Counting Airplanes: I Am Ready to Go

“Is that a ‘Mommy plane’?” my son asked while we splash in the turquoise-blue, saltwater pool surrounded by the buildings of my apartment complex that mimic villas along Venetian canals.  He heard the airplane fly overhead and immediately shaded his eyes from the bright sun with one hand — little, tan fingers dripping water — to scan the sky.

“Yup, buddy, that looks like a ‘Mommy plane,’” I replied as I wondered about the passengers aboard, the destination of the flight, and what stories were being written by that particular flight taking off and touching down.

He and I count airplanes together.

Continue reading “Counting Airplanes: I Am Ready to Go”

Being OK with “Not Perfect”

The coffeehouse meetup between friends.  A chance to exchange intimate details about life’s recent events.  A chance to have heart-to-heart conversations that sometimes prompt tears but more often prompt laughter.  And a chance to implicitly convey to the person or people sitting across the table that they are significant characters in your story. 

Over the past few weeks, I have had quite a few of these meetups, but one moment, in particular, has been floating around in my thoughts since last week.  I met up with a friend so we could touch base before I left, and after a good deal of heart-to-heart conversation, plenty of laughter, and a few stifled tears, she told me something that no one had yet said to me about my upcoming adventures and life changes.  “It sounds like this is going to be wonderful for you, and I can tell how happy you are,” she said. “Just be OK with it not being perfect, not fitting that image you might have in your mind.”

For a moment, this rattled me, and I froze.  Of course, I have been mentally preparing for what life in foreign service as a trailing spouse will be like.  Andrew and I have spoken frequently and openly about it, and he has always been extremely frank about the difficulties and challenges that come along with the lifestyle.  In my mind, I have already decided to take each experience as it comes and to not arrive in Liberia with any expectations.  Hearing someone else, though — someone who knows how much of a planner I am — tell me to be OK if these experiences don’t fit any preconceived notions I might have was somehow freeing.  I felt a weight that I did not even know I had been carrying lifted from my body, and I thanked her sincerely for such real advice. Continue reading “Being OK with “Not Perfect””

A Girl and Her Writing Desk

IMG_6167 (1)This week I was reunited with the only piece of furniture I have ever really considered absolutely mine: my writing desk.  

Finally able to relocate it to my current home, it is the one piece of furniture I will be taking with me as I pack my belongings over the next few weeks in preparation for moving abroad.

Almost a decade ago, I started the search.  I waited for years to find the right one, and then — as often happens in these types of stories — I came upon it by chance when I least expected it.  I was driving home from work one day when I saw it standing resolutely at the curb in front of a neighbor’s house with a note that read, “Free Please Take.”  Someone else had decided they were finished with it, but the desk almost seemed to have positioned itself like a determined job applicant, waiting for someone to give it the opportunity to continue its purpose.  Amused by this thought, I claimed the desk and gave it a new life.   Continue reading “A Girl and Her Writing Desk”

Love Is the Thing: A Long Answer to a Sarcastic Question

A gift from my best friend when I told her about my decision to follow my heart and my dreams.

“What are you going to do in Liberia … other than be a good diplomat-wife?” a colleague jokingly asked me recently.

More on this later.

First, I want to address the fact that many women struggle to maintain a sense of self as we move through life.  When I was in college, I had certain phrases in mind for who I wanted to become: journalist, world traveler, international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, UNICEF aid worker, humanitarian, changemaker.  With time, those phrases lessened and were somewhat reordered: writer, partner, educator, part-time humanitarian, occasional world traveler.  Flash forward to the only phrases that fit who I had become: teacher, mother, wife.

Please understand that I arrived at those three words through choices that were made whole-heartedly in their seasons.  However, as the descriptors I had imagined for myself decreased, my sense of the world diminished as well.  Especially after becoming a mother, I actually became fearful of the world — fearful of anything I could not control.  I developed a crippling anxiety that prevented me from participating in activities that spoke to my passions and from developing new and meaningful connections with others.
Continue reading “Love Is the Thing: A Long Answer to a Sarcastic Question”

Preparing for Departure: The Technical and Emotional Aspects

Typhoid.  Polio.  Measles, Mumps, and Rubella.  Hepatitis A.  Meningococcal Disease. Flu.

