With only 8 weeks to go left in-country, I am in the midst of a pre-packout panic period. Say that 10 times as fast as you can. With a cocktail in hand. Don’t forget the chocolate.
As a good foreign service friend of mine (Lea Baker!) recently said, “I realize now that my life has been a series of piles.” Aaaaaand, that about sums it up. You arrive at a new post, you have piles suitcases to unload. Plus mounds and mounds of hand luggage. And about 20 different carry-on’s for your kids. They give you a temporary housing kit with essentials, and that’s more heaps of stuff. Sigh. Then your shipments start to arrive and although you have waited for them anxiously for 6 weeks to 3 months and possibly more, you are filled with a sense of dread when those dirty, dusty, possibly water-logged boxes finally do arrive. Just a few boxes. Like 98 of them or so. With an occasional extra critter thrown in from Africa. And often something you DIDN’T want packed-like fossilized fruit or a gargantuan bag filled with cd cases that you had intended to recycle before you left your last post….but then you forgot in all of the chaos.
Packing out and moving across the globe is a delicate process. It’s delicate and brutal all at the same time. Kind of living in a live puzzle-Where do I put the stuff to be shipped by boat? Where do I put the stuff to be flown by air? Wait, where is our car? And where do I put the passports and important documents so that I don’t accidentally throw them out or pack them? I have done that, by the way. Yeah, that was a good day in our house, let me tell you when I realized that I had packed the passports. My house is a pandemonium-filled war-zone of post-it notes and reminders. And by post-it notes, I mean the teeny-tiny little, terribly annoying ones. But at least they are in rainbow colors and my girls like them. I keep finding my ones replaced by ones with stick figures and wobbly hearts. And smudges of jam. Signed in big bubble letters. Must be the work of nut #3. Now I need to keep those, too.
I also have a hard time controlling my daughters and their endless need to pack crap, crap, and more crap in our suitcases. I don’t mean their favorite toys and stuffed animals. I understand that we need those. I mean things like a bag of stale popcorn or the wobbly wall of a Lego farm complete with all of its teeny-weeny animals. Or fake flowers. Hideously plastic ones. Possibly some squished grapes. And about 8 little coin purses filled with every possible currency you can imagine. Even Central African Francs. Which much to Mia’s chagrin are worth about as much as some clean toilet paper. As well a few stacks of toy money for good measure.
It’s almost like a secret code between my bartender and myself when we start to think about packing for a trip or a pack-out. Wait, who am I kidding? It’s just me. And my packing, sorting, and organizing. The lone valiant packer. Going off to packing war. And my tiptoeing around with suitcases and bags, trying desperately not to let my kids see that we are embarking on the packing period. Because if they know…..then it opens up the flood gate. And my sweet, docile children madly turn in a wolf-pack-esque group of busy ants (the ferocious kind), running around, grabbing things to “pack”, wanting to “help”, tearing apart their drawers and closets, pulling out everything and anything. Like they have gone completely berserk. They are desperate packers. That should be a reality show, right? Desperate to pack anything. Like as in they are hysterically asking me about packing 6 months before a trip. So I try to act nonchalant-”Oh THAT trip. Well, ummmmm, oh yeah, well, not QUITE yet.” The night before. Until they finally drag it out of me and I give in and let them pack. And hold on! For those of you who are thinking, “T needs to INVOLVE her kids more.” I do! Somewhat reluctantly, though, I do admit. I finally tell them that they can help by going to get 3 pairs of undies each, 3 socks, etc. And we end up with 12 pairs of undies and 2 mismatched socks. And a big poofy princess dress, along with a broken wand just for good measure. We have actually gone on a trip (thankfully, just an overnight when we were in the DC area) and I let the girls do their packing and we ended up with nut #3 wearing nut #2′s shoes which were waaaaaay too big for her. And her Dad ended up having to carry her around because she kept tripping over her own poor little feet.
