Frozen

No, this is not a post about letting it go or sisterly love.

Sorry.

It’s about my current EFM (eligible-family member, that’s what I am as JR’s spouse overseas) employment situation. While we were on our maternity med evac, I interviewed for and was offered the position of CLO Coordinator at the Embassy. I’ve wanted this job basically since I learned it existed and I cried when I opened the email. Granted, I was 57 weeks pregnant and an emotional time bomb, but the point is, I was super excited. The Community Liaison Office (CLO, get it?!) is tasked with things like welcoming and helping newcomers adjust at post, providing crisis management and support services, acting as a liaison for spouses and family members interested in employment and schools, planning events for the Embassy community, and being a general source of information.

We had a wonderful CLO when we arrived in Kosovo (cheers to you, JBF!). It was our first post and in many ways, we were clueless. For me, I was anxious to feel settled and to start working as soon as possible. The CLO was helpful in sending out job announcements, discussing possible opportunities for other community involvement in Pristina, and they had weekly events that we could participate in to get to know the city and people. As soon as we learned we were headed to Tbilisi, I immediately emailed the CLO here. I asked to be added to their newsletter and weekly mailing lists. Both of those include advertisements for nannies and vehicles, which allowed us to line up a nanny and a car before we had arrived at post. I also reached out to ask about employment opportunities, and the CLO wrote back right away with information about the types of positions that would be available when we arrived.

Transitioning to a new post and home is not easy for me. In the Foreign Service, some of life’s most stressful events happen not only all at once, but repeatedly every few years. Moving to a new country, where English is definitely not the main language, establishing a new home, starting a new job (or being without a job), making new friends – it’s a lot. You are living in a brand new place, but often only in your temporary housing, you don’t have most of your things, no car (super fun when you need to install a 30lb car seat to take your child anywhere – and then you made it to the grocery store in a taxi but you STILL have the 30lb car seat to deal with), not even knowing how to find a grocery store or a Diet Coke (spoiler alert, they only have Coke Zero here). While others may land on their feet faster, I rely on the CLO office a lot in the beginning, and their support has made a huge difference for me and I want to pay it forward.

I’m super, super excited about this new opportunity. But there’s a REALLY big catch. Perhaps you recall that the new President signed a Federal Hiring Freeze on January 23, 2017. This freeze has major implications for current and hopeful federal employees, and it’s also a pretty big deal to us EFMs. It can be extremely challenging to find an Embassy position as an EFM. At our current post, there are more spouses who want to work than there are available jobs. Financially, it would be really hard for us to continue in this lifestyle if I were not employed. Mentally and personally, I want to be working. I like working. I’m lucky that my current/old position is allowing me to stay on until things are resolved. It’s mutually beneficial because they can’t announce the vacancy for my position or hire for it until the freeze is over. But others here are waiting and waiting and WAITING for a job. And it sucks (sorry Mom, I know how you feel about that word.)

EFMs provide critical support to our Embassy missions around the world. It saves the government a big chunk of money to hire someone who is already living here as opposed to paying to move an officer here. It’s also impacting spouses and families in ways I hadn’t considered. There are several posts that are unaccompanied – meaning they are considered too dangerous for families to live there. An exception can be made in some situations for spouses who obtain an EFM job at the unaccompanied post. In those instances, the spouse can live and work with the officer at the post, so it’s no longer unaccompanied. For people who had these plans coming up in the next few months, everything is on hold for them until the freeze is lifted. This could mean the officer will depart for the post as arranged, but the EFM/spouse can no longer go because they no longer have a job. Or a place to live. Oh and they’ll now be separated from their spouse for an unknown amount of time.

To bring it back to how this is directly affecting me and my fellow EFMs at this post, we are all in a crappy state of limbo. Waiting for the freeze to end, waiting on security clearances, waiting for jobs to be posted, just waiting. Our current CLO coordinator is departing at the end of April. She has one part-time assistant who will be leaving in June. Those positions – and a second assistant – cannot be filled until the freeze is over. The work they do is particularly important during upcoming transition season (starts in May because many FSOs with children try to move during the summer to be ready for the next school year) and if we were to face any type of security or crisis situation here.

