Ugh dammit I wonder if this is over yet I what does that notification say no it’s not let’s get this day moving do you ever clean the toaster why doesn’t he just eat in the morning teenagers drive me nuts no time to drink my coffee into the go cup it goes at least we have coffee I’m so glad I bought two boxes of pods last time I went to Costco we will be OK as long as we have coffee move over dammit I’m exiting here why are so many stupid drivers in this area I wonder how much traffic has gone down since December I sure don’t notice it but it will get worse with Amazon God I love that kid I hope he does well on that test I’m 99% the sacrifice for this school is worth it damn I need to go to yoga so glad three months are paid for what bills do we have and which can we shift well sure as Hell not that damn toilet maybe I’ll have the plumber check ours too its running a bit I think great I beat him here does anyone else empty the dishwasher in this house OK so DiploDad does it too but anyone under 50 no that’s not fair DB1 has a migraine today let me check on him ASAP geez he’s greenish white I remember getting these it’s probably hormones he’s gotta stop with the Monster energy drinks I bet he bought one with his allowance at school yesterday because he didn’t sleep over his math quiz of course I know he didn’t sleep because I was awake too why do I even check Facebook what kind of idiot really believes that “not hurting the right people” fuck him and the horse he rode in on man I need to sleep what’s this voicemail shit shit I did not charge that to PayPal this is why I don’t have PayPal great call him now now now why the fuck would he ask me if I bought over a hundred bucks from a food app delivering in Boston he’s just stressed where’s the number for USAA OK OK OK cancelled but now we have to transfer savings and no points to pay for the plumber no big deal probably just a couple hundred what the Hell you are kidding me both of them crap OK yay laundry time to make casseroles I am so devastated for her I can’t imagine losing my mother she was so sweet and lovely and it’s not fair damn this stress too I can cook though I hope her trip is going well I need to run we have that race coming up and fantastic I was going to pay the balance which is due tomorrow with the now cancelled credit card what a shitty time for this to happen happy new year to me at least I am healthy except for that arthritis thing and headaches now well of course I’m getting headaches now should I do the Christmas cards now man I’m late on that well at least I got them done this year I already have tons of forever stamps no need to buy them I like the cool red envelopes red is cool maybe I should go apply to Target just in case at least we have one more paycheck then all bets are off thank God we’ve saved but that’s for retirement and college beyond just rainy days what’s the penalty for early withdrawal is this really going on still no news you’re kidding me Cousin A just posted on Facebook I forgot her husband was Coast Guard that is going to get ugly why do people always forget the Coast Guard that’s border security people should I cancel that visit to Mom and Dad’s I don’t think I can be civil if they spew wall shit this weekend I wonder if they will get retirement pay and social security this will be a mess if old folks aren’t cared for and mean too no way you’re kidding me a hole in my dining room ceiling of course you don’t do drywall repairs no one fucking does drywall repairs shit the cats are gonna crawl into that that’s not good whew it’s probably just out of reach only an additional $300 thank God the best worst case scenario typical when are they going to be finished with the car it’s been three days and dammit it’s brand new what’s the Virginia lemon law why did we buy on a new model year oh yeah we needed a left hand drive car come on dog let’s go it’s freezing yeah we’ll be using everything in the freezer I am glad I learned the art of freezing and stretching in Ghana gotta go get DB2 why is there always a crash when I’m running late at least the route is blue once we pass Tysons oh shit now it’s yellow dammit red fun times sorry baby I’m still not to Maryland I know soon sorry I’ll call DB1 and ask him to walk DiploDog thank God he’s alive again OK got kid he seems happy I bet he asks for Earth Wind and Fire and bingo I called it I’d tell Siri to play it but the bitch only speaks German can you imagine if we got hacked that way I wonder who hacked our card of course the Chinese have all our data anyway from the OPM breach it’s nuts we’ve had more problems here than in India oh I miss India what’s the next holiday I should text my friends and see how they are doing you’re kidding another crash how hard is it to just pay attention while you drive turn signals are not an option asshole I think I need to shut off the news DB2 is stressing about the shutdown why would a ten-year-old even have this on his radar this is sad I don’t want to lie to my kids I want them to stay kids finding this balance sucks why do they always ask what’s for dinner when they’ll complain about something anyway did I complain that