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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tashkent in the Summer

It has been hot here in Tashkent.  I know that it has also been hot in the US recently, but it has been hot here in Tashkent since mid-June.  It will continue to be hot here until late September.  Sophia - who has a hard time with hot weather - recently asked me when it would cool down.  I laughed and pulled out the weather forecast, "Well, on Friday it will be 102.  Since it's 108 today, does that count as cooler?"

It's been so hot here that there have been rolling blackouts throughout the city.  We live in a neighborhood with well-connected Uzbeks, so our power has stayed steady, but I can only sympathize with anyone who loses their air conditioning when it's over a hundred degrees outside.  And I can double sympathize if they don't have a pool.

Summer is a season where you carefully plan your movements and try to stay home as much as possible.  Our piano teacher, who taxis to our house, has started coming earlier because it's just too hot to be out by mid-afternoon.  The girls wake up at 5 am to ride their bikes over to a neighbor's house every morning for a plant-watering gig because any later would just be too hot.  We don't leave the house to do any activities unless they involve a pool.  Any car trip is avoided unless absolutely necessary, and if you do have to go anywhere, you'd better park in the shade.  I put William in his car seat after leaving the car parked in the sun, and he started screaming and crying because his car seat was so hot.

There's always a time in the middle of winter or summer when you can't imagine that there was ever a season other than the one you're in and that there will ever be anything different than the one you're in.  We've reached that point of summer where pants, shoes, and coats are a far-distant memory and a laughable future.  I can't remember the last time I was cold.  Life is one endless, eternal, sunshine-filled summer.  Every morning into eternity we will wake up to clear sunny skies and every evening will end with dusky orange sunsets.  Rain is a long-forgotten myth.

I don't mind the endless summers.  I like swimming and dresses are infinitely more comfortable than jeans.  The fruit is delicious and endless and I'm happy to stay home and hibernate while someone else buys that fruit for me.  The dusky orange sunsets are beautiful and evening walks to the local ice cream stand are one of my favorite things to do after the children are in bed.  I like waking up to sunshine every morning.

Eventually fall will come and I will have to wear shoes again.  I will cry a small tear for the end of summer while the cool-weather lovers in my family will rejoice.  But it's not fall yet, and until then I'll be out back in the pool, working on my tan.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Like a Weed

This past week Sophia came downstairs in a fall dress.  I'm trying to keep from spending our last week in the usual packing purgatory by pre-packing things for our three-month medevac this fall.  We're leaving Tashkent in September when the weather hasn't even started thinking about cooling down, so fall clothes are something that definitely won't be used in the next six weeks and can be stuffed into suitcases early.

Packing fall clothes means you have to first sort fall clothes.  I sorted out the boys' clothes myself because I don't trust them to differentiate between worn out clothes or too small clothes and correctly-sized non-ratty clothes.  The girls, however, are more picky about what they wear, so I've assigned them to sort and pack their own clothes.  It is really nice to have some children that are useful.

Sophia was going through her fall clothes and sorting out the things she has grown out of.  The first dress, which last winter was knee length, only reached midway down her thigh.  "Too small," I declared, and she went upstairs to try on the next.  Dress after dress came downstairs, and all of them were approaching tunic length, no longer fit to be called dresses.

I remember being taken by surprise by Kathleen's eleven year-old growth spurt.  She grew nine inches in about six months and turned into a young woman before my eyes after spending her whole life as a little girl.  Kathleen is now an inch shorter than me, with hands and feet the same size.  I'm used to seeing her as a young woman, someone who will be leaving me to go off on her own in the somewhat forseeable future.  She has picked out a major, we've talked about college funding, and will be in high school in a year.  But as she is the first child, this is to be expected.

What is a little surprising, however, is that Sophia is following in the footsteps of her older sister.  It turns out that she too won't stay a little girl much longer either.  In the surprised fascination of discovering that my oldest was growing up, I forgot that this meant that the others would do the same thing, and some of them would be following soon.

