Make new friends, but keep the old

Many, many moons ago I was a Girl Scout, and I remember singing that song at summer camps. I think about those lyrics quite often in this crazy overseas life. Making friends is one of the best and worst parts about the foreign service. In some ways it’s great because I like meeting new people and I’ve already been so fortunate to make new lifelong friends. On the other hand, making new friends can be intimidating and awkward. You’re starting completely from scratch at each new post, just hoping to find someone (and if you’re really lucky, a few someones) that “gets” you.

I know I’m lucky to have the friends that I do. Some of my earliest memories include meeting and becoming best friends with Ashleigh in Mrs. Lehman’s first grade class at Maple Street School. She was so cool and I knew I wanted to be just like her. Almost 30 years later, Ashleigh is still one of my dearest friends, and while we no longer fight over who gets to ride in the front seat, I still kind of want to be like her. I’ve written before about my hometown group of girlfriends and how much they mean to me. We’re reuniting again in just a few weeks and I can’t wait to see them. I also have a fun date planned with my very best friend from college, and some of the awesome people JR and I met in law school are making the pilgrimage to Orrville in July for a cookout. I’m counting down the days until these visits!

When we decided to live overseas, saying goodbye was hard. Staying in touch means making time to see each other when I’m in Ohio and that often requires months of advance planning, but my friends are pros at this and are no longer surprised when I email them 6 months out asking them to set aside a date for some quality time while I’m home. We email, text and call as often as we can and we’re grateful for the time we have together. Still, I miss out on birthdays, get togethers, play dates and other fun things. I’ve asked them to stop having fun without me but no one seems interested in that request.

Arriving in Kosovo with no job and no friends, I knew I needed to find my people quickly. And thank goodness I did. Without Amy and Jessica, I probably couldn’t have made it through that first tour. It helps so much to have someone else who knows exactly what you are going through when you experience the highs and lows of the foreign service. Our time in the same country (actually, on the same continent as we’re on 3 different ones right now) was short-lived, but thankfully they’re just a gchat and a few time zones away.

I dreaded starting over once again in Georgia. I know I’m a broken record about this, but the first few weeks and months in a new place is really draining on me. Before we arrived I was emailing with ET, the wife of one of Justin’s future work colleagues. She offered to answer any of my questions about life in Tbilisi, and while I initially tried to reign in my crazy, I let it all fly after just a few exchanges. I could tell instantly by her responses that she was my kind of people. When we landed and I had no phone, no car, and definitely no friends, she swooped in and I loved her from the start. Our husbands and kids became friends, and they introduced us to more of their friends, and it all seemed so easy and comfortable. We expected to have 3 years here together but they left early for a great new job offer. Happy for their good fortune but sad to lose them, we enjoyed our last few weekends together and finally got around to taking pictures. Amazingly, in the year+ that we spent together, ET and I didn’t have a single photo of the two of us until the night before we left!

Our girls


Our farewell photo shoot

I was fortunate to have other girlfriends still at post when I returned after having William, so I didn’t have to start all over, but there were some new arrivals and potential friends to be made. Constantly putting yourself out there to make new friends can be tiring. Most people assume I’m an extrovert, but I definitely have introvert tendencies. I also struggle with social anxiety sometimes and worry about silly things when I meet someone new. Should I send her a Facebook friend request or is it too soon? Can I wear yoga pants to your house?  Do you like dessert? Were you team Noel or Ben, Big or Aidan, Brandon or Dylan? (The correct answers are Ben, Aidan, Dylan.)

In the beginning I’m questioning myself constantly. It’s a huge relief when I can do things like send a mid-morning text saying I need to vent and then show up at a friend’s house and she has mimosas ready (thank you, Marisa) or respond to an invitation to come over with “Okay, I’m coming over but I’m still in the clothes I slept in” (thank you, Bridget).

Friendships and goodbyes have been on my mind as we enter another summer transfer season. Some of our great friends and their families are departing, including the above mentioned Marisa and her daughter, K, who is Abby’s best buddy. These two are full of mischief and giggles, and it’s been so much fun watching them grow up together the last two years.

 

As Marisa keeps reminding me, it’s not goodbye, it’s see you soon. So to my amazing friends all over the world, I’ll see you soon!

 

Six weeks in!

We’ve already been in country for more than six weeks – I can’t believe it!  So many things have happened in the last few weeks, but here are the highlights.

– We moved from our TDY (temporary) house into our permanent house and it’s beautiful and we love it.  Due to a scheduling conflict, I was actually not here the day we had to move, and of course, on that same day we were scheduled to receive ALL of our shipments, not just UAB (which usually arrives quickly) but also our consumables and HHE (which usually arrive later).  We are super grateful to have all of our clothes and furniture so fast, but it made for a crazy day that JR had to handle solo.  So far we only know of one major casualty:  the power cord for our TV has not been located.  We ordered a replacement cord online, but it hasn’t arrived yet so we’re lucky that a new friend had one we could borrow for a bit.

