Monday, March 31, 2014

Calculated Risk: Look Before You Leap

In a conversation with a friend about a year ago, I realized for the first time that I am a risk taker.  We were chatting about an upcoming trip – a two-week visit to the D.R. to pick a field site for my research while I was 6 months pregnant with my second child. Until that moment when she asked if I was generally a risk-taker, I would have never associated myself with risk.  I might have even described myself as highly cautious – yet, I could identify several risks I had taken in my life (including buying my first car – a stick shift – from Atlanta when I didn’t how to drive a stick shift…I learned on the four-hour drive home from Atlanta to Charlotte). 

This trip is a risk.  But I like to think that it is a calculated risk with benefits that far outweigh the challenges.  The challenges include a year of homesickness and the seemingly colossal feat of moving our family to another country.  The benefits include cultural and linguistic immersion for my children, an amazing research opportunity, and a chance to create unique family memories. 

One thing I am not taking for granted is that our family is in a good position to take this trip.  Even as I hope to encourage parents thinking about decisions like this one, I recognize that not all families have the stars line up the way they happened to line up for us.  For example, my husband is finishing up a Master’s program this May, so he is transitioning from student to early career professional – not a bad time to look for a job in a new place.  We both served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, so we are returning to a familiar place facing a few manageable new circumstances, rather than navigating a sea of newness.  Money matters, and while our financial situation is precarious (two graduate students and two children), I am sure that my research will get us funding for living expenses while we are there - see the “kaleidoscope” entry :-).

So the risk is there, but so is the calculation.  Ultimately, I’m still getting comfortable with my new identity as a risk taker.  But I found a quote that sums up how I would like to be:

“Be wise enough not to be reckless, but brave enough to take great risks.”
― Frank Warren

Thursday, March 20, 2014

How to Get Passports for Children

There are instructions online that explain how to get passports for your children ( I will share our experience to compare the “online” versus “real life” experience.

I decided to go to our local post office since they provide passport services.  A friend warned me that it can take some time to get an appointment so I should start the process early.  I left a message at the post office requesting an appointment.  I received a call back about 2 weeks later.  Although it took a while for them to return my phone call, they had an appointment available within the week. 

Gathering the documentation necessary wasn’t so bad (application forms, birth certificates, copies of parents’ drivers licenses).  We already had the toddler’s birth certificate.  But even though the infant was about 8 months old, we had not gotten his birth certificate yet, so we had to request it from the state’s Vital Records office. 

*Side Note* I had already made the post office appointment to apply for passports so I was very worried about timing.  If I didn’t get the birth certificate in time, I would have to cancel and reschedule the post office appointment (which would have been a pain since both parents have to be present to apply for your child’s passport). 

So, I filled out the form to get the infant’s birth certificate, attached a money order for $39 ($24 for one copy and $15 for expedited service), included photocopies of our driver’s licenses, and mailed everything to the Vital Records office.

About a week later, everything was returned with a note that said we sent in the old version of the form.  So, I filled out the new form, re-attached the money order and copies of licenses, and re-mailed everything.  In less than a week, the birth certificate came in the mail on a Saturday and our post office appointment was on Monday.  Whew!

The appointment took 30 minutes total (15 minutes per kid) exactly like the post office representative told me it would.  We showed up 10 minutes early with all our documents in a manila envelope including the application which was mostly filled out, but not signed (as instructed).  They kept the forms, copies of identification, and original birth certificates.  Original documents were mailed back to us with the passports. 

In retrospect, I wish I had fretted more over their pictures.  A disheveled shirt and jacket for one and a white shirt on a white background for the other will follow these two for 5 years...and make for a good laugh when they’re older!  Never mind, I take that regret back J  The post office visit went smoothly, and the passports were in our mailbox in 4 weeks. From the time I called to schedule an appointment to the day the passports arrived was about 6 weeks.  Here is a cost breakdown: $80 – passport application fee, $25 – post office fee, $15 – passport photo = $120 per child.  Passports: check and check!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

This Kaleidoscope Life: The illusion of being in control

I really like the kaleidoscope.  You look through a small hole, uncertain of what you’ll find.  When you have good lighting, you find a burst of colorful patterns that reveal themselves when you turn the end of the cylinder.  Before the colors settle into a pattern, there’s momentary chaos as each bead finds its place. With each turn, a new pattern is revealed, and each one is as geometrically perfect as the last. 

This is how I’ve come to think of our upcoming trip.  The field site for my dissertation research is in the Dominican Republic.  I will live there for a year while conducting an ethnography of a batey (a community where many people of Haitian descent live).  My husband and children will come with me.  In order to make this happen, there are several pieces that must fall into place, and many of these pieces will remain unresolved until we arrive in the country. 

It has taken a long time for me to get comfortable with the idea that I cannot control every aspect of this trip (or my life, for that matter).  I’m still not entirely comfortable with it.  But the truth is: control is an illusion.  We make thoughtful decisions and set strategic goals, but whether they happen or not is often out of our realm of control.  Call it serendipity, good timing, or divine intervention, but here’s what I think: we make our plans, wait for life’s response, then make modified plans. 

So, my project had good lighting.  I could see the burst of color and possibility for amazing patterns and exciting results.  I started to make plans and turn the cylinder.  Uncertainty. Perfection.  Chaos. Beauty.  Doubt.  Confirmation.  I think I’m starting to see a pattern…