Sunday, April 26, 2015

The In-Between

We are entering a season of In-Between.

People ask me if I’m ready to leave Kosovo, for my time here to end. My answer confuses even me: “I’d be happy to stay in Kosovo for another year. I like it here. But we aren’t staying; we’re leaving. So I’m ready to go. I’m tired of preparing to leave; I just want to leave already.”

I’m tired of preparing to leave. I’m tired of not knowing if this is the last time I’ll see this particular friend or visit this particular restaurant. I’m tired of hearing of newcomers arriving and shrugging my shoulders and saying, “If they need anything, I’m happy to help—but they’ll be better off hanging out and making friends with people who don’t have one foot on the plane.” My body and my stuff are still here, but my heart is in the process of disconnecting and my head is already gone. I am no longer fully here but not yet fully gone. I’m In-Between.

In roughly three weeks, this part of the In-Between will be over, and we’ll move into the next phase. We’ll be done with the mental preparation and on to the real, tangible sign of our impending move: packout. Our stuff will disappear into boxes and crates. We’ll have one week of living in our house that is no longer our home, with no pictures on the wall, no beloved treasures to remind us of past homes or adventures, no imprint of our family on this house. Alexa will play only with the five toys we allow her to take in her suitcase, I will cook only with borrowed pots and pans, and we will eat only off borrowed dishes. I’m glad we’ll have only one week of that this time—the time after packout is by far my least favorite time at any post. The empty house is not a symbol of possibility and anticipation like it is at the beginning of our time at post; instead, it’s a symbol of endings and loss. After the end, but before the beginning: the In-Between.

Then we’ll be in the most easily recognized In-Between: in between posts. No longer living in Kosovo, not yet living in Greece, just visiting in the United States. Wanderers who can answer the question “Where are you staying?” but not “Where do you live?” Don’t get me wrong; it should be a good summer. We have plans about which we’re excited—attending our first homeschool convention, going on a cruise with friends, renting a townhouse not far from our extended family. It will be a good summer. It’s probably the part of the In-Between that we’ll enjoy most. But it will be a summer of cramming in as much America, as much family, as much time with friends as we can, because it won’t last. It’s only In-Between.

The final stages of the In-Between will be in Greece. Hopefully they’ll be in our “permanent” housing (as much as any housing is permanent in this nomadic lifestyle), though they may be in temporary housing if our assigned quarters aren’t available yet. We’ll be back in an empty house, but this time, the emptiness will be waiting to be filled rather than waiting to be abandoned. We’ll start learning our new neighborhood, our new community, our new language. Eventually the boxes and crates will arrive and be unpacked. Our new house will become our new home. The In-Between will end, at least for a while, and we’ll be home again.

The Ending that is becoming the In-Between will lead to the new Beginning, which eventually will transition into another Ending.

It's a common experience. We all go through changes that include Endings, In-Betweens, and finally, new Beginnings. During these bittersweet times, we mourn the old and anticipate the new. Everyone experiences it as they make life's great transitions: from child to adult, from student to worker, single to married, childless to parent, worker to retiree.

The Foreign Service lifestyle, however, puts this rhythm on an endless loop and hits the fast-forward button. One of the great sacrifices of the Foreign Service lifestyle is the frequent mourning as we say goodbye; one of the great beauties is the frequent anticipation of new adventures, new experiences, and new friends. The In-Between is the transition between and intermingling of the two. Because the Endings and Beginnings happen so frequently in the Foreign Service, sometimes it seems that we live perpetually in the In-Between, that we just barely make it out of the Beginning before the End is back, and so the only part we experience fully is the In-Between. We don't have time to settle, to live, to abide in the comfort—or in the tedium—that we establish during the Beginning, because it so quickly becomes time to dismantle it all for the Ending. Life never becomes routine, at least not for long.

It's perfect for those who crave variety. It's difficult for those who crave stability. I am one of those who craves stability—but at the same time, I also love the adventure and variety of this lifestyle. I am beginning to recognize that I need to satisfy my need for stability not in long periods of time in one place, settled in and comfortable, but in the predictable pattern, the rhythm, the ebb and flow of hellos and goodbyes: the In-Between. 

I need to accept that I live, always, in the In-Between. It is my home, as much as any house ever will be. I need to put pictures on its walls, carpets on its floors, and memory-keepers on its shelves. At times it's more noticeable than at others, but the In-Between is always there. I need to create my stability in routines and traditions that hold up well in all the phases of transition—in the Ending, in the Beginning, and in the In-Between: Friday night pizza, daily devotions with my daughter, evening cups of tea. We need to take the advice I've seen on several expat blogs and create traditions around the Endings and the Beginnings, traditions that create stability, no matter if we're in Egypt or Cambodia or Kosovo or Greece.

