From inside the lake house I hear small waves crash against the shore and the soft patter of a light rain. My sister-in-law’s donkey, Zack, is tucked into his stable and on the counter behind me sits an over-sized bucket of blueberries, the result of our morning picking beside Lake Superior. As much as I want to sit back and read, sinking into a new novel and becoming absorbed in a fantastical world, all I can think about is Iceland. We move there tomorrow.
Filled with dread, I start obsessing about the move and about that horrible period upon arrival. My brain works overtime as I craft the worse case scenario:
We arrive late at night and early the next morning Mr. G goes off to work. Awoken before dawn by the toddlers, I’m groggy and jet-lagged. The kids stare at me, wondering how on earth we ended up here. I look around in horror because there we are, in an empty house, save for that awful government issued Drexel Heritage furniture that is supplied to us at every post. It’s cold and rainy outside, we have no car yet, no stroller, and nowhere to be. In a panic, I try to come up with something to do. The kids are hungry. Getting them to the store or to explore the city feels impossible. So we walk around the block in the freezing rain. Then we unpack our suitcases and we wait for Mr. G. to help us explore or to help us exchange currency or to help us take a bus or to help us find a grocery store. I need another adult, another pair of hands, to navigate childcare and a whole new country. And it is only Monday. We have to wait five more days before I get another adult to help me figure it all out. This reduces me to a half-person, lost and waiting for my husband. Suddenly I am nothing but an incompetent trailing spouse. And it takes weeks before we settle into a routine, or find a babysitter or I have a chance to meet someone or even try to do my own work. And then the kids eventually get off to school only to realize that no one speaks English and it sucks when no one can understand you, and you can’t understand them.
If I let my mind wander, I can make this nightmare scenario get worse. Luckily I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve had little time to imagine all the horrors of an awful beginning. Punctuated by time spent on the soft sands of southern California and sitting with friends over long meals, we’ve spent the last five weeks racing between families and favorite vacation spots, trying to cram all of “our” America into HOME LEAVE, the time allotted to us between overseas assignments. Like every Foreign Service family I’ve met, after each home leave we too vow that we will never make so many stops again, that we will pick one place and tell everyone to meet us there, that we will not jump between cities and states. And then, of course, two or three years passes and, sure enough, we plan a home leave that has us in six locations in four weeks. But how can I complain.
In Los Angeles, I took almost daily runs along the beach, watching dolphins play in the Pacific and waiting for the moment of each day where the very specific LA glow illuminates the world to an incandescent perfectness. Play dates with old friends had B and M swimming their way through friends’ pools in Santa Monica and jumping from play structures in perfectly coiffed parks, reacquainting themselves with the offspring of my oldest dearies. After so many months of exorbitant Moscow prices and not buying anything, I was swollen with consumerism, splurging on too many new things at Anthropology and Target, Borders and Sephora, boosting the economy in whatever way possible. Family time meant gatherings at my parent’s house and dinners on the beach, seeing cousins and in-laws and everyone in between and then retreating to the Sierras to reconnect with the Lair of the Bear, a family camp that is my special place in the woods. Dozens of treasured old friends and family congregated for a whole week in the tall pines to play with our kids, swim, drink too much beer and even dress in costume for a night of Disco Bingo. Introducing my brood to the magic of the Lair, a place I’ve been going since I was five, had me teary more than once during the week.
For only five days we dipped into DC, moving from my parent’s living room to a 5-star hotel. Nana came along to help me take care of the kids while Mr. G worked. We had so little time, but we managed to squeeze in the Natural History museum and visits with a few old friends as we sweat out the 100 degree days, dragging the two babes all over town and stopping to find a fountain or pool to splash in or an ice cream to eat every few hours. And then in a flash we traveled to the Upper Peninsula to visit Mr. G’s family. Five quick days of swimming in Lake Superior, dawdling in the hot copper mining towns and hiking in the woods. This home leave has been busy and blissful. But now that our departure for Iceland is imminent, all I can think about is the move.
So in these last hours of home leave, while I take care of the wee ones in this picturesque place, I force myself to stop imagining the worse case scenario and snap back to a better reality. Yes, the first days and weeks of a new post are hard, but maybe they will be perfect. I decide instead to daydream about being greeted by warm sponsors and other embassy or expat folks who welcome us with open arms. The first week is filled with tours of our new city, which turns out to be hip and euro and arty and fabulous. The weather cooperates and within days we have play dates scheduled, a fridge full of familiar foods, a really cool neighbor that seems like she could be my new best friend, I’ve found a trendy gym with yoga and spin classes and a gorgeous spa, and a new babysitter that the kids like right away. Oh and I feel safe here and there’s a writing group and a book group and, oh yeah, my husband is thrilled about his new job. This scenario sits much better.
On one of our eight airplane rides during this home leave, I read two articles. The first was the New Yorker’s article about Astana, Kazakhstan’s new capital. The second was Michael Lewis’s Vanity Fair article from 2009 about Iceland. When I finished both articles, I thought: 1. My life is so insane and 2. Thank god we are going to Iceland (for readers of the blog you may remember that Astana was at the top of our bid list). And really, I think Reykjavik will be a terrific post. So for now I’m going to enjoy the last bit of family time in the UP, try to spot another bald eagle (saw one this morning) and day dream about our idyllic Icelandic life that starts tomorrow.