One year ago yesterday, we arrived in the U.S. from our two-year posting to Moscow.
And what a crazy year it’s been.
When we left Moscow, I was in a lot of pain from what turned out to be not two, as they told me in Moscow, but THREE herniated discs. (Turns out the doctors at the Russian hospital missed the third and most critical disc on the MRI - welcome to medicine in the Foreign Service.) I limped my way from Moscow to D.C., unable to even carry my own bag through the airport.
When we landed in D.C. it was hot and humid, just like today. We somehow got 6 people, 7 suitcases, 6 carry-ons, one cat and one Giant Schnauzer (plus giant crate) into a shuttle and made it to our temporary apartment, where we discovered that the cat litter we’d ordered in advance never arrived. So we dragged our jetlagged selves out into the city, in search of cat litter and something to eat.
My eyes felt like sandpaper. I seem to recall that one of the kids threw up at dinner, but I could be imagining that. After we found cat litter at Target - and we were too tired by then to even appreciate the fact that we were in Target - we walked back to the apartment. The sun was setting and fireflies were coming out. One of the girls - Kyra, maybe? again, this all seems like a dream - was terrified of the fireflies, having never seen them before, and refused to walk past them.
It was a really long walk back to the apartment, dodging fireflies the whole way.
It was a long summer, actually. I met with a surgeon about my back. I didn’t want anyone getting anywhere near my spine with knives or needles, so he agreed to let me try physical therapy before surgery. I went to therapy three days a week all summer long, slowly clawing my way back to normal.
It was so hot outside. We had to walk the dog multiple times during the day, but I couldn’t set a very quick pace. Any time I tried to jog, my leg gave out on me and I fell down. The therapist gave me all sorts of exercises to do and told me not to pick up anything heavy, not to run, not to bend over, not to go to the gym. Of course we were expecting a 5000-pound HHE shipment to be delivered. And those IKEA beds weren’t going to put themselves together. So I listened to the therapist as best I could, and then went back to doing the things one has to do to get through a move. Bart had to pull a lot of the weight - literally and figuratively - while I tried my best to keep up.
Every day we went back and forth between the apartment and our real house, trying to get it painted and cleaned up so we could move in when our stuff arrived. We’d take a break from painting to eat take out for lunch while sitting on the floor in the house - no chairs! - then bag up the trash to bring back to the apartment - no trash cans at the house, either.
Of course, the day the movers finally arrived with our shipment was the day my youngest daughter tried to blow up a balloon and accidentally inhaled it. So while my husband stayed with the movers, I spent the day at Fairfax Inova Hospital, where they had to put her under and go in search of the balloon.
So that was a good day.
(Actually, in some ways, it really was, because that balloon experience cemented my friendship with nurse Heather and doctor Melinda, two DS spouses who helped us through that experience and have since become good in-real-life friends.)
We unpacked. We moved in. And life went on.
It’s hard to move, no matter what, but it’s especially hard to move back “home” to the U.S. When you move to a new post overseas, people expect you to show up and they look out for you. Here, nobody really knows that you’re new, and people don’t automatically reach out to the new family. There’s no casserole in the fridge when you show up, no neighbor waiting to take you to the grocery store, no kids excited to show your kids the new school. We were fortunate that we had some friends from Jordan (who featured prominently in this blog, back in the day) living not far away - they took us phone shopping and computer shopping, and they loaned us a car until we could buy one of our own. And nurse Heather, who up until then had been a mere virtual friend, stepped in to be our “NOVA social sponsor,” so I quickly learned the best places to go for coffee.
We got through the rough spots, thanks in no small part to those folks, and we got down to the business of living in the States. Enrolled four kids in three schools, found a vet (another DS spouse - these women are amazing), furnished the house, fixed up the yard, remodeled the kitchen, fought dampness in the basement, hung some light fixtures (ah, who am I kidding? We made my dad do that when he and my mom came for a visit.), worked through more medical emergencies than I’d care to remember, spent way too many weekends at home improvement stores, taught the kids how to mow a lawn, celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter...
I guess we’re Virginians now. But I really miss living overseas. There’s no big adventure to be had, moving into a suburban house on a suburban street in Anytown, Virginia. No big adventures, but plenty of costs associated with such a move, so you’re sort of bored and stressed out, all at the same time. But the few non-State people to whom I tried to explain this feeling just didn’t get it at all. How could you not be happy living in the Greatest Country on Earth, they wondered? Some of them even seemed to think it somehow unpatriotic to want to live outside of the U.S. Those people, I think, don’t understand that diplomats and their families are some of the most patriotic people you’ll ever meet. We choose to live outside of the U.S. because we choose to serve our country in some really hard places. We choose the hardships, and we learn to welcome them or work around them. Coming back here, where everyone speaks English and everything makes sense, but nobody really knows or cares where you’ve been or what you did while you were there, is somewhat unsettling.
I stopped trying to explain it to anyone who wasn’t a diplomat. To my fellow diplomat spouses, I didn’t need to explain what I was feeling. They all understood.
They say the hardest time to move a kid is before senior year, and the second hardest time is during middle school. Well, we moved a junior and a middle-schooler, and I have to say: they’re right. It’s just so hard for a kid that age to show up at a new school and start from scratch. It’s hard at any age - my youngest got off the school bus sobbing every day that first week, and it shattered me to watch. But it was harder to watch the older ones struggle through it, because they were much more closed off about their problems. Kids that age aren’t exactly chatty on the best of days.
But you know what? Every single one of them made it through the school year, and they all excelled in their own way. When school ended a week ago, my youngest got off the bus sobbing once again - this time because she was going to miss her teacher so, so much. The others came home talking about plans for the summer, and sleepovers, and snacks, and swim team, and all of that “normal” suburban Virginia stuff.
They are settled. We are settled.
I am working, part-time at least. I’m back in the gym, doing many of the same things I did before I injured myself - no surgery required. Bart likes his current job very much, even if it keeps him a bit busier than he’d probably like. I have a gym membership, and bus stop mom friends, and a few people I can confide in when things get hard. Bart and I take the dog for a walk together most nights, saying hi to the neighbors in our very own neighborhood, a neighborhood full of fireflies that no longer terrify the kids.
The house is unpacked. Pictures are hung, furniture is put together and in place, the lawn mower is in the garage next to the bicycles and the car. We have built a life in the suburbs, and we are making it work.
Did I mention we bid again this summer?