I can’t put into words how frustrating and disappointing this situation is as a whole. We are constantly reading news about major threats to the State and USAID budgets. I want to yell – do you not know what kind of work is being done here and why it’s so important? Even our top military leaders think cutting funding is disastrous and would threaten citizens at home and abroad.

I don’t know that anyone is listening, though. To be more productive with my frustrations, I’ll include these links that explain the issues further (and far better than I can). If you only have time for one, please click on the first as it’s super short and really explains how much the State department does with such a small amount(1%. One teeny tiny percent!) of the federal budget.

So until next time, I’ll just be waiting for the thaw.

What do the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) do for the American people? With just over 1% of the entire federal budget, they have a huge impact on how Americans live and how the rest of the world perceives America.
https://www.state.gov/r/pa/pl/2017/267416.htm

State department funding is critical to keeping America safe.
http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/27/politics/generals-letter-state-department-budget-cuts/

Trump’s Cuts to USAID Would Imperil the United States

A helpful breakdown of foreign aid.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/world/which-countries-get-the-most-foreign-aid/

 

The Great Mistake

Parenting a toddler is hard. Yes, it’s fun and exciting, but it’s also really challenging at times. We do the best we can and hope she won’t require too much therapy as an adult.

Right now Abby is on an “all by myself” kick. This is a phrase we hear 50 times a day. Of course, she only wants to do something ALL BY MYSELF when we are in a hurry to get out the door, but if it’s a time that my hands are full or William is crying, she is suddenly incapable of doing even the slightest thing without assistance. She’s so smart and can express herself so well that we sometimes forget how young she is, and we have to remind ourselves to be as patient as possible.

We’re dealing with a lot of change in our house and in many ways, we thought Abby was handling it really well. But we may have taken her generally good-natured attitude and adaptability for granted. I knew that we needed Abby to move from her crib to the twin-size bed in her bedroom when we returned to Tbilisi with William. I have no interest in buying a second crib and at almost 3, it didn’t seem like it would be a huge deal. I had also toyed with the idea of taking away her binkies at the same time, but while we were in Ohio we discussed it with friends and thought it might be too much transition at once. We started talking to her about giving them up when she turned 3 and that seemed like a good plan.

However, she latched on to something I said BEFORE I had thought this all through, the idea that she could not have binkies in her big girl bed. So when we returned to Tbilisi and really started talking up the move from her crib, she would say “and no binkies!” and we just rolled with it. I didn’t do any of my normal research or weeks of agonizing over what to do. We let her lead the way, and when she proclaimed one night that she was ready to sleep in her big girl bed and give up the binkies, we thought Okay! Great idea, kid!

And so began Night 1 of the Dark Days. That first night was tough but I know from other parents’ experiences that it could have been worse. It was just really difficult because she regretted saying she was ready, but we felt that we had to commit to the change. Night 2 was great, and I smugly thought the worst was behind us and wanted to pat myself on the back for how well it had all gone. But the nights and naps since then have been hard, and I’m afraid it’s not getting any better. Our wonderful sleeper is now afraid in her room and struggling with separation anxiety. Despite Abby loving the owl nightlight we borrowed from a friend, or the addition of 35 stuffed animals in her bed, it still hasn’t made a significant change. No amount of cereal and chocolate for breakfast is helping her go to bed without crying and now I’m crying at night.

It’s not just limited to night time. She’s had some epic tantrums the last few days, the likes of which we haven’t seen in many months. I know in the big picture it’s only been a week, but right now I can’t see the big picture and I’m really sad and feel like we made a huge mistake. We’ve had some moments of levity, like the other night at dinner when JR was explaining to her why she couldn’t have a treat after she ate. He told her that our actions have consequences and the way she acted had a direct correlation to how we responded…and right as he said the words “direct correlation” he looked over at me and we started laughing at how ridiculous that sounds talking to an almost 3 year-old. Pretty sure that concept is a bit advanced for Abby.

