory of being tucked into my parents' warm waterbed, bobbing up and down as one of my siblings wiggled, is one of those ones enshrined in childhood remembrance as the Best Times, the times where everything was right and good and perfect in my own little world.  I was safe and warm and listening to a good story read by my perfect, good, loving father.

Some evenings in our house are good evenings.  Brandon comes home from work to a tasty dinner and children bathed and ready for bed.  We've had a good day at school and everyone has finished their work and we've had a nice afternoon together.  All is right in the world and we spend dinner discussing the evolution of germ theory or the fall of Constantinople before the children cheerfully (or at least willingly) help with the dishes and then brush their teeth quickly without any fighting.

Some evenings in our house are not good evening.  Brandon has to work long and the bureaucracy has not given him a break and the traffic has been possibly worse.  The children and I have had a day of wrangling, where nobody wants to get their work done and everybody wants to fight with each other.  The house is a mess, dinner is late, the dinner conversation is largely centered around telling various children to stop fighting, spilling things, burping, making noises, reprimanding each other, or complaining.  Getting ready for bed takes half an hour and a lot of shouting.

But every evening, whether it is a bad evening, a good evening, or an in-between evening, ends the same way.  After everyone is ready for bed (whether quickly or slowly) and we've prayed together, Brandon settles down for story time.  Sometimes it's long because they've gotten to one of the good parts of the story and sometimes it's short because Brandon has read himself to sleep.  But it is always there.

Once I asked Brandon why he read to the children every night.  By the time story time comes around, I am completely done being a parent.  I have spent twelve hours with all six of my children and we have seen enough of each other.  All I want in the world is to get their little bodies in to bed as quickly as possible so that I can finally be off the clock.  My job is not done until all of the monkeys are contained.

"I like it," he told me, "It's one of the best parts of my day.  I don't have to make anyone do anything and we can just enjoy being together.  I always look forward to coming home and reading to the children.  My evening isn't complete without reading to them."

I was floored.  My husband spends all day at work.  He leaves for work right after breakfast and comes home sometimes right as dinner starts, sometimes later.  While we have been going to the pool or playing at the park, while I have been napping and the children playing, he has been working.  No naps or parks or pool for him.  Just work all day, doing whatever everyone else wants of him.  Then he comes home and it is more work, shepherding everyone through dinner and then helping with the dishes and getting children ready for bed.  And then finally, when all of his responsibilities are over and he can do something of his own choosing, he spends his precious free time reading to his children.  And not only does he do it because he knows it is good and right, he does it because he likes it.  He likes spending time with them, sharing his favorite stories and inviting them in.  He would rather be telling the story of Frodo and Sam than surfing the internet or watching TV.  It's enjoyable.  

When I think about Brandon and my father and nightly story time, I am struck every time by the unselfishness of fathers.  They go to work all day (and for my father, sometimes all night) at jobs that most of them don't particularly enjoy.  Some of them work in jobs that are downright dangerous.  And while they are digging ditches and writing cables and delivering babies and fighting wars, everyone else is at home, in the house they pay for, enjoying the fruits of their labor.  I remember waking up around nine on one lazy summer morning and realizing that everyone in my family was going to spend the day at the pool while my father spent the day at the office.  His labor was supporting the six of us in our laziness (well, my mother wasn't all lazy).  

Fathers don't complain.  They don't come home and tell everyone how great they are because they made it possible for everyone to eat dinner that night.  They don't ask us to tell them how wonderful they are.  They don't whine when somebody else has taken the last drumstick and left them with only a wing.  They don't require homage.  

Instead, they play with their children.  They make sure that if there are seven people and six cookies, everyone else gets a cookie.  They listen to tales of everyone else's day without once interrupting with tales of their own.  They are happy we have gone to the pool.  And they read their children stories.  Because they like to.

Because they are fathers.  And that's what fathers do.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Slowly, Slowly Learning Russian

The girls and I have now been taking Russian lessons for almost two years.  If I were a diligent, active Russian student who did things like homework and flash cards, I would be doing pretty well.

But I'm not a diligent student.  My Russian practice consists of 1. attending our 45-minute lessons three times a week and 2. (somewhat) daily Duolingo practice.  I could claim that I don't have time to do all that other stuff, but I could make time if I wanted to.  I just don't want to.  My daily need for Russian language skills is often nonexistent and when I do use it, it's more of a bonus than anything else.  It's pretty easy to live in a foreign country without knowing the language when you have other people to do everything for you.

