I have tried to write a blog about switching countries about the last 3 times that we've done it. The problem is, the actual switching always gets in the way of the writing.
I'll be honest, "country switching" with a family is not the easiest thing on the planet. It's character building, to say the least. When we come to the U.S., we're wrapping up responsibilities and projects in Zambia, turning over jobs and communicating everything. When we're leaving the U.S., we're doing all of the little errands that you do over the course of a year, desperately trying to sort out what we will need for the months to come (which somehow always looks different.) There are a few sure things you have to hold tight to until you have your feet on solid ground again. Here's the advice I give myself everytime I feel like I'm losing my mind:
1. I am NOT in control.
Of course, the trick is to try to BE as in control as possible. Make as many plans ahead of time (car rentals, accomodations, flight arrangements.) After planning carefully...GIVE IT UP. I'm really convinced that the most important thing is just putting yourself on the wave and letting it ride. People love to ask, "Soooo...are you all packed and ready to go?" Just so you know, until I get IN THE CAR to go to the airport, the answer to that question is: NO.
2. No time for sentiment.
This sounds terrible, of course. But our last weekend at home is not really the time for sentiment and tears. It will be hard not to see our family and friends for a year, impossibly hard sometimes. But it doesn't help you to get ready if that's all you're thinking about. And they're WITH you right now, so don't waste time being sad.
3. Sunda is #1.
Jake and I are okay with the country switch. And so is Sunda, really. But, it really helps to take the pressure off of my own emotions and focus them properly when I remember that she needs a lot of support in order to make it through the traveling and adjustment period unscathed. It's important for her to know that nothing is changing other than certain parts of her environment. Mommy and Daddy are still the same, our routines are still the same, our rules are still the same. We talk about how exciting it is that we're going back to either place. And we try to make the traveling process as much fun as possible for her (new toys to play with, special treats for the airplane, etc.)
4. Whatever can happen, will happen. (And it usually does.)
This morning, Sunda has chest congestion and a fever. She may need to see the doctor this afternoon. We're still not sure what's causing my major anemia. We're not sure if we'll be able to travel back to Zambia, or if we'll have to stay in South Africa because of the higher risk of delivering while anemic. There are questions and complications involving Sunda's citizenship that must get sorted before she can spend an extended period of time in South Africa. There will probably be a few other things that happen before we go that we will have to choose to deal with or not to deal with, based on importance. If I continually listed these things out in my head like I just did here, I would go crazy! It's so important to deal with what you can deal with and take one day at a time.
5. The job is usually smaller than you think it is.
Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by packing that I convince myself to procrastinate. But, I've found that if I just go ahead and spend an hour sorting and washing and packing, I've made it much farther than I could've imagined. And I feel so much better if I'm a couple of days ahead of schedule. When we leave the States, we just pack up everything in one big sweep. But when we leave Zambia, I usually make myself a schedule that fits in with our work schedule. I'll pick one thing to clean, organize, and pack a day. For example, one evening I'll sort through, clean, and pack up the things we need from the bathroom. The next night, I'll work on the kitchen.
The one major thing that has saved Jake and I's marriage during these times has been to have specific roles and jobs that we each work on separately. And we know who holds which job.
Manage clothes, personal and toiletry items for the family, and everything for Sunda.
Do required cleaning.
Handle the return of any borrowed items.
Shop for medicines, toiletries, clothes, etc. that we need before we go.
Arrange visits with family and friends.
Decide what needs to be thrown away, donated, or stored.
Arrange for any storage needed.
Put stuff into piles for Jake to pack.
Handle all reservations including flight, car, and accomodations.
Acquire and keep track of all documents needed.
Shop for electronics, camping equipment, or outreach materials we need before we go.
Acquire all pieces of luggage.
Pack Jessi's piles.
It's nice after a few years to know who does what. We used to argue every time we packed and moved, because we couldn't agree on what needed to be done when. And that was before we had a kid! We knew it would just get worse if we didn't get ourselves sorted! Now, we function pretty smoothly because we know whose job is whose.
In the airport, Jake is in charge of all documents, tickets, and luggage. And I am in charge of Sunda and everything we need for the flight. So, we never question who has Sunda's blanket (I do). Or who has the passports (He does).
I'm sure you guys all have similar systems when it comes to going away for the weekend, cutting the grass, or handling the Christmas shopping or taxes. It saves us a lot of arguments and a lot of stress.