For a while after Munchkin started speaking we endeavored to write down his amusing sayings. There were plenty of mangled words and off-the-wall pronouncements that were precocious in their seriousness. As his speech grew more advanced, we largely stopped keeping track of his verbal creations, contenting ourselves with enjoying them in the moment. Of late, we have begun once again to take note of Munchkin’s speech, though for far less pleasant of a reason.
Parenthood, or at least our experience of it to date, seems to be defined by two constant, contradictory mental states. On the one hand is anticipatory nostalgia, fueled by the realization not only that everything is a stage, but also that all good things come to an end way too quickly. On the flip side are the doldrums that accompany each particularly challenging phase, which always seem to last forever, and the usual batch of negative feelings one experiences when reality fails to match one’s expectations.
Growing up, there is no question that the winter holidays were our favorite: Hanukkah for S, New Year’s for D. Sweets, festive decorations, and lots of presents – it’s easy to win a kid’s heart over with these. Now that we have children of our own, we’ve come to appreciate other holidays a lot more. Any holiday that gives us a three-day weekend is to be celebrated, but the ones, like this past Veterans Day, when we get the day off from work while schools remain open feel particularly valuable. Of the holidays we miss being stateside the most, Thanksgiving tops the list: there is simply no substitute for family and home-cooked, traditional meals when one is serving overseas.
If pressed on which of their children they like more, most parents would demur – we certainly would – and claim, perhaps implausibly, that they have no favorites and that they love all of their children equally. Of course, at any given moment in time, one of the kids may be acting out while another magically transforms into the epitome of cuddly cuteness, making it challenging to treat both with evenhandedness and avoid the appearance of favoritism. And then, we’re only human; surely we sometimes play favorites – even if we won’t admit it, not even to ourselves?!
For months we had been talking about taking a day trip to Shenandoah, but never quite finding the time or energy to go. Tied up with seemingly never-ending settling-in errands, catching up on language study and sleep, foiled by a handful of rainy weekends. The park entrance is less than a two-hours’ drive from DC, but for some reason the outing felt like it necessitated a three-day weekend. Columbus Day would have been the perfect occasion to go, with the fall foliage in its fully resplendent display, but D was away on a work trip.
The tendency when one is serving overseas is to use each posting as a springboard to explore the region, to travel around the continent one calls home for a few years. In Africa, this strategy hits two snags. First, the continent is immense. Second, with the exception of a handful of hubs, intercontinental flights are unreliable and expensive. Serving in eastern Africa, for example, South Africa was accessible but the countries of the Maghreb not at all.
We hit the sweet spot with last year’s Halloween celebration. Munchkin was obsessed with The Three Little Pigs for most of the year. Dressing up as the little pigs to his bad wolf was an easy win, and the wolf costume S’s mom made for him got plenty of use before and after the holiday. This year, Munchkin’s tastes have evolved too fast to keep pace.
Yesterday was handshake day: the end of two months of nerve-wrecking lobbying for those Foreign Service Officers who received onward assignments and the beginning of the second round of stressful scrambling for those who did not. D knew well in advance of the formal announcements that he would be without a handshake, a first in his FS tenure that significantly raises the likelihood that next summer he will have a career but no job to go with it.
The first thought that struck D on arrival in Prague was that the city was overrun by Russian-speakers. The Armenian taxi driver who picked D up from the airport and could barely string three English words together; the management company for the apartment D had hastily booked on hotels.com; the students and old ladies exchanging news on the street corners; even excluding the massive Russian tour groups, D heard about as much Russian during his first couple of hours in Prague as he had in Minsk.
D saw very little of the USSR during the ten years he lived in Moscow. Most people didn’t travel much around the Soviet Union. D vaguely recalls a trip to the Black Sea and a visit to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). Thanks to his work, D now has set foot in five of the former Soviet Republics in the last few years: Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, and most recently Belarus and Lithuania*.