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6 posts from February 2013

February 21, 2013

Where's my t-shirt?

The one that says, "I survived language at FSI?" Yes, I can use the word survivor here, as this is something that I actually thought might be the end of me. However, I triumped in the end!  Well, I lived, therefore I triumphed.

As you might remember, I was originally slated to take 8 weeks of the FAST course at FSI.  This was all well and good until I realized just how basic the course would be.  Having any knowledge of Spanish puts you slightly ahead of the curve and my one year of high school and two years of living in Caracas meant that the FAST course was not the optimal choice for me.  After a very short class on the first day, I realized I had to speak with someone about changing classes.  I had survival skills, I needed to work on writing skills, increased vocabulary, conversation skills and the like.

I managed to test out of the FAST course, however, with that came the loss of the first week of classes.  A fair trade-off, but still a loss of  a few days.  Fast forward and 6 weeks later (as opposed to the original 7), I found myself sweating buckets in the waiting area of the testing department.

No, sweating buckets is not enough...sweating buckets, ready to pass out/dry heave, and in general, freaked out would be more accurate.  The test was slated to be approximately two hours and afterwards I would theoretically be given a score that accurately measured my current level of Spanish in both speaking and reading.

(Insert two massively painful hours, with a brief respite during the reading part.  One is not supposed to discuss the test, so the above is pretty much the only description you will read in this blog.)

In the end, I received a score.  It wasn't necessarily what I wanted, but going into the exam, it was the exact score I felt I would receive.  After all, I only had 5 weeks and 2 days of actual instruction (well, probably less, since several of those days were half days).  Between losing a week on the front end and the last week of class, sick days, and holidays, I ended up being in class just slightly over half of the time I expected to be.

Now, I know...here is where Gentle Reader says, but...why, dear Spanish Learner, why were so you stressed when you are but a spouse? After all *your* job doesn't depend on your score!

If I heard one more time that I did not need to worry or stress about this class, I was going to lose it.  If the score mattered so little, I would not have done any of the following:

  • Took the class when I knew I would be completely on my own, because it was the only time I could take the class.
  • Put my son in daycare, day after day after day, so that I could attend class and hopefully find time to study, when I wasn't also trying to find time to run my household and be two parents for my kids.  Nor would I have spent a fortune on said daycare.
  • I would not have stayed up until 2 a.m. every night studying so that I did not look like I was not taking the class as seriously as my fellow classmates (all FSOs).  At BEST, I started my homework at 10:30 p.m., generally not until 11 p.m.
  • I would not have been a stressed out basket case for the entire course, feeling that I was surely way behind everyone else, as I was busy being mom, dad, housekeeper, cook, chauffeur and student all wrapped up in one, while dealing with unexpected sick days and holidays.
  • I would not have hauled myself to class even though I shouldn't have because I so feared getting behind due to illness (on my part or my kids).

If I was not concerned about a score, I would have taken the FAST course.  It is primarily a survival course, though I'm sure it still would have helped.  However, I would not have bothered being tested nor would I have put as much extra time into it.  

It is expected, naturally, that many jobs for which I might be eligibile (within the embassy) will require a good, if not great level of Spanish.  Of course, if I wish to work outside the embassy community, then my Spanish would also need to be that much higher.  Since I would like to pursue, at some point, one of those paths, working myself to the point of exhaustion,  taking the more demanding class and being tested for a score was the only option.

At no time did I ever consider this class anything but a mandatory experience. I did not view it as a lark or a luxury.  To me, having a much better grasp of the language of our host country is simply part and parcel of life in the Foreign Service.  So, at no time was it an option for me to view this as something I didn't need to stress about or not give it 100% of my time and attention.  So to have heard time and time again that I didn't need to worry...was simply wrong.

I have given the whole experience much thought over the past few days.  If I had to do it over again, would I?  Abso-freakin-lutely.  It was insanely tough, but one of the best learning experiences I have ever had.  My teachers in no way treated me any differently than other students in my class.  I had the exact same (very rigorous) test that everyone else had.  I used the exact same learning materials and will continue to use to study on my own until we arrive in Managua.

Did I get the score I wanted?  Well, no, but I don't think I had the time or ability to get that score with my circumstances.

So, while a 1+/2 may not sound like an amazing score to some, it means a great deal to me.  It represents 5 weeks and 2 days of absolute insanity that resulted in me greatly increasing my Spanish language ability.  It's not the 3/3 that I hope to have someday, but it's more than halfway there and certainly way more than I had on January 2.  For the moment, that's good enough for me.



February 20, 2013

How did the LG

go from this:


A wee newborn in his stylish outfit courtesy of HreiĆ°riĆ° (The Nest) at Landspitali in Reykjavik.


to this:


Photo 2-1
An almost 5 year old at the nearby nature center.

in 5 short years?


Happy, happy day to our dear, sweet LG.  


February 17, 2013

Oh, big box bookstore, how you failed my child today...

