Summer Road Trips

I know I say this every summer, but time is really flying by. Our official home leave began in June and it practically passed in a blink. We spent almost every day traveling, and if we were at home, we were doing laundry, going to some sort of appointment, or packing for another trip.

It started June 2 when I flew to DC to meet JR for his consultation days. He officially left Tbilisi on the 1st and needed to be in DC for a few days before coming back to Ohio. Since I’d been technically managing the kids solo for so long, we (mostly I) thought it made sense for me to take a much-neded break. Of course it was great to be back with my lovely husband, but a real highlight of the trip was meeting up with my friends from Tbilisi, some I hadn’t seen in 2 years! We had a great time catching up.  And just by chance, I messaged another set of old friends from Tbilisi and they had arrived in DC that very day. We spent less than 2 hours together because of hectic schedules, but in this weird life you take what you can get.

The other awesome thing we did – renting electric scooters and riding them all over the city. How did we just find out about these? It seems rather juvenile and dangerous but seriously, SO MUCH FUN. JR said I was giggling like Beavis and Butthead all day. I don’t know what that sounds like but I’m going to go with it’s a happy sound.

We were back in Ohio for a few fun-filled and busy days with the kids before we drove to West Virginia for a week of mandatory training. The training is about countering potential threats you might encounter living overseas. Recently the State Department updated it’s requirements and now wants all government personnel to complete this course before going to their next overseas post. Spouses are highly encouraged to attend as well but it’s very hard to get a seat because everyone else has to take the training too. Luckily I was able to go, and we’re also quite fortunate that my parents were able to take care of the kids while we were gone.

I knew we’d be in training all day, but I thought we might enjoy some kid-free time in the evenings and explore the area a bit, but honestly we were exhausted each night. We did enjoy a few dinners out, including one with a colleague recently departing from Cairo who was able to give us some great tips about life there.

Despite a rental car fiasco (it’s a long story and Enterprise heard from me more than once when we returned), we found the training interesting and enjoyed the parenting break. The course ended late Friday afternoon, which meant we didn’t make it back to Ohio until about 10:30pm that evening. We spent the entire Saturday doing laundry and catching up with the kids, while also trying to pack for our big road trip and vacation. Sunday started off terribly. I woke up around 6am and found myself standing in a 1/2 inch of water covering our bedroom floor in the basement of my grandma’s house. It took a few hours to clean up the mess (huge thanks to my aunt and her husband for coming over with a shop vac and helping us). We managed to finish up packing and loading the car late that evening.

At JR’s insistence, we started our road trip just before 4am the next morning since we had to go from northern Ohio to Knoxville that day. Our hope was the kids would fall back asleep for a few hours, which they eventually did but at first everyone was wide awake and chatty.  Here’s a sampling of our conversation:

William: I have a booger on my hand, can you get it?
Me: (grab booger, sigh audibly when I can’t find a tissue, fling said booger out the window)
Abby: Mom, when your water breaks, does it break at the doctor’s office or the hospital or like where?
Me: Well, it can happen anywhere really.  Usually it happens at the hospital just before the baby comes out.
William: Where did you put my booger?
Me: I threw it out the window.
Abby: “Do they clean you up?”
William: Why?

This was seriously the first 3 minutes of our ride. Onward to Tennessee!

As I said we all slept for a few hours while JR drove. When they woke up, I passed them iPads and snacks to hold everyone off until we stopped for breakfast. We went to a Cracker Barrel, usually one of my preferred places to stop when we’re on the road. The kids enjoyed running up and down the big porch with JR and playing on the rocking chairs while I stayed inside with Jake and waited for our food. The food was kind of blah. I mean it’s breakfast and that’s simple and isn’t that kind of what they’re known for? Oh well, back in the car we went.

I had planned a second stop in Kentucky that included a nearby playground, but it was pouring down rain and the kids were antsy sooner than I expected. We kept driving until we found an exit with a Chick-Fil-A, my favorite place to take a break with the kids. They enjoyed the indoor play area while we fed Jake and had an early lunch. Back in the car again. Everyone was kind of over it at this point, but I think they all fell asleep again for another hour or two. We made one last stop at a McDonalds just to change Jake’s diaper before finally arriving in Knoxville. We were greeted by JR’s brother, sister-in-law and their two girls, as well as his twin sister, husband, and their baby who is just a few months older than Jake. Everyone was excited to see each other again and my crew was especially happy to be out of the car.


(note: that was a plastic snake.)

