Thursday, June 9, 2016

Crossroads. Again.

It is wonderful to have choices.

It is hard to have choices.

We are again fast coming to a point where we will need to make some decisions, and as I often do, I wish I could KNOW what the right decisions are.

I have enjoyed being back in the U.S., and have enjoyed my job, but my personal life has been chaotic and somewhat difficult.  The house is a bit messier than I would like and there is always laundry to fold and we are always running here, there, and everywhere.  I feel like we don't get enough of a chance to just BE, here in America.  In short, I miss our life overseas.

It has not at all been a smooth year for the girls.  We've had the nightmare that was SB's preschool experience, and the extremely huge, negative impact it had upon her.  We had the poor school fit for Miss M socially, although she has learned a ton educationally and we are pleased with that part of things.  Her teacher has mentioned that she is beyond her peers in terms of her exposure to things, or to put it another way, she has had a lot more life experiences.  That is where we see the Title I school really has been an issue--it's not skin color, or family income, or native language.  It's access to experiences that sets her apart.  That has made more of a difference than I ever imagined it could, even in kindergarten.  Another mother told me how stunned she was to hear my daughter talk about Jackson Pollock in class one day.  She has an insanely good memory, and she is interested in many things, and we take her to do a lot of different things, and she is just an awesome kid who contains a lot of knowledge that she's thrilled to share.  Which makes her stand out from her current peers.  Anyway, it's been a poor fit.

And then there is T. . .he kind of hates his job.  He would probably like it, but the people he works for are unpleasant and treat him rather poorly, and he is miserable.

So, it seems like it would be easy to head back overseas, right?  It's been hard for everyone here (well, except me, but I miss our life overseas), so we should just hit the road again, right?

But. . .

Miss M has been accepted into a great bilingual private school for next year.

We have everything worked out for SB to next year attend the fantastic, amazing, warm, caring preschool that we switched her to a few months ago, where she has THRIVED.

And T has just applied for a fantastic job at a museum that he would be perfect for, and it would be perfect for him.  That is not to say that he will get an interview, even--let alone the job.  But it is a kernel of hope for him, and he is convinced he can get himself the job if he can land an interview.

Which of course means that. . .

I am hearing whisperings of a fantastic job in a very interesting place overseas.  We'd have good weather and decent schools and a good salary and household help and low crime and little pollution and short commutes.  But it means starting over again.  I mean, we are going to start over again in the fall, anyway, in some respects.  But at least we know where the playground and the grocery store are.

I'm just not sure.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Forward Planning

I am back home again, and it is wonderful to be back with my family.  I had a very nice trip, and it was frankly good to see the sun.  It has been so grey and dreary here for weeks, and it is raining yet again.  But even though there is no sun, my world is joyful because I can hug my girls.  It's so good to be back!

While I was gone, I thought a lot about what I want to do next.  There is one overseas job that I am still particularly interested in, but right now there is no opening.  For months, I have heard rumors that a position might be opening up, but it hasn't happened to date. Frankly, our window of opportunity is narrowing for that one, because we need to start making commitments for next year, regarding a lease and school for the girls.  We've signed a contract now for Miss M's school.  The more financial commitments we make, the harder it would be for us to leave.

Setting aside my interest in that one job, I've decided to apply for a teaching fellowship.  There is a particular project I'd like to work on while teaching, and it would give me a somewhat flexible schedule.  It would only be for one year, but would give me some breathing room for that year.  It would mean that we would be here in this city for two more years.  I'm still mulling over whether that is the right decision (as I've written before, our lives feel much less chaotic overseas), but it feels manageable and interesting, and who knows where it might lead.

On top of that, I'm contemplating opening a small business.  It sounds insane, in light of what feels like already overwhelming commitments, but it would only be about ten hours a week, I could do it at night after the girls are in bed and/or early mornings before they wake, and most importantly, it would give me a creative outlet.  I feel like that would bring more balance into my life, in a weird way.  Plus, it has the potential to bring in a little extra income that would defray the costs of some of the extras we'd like for the girls.  I'm still looking at the feasibility of it all, but hope to move quickly.  There is little associated cost, so it's completely low risk.  And I'm excited about it.

The great thing about my trip abroad was that it gave me two solid weeks of quiet mornings and nights to really think about what is working, what is not, and how we might improve things.  I feel like we have some solid plans forward, and I'm excited to see how things play out.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Challenge of "Balance"

Greetings from Central America!  I've been traveling for the last week, and have a few more days to go.  It is a huge pain to be gone for so long, and I miss the girls like crazy.  SB cried big fat tears every time I talked to her the first 3-4 days, begging me to come home immediately.  It made me feel terrible.  I can't wait to get back.

From a professional perspective, it has been a good experience to get down here and see all that is going on, and to meet people I usually only talk with on the phone or via email.  It is good to see things with my own eyes, and to connect with local people.  Nothing beats that in person connection.

