No matter how many trips one has taken or how long one has lived abroad, there is still something slightly surreal about stepping off an airplane in a country that feels completely different from the place one had departed earlier that same day. Sometimes it’s a foreign language, unfamiliar food, or a difference in culture that strikes one viscerally. At other times it’s something as simple as the weather. There was no surer sign than watching the frigid wind whisk away plumes of the passersby’s hot breath to confirm for D that he had left Rwanda’s placid clime far behind.
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Serving in Kenya, shortly after we got married and before we even thought about having children, we tried to take advantage of every extended holiday weekend to get out of Nairobi and explore the country. We continued to travel a lot after Munchkin was born, using our posting in Moldova as a springboard to explore Eastern and Central Europe, but we also came to appreciate the value of spending long weekends at home to soak in the wonderment of new parenthood.
For the first month of Junebug’s life, we followed a divide and conquer strategy. With D home on R&R and plenty of relatives visiting, balancing two kids was a manageable challenge. Newborns sleep a lot and are relatively portable, and with an endless stream of visitors who gave Munchkin the attention he covets and helped with the day-to-day household chores, the first four weeks flew by. We felt incredibly lucky to have had so much family support, but S was under no illusions about how daunting being home alone with both kids would be.
There are some American cities that, for better or worse, leave an imprint on one’s DNA. New York is like that – an international metropolis that makes life elsewhere seem pale by comparison, a city that exudes the kind of confidence that might be mistaken for smug superiority. Growing up in the Bronx – diehard Yankee fan country – it was impossible not to develop a deep-seated loathing for Boston, the only other East Coast city that could credibly lay claim to a similarly brash swagger. Even now, after spending the better part of the last decade overseas, the same reflexive antipathy born of a sports rivalry that knows no bounds stirs in D every time he visits Beantown.
Long summer days, the short northern nights made shorter still by interrupted sleep. The days run together, exhaustion and enjoyment converge, and the calendar grows increasingly more meaningless with each passing (or perhaps passed over) sleep cycle. Vacation at its best? Parenthood at its most painful?
By the time Munchkin was discharged from the hospital, he was a week old, and we literally had taken thousands of photos of the little man. Sorting and editing them all – and the many more that followed – was a labor of love, but a painstaking labor nonetheless. We’ve tried to be a bit more judicious with our camera use the second time around, spending more time snuggling and interacting with Junebug than photographing her.
When Munchkin drums on S’s belly and enjoins his baby sister to come out, he is no doubt genuine – the little man does not like being kept waiting for anything that’s been promised to him. Of course, he is also wholly ignorant of the changes her arrival will wreak on his privileged only child status. For our part, we are slightly nervous not just about how he will react to the change but also about the regression we’ve been warned to expect in his development.
It’s T-minus 5 days, if the due date prognostication is to be believed, and while S is more than ready for this pregnancy to be over, the little lady seems content to remain comfortably ensconced in the womb for the time being. D’s parents, eager for their granddaughter’s arrival, call after every prenatal doctor’s appointment to request “an update on the due date.” Munchkin has adopted a more direct approach, pressing on S’s belly while chanting, “Come out, baby sister!”
Right before S packed her bags for the cross-Atlantic journey with Munchkin, we went out for a rare night of rock-n-roll in Kigali. Several of our Embassy friends and colleagues play in a cover band, and the set list featured a number of 90s rock classics. It was a bittersweet show – a pointed reminder of the one thing D misses above all else while serving abroad: live music.
Rushing home from work last Thursday – his last day in the office – D was still too wired, too caught up in wrapping up last-minute projects, to actually relax. The red-eye flight from Kigali to Amsterdam, with its obligatory refueling stop in Entebbe, did little to help. It was only when D reached his friend’s office in Paris around midday on Friday, dropped his bags, and settled into a cute Parisian bistro for a luxuriously slow-paced lunch with two former college classmates that he felt the stress of the previous months begin to ebb away.