Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How I Agree with Paul Ryan

It wouldn't take very long to compile a list of the ways that Paul Ryan and I agree politically.  I'd have more fun building a list of the many areas where we disagree.  But I've enjoyed hearing him prioritize his family as he prepares for the speakership.  I am constantly flummoxed by work-life balance in today's world - where a man wanting to limit his work responsibilities on the weekends when he lives in a different city from his children five days out of seven is making news.  Obviously, he's making news for other reasons as well.  All the same, our collective standard for family time and work-life balance remains low.  Googling him this morning, I learned that Ryan and his wife are raising their children in the same small town where they grew up, surrounded by family and steeped in community and tradition.  He told Cokie Roberts that not only do they not wish to move to Washington, they also can't afford to.

And this is where I stand with Paul Ryan.  We can't afford to move to Washington on a government salary, either.

Dave is nearing the end of bidding season, where Foreign Service Officers "bid" on their next position within the department.  Assignments will be officially announced at the beginning of November, but neither job seekers nor job offer-ers want to reach that date without a promise that their match will be reciprocated.  It is an exciting and stressful season.

Dave was offered a job in Washington, D.C.  He was offered a job that he has sought before, a competitive job that excites him and would advance his career.  He had 24 hours to respond.  We were excited at the prospect, and weighed the pros and cons.  Financially, it would be difficult, we thought. But we could go home, to a neighborhood where people still know our names, a church where people still pray for us.  We asked the girls.  They knew they would face extra chores and that I would go back to work full-time, so they weighed their options carefully.  In Washington, they knew, we would see snow and parks and old friends, and spend holidays with family.  The pros were in - Washington would be a great move.

Then we looked at the cons.  Financially, it would be difficult.  But when we ran the numbers, we were floored.  We could not find a way to budget our next few years in Washington without hitting negative numbers every month.  We probably could afford to be Paul Ryan's neighbors in small town Wisconsin, but we can no more afford a move to Washington than he can.

This hit me hard, for a few reasons.

Reason #1 - We are not poor.  We can afford to travel and save money for our kids college tuitions. We will likely receive no financial aid.  We can choose for me to stay home with the girls; it is a choice that I work.  If we scraped and saved this year, we could afford a house in many Midwestern towns.  But the Washington area is no Midwestern town.  It is one of the most expensive cities in the United States.  Not only would I have to work full-time, but I could not afford to work in my field - I am a social worker with an interest in community development and a government salary added to a social service salary does not a Northern Virginia lifestyle make.  Earning triple digits would still leave us in debt most months.  We would be lucky to pay $2,500 in rent - likely we would pay over $3,500.  Adding after-care for the girls and we have far exceeded my likely salary.  I am not complaining - I know many of you face tougher monthly budgets than I'm describing.  But I was shocked.  We could return to our old neighborhood in DC, work a lot, live in 2-bedrooms, and pull the girls out of piano lessons and soccer.  Or we could stay abroad.  We voted to stay abroad.

Reason #2 - I can do anything.  I was chatting with an old friend this morning about our 20th high school reunions.  We discussed feeling old, and she shared the realization that she will never be an astronaut.  I laughed - I realized I would never be an astronaut when I was eleven.  But she never completely closed the door... until she realized this year that it would never happen. I looked at our preliminary budget with the same sad shock.  This is something I want  - how can it be impossible?

Reason #3 - We can not go home. I identify fully and proudly as a Midwesterner.  I was so excited at the prospect of a Cubs - Royals World Series.  But after living in Virginia and then returning   again a year later in crisis, Arlington has become home.  It is the only American city my children remember as home.  We all have friends there, and we were all sad to leave.  If we returned this summer, we could return to our same neighborhood and feel welcome and at home.  The girls would return to friends.  Annika could have the same 1st grade teacher as both of her sisters. We could go home to fall leaves and winter snows and spring flowers and summer road trips to cousins and grandparents.  With the girls getting older, it will only get harder to move back to Virginia.  Housing prices will continue to rise and we will continue to need more space.  Friends will grow and forget about their old friends from early elementary school.  It will grow harder to change schools for only a year or two at a time.  Likely, not going home this year means we won't live in the United States again for a long time.  And that we may never return to Arlington.  It makes me feel sad, like I'm losing the home I left waiting for me.

Dave is waiting for confirmation of the job he wants.  He has received strong positive feedback and expects to be offered the job soon.  When we hear, I'll share... and you all can begin planning your next vacation.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Jakarta Staycation - in retrospect

It started out so well.  We had what was essentially a 5 day weekend.  The embassy was closed on both Monday and Wednesday, freeing Dave and I up to explore the city, invite friends over for dinner, and generally hang out with our kids.  It was lovely, and me me truly enjoy our life in Jakarta.  As a bonus, Dave took the day off on Tuesday to take the kids to a water park while I went in to the office.  Work was quiet because of the holidays, and being the one to get dressed up and leave for the day made me feel great. 

