In my last installment of my home leave epic my 2 ½ year old toddler C posed this question to me “Where is home?”
Good question sweetheart.
I am not sure what concept of “home” C may have though it felt different from her earlier requests to “go to hotel.” What sense of permanence does such a young person have considering their age and that in the previous 9 weeks we stayed in a total of 15 different hotels and five different homes of friends and/or family? Was she tired of moving? I cannot really say, but I know that as much as I enjoyed my Home Leave, towards the end I certainly craved something more permanent.
Now here we are in Herndon, Virginia, moving into an extended stay hotel. Right, a hotel, but it will be our home for the next 21 weeks (and just 21 weeks provided I pass my first Chinese test…Please let me pass it, please. End fervent prayer).
Most people would not find this a particularly long time. It isn’t really. When I break it down and think about how much Mandarin Chinese I have to cram into my brain in such a period I panic at its incredible briefness. And yet, at the same time it feels luxuriously lengthy.
I can buy food. Lots of it. You know, like salt and pepper and sugar and soy sauce and butter and grapeseed oil for cooking. And peanut butter. And salad dressing. And eggs. And Claussen Kosher Dill Spears. And cheese. Lots of cheese. Because, you know, I have a fridge. And Q-tips and shampoo and conditioner and saran wrap and dishwashing soap because this is more than just a way station. I even bought multivitamins, so you know I mean business.
I spent nearly $275 my first trip to the store. That is just the beginning. I probably bought only half the things I wanted. This is one of the reasons per diem is so much higher at the beginning because starting from scratch is not cheap.
I have so many plans!
I plan to run. I am thinking an average of 10 miles a week. On actual running trails. Surrounded by trees and stuff. I might even run with other people and I do not mean running near people in a big race but actually running with them. The novelty. Go big or go home, you know? Or, er, go big or go elsewhere when home is a frequently shifting concept. I am already signed up for a 10K the first weekend of September. That would be next weekend, yes. I also have a half marathon on the schedule in October.
I have so many plans for C. I want to take her to the National Zoo, the National Children’s Museum, and the Udva- Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum. I want to take her to carousels in the area at Glen Echo Park and Clemyjontri Parks. I want to take her to the Frying Pan Farm Park and the Reston Zoo as these are places I visited when I was a little girl. I want to take her to Cox Farms Fall Festival because I took my niece a few years ago and we stayed for HOURS. I want to sign her up for toddler and mommy swim classes. Also her cousins, one of which is just 4 months older, live just 4 miles away from our hotel home. My parents live 6 miles away. I want C to spend time with her family before we head to China.
I also want to catch up with friends in the area. Many are back in the area for training of their and some of my closest friends are assigned to Washington, DC right now. It is not often so many of them are in one geographic area so I want to take advantage.
Somewhere in all of that there is this HUGE thing I am supposed to be doing. I am being PAID to do: Studying Mandarin Chinese.
When I think about studying Chinese the 21 weeks feel so very, very short. The first week is only 4 days and the first day is orientation, so really only 3 days. So, it’s 20 ½ weeks. But Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving take away those 3 days. So it is just 20 weeks. My 21st week is supposed to be my week of packing out for Shanghai and taking care of last minute details and possibly meeting with relevant offices in DC. So it is just 19 weeks. But the teachers of FSI are actually on leave the two weeks of Christmas and New Year’s, so it is really just 17 weeks. Seventeen weeks of classroom instruction. A regular course of Chinese is 44 weeks. Panic sets in. It is not enough time!
So I have 21 weeks to do it all in. That’s a lot. And a little. We are at least “home,” for the time being.