And getting rid of stuff before we move across the globe? It’s like a freaking top-secret mission. Not only from my kids. Oh no, I am fighting a valiant, but pitifully losing battle here. From my husband, aka the bartender. He wants to keep EVer-y-thing, including that pinny (shirt, for those of you who don’t get kid’s sports practice language, myself included) he used for lacrosse practice. In 1989. The really cool one, ya know? And some other much-less desirable practice gear that goes along with the pinny. You get my drift? As in, below the waist. For boys. Men? Why do I need to find those in my heavy-duty, color-coordinated plastic Target bins? UGH. Then there are the girls. And as soon as they hear that we are having a yard sale or that we are donating stuff to an NGO, they huddle down with their stuff as if they were holding onto the last freaking Polly Pocket on this earth. And all of a sudden, the toy that they haven’t touched for 3 flipping years becomes their new best friend, their only friend. Or that coloring book with one scribble on each and every page. Or that piece of string. That really, REALLY special piece of string. As in, I don’t have a best friend, I just have my favorite piece of string. We had a garage sale yesterday and my bartender was shopping at OUR sale. I am seriously not kidding. He bought 2 scarves and 3 pieces of African wax fabric. I almost chucked him out the window.
I walk into a room in the months before a pack-out and it’s like my Spidy-Sense takes over. I can FEEL the junk staring out at me from the closets. I can sense the pyramids of paperwork mocking me from inside the cupboard. And when I actually DO get through one pitiful little drawer, it’s like I have slain a giant, slobbering beast. I feel intense victory and I am wondering why I am not getting a lifetime achievement award for ridding that itty bitty drawer of battered and tattered Fulbe language flashcards, (the local language of the far north of Cameroon), that my bartender has lovingly kept for over 15 years. Then I realize it’s a losing battle. Gah!!!! And I dejectedly go back to my magazine and chocolate. Which by the way, are also what is taking over my house-MAGAZINES. Oh my. I KNOW that I am supposed to have all my recipes filed on-line by now and that I am NOT supposed to have stacks and stacks of Bon Appétit magazines and recipe clippings collecting dust, right? How is it that one measly piece of paper can be light as a feather but together they can weigh as much as a small herd of elephants? And ever since we have had kids that can read (darn them!), we now have about 300 National Geographic Kids magazines lying around, as well as Peppa Pig, Charlie and Lola, Noddy, in addition to a small stack of Men’s Health mags that could fill up a shed. D’oh!!!!! The magazine universe is ganging up on me. We also have about 3,000 manuals and/or guidebooks in various cupboards and drawers around the house. Just in case we want to see how that Cuisinart mixer works that we bought 15 years ago. But on that thought (in terms of getting rid of stuff), one can never have too many teabags. That’s my opinion. Just in case there’s a global teabag shortage. Because you never know. No cheeky jokes, please. Same goes for chocolate. Because chocolate is my savior when things start to get chaotic around packing time. As long as I am eating a piece by myself. (Who am I kidding, a piece? I meant a whole chocolate bar.) Otherwise the nuts start to clamor around me. They can smell the chocolate on my breath and then they start to get rowdy.
But back to getting rid of stuff. Like as I am having 2+ sales and selling it all. Either that or toss it all out the window. But having a garage sale is a taboo subject around my house. I decided the other day that I was going to sell the doll’s house that I had when I was a little girl because-
- It’s broken and we have tried unsuccessfully to fix it several times (doors falling off, etc.)
- It’s super heavy-extra pounds, everyone!
- And finally, no one ever plays with it. Until of course, this morning, when I got it out, dusty and all. Then Remi started playing with it and hasn’t stopped for the past three hours. It’s now apparently here favorite toy. Sigh. *
I never knew that post-it notes would play such an intricate part of my life as an adult. Our topsy-turvy house and all of its post-its take on a new identity during the midst of a pack-out. One room is designated to bags that we are taking with us on the plane. This includes carry-on’s so essentially the room is packed to its gills. Snacks are everywhere. Gum, lolly-pops, m & m’s and pretzels are strewn onto every possible open space. Mini-sized games and cards and anything to keep my kids occupied on the plane are all over the bed. You have to have a secret badge to gain access to this room essentially. Or a very deep, adult-like voice when you knock (three times) on the door for allowed entry. No kids allowed. Then there are the other rooms-one room for air freight, one room for boat freight, and one for unruly children. Just kidding. Each room is color-coded by post-it note. Kidding again. I wish I were that organized. However, there ARE a ton of post-it notes involved, and just for good measure, we use every kind, every size, and every color. Because post-it notes are kinda sexy, right?