much about dinner man I remember when it was tight when I was a kid too but I was loved my kids are loved it will be OK nope still not over I’m turning off notifications someone will tell me when it’s over who else is affected others have it so much worse off Mitch McConnell is a jerk he’s abrogated his Constitutional duty yeah only say the second part out loud to DB1 I bet government class at Marshall is nuts right now OK homework done why doesn’t he read his parents are both readers his grandparents are all readers is this some majorly recessive gene wow that’s an awesome LEGO build he’s smart in other ways there’s the door man please don’t be in a shit mood oh I love his hugs everyone is everywhere again and dinner is on the damn table getting cold get down cat it’s not your dinner I swear that fat one would open the fridge if he had thumbs I can’t believe they all like everything I swear he ate the carrots too please can we not ask about this at the table damn his jaw is set this is going to be upsetting he’s conservative but he’s not mean so we’re doing our job right somehow that’s actually a good idea why doesn’t congress think like a 15yo wait that might be bad thank you I love you more for doing the dishes wait now I get to fold laundry OMG he soap dodged again saves on soap one less thing I’ll have to buy quit being so maudlin it will be OK we’ll all be OK I love the way semi-clean boy smells did the teenager go to bed light is off hmmm odd blue light did I turn Qustodio off he needs his sleep especially after that migraine really I forgot to install it I think we paid for that up front for a year oh man gotta change all credit cards on all autopay I’m sure we’ll miss one and get some kind of stupid late fee gotta put that app on the Kindle kids always find a way where should I hide this oh he’s walking the dog what else can I do turn down the heat its 70 but we can do 68 mom always told us to put on a sweater I get enough hot flashes to heat the house anyway can I sit down yet yeah TV sounds good man the music in the 80s was awesome those are groovy clothes FBI agent is a cool job but then I don’t think they’re getting paid should check in with her and ask how she’s doing she was supposed to be here last week no word though I guess that was cancelled you’re kidding you have to go in early and stay late yeah and federal workers are lazy fuck America they don’t care I need to sleep I need to sleep breathe I need to go to yoga that’s paid up until March will this go on past March no don’t think that we’ll be fine our friends will be fine we will stick together I need to sleep dammit what level am I on Candy Crush I need to sleep melatonin is your friend lalalalala sleep maybe tomorrow this will end yeah right I gotta work on being more positive oh fuck it.
Once you have orders in hand, you start to think about your next assignment. If you’re heading off to another country, that’s really exciting. You research the place – housing, schools, entertainment and leisure options, potential weekend destinations – all things you need to know and things that are 100% new. Everything is new. EVERYTHING. Language, culture, neighborhood, school, weather. Even if it’s “not”, it really is.
But when you return to the US, “nothing” is new. But it is.
There’s a strange kind of rhythm to home.
You know it if you’ve ever “gone home”, whether it was for a high school reunion, back to your hometown for a job closer to your parents, or even on a much smaller scale and temporarily, that first trip home at Christmas Break during college when all your friends have scattered (or not) and suddenly you don’t have last Friday’s football game to talk about. Your frame of reference has shifted.
I forgot about it.
I forgot about it at Mass our first Sunday back with our church. I was full of joy, back with my community, coming off of an inspiring sermon and eager to catch up with friends and parishioners.
Me: (Hugging fellow mom who had a kid DB1’s age) Hi! “So great to see you! I was actually thinking of you on the way over. I thought, “I wonder if we’ll see Familie XXXX.””
Her: “Well, there’s not any Familie XXXX anymore. Not since three years when we divorced.”
I could see that this event wasn’t something she’d wanted. That whatever plans she’d had for her family had dissolved. We caught up. I listened to the demise of her marriage, the challenges of single parenting. I heard the sadness in her voice.
After some time, we parted. I then met up with our organist, a tall and handsome man in his seventies, and greeted him as I scanned the room briefly for his wife.
Me: “Hi! How are you? I loved the music today. Our church in India didn’t have an organ or a piano and it’s so nice to hear it again.”
Him: “Thank you. You know, I lost [Wife] in June this year, so I’m playing a lot. I am involved in three choral groups and another church that I play for. ”
Me: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
He proceeded to tell me about how fast his wife’s illness struck. That they’d just downsized and expected to have all sorts of time together and it was stolen from them. I listened, heard the sadness in his voice.