I was once talking with an older friend who had had children close like we have.  "The thing you don't count on," she remarked to me, "is that they leave you just as closely as they come to you.  You blink your eyes and before you know it they're all gone."

We have a few years yet before they start leaving us, but I didn't realized that they would all grow up in a hurry too.  Once the first one starts shooting up, the dominoes have started to fall and it will be a continual run of too-short jeans, too-tight shoes, and insatiable appetites for the next fifteen years.  I knew intellectually that eventually my children would grow up, but it's a different experience to literally watch it happen before your eyes.

A family picture from last summer sits on our bookshelf.  In it there is a perfect stair-step of children, each of them fitting in perfectly with their siblings, creating a lovely visual balance.  I didn't realize when we took that picture that it would be the last family picture where I was a mother surrounded by children who were all shorter than them, the last time I would be a mother hen with her brood.  From here until we stop taking pictures, I will be increasingly surrounded by children who are taller than me.  That lovely balance is forever gone.

I'm not one to mourn the end of my young mothering days - after all, I still have quite a lot of small child years left to go - but it is strange to move this new phase of mothering.  I've watched as friends have gone through the same transition and felt that they were so far distant from me.  Now I realize they were only a few years ahead and I would be catching up sooner than I thought.  I imagine that sooner than I think, I'll be looking back to this stage with nostalgia also.  When you have children life changes on a tangential curve, not an algebraic line.

I have often felt like I've been a bit on an impatient mother.  I so desperately needed for some of my brood to grow up that I spent quite a long time waiting for them to move out of the dependently needy stage.  I don't fault anyone who feels the same; it's very exhausting to be the only one who can do anything.  Now that there are a few who can help out, I'm perfectly happy to be where I am.  And I intend to enjoy it as long as it lasts.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Growing as a Gardener

My mother has been a Gardener for a long time.  I say Gardener with a capital G because gardening for her is a twenty-hour-a-week part time job.  She is a master gardener and maintains my parents' half acre suburban lot which has been entirely professionally landscaped, complete with a formal Japanese garden.  When we children had all gone off to school, my mother never went to work because she already had a job - her gardens.

She has a quote on her corkboard from J.C. Raulston, who the North Carolina arboretum is named after.  "If you're not killing plants, you're not growing as a gardener."  When I was younger I would laugh at this quote, thinking it was a joke.  Now that I've been trying my hand at gardening for over a decade, I hope this quote is true because I have killed a lot of plants. 

Over the years, I've done in a lot of plants, but this past year in Tashkent has really moved my status up from 'amateur plant killer' to 'mass murderer on the genocidal scale.'  It's a good thing that plants don't count as people because I would be heading to the Hauge soon to face my crimes against botany.  And I'm definitely sure that I would get a verdict of 'absolutely guilty.'

All crimes begin with dreaming, and my herbicial crime spree began with dreams of a beautiful, flower-filled yard with a specific focus on the pool area.  I spent all winter fantasizing of a tropical plant-filled back yard with lush green foliage surrounding our sparkling blue pool.  It kept me going through the months (and months) of an unusually long, grey, rain-filled Tashkent winter.  If I could just make it to spring, my tropical garden paradise could come true.

As soon as the weather cleared up, I hauled my long-suffering Russian teacher to Chorsu market.  I bought pots, dirt, flowers, herbs, and topped off my spree with a pomegranate tree.  A week later, like the flower-addict that I am, I went back for more.  It turns out that you can never have too many flowers. 

