In Which I Am Shocked To Discover That I No Longer Absolutely Loathe Foreign Service Bidding

So, a couple of weeks ago, two language-designated jobs came up for 2014 that my husband could bid on well ahead of time. We said yes to one without a second thought, but before turning down the other, we thought we’d better check and see what else is likely to open up during the regular cycle (bidding is complicated this way, you see….)

And as we were making up that list, I had a shocking revelation.

This is actually fun again!

Now, you have to understand: I am the person who was so burned out on bidding; so sick of the endless research on schools that could accommodate my very smart and ambitious daughter, or my equally smart but mildly special needs son; so cynical about the  posts that mysteriously disappeared from bid lists and the “handshakes” that never led anywhere; so disgusted with the constant pressure for my husband to go to Iraq or Afghanistan; and just SO OVER the general endless uncertainty of our lives that I basically flat-out refused to leave DC for seven years.

And, when we finally did bid overseas again, all my cynicism about the bidding process with a special needs kid was absolutely justified. We did finally end up here, but only under an unorthodox set of circumstances, and with some compromises (yes, even in Vienna). It’s not like the family-friendly Foreign Service said “hey, you have a special needs kid, let’s see what we can do to accommodate that.” Nuh-uh. Much longer story. Much, much longer.

So, I had decided long ago: let’s just get here, hope for the best with the schools, enjoy our last overseas tour, and call it a day. Because I am never going through this again!

But, here’s the funny thing. After a first year that was sort of two steps forward, one step back (with boarding school not completely out of the question) that ornery special needs kid is finally growing up. Today, I can actually envision a time in the near future when he will be an independent adult. OK, an adult who lives on cereal, pizza and coke, and does very odd things with his hair, but still, basically a responsible person who mostly makes good decisions and doesn’t expect anyone else to bail him out when he makes bad ones.

The Teenager will be almost 19 and (presumably) a high school graduate when we wrap up our tour in Vienna. We have told him look, no one is going to make you go to college. But, we will probably not be in the States, so living with us will not be an option. You will need to figure something out: have a plan of some kind to get by on your own. And he understands this—independent cuss that he is, I think he even kind of likes the idea.

My daughter, now almost 21, is definitely her own person, completely capable of taking care of herself. Her plans most certainly do not involve moving back in with her parents after college. That would be a “step backward” she says, and I can’t argue with the logic. In fact, I’m happy in this day and age to have a kid who feels that way.

My husband needs to find a job that he likes, but that is not my problem. Completely up to him.

So, really, the only person that I have to accommodate with this next bidding process is…ME!

Wow, that is something different. And not too difficult, as it turns out. When you take kids out of the equation, I would just like to live somewhere interesting, where I can get out on my own and not be stuck behind bars all day (been there, done that, several times). Schools? What schools? 🙂 Medical clearance? Not a major problem. Jobs? Nice to have, but I can always keep telecommuting as long as I have decent internet. I’m pretty good at staying busy, anyway.

Between-tours language training could even be fun—with no school districts to worry about, we would probably just go on per diem and rent a furnished place in Arlington. With no child care responsibilities, I could even sign up for FSI classes myself. What a concept!

And, if nothing overseas works out, well, that’s the way it goes. We’ll just go back to DC and I’ll start fixing up my little house and garden, and look for some kind of job. I’m not too picky about work, and in any case, we basically lived on one income for seven years there, so I know we can do it again if we have to. In fact, we bought that little empty-nester house in part to ensure that we could easily afford to go back to DC because we weren’t counting on another overseas tour after this one. Strategic planning!

See, here’s what I figure. The Foreign Service is like your husband’s (‘scuse the masculine, but that’s how it is for us) crazy college girlfriend. She is sexy as hell, which is how she seduced your husband in his young and foolish student days. But, she is also bipolar and totally narcissistic.

She can be really nice when she wants to be, or more accurately, when it’s in her interest to do so. Every couple of years, she comes knocking at the door, all charming and cute, with slick promises of promotion, money, and other goodies, and chances are, your husband will be suckered once again.

She even has long periods of sanity sometimes—at least I think I remember one of those. (It lasted about 8 years.)

The manic phases are interesting. Sometimes, she even gets a wild hair and builds a huge mansion in, like, the worst neighborhood on the planet, then expects everyone to be totally excited to work and live there.

But look out when she is on a downswing. You are just cannon fodder then, and she’ll be seriously pissed if you don’t toe the line. She gets especially cranky when she’s running out of money, or someone is giving her a hard time. She doesn’t take criticism very well. In fact, her general approach is to deny that there is a problem. Being basically insane, she may actually believe this to be true.

It’s been said that the most stressful situation is to not have any control over your own life. This is a factor that I believe Foreign Service family members deal with to varying degrees every day. To top it off, the “person” who does control our lives is capricious, to put it mildly.

What is the best way to handle an unbalanced or “toxic” friend or relative? Keep them at arm’s length. Refuse to engage. Nod politely, and get on with your life.

So, this is what I have been thinking about the last few days. I have concluded that the Foreign Service is way more fun the less you have to lose. The more people and individual needs you have to accommodate with each bid, the more you have invested in the process. It’s good to want an overseas post, and even kind of fun to imagine the possibilities. But it is no fun at all to need a particular post, or even a short lists of posts, to work out. Then you’ve got skin in the game, and that’s not so good when you are playing poker with a nut case!

When my husband first joined the Foreign Service, I remember how much fun it was to look over the bid lists. It was just the two of us, right out of college, and we owned so little that the moving company estimator dude actually laughed at our stuff. Our first set of bids might as well have been darts thrown at a map, for all the research we put into them. And we were totally fine with every post on the list.

I wouldn’t say I am quite that flexible this time, because I would like to stay within fairly easy reach of the States: both our kids and all four of our parents will be there, after all, and they can’t easily afford to travel to the other side of the world (or vice-versa, with college expenses a possibility). And, I really think that three high-crime posts is enough for one Foreign Service career. But, otherwise? I’m good to go! Or, set me right back in my little Reston house, and I’ll enjoy that life, too.

Serenity in the face of insanity. It’s been a long, hard journey. And yet, I am very glad to be right back where I started!


  1. so true – the thing is, the sooner i think people realize that this is actually the way the relationship goes, the sooner they are happier with their state dept life – you can’t fight with a crazy person, everyone needs to remember that 🙂 very fantastic analogy, loved this post!


  2. As a recently retired FS spouse I so love the analogy the Foreign Service as the crazy college girlfriend. It’s absolutely spot on and brilliant. Thanks for a great post.


  3. What a great post. As a young foreign service spouse (we are in between posts number one and two) without kids – but knowing we will have them in the future – this post was scary, priceless, and so beautiful to hear. Thank you!


  4. ha haaaaa! love this. it’s all true. hope to get to your state of zen some day, but right now i have skin in the game so am playing poker with a bipolar nut case )–:|


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