We spent our time in Knoxville exploring the city, visiting JR’s college friends, taking little hikes, and mostly just hanging out and watching the kids play together. They had so much fun playing and singing “Rocky Top” all day, everyday. If you don’t know, Rocky Top is the University of Tennessee’s fight song and is the greatest song in all the land (JR made me write that). It was also William’s first time sleeping in a big kid bed, as we put him and Abby together in their cousin’s bed each night. The first night he kept getting up, and I kept threatening him with a crib. This was a completely empty threat and stupid thing to say because I had no crib for him. Thankfully the bluff finally worked and after that he was fine.


How cute are these cousins?

Our visit ended way too soon, but we had to continue on our way to Florida. On Thursday morning we packed up (and let me tell you, we were using every spare inch of our car for this trip) and drove about 3 hours to a suburb outside of Atlanta to visit JR’s high school friends. They hosted us for the night and it was perfect. They have a big new house with a finished basement and separate guest area, and a lovely backyard and deck. They grilled out, offered wine and beer, and their kids kept our kids running and laughing the whole time. They even let off some awesome fireworks in their backyard. We’re so glad we were able to see them, and thankful they put up with our crazy crew in the middle of the work week!

We made our last overnight stop in Gainesville, FL. We used Marriott points to stay at a Springhill Suites which had plenty of space for the five of us and an outdoor pool. The next morning we stopped at Depot Park, a great playground and splash pad about ten minutes away in hopes of wearing the kids out before the final stretch of driving to Anna Maria Island.


Success!

And then finally, at last, we made it to the Island! I didn’t take nearly enough pictures of our vacation. We stayed in the same rental house that we used two years ago. The pool and proxmity to the beach, as well as the five bedrooms and one floor layout make it perfect for our family. My parents, brother and sister were with us and we had such a wonderful time. They took Abby and William to the Magic Kingdom for a day while JR and I stayed back with Jake. The kids were in heaven!

 

At the end of the week, JR made a treasure hunt for the kids, with a map and some clues along the way. Abby was over the moon. The hunt ended on the beach where she and William dug up buried “pirate treasure” (aka, way too much money on silly junk toys!). It was sweet though.

The end of a vacation is never fun, but it was particularly nice that we did not have to drive back to Ohio with the kids. My parents and brother VERY GENEROUSLY offered to fly all 3 kids back with them to Ohio. They had Jake on his very first flights! Brave souls.  As we dropped them off and hurried back to our car before they changed their minds, all I could think was “May the odds be ever in your favor!”

 

 

 

Didi Madloba

After four years JR is wrapping up his final week in Tbilisi. He packed out without me and had to deal with my never-ending messages telling him to move this item to this pile, to find this exact shirt I need right now and put it in his suitcase, and a prolonged back and forth about a jean jacket.

I can’t believe our tour in Georgia is over. Of course I knew it was coming, and we are excited for what lies ahead in Egypt. But this week my heart is in Tbilisi. And my heart is with the friends we made there, even those who departed long before us. It would be impossible to thank every person I’ve met or worked with or laughed with who helped make this such a memorable post for us. But I have to tell a few of you how grateful I am to know you!

To V and M, thanks for being there for us since the beginning. I’m not even sure you know this, but when we first arrived at post I was pregnant and would confirm two weeks later that I had miscarried. I traveled to London alone for a D&C and the day after I arrived back in Tbilisi, you invited us to attend a birthday party for your boys. I didn’t know either of you, I think you just invited JR because he was a new work colleague and also because that’s just the kind of welcoming people you are, always reaching out to someone new, always opening your home to people. I was sad and nervous when we showed up but wound up having a really wonderful time watching Abby and the kids play. I looked around at everyone laughing and having fun and realized we were going to be just fine in Tbilisi. So thank you for that, and for your friendship, parenting advice, trivia knowledge, group texts, and more.

My squad…my top-ham loving, wine-drinking, porch and sidewalk chalking, “JENNI I NEED MORE WINE” yelling, oversharing, hilarious, compassionate, smart and amazing group of women – I adore you. I didn’t know how much I needed you until you were just there and now I barely remember a time when you weren’t.

The really talented, smart and awesome people I had the pleasure of working with in Tbilisi – you taught me so much, and I found a job within the Embassy I truly loved. Cassandra and Paula, I loved being a part of a team with you. You made coming to work that much more enjoyable because of the time we spent together.

This part will make me cry, but I want to say thank you to Sopo and Nino. We were so fortunate to find two incredible nannies to take care of our children. They loved them like their own, and became a part of our family. You will always have a place in my heart!