Despite my best intentions, I still end up at the big box bookstore, buying last minute gifts or hurriedly acquiring a Spanish-English dictionary on a semi-regular basis.  As I was doing the latter last week, I also took the time to buy two gift cards.

One was a long overdue gift for Kelsey, part of a Christmas gift.  Lunch and a trip to the bookstore, just the two of us.  The other gift card was for the LG.  Just a treat for his Valentine's Day treat bag. Not that he needed it, but I felt like with everything going on, a little something wouldn't hurt. 

Last night, he asked if we could please go to said bookstore today.  Given that we have so little time together right now, and Kelsey is sick (so some Sunday plans were canceled) why not?  We headed over in the early afternoon and spent a good 30 minutes trying to find something that was under $10.  Unless you want 2 (12 page) Biscuit books, this is a fairly difficult challenge.  While I had assumed he would want a book about dinosaurs, he ended up, of course, in the Lego section.

After much back and forth between Lego bricks and books and discussion of how much something costs, "Yes, those flimsy pieces of black plastic making up a Batman toy set really DO cost $30," he settled on a small Lego Star Wars set.

Happy with his purchase, he set off with it in his hand, as was his gift card.  He insisted the entire time that he would hold the gift card as it was *his* and he was buying his toy.  Great!  We finally got up to the cash register and for whatever reason, the clerk spent all of his time looking at me and ignoring the fact that Nick handed him both the toy and the gift card.

He asks me if I have a membership, I say no, but offer that I have a Kids Club card.  He then spends upwards of 15 minutes trying to locate and update my membership...approximately 14 minutes and 30 seconds more than I wanted to worry about it.  I would have been happy just updating it later, but he kept insisting.

Finally he had swiped the gift cards (I had an another one which covered the slight overage) and then held the box in the air.  He looked at Nick, the purchaser of the item and said in a slightly whiny, sing-songy voice, "What do you* say?" 

I just stared at him. Nick was the customer.  He picked out his item, handed over the payment (that had been clutched tightly in his fist for 30 minutes, so he wouldn't lose it) and now this guy was playing games with him?  Nick just looked back at him like he wanted to say something, but was too scared.  Meanwhile I was still just staring, trying to think of anything to say to this (in my opinion) clearly childless person who did not understand that one thanks the customer for their purchase.

He finally handed over the toy and said, "I guess we are still working on our manners."

Really?  Yes, I guess at age 30+, Mr. Bookseller is still very much working on his manners.  Nick bought the toy from the store, therefore, in my mind, HE should receive a thank you for his purchase.  He should not have the toy dangled above his head like a carrot to a rabbit in the hopes that he will pop out with thank you just because the clerk (incorrectly) wants to hear it.

I was so angry that we just left when the clerk had finished the whole Kids Club account check "one more time."  I'm thinking that it's now actually a moot point.  I could give two figs about discounts on future books for my child if the clerks at the store have so little interest in thanking a child for his purchase and treating him like a person (because he is).

The thing is, Nick had already thanked the person who deserved it and he did it again when we arrived home.  He got out of the car, started walking up the stairs, looked at me and said, "Thanks, Mama, for the card."

"Which card, Bud?" I asked, just in case he was referring to something else.

"You know, the *big box bookstore* gift card you gave me so I could buy my toy."

Amazing how the 4 year old gets what the 30 plus year old completely ignored....or is it?

You are so very welcome, Nick.



*(I loathe this question.  We don't tell our kids to say thank you, we show them reasons why and model that behavior and the same goes for "I'm sorry."  In our opinion, a child needs to understand the why, not just parrot a response.)

February 14, 2013

Mostly so I don't forget

that even during the insanity of the past few weeks, we were able to carve out time for fun...


Photo 1
How is he old enough to sign his own name?

Photo 2
Tempting, but I left them alone....

Photo 3
Kelsey and her made from scratch Valentine's Day cards.

Happy Valentine's Day from our house to yours!


February 12, 2013

I had 5 minutes to spare

today, between my first evaluation and the beginning of class.  I decided to very quickly check my State email, figuring I would delete my daily notices and be done with it.  Let's face it, I don't get much *official* mail other than announcements and the occasional lost & found notice.  However, much to my surprise, when I opened my inbox, I had real mail!  Addressed to me from a real person!

Alas, I ended up wishing I had not received said piece, as it was concerning the date of my Spanish test. Given that I had just ended my evaluation feeling rather ill concerning my current level, I did not want to think (stress severely) about said test.  I read through the letter, though and the helpful descriptions.  All was well and good until I reached the end where it actually listed my test date:

Wednesday, February 13 at 8:30 a.m.

Yep, there was suddenly a silent scream as  I melted down in front of the OpenNet PC.  I checked the date the email was sent:  last night at 8 p.m., so I really could not have seen it much sooner.  I quickly typed a response listing the multitude of reasons it would not work, from time-wise to the fact that as of today, I have had guess how many weeks/days of actual Spanish class?

 4 weeks and 4 days 

I originally estimated 4 weeks and 2 days, so a bit more, but still not a full 8 weeks, not even close.  