The pomegranate tree was the first to succumb.  It never even bothered to leaf out, and a month later, we still had a stick-tree planted in the backyard.  Soon the lobelia followed suit, with almost all of the fifty-plant flat dying within a week of being lovingly placed in my pots.  My window boxes never were very happy, and finally I gave up the ghost a month later.  I transplanted all the somewhat-alive plants, threw away the dead ones, and filled them up with petunias.  "Petunias love heat," my mom assured me, "they thrive on it."  They lasted a few months, dying one at a time, until a few weeks ago when the rest decided life wasn't worth living and turned into sad, dried up, brown little sticks.  I tried a third time with another flat of flowers, verbenas, that the internet swore love heat.  But it turns out that 'loves heat' doesn't mean 'loves 100+ degree temperatures while baking on a window sill.'  The vinca population that also went in at the same time have now been reduced to three plants, happily blooming among the skeletons of their former plant companions.

It turns out that cana lilies really do love heat, which is why I've always associated them with highway plantings in North Carolina.  They've happily thrived while the snapdragons, daisies, ageratums, alyssums, and celosia that I planted with them have all died off, sometimes singly and sometimes en-masse. 

One of the centerpieces of my garden-hideaway winter daydreams was elephant ears.  They grow quickly, add a lovely lush element to landscaping, and come as bulbs.  I ordered some through the pouch, they got rejected, had my mother bring bulbs in her suitcase, and then had the original bulbs make it through on the second try.  In all, I spent over a hundred dollars on eight bulbs.  It turns out that tropical plants like elephants ears don't care for the hot, dry sun of Uzbekistan.  Most of the bulbs did actually sprout, but two pots are in danger of dying, and the other three produce medium-sized leaves that get brown and curled around the edges from Taskent's intense sun within a week of unfurling.  I'm still in mourning over my elephant ear dream.

I also had dreams of a lush, flower-filled, honeysuckle hedge growing next to the pool, gently scenting the evening air with their intoxicating aroma.  Honeysuckle, which is a weed in North Carolina, is sold as a plant here in Tashkent.  I bought three at the beginning of the season and watched them promptly lose most of their leaves.  I fertilized and watered religiously and watched the leaves slowly come back.  They turned yellow.  I fertilized more and then everything crisped up and turned brown.  I can't believe that I've even managed to ruin something that is an invasive weed.

The only plant that has been an unqualified success is my bougainvillea plant, bought on a whim during my fourth of fifth trip to Chorsu.  It turns out that bougainvillea loves poor soil, hot dry weather, and little watering.  If I was smart, I would just fill every single one of my pots with bougainvillea and stop breaking my heart on plants that just can't take Tashkent summers.

But I'm already dreaming of next year's arrangements that will be better than this year's plants.  I've spent days researching plants that do well in places like southern Arizona.  I've ordered a soil testing kit.  I'm thinking about setting up a seed-starting area to grow plants I can't get locally.  Elephant ears have been shelved for a place that isn't so darn hot all summer long.  Vincas will be a centerpiece of my window boxes.  Despite my overwhelming failure, I haven't given up the dream.

Brandon, the eternal pessimist ("Pessimists are never disappointed when their predictions don't come true"), has pointed out that Einstein's definition of insanity is when someone keeps doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.  He then points out that he is bankrolling my personal insanity, with only the bodies of dead and dying plants to show for it. 

I should probably listen to him.  I have never had a successful garden, with my plans for horticultural perfection coming even remotely close to reality.  I keep telling myself it's because we're always moving or it's hard to find the right variety of plants or some other reason that ignores the real reason for my continued disasters - I'm just a terrible gardener.  Some people have the knack, and I don't have it.  I love plants, but plants don't love me. 

But, unlike Brandon, I am an optimist.  Being an optimist means that I always believe that success is just around the corner, achievable with only a few modifications to whatever disastrous situation is currently happening.  I always eventually achieve success because of this un-crushable (most likely foolish) optimism about things that I really, really want. 