But nonetheless the girls and I persevere.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Albina shows up at our house (and when she can't make it we all silently rejoice) and we go through another forty-five minute session of language learning.  We are reasonably proficient in the tenses, being able to conjugate according to several different patterns (but nothing too complicated) and have discussed the idea of aspecutal pairs.  There is a conception of the fact that there are cases floating around in our lessons and recently we have done some work on understanding them, but I'm pretty sure none of us have a handle on all of them.  Sometimes we work on prepositions and their case, but I don't think we know all of them.  I do know that there are a lot of words we don't know but we can do some basics.

I surprised myself a little while ago by translating one of Brandon's phone conversations for my parents.  To my own (and everyone else's) shock, I understood about 75% of what he said.  It wasn't a terribly complicated conversation, but I didn't know that I was that capable.  It was a nice feeling.

But I'm not in a very big rush.  We have almost a year left here in Dushanbe, followed by at least two and probably three years in Tashkent.  By then I should have more Russian than I do now.  And that will be just fine.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Earning That Thirty Percent

All posts in the Foreign Service are not created equal.  Some places, like Paris or London are in nice, first-world countries.  Other places like Lagos or Luanda are not.  Since this is not the military where people sign over the ability to choose where they will live, there has to be something that evens up the playing field at little.  Money.  This comes in the form of various incentives - airplane tickets, large housing, SND, and differential.  So if you live in London you get paid the basic salary (plus a cost of living adjustment). However, if you are willing to give up things like lines, street signs, rationality, and not sticking out like a store thumb, the State Department will compensate you with a bonus on top of your salary.  This is how we have ended up in places like Cairo, Baku, Dushanbe and Tashkent.  I like nice places but evidently I like money more.  Even when it means putting up with an inherent inability to understand basic traffic rules.

Dushanbe, as I have mentioned before, is a 30% differential post.  This means that you take Brandon's basic salary and then put 30% more on top.  It's pretty great, I won't lie.  I like looking at our retirement accounts every few months and seeing more money every time.  Magic!

When we first moved here I felt like that extra money was a little like taking candy from a baby.  Dushanbe has things like power, running water, grocery stores, traffic lights (that people follow!), and housekeepers.  When I go out, nobody bothers me and the traffic is pretty nonexistent.  There are much worse places in the world to live (I'm looking at you, Luanda).

Then Eleanor got sick.  It was nothing life threatening, just diarrhea and vomiting that left Eleanor reasonably dehydrated.  If we had been in the States (or even in Europe), Eleanor would have been hooked up to an IV, rehydrated, and sent on her way.  Instead we stayed up all night feeding her fluid by sips every half an hour or so.  That night I felt the lack of local medical services that are part of the reasons for our 30% differential.  I won't lie, I don't mind getting non-emergency situations resolved in London, but it's those emergency ones that make you wish you didn't care for money so much.

But for everyday life, Dushanbe still really wasn't that hard.  After all, I spend most days living in my enormous house that I don't clean.  Then we started having problems with travel.  But at least, when we had to cancel and re-book tickets, we weren't paying for them right?  But then we did.

It's summer travel season again, and this year I learned my lesson and made sure to not fly a single leg of our flights on Turkish.  I had all of my flights lined up and was bugging Brandon about getting his leave request signed when our new airline - Somon - started having troubles.  Fuel here in Tajikistan has gotten very expensive (about $500 a ton more than anywhere else in the region), and Somon has been getting around the problem (and their unpaid fuel bill) by making unannounced stops in Ashgabat to fuel up before heading on to Germany.  Sometimes people make their connections and sometimes they don't, so it's back to Turkish again despite my promises that it would never happen.

And also with summer comes electricity problems.  Our house has had a bad connection with the city power since the day we moved in two and a half years ago.  Whenever there's too much of a power draw (like drying clothes and running the air conditioning), the generator turns on, turns off all the power when it switches on, and then turns off.  Endlessly.  So when it's 105 degree outside our play/school room gets hot enough on laundry days to melt crayons.  Literally. I found half-melted ones in their box last summer.

But still, thirty percent is a lot of money.  I'm willing to put up with quite a few things for money, especially as the SND (15% on top of the 30 if we stay three years) has kicked in.  We all have our price, and it turns out that I'm pretty easy to buy.  Dushanbe may have major airline issues, poor (very poor) house construction, and hot endless summers, but it is still not Africa.  And also money.  I like that part.

Then.  But then.

Tajikistan is a very poor country and hasn't been getting any richer.  One of the solutions that the government has pursued is getting money out of those that have it, including foreign businesses.  This hasn't affected me - I live in a bubble created with US tax dollars - and so I haven't paid attention.