I sent the email, thankfully remembered to log out (woe to me, newly certified in cyber-security awareness, if my stress level caused me to forget that...).  I then spent the next two hours trying to focus and not stress (guess how easy that was?) and ran to the computer as soon as class was finished.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I headed over to the main office and spoke with the very person who had assisted me with my class change and area studies questions.  She had just received my email and was trying to figure out what could be done.  As it turned out, the whole testing date really had nothing to do with me.  However, I still needed to change if at all possible, not just the date, but the time.

We chatted, she typed and lo and behold, a new date and time were found.  Instead of tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. (which is really 8 a.m. and I would never make), my test (all 2 hours and 15 minutes) is next Tuesday at 9 a.m.  Oh, the relief that washed over me.  Now I at least have a chance to review the testing procedures and *try* to be prepared for next week.  Lord knows, I need all the preparation I can get.

So, should any of you happen to be bored next week on Tuesday, say between 9 - 11:15 a.m., please say a silent prayer, meditate, do some yoga or just send general good thoughts a certain person's way. Hopefully, that will alleviate a bit of the paralyzing fear that I know will attack me around 8:45 a.m.  Now to go review the preterite vs. the imperfect just a few more times....

February 10, 2013

Well, it's 6 weeks later...

and I'm still exhausted from full-time school and single parenting.  In fact, I should be in bed right now, but then I would just feel guilty that I'm not up studying.

In fact, I haven't studied one iota all day long today, and that is something that should bother me...but it doesn't?  Why?  Well, perhaps because every day I go to school and think/speak in another language for 4+ hours.  I spend my lunch hours thinking in Spanish while I run errands or go home to deal with things I can't do at night.  When I do leave FSI, even if I have no errands, I am lucky to get home by 5:30 p.m. after picking up the boy.  Then there is dinner, getting the kids to bed and if I am lucky, I start on my 2-3 hours of tarea by 10, no more like 11 p.m.  On the weekends, I feel desperate to make up time (except last weekend), so when I am not dying of infections and colds (two weekends ago...we were all so sick), we do as much as we can...even if it's nothing more than hanging out at the nature center or dinner together at our favorite Chinese Restaurant (in order to celebrate Chinese New Year, as Nick is fascinated this year).

I've lost track of time and feel like I've dropped so many obligations (well, except for Kelsey's school dance last night, Thinking Day today and and and).  I know it's just for a short time, but some days it seems never-ending. I'd like to think that things would be different if Peter were home, but I can't dwell on that.  What if things were just as insane?


Photo 1
Is she adorable or what? Thanks so much to my friend Kelly over at http://wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com/ for sending us the dress!

Wait, is insane a strong enough word?  It doesn't cover the maybe 6 hours of sleep a night, while trying to parent, while trying to go to school, make a healthy dinner each night,  and not completely fail in a language in which I desperately need to be mostly, if not completely fluent.  I've had to give up on exercise, other than walking the dog, both due to the illness (oh, that nasty 3 inch wide infection in my hip, right in my old surgical scar) and the lack of time.  I finally had the energy and ability to jog for 10 minutes today and I thought I was going to be ill when it was over.  However, I did it and hope to *try* and fit in 15 minutes on Monday...or maybe Tuesday, we shall see.



Photo 2
Nick drew this tonight. I think the googly eyes are my favorite feature.  Of course, I'm just grateful I'm still in his drawing repertoire despite the insanity of the past few months.

Then there's my test.  It's been moved again, and is now even earlier.  I am already stressing it, even though I know I should just focus on getting through the next week and a half.  However, when it seems like so much is on the line...this is my ONE shot to get a good score.  If I screw this up after two months of sacrificing nearly everything, especially time with my kids, I'll never forgive myself.  I'm lucky to see Nick two hours a day during the week and so grateful he has a Montessori that he loves, but still.  I. NEED. To. Do. Well!

Given that, I should probably get some sleep.  I'm not even sure if the above makes sense.  I feel like for every item I learn in Spanish, I somehow screw something up in English. And then, when I least expect it, I start thinking in French (which I haven't taken since college).  Fabulous, right?  I suppose the only good thing is that all three kids are enjoying learning along with me.  Nick is picking up vocabulary right and left and we are working on genders (listo vs. lista, etc.).  Cait and I text and can speak paragraphs in Spanish.  Kelsey has the smallest base of knowledge, but is rapidly picking it up. Just tonight at dinner, she completely understood what I was saying without knowing any of the words (and not a short sentence either).  Then, of course, it helps that Peter and I communicate by phone, text, and email in Spanish.  Not 100% of the time, but enough that I feel like we are really discussing things, it's not me just making a conversation around what few words I know.

I suppose that is what I really want.  Not just having some rudimentary aspect of the language, or being able to ask for where I might find the leche.  No, I want to have real conversations with people who don't speak any English. I want to be able to communicate in any situation, not just when ordering para llevar for dinner (again).  I want my job options to be numerous, and not just limited to those that will not require me to think in more than one language.  I think I might be getting there...but only time will tell.