And I really, really want to have a lovely garden filled with colorful, profusely blooming flowers.  So I won't give up, even when confronted by the ranks of dead plants I've left in my wake.  I'll do better next year.  And even if it it isn't perfect, it will be better than this year.  Hopefully.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What Money Can Buy You

Yesterday was Saturday, so we did what we do every Saturday in the summer: we stayed home and swam.  It's hit high summer here in Tashkent, so by mid-afternoon the temperature was 107 degrees.  I checked the weather forecast and the temperatures will be above 100 for the foreseeable future.  When it's that hot outside, the only reasonable thing to do is swim.  Everything else is just too hot. 

Yesterday, however, was a Saturday with the first: it was the first Saturday with a heated pool.

Back in May, when we skipped spring and went straight from late winter to early summer, I started talking to Brandon about getting a pool heater installed.  It sounds ridiculous to heat a pool when all July and August is in the hundreds, but I'm used to swimming in the southeast where pool temperatures usually hover around ninety by mid-summer.  I like water that is so warm you can swim long enough to get entirely pruney and then spend an hour or two more in the pool.  I don't like being anything close to cold. 

And although Tashkent is hot in the day, it cools down enough at night that the pool water never gets above the low eighties.  That certainly isn't swimming in the Pacific ocean, but it's cool enough that I can only take it for twenty minutes or so before having to heat up in the sun.  The children can last longer, but eventually they all end up flat on the tiles around the pool soaking up the heat like lizards.  And after August has passed, the water starts dipping into the mid-seventies which is too cold for anyone to actually want to swim even if the daytime temperatures stay in the nineties until October. 

So I decided just to ask our new pool guy how much a heater might possibly cost.  He got back to me with a pretty reasonable number: $500.  I'd rather spend nothing for a pool heater, but $500 was right at the edge of my acceptable range for having a swimmable pool for eight months of the year, so Brandon gave him the go-ahead to get to work.  Suren, our pool guy, said it wouldn't take long, maybe three or four days. 

And if Suren was the only party involved, that would have been a reasonable estimate.  But unfortunately we live in a house that we don't own and we don't pay rent for, so there were several layers of permissions to ask.  My first email - to the housing office at the embassy - went unanswered for a week.  Brandon tried another person and got a swift reply - 'that's great! Let's get this done!'

The next step was the landlord, who readily agreed to have someone else pay to have his pool heated.  People are always happy to agree to have someone else fund home improvements.  After the landlord gave his okay, Suren met with the local housing coordinator to discuss his plans for how this whole thing was going to go off. 

Our house is heated by two on-demand gas water heaters, which is pretty standard for this region.  Suren figured that we wouldn't be heating the house during the summer, so it would be pretty easy to install a valve that would allow one heater to heat the pool in the summer and heat the house in the winter.  I thought it was a pretty elegant solution.

The housing coordinator, however, did not.  What would happen, he wanted to know, when it was winter and we were trying to heat the house with one water heater?  I figured that we wouldn't be swimming in the winter, but that wasn't a good enough answer.  Instead, the answer was to throw more money at the problem and buy another water heater.  The estimated cost doubled.

I decided that a warm pool wasn't worth that much money.  Brandon, however, thought it was.  My mom and aunt agreed (not that it was their money), and so I was persuaded.  The next week I died inside as I handed Suren ten hundred-dollar bills and told him to get to work.

Then we waited.  Every few days Suren would show up and do something.  He started by dropping off the parts he had bought.  Those were all collected after a week or two and then the work began.  As the weeks passed and the heater got hung, pipes were installed, and a hole was drilled through foot-thick basement wall, but the pool still stayed cold, the dream of a heated pool faded into the far distance.  I tried to convince myself that the pool was really more of something to just dip in than swim anyway.  The children got used to swimming in the cool water and decided it was warm enough.  I knew that Suren would eventually get tired of spending every weekend in our pump room and just get the heater done, but I wasn't sure when that would happen.

Last weekend was the final flurry of work when Suren cut the gas and water for several hours in order to do the final hookups.  Then we had to wait for the embassy to come and give everything final approval.  And at long last, on Friday, more than two months after we started the whole process, the heater was turned on.