Now I am mulling over what to do with that information--how to turn it into something and move things forward.  It is long-term, big picture stuff, and I am far from having all of the answers.  But I can see what is possible, and that is exciting.

I am also thinking about how to balance career and family.  I feel like we really struggle in America.  Mother's Day brought forth articles about balancing, like this one and this one.  What I was left with is the feeling that American mothers have to make choices.  I have heard lots of women say that "you can have it all--you just can't have it all at the same time."  And maybe that's my problem--I want to have it all at once.  But it's not working.

The new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the first woman to ever hold this position, recently had this to say in an interview with her alumni mag:

"With work-life balance, I tell people that you can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once. There are different times in your life when you emphasize different things, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There were times when my kids did have to come first and they needed me, and there were other times when they didn’t understand why I couldn’t do the field trips and the baking brownies and all the rest of it. But when they stood on the stage with Hillary Clinton, they thought that was pretty damn cool and probably worth it."

I want to do field trips and bake brownies.  I also want to have a meaningful, productive work life.    Those are two different parts of who I am.  Now I am pondering ways to make that happen.  We debated her words a bit in my office.  A non-parent was a bit put off by the line about missed field trips and baking brownies, and thought it sounded harsh.  I said it made me feel a bit less alone and guilty for the things I don't make.  But I'm still wondering, were those sacrifices indeed worth it for her kids?  A missed field trip isn't the end of the world, but an accompanied field trip also means something.  The perfect mix is unknowable, though, making it a hard path to carve.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

School Blessings and Other Things

We are so very, very fortunate.  Miss M was awarded a place in the private school, and almost a full scholarship.  I was really shocked by the scholarship, and feel so blessed.  We decided that we had to accept the spot.  It is an amazing opportunity for her, and with the scholarship the tuition is financially manageable for us.  We had to take advantage of the opportunity.  We are really excited for her, and so very proud of her.  I feel like she's found her tribe.

We talked with SB's school, as well, and there is some chance that they will be able to swing a partial scholarship for her.  We are crossing our fingers and all of our other parts, and hoping this works out, as well.  We will have to take on a not-insubstantial amount of additional work to make it financially viable even with a scholarship, but she continues to do beautifully there, and we think it is critical that she stays where she is.  She is literally a different person.  If you had told me three months ago that a school change alone would have made this much of a difference in my child, I would not have believed you.  It upsets me greatly to think about what was going on in her previous classroom that a school change has made such a difference.

A big part of the change is obviously that she is now being treated well.  It's clear that she was considered and called a problem at her old school.  But one of the other important differences is the amount of playground time.  Given her energy level, it is just an imperative.  If we move her back to public school, we're back to 30 minutes a day, which just doesn't work for her, at least not yet.  Hopefully with another year in her current school, she will mature to the point where she is ready for a more sedentary classroom.  Sigh.  What happened to childhood?!  Anyway, we hope, hope, pray things work out with her current school.

As a backup plan, I've also enrolled them in public school.  Just in case.  Because I am so leary of the other shoe falling and something not working out.  Which is slightly neurotic and crazy, I know, but it's been that kind of year.  I need plans B, C, and D for my own peace of mind.

Honestly, I am living in a state of low anxiety all of the time these days.  It is really unhealthy.  There has just been so much stress.  And I'm headed off on a multi-country business trip, which is not helping things.  I just feel like a rat on a little wheel, with so much to do all of the time and so many things to work out and balance.  Now that things look like they are shaping up for the girls and school next year, I am also starting to hear back on positions that might be available overseas.  Ah, well.  Sometimes you just have to throw your hands up in the air at the craziness of it all!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Another Glimmer of Hope

I can't remember if I've written about it, but around Christmastime we decided that Miss M's school, while educationally sound, was not socially the best fit for her.  She is naturally a leader and very outgoing, and she is somehow. . .less than herself at her current school.  I can't put my finger on it exactly.  It's nothing specific--no mean behavior or anything like that.  It's just not her tribe, and she just is not happy.

When we made the decision, it was really late to be considering private school options, and ooof, the tuition around here.  We didn't think it would really be feasible to both find and pay for a private school, but we found a school for Miss M that we thought would be perfect for her, and we set about scrambling to meet application deadlines.  This school's tuition is really high, but, they have scholarships available, and we thought "why not try," so we did.  I obsessed over whether she should have taken a muffin on her way out the door to her interview (argh! she was more interested in the muffin than saying goodbye!), and then we basically forgot about it.  She got wait listed, and that was kind of that.

Except, they then asked us to come in and meet with them, and at the meeting, they told us how much they loved her, what a leader she was, how much spark they thought she had.  And we told them how loved she was, and how much we agreed.  And then we reiterated that we could not possibly pay full tuition, and they assured us that a scholarship was a possibility.  They also said they thought they were going to have a spot in the class for her.

And then nothing.

So I emailed on Friday, because we are trying to sort out next year.

And I heard back today.  They **might** have a spot for her.  They are trying to work out the scholarship.  And they need some things from me.  Which of course I am providing.