Basically, I think we made a mistake by forcing too many changes at once. Not only with losing her crib and her binkies, but Abby is adapting to a new baby at home, less attention from her parents, and being back in Georgia after spending almost every day with her Nana for 3 months. It’s too much and I have serious regret about it. Her binkies bring her so much comfort, and while it seems that she has grown up so much recently, the truth is she’s still very young and in need of that comfort and reassurance. We don’t know if giving them back to her is right call. It’s been a week, maybe the worst is behind us, and has all this turmoil been for naught if we throw in the towel now. But all I can think is that we are trying to teach her that people make mistakes and when we do, we should try to correct our actions. And I think we – actually me, since I led the charge here, I messed up.  The binkies are coming back.

If she goes to kindergarten with a pacifier in her mouth, I’ll have this blog post to look back on fondly and remind me of yet another parenting mistake!

 

The Bath House Experience

JR and I took advantage of President’s Day to spend an afternoon sans kids downtown. It was a gorgeous day and we decided to visit the Royal Bath House to relax in the famous Georgian sulphur baths.

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Tbilisi actually means warm river, and the hot mineral springs led to the development of the bath house district downtown called Abanotubani. There is some archaeological evidence finding Roman-style baths in the city as far back as the 1st century but the baths became increasingly popular at the height of the Silk Road. During the period of the Russian Empire, even famous bathers like Alexander Pushkin and Alexandre Dumas enjoyed the healing waters in Abanotubani.

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You can enjoy public baths and rub elbows with the locals or you can get your own private bath for more money. For 95 gel, we reserved a private room that included a cold bath, hot bath, sauna, changing room, and relaxation room with couches and chairs for 1 hour. Overall it was a very large space all to ourselves, and we felt comfortable as we changed into our swimsuits (technically you’re supposed to be naked but no thank you very much, we packed our suits).

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JR ordered a beer and we enjoyed soaking in the hot bath for awhile before there was a knock on the door. In walked a stern looking woman for my scheduled Kisa (part massage, part body wash and scrub). Even though this was on the edge of my comfort zone I wanted to try a traditional Georgian bathhouse experience. After looking at the historical pictures displayed on the walls of the bathhouse entrance, JR politely declined his own Kisa.

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She motioned me toward the marble ledge and indicated that I should remove my suit and lay down. I put my hand protectively over my chest and said “no thank you”, but she gave me a look and a hand motion that left no room for argument. I pulled down the top of my halter-style one piece and gave her an embarrassed look like, um will this suffice? (Interesting note, this is the same swimsuit I was wearing when I was borderline taken advantage of by a masseuse on the beach in Santorini!) She nodded yes. I am NOT a naked person, so this whole scene was particularly humorous for JR.

I laid down on the ledge and she immediately starting sloshing buckets of hot water on me and my now very exposed skin. I was trying hard not to laugh. She pulled out a loofah and rubbed it all over me, and then gave me a swift swat on my thigh to tell me it was time to turn over. This is when JR actually said “this is hilarious, can I get another beer?” since he knew how uncomfortable I was. I was facedown for a bit as she used the loofah on my back, and then she gave me another swat on my butt when it was time to flip back over.

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Next, she used some delicious smelling soap and a linen bag to create a ton of bubbles that she sudsed all over me. There was no room for modesty, there was nothing between me and this lady as she did a very thorough job with the washing. She briefly used a small sponge that felt like a brillo pad but luckily it wasn’t too intense and didn’t last long. Finally she doused me with more buckets of hot water, then gave me one final swat and proclaimed  “Bce” (pronounced “vse ” – Russian for all done!).

Once my Kisa was over, we had about 30 minutes left to enjoy the baths and the sauna. Despite my awkwardness, the experience was more enjoyable than I expected, and definitely something everyone should try at least once in Tbilisi!

 

Travel is fun, they say

The good news is we survived the return to trip to Tbilisi and it went about as well as we could have hoped. The bad news is that jet lag with a 7 week old and a 2.5 year old is THE WORST. Thankfully it only took about a week for us to fix our sleep schedules but it was a very rough 7 days.