Dave and I went back to work on Thursday, him from the office and me from home.  And my visions of working from home did not quite match my children's expectations of me.  Allow me to elaborate.

5:45am - The time my alarm goes off on a typical school day.  It did not.  Ah.

7:00am - Each of us girls have awoken, moved downstairs, and begun to grow hungry.  We are together and lazy; I am likely reading the paper, and two of the three girls may be playing an imagination game together while the third lounges on the couch with a book.  Lovely.

8:00am - A fight has broken out between two of the girls, leading me to urge everyone to eat breakfast.  As their bellies typically eat breakfast at 6:15, they have past feelings of hunger and reached that starving stage where they would prefer raging like a bear to pouring themselves a bowl of cereal.  The fight serves as a linchpin, beginning the break-day torture of being told to do their chores and eat breakfast.  This will include screaming, possible throwing, and at least one person sitting in time out for an absurdly long time.

9:00am - After an exceedingly long hour, everyone will be dressed, brushed, having eaten something, and hold no memory of the screaming and general nastiness that took place mere minutes ago. Upon which time I will suggest some sort of fun activity.  Maybe we could put up the Halloween decorations, or spend an hour at the pool?  No one is interested.  They'd prefer to amuse themselves, without my interference.  Are you sure, I prod?  I've got over an hour until I need to start work.  Absolutely.  They are quite happy. Making myself fully available to them for the rest of the morning, I accomplish nothing but am required to intervene in multiple small tiffs and tantrums.

10:30am - They've gotten bored and allowed me to set them off on a bicker-free project of some sort.  This will last about 2 hours.

12:30pm - I break for lunch.  Everyone is happy, understanding that they needed to work independently for the past 2 hours and that I stopped my work to enjoy lunch with them.

12:45pm - Back to work for me, back to independence enjoyment for them.

1:15pm - The ability to work independently has slowly seeped away, and as I approach my work deadline they begin their descent into madness.

2:00pm - My work deadline.  Which I have not reached, because young people have asked ten times in the last 12 minutes how soon I will be finished, each time becoming more convinced that I have stopped loving them completely and will soon allow them to fall into malady, starvation, and boredom. I close the door.

2:45pm - I submit work, forty-five minutes past my deadline, having reminded young people five times that the door is closed for a reason and that their latest drawing, although lovely, is not a good reason to open it.  My work day has finished.  I take a cleansing breathe and open the door to spend  time with my children again, suggestions of swimming pools and baking cupcakes swirling through my mind.  Each of them runs to me (Lovely to be so loved!) and asks if they can go outside to play with their friends.  I refrain from asking why they didn't do this 2 hours ago, kiss them on the top of the head, and send them on their way.

Such a pattern led to me question humanity by only late morning of the second day - whereupon I walked out to the street near our complex to seek out more positive influences.  Found, and nourished, I returned to work.  And may have finished a bottle of wine by the end of the night.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Jakarta Staycation - Day #3

Our second day of exploring our city had less the feel of adventure that yesterday did.  Today reminded us more why we don't set out to explore this city very often.  Everyone slept late, after a tiring and late night last night.  We ate a good breakfast to prepare for the junk we would eat in the city, and did not leave the house until 9:30.  We headed toward Monas, Indonesia's National Monument.  Its located directly across the street from the embassy, yet we have never been.

An hour of typical traffic later, we were circling the large park that surrounds the monument.  Each gate we reached seemed locked.  But no matter - these types of things mean very little here.  Clearly they don't want us using this gate today.  We reached the final gate, and it was open far enough to walk inside.  It was staffed with enough guards to explain that the monument is closed on Mondays. 

We felt a bit bruised being turned away, but headed instead to Masjid Istiqlal, Indonesia's National Mosque. It is fittingly located across the street from Monas, and so only took us 20 minutes to drive there.  The mosque was built in the communist influenced 1950s and is the largest mosque in Southeast Asia - the third largest in the world.  It felt large and grand, boxy and not beautiful.  But certainly it felt like a house of worship.  We were guided through the mosque in bare feet and wearing loaned robes.

 In perfect Indonesian fashion, the mosque neighbors the grand cathedral - dating back to the early 1900s in its current form.  A couple were being married in the cathedral, so we only peeked creepily through the windows and snapped quick photos from outside.  We didn't want to interrupt, and we were hungry.

We headed to a Chinese restaurant close by, one recommended for its Xinjiang food.  The food tasted less Xinjiang than Indonesian-influenced Chinese, adding to the general feel of the day.  We then explored Jalan Surabaya, an antique market.  Sophia studied everything, intent on spending money, and thus set a tone of fascination among everyone.  We explored the walls lined with typewriters and ancient cameras, wayang puppets and batik chops until we were too hot to explore anymore.  At which point we headed to what is said to be Jakarta's best coffee shop across the street.  Also closed today, because it seems the owner did not feel like coming to work.

No matter - a coffee and a few donuts later at a swell shop around the corner and everyone was ready to head home.  And this is Jakarta to me this year.  Not particularly impressive but still entirely enjoyable.

