My wife and I are no strangers to stress. We’ve moved close to a dozen times, including cross-country twice. With law school graduation looming at the start of the worst legal recession to date (until now), we faced a six-figure debt, two kids under the age of 5, and no job offer. More than once, leaving one job for the unknown of another. Jury trials. Losing close family. Evacuating kids and treasures through waist-deep water. Answering a few middle-of-the-night calls from police and hospitals asking if we’re the parents. Although not always gracefully, through a quarter-century, we’ve handled it all. Together.
The foreign service was by no means a unilateral decision. E has for years talked about wanting to live abroad. She never hesitated when I suggested that it was time to leave the law and think about something else. We both devoured books about the foreign service as I was winding my way through the application process: Realities of Foreign Service Life Vol. 1 and 2, Career Diplomacy, Inside a U.S. Embassy, etc. After each step in the process, as I received positive feedback from State, E was as excited as I was to move on to the next hurdle. She knew my oral assessment score within minutes of the result being announced.
After over a year of daydreaming about living and working in Moscow, Mumbai, Maputo, and dozen other places (not all starting with M), it has suddenly moved from hypothetical to real. An indefinite process that could last for another year or more, has suddenly moved into overdrive. We thought through all the contingencies, planned in detail how it would work, and when the call came we were ready to go. At the same time, we are totally unprepared.
In the week since getting the good news, in between the excitement and congratulations, the stress level has risen day-by-day. E and I have certainly been apart before: a half dozen six-week jury trials, over a hundred out-of-town depositions, and countless management trips abroad. In 1995, I easily ate more dinners with my team than with my family. The prospect of two years apart, however, has fallen on both of us like a ton of bricks.
We are not having second thoughts or regrets. That’s not what this is about. Rather, we are both processing and planning for very different, parallel near-term lives. For me, I’ll be immersed in a new career, new colleagues, new city, new language, and new apartment. Alone. For E, she’ll continue to work, volunteer, parent, walk the dog, take on everything I did, and provide me with moral support long distance. Alone. Yes, we will have the opportunity for periodic visits in DC, California, and wherever I end up for the first post. Yes, we will each have our kids close by (G finishing high school in California, M finishing college in DC, and Z starting college in Philly).
With such immense change coming for each of us in six short weeks, we have both naturally looked first and foremost at our upcoming life from our own vantage. I’m in planning mode and too often get caught up in the details at wholly inappropriate times (e.g., researching apartments via email while walking on the beach in Carmel with E and the dog). As often happens, neither of us wants to fight. We get a little sad, followed closely by my frustration at not being able to fix it. Then we go for a walk together, and talk. And then talk some more.
It will all be fine. Not always happy. Not always miserable. Just a period to get through. Together.