We flew out of Akron Canton, which is a small regional airport about 40 minutes from Orrville. Because we flew into Cleveland when we arrived, this was considered a cost-construct trip (since we wanted to fly in and out of two different airports, we were responsible for any difference in price – in this case it was $25 per ticket which was worth it to us). Akron Canton is closer, and it’s much more convenient because it’s just so small. I also liked the flight schedules better. The downside is that when you cost construct a ticket, you lose some of the benefits you might otherwise have received. In this case, we could have had a day room at the Hilton hotel in Munich during our 9 hour layover as part of our trip. I didn’t know if we were making a huge mistake by foregoing that option. We could have paid out-of-pocket for it but I heard the business lounge was really nice (and we did receive passes to that). Also, the Hilton is kind of a haul through the airport and the day room hours are 9am to 6pm. We were scheduled to land around 1pm and leave at 10pm, so I didn’t know how useful it would actually be.

We left for the airport at 2:30pm on Tuesday, January 24. As I mentioned in my last post, we received William’s diplomatic passport and visa to Georgia via FedEx at 10:30am that same morning. We like to live dangerously like that (no, actually we don’t, but the whole process is the biggest pain and it took 67 emails to get someone from the Georgian Embassy to help us out). We hired a van from HMC Car and Limousine to transport our luggage and JR while my mom drove me and the kids. Our final count was 8 checked bags, 1 convertible car seat (checked), 1 infant car seat (carried on), 1 double stroller (gate checked before each flight), 3 carry-on backpacks, and 1 diaper bag. It looks overwhelming but I felt like we had considerably less to carry after we checked in. Using backpacks was a game changer.

I’m also really happy with our double stroller. We used the Britax B Agile Double. It’s super easy to push, both seats fully recline for the kids to lay down, and we fit through every door we encountered. It also folds easily and quickly.

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Checking in at Akron Canton was super smooth and easy. There was only one other person in the entire security line. We were able to take our time and not feel so rushed which is how we usually feel during check in and security. It may have been my imagination, but all the employees were even friendlier than at other airports. I think this is how VIPs must feel while traveling. Maybe that’s why we enjoy this airport so much?

There’s a small children’s play area so we hung out there and let Abby play until it was time to board our first flight to Chicago.

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It was a small plane with a 2-2 seat set up and our seats were not across from each other, JR was one row up. It wasn’t a big deal since the flight was so short and both kids did great.

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We had an almost 4 hour layover in Chicago. We took our time walking to our gate and stopped for dinner at Chili’s. The area we were in wasn’t very crowded so we let Abby run as much as she wanted in hopes of tiring her out. Before boarding we changed her into PJs and hoped for the best.

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On this flight we had the window and aisle seat of one row and the window and aisle of the row directly behind it. I sat with William in his car seat and JR was with Abby in front of us. He inflated her 1st Class Kids Travel Pillow  (watching JR try to quickly and discreetly blow up the pillow is always amusing).

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As soon as lift-off we encouraged Abby to lay down and sleep. She tried and tried, and she would fall asleep for a little bit and then wake up. She was very tired (it was probably 11pm/12am at this point) and quickly became frustrated and upset. I asked her if there was anything I could get her or do for her to help her sleep and her reply of “I want Nana” about broke my heart. The plane was not full, so JR moved a few rows back and we let Abby spread out across the two seats to hopefully sleep better. I continued to sit in the row behind her with William, who to our amazement, slept almost the entire flight. He woke up about half way through for a bottle and diaper change, then went right back in his car seat and back to sleep.

Once both kids were asleep I decided to try the unthinkable and watch a movie. I only used one headphone so I could listen for them and kept leaning forward to check on Abby. Once when I started to look up all I could see were her two little feet in her pjs sticking out in the aisle from the floor. She had rolled right off the seat and was less than thrilled to find herself on the ground. Oops. I settled her again, and moved her pillow more to the center of the two seats to hopefully act as a barrier and keep her from falling again. She rolled off only once more so I suppose it was a limited success.

After landing in Munich we walked straight to the Lufthansa Business Lounge. We ate some breakfast there and then found a place to sit down and relax. We took turns showering- this was my first time showering in an airport and it was really nice. The bathrooms are spacious and clean, and they provided shampoo, razor, shaving cream, shower cap, towels, and a hair dryer. We knew we were going to take advantage of this so JR and I had each packed a full change of clothes in our backpacks. I felt like a brand new person after that shower! We let Abby play on the iPad while William alternated between eating and sleeping. The lounge was right beside a small kids play area so JR took her out there to play a few times.

