The Elephant In The Room

Today is the first day in almost one month where I had the entire house to myself. With Matt home from Baghdad for 2.5 weeks, then school closed for ski-week, our tiny house went from overflowing with laughter and family and fun ... to piling up with dishes and laundry and messes. I longed for the day where I wouldn't have to entertain anyone. So instead of waking up early and getting ready before I dropped everyone off at their respective schools, I decided to wait until I could enjoy my primping in peace.

I took a LONG shower. I wanted to enjoy my time alone. Without anybody screaming, "MOMMY!" Without anyone banging on the door asking if they can come into the bathroom. Without worrying that someone would flush the toilet and THEN warn me after wards that the water might get a tad too hot.

I angled the shower nozzle to hit my lower back, and I instantly felt the stress being chiseled away by the hot water, ever so slowly washing down the drain. From the moment I stepped in, my mind began racing, filling, streaming with thoughts and images I couldn't begin to organize. Though, as I scrambled for the wall markers left by the girls in the corners of the shower to write them down, I discover they were out of ink and were just cluttering the floor. Perhaps a symbol for the heavy thoughts that were clouding my brain.

I don't know how long I was standing there. Long enough to keep increasing the temperature so I could stay warmer longer and for my fingers to turn into prunes. Long enough to formulate answers on a topic that continues to arise, and is by far one of the most widely discussed behind closed doors ... yet is increasingly hush-hush.

I'm talking about ... Choices. I'm talking about ... Trust. I'm talking about ... Infidelity.

Last year when we made the announcement about Matt's unaccompanied tour, I can't begin to tell you how many friends raised their eyebrows and gave me "the look." Not the look that says we're crazy to be separated the year. But the look that silently asks me if I trust him spending a year apart from us.

Surprisingly, I am still met with this look on a regular basis. No longer from friends. But from new people I meet in town. People who hear about us through the grapevine. People who just can't believe that any spouse could be separated for that long, live in a place where there other would never find out what really happened, and stay faithful.

And my retort? After 7 months of him being gone, it honestly has NEVER once crossed my mind that he would do anything inappropriate and that would jeopardize our marriage. Period.

However it's common knowledge that infidelity happens. Frequently. It's a very real concern, and to repress it or belittle it, is doing a disservice. The reality is ... if there are issues in your relationship with your partner, an unaccompanied tour will exacerbate it. If there are cracks in your foundation, the tour will then provide the opportunity.

Most importantly, the onus is on the employee to provide the level of comfort to the home-bound spouse. Because not only are the spouses worrying about their husband or wife's safety, but they're also worrying if they're making good decisions. There are inherent levels of trust when one is away. Trust that is not a right, but rather has to be earned.

Matt, admittedly so, has had his own shortcomings early on in his career. Opportunities where he failed to recognize, appreciate, and acknowledge the role I played in this lifestyle, which would eliminate any fears or stresses in our relationship. Throughout our 10+ years with the organization, we've dealt with some very high highs and some extremely low lows. He's had to work at saving our marriage. To demonstrate to me that I am the love of his life, and that he'd never jeopardize or consider ruining it over something completely frivolous.

Before Matt left for Iraq, the State Department provided us with loads of resources on how to handle the separation. From community chat groups, playgroups, monthly courses with other spouses, to blogs and information on wills and health services, and everything else that Matt would encounter once he got to Iraq. But the one piece of information they neglected to hand out, was the pamphlet on what to do if you discover your spouse is cheating.

Sure, it's not exactly "Temptation Island" over there (Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan). But people are still engaging in sex. Married men AND women. We've all heard the saying, "What happens in ___, stays in ___". And for the most part, it does. Because who really wants to know that their spouse is being unfaithful. Or worse. Who really wants to tell a friend that they know THEIR spouse is having extramarital relations? Where's the counseling session on that topic?

I know firsthand that there are consequences. I've seen several people throughout the years ruin their corridor reputation that both precedes and succeeds you at a post. I've even seen people sent back to the U.S. for inappropriate conduct. Why take the chance? Despite the State Department being so big, it's actually a small, small community. You always run into the same people ... with its six degrees of separation.

The blemishes these unaccompanied tours already leave on a marriage can be huge. Collateral damage if you will. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the bombs, guns, and explosions. Missed anniversaries and birthdays, new beginnings and special occasions. An anxiety ridden spouse can leave as equally a bad scar.