So. Have I told you that I think we might need some more slightly crooked princess wands in our house? And some more broken dress-up shoes? How about some sparkly tiaras with big ‘ol glitzy rhinestones? We definitely need more of those because we have just, oh, maybe 36 of each. And that’s not even counting under the beds-aka, the black holes of children’s toys. I also thought I was pretty good about getting rid of out-of-date meds. Boy, was I on crack when I thought that? Because I did NOT just find a tube of Destine (bum cream for babies) in the girls bathroom. Or did I? I think I did. How about some children’s cough and cold syrup, a big old heavy glass bottle, from 2004. I thought it said 2014. Now my eyes must be failing me. We still have a ton of baby wipes but at least I can use the excuse-“Baby wipes are great for cleaning up marks on walls and furniture.” Whew. That was a close one. We also have just a few cd’s and dvd’s lying around. Just a few thousand. Anyone want them? No? How about broken shells? They come with sand? Soccer jerseys? No again? Deep breaths.
I have been sorting in nut #’s 2 and 3’s rooms this morning and I just caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My hair is a big frizzball (gray!?!) and I didn’t look when I put it in a bun so part of it (the top right side) is sticking up on top, hence I end up looking slightly bonkers. Just slightly. I have yet to change out of my p.j.’s and my face still has a lovely pillow mark streaked across my cheek. I have no makeup on. Wait a second, I don’t wear makeup. Somehow I manage to look pale and sweaty at the same time. How is that possible? Yikes. I think even the girls might have been a bit afraid of me. At least I brushed my teeth, right? Or at least I think I did. Did I? I emerged after a good 2-3 hours of sorting, organizing, folding and cleaning feel wiped out. Like more tired than a full day of finger-printing folks (my job) at the US embassy. Like I need a good drink, some sort of chocolate mousse, and some good therapy. It’s exhausting to sort Polly Pockets and Pet Shops, Squinkies and Zoobles, let me tell you. Putting clothes back on naked Barbie dolls and baby dolls in the nuddy. Figuring out who wears what freaking pink frilly hat. Gluing decapitated Barbie heads back on naked dolls. Looks a bit sinister, but I assure you, it’s the work of a very determined 4-year-old doll destroyer.
Nut #3 has just started to learn how to write and we are all, of course, very proud of her. However, she now takes endless pieces of paper and carefully cuts them up (leaving tiny bits of paper everywhere) into minuscule pieces and writes her name all over them. And then she repeats with the other words she knows-Dad, Mum, Mia, Zoë, Moo-Moo, Popsi, and so on and so forth. And then she VERY meticulously hides them all over the house. In the sink. Under her bed. In her backpack. In the bartender’s desk. Next to the toilet. On our chairs. In the oven. Wait what? And then she gets very, very angry when I throw just a few of them out. A few hundred. And I fail miserably at not letting her see me do it. She’s kind of like a mini Houdini. All is quiet and I think that I am safe and I am juuuuuuust about to pop them in the trash (having kept a few, maybe 30 or so) and all of a sudden, she appears. And she demands, “What are you doing, Mama? Are you THROWING OUT my homework???” So indignant. And so pissed off. And I suddenly become meek. And I slink back to the drawer and put them all back, with her standing over me like a high security prison guard.
Holy crumbs, I haven’t been in some of these toy bins since we left Cairo about 5 years ago. We left Senegal too quickly to get through much of the toys. So some of these boxes and bins are a bit like a time machine. We also have a wooden chest that every time the girls make something pretty or come home with something new, we tend to stuff it in the chest. And the chest now weighs about 2,000 pounds. And now I have to go through every scrap of paper in that never-ending abyss.
So. All kidding aside! Even with all of our crap, I am, deep down, extraordinarily grateful for all that we have. We have many friends, around the globe, who have had to leave their homes on extremely short notice due to an evacuation. Threats of violence, coup d’états, natural disasters, and on. Dear friends who have had to leave their belongings with 30 pounds of luggage per person. And in the end, I have learned that it’s just stuff, right? The nuts and bartender are what really matter to me. I love my house but my home is with them.
Aaaaaaaand now, back to my packing. And my chocolate therapy.
*Update on my toy dollhouse from when I was a little nut. We kept it. Sigh?