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Overall, I’m glad we went with the lounge passes instead of the hotel room. It helped that the lounge was empty for most of the day and we were able to create our own little area to camp out.

The final flight was a little rough – we were all over it and in desperate need of our beds and our own space. Thank goodness for Daniel Tiger, a binky and a snack cup to carry us to our final destination.

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JR and I were so relieved to finally touch down in Tbilisi. Abby kept saying “are we in Georgia?  What’s Georgia?” As we waited for our luggage at baggage claim, the poor girl had her first accident in months. She was really upset so I tried to calm her down and rush her off the bathroom to change clothes while JR handled the bag collection and kept an eye on William. Once she was all cleaned up, we met up with our motorpool drivers and made our way to the cars (it took two vehicles to haul all of us and our stuff).

Let me tell you, installing two car seats at 6am after 30 some hours of travel, in the cold, is not fun. As I buckled William in I could smell a dirty diaper but I thought the best thing was to just ignore it and hurry home. Just as the cars started moving, Abby said she had to pee. Again. Awesome. The entrance to the airport (you cannot go back in through the area we came out of) was on the other side of the entire building. Did I mention it was 6am and cold? And that our baby had a dirty diaper? I did what anyone would do – I took her to the side of the parking lot and held her off the ground so she could go. I can only imagine what our drivers were thinking.

Finally we were in the cars on the way home. Abby sang every single song she knows at least twice. We pulled up and let her run into the house first and she was so, so excited. “My kitchen!” “My baby” “My flashlight”. Every toy delighted her. I wonder how much of all of this her little mind really understands, but she was definitely happy to be home. And so were we – we all slept for about six hours.

That six hours felt great but wasn’t nearly enough.  The next several days were our toughest to date, but everyone is back to normal now and we are so glad to be home!

 

Catching up

I had really good intentions of blogging while we were in Ohio for my maternity med evac, but as evidenced by my lack of posting, that clearly did not happen. The good news is I can blame my absence on the arrival of William James, born December 9, 2016.

He’s basically the cutest and we’re all adjusting to life as a family of four!

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JR says that William already looks “distinguished.”

How we spent the rest of our time at home:

  • We spent Thanksgiving with JR’s family and it was really nice. His sister and her husband hosted the extended family and the food was so fantastic, there weren’t ANY leftovers. That says something about the food, but it created a real crisis for me when it was 7pm that evening and I was searching for a hot meal. At approximately 52 weeks pregnant at that point, JR knew it was a serious situation and helped me find a place that was open so we could order carryout. If you’re ever in this predicament, Applebees is open on Thanksgiving. You’re welcome in advance.
  • My due date was quickly approaching in December and William showed no signs of making an appearance. After scheduling an induction date with my doctor, JR and I showed up at the hospital on December 9 ready to have a baby. My doctor was confident I’d have a baby by early that evening (in fact, she broke down the plans for the day according to meal times, we’ll do this at breakfast, this around lunch, and baby will be here in time for you to eat dinner – she really gets me). As much as we both said we had no idea if we were having a boy or a girl, clearly we were both expecting a girl because we were completely shocked when the doctor said “It’s a boy!”.
  • Some of the highlights of that day (aside from meeting our baby boy!) included Abby’s visit, being done with labor by 6pm and able to EAT, and my sister having Pizza Hut breadsticks delivered to the hospital for me (this is a birthing tradition for us) shortly after William’s birth. She’s awesome like that. Everything went perfectly, but the next morning both Abby and JR tested positive for strep throat. Less than ideal to say the least. JR spent the next 48 hours parenting from behind a mask.

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  • Once we had William home and settled, it was time to focus on Christmas! It was really wonderful to spend the holiday with our families, and Abby reveled in the attention. She was (is) completely spoiled but it was so much fun to see her excitement over Santa and all the presents.

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Taking a picture of two kids is much harder than one!

  • Abby’s reaction to Santa Claus. What a difference a year makes!

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  • We spent much of our remaining time going to a dozen appointments and working on the paperwork to take William home to Georgia. No joke – his visa arrived at 10:30am on the Tuesday that we left, with our flight leaving at 4:30pm. Nothing like the last minute!
  • Abby is really obsessed with him.

