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the art of the now

Self-help books, mindfulness blogs, and mental health articles abound with exhortations to live in the moment and advice on how to make the most of each day. Aside from the clichés of squeezing every drop of joy out of each unique experience we accumulate when serving overseas, being able to focus on the present while relentlessly planning for the future is a requisite skill for the Foreign Service. Considering how often we relocate, the temptation is always there to cast our sights toward the next assignment, the next move, or the next country – to envision the possibilities and continuously stress about the unknown. Without a firm grip on the present one can easily descend into madness.

Living in the moment is a defense mechanism. Usually, the phrase calls to mind the adventures and opportunities that await those who dare to seize the day and, in doing so, maximize their happiness. The flip side of the coin is that zeroing in on the present allows one to remain in one’s comfort zone. Each relocation is an upheaval and, no matter how often we move, it seems that each time new challenges arise. We are at T-minus 15 days to Manila, with the house in complete disarray and a dozen logistical loose ends left to tie up. Is it any wonder that our minds default to blocking out the stress by focusing on social outings with friends and the simple joys of watching our kids romp around the house they’ve learned to call home over the last year?

Reality, of course, cannot be put off indefinitely. We took advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend to begin prepping for our packout. As with every move, the difficulty lies not in the actual moving day, but rather in the micro-decisions that precede it: what stuff can we get rid of and what should we send to storage? Which things would be nice to have in Manila in a month, which ones can go on the slow boat to the Philippines, and which essentials should we pack in our suitcases? With our furniture remaining in storage in Belgium and our winter gear about to be confined to a facility in Maryland, we are beginning to trail small pieces of our lives like breadcrumbs.

D’s parents were in town this weekend – mostly to help D’s sister with her own move. They stopped by for a few hours on the way back to Connecticut, this being their last opportunity to see S and Junebug before our move to Manila (D and Munchkin will head up north next weekend for D’s college reunion). To ease our transition, we sent Emmie with D’s parents for the summer – much like during our transfer from Nairobi to Chisinau, we will spend a few months apart before being reunited with our pup. Emmie’s conspicuous absence is a clarion signal that our time in Washington is almost up.

Without a doubt, it is the youngest member of our family who will miss our dog the most. Over the last few months Junebug and Emmie have grown inseparable. Out at our neighborhood park, Junebug would frequently forego the playground to sit by Emmie’s side and pet her head. Doggie remains the only multi-syllable word in Junebug’s vocabulary. This morning — as almost every morning when D takes her out of her crib — she asked for water, food, and doggie, in that order; she added mama as an afterthought when she heard voices downstairs.

Twice as old and a hundred times more self-aware than during our move last summer, Junebug nevertheless does not fully comprehend the disruption to her routine that is just around the corner. For Munchkin, on the other hand, frequent moves have become a constant in the ever-changing landscape of his childhood. The other day he asked us to start a countdown to “Vanilla” — his sweet mispronunciation of the Philippine capital. Kids, we are reminded with every move, are resilient. Perhaps it is our own mental health we should worry about.

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