If you know me, or if you read my blog on a regular basis, you know that I’m a trailing spouse in the Foreign Service. I’m also a male, I have an almost-three-year-old son, and have been a self-proclaimed Man of Leisure for the past 4 and a half months in the Dominican Republic while my wife toils away behind the hardline to “feed our butts,” as my sister-in-law so kindly taught my son to say. This all needs to change. I can’t take it any more. I am literally being driven insane by my life as Mr. Mom.
Eph-Oh has an interesting post over at Herding Cats asking “Where oh where are the male EFMs with young kids?” It was kind of odd to me to read that post this morning, as I had planned to write on this topic this afternoon.
See: my life is not all sun and fun and unicorns which poop candy. My life is actually pretty hard (keep the snickers to yourselves, dear friends and family, I’ll explain). My wife is pursuing the career of her dreams after busting her ass for years to get where she is (2 Master’s degrees and a JD). I am following her and dealing with all the crap that is dealt to us trailing spouses because I am madly in love with her and couldn’t imagine my life without her.
Before you launch into the usual lines of, “But you live on a tropical island!!! How can life be hard?” or “You get to sit at home all day and swing in your hammock and do nothing! Oh the humanity!” that my friends give me, check this:
1) I live in a huge, filthy, over-crowded, and pretty dangerous city. Simple trips to the grocery store are perilous for any number of reasons: traffic jams, crazy drivers, the small pocket of ghetto I need to cross to get there, etc. A 3-mile trip can take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour with pretty much everything and everyone on the road trying to kill me (or at least get where they’re going a little faster at my peril).
2) Almost no one here speaks English. I know, we’re in the Foreign Service, it’s so… foreign!! My Spanish is improving daily, but there are days when I dread even going to the colmado or supermarket for a simple errand because I know I will have to use Spanish. Using a foreign language all day, every day is exhausting. Really the only English I get to use is with my wife and my toddler son and with whomever is around to talk on the phone when I’m feeling homesick.
3) I’m homesick. My wife said this would happen at about the 4-6 month point. I didn’t believe her. But, per usual, she was right. I miss seasons. I miss crappy fast-food. I miss college football, traffic laws, American beef, spicy food, hot sauce, going to concerts with my friends, The Daily Show, Scrubs re-runs, HDTV, public transportation, Cape Cod, my family, my friends, good restaurants, Indian food, Thai food, crappy Chinese food, snowboarding, mountain biking, dog parks, being able to go for walks, playgrounds, etc. I DON’T HAVE ANY OF THAT HERE. NOTHING. I can’t go for walks after 6 p.m. without being targeted for robberies. There’s nowhere where my kid can play and I can feel safe about it. My dogs NEVER get to run around because they’ll be either stolen or shot or hit by a car. I can’t go out at night with my wife because we can’t afford a nanny right now. My life here is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT than it was in the U.S. Sorry to sound like a whiny puta, but this is MY blog.
4) Employment options for me here are ABYSMAL. The FLO in D.C. would like for every EFM who wants to work at post to have a job, but that’s a pipe dream. The jobs here are either horrifyingly crappy (read: Visa Assistant) or full-time. I can’t work full-time. I will not have an au-pair/nanny raise my son… these years are too important, and I don’t want to miss them. As it is, my son gets to see my wife for 30 minutes in the morning, and then for a couple of hours when she gets home. I can’t do that to him as well by working 40 hours a week. No way. Since I have been here, I have seen exactly two jobs that have piqued my interest. One, a Tech Support job for which I was qualified, would have been full-time but interesting, but a bureaucrat in D.C. didn’t think I had the right skills after reading my 2-page application which barely scratched the surface of my skills and experience. Another, a part-time Investigative Assistant for the ARSO-I and FPU (visa fraud – there’s a lot of it here), I’m applying for today. They desperately need a Medical Assistant in the Health Unit, but D.C. won’t allocate funds and while the FLO would like to help, their pleas for a slush fund for situations like this have fallen on deaf ears (i.e. a qualified EFM willing, able, and AVAILABLE AT POST not able to get a job because D.C. doesn’t want to pay for it).
5) Getting out of the city costs money…. money we don’t have. Between $800 in student loan payments, aggressively paying down the credit card debt we accumulated in 3 years of law school and me working in under-paying jobs in a dying recruiting market (i.e. the financial apocalypse of 2007-2008), paying house help, tuition for Montessori school, ridiculous prices for internet to keep in touch with friends and family, overpriced groceries, etc., it’s hard to ear-mark any extra funds for trips outside of SD. We have been trying to take long weekends every 6 weeks or so (and have been mildly successful with it), but it always puts a strain on our finances when we get to do it. Keep in mind that there is NOTHING TO DO IN SANTO DOMINGO. Nothing kid-friendly, nothing educational, nothing artsy, NOTHING. The zoo is a joke (and in a baaaaaad section of town), the aquarium is meh (also in a bad section), the National Library has been closed for renovations for years and is likely to remain that way long after we’re gone, the Museum of Natural History shares the same fate as the Library, and any park, open space, etc. is so littered with trash and delinquencia that most Dominicans don’t go near them. Our only option is to flee the city whatever chance we get. And those are few and far between.
6) I haven’t really made any friends yet. Since it’s tough to get out of the house for any long period of time with the kid in tow, and impossible to do so at night (I like seeing my wife), I don’t get a chance to make many friends. Most of the men in the Mission community are the FSOs, so they work during the day while their wives are at home. There are some social activities that the CLO hosts/promotes, but with the majority of the EFMs here being female, they are geared towards women and kids. I played softball in the last season, plan do join the Embassy bowling league, etc., but still feel left out of a LOT that goes on in the Embassy community.
7) Good god, this is a long post….
Look, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here… these are honest-to-god problems I’m combating on a daily basis. Being a spouse in the FS is NOT an easy task. It’s a full-time job that requires a whole hell of a lot of commitment, time, patience, and love for your spouse. Being a male EFM is even harder. Being a male EFM with little kids at home is harder still. I am grateful for the opportunity that State has given my wife and our family and wouldn’t change it for the world… That said, I really wish that there was more of a support network for those of us who are stuck at home. I could really use some new suggestions and ideas right now.