Eventually, we moved on.
I was batting 1000 at this point, so I stayed in a corner and drank in coffee and sadness.
Then we got back into our rhythm. Kids were settled into school. DB1 discovered what the MLA Handbook is and why it’s important, DiploDad got his car fitted with new tires and a vanity plate and make the daily trek into DC, and DB2 rekindled some friendships with kids he knew from his Kindergarten class. I settled into a routine of job search, housework, unpacking, and driving everyone all over creation. We caught up with neighbors. We figured out who was new and who belonged in our neighborhood. Which was the best route to walk the dog during construction of a new water main.
So a month or so after the last box had been unpacked and the final pictures hung on the walls, my guard was down when I saw a little neighbor girl coming out of one of the neighboring houses holding the hand of an older man while I was walking the DiploDog with DB2.
Me: “Hi! You’re Z, right?”
Little girl slowly nods.
Me: “Your mom is D, right? Do you remember DB2? You used to play together. I wondered if you still lived here. We just got back from 4 years in India”
Older Man: “Yes, she does. She’s in X grade now.”
Me: “And you would be the grandpa?”
Older Man: “I would be the guardian. D passed about a year ago.”
Me: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. ”
I was absolutely wracked with guilt while walking the dog. I probably ruined a fun holiday outing for Z by bringing up her mother.
It weighed heavily on me. Later on, I consulted the Almighty Google, but didn’t come up with much. All signs point to the mother still living – house ownership, professional licenses intact – and no, I didn’t do a super-nosy search, I just did a cursory obituary search. I didn’t turn one up. But what I did find out is that she was about 40 when she died. She had been a young widow when she came to the US from overseas, hence the guardian. Heartbreaking.
You figure that when you move away, life goes on. Kids grow up. Yours, neighbor kids, kids from school, kids your kids do activities with, your friends’ and families’ kids. They get bigger. Start to shave and wear makeup. They go away to college. They get jobs and cars and have kids of their own. We all get a little greyer and gravity is a little unkinder.
But other things happen that might not be as happy. Divorce and death are part of life too. I’m old enough now that along with the happy transitions, the sad are going to surface as well. If you’re an expat reading this, brace yourself, because eventually coming home will not be new beginnings, but new endings. They will be even more stark for you because the tendency is to not keep you in the loop. You’re so far away, people don’t want to guilt you, or stress you out, or demand too much. But for me at least, that’s been even more devastating. Coming home to find Grandma in a wheelchair and a shaved head in front of you and you are still waiting for her to “come out” into the nursing home parlor because you don’t recognize her is horrible when you had no idea she was anywhere close to this state.
You’ll feel awkward. You’ll be reminded that not only did life go on while you were gone, but life didn’t go on for some.
Say a prayer, take a deep breath, and drink in the awkwardness. You’re back, and life will go on, in a myriad of ways, with all the attendant joy, growth, and sometimes, sadness.
There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under Heaven;
a time for giving birth, a time for dying, a time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted.
A time for killing, a time for healing; a time for knocking down, a time for building.
A time for tears, a time for laughter; a time for mourning, a time for dancing.
A time for throwing stones away, a time for gathering them; a time for embracing, a time to refrain from embracing.
A time for searching, a time for losing; a time for keeping, a time for discarding.
A time for tearing, a time for sewing; a time for keeping silent, a time for speaking.
A time for loving, a time for hating; a time for war, a time for peace.
It’s only taken about six weeks, and the DiploFam is almost entirely moved into our postage-stamp sized townhome in Northern Virginia. It’s taken a lot of work, appointments, negotiations, and time. It’s been worth it.
The previous paragraph is complete and utter bullshit. Let me translate it for you: DiploDad had a total of three days off to direct and unpack about 18,000 lbs. of crap. He marked off the boxes from the BINGO sheet as the movers brought them in, bought food for the movers, and promptly went back to work and left me with 16,500 lbs. of crap to unpack and find a place for. The DBs sat around and played with their LEGO or phone in the middle of a pile of paper, completely overwhelmed at the idea of putting any of their crap away and didn’t move on it until I physically lorded over them and made them. The DiploCats spent the days rustling paper, hiding in or climbing on boxers and inducing general panic of “have you seen the fat one?!?!?” whenever we took a bunch of boxes and paper out to the trash. The DiploDog hid. Just hid. He’s probably the smartest creature in the family.