Saturday we swam.  And the water was warm.  Everyone stayed in until their hands and feet were pruney and then swam for an hour or two longer.  I wasn't cold.  William wasn't cold.  Nobody ended up sunning themselves on pool tiles.  Even Joseph - the least cold-tolerant child - declared the water warm enough.  William and I spent the time lounging in a pool float, watching Brandon toss children into the pool, play games, and try to get the five parasites off his back.  It was great.

That evening Brandon and I went for a full-moon swim after the children went to bed and the water was nicely warm and no goosebumps were in sight.

I still don't like to think about how much money we spent on something we'll be leaving in two years, but at this point the money is long gone (or converted into pipes and heaters and filters that have been bolted to the pump room wall) so there's not point in stressing about it - much. 

But it sure is nice to jump in the pool and not gasp in shock as the water hits my sternum.  And I'm looking forward to swimming right up to the day I leave for the US in September.  Brandon is already making plans to open the pool next spring up as soon as the temperatures rise above seventy in March.  It's good to have a heated pool.  Even if it cost a lot of money (sob).

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Not Always Hospitable

I am American.  And being American, I have very strong feelings about being able to make my own choices and letting everyone else just have to deal with them.  That may be a little strong, but it's very much the American spirit.  We are a country full of people who told their home countries and cultures to stuff it and went off to do their own thing.  It can sometimes be obnoxious to others (and other countries) around us, but it's part of our national identity whether you like it or not.

This feeling definitely extends to my family.  I know that having a large family can offend people, but I really don't care.  It's my uterus and we don't ask anyone else to pay for it, so I can have as many children as I like.  Whenever people try to protest about 'social irresponsible' reasons for having so many dang kids, Brandon always likes to point out that our children will be paying for their Social Security.  I don't think that reasoning has ever convinced anyone that we're not irresponsible, but it always feels good to point it out.  I'm mostly presentable in public, but not quite all the time.

This is an interesting attitude to hold when one is employed by the U.S. Department of State, however.  I imagine it is also somewhat problematic if one works for the armed forces, as both organizations pay for your life a lot more than regular jobs do.  The jobs that most people hold just pay a salary and maybe insurance, but they don't much care how many people you're supporting because it makes no difference to them. 

When your job pays for your housing (which is dependent on family size), plane tickets, shipping of household effects, and schooling, however, it starts to make a difference.  Brandon and I have never experienced any outright discrimination because of our large family size - that would be an EEO (equal employment opportunity) violation and those are not taken lightly in the U.S. government.  But we have definitely run into the reality that State isn't exactly set up for larger families.

One of the biggest headaches about having a large family is our HHE (household effects) weight allowance.  State allows 7,200 pounds per employee.  It doesn't matter if it is a single guy straight out of grad school or a family with ten children - everyone gets 7,200 pounds.  I remember thinking that over three tons of stuff was a lot of stuff back when we had two children in an 800 square-foot duplex.  But when you have six children (and then you homeschool), 7,200 pounds goes very fast.  You can always pay out of pocket for overages, but I've heard of people paying $3-4 a pound.  There's not much that you want to keep at that price.  So all of the children's artwork gets digitally recorded and then tossed.  There's no room for sentimental keepsakes and hauling any extra furniture is a funny joke.  Many people here in Tashkent have beautiful coffee tables made out of antique wooden doors.  Instead we haul around six bikes.

We also run into weight problems with our consumables shipment.  Just as with HHE, every officer is allotted the same amount of weight - 2,500 pounds of consumable items - for a two-year tour.  That same single recent grad student gets the same amount of weight for all of the things you can't buy in Tashkent (think: root beer and brown sugar and laundry detergent) as we do with eight people.  This shipment I had prioritize items as there was no way I could get two years' worth of TP and cold cereal in our shipment.  Thank heaven we have the pouch.  When I occasionally hear complaints about people using the pouch to order consumables, I want to point out that if they gave us enough weight I wouldn't need to use the pouch - and it would be a lot cheaper for everyone.