On Staycation Day #4, I'll go to the office while Dave takes the girls to a water park.  I think I'm getting the better part of this deal.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Jakarta Staycation - Day #2

After a Staycation day at home yesterday, we headed out into the wide city to explore this morning.  We brought a few cameras along with us.

We began our day at Jakarta's Textile Museum - a fabulous collection of hand painted batiks from across the island and across the nation.  Every one was beautiful, and poorly lit.  They were housed in a magnificent old colonial building, with huge windows and gorgeous light.  The buildings were surrounded by gardens.  The plants were sparse, but they included cotton and indigo, completing the story of how batiks are made.

From the textile museum, we walked.  We walked into a fabric market, where we bought cloth for our Christmas dresses.  We walked into a food court, where we ate a variety of Indonesian dishes, finishing with root beer floats from A&W.  We walked across and through loads of traffic.

We sought out a coffee shop, getting frustratingly lost along the way.  Coffee is one of the many pleasures in Jakarta.  The island grows some of the best coffee beans in the world.  The city sells primarily instant coffee, but has some coffee shops tucked away in little corners of the city which are well worth seeking out.

And after walking to these sights, we walked back to the car.  This time, we took the quieter roads, where we found laundry and puppies and children and life.

As we neared the car, we crossed a bridge.  Lilly noted the obvious drought conditions.  Sophia noted the goats, the chickens, and the puppies.  Annika noted the little waterfall coming from the homes.  And Dave noticed the skyline.  I couldn't capture the homes or the puppies, because they were on the other side of the water.  But the skyline is pretty fun.

We went home dirty and exhausted, stopping at a movie theater on the way - because it was a Sunday, and Sunday night is movie night in our house.  Pizza for supper and late to bed.  This is what school breaks are made of.

Jakarta Staycation - Day #1

School entered October Break on Friday afternoon.  Nine days without an alarm waking us up at 5:40am.  Nine days without homework or packing lunches.  Nine days without strict bedtimes or to do lists.  Ah, I feel relaxed just writing that out.

We chose not to travel this week, mainly because we don't know our budget for the next year.  Dave is bidding on his next job, lobbying for where we will move come summer.  Some jobs will pay more than others, and some jobs will come with significantly more expenses than others.  So we stayed in Jakarta this week, along with only very few of the girls' friends.  I've got no music classes and I'm not teaching Sunday School this week.  We don't have a full schedule of playdates or lessons.  And we do have a few national holidays.  What better week for a staycation.  And so - Saturday was Day #1 of our Jakarta Staycation.

As befits day #1 of a staycation, I was still wearing my pajamas at 10:00 in the morning.  Dave woke just before 6am to watch the Cubs play baseball.  The girls biked to the French bakery to buy fresh croissants when I woke up.  I read a borrowed  book from my neighbor, and enjoyed a slow morning with fresh coffee and hours to read.

The afternoon was just as luxurious.  A neighbor invited a few friends over, and so I didn't fix lunch, but I did enjoy good company all afternoon.  Friends of Sophia came over for supper, but the adults had all enjoyed the late lunch with the neighbors.  We were talking about cut apples, popcorn, and wine for dinner when a friend of Lilly's tracked me down.  Lilly had been swinging and she fell.  She hurt her head.  Her friend was concerned.

And the relaxing day immediately took a chaotic turn.  Dave and I discovered a tremendous bump rising on the back of Lilly's head.  We brought her a bag of ice, asked her to lay down, and called the embassy's Medical Unit to learn when we should panic about a head injury.  Nurse Stephanie asked whether she could focus her eyes (yes), whether she felt lethargic (no), and whether she had vomitted (no).  She confirmed the ice and said to call her back if anything changed.  Breathing a sigh of relief, we hung up the phone.  And Lilly threw up.

The neighbors gathered up the children, adults and dogs playing throughout our house and drove them home.  Their daughter came over to feed our kids cereal for dinner while Dave and I raced Lilly to SOS, an international medical clinic.  We arrived before 7:00pm to a nearly empty clinic.  We sat in the emergency waiting room for 10 minutes before being ushered to a bed and a doctor.  The local doctor checked her eyes and her bump and asked a few questions to validate what we suspected - that she was fine.  He sent us to the cashier with a card alerting us to symptoms of head trauma.  We paid 300,000 rupiah - a bit more than $20 US - all to reassure us that our daughter was well.  We went home relaxed and relieved, and considering how this would have gone in the U.S.  A vomiting child with a throbbing goose egg on the back of her head is reason to race to the emergency room, but the emergency room near our house in St. Louis would have cost us both multiple hours and well more than $20, especially with a hunch that we did not face an actual emergency.

Indonesia may not be the country for a true medical emergency.  But it is a fabulous place for a false alarm on a Saturday night.  Bonus points to Jakarta - I have learned to truly enjoy my Cubs games with a cup of coffee and a fresh croissant.  Staycation Day #1 was truly local and fully exciting.