Christmas in Cairo, Part Deux

Happy New Year! We had a really busy two weeks full of food, presents and family time. My mom arrived on the 21st and definitely made the most of her visit.

She brought some holiday cheer in the form of Christmas light necklaces, headbands, and one bag completely full of presents, crafts, and my Grandma’s famous peanut butter fudge.

She made crafts and tons of cookies with the kids.

       

We tried our best to get a decent photo of all three kids… It is what it is.

We marveled at the Christmas morning gift-opening aftermath and wondered where we would put ALL THAT STUFF. The size of our apartment already has us limiting the amount of toys that are out at one time and I had a toy-rotation even before the holidays began. So that continues to be challenge.

We took my mom around to the sites, visited a few pyramids, and Abby posed with another camel.

We played a lot of Guess Who?, which brought back some great childhood memories for me. Abby also received the game Outfoxed from her Aunt and Uncle in Kansas City, and it’s a really fun game for kids. Highly recommend.

Took my mom on a felucca ride on the Nile. The kids loved the ride but William was sad he didn’t see any crocodiles.

Didn’t want to let a whole holiday season pass with no snow, so we visited Ski Egypt, an indoor snowpark/skiing/tubing place at the Mall of Egypt.

Skiing in the desert. Go figure.

My mom constantly put JR and I to shame and gets an A plus for effort at all times. She even brought out some science experiments, including constructing and painting a volcano that they  “erupted“ outside the apartment.

JR and my mom took them to the Children’s Museum in Heliopolis. They learned about tombs, mummies (maybe a little too much detail on the mummies) and digging for artifacts.

We were really impressed with the ease in which my Mom became accustomed to Cairo. She downloaded Uber and WhatsApp and had no trouble making her way around our neighborhood. Which is amazing considering it took us months to feel at home.  She had several massages since she was, technically, on vacation.  She took Abby to the hair salon for blow outs, manicures, and they even went back a second time with William and both kids got haircuts. All in all, a pretty impressive showing by mom.

It really was so wonderful having her here and we can’t wait to see her again!

A Day in the Life

A fellow blogger just posted about how she doesn’t like to be called lucky for her and her husband’s choice to live overseas. I thought it was an interesting read and it’s been on my mind a lot, especially this week because JR is traveling. It’s only my second week at work and it’s really tough when we still living out of our suitcases, still figuring out our morning routine, and just working full-time with 3 little kids. It’s a big adjustment.

Here’s how my day went.