One of the unusual problems we run into with a big family is housing.  When we joined, I mistakenly assumed that we would get a bedroom per child.  I had dreams of seven-bedroom houses and all of the different things I could do with that much space.  This is something that that single recent graduate likes to complain about - it's not fair that big families get nicer, larger housing.  But we came to Tashkent with one more child than we arrived in Dushanbe with and we now have a house with one fewer bedroom than we had in Dushanbe.  We will have seven children soon and we will fit those seven children into three of the four bedrooms in our house - only one more bedroom than the three bedrooms that some single people here have.  There's a good reason we choose to spend a hundred or so pounds of our precious weight allotment on bunk bed frames.

Cars are also a problem for larger families.  State will pay to ship one car to post for each employee.  Some people choose to simply buy a car at post so that they have one immediately after arrival.  We don't have that luxury as you can't really count on an outgoing diplomat selling an eight-seater car right when you need one.  So that means waiting months for your car to be shipped, cleared, registered, and plated while you rely on local transportation to get where you need.  I remember one evening when all six of the children and I got to squeeze in to the back of a Matiz (a car so small it's not made for US markets) for a very hot, packed ride home from the amusement park.

Once you top seven children, that story gets even more complicated.  State pays to ship your car, but it only pays to ship a car that fits into a regular shipping container.  It turns out that any car that fits nine or more people does not fit into a regular shipping container.  Which means that every time that car is shipped, you get to pay extra to ship your car with you.  We decided to skip that extra expense and just buy two cars.

I know that none of these things is intentionally set up to inconvenience large families.  It's just set up for average family sizes, which we are definitely not.  I know that having a family the size that we have is just as counter-culture as pink hair - these days it's probably more so than pink hair.  I certainly don't demand that anyone make special allowances for my special situation.  But it is something to think about if you're considering joining the Foreign Service.  It's not always easy to have a large family in this lifestyle.

The one time when we were purposely treated differently because we are large family was in the recent medevac debacle.  I'm used to systemic inconvenience, but I was surprised at the blatant discrimination based on our family size.  There was a definite undercurrent of feeling during our conversation about childcare that implied there was no way I could be a competent, responsible mother if I willingly had so many children.  After all, anyone with half a brain knows how to stop that from happening, so clearly I had less than half a brain.  When I mentioned Kathleen's ability to babysit her younger siblings (for only an hour or two!), one of the participants commented, 'Well, there are only so many children that one child can be expected to watch safely.'  The implication that I could even consider doing such a dangerous, irresponsible thing on a regular basis definitely set my teeth on edge.  I'm pretty sure you have to be more, not less competent to successfully manage a large family.

There will always by those who complain about large families in the Foreign Service (and in the world in general) and think that everyone should have a state-mandated number of children.  So far those people have not gained the upper hand so we will continue on with this job that works pretty well most of the time.  And when those people make veiled (or un-veiled) comments about how irresponsible I am, I will sweetly ignore them because rude people don't deserve my attention.  But I will mentally make rude gestures back at them.  Because I'm not that much of a good person.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Change of Plans

Preparations have been going well for delivering in London.  I was able to find a five-bedroom flat within walking distance of the hospital, a park, a library, and four different Tube stops.  The OB I've seen on two previous pregnancies has been setting things up for a delivery and is expecting me in September.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about what to do with the children (in a small flat you have to get out every single day rain or shine), and even found a stable for them to ride at.

I realized a few weeks ago that the doctor here at post was leaving for R&R in early July and would be back until almost August.  So when I saw her for my 23-week OB appointment, I asked if she could write the medevac cable before she left.  