And then there are those whose relationships not only weather, but grow from the year apart. The ones who are completely open and honest and have a new appreciation for what their spouse handles and goes through. The relationships that flourish because of strong bonds, support, and reciprocated trust. The many, who at the end of the day can breath a sigh of relief, knowing that the small speed bump of this year apart will do nothing more than increase their finances and maintain their sanity.

In the end, I always pose the daily question, "Are you making good choices?"

And admittedly though we are ... I know that tomorrow, I need to let everyone else's elephants clear the room ... and take a shorter shower.


All Good Things Must Come To An End

We have now entered Operation: "Get these tasty treats the HECK out of my house, because my a** about to explode!!!"

In the past four weeks Riley has sold almost 400 boxes of Girl Scout cookies to an amazing amount of State Department Personnel overseas. She has outfitted entire Embassies and Consulates. Sold individual boxes to friends and family. And attached hand-written notes in every package.

But we are nearing the end.

I'm done making trips to the post office. I'm done labeling customs forms. I'm done making thrice-weekly trips to pick up additional cases of cookies.

Whoever wants Girl Scout cookies needs to contact me by March 1 ... or forever hold your peace. I'll send out however many you, your family, your overseas posting would like ... for the next three days.

Want to order cookies, but you don't really want them for yourself? If you're feeling really generous, you can also donate money towards purchasing cookies for those in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. I have addresses for people serving there, and I'm sure they'd love a surprise box or two!

Click here to donate via PayPal ... just click "send money" ... put in my email address ... mjperlman@me.com ... and decide how much you want to send. Need a reminder? The cookies are $4 a box. I'll package the cookies and send them out no later than Wednesday.

Want to see the original posting where I give you the breakdown of everything available ... or what to do to order cookies for your overseas posting? Go here ...

My tush, thighs, and stomach are thanking you for ordering!


Worth The Read!!

Do you know what's going on in the world around you? Are you staying abreast of the proposed tax cuts for us Foreign Service workers? Has the earthquake in New Zealand and its aftermath tugged at your heart strings lately? How up-to-date are you on the craziness in Libya? The evacuations in Cairo and Tunisia? The shooting at the Embassy in Bangkok?

Every Friday a Foreign Service blogger hosts the "Weekly Roundup", and spends countless hours compiling news recaps and tidbits of everything going on in the blogosphere around world. While many weeks the themes are lighthearted, filled with amazing adventures and gorgeous pictures, just like this week, there are often nitty gritty posts that are emotional, hit hard, and get you thinking. So much of what happens in the Federal Government and in our U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad affect more than just us Government employees...

If you have the time, you should absolutely check these out. And stay tuned ... one of these days I'll be hosting it myself.


It May Not Be THE Happiest Place On Earth ...

... But it was certainly the happiest place we could go during the girls week-long school break.

We. Had. FUN. A much needed great time.

BTW, many thanks for all your concern about Matt's travels back to Iraq. He surprisingly caught the last flight out from Kuwait to Iraq before they locked down the Embassy for the protests.
He's "home" ... and he's back in the grind.


The Long Road

The forty-five mile drive to the airport is probably the longest hour of our lives. What more can you possibly say to each other that hasn't been said in the past three weeks ... or even since you went to bed just five hours ago?

We drive along. Making small talk. Gibbering away at the menusha, that frankly, I know I won't even remember once I kiss him good-bye at the curb.

The tears didn't come until he took his bag out of the trunk of my car. Until he whispered in my ear about how much he hates leaving. Me too. Meeee toooooo. I'm usually fine with our decision until he leaves and I have the reminders of what-just-was ... and what-won't-be for another few months again. Amazing how quickly the loneliness jumps out and bites you in the tush.

But I quickly dry my eyes because I need to drive home. To get home. By way of Starbucks of course. To pick up my infamous triple grande caramel macchiatto ... and two chocolate croissants. For the girls...

Back to the grind we were forced to go. Which would have been just fine had I not received a phone call from Matt once he arrived in DC with the craziest of news. Apparently, the unrest in the Middle East, that has affected so many of our friends, has finally begun to affect Iraq. And while that wouldn't be a problem once he GOT there, it IS a problem when you're stranded and you can't get IN there. All Military Air flights have been canceled for the next several days.

