can't call, text, send email, and semaphore is totally out...and that's a good thing.
'Cause after one very long (or short, depending on the day) year that boy is headed home! Yes, he is on the second of two flights and is slated to land at an awfully early hour on Friday for what will be his last Kabul-Dubai-DC flight for this tour.
Oh, never mind, I can email and text, and he can call me (for the low, low price of $2.50/minute!), because he is still waiting for a flight that will get him out of Dubai. After two flight changes, it looks like he will finally leave Dubai in 3 hours, head to Frankfurt for a brief stopover and then arrive in our neck of the woods sometime in the early afternoon tomorrow. This is what I get for writing this piece ahead of time...
I was actually going to save this post for his arrival, but given that our busy-ness is going to ramp up a bit once he's home, I thought I'd get it out of my system now. You see, over the past year, I've come up with a few UT (Unaccompanied Tour) tips. I'm not sure they will be remotely useful, but since they've come in handy for me, I figured I'd share since I'm so thoughtful that way.
Now, not to sound all Negative Nellie, but I'll start with the "What not to do." (If you are curious, Cait flipped a coin...).
1. No regrets.
If you are like us, in one sense, you had a choice where to live: don't regret it. You might get folks asking why you didn't run here, there, or stay where you were (might not have been possible). Just tell them what's done is done and there is no ideal in this scenario.
2. Don't pull the Kabul card too often.
There is a time and place. Genuine emergency? Absolutely. DMV hassling you because you lost your license and insisiting you have to retake your test even though you absolutely, positively are a regulation licensed driver (and they can see proof on their computers)? Yep, this might be the time.
Okay, this didn't actually happen *this* time, but I had no guilt about pulling the Baghdad card back in 2010 in order to get a license. I had 3 kids who needed to be places, an unblemished driving record, a husband 6,300 miles away, and had done everything in my power to get a replacement license, but was being held back by the local DMV's refusal to even try and understand my scenario. A quick phone call solved that little problem in a jiffy, because there really are problems that are unique to those in the Foreign Service. (For the record, I tried to resolve without intervention on 4 separate occasions...but the nature of the issue was entirely due to us being FS.)
Then there are those days when I'm just stressed and tired and want to remind people that my husband is serving his country and goshdarnit, I shouldn't be stuck in this line/traffic/on hold and I just keep quiet. For I all I know, the person receiving my misplaced wrath might be in the same scenario and/or just had something worse happen. Yes, it's pretty awful to have your husband sent over there for a year. However, bad stuff happens to people every day in *this* country and it helps to realize when the card is necessary and when it's just a crankypants moment.
3. Don't read every piece of advice you find on UTs, follow it all and then wonder why things seem screwed up *if* they aren't perfect.
One size doesn't fit all. What works for one family will not necessarily work for another. Want my laundry list of things we didn't do?
- No countdown jars (for us, too obvious a reminder/we'd never have the time)
- No Skyping on a regular basis (we let the kids decide when/if to Skype)
- No planned daily/weekly/monthly phone call for the kids (see Skype rule)
- No extra stress on the fact that the kids were experiencing something unusual*
- No extra preparations, workbooks or classes (do those exist?) for the kids regarding the UT
This is far from our first separation** and if there is one thing I have learned throughout the years, it's keep it SIMPLE. We knew trying to figure out some grand plan to make it feel like Peter was here for a year would not work for us. We also did not want to make time pass so quickly so that a year that might be filled with otherwise super moments is now just that year we tried to get through and forget (save that for other things!). We knew games and such wouldn't make Peter come home any faster, but might just remind the kids of how much we were focusing on his absence, instead of just going about our lives.
I'm not saying to ingore the situation entirely. You may well need to vent (so, you could, uh, say, start a Facebook group or something for those experiencing UTs) or feel like celebrating the success of getting through the year, so you have a huge party when he/she comes home, or plan a fabulous trip. Great! However, don't feel like if it's been 6 months and all is basically well that everything will suddenly fall apart. It won't (well, it didn't for us). Oh, and we are doing one sort of special post UT thing for the young'uns, but not something I can discuss here just yet...