Georgia…you are beautiful, windy, chaotic at times, but ultimately a wonderful place where our family grew from three to five and created lifelong memories along the way. For Mother’s Day, Abby’s class answered some questions about their moms. One question asked “what is something you wish your mom would do?” Abby replied “let me go to Georgia.”  Yesterday, when my mom asked the kids if they wanted anything special from the grocery store, they said khinkali. Georgia is always on their minds. I hope we can all go back some day.

Nakhvamdis.

Dear Abby

Abby, you are FIVE years old today! How lucky are we to have spent the last five years watching you grow? I say it all the time but I can never say it enough – I feel so lucky to be your mom.

You have dealt with so many changes in the last year and you find a way to roll it, far better than I ever could. You switched preschools in January and didn’t flinch walking into class that first day. You were over the moon about having a new sibling from the begining and even though you really wanted a little sister, you have been amazing with Jacob. You are kind, smart, and so funny.

We celebrated your birthday two weeks ago, a little early so JR could be there. It was great being able to celebrate you with our friends and family here. When we gathered around the cake table to sing to you, you buried your face in your hands. I couldn’t tell if you were crying or laughing! I think you were a little overwhelmed having all eyes on you but you were all smiles when it was time to blow out the candles and eat cake.

I had to write down a few of your best quotes so I can remember how much you make us laugh!

On religion

My mom saw Abby pushing an empty swing in the backyard. When my mom asked what she was doing, Abby replied “I’m just pushing Jesus. He’s always with me.”

On Jacob

“He is the love of my life.”

“I just can’t stand it. I can’t stand how much I love him.”

“I did want a little sister but I didn’t want to tell you in the hospital because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

Me: “When are you going to help me change a dirty diaper?”
Abby: “Never. Not even when I’m a grown up.”
Me: “What about when you have kids? Who’s going to change their dirty diapers?
Abby: “My husband.”

On growing up

“I can’t wait to be a grown up. I think I’m going to be really good at it.”

“Mom, when I’m a grown up, how will I know how to make conversation?”

“When I grow up I’m going to do hair and clothes and have kids and the dad will stay home with them.”

On clothing, from my child who basically refused to wear anything other than skirts for the last year.

Abby: “Where are my jeans?”
Me: “Um, you don’t have jeans? You’ve never asked to wear them before.”
Abby: “I only want to wear skirts for fancy days now. I want to wear pants and all the time.”

Sigh.

We love you sweet girl!

6 weeks

Somehow Jacob is already 6 weeks old! He’s growing like crazy. He loves to eat and sleep, and that’s really all he does right now.

We had family photos done by Ashley Lindeman again and they turned out so well. Very grateful for these three adorable kids!
Abby picked out her own necklace, telling me her outfit needed “a little pop of color.” Even though it was like herding cats, we were able to bribe  them with treats long enough to get a few good shots.

We took Jacob for his passport pictures a few weeks ago. Like his brother and sister before him, he went through this delightful tradition of laying on a piece of poster board on the ground while adults hover above trying to get a picture. It was not easy, but we thought we nailed it.  Last week we finally had all the forms we needed for his application so we went to the title office downtown. Right away they told us the picture was too close to his face. So once again I found myself on the floor at Rite-Aid kindly asking my newborn to open his eyes, look straight ahead, and keep his mouth closed.


First and second attempts

Usually, we would be frantically finising paperwork, waiting on passports and visas, and doing a ton of last minute prep before returning to post. And while we are actually doing all of those things, we’ve decided that the kids and I will not be going back to Tbilisi. It’s still a little hard to say that, even though we made the decision a while ago. We gave it a lot of thought and went back and forth on what made the most sense for our family. Our official departure date from Tbilisi is the first of June, which would have given us about 7 weeks back there. During that time, we would spend most of it preparing to leave and packing out with 3 kids underfoot which doesn’t sound easy or fun. The kids are also really settled here. Abby loves her school, and she’s taking gymnastics and swim lessons each week. William and Jacob are doing great too. When we really thought about the packing, the flights and the jet lag, just to turn around and do it again 7 weeks later, the decision became pretty clear.

I’m still really sad about it. I can’t believe I won’t see my house, my friends, or coworkers again, or the city that we have come to love over the last 4 years. When we left in January, we never considered this possibility. I don’t even know if I made my bed! (No, actually I’m certain I didn’t. We left the house at like 3am. I definitely did not make my bed.) We also had to weigh how this would impact the kids, especially Abby. Luckily she is really happy here and we are getting into a routine. It will all change next week when JR leaves, but we’ll work it out.