Moving is overwhelming. It’s exhausting. And I’m SOOOOOO done with it. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than 4 years in my entire life. And I’ve gone through a total of 27 moves. Nope, that’s not an exaggeration, and yes, it excludes the moving from temporary quarters to permanent ones in a couple of places. I consider myself an expert on moving. Today, I present my Top Ten Lessons on Moving – the Delivery. Learn from me, not the hard way, trust me.
1 The movers will always show up earlier if you have an early morning school run, later if you have a late afternoon cable appointment.
Always. It will not matter if you take your kid to school a half an hour early and drop him ten minutes before he’s even allowed in the building, the movers will be there, waiting for you and calling your phone, trying to induce panic. Do not fall for this. Your delivery window was 9 a.m. to 12 a.m., if they show up at 8:04 and start hassling you, remember that they cannot leave because you were not there. I’m not saying you can go to Starbucks and hang out for 30 minutes drinking your morning chai (unless you take orders from the moving crew and pick it up for everyone), but I AM saying don’t freak out and feel guilty because you’re buying milk at the grocery store half a mile away or are 10 minutes from arrival home after dropping said kid at school. They have to wait. This is gonna be an all day affair. Chill.
2. You’ll Be Eating Pizza for Weeks.
There are several reasons for this. First, you will have very little energy to cook anything for most of the first two weeks you move in. Second, you can’t find the pot or pan you want or need. Third, in some kind of scarcity mathematics or over exuberance, your spouse will order six pizzas for the three adults on the moving crew. You can always return the favor to your spouse for his planning by pulling a foil-wrapped pizze slice out of the freezer two weeks later and pack it in his lunch.
3. There Will Always Be Something Broken You Can’t Replace
Always. It might be grandma’s antique cookie jar or Aunt Eileen’s hope chest. Maybe it’s the pottery “who knows what it is” your kid made in preschool that you always put out for display on your desk. Maybe it’s your wedding cake topper. Either way, brace yourself. And then take a deep breath and either file the claim to replace it or fix it, or let it go. I have a friend who buried one of her kid’s art projects in her garden (just make sure you don’t dig it back up if it’s not biodegradable) to say goodbye. Because I’ve moved so much, I don’t have my memories stored in a place – there’s not an ancestral home to go back to. I store my memories in things. This was a hard lesson to learn, but I’ve made peace with it now. When something you love is gone, the memories can remain. Take a photo if you must (you’ll need one for the claim anyway), take a deep breath, relive the memory it jogs again, and let it go. You were overweight on the last move anyway, right?
4. Watch the Filials and Stoppers!
Movers don’t care about them. At all. Personally, I don’t let the movers unpack any trinkets or dishes alone without me hovering, because I know exactly which items have a stopper or filial or decoration that comes off that the dude on the other end decided needed to be separately wrapped. DiploDad does not track these things. If you leave the movers alone (or worse, with your spouse) you will wind up without these crucial pieces. This move was particularly bad for this – I’ve got two stoppers gone forever, including the top of one of my oil-and-vinegar salad dressing bottles I’ve had for over 20 years. I have no idea how I will replace it. DiploDad may finally, finally NOT override my directive on no unpacking after this fiasco. Maybe.
5. There Will Always Be a “How the Hell Did They Break THAT?”
Yup. It’s like it was a challenge and they met it. Sometimes, you actually have to admire that.
6. Clothing Hangers will Take Over the Entire House if You Let Them
Hangar supply always goes through a predictable cycle in our house during moves. It goes something like this:
DiploDad: “I need some hangers. I don’t have enough to hang all my clothes up with.”
Me: “I have a few I can give you.” (Takes off a few dresses, folds them, hands hangers to DiploDad)
DiploDad: “That’s not enough – I have a total of eleven hangers. I need at least 15.”
Me: “UAB* comes in a week – I packed a TON in UAB. Can you wait just a few days?”
DiploDad: “Not really.”