4:00am – Jake wakes up crying. I settle him back to sleep, but now I can’t sleep because I’m sure he’ll wake up again, and since the kids share a bedroom wall, he’ll wake the other two up. He’s finally quiet and I think it’s safe to shower. I don’t actually want to shower at 4:45 in the morning, but it seems like the right move.
5:00am – Jake is up again. I rush out of the bathroom barely taking a second to dry off so I can scoop him up and take him to my room before he makes too much noise. This time I give him a bottle and manage to get him back to sleep in the pack n play we set up in our bedroom.
5:30am – I don’t know what to do now, because I’m in my robe with wet hair, but Jake is asleep in my room. My bathroom door is right beside him and I can’t do my hair or anything without waking him up. I get the sound machine from his room and plug it into the bathroom, then quietly take my hair dryer, straightener and makeup to the bathroom on the other end of the apartment.
6:00am – I eat some toast and putz on my phone and think, well, if nothing else at least we have plenty of time and I won’t be rushing out the door this morning since I leave at 7 for work.
6:20am – Abby and William are up. I give them cereal and then straighten Abby’s hair because it’s picture day at her school.
6:40am – Jake is awake again, but at least Remy, our nanny, is here now to help. Abby is dressing herself, William is making a huge mess with his cereal, and Jake is crying because he’s not feeling well and is running a slight temperature. I give him medicine and then hand him off to Remy because I’m still not dressed (as my clothes are in the aforementioned bedroom where he was asleep, and also because getting dressed for work is a real process right now. I am still dealing with the dreaded baby weight. Note, I plan to call it baby weight for at least the next 3 years.)
6:50am – I’m panicking now. Abby is in tears because she can’t find this little hairbrush that JR bought her a few days ago. The school said students could bring a favorite stuffed animal and/or toy for picture day, and apparently that’s her new favorite toy and the ONLY thing she wants to take. And it’s missing.
7:00am – We locate the hairbrush and the tears are miraculously gone. Jake is still fussing and I feel like a terrible mother for leaving him when he might not be feeling well. I can’t spare a moment though, because I cannot miss my ride to work.
7:40-11:00am. Still learning the ropes at work. Meetings, fielding questions I can’t answer just yet, eyes glazing over at all the emails coming in, wishing I could take a nap.
11:05am – Remy texted me to say Jake’s fever was not going down and she thought I should take him to the doctor. I was feeling very “ehhh third baby, it’s a fever, he’s okay,” especially since he’s been drooling non-stop and we expect that he’ll start teething soon. Then I felt guilty so I called the Med Unit to make an appointment. Now, we live in Maadi which is a suburb of Cairo, and it can take 25-45 minutes or more to drive from our home to the Embassy, which is downtown. The health unit is located at the Embassy, but twice a week they have office hours at the USAID building, which is conveniently in Maadi. Thankfully this happened on a day when the doctor was available at USAID, so I took the first appointment they had for 2:00pm.
12:00 – I canceled a meeting, finished up a few things at work as quickly as I could, and then walked outside to catch an Uber. I’ve used Uber frequently since arriving and rarely have issues. It can take longer than expected, and they often don’t have seat belts so it’s not my preferred method of travel but without a car, my options are limited. On this particular day, the Uber driver kept going in circles and did not get any closer to my actual location. I canceled and asked for another. Same thing happened. Not only was I getting frustrated, I was also feeling increasingly uncomfortable standing outside by myself because on this day I happened to be wearing a dress. Now, the dress came to my knees and had flutter sleeves, so it wasn’t particularly showy and I felt perfectly fine at work, but now being out in public I was hyperaware that I was showing more skin than anyone else around me. No one said anything to me, but many people stared. My third Uber request finally worked, after about 20 minutes of waiting.
12:45pm – I arrived back at our apartment, ate lunch quickly and changed, and contacted a driver that we’ve used before to take me to USAID. It’s not easy to find because of construction, and also since I was going to have Jake with me, I wanted seat belts and someone to wait for me there so I didn’t have to go through an Uber again. Then came a lengthy internal debate about which stroller to take (the double or the single travel stroller) and serious frustration that the one I wanted to take is in our shipment, which is arriving approximately never.
2:00pm – The driver picked us up and we drove to the appointment. I manhandled my double stroller through doors that were just an inch too small and met with the doctor. Jake was fine, no infection, just maybe a virus or teething which is what I expected. I told the driver the appointment would probably take 30-45 minutes, but we were done pretty quickly. I texted to say we’d be outside in 5 minutes. He texted back that he would be back in 15-20 minutes. Urgh. We wound up waiting 30 minutes for a ride home. I was displeased.
3:30pm – I figured, if I’m home early from work and Remy is still here, I should use this time wisely and take a nap. Ha. Ha. Ha. The kids were so loud, they kept running in my bedroom for urgent things like, “Abby looked at me funny”, and “Mom can I have a drink of water.”
5:00pm – I didn’t get a nap but I did enjoy laying in bed and reading a book in between interruptions, so we’ll call it a win. Remy stayed to help with dinner and baths. I don’t know if I’m lucky to be living overseas or not but I do feel very lucky that we found another great nanny.

9:00pm – I treated myself to an early bedtime.

Now of course this is not a “normal” day. JR rarely has to travel for work at his new job in Egypt. Most of the time no one is sick in our house. And someday, our car and our things will arrive. But it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes.

 

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!

 

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!

 

Tbilisi-Munich-Newark-Cleveland

Two weeks ago we finished packing our bags, said goodbye to friends, and loaded into two Suburbans to make our way to the airport. The first red flag occurred when we realized that the cars didn’t have the car seats we requested. Usually I wouldn’t even think about driving on a Georgian road without car seats but it was in the middle of the night and a decision had to be made, and to be honest it wasn’t even that difficult of a decision because I wasn’t about to install two car seats right then. The drive went fine and the kids sang Georgian songs all the way there, to the delight of our driver. The car behind us was hauling our 7 suitcases, car seats and stroller. It only takes about 35 minutes to get to the airport in the middle of the night, which for me is just enough time for the adrenaline to start to fade and my eyes to get heavy. No time for that!

When we parked and unloaded, JR and I counted the bags and we were one short. Holy panic. We cut it close when we arrive at the airport because I want to avoid waiting around for an extra hour before such a long day, but it was quickly clear to me there wouldn’t be enough time for a driver to go back and pick up our bag and then return to the airport before we departed. We’re standing outside the airport, it’s cold, the kids are confused and I didn’t know what we should do. We asked one of the drivers to call the guards at our house to ask if there was a spare suitcase hanging out on our porch that was mistakenly left behind. Just as he got on the phone, someone came up to us and pointed back about 30 feet away at a lone suitcase hanging out on the sidewalk. Somehow the other driver unloaded it but missed bringing it to the rest of the group. Crisis averted.

