Closing Ceremonies

I just calculated that we leave Vienna in exactly 101 days.

We already have our flight reservation because we have two cats that we wanted to get on the same cost-constructed, non-stop flight to DC. And not in cargo, because you know, late July and all. The geriatric kitty with no teeth and half a tail who has already crossed the Atlantic twice deserves better.

Packout dates are set. Pre-departure inspection is scheduled. My husband’s replacement is arriving a week before we leave. The calendar is filling up.

My daughter is sorting out her stuff for an early UAB shipment to her graduate school in California. It’s a very long way from Warsaw, but on the other hand, I might be convinced to go visit her, say, every February. She leaves Vienna for good in about three weeks.

My son still isn’t quite sure where he’ll end up. He’s applied and received “conditional offers” from five UK universities. Their system is a little different than the US system–he won’t know what his real choices are until after he (presumably) passes all his exams. But he doesn’t really care as long as he gets to go to school in England. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet that he may not be able to take his electric guitars with him.

The donation pile by the front door grows, disappears every few weeks, then springs right back up again like mushrooms. With each move, we become less and less interested in moving our stuff, and more inclined to unload it. Except for my son who has 30 pairs of old sneakers in his closet that will not be accompanying us to Warsaw. I’m leaving his room until last!

We are eating weird things, and running out of stuff on purpose. Just used up the last of the vanilla. You can’t buy liquid vanilla flavoring here, so that’s it: no more vanilla for the duration. No more chocolate chips either. Nope. But Thai peanut sauce? We got two bottles of that.

Three years seems just about right. We’ve done a pretty good job of experiencing all the things in Vienna that interest us. Just a few more little things to check off the bucket list before departing. Mostly day trips to various palaces and parks outside the city. A few restaurants we want to enjoy just one more time. And we need to figure out a way to get inside the Opera House to see it without actually having to listen to any opera.

I asked myself the other day, if I had a chance to extend here, would I? Probably not. It’s been really nice, but we’re pretty much done.

I have to admit that we haven’t seen that much of the rest of Austria. The only other major city I’ve seen is Salzburg. Whenever we had time for a real vacation, we always seemed to end up in Italy some other nearby country. Shorter trips took us to places like Prague, Ljublana, and Krakow. But we’re really OK with that. After all, Vienna’s primary advantages for us were always its location and transit connections. We took full advantage of both! As well as the terrific hiking opportunities in and around the city.

In retrospect, I don’t think I ever fully engaged with this post. It’s the largest one we have ever served at. There are three American embassies, for heaven’s sakes, and my husband doesn’t even work at the primary mission. The first year, we basically didn’t have a Community Liaison Office coordinator, so there were no meet-and-greets of the type you would normally have on arrival at a post. There are some activities now, but they are mostly kid- or newbie- centered and don’t interest me. I speak only rudimentary German, which is entirely my own fault–I’m already signed up for the FAST course in Polish so hopefully language won’t be such a barrier next time!

I don’t work in the embassy (though I did try). I work in cyberspace, from my apartment, which is an American bubble. That’s exactly how I like it. It is, however, located downtown, a good distance from most other family housing, because most other families have kids at the American school. My son attends a British school and doesn’t do any sports or extracurricular activities so I never got to know other school parents. (To be fair, you don’t normally get to know other parents in high school they way you would with your kids in earlier grades anyway.)

I’m not complaining–far from it! Aside from all the awesome traveling, hiking, and dining out, until recently, I participated in a lively stitch-and-bitch group that was lots of fun. The local women’s group has great activities–language and yoga classes, tours, hikes–that I have enjoyed a lot. And I did contribute something to the mission community by co-founding a community website and Facebook group. I’m really proud of those efforts and so pleased that other volunteers have stepped up to take them over after our departure.

What it comes down to is this: it is a different experience being overseas at 1.) a huge first world post and 2.) without young children. Since I was doing both for the first time in Vienna, I had to learn. Now I know that I really prefer smaller posts, which is good, because that’s what we’ll get in Warsaw. I also know that when your life doesn’t center around your kids anymore, it’s a good idea to expand your network beyond the embassy community in order to meet more people of a similar age and stage. I’ll focus on that earlier next time, and jump right in.

I’m also getting the bits and pieces of my working life in order, just in case something interesting comes up job-wise. I have a bit of a conundrum in that my skills are really best suited to telecommuting, but I’d kind of like to work outside the home for a change. I may have to come up with some combination of jobs: skilled telework plus semi-skilled EFM work or volunteering to round it all out.

Or maybe I’ll just shop and travel a lot 🙂

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