“We don’t typically give so many vaccinations to a patient in one day,” the physician’s assistant told me after he injected me with the sixth and final vaccine I would receive that afternoon. You’ll probably want to take it easy for the next couple of days.”

“I was planning on a bike ride tomorrow,” I replied, never having been one to consider lying around all day to be a form of relaxation (though sometimes I really wish I was!).

He chuckled.  We had already bonded — in our brief twenty minutes together — over a shared interest in travel, my curiosity about his service with the Peace Corps in Rwanda during the 1994 evacuations and genocide, and his almost brother-like insistence that I become skilled in self-defense if I was going to travel the world from now on.  “Why don’t you see how you’re feeling in the morning and go from there?” he responded. Continue reading “Preparing for Departure: The Technical and Emotional Aspects”

Big Hearts, Big Hopes: What I Know about Liberia

Liberia Bracelet
Sporting a bracelet one of my former students gave me to celebrate my move to Liberia. “The flag is almost the same as the US flag!” she exclaimed. “That’s right, it is! Let me tell you why!” I replied and launched into teacher mode.

Everything I know about Liberia, I’ve learned in the past year.

First, some background.

About a year ago, my STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students had their first Skype call with my fiance Andrew, a civil engineer who has experience working with refugees, has researched in and worked in various developing countries, and is currently a foreign service officer with USAID posted in Liberia, West Africa.  The call took place in conjunction with our study of the memoir The Other Side of the Sky, a story about a female protagonist’s struggles with growing up in war-torn Afghanistan, becoming a landmine victim, evading the Taliban, becoming a child refugee, and then finding her way as a Muslim immigrant teenager in early post-9/11 United States.  

Andrew spoke specifically about his work in the U.S., Haiti, Ethiopia, and West Bank and Gaza as the students asked unfiltered questions that ranged from “Are you ever scared that one of your development projects might fail?” to “Do you get looked at funny when you’re in developing countries because you’re a white American?”  Of course, these types of questions prompted laughter and commotion that was sometimes immature and sometimes nervous.  However, the students were quickly brought back to focus by Andrew’s frank, story-focused responses; and they were captivated by the personal, real-world look at an engineering career that they had never before considered.

While they later listened intently to the description of his experience in Liberia (its culture, people, and need for development), one of my students leaned over to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could start a pen pal program with Liberian students?”  *DING!*  “Let’s make it happens,” I thought to myself.  When my students had an idea that spoke to my 3C’s (Culture, Communication, and Collaboration), I always took up the challenge to try and make it happen for them. Continue reading “Big Hearts, Big Hopes: What I Know about Liberia”

Twelve Years in Two Boxes: Leaving the Classroom

This week I concluded my twelfth and final year of teaching public school.  

I am fortunate to have stayed in touch with many of my former students throughout the years, and many of them have made special trips to see me in these last few months of my career.  Even more of them have sent me sweet and supportive messages to thank me for the impact I made in their lives and to wish me well as I begin a new chapter in mine.  Below are just some of the visits and one wonderful bon voyage dinner.

I became a teacher directly out of graduate school.  At twenty-three years old, I was thrown into teaching English language arts (ELA) to English language learners (ELLs) at one of the highest-risk high schools in the county.  The thing was: I didn’t have a degree in education (my MA was in literature), so I had no pedagogical toolbelt that equipped me for the demands of this situation.  Therefore, I relied solely on the support of veteran teachers who were willing to mentor me, open and honest conversations with my students about their struggles and goals, and my own enthusiasm for learning and creativity to get me through that first couple of years.

Those survival habits never really went away.   Continue reading “Twelve Years in Two Boxes: Leaving the Classroom”