But last week, those depredations hit home when the government revoked the licenses of foreign courier services, including DHL.  It turns out that our mail - the magical thing that brings Oreos, J. Crew, Target, Amazon, and Synthroid to my house - is delivered by DHL.  The same DHL that is no longer licensed to operate in Dushanbe.

We got an email from the management section at the embassy informing us that no more mail would be coming.  The pouch facility in Virginia would hold everything already sent, but anything else ordered would be sent back if it showed up.  So, make sure and hoard the Oreos because no more are coming until further notice.

It was then that I decided that Dushanbe and I can no longer be friends.  I can put up with its spotty medical services as long as everyone stays healthy.  I will forgive the insane driving because everyone in these countries drives like that.  As long as the pool is open we can survive two months of one-hundred degree heat.  I will just not cook any recipes that use avocados, asparagus, bacon, blueberries, boneless skinless chicken thighs, or plain yogurt.  When I'm in America I can binge on Mexican food, Krispy Kreme, and Wendy's.  I know by now to not even bother streaming my favorite TV shows.  Constantly rearranging airline travel is frustrating, but doesn't happen that often.  I can even learn to turn on the just the right number of split packs that will keep the house just cool enough without turning on the generator.  And we've even learned to deal with GI issues - the carpet cleaner is an essential tool in that fight.

But pouch.  That is just too far.  Mail days are like Christmas, the kind of Christmas that brings you things you really need, like medicine and clothes for the children, and things you really want, like a new purse or Instant Pot.  It also brings things like toilet paper, school books, and sanity.  Could I get some of those things here?  Maybe (Okay, probably not the sanity).  But I don't have the time, inclination, or language skills to borrow the car from Brandon, find a babysitter for the children, drive down to the market that has no signs or anyone who knows enough to tell you where to find the safety pins or pair of shoes you desperately need are.  That's what Amazon is for.  But not now.  I feel like Laura Ingalls Wilder buckling down for that long, endless winter in North Dakota where they started eating the seed corn so they wouldn't starve.  Don't eat all the Triscuits, kids.  We don't know when we'll get more.

While I was breathing into a paper bag, Brandon did point out that there are plenty of people in this country that are suffering a lot more from the bad conditions than I am.  It's not Target they're missing, but things like food and jobs, and that made me feel not quite better, but at least contrite.  Then I went to another room so he wouldn't see me keep breathing into that bag.

This issue affects more than my new running shoes (official pouch is also affected), and so I know it's not going to last forever.  But until then I'm going to be really careful with those Triscuits.  Two crackers apiece and not a cracker more.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Willam Update

Last Saturday we were getting ready for the pool.  The kitchen was cleaned up from breakfast (on the menu that morning: cake.  Because cake and muffins are pretty much the exact same thing), I had on my swimsuit, the snacks were packed, the children were re-installing car seats, the pool bag had goggles, sunscreen, diapers, wipes, and William's swimsuit.  All eight towels were piled up next to the door and I made sure I had my badge and sunglasses.

Mid-sentence in my conversation with Brandon, I remembered something.

"The baby! I forgot about William! Let me go get him!"

And that is life in a nutshell for the sixth child.

Or at least it is if you are an agreeably easy-natured baby like William.  Most of the time William watches the circus go by with a bemused expression on his face.  'How did I get stuck here with these crazies?' he seems to say.  'But at least they're pretty nice.'  And when he gets fussy, he takes a nap for a couple of hours.

He started smiling a few months ago and hasn't stopped since, smiling at anyone who pays attention to him, waving his little fist and wriggling his whole with joy.  Kathleen likes to say that William is the best anti-grouch medication in the world - if you're in a bad mood it won't last more than a minute when you're with William.  I think she's right.  Every night when we put William to bed Brandon and I stand over his crib, smiling at him and telling each other how cute that baby is.  You'd think it would have gotten old by now - after all, we've had five before him - but it seems that it never does.

William hasn't exhibited any precocial behavior - no teething, rolling over, crawling, sitting up, or playing with toys - and is pretty much a chubby agreeable lump that is perfectly happy being held the whole time he is awake (which still isn't much longer than forty-five minutes at a time).  Which is good because he gets held by a lot of people.  A few weekends ago we were at the pool following an embassy event.  William, who had been sleeping through it all in his crib, started fussing.  I was in the pool so a friend picked him up.  The next time I looked over someone else had him until he had been passed around to pretty much anyone who wasn't swimming at the time.  He attended Ladies' Night last month and was past from lady to lady until he had made his way around the entire table.  