Within 24 hours, DiploDad will sneak out on a Target run, ostensibly to buy cat food or milk, and return with three twelve-packs of plastic hangers. A week later, UAB will show up with about 40 hangers in it. A month later, HHE** will show up and we’ll be looking at this:
DiploDad: “We’ve got to find a place for all of these. Can we donate them to Goodwill?”
Note that Goodwill does NOT take hangers. Everyone on the planet drops them there and they have too many – they will actively chase your car down as you are trying to leave to give them back to you. Trust me on this.
7. The Cats Will Do Something Bad While You Are Unpacking
It’s 3 a.m. in the DiploHouse. All is calm, all are asleep . . . .
DB2: (runs into our bedroom) “Mommy!” (Not Daddy. Never Daddy.)
Me: (waking up, disoriented) “What?! What?!”
DB2: “It’s Gink!” (DiploCat1)
Me: (jumps out of bed, runs with DB2 into his room) “What?! Is he OK?”
DB2: “He peed on the paper in the corner of the room! I heard him meowing and then scraping the paper and then I went to pick him up and he was peeing!”
DiploDad: (who has followed us in, unnoticed) “On my new carpet.”
Turns out that the carpet was safe, and the pile of paper was big enough to absorb the accident. This meant that DiploCat1 was permitted to stay a little longer. It also meant I used less white vinegar on the area. Just in case.
A few nights later:
DB2: (leans down next to me, sleeping, whispering in my ear loudly) Mommy! (Not Daddy. Never Daddy.)
Me: (disoriented) What?!?
DB2: Gink peed on my LEGO!
DiploDad: Damn cats.
Upon further inspection, it seems that DiploCat1 was completely disoriented again when DB1 placed a plastic bin of LEGO pieces on the floor in a corner. Seems that the change from Indian kitty litter, to American kitty litter, to American kitty crystals confused him, and when a pan looking suspiciously like a new kind of litter and his old Indian litter box showed up in his favorite room in the house, he thought we were just being considerate.
Me: “I think it’s time you got a handle on your room.”
I can now check “cleaning cat pee off LEGOs in the middle of the night” off my Mom Bucket List.
8. Cats Like Paper.
Make sure you don’t accidentally recycle them. Unless you want to.
9. You Will Have More Things to Hang on the Wall Than You Have Wall Space
Every post, every move, you “localize” your apartment. When I lived in NYC, I bought a couple of black-and-white photos of the Flat Iron Building and the Chrysler Building. During our European travels, we bought watercolors that I framed on base at the US Army MWR framing shop. Africa added masks and batiks to our collection, and India some Bollywood movie posters, prints, and paintings. Add that to family photographs, a curious cuckoo clock that always needs refitting after lying in storage doing nothing, and some Chinese ancestor paintings and we’re overloaded. My advice to you: Hang what you love. Do a gallery wall. And then store the rest unless you truly think you will never use it again. Those NYC prints? I haven’t had them on the wall since I left the City in 2000, but DB1 visited New York for Model UN last year, and they are now finding a new life in his room. All that “me wall” stuff? Awards, diplomas, stuff you hang at work but don’t want to look at while chilling in your rec room? Two words: Storage Space.
10. Your Furniture Will Not Be Adequate for All Your Stuff. Ever.
It’s a hazard of State Department life: you never have enough bookcases. The furniture that is assigned to your quarters will either be all new and complete or it will have been mostly given away and turned in by a string of predecessors. We have never, ever, experienced the former situation. Our house in Ghana was so bad and so lacking because the previous occupant had her own living room stuff, that we literally had ONE bookcase when we moved in. ONE.
Most of us travel with extra tables and bookcases. IKEA’s Billy line is excellent. I figure we’ve owned about 245 Billy shelves since we got married. When you leave, they are inexpensive enough you don’t mind passing them on or donating them, or selling them, and you can replace them at your next post. Just be patient while you sort through your stuff and know you’ll have a few piles on the floor until you can make that IKEA or thrift shop run.
11. You Will Forget This and Do It All Again.
Yeah, there are really 11 lessons here. A wise person on my Facebook page compared moving to childbirth. She’s not wrong.
*UAB – Unaccompanied Air Baggage. A certain amount of stuff that goes via air, ostensibly arriving within 2 weeks to your new destination.
**HHE – House Hold Effects. All your crap. Don’t ask me why there are two Hs involved when “household” is technically one word. It sounds better, anway.