One of the most foreign part of Foreign Service life for our families back home is the 4+ weeks of vacation we all get each year. This is NOT the norm for a typical American family. Most families have 'normal' vacations : a week somewhere 'exotic' (Disneyland, here we come!), with a lot of hours in a car, and sand of some sort. Our weeks-on-end of time away from work responsibilies (mostly. Darn Blackberries, anyway) is a hard concept to grasp. In the same light, it's odd for our families to understand that not having a closet or at least a drawer in which we can unpack is also a bit of a hardship. For a couple nights? No problem. Weeks without being able to unpack? Not fun. Dearest extended families, please read on about some good and frustrating things about trips back home:
1. No questions about our homes or daily life or, really, anything. Really? Aren't you at all curious about what we see and do? We live in a new place. We see things that those back home might not even know about or have only read about in textbooks or see on National Geographic. We see amazing things, meet amazing people, and see some really amazing animals (even insects), and perhaps you don't know how to ask about what we are experiencing. Just give us the chance to ramble and listen. You'll be surprised at what you hear about.
2. The aforementioned lack of space to unpack. Please, give us some space to put our things. I am not a wrinkle fanatic, but I really do like to be able to not look as though I wadded up my clothing, and wore it to bed. Same goes for the bathroom. One drawer. That's all I am asking.
3. No, you're not paying for our food. No, you're not paying for our activities. We foot our own bills, please. We aren't wealthy; we are government employees, after all, but we also don't want to put anyone else into a financial tailspin, either.
4. Yup, 4 to 6 weeks. Yup, we are on vacation. Yup, it's weird. It's also a lot of family time. Perhaps a little TOO much family time. So please do put us in separate corners if you feel we need to have some quiet time.
5. More than likely, at some point during the vacation, we will need to do a shipment of some sort, be it an air freight or a consumables. These involve a lot of planning (what will we need for then next year?), shopping (makes us grouchy), and a place to keep all the various purchases. Then, packers will come (undoubtedly an hour or two behind schedule), and pack up all of the crap we've amassed. This is a painful and/or annoying process. But it keeps us sane when we are home and missing our favorite products. Yes, there is a lot we can get on the Internet, and that has certainly simplified life by having much easier access to pretty much any product, but this is generally a more cost-effective way to get stuff. No one likes the process, but the end result is a good thing.
6. Because we are on vacation for 4+ weeks, we are not going to 'let it go' as most might during their yearly vacation. If we were to let the kids stay up past 10:00, eat nothing but junk food, and drink too much booze for that long, we'd all end up grouchy, overweight and alcoholics. We have to maintain some semblance of a schedule, even though we are on vacation. Hope you can understand that, and help us maintain. And yes, that means my kids are going to be doing homework during the summer. I am that kind of mom. I like knowing my kids go back to class in the fall without missing a beat. (Of course, I should mention, my kids are so NOT excited about this, nor do they do this without a LOT of complaining. A lot of loud, constant, annoying complaining. I have to regularly remind myself that the payoff in the fall will make the effort worthwhile; this year, I am going to make them all sign papers attesting to how much they appreciate starting the school year ahead of where they ended last spring, instead of suffering the summer slippage so many do. That way next summer, when we go through this again, I can wave that paper in their faces and remind them that it is a good thing, that daily homework during the summer break. It's not just another way moms like to inflict pain on their children...).
1. We love love love seeing you, your kids, your friends, and everyone you spend time with. We hear about these people in your emails, and love to attach faces to names and stories. Please let us tag along to soccer games, or the grocery store, or whereever. You don't need to stop your regular life for us; we want to see!
2. We love love love to travel. This is why we have embraced this particular lifestyle. Want to do a trip with us during our vacation? That would be so completely awesome. We would love to explore a new space with you. Just understand that since we live overseas, a good bit of the planning will probably fall on your shoulders. We will appreciate every minute you put into the planning, though, so please don't feel as though it goes unnoticed.
3. We also love the simple things in life: well-stocked groceries stores (that always have the one brand of cereal we love, no matter how many boxes we bought of it three days ago), consistently working utilities (yay, no need for generators or distillers), and functioning traffic regulations. We love parks. We love things like spraygrounds, and water parks, and theme parks. We love our overdoses of Americana because we don't get to enjoy these things when we are back in our home countries. You know all of those pop songs you're totally sick of because you've heard then a bajillion times? Yup, we love those, too.
4. Eating Mexican food. Or having good microbrew. Or cheddar cheese. There are some things you just can't get overseas, or at least not without having to pay a pretty penny. Let us indulge once or twice, and then we'll be happy.
5. End of season clearance. Since we have lived in hot climates for the last 15+ years, the end-of-season sales they have (because the summer season is 'over' early July which actually makes no sense, but ... whatever) makes stocking up on great clothes for less money a bit easier. Okay, so sizes and colors might be limited, but ... that's okay. That's what we are used to in our local shops anyway. Having too much choice, I find, can be off-putting when you've grown accustomed to having only one or two options regularly.
6. Bagged ready-to-eat lettuce. Baby carrots (yes, I know they are just whittled down big carrots soaked in pdd solutions). Rotisserie chicken. Heat-and-eat soup. Salsa in a jar. Wow, do we miss convenience foods! Sure, we can get these items at a lot of our posts, but they either cost a lot or just aren't very good quality. So, yeah, we'll probably want to over-indulge in these things, too.
And then, after all this, after 4+ weeks, it's back to our homes, and we'll see y'all again next year!