In order to get any medevac funded with the State department, a cable has to be sent to DC which asks for approval and money to pay for the whole thing.  It's always good to start early because there are inevitable questions that come up and bureaucratic processes that take longer than they should.  Plane tickets can't be bought without a cable, and travel advances (which are very important when you're spending over $10,000 a month on housing) can't be issued without them either.  So having the cable written in early July versus early August gives us a two-month instead of one-month time frame to get things arranged.  It's always good to have more time than less time.

When we were discussing the cable, the doctor mentioned that I needed to get a formal acceptance for the medevac to London.  She didn't figure that it would be an issue as she had already asked them several months ago and they responded with, 'sure as long as it's an uncomplicated pregnancy.'  

A few days after my appointment, the doctor let me know that the med unit in London wanted to have a conference call to discuss my childcare arrangements while in London.  Brandon, always the pessimist, immediately pronounced that they were looking for a reason to refuse the medevac.  Being an optimist, I told him all the reasons why that was ridiculous.

We had the phone call early last week.  They were very concerned about what would happen to the children if I had to go to the hospital for an emergency.  I let them know that Kathleen will be thirteen and is quite capable of babysitting her siblings for several hours.  We also have friends in London who are willing to come and help out as well as Brandon's brother and sister-in-law who live just south of London.  Her parents also offered to help out if we needed it, and I also knew that sisters from the Relief Society in the ward we would be attending would be willing to help in an emergency.  Brandon has buckets of unused leave and he would be able to to hop on one of the daily flights to London and be there within a day of any emergency.  It was, in my opinion, a very thorough plan.

The RMO wanted to know about having a power of attorney in place so that if I was in the hospital unexpectedly and in a coma and therefore unreachable and one of the children also went to the hospital unexpectedly, there would be legal authorization for medical care.  I assured him that I would be able to set it up with our friends with the embassy.  

The phone call ended very amicably and the doctor and I were happy to get that particular box checked off.

The next day she called right as I was about to go down for my nap.  As soon as I heard her tone I knew that something was up.  "I'm so sorry," she began, "but London has decided to decline your medevac.  They don't feel that you have adequate childcare in case of an emergency.  The did say, however, that if you can have another adult with you for the entire length of your medevac, they would accept you.  If you want to hire a nanny, the CLO has a list of au pairs that you could hire."

I hung up in disbelief.  I have talked with several women who have taken a child or children with them for an OB medevac to London, and I know that they were not required to have another adult with them for three months.  All of these children were also small and so definitely not able to care for themselves in an emergency, unlike my children who are quite capable.  I also doubt that any of them had a multi-layered, multi-person back-up plan like mine.  Some of them weren't even able to have their husband stay for the entire postpartum period, which Brandon was going to do.

So I was left with the real reason for the refusal, the reason that Brandon saw from the very beginning: the med unit in London simply didn't want me to come because I had a big family.  They were able to dress that reason up with plausible enough back-up - they even got the regional security officer to put his stamp of approval on the denial so that 'safety' could be cited - that there was nothing I could do about it.  But nobody was really under any illusion that they actually cared about the safety of my children.  We all knew it was because I was a potential headache that they didn't want to deal with and so they made it go away with flimsy excuses.

While discussing this reversal of plans, Brandon pointed out that, with their reasoning about childcare, I wasn't fit to watch my own children every time Brandon left the country.  They also didn't care a bit about the 'safety' of my children at whatever US destination I chose to deliver at, as that question was never even brought up.  

We were both fairly frustrated and disappointed.  The children were more so.

But when someone else pays for your life, you are constrained by their limits.  So we started making alternative plans.

Our first impulse was to go to Hawaii.  Because, Hawaii.  After all, if you have to go somewhere to deliver, why not Hawaii?  I've never been before and the allure of spending three months of fall in the tropics sounded pretty good to me.  I also thought about Florida and Puerto Rico.  I like the beach and three months of the beach would be awesome.

But of course reason and logistical considerations eventually kicked in and going back to Raleigh (again) made the best sense.  I have family, friends, a ward, and an OB practice there.  I've delivered two babies there before, and the children will get to see their friends and family (who we weren't going to see at all this year).  It, sadly for my sense of tropical adventure, made too much sense.