It has become so complicated since we applied.  If Miss M gets into this school, and we can afford it, it will be an amazing opportunity for her.

But, if Miss M doesn't enroll in our local school, SB will lose her slot there for next year, which is tied to having an enrolled sibling at the school.

SB's private preschool is really ideal for her, and I would love, love, love to have her stay there next year.  But it is insanely expensive.  They have invited us to apply for a scholarship, which was so incredibly kind.  It really would be ideal.  But it is pretty much impossible for me to imagine that we would get enough aid to put two kids in private school.  And I feel guilty taking aid.  We have so much, compared to so many.  But so little compared to many in this city, I suppose.  And if it turns out that we can afford to have only one attend private, who do we choose?  It's an impossible question, which really depends on who needs it more.  In truth, they both need an amazing year.  This one was tough.  Here's hoping we can find a way to make it all work out.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

My children have an uncanny knack for embarrassing me lately.  As much as we discuss that the world is a big place with lots of different people, and as many times as we have the discussion that sometimes it hurts feelings to have someone point out how a person is different. . .my children are still little, and sometimes apparently just can't help themselves from being inquisitive.

So, while in an elevator last week with a woman in a motorized wheelchair, Miss M asked me quite loudly why the woman was in that type of chair.  In fact, it was quite an advanced motorized wheelchair, and a type Miss M had surely not seen before, so I understand why she asked about it.  It intrigued her.  But I'm never sure quite what to say in the situation.  My standard lines are "because that's how god made her," (even though we are not particularly religious--she attended Catholic school, so it is familiar concept to her), and "she's like grandpa" (because her grandfather has a significant birth defect, and she's familiar with the concept of people being born different--which is also where I found the "because that's how god made her" line, as it's one I've heard him use).  In this case, in response to uncomfortable followup questions, I think I also said "because she needs a bit of extra help," and Miss M of course followed up with "what does the chair do." The woman and her companion were obviously a bit uncomfortable, but when the elevator doors mercifully opened, the woman said "it goes really fast," and grinned and sped off.  It was a nice moment, and a good opportunity for us to (again) discuss that it would be better if she asked me her questions about a person's differences outside of the presence of the person.

Which she promptly forgot.

Today, while at the grocery store, there was an African-American man with uneven pigmentation on his hands.  Parts of his hands had almost no pigmentation, and parts of his hands were dark brown.  It was fairly distinctive, and immediately drew Miss M's attention.  "Why are his hands like that?" she asked, within earshot.  "Because that's the way god made him," I replied. But before I could pat myself on the back for the smooth transition away from the subject, she said "I think he used to be white."  I was mortified.  The man thankfully started laughing, and turned to tell the woman next to him what she had said.  I think we were out of earshot before she made the next comment.  "Maybe he's just dirty," she said.   Dear lord!  It was a hot mess of childhood innocence.  We had a conversation about skin color and melanin on the way to the car.  I'm actually surprised it had not come up before, given that her school, this city, and our friends are very diverse.

So, I continue to search for the perfect lines to use when my children blurt out uncomfortable questions about strangers.  I'm mostly focused on making the other person less uncomfortable.  What do you say to manage such a situation?  And what conversation can I have with my children that will stay with them so that they hold their questions until a more appropriate time?

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Road Not Taken

One of the things that I have noticed about living abroad is that changes with friends and family at home seem all the more stark to me when I return.  What might seem to others to be a slow, imperceptible decline feels shockingly huge and abrupt to me.  And now that I am in my 40's, middle age I suppose, I am seeing and feeling the sadness and bitterness of lives not having turned out the way one hoped and planned.

I feel so young, and so blessed in many ways.  I have tried to live my life in a way that I am constantly doing meaningful things and seizing opportunities.  As much as the day-to-day gets me down sometimes, I still feel pretty good about my life, my lovely girls, my husband, my career, my choices.  I am lucky.  I am blessed.  I also push myself to keep going, to stretch beyond my limits, and to take advantage of opportunities, because I have always felt like if you don't, you wither, stagnate, grow bored and listless.

I am struck by how many people I know have reached a point where maybe they did not end up in a place that they sought out:  that stagnation point.  It's been such a long, slow slide for them that maybe they are surprised that they are where they are.  To me, it's jarring to have seen the before, been away for the middle bit, and now returning to see this.  There is just a hopelessness, a sadness, where before there was a joy of life.  And I'm seeing it enough, across enough people that don't really know each other or have relationships with each other, that I think it's something that is not uncommon.

I guess this is midlife, and I guess this is what is behind the so-called "crisis."  You've driven along a road, and it turned out that it didn't go where you expected, and you feel like you've driven so far for so long that it would be impossible to go back and start over and take another route.  Hence, hopelessness, depression, fear.

I say, screw that.  Life is too short.  As long as you are breathing, you can start over, try again, live, thrive, achieve, enjoy.  The alternative is just too damn sad.