– We are almost done unpacking and getting settled into our new house.  When I arrived, despite giving JR and the GSO guys what I thought were really clear instructions, I found every.single.bed in the wrong bedroom.  That meant that we spent the first few hours taking apart every.single.bed and moving each one to the correct room, instead of unpacking.   Lesson learned, nothing will keep me from being here for move-in day in the future.

pivot

– Our neighborhood is awesome.  In real life, it’s everything JR would prefer to avoid – small gated community, identical houses very close to each other, and far from the city center.  But this isn’t real life and we don’t own it, and it’s perfect for our time in Tbilisi.  We are so grateful for the little community, and especially how many little kids live on our street.  A few times now we’ve come home from work to find Abby outside with her nanny playing with other kids, and it’s exactly what we wanted.  Our yard is even bigger than I had expected, and we have a beautiful view from our back patio.  After living in an apartment most of our adult lives, it’s awesome to be able to walk right outside from our front or back doors!

– I started working and I’m really enjoying it so far.  I barely have a clue what is going on, but my co-workers are patient and nice, and so far it seems like it will be a good fit for me.   Things are also going very well with our nanny, and that makes it a lot easier to leave for work in the mornings.

– We are street legal!  Although we bought our car the day after we arrived, we couldn’t legally drive it until we completed our registration.   And we couldn’t be registered until we received our Diplomatic IDs which took 3 weeks.  In the meantime we had to rely on taxis, which was a huge pain with Abby’s car seat, and annoying for JR to get to work because sometimes they pull up within 2 minutes and other times it takes 15.  Being able to drive ourselves around is so much easier and we feel like we can finally explore the city.  On the one hand, I feel prepared to drive here after living in Kosovo, but at the same time Tbilisi is a much bigger and busier city (with poles that come out of NOWHERE. Yes, I already backed into a pole), so there will still be a learning curve.

dumb and dumber

– Many people talk about the honeymoon phase of arriving at a new post.  For me, I definitely experience that, but with intervals of “oh my gosh, this is terrible, I can’t live like this” – typically in reaction to something that is relatively trivial, like for example the pedestal sink in my bathroom (why, why why would ANYONE ever want one of these in their master bath!?).  Other issues, like the serious ant invasion, stress me out but I’m hopeful we will get them resolved soon.   I was just talking to a friend about this sort of thing, how the highs you experience are very high, but the lows can be really low.  Being able to react rationally and keep a sense of perspective is something that I’ve tried to work on with all of our travels.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, and all that jazz.

 

– Having friends wherever I am is really important to me.  I’m lucky to have so many great friends from various stages and places in my life, and while sometimes the prospect of making new friends is daunting, I know I need to do it to make this place a happy home.   Everyone we’ve met has been so welcoming and helpful, but at first you still wonder, will I really make close friends here?  If I had any doubt, a text from a new friend that ended with “pick me up, Thelma!” helped me realize that we’ll have lifelong friends here in no time.

Step-Brothers-Did-we-just-become-best-friends

 

Where I’m from

I grew up in a very small town in northeastern Ohio.  Very small.  When I was younger, I think we had about 8 stoplights total, and it was a huge deal when a Taco Bell opened (although we have always had a Dairy Queen, and thank goodness because it is one of my favorite places ever).  Growing up with 130 some kids in my graduating class, you knew everybody’s business and you could learn a lot just depending on who you ran into at Buehler’s or Bert’s.  To further complicate things, it often felt like I was related to half the town.

My friends and I complained – a LOT – about not having anything fun to do, how boring and small our town was, and how driving 40 minutes to get to a mall was a serious tragedy.   Once we all had our licenses (again, except for poor Allison) a Friday night football game and cruising around town became the highlight of our bustling social lives.  Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how this was fun or exciting, but in our minds, it was the only thing to do.  It wasn’t until I started college that I realized just how “small town” it is to cruise around for entertainment.

dazed and confused

I didn’t start to truly appreciate my hometown until I left it.  I suppose that’s not unusual.  But now, thousands of miles away, I’m very proud to talk about where I come from, and the fact that I’m still incredibly close with my group of friends from home.  These aren’t just high school friends –  out of our group of 5 girls, 4 of us have been friends since the first and second grade, and then we let Allison tag along when we met her in junior high. (Kidding, APN.  Love you!)

We all went off to different colleges, and then we started moving to different cities and states, and even different countries.  We got married and had babies.  It’s harder and harder to make time to stay in touch, and especially to get everyone together in the same place.  But we always make the effort.  We send each other e-mails about what’s happening in our lives, the big stuff and the small stuff, the happy and the sad.

But my favorite times are when we’re all able to be together.  It’s more and more infrequent, in fact our most recent gathering was a full 2 years after the last time we’d all been together, but from the laughs and the jokes, you’d have thought we did this weekly.  These are some of the kindest, funniest, and loyal women you could ever hope to know, and I’m so proud and thankful to call them my friends.

A photo trip down memory lane.  I had to pull out my photo albums for these first few, in the pre-digital/Facebook era.

Justhe5ofus

High school graduation – 2001

I can’t find any pictures of just the 5 of us all together from 2002-2006.  I’m sure they exisit, but I couldn’t find any!

bjorn 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bjorn’s wedding – summer 2007

spa day

 Spa/winery visit –  spring 2009

allison

Allison’s wedding – summer 2010

desktop kristen

Kristen’s wedding – summer 2011

our wedding

 My wedding – summer 2012

jerrys 2012

 Jerry’s – December 2012

2014

Jerry’s – December 2014

Despite the distance and crazy busy lives, I love that I can always count on them for anything, and our reunion in December was one of the highlights of my trip back home.  See you girls in Europe in 2017, right?