4. Don't do it all!
Huh? How can I not do it all, when I'm the only parent?
My husband's one rule this year? He was accessible 24/7, barring accidents/incidents/downed phone lines & internet. If the kids needed to talk with him in the middle of his night, we were to call ASAP. He woke himself up at horribly early hours to *participate* in family birthday parties, he made doctors appointments and ordered a new cable box for us during downtime, and did not miss one parent-teacher conference (so, if he can make it....).
When Peter was on Secretary's Detail, we were lucky to get phone calls when he traveled (every other week). Skype did not exist and even if it had, his schedule was so erratic, it would have been useless. Even email was tough as he was on the plane so much and did not have access the way we do today. So three years on Secretary's Detail vs. this UT? No question, the UT hands down. If nothing else, schedule-wise, so much easier and less stressful for all of us.
Well, if that's what I'm *not* supposed to do...what DO I do?
Seriously. Treat yourself to the extent you can. Get a massage (hey, FSBP covers $60 per massage x 40 per year!), a mani/pedi, a grueling workout or a dinner out. Yoga really helps me and I try to get to 2-3 classes/week. Find a way to just let go. No, you can't do it every day (well, I couldn't), but you when you do find pockets of time (the 4th Saturday of the 8th month...), give yourself the excuse you need to just chill.
2. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Yes, this year might be a wee stressful. You might just find your 4 year old running around shouting, "There's one of me and three of you!" on a regular basis. You might wonder why everything around the house seems to fall apart three weeks before your spouse is slated to return or why you suddenly need a new car when you aren't moving for 6 months and really don't want to buy one yet.
Then you remember you have a follow-on post. You actually *need* a new car and wouldn't it be nice to break it in over here? Yes, the dishwasher is broken again, but the kids are happily playing and you are going to show it this time who's the boss. Plus, this time next year if the dishwasher breaks, you can either fix it yourself or call the GSO as you will be happily ensconced in your new home overseas (feel free to change to fit your scenario).
3. Let your kids do more.
Chores won't hurt them and may in fact, make them stronger. (Mind you, chores were already very much a part of our kids' lives, but we had to step it up a bit this year.) Yes, it might be a tough year, but helping out more might make it easier vs. harder. Short of fixing the dishwasher, I don't think there is a task I haven't given to the kids at one time or another (okay, except for that Nicholas tree trimming business...that was all his idea). From the cat box to dog walking, I will outsource anything! Heck, I'm to the point where I can take an hour long nap and wake up to find 3 lbs of from scratch cookie dough chilling in the fridge, courtesy of Kelsey. Might not be great for the waistline, but soooo good.
4. Say no.
It can be done! In fact, I've done it a lot this year and I'm actually kind of proud of it. I'm not saying I sat around eating bon-bons all day long, far from it. However, when I knew I was stretched too thin, I just took a step back. I didn't try to make every single kids event and we haven't exactly been perfect churchgoers this year. However, this ability allowed me to really be where my kids/volunteer jobs needed me, instead of going nuts and then just snapping.
That's it. We have about ?? hours until Peter is home for good and I can't say I'm not thrilled. Yes, I'm happy to have this year over and move to our next post. I'm also not saying the year was perfect. I know now there are several changes I would implement should we ever do this again (never say never in the Foreign Service). However, I'm also glad that we went about it the way we did. Our way won't necessarily work for everyone, but it never hurts to share, right?
Oh, and if you are interested in that Facebook group...you know where to find me.
*sometimes circumstances will dictate a mention, however, I found these to be few and far between.
**We have had significant separations when I was pregnant with Cait (and on bedrest, yippee!), with one baby, with a baby and a preschooler, and with all three kids (at varying ages). At no time during these separations did we have household help or was living near family an option. So, pretty much on my own 24 hours/day until Peter returned...just to clarify, lest anyone think I don't know what it's like with a younger crew....