I was wrong. The In-Between is not a season we're entering: it's the life we live.

Welcome to the In-Between.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Catching Up

We are almost 5 months into 2015 now … and I haven’t written a single blog post this year. Pathetic, I know. Rather than explaining and justifying and apologizing, let’s just catch up, shall we?

January started off with a bang—we’re in Kosovo: the New Year is celebrated with countless not-so-mini family fireworks displays. I continued enjoying our last true winter for the next few years, while Jeff continued looking forward to its end. (I can’t blame him; he has to drive in the snow and ice, whereas I stay home and enjoy the winter wonderland.)

Toward the end of January, we finally made it out to Gadime Cave, not too far from Prishtina. The Community Liaison Office organized a trip. We decided not to go with the large group—caves plus large groups equals lots of echoing noise, which would not be a great introduction to caves for our sensitive girl—but we did take advantage of the reservation to go a little early with a smaller group. It can be difficult at times to know when the cave will be open, so this opportunity was not to be missed. It was a great morning! The caves were much larger than we anticipated, and Alexa loved exploring them. She didn’t even notice that she also was learning, as she asked question after question about the cave, its features, and the life it contains. I found myself wishing I had an age-appropriate book about caves that we could have read before or after the trip. I’m hoping to correct that oversight and then find another fun cave to explore with her within the next few months.

We spent most of February in the United States. We traveled to Washington, DC, for some appointments and to see some friends. Unfortunately, we only saw about half of the friends we wanted to see—as we landed, my ears grew pillows where my ear drums should be; the next morning, my ears were better but my sinuses were awful, and it only got worse from there. I became so congested that my entire face hurt, even my teeth! After a week, I gave in and went to an urgent care doctor, because I was afraid of what would happen if I flew again 10 days later without treatment. I was diagnosed with a sinus infection and a double ear infection. The antibiotics started helping immediately, so I felt much better for the rest of the trip, but we’d already missed out on visits with a few friends. We hope to see those friends this summer instead.

We arrived back in Kosovo on schedule in late February, but a week later, Alexa and I were back on a plane. There was a medical situation back home with a close family member, and my help was needed. Jeff was needed at work, especially since he’d just returned, so he remained in Kosovo. I am thankful that the medical situation was not as bad as it easily could have been, and my family member seems to have made almost a full recovery. Alexa and I spent our time in the United States helping with everyday tasks and transportation, but we also were able to do fun “America” things like celebrate my sister-in-law’s RN pinning, go to my niece’s football soccer games, and entertain random passersby with Alexa’s TCK questions and comments (for example, “Does everybody in America know the name of that store is Wal-Mart?” and “Why is there more than one McDonald’s?”). We returned to Kosovo just after Jeff’s birthday, at the end of March.

After our second return to Kosovo this year, I realized just how close we are to the end of our time here. I spent a few days getting over jet lag, then dove in and finally started preparing for packout. So far, we’ve rid ourselves of almost all of Alexa’s baby clothes, most of our “we severely overestimated how much Kleenex we’d use” consumables, and several bags of my ill-fitting or unflattering clothes. We’ve sold the elliptical machine for which we expect to have no room in Greece, and we’ve made arrangements to sell our second vehicle once we can get the paperwork in order. I’ve organized several full drawers of small items into labelled gallon-sized Ziploc bags. Now I need to start focusing heavily on my list-making, which has been sadly neglected due to all the travel earlier this year. We’re leaving in less than a month, and I’ve never been so far behind on my preparations.

At some point during and between all these other activities, we completed the Sonlight P4/5 preK curriculum. We ended up dropping a couple of workbooks that were too advanced for Alexa at the time, and there’s still one book in which she has shown no interest whatsoever. I left that book in South Carolina back in March, assuming we could try it again this summer and see if she’s interested then. She’s still working through her Mathematical Reasoning workbook, which she does not do every day—but when she does do it, she wants to keep going and often does 10 or more pages! That is quite the change from when I required her to do it daily, when she resisted and often did no more than 2 pages. We intend to continue working through this book over the summer until it’s done, as well as continuing to “play” Reading Eggs and Math Seeds. I’ll have to do another post about our plans for homeschool next year, as I never finished that series, and we’ve changed our plans for language arts. 

That’s for another time, though.

Right now I have some lists to make.