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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.

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