Yesterday a new friend here at post said I seemed like the perfect FS spouse. I had to laugh. I am so far from the perfect spouse it isn't even funny. Don't believe me? Let's look at the evidence.
I hate change, so we choose to live a life of eternal change. Yes I know, everything changes all the time. Time, after all, refuses to stay still. However I am talking serious change, change of house, change of friends, change of country and everything that goes with it: culture, food, language, people. Did I mention I hate change? I want, really want, to be a creature of habit. I want to go where everybody knows my name, Ok maybe I don't want to go to a bar in Boston but I do want to go someplace where I feel like I belong. That's one of the reasons why we bought our little house in the 'hood. We had barely pulled up this summer and were just unloading suitcases when I started hearing "Hey Shannon! Welcome home!" "Hi Miss Shannon! Can Colin and Zo come play?" Totally music to my ears. For me it's comforting to know there is some place that I belong. One of my happy thoughts is knowing that our little house, and the whole 'hood are waiting for me to come back next summer. There will be changes there too, of course, but there will also be a sameness that feeds my need for continuity.
I hate airplanes, so we fly here there and everywhere with me white knuckling it all the way. Don't even suggest that I have a drink to help me chill out. When I was a kid I got violently motion sick all the time. It happened in cars, on airplanes, merry-go-rounds, boats, anything that moved could potentially make me barf. I can remember many airsick bags when we flew to visit my grandmother. Now I have this overwhelming fear that if I have a glass of wine on a plane I will barf. I know it is illogical, and I haven't been motion sick to the point of barfing in years, but I am still terrified by the thought of it. Lately my new minted teenager (he's 13) has figured out that I don't like flying and has taken to asking me things like "Mom what happens if the plane is stuck by lightening?" and "What if the wings fall off?" and my personal favorite "Mom! Look out the window, do you think that is a crack?"Do you know that is is impossible to not look out the window after that question? This last summer David finally had to make sure that he was sitting between us so that I wouldn't murder the kiddo in midair. Teen boy thinks he is funny, but he is exactly one episode of Air Disasters away from being used as a barf bag.
I don't do well with waiting. Waiting at a red light? Torture. Waiting in line at the store? Awful. In the FS it feels like we wait for everything. Wait to find out if you will get in, wait for the bid lists, wait to find out where we are going next, wait to see if the kids were accepted at the new school, wait for HHE*, wait, wait, and wait some more should be the motto of the foreign service.
I can't seem to learn a foreign language. I have tried, but languages are not my gift. Even English spoken with a heavy accent, any accent, might well be Klingon or high Elvish for all the sense it makes to me. I must drive accented people that come in contact with me absolutely nuts asking them to repeat things over and over until, if we are lucky, something suddenly makes sense. Often they just go through my husband rather than deal with me. I admire those who speak two, three, four or more languages, but I am coming to realize that will never be me, if I can learn enough language at each post to ask "Where's the bathroom?" and understand the answer, plus a few polite phrases like "Good morning", "Please," and "Thank you," I will be pretty happy.
I am not very adventurous. I know what you are thinking: "But you went on Safari! Slept in a tent with hippos right outside!" Yes, but you weren't in the car with me as I moaned about how I was sure the lions were going to eat us on that first safari trip. I'm sort of surprised my husband didn't leave me on the side of the road halfway across Zambia. I resist doing almost anything outside of my comfort zone. Even basic things. I'm terrified of driving in a foreign country. I NEVER drove in Jakarta, not even once. It took me almost a year to drive in Germany, and a little longer than that in Malawi. In case you are wondering no, I haven't driven in Oman yet, but now that we have a car I am not going to be able to avoid it much longer.
I don't like having staff in the house, I like my privacy. I would rather clean my own toilet than lose my privacy to having someone in the house all day, every day. There are exceptions, I would hire the driver and pembantu that we had in Jakarta if we went back, in a heartbeat. Otherwise, no thanks! I'll clean my own house. I do have to add that in an ideal world someone invisible would show up once a week or so to clean the toilets, sweep, mop and vacuum, and them quietly leave. Sadly we don't live in an ideal world.
I can take forever to make close friends. Years in fact. Although I may make lots of casual friends and acquaintances at every post, I can count on one hand the number of friends that I have made that were the kind of friends that I would feel comfortable calling for a sympathetic ear and cup of coffee on a bad day. It takes time for me to make those kind of connections, and since we move ever few years time isn't exactly on my side.
So why on earth would anyone think I am the perfect FS spouse? What do I have going for me? Well the main thing in my favor is that I actually like being a housewife. I don't much like the title, but I do like the job. I am not driven to go out and find a job at the embassy, or pursue a career. I am content to stay home and take care of the house and family. I think it's a special skill to take a house and turn it into a comfortable home. It takes talent and a certain amount of creativity to turn out healthy, yummy dinners night after night. Especially if you can't run to the store for a rotisserie chicken, pre-shredded cheese, and frozen veggies. I like the challenges that come with trying to make all my favorite dinners from back home without all the ingredients readily at hand. Want lasagna and can't find ricotta? No problem I can make that. Dying for some potstickers? Gotcha covered. Want tacos but don't have tortillas? I can tell you how to make your own, it's easier than you think.
I know it isn't the popular thing to enjoy being a housewife. It's sort of the ideal of a bygone era. In fact my husband has been known to refer to me as "his 1950's wife." No, I haven't stabbed him in his sleep. I know, I'm a saint. The thing is he thinks it's a compliment, and I am willing to take it in that spirit, as long as he doesn't expect me to wear pearls, shirtwaist dresses, and heels everyday. Jeans, t-shirts and bare feel will have to do.
In many ways being content to be a housewife makes me ideally suited to be a FS spouse. Those who've had to leave behind careers they enjoyed and excelled at to become a "trailing spouse" can have a rough time of it, trying to find meaningful satisfying work at post after post, each time having to reinvent themselves anew. So maybe I'm not the perfect FS spouse, I actually don't know if there is such a creature, but I'm happy to hang out at the house, trying new recipes, blogging, and quietly chasing my own dreams of someday writing a book, and that makes me a pretty good fit for this life.
*While I was typing this post I received a test from Dave HHE will be here SUNDAY! Next week is going to be super busy with boxes everywhere!!