His siblings all love him, fighting over whose turn it is to bathe him or feed him or dress him or play with him.  A few days ago I caught Joseph trying his hardest to figure out how he could rig up some sort of seat arrangement so that Joseph could push William around in their little red play car.  The children reported to me that Eleanor has now been kicked out of the kingdom and William crowned the new monarch.

I've always been anxious for my babies to grow up past the stage where they need special treatment - extra naps, early bedtimes, special meals, strollers, cribs - and they can join the rest of the crowd.  But William, he can take as much time as he likes growing up.  I'll keep the squishy baby around a little longer if I can.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

T minus one year

It is now June.  Our departure date for Tajikistan is May 2018, so that means we now have less than one year left in Dushanbe.  For most people at hardship posts, one year left means that you have halfway finished your tour.  But when your tour is three and a half years long, one year left means that it's practically time to start packing the boxes.

I'm a planner at heart - the kind of person that loves to research hotel options for a trip that might happen and secretly looks up flight schedules while they're supposed to be doing useful things like reading their children bedtime stories.  This means that, with only a year left until we pack up every single thing on the earth that we own (except for that crate in Haagerstown, Maryland full of things that I no longer remember) and move it aaaaaaall the way to Tashkent, a 260-mile drive away, it's time to start planning.

Last week I rearranged one of our storage rooms.  This happens periodically as we get more consumables (we got a supplementary shipment last summer and a layette shipment last month) and I have to rearrange everything to store it neatly.  While I was rearranging, I weighed my canning jars.  We packed out of Baku with 1,000 pounds left in our weight allowance (7,200 pounds, which sounds like a lot until you weigh everything you own and then suddenly it's peanuts), and the Amazon boxes haven't stopped coming for the past two and a half years.  Our plan this time around is to try and weigh all our posessions and then enter it into a spreadsheet so that we can know the exact weight of everything we own on this earth except the unknown items in Maryland (okay, I could find the manifest and find that out too, but I'm too lazy).  I'll let you know how that goes.

After I weighed a few representative jars and counted the rest, I took stock of my jam supplies.  I still have mango jam from Cairo, a few jars of blackberry jam, three or four of mulberry, and a lot of jars of persimmon jam.  I added 'no more jam making' to my mental list of things to remember.  Then I looked over the rest of my food and wondered how we were going to eat it all in the next eleven months.

After that, I added sundried tomatoes and cranberry sauce to my consumables list.  Because even though we have to get rid of all the food we own before we leave, we will be buying two years' worth of consumables during the one-month home leave we will have next spring.  Every time I open up something from our consumables store, like shampoo or wheat or toilet paper or pad thai sauce, I write the date on a list (of which there are several), with a note of the size.  I've never judged our consumption rate very well in the past, which has led to buying way too much food for our first post (who needs 100 pounds of popcorn?!?) and too little for this last post (I'm not sure how I feel about using six gallons of canola oil in nine months).  So this time I'm determined to get it just right.  I'll let you know how that goes, too.

Following the reorganization of our storage room, I cleaned up the kitchen a little.  Over the years and various moves and temporary stays, I've collected a lot of different storage containers.  Some are the cheap throwaway kind that I've never gotten to throwing away, some my sister gave me over a decade ago before I got married, and some have just drifted in on the wind like those cheap plastic toys that accumulate in the corners of your toy bins.  I have daydreams of replacing them, but it's not happening until we move.  Because I can ditch the storage containers here and mail the new one to our next post.  Save weight and get them there faster.  Brilliant!

When I was done with the kitchen I headed out to the yard.  When we moved in our yard consisted of 1. two bare dirt areas by the windows and 2. a dirt patch with some struggling grass.  Now we have two fruit trees that are almost fifteen feet tall, pots with mint, sage, chives, thyme, lemon balm, rosemary, four o'clocks, snapdragons, portulaca, and vincas.  The dirt patches have become a thriving wildflower bed and a very happy snapdragon bed.  I bought most of the pots in Baku, making my friend's poor driver scour half the city to get the things, and the current internal debate is whether to leave them and buy new ones (money!) or dump all of the plants and dirt out and pack them again (weight!).  I'm still not sure about that one.  Also, my grass could probably do with some reseeding, but heck, we're leaving next year so why bother?

By then it was lunch time, so I went to our third floor and called the children down.  All of the children's toys live up there and every time I look at their extensive collection, I imagine the Tajik children who will love playing with the toys that will get abandoned as we leave.  My fingers itch to pull out the garbage bags now and start the ruthless purging that brings the sweetest feelings of moral purity, but I leave them for now.  After all, we do have almost a year left.

