The “+” Column Doesn’t Always Win

Sitting in a long, faux leather, mechanically reclining chair, enjoying the strange comfort of a heavy radiation repellant blanket over me, listening to the buzzing x-ray machine resting next to my cheek, I was amazed to find that for the first time ever at a dentist’s office, the bite-wing x-ray strips were not cutting into the top and bottom of my mouth. I quickly chalked this up in the “+” column for the week, as it had been one where the “-“ column was definitely dominating.

This last week started with Thad getting a call on Sunday afternoon saying that his Aunt Karin had passed away. Aunt Karin had been fighting cancer, most recently a brain tumor, for years now, and has had a really tough time the last few months. We were lucky enough to get to spend Thanksgiving with Thad’s Pennsylvania family and see his aunt again. She leaves behind four fabulous boys and a loving daughter, as well as a hero of a husband, her mother, brothers and sisters and a whole host of nieces and nephews.

When we got the news that the funeral would be held on Thursday, we quickly put together plans to attend. This meant making arrangements with FSI to miss our classes that day, which isn’t always as easy as it might seem. Thad’s final Chinese exam is on Tuesday, so the he has lots of one-on-one study sessions scheduled with teachers, as well as classes set aside just to help him and a few others testing in the near future, prepare for the exam. He had to make sure to clear the absence with an array of instructors. In ConGen, the course I am currently taking, there is a 100% attendance policy. This means that I will have to make up the classes I missed by attending them the next time they are offered. (Typically, every seven days.) The obnoxious part about this is, I will take my final exam in ConGen this coming Friday, but then will have to go back the following Monday to sit through lectures for which I have already passed the test. Lame-o!

With a car rented and a super fancy Super 8 motel room booked, we headed out after work on Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday was a rough day. The services were well-done and many people came to mourn with the family. I was a little thrown by the pastor’s lengthy reference to Madonna during the sermon. (Not Bethlehem-dwelling, virgin-pregnancy Madonna, but Super Bowl performing, “Like a Virgin” Madonna.) The discussion was of us living in a material world and being material boys and girls. I’m still not sure if it was an awkward attempt at a pop-culture reference (albeit not current, as that song was released in 1985) or a more serious endeavor towards making us consider our own mortality, but either way, it was a unique take on funeral speaking. (I have to say, I was oh-so-secretly hoping that his next point would reference Lady Gaga. But alas, such things were not to be.)

After Thad completed his service as a pall-bearer, we met up in the basement of the church, where the congregation had put together a lovely lunch for everyone who attended the funeral.  The people running the kitchen were pros at this, taking all of the work off of the grieving family and running a well-oiled machine when it came to service. It was really nice to be able to sit and chat with family before having to head back to the DC area that afternoon.

Funerals often make people introspective and reflective when it comes to their own lives and those of their loved ones, but I’ll share my lighter life-lesson of the day: don’t get travel immunizations the day before a funeral.  On Wednesday, Thad and I both became State Department pin cushions, as we got the first round of vaccinations we will need for the upcoming move to China. My arm was already sore, as the tetanus shot tends to be a super-achy one to begin with, but then add on a bevy of hugs, a mass of “gentle” arm rubs, a series of arm squeezes and a couple attention-getting punches from an unsuspecting uncle and I end up with a left arm that throbs for the entire four hour ride between Greensburg, PA and Arlington, VA.

Back home, the week continues, with us going back to classes and my excitement for housing news continuing to grow. Since we returned from Christmas break, I’ve asked Thad daily if he’s gotten an email from Chengdu with our housing assignment. The way the process works is that the Foreign Service Officer submits a form called a Housing Survey to post, where a housing board then meets and assigns housing to those officers and families arriving in the near future.  The Housing Survey is basically just a paper asking what the officer’s preferences are. We put (at every possible opportunity on the form) that we would like to live off-compound and maybe somewhere less “Westernized.” I have been waiting like a clown awaits a new pair of giant, floppy red shoes! Knowing where we are going to live will be a super step in the moving process.

Friday, the email finally arrived. Thad forwarded me a note that was all of about four sentences long, welcoming us to our apartment…on the consulate compound. No pictures. No blueprint. Nothing.  Just a compound apartment number.  Ugh! Seriously? The only thing I really asked was to not be on the compound, but it appears that is where we were placed. In Chengdu, that housing seems to be mostly families, as there is a playground and the secure grounds are nice for young kids. Great for them, but not so great for a young (relatively!) couple with no kids with a high level of comfort in the host country and a desire for a bit of space between their professional and private lives. Talk about going from uber-excited to down in the dumps in a matter of seconds.

This has just not been a great week.

I know every argument about why I shouldn’t be upset by this, but I still am. I know that it is a huge perk that the State Department pays for my housing, and I am thankful for that. I know that the housing will probably end up to be just fine. I know that in a few days I will be over it and excited to go again, but I’m just not there yet.  I rarely get upset about much, so I just need a few days with this. It will be fine. The back of my brain tells me that- I’m just not quite there.

To wrap up my wonderful week, I ended Friday with a dentist appointment. My teeth suck. I’ll just put it out there. Nearly every time I go to the dentist, I have a new cavity or other issue that needs to be dealt with. (My local dentist chalks it up to growing up on well-water and not city-water. I don’t know how valid of an argument that is, but weak teeth are mine, regardless of the reason.)  I was super-de-dooper excited, channeling my inner-Barney, to find out that my crown is still good and that I have not a single cavity! Yay! I was soon returned from my mental PBS-foray when the dentist flopped the x-rays up on the screen in front of me, not to point out the lack of cavities, but to point out the old silver filings that are leaking! Ugh! Seriously? I apparently have two (side by side) fillings from about a million years ago that are leaking and need to be replaced. So, even though I have not a single cavity, I still get to get the drilling. Nice.

It has been a long week. Luckily, it wasn’t a total bust. Things started looking up on Saturday and now I am convinced that it is up, up and away from this point onward. I hosted a small baby shower here at the mo-partment Saturday afternoon and then met up with fabulous Peace Corps friends for dinner Saturday night.

This week is going to be nothing short of the mirror opposite of last week. It is going to be stupendous, tremendous and marvelous. I am going to get excited again about moving to Chengdu, compound housing or not. Thad is going to pass his Chinese exam and we are going to go out to celebrate. There will be no shots, no funerals and no dental drillings.

It’s time to rally Team Ross. Ra-Ra-Hip-Hip-Hurrah!