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Give William some space Abby! (said at least 100 times a day)

  • We’re so happy to be back in our house in Tbilisi and slowly life is returning to normal – at least a new normal. I’m planning to write another post soon about our travel back!

A few more pictures of my sweet babes!

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A whirlwind

Abby and I have been home for a month and it’s gone by in record speed. One thing that hasn’t changed – it’s still 100 degrees (approximately) outside.  It’s November, and I packed fall/winter clothes, so it would be GREAT if it could cool down a bit. (Note, while it may be 70 this Friday, it is actually supposed to snow on Sunday. I love you, Ohio.)

The first weekend we were home, the timing worked our perfectly and I was able to meet up with a few law school friends who were in town to show off their darling baby girl.

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And the next day one of my closest friends from high school had a party to introduce her new baby girl, and our whole group was reunited for a few hours!

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A few days later I flew to DC to join JR for a long weekend. I barely took any pictures of the weekend – womp womp, but most of it was spent eating at some of our favorite places and relaxing. I did get one picture of our reunion with Amy, our dear friend from Kosovo!

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Meanwhile in Orrville, Abigail was having the time of her life with my mom, stepdad and brother doting on her and attending to her every possible desire. They went to story hour at the library, a pumpkin patch and a farm, and had tons of fun.

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Abby enjoyed multiple Halloween events dressed up as Doc McStuffins. She was thrilled with all the candy she received trick or treating. It’s hard to teach your child to only take one piece when the generous people passing out candy kept telling her, “go ahead, take a few pieces!”

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Could these kids be any cuter?

Then it was time for my little sister’s wedding! JR was able to get home early and he surprised Abby and I at the rehearsal. She was so cute when he snuck up to say hello. She did okay with her flower girl duties at the rehearsal, but she was perfect at the wedding! She tossed all of her flowers and at the end of the aisle she threw her hands up and triumphantly announced “I did it!” She earned herself a fancy cupcake which she promptly devoured.

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My sister was a gorgeous bride, and she and Mark had a wonderful time celebrating with their family and friends.

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After that crazy two weeks, I was happy to welcome one of my best friends from law school to Ohio for the weekend. We splurged on a hotel room in Columbus and visited some of our favorite places (Roosters and Bexley Pizza Plus!), and did a little shopping. Since we both have toddlers at home, we thought the best possible way to spend a Saturday night was at the movies and then going to bed by 10pm.  And it was glorious.

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JR had to return to Tbilisi for a little bit, but he is back with us now and we’re both teleworking for a little while. It’s hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving, and we’re just a few weeks away from my due date!

We made it!

Happy to report that Abby and I landed safe and sound in Cleveland last Friday, following a mostly uneventful journey. She did AWESOME on our flights. We received so many comments and compliments on how quiet and well-behaved she was, which I’m choosing to believe is a direct reflection on our parenting, not the unlimited Kindle Fire and binky time she had while we traveled.

We started out early Friday morning with a 1:30am wake up. I didn’t wake Abby until our driver had arrived, and then I dressed her while JR installed the car seat and helped load the car. She was immediately excited about our travels and talked happily the whole way to the airport. We had two separate ticket reservations – Abby and I were traveling on my med-evac orders, while JR was booked under his own order because he was headed to a training course in DC. An added delight to all this travel nonsense is that we always struggle with being seated together. For the 4 hour flight to Munich, Abby and I had a middle and aisle seat, while he had a middle seat directly behind us.

We asked the man assigned to the window seat in my aisle if he’d be willing to take JR’s middle seat instead so we could be seated together (yes, we cringed while asking and felt terrible.  No one wants a middle seat.) To his credit, the man just nodded and switched with us. It actually worked out well as no one else was seated in that row, and he was able to have his window seat and extra space anyway. JR encouraged me to move back as well, where I took an aisle seat and slept almost the entire flight and he hung out with Abby. She fell asleep for about half the flight.

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It was around 7am local time when we landed in Munich.  We found a small empty play area and hung out there for a while before making our way to a restaurant for breakfast. Our gate was in H, but we knew another play area was set up near G28, and since it was just a floor below us, we walked down there to let Abby play for over an hour. I think our layover was about 4.5 hours, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Our theory was to try and let Abby play and run off any excess energy in Munich so she could get the most sleep on the longer flight.