The flight to Munich was fine. It’s just under 4 hours and the kids mostly ate breakfast and watched shows. I talked up our 3 hour layover in Munich, telling the kids how we’d find an awesome playground and have time to play.  There was a play area we’ve stopped at on almost each flight, shortly after we made it through security. It’s okay but not as nice as others they have, so we didn’t stay long. We picked up some soft pretzels on the way to our gate area, hoping we’d have one of the newer, bigger play areas close by.  We walked and walked and walked. We had to go through another security screen (this was our third time that morning. They asked us a bunch of questions, then sent me and the kids off to one side while JR had to go through the whole deal again). After that, we were at some random lone gate at the far end of the airport. No food other than vending machines, and certainly no play area. I was disappointed – Munich is usually a great layover spot for us but due to our gate location it was a bummer this time. The kids barely noticed and chased each other around the waiting area while JR went off in search of more hot pretzels to tide us over.

Because I was on a med evac ticket and we couldn’t get seats together, we qualified for extended economy seating for the flight to Newark. I definitely noticed and appreciated the increased leg room. We all fell asleep shortly after takeoff and that got us through the first 2 hours of the flight.

The remaining 6.5 hours, however were ROUGH. Abby did mostly fine, she watched the in-flight movies and her iPad, had a ton of snacks, and didn’t complain too much. William was a different story. He’s not that into shows or the iPad yet and he refused to let me sit by him (which meant JR didn’t really get a break the rest of the flight) and required near constant entertainment. Not easy to do when you are confined to a small space and trying to make minimal noise to not disturb those around us trying to sleep. You can tell yourself “it’s only one day, this will end eventually, people deal with much more difficult things than this” and then you look up and only 3 minutes have passed since you last looked at the clock. And then if you’re me, you hate everyone and question all life choices that led you to be trapped on an airplane with two small children for another 6 hours.

We landed in Newark grateful to be in the America finally, but that passed kind of fast because to be honest, the Newark airport is kind of awful. We waited a lifetime for our bags. We paid a well-worth it $20 for a porter to help us collect them and transport them through passport control and customs. I highly recommend doing this because it allowed us to pass two lines, and it was a bit of a walk from point A to point B, and would have been very difficult even with both of us, considering the amount of luggage we had plus the kids in their stroller.  We rode a tram to our gate and then had to go through security for the FOURTH time. The line was long and William had a dirty diaper. I asked the first TSA agent if they had a family line. She gave me a ‘you must be joking’ look and then shook her head no. She did take a moment to ask me “So, when do you blow up?”. I can only guess she meant when am I due to have this baby? Although no one has ever asked me in such flowery terms before.  After winding through the aisles we asked a second agent if we might be able to bypass the line due to William’s diaper and she very nicely let us move to the front. The next agent spent a few moments looking over our boarding passes and IDs, and while she did I filled JR in on what the previous lady had asked me. The woman with our IDs looked up and said “that’s not the kind of joke you want to make in an airport.” Um…yeah, got that, thanks. I’m just relaying WHAT YOUR COWORKER JUST SAID TO ME TWO MINUTES AGO. It was around this time of hating everyone and everything that I added Newark to my list of places I plan to never return.

Also while going through security they made me empty all of our water bottles (including the kids – usually they just take them to the side and check them?) and they told me to pull all of the food out of our bags. I was incredulous. We had food shoved in every nook and cranny of our 3 carry on bags. I’ll note again this was our FOURTH TIME going through security for the day. Needless to say I was grumpy and hungry when we finally made it to our gate area to find a restaurant.  Abby was passed out in the stroller, but William colored happily while JR and I gorged on chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks.  The two appetizers, grilled cheese for William, and two soft drinks totaled over $50. Missed you, America!

We had more than 3 hours to wait after we finished eating. JR, being a super person and having more energy than me, pushed the stroller around until both kids passed out.

It was a long layover without much to do and we were exhausted. We were in such a state of mind that we actually had a conversation about not bringing the kids back with us to Tbilisi since we’re only planning to be there for like 6 weeks or so and didn’t want to put them (or us) through the experience again only to have to have to do it all over again when we come back this summer for home leave.  While I was making my points, JR said that we really shouldn’t make any important decisions given our lack of sleep.  To be continued, sir.

So finally it was time to board our third and last flight to Cleveland. Both kids were still sound asleep. I carried Abby on the plane and he grabbed William (while simultaneously collapsing the double stroller – impressive feat) and we made it on our last flight. Abby laid across two seats and slept the entire way, and William slept on JR’s lap until the last 5 minutes. Even though JR’s arms were numb, we couldn’t have asked for more at the end of the day.

My parents were waiting to pick us up and the kids perked up when they saw them. It helped that Nana had promised to have Christmas cookies and juice for them. All of our bags arrived and just one hour later we were home sweet home for the next 3 months!