One day I won't walk through my house seeing things that need to be gotten rid of, or put off purchases until the next move because of weight, or simply give up on improving my house, or have to track my usage rate of brown sugar.  I'll just move in somewhere, unpack, and buy what I need from Target when I run out.  I'm not sure what that will be like, but I'm looking forward to finding out.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Happy Birthday, Sophia!

This month, Sophia turned nine.  Since my parents were in town (and the weather forecast called for rain), we decided to play tourist for her birthday.

We started out at the national tea house, a large beautiful building that, incidentally, doesn't serve tea.  It does have multiple lavishly (the picture we're standing from is made entirely from stone) decorated meeting rooms, a gift shop, a pool hall, a bowling alley, a movie theater, and a supermarket.  But no tea.

After that we went to that national antiquities museum.  Where they did not have any tea, but they did have a very large reclining Buddha statue.  Along with a lot of other old stuff, like bones and spears and pottery.

That evening we had cake and presents for Sophia, following the now-traditional birthday dinner of Eggs Benedict.  

Brandon's grandparents gave her a Barbie doll, Kathleen gave her a coupon book, Joseph gave her some money, Edwin gave her a drawing of a dinosaur, my parents gave her a dress, and we gave her a book and a bike.  It was a pretty good birthday.

The next morning, my father put the bike together.  Which was is good thing he is an avid bike rider because it was much more complicated than anything I could have handled.

For Sophia's birthday Saturday, we went swimming and then had dinner at a local Arabic restaurant, Al Sham.  Nobody spilled anything, nobody cried (not even William), and everyone ate their food, so it was a fantastic meal.

After dinner we went to the amusement park and the children rode all the rides until they had had all of the fun they could stand.  This year Kathleen and Sophia were tall enough to ride a bigger ride, the swings, and I went with them.  Edwin and Joseph, who were too short, were much disappointed.

Sophia had a great birthday, most of all because her grandparents were in town to celebrate with her.  Kathleen always has family around for her birthday (it's always during R&R), and Sophia was happy to finally have family for her birthday, too.  It's strange to think that next year she will be hitting double digits - and that will make my second child in double digits.  She really has come to be a (mostly) pleasant child to be around and is a cheerful and happy addition to our family.  Happy Birthday, Sophia!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Another Visit

Tajikistan is not a country that is on very many people's bucket lists.  Maybe not on anybody's bucket list, or at least not the lists of anybody I know.  We knew this when we moved here and so haven't expected any visitors.  And we haven't had many in the two and a half years we've been here.  When anybody asks if they should come visit, I tell them that they should probably save the money and hassle and go somewhere nice, like Paris.  Or Venice.  Or even Moscow.  But probably not Dushanbe.

And most people have taken my advice.  We did have some friends come visit that we met almost twelve years ago during our first stint in Cairo.  They came from their current post, Moscow, with their three boys for a long weekend and were rewarded with horrible sickness almost as soon as they got here.  Every single one, all five of them, came down with GI issues during the four days they were here.  Like I said, you really don't actually want to visit Dushanbe.

My parents, however, did not heed my advice, and came to visit anyway.  They got back from a three-year mission in the mountains of Peru last summer, so that must have helped them out because nobody got sick the entire visit.  And they flew on Turkish without a single delay.  It was a miracle.

While they were here, we:

Went to the local Olympic training park,

took a walk in our neighborhood,

had a picnic at the botanical garden (and had to walk home in the rain),

visited Hisor and had Hisor chicken (and didn't get sick!),

watched the children play in the yard,

went hiking,

braved their lives on a rickety platform (held in place with a few boulders) overlooking a 115-ft waterfall,

had a picnic at Iskanderkul,

took a tour of the national tea house,

and the national antiquities museum,

celebrated Sophia's birthday,

helped out around the house and yard (including fixing two ottomans and Eleanor's tricycle),

went out to eat several times (and still didn't get sick!),

went to the amusement park,

went swimming multiple times,

and had dinner at my housekeeper's house (and still no sickness.  These people are amazing).

After two weeks they went home claiming to have had a fun time with all the delights that Tajikistan had to offer.  The children enjoyed spending more time with their grandparents, and I had a great time with my parents.  The children declared this year 'grandparent year' as they will get to see their grandparents three different times.  

I'm grateful for my parent's visit and now we can put away the nice new guest linens that I bought for their visit because I'm pretty sure they are the last guests that will come visit us in Dushanbe.  But, it was fun while it lasted!

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.