Had they sent the email just a few hours prior, Matt could have been stranded here. Instead, he was heading into an unknown situation. Would he be able to sneak on a flight back to Baghdad? Would he have to stay in Kuwait? It was 1 am in Jordan by the time we heard any of this, and thus couldn't reach anyone via the emergency travel number to discuss changing his flights. And not knowing what the situation might really be once he arrived in Kuwait, was forced to take his chances and fly out.

Now we wait. As I'm well trained to do. Though I'll admit, sometimes aspects of this lifestyle just aren't easy ... and this long road feels today, like it has no exits ...


Coming Up For Air ... Briefly

Matt has been on his 2nd R&R for almost two weeks now, and I can safely say that when he's here there's NEVER a dull moment. Of course, I can also admit there's never a dull moment when he isn't here either. Go figure, eh?

As we've been so busy during his time home, I've neglected to fill you in on all the fun we've been having. Here's the latest from Casa de Chaos ...

* This past weekend we celebrated Riley's 8th birthday on our first ever snow ski trip to Mammoth Mountain. It was no Singapore trip ... but it was definitely a memorable vacation! Why? Because not only did we ... caravan with our cousins on the 7+ hour car ride, endure complete and utter frustration when trying to outfit our kids with skis and boots on our first day, spend an absolute fortune purchasing tickets, rentals, and enrolling kids in private ski lessons ...
BUT ... we also had the unfortunate Perlman Family illness finally catch up with Matt on the second day, which left him hugging the porcelain gawd for several hours, and kept him hotel-bound instead of snow-bound on our last day. (Which really sucked for him because the second day of skiing rocked!)

* What Perlman Family illness do I speak of? The one that in a matter of hours hits like a ton of bricks. Where you find yourself dizzy. Nauseous. And you lay on the couch all day, because you've puked your guts out all night, kind of illness. It started with Grady and Riley on Superbowl Sunday. You know, the second day after Matt arrived in town? The next day I got it... and it knocked me on my tush. Two days later, Sheridan got it. And we thought we were all in the clear. Until three days later when Matt got it in Mammoth.

* Matt also came down with a cold. A "Man-Cold". Need I say more?

* I coerced Matt into a few doctor's appointments this trip. First, I took him to see the ophthalmologist to get a new pair of glasses ... but he left there with contacts. A different one for each eye. One contact corrects his near sightedness, while the other contact corrects his astigmatism. Then I took him to the dermatologist. To fry laser the blood vessels on his nose. Like wife ... like husband. We're both trying to look our Sunday best.

* Libby went to the vet for a check-up and did not leave with the clean bill of health we expected. After a complete once-over and blood test, the vet told me that not only is she geriatric ... but she's showing signs of losing her vision, she has awful arthritis, she has bad allergies, she has a yeast infection on her skin ... AND her blood results came back showing that she has a parasite and a thyroid disease. Just like me. The thyroid disease, not the parasite. Maybe it's hereditary? Several hundred dollars, and five medications later we left. Though not for long I'm sure...

* On top of all the illnesses and appointments, we've also been to every single Target, REI, Sports Authority and Sears all over the Orange County area ... I'm almost to the point where I'm shopped out. Almost.

* Oh and don't forget the Girl Scout Cookies that we've been boxing up and shipping out on a daily basis. Hundreds and hundreds of boxes of cookies. We really need to sell a few more, because keeping this many cookies at the house is not good for my thighs. I. Just. Can't. Turn. Down. Peanut. Butter. Patties...

But in spite or despite all the craziness that continues to follow us around, dealing with the frustrating California tax issue, working on our mortgage information on our new house, filing our tax return, schlepping to and from every after school activity, and everything else that has come our way ... we're having a blast with Matt in town and will be so sad to see him leave next week.

Let's just hope his "Man-Cold" goes away before he does. *Ahem*

Please forgive my absence on email, facebook, the blogosphere these past few weeks. With Matt in town, I have little time online ... Catch up with y'all later next week ~ after the kids school break!


Getting By With A Little Help From My Friends ...

While we may never have met in person, we've formed a bond because of the common experiences that bring us together. We know that despite the best planning, that things can (and in our case will) go awry, and somebody else will benefit from laughing at with me in the future. We feel confident that when an international SOS goes out, we know someone will answer it. That all the networking we've ever done through blogging, and AAFSW, and yahoo groups, and Facebook, and twitter, and through the friend of a friend of a friend ... will all pay off.