We are taking advantage of every nice day, and all of the fun and cheese America has to offer. We’ve been to parks and playgrounds, we took everyone bowling, and we even went to Chuck E. Cheese.  JR built the kids a play structure in the backyard and they love it. They have changed and grown so much in the last 3 months, and for the most part we are enjoying it. William’s tantrums leave a lot to be desired. Recently I’ve tried to ignore him when he does it, which leads to him shaking is fist or whatever toy is in his hand at me and saying “Do you hear me Mommy? Do you hear me??” Delightful, truly.

We are making plans for Cairo. I’m applying for jobs and we enrolled Abby in school (I can’t believe she is going to kindergarten. I have a LOT of feelings.) Lots of changes on the horizon but we are excited!

 

Hamilton and Jacob

Some pretty exciting things have happened over the last month. We welcomed our third baby, Jacob, into the world about three weeks ago. And JR surprised me with tickets to see Hamilton just before the baby arrived. If you think it’s a little odd that I’m putting Hamilton on the same level as having another child, well then you probably haven’t seen Hamilton.

It was SO, SO good. Months ago, when we knew we’d be in Ohio and that the show was touring in Columbus at the same time, we looked into buying tickets. They were super expensive and we decided we’d just wait for an opportunity down the road. JR gave me my Valentine’s card a few days early, which made me a little suspicious that something was up even though we had agreed no gifts this year. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the tickets to the show! We were a little nervous because I was 38+ weeks pregnant, so we made sure to pack our hospital bags in the car just in case when we drove the hour and a half to Columbus. JR joked that the tickets were so expensive that if I went into labor during the show I had to stick it out til the end. Luckily it was a non-issue and we were able to enjoy every second of the performance. If you have a chance to see it, you absolutely should. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack ever since.

In fact, we listened to some of my favorite songs from the musical while I was in labor. I cannot say enough good things about my doctor here, and how lucky I feel that she was able to deliver all 3 of our children. And she’s a Hamilton fan, so she was singing right along with us. Jacob was born on 2/22 and we are in love. I knew he would be our last baby, so it was a day full of last moments and lots of emotions.

Most of the newborn stuff is coming back to us, but juggling 3 kids (even with a tremendous amount of help from our family) is definitely a new challenge. We’re taking it day by day. Abby is embracing her big sister role and William is indifferent for the most part.

Hopefully the next time I write I’ll be getting a little bit more sleep!

 

Our Next Assignment

In the craziness of the last several weeks (government shutdown, the holidays, returning to Ohio, more government shutdown) I sort of blocked out all the stress and ultimately, relief, we dealt with during this bidding cycle.

Although the official bidding cycle for our next overseas post didn’t start until August, we were talking about potential posts all year. JR and his colleagues made informal inquiries to various places and tried to guess which jobs and locations would make the list. When the official list was released, we still had to wait because the priority bidders (folks currently serving unaccompanied tours) are the only bidders in the first round, as an incentive to go to those dangerous/hard to fill posts. We were also told that certain places on the list, even though they were on there and we would be interested in being posted there, would not be filled for one reason or another. We waited anxiously for the priority bidding round to finish so that JR could make a push for the places we really wanted to go that remained open.

A few technical points on bidding for potential posts: 1) You are allowed to bid on a minimum of 4 and maximum of 8 posts/positions; 2) You are required to bid on one unaccompanied post, one “hard to fill/critical post”, and one “priority post”.  Those can change each year. 3) JR has to interview for and lobby for the positions he wants. 4) Ultimately, the post, DC, and other powers that be meet to determine who goes where. Yes, your list and preferences are considered, but they also have to consider the needs of the agency, employees and families with medical limitations, and a million other factors.

The priority round ended I believe at the end of September, leaving JR a few weeks to really push for the positions he wanted. He was in close contact with people from those posts, through emails and informal calls as well as official interviews. It’s a delicate dance and guessing game. Posts can rank up to 3 people that they want to fill their opening. Ideally, the posts you rank high will also rank you high. But some posts don’t want to divulge how they are ranking you, so it feels a lot like a middle school relationship. Do you like me? Ok but do you like me as much as I like you? Give me a hint!

We were right in the height of all of this when we took our family trip to Paris. We were dealt some blows (one post had two positions in SE Asia we were super excited about and planned to bid high, and then at the last minute we were told they wouldn’t be filling either of those jobs after all) and some surprises (a post we had written off completely asked JR for a last minute interview and said they were really interested in him). It made for a tense vacation and lots of agonizing and going back and forth about how to rank our list, where we coud possibly end up, what was best for JR’s career, and what was best for our family.