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As soon as we boarded the flight to DC, we set up our 1st Class Kid Travel Pillow. We heard about it through other foreign service folks who are more travel savvy than we are and decided to give it a try. JR inflated it himself (supposedly you can use the vents over your head, but we were still nervous the flight attendants might say we couldn’t use it, so I didn’t want to call attention to it). It only took him a few minutes and then we wedged the pillow on the floor in front of Abby’s seat, filling the gap so she could put her feet up. It was well past her regular nap time, so I encouraged her to put her head on the pillow and try to sleep. She was able to nap for about 2 hours while I watched Me Before You – the movie was fine but I felt like a fool sobbing at the end of it.  Maybe better watched in private. For $30, we think the pillow was worth it and helped her to sit and stretch out more comfortably.

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Abby really did not complain or cry at all during the long flight. Towards the end she was definitely acting tired and over it, but we all felt that way. I spoke to the flight attendants to ask if we could have anyone help us upon landing. Since JR was staying in DC, I would be on my own with Abby and all of our things, and I was particularly worried about collecting all of our bags (4 bags and one heavy-duty car seat) at baggage claim, along with our stroller and carry-on bags, and making it through customs and security by myself. They said not to worry, there would be porters available at baggage claim who could help. Mm hmm. Sure.

From the moment we got off the plane, it was a rough 2 hours. Almost immediately, a rude United employee was directing JR one way and Abby and I in the opposite direction, and he was very short with us and gave us less than a minute to say goodbye. Abby and I made our way to passport control and the line was crazy long. She was very patient, mostly in an exhausted daze, so she sat quietly in her stroller as we waited in line. I was super hot (my temperature is 10 degrees higher at all times while pregnant), and carrying the backpack and pushing the stroller, all I wanted was to sit down.

At the self-serve kiosk, you scan your passports and pose for a picture. I knew my picture wouldn’t be good, but I really outdid myself. When I handed the printed photo to the customs agent, he laughed and said “Oh that’s a keeper.” I was going to put the picture here but it’s literally too embarrassing to post publicly.

The next part was frustrating – I started asking if anyone could help me collect my bags and push them to the drop off point further down the hall. The employees smiled but looked at me like I was crazy. I walked up to a nice looking gentleman wearing a flourescent vest and asked if he could help me. He totally wanted to say no but I looked just stressed enough that he felt bad and grabbed a luggage cart while I pointed out our 4 bags. He pushed the cart and I pulled our 30lb car seat behind me and pushed the stroller with my one free arm and my stomach. Fun times!

Relieved to have made it through customs in one piece, I was really bummed to see another long line and security checkpoint. Abby had fallen asleep in her stroller and I dreaded having to wake her. I accepted that I would be very slow moving through security. As I bent down to wake her up, the TSA guy reminded me that I needed to collapse the stroller. I knew this, it was just very difficult to manage while holding my toddler. I pushed it up on the conveyor with our other bags and turned to walk through the metal detector. They asked if Abby could walk through by herself, and bless her heart, she was crying and so tired but she did and waited for me to grab her again. She was crying for her stroller, so I hurriedly pulled it off and set it up for her. She nestled in and fell back asleep immediately. I was relieved and grateful that we’d made it through the parts I worried about the most, but at this point I was sweating, starving, and I really need to find a restroom.

Of course our gate was 10 miles away. Okay, maybe closer to a ten minute walk, but it felt like forever. I had about 20 minutes to order some food, eat a burger and fries quickly, use the restroom, and then it was time to board our last flight! There wasn’t a jetway so we walked outside and Abby surprised me by being happy to wake up. A very nice lady held her hand while I put the stroller on the luggage cart and we boarded the flight. She was quiet and sweet and before we knew it, we were landing in Ohio! So many of the passengers had a kind word about her and what a trooper she had been, and one brought our gate checked stroller right to me. A huge thank you to all of those who helped make our day of travel a bit brighter and bit easier just by being nice.

We made our way to baggage claim where my parents were waiting and it was the BEST feeling to see them! Abby slept on the car ride home but woke up ready to play and hang out as soon as we arrived at their house.  And I was more than happy to let their reunion continue while I immediately went to bed.

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