I met Matthew early this morning in Washington, D.C. and heard the long, drawn out story, of how he nearly missed his flight and ended up having to pay for his airline ticket on our credit card. Without going into the sordid details, the facts were that his ticket was voided, and the travel department where the ticket originated, and needed to be reissued, was in Jordan. Without a contact number or international cell service or an airline ticket to get us to Los Angeles, we were stuck in limbo.

That is ... until I emailed two girlfriends who LIVE in Jordan, and begged them for help. Less than an hour later, I received word back from one of them saying that she was able to get in touch with someone at the Embassy who took our information and would forward it on to the travel department. Three emails and thirty minutes later, she was assured that we were being taken care of, ten hours away in D.C.

Now, in the meantime of waiting for my girlfriend's replies, I discovered that I indeed had international cell service on my iPhone, and was able to get in touch with the travel department myself. In fact, I was on the phone with them at the same time my friend was being assured that our problems were being addressed.

While it seemed like an eternity, in less than two hours Matt's ticket issues were resolved, and he received an email stating that he'd be reimbursed for his out-of-pocket expenses. Whew!

But more importantly, I was reminded that ... despite distance, despite tenure, despite experience ... this foreign service community is one to rely on ... to come to in times of need. Occasionally it may feel a bit like high school, where toes can get stepped on, and feelings hurt. But in the end, the bonds that we create along this winding, and sometimes treacherous path, are some of the strongest we'll ever encounter.

Just check out their own stories under the FS links on the sidebar of my blog ...

(kindly let me know if I'm missing you and you'd like to be added)


Can Anyone Spare $8789?

Because that's what the letter that I received from the Franchise Tax Board in the State of California says we owe for 2008 taxes.

Taxes that are to be paid in a State we've haven't worked OR resided in since 2000.

And with a payment due date of less than two weeks away and a "threat" that if it's not paid within thirty days of the date of the notice, that we could have a state tax lien filed, well.... Think I'm a tad stressed? Um... yeah. Especially since this comes on the heels of obtaining a mortgage for our new home, and I don't need anything messing with our credit.

I know we don't owe the money ... nor am I going to pay the money ... but I'm just not convinced that this is going to go away as quickly and swiftly as I'd like.

To compound my frustration, when Matt checked in for his flight from Kuwait to DC today, he ended up paying for his R&R ticket on our credit card due to a HUGE snafu with the Government travel agent. Sadly we've been wrestling with making the correct flight arrangements for several weeks, despite this agent continually making a mess of Matt's entire itinerary, and only a few days ago finally issuing his ticket.

Of course, when he went to get on the plane today, the airline had no record of his paid seat ... and instead only showed a canceled itinerary. Insert my angry face here.

But on a lighter note, I got rid of the red zebra stripes in my hair today, and after two hours in the hair salon, I am now back to my beautiful brunette color. However, I can't show you a picture of my new 'do because then you'd see my nose, and it's still pretty gnarly.

T-minus 12 hours until I see Matt ... in Virginia.

I'm taking the red-eye and will be there for a whirlwind 12 hours ... where we'll sign some papers, solidify the upgrades, and then hop on a flight together back to Los Angeles tomorrow night.

After almost three months apart, I just hope that we can possibly splurge on a little more than McDonald's for lunch tomorrow. You know ... after spending $8789 on back-taxes (that we don't owe), $4000 on an R&R airline ticket (that should have been paid for), and more than we'll admit on our new home ... we're kinda broke.


And Then ... This Is What SHE Did

... after refusing to get out of her bed this morning once she read the letter the tooth fairy left her last night.

... after being threatened that if she didn't get dressed for school that I'd drop her off in her nightgown and robe.

... after coming home from school and having to serve another time-out for throwing a fit in the car.

Who knows if she really means it. Or if she just wants the money...


Oh Yes ... I Sure Did!

From This ...

To This ...

And Ending With This ...

Who knows if this will have any impact... aside from the hysterical meltdown I'm sure to endure tomorrow morning when she comes screaming into my room.

But it's a chance to redeem myself after last week.

At least I know that one of us is feeling pretty good about our choices...

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