At the end of October he submitted his bid list. We felt really great about our top 4-5 places, less so about the bottom 3. Then came several more weeks of waiting. We were told assignments would start to be made the first week of December. In addition to pregnancy insomnia, I was having trouble falling asleep while waiting for late night or super early morning email notices from DC (Tbilisi is 9 hours ahead) that would seal our fate. The first round of assignments was released December 6 and JR’s name wasn’t on it. Unfortunately, our number one post was listed, but with another name beside it. Double whammy. Over the next two weeks, more and more rounds of assignments were made and each time, JR’s name was not on it. It was so disappointing and frustrating each time another notice came out. We knew that a potential shutdown was looming, which would certainly stop assignments for a while, and we also knew there was a possiblity JR would not be assigned at ALL and we’d have to start the entire process over again in January. The stress and anxiety was really wearing on us and I found myself struggling to focus on the holidays.

The government shutdown on Friday, December 21 at midnight. A few hours before that, while we were sleeping, Round 7 of the assignments was released and finally, FINALLY, we made the list. We are super excited for our next adventure because we are moving to…

 

CAIRO, EGYPT in summer 2019!!

The first few weeks

Having done this transition back to America a few times now, I thought I had a good plan for our first few weeks. JR was scheduled to fly us to Ohio, then fly to DC two days later and spend about a month there with training, consultations and a work conference. We didn’t want to be apart that long so we bought tickets for the kids and I to meet him there over MLK weekend. I also wanted to get our doctor’s appointments scheduled and done as soon as possible, in case there were any issues that would require follow up. This included meeting with William’s allergist to hopefully do a food challenge to test his egg allergy.

Well you know what they say about plans – everything kind of fell apart. As you are likely aware, the government partially shutdown at the end of December and just reopened after 35 days. All of Justin’s work trip was canceled, although incrementally as the powers that be hoped things would resolve and then they didn’t. This made it difficult for us to anticipate whether we’d still go to DC, whether he’d still be with us, and just generally made planning impossible. Jet lag also hit us really hard, so trying to maintain a schedule right away was tough. We wanted Abby to start preschool here and we also signed her up for gymnastics (happy to report she is enjoying both) but that meant a lot of in and out of the car and places we needed to be at certain times that first week. Both kids were scheduled for well-child checks, and we had to take William for a blood draw for his allergy test a week before appointment with the doctor. They tried both arms and couldn’t get enough blood – super stressful for everyone and especially him. We had to take him back the next day to do it again and thankfully they managed to get what they needed.


Two healthy babes!

Once the results of the blood test were in, we took William to Cleveland to meet with his allergist, Dr. Eli Silver, for a food challenge. We prepared a scambled egg and they checked on us several times over a 2 hour period as we gave him increasing amounts. Happy to report that William is officially allowed to eat eggs now! A huge thank you to Dr. Silver, who started working with us when William was just six months old. He initially had an allergy to eggs and showed a likelihood of developing a peanut allergy, but thanks to Dr. Silver and his recommendations, we are free of the epi-pen and he’s cleared to eat anything he wants! This mostly includes Goldfish and air, but he does seem happy about the eggs.

As I mentioned, Abby started preschool here right after we arrived. She goes 3 mornings a week (quite a change from her full time schedule in Tbilisi) but she is really enjoying it. We were wondering how well she’d do the first week – it’s a lot of change and new things at once, but it helped so much that she has a friend here, Eden, that she’s known since she was first born! Since we video chat with my Mom almost every day and she sometimes watches Eden, they’re able to keep in touch. They have the sweetest friendship and having Eden with her as she started at her new school helped her so much.

 

First day of preschool, and a bonus pic of these two when they were only a few weeks old!

After a rough first week of adjusting, we are all settling in nicely now. Abby in particular is cracking me up with her observations about the world and some of the new things she’s learning. Her preschool is based in a church so she’s coming home with some new questions for us. We’re doing our best to navigate them.

Recent conversation:
Abby: Did you know that when you are dead you are not really dead, you just go to another country?
Me:  Do you mean Heaven? It’s not really another country. Some people believe our spirit, what makes you you on the inside, goes there when you die. But dead is dead, sweetie.
Abby:  What do we do in Heaven?
Me: No one really knows. People believe you are really happy there though.
Abby: Oh, so we can watch tv and have snacks there?

She also continues to bring her own unique style to each day.

Other things we’re enjoying (sort of) are lots of snow and cold in Ohio. The kids made snowmen and “helped” JR shovel. The cold has been fun and all, but I’m definitely not looking forward to this “polar vortex” they are expecting the next 3 days!

 
Yes, our snowman is wearing a skirt.

A real highlight for Abby was a trip to Cleveland with her Nana. They visited the Children’s Museum, stayed in a hotel, and saw Disney on Ice. These two are living their best lives!