We were able to find a place to stay with enough room who was willing to take nine (nine!) people in a neighborhood less than four miles from my parents' house.  We were able to shift around some car buying plans so that we will have a car for three months.  I looked up plane flights.  I found that my old stable is still around.  My dad assured my that his old practice would be happy to accept me for the delivery.  Everything neatly fell into place.

Whenever I think about London, I'm still sad for our adventure that was going to be.  It was going to be so much fun, and probably the only chance we'll have to live in Europe.  I had been making plans for almost two years, so that's a lot of anticipation that has been disappointed. 

But such is life.  I have found myself to be surprisingly resigned to the whole situation, which has been helped by working hard to not think about what might have been.  The children were fairly easily bought off with the promise of a trampoline in the backyard and a family of children from church down the street.  Living three months of a suburban American lifestyle is its own adventure when you've lived over half your life in post-Soviet countries.  

But still, London would have been fun.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Terrible Twos

I have never believed that two is a particularly terrible age.  My two year-olds have always been fairly reasonable - they are toilet-trained, talking, walking, feeding themselves, fairly self-entertained, and reasonably tractable.  When they hit three, however, life is another matter.  Three year-olds are opinionated and give the appearance of being logical while not actually being so.  I'll take two over three any day.

Then William turned two.  He started out okay, but quickly went downhill.  He is pretty verbal, which means that he thinks that he can tell you what he wants.  But sometimes he doesn't know how to tell you want he wants and instead uses whatever words comes to mind.  Today he wanted something - I still have no idea what - and keep insisting that he wanted green.  And when I couldn't give him green and tried to patiently explain that I didn't understand him, he started screaming and crying.  Nothing would comfort him because he hadn't gotten green and our dinner conversations were drowned out by the wails of an angry toddler.  If unchecked, the screaming would have gone on indefinitely as William adamantly refuses to be soothed when he is angry.

This happens very often - if he gets the wrong spoon or the cookies are all gone or he has been given the wrong shirt or if he has to wear any clothes at all or if it is nap time or if it is time to get up from nap - and the house has been much louder lately.  It's very wearing. 

I have finally figured out how to short-circuit the screaming - it turns out that two year-olds can understand threats if they've been enacted enough times before - but that still doesn't stop the fits from happening in the first place. 

There usually isn't any warning, as William - when he's not been crossed - is actually a very happy, cheerful little boy.  He strides around the house in nothing but his underwear, happily chatting volubly to everyone about everything.  Usually he's compliant, folding his arms when asked or coming when he's been bidden.  He's a funny little parrot, repeating things he shouldn't have heard, which only makes us laugh and then he repeats them again.  My favorite thing is when I tell him 'you're welcome,' to his high, chirpy 'thank you!'  He invariably responds with 'thank you you're welcome!' and this will go on indefinitely until one of us (always me) gives up.

But then, without warning, he explodes in tears and screaming when something completely random goes wrong and his Mr. Hyde decides to show up.  I never know when this will happen as the same situation - being told that he must wait for his cookie - may produce a chirpy 'okay' or a full-blown tantrum.  It's Russian roulette, but with a loaded toddler instead of a gun.  I'm not sure which one is worse.

I think that if William was my first child, I would be tempted to go in for sterilization right now, but thankfully he is my sixth and I have been worn down by the toddlerhood of five other children and I know that this too shall pass.  One day (maybe when he is twenty) logic will completely kick in (okay, maybe forty?) and we can discuss things calmly and understand exactly what green is and why he wants it so badly.  The other children have all become increasingly reasonable to deal with and so I have no doubt that William will also follow normal human development and become more reasonable with time also.  I will continue to believe this because not holding out hope isn't a good idea.

Until then, however, I have some long, scream-filled days to deal with.  Wish me luck (and self-control for when it gets really, really bad).