Monday, March 26, 2012

Marital Realpolitik: The co-habitation question

I’m reading Ronald Asmus’ account of the failed negotiations and feeble deterrence under the Bush administration that witnessed Putin’s invasion of South Ossetia and then Georgia proper during the week of August 7, 2008. Saakashvili had put all his eggs in the pro-American, NATO-courtship basket, anxiously watching a Russian build-up and an ominously over-sized Russian military exercise just north of the border that spring. He had pleaded his case to Bush and Rice and Merkel, receiving various degrees of lukewarm response—commitment without timeframe, entreaties not to rush into things. Russian tanks were about 2 hours from Tbilisi when the ceasefire was finally called on August 12th, at a point when Russia had already taken South Ossetia and Abkhazia, cyber-attacked the Georgian government and financial institutions, and shelled villages along the broad, flat plain leading into the capital. The so-called resolution was really an endorsement of Russia’s tactical gains.
The book should top TJ’s reading list. It’s captivating me on the 24-hour flight back to Phnom Penh. A two-week trip, no kids in tow. Actually, we’re breaking ground on all the technical assistance that I worked to arrange and get funded last year, before relations with the government froze. Now we are mending fences, or more likely carving narrow passages through which we’ll push piecemeal projects in an essentially broke-down relationship.
For reasons unrelated I have just interviewed for a position in Tbilisi, where a dynamic reform and reconstruction effort is bearing fruit, and my skills as a relationship-builder could be put to good use. In the days leading up to my interview I was like a bureaucrat-Lazarus, called from my cubicle-tomb back to life. I tracked macro indicators and banks’ performance data, crammed project progress reports, poured over news stories and editorials. I dry cleaned my best suit and power-steered the Washington-Tbilisi videoconference to present a down-to-earth American, someone who lives and breathes client engagement, trust-building, and results.
Now, on a lame-duck voyage to Cambodia, I’m studying the 2008 Russo-Georgian war to pass the hours and distract from the approaching upheaval—and maybe conflict—in our own family. When we are not at work, managing the boisterous foursome (cook, serve, clean, repeat!), TJ and I have begun our own scenario analysis. War games? No, more like marital realpolitik. It is a best-guess effort at family co-location, with scenarios ranked on family happiness factor, professional satisfaction, and second-guessing what’s really going to happen with your spouse’s job. Right now, we’re both aiming ourselves at Eastern Europe. Will TJ and I land in the same place? What is he willing to trade? What am I willing to lose? What would it mean for a mom who has hauled ass to keep working and ‘stay in the game’  through her kids’ youngest years to drop out of the market just when her youngest is entering school? What should she say when a manager blocks her path to the husband’s country, saying her technical skills are shallow? What should she say to the husband’s employer's amiable spouse-counselor who offers alternative work in a mommies’ liaison group? Are you feeling my steam?
For no fault of TJ’s, it’s looking like all professional roads into his country are blocked (save the above-mentioned). We are into the question of second-bests. Some options are off the table: I’m not leaving my employer; he’s not leaving his. Jetting around from week to week on multi-regional assignments is out for me, too—unless we conscript a second wife. I’m still the anchor to which all things domestic—from tax preparation to bed-wetting—must be tied. Telecommuting pajama-clad from his future apartment to my current Washington-based job is an easy solution for TJ, and it’s apparently an option in the eyes of my current boss (cross-out pajamas). But to me it has all the appeal of a frontal lobotomy (see October 25 posting). After all, where is the reward for 4 kids in school, 5 years of Russian language training, and all the years of ball-busting and proving myself, to retreat sweatpants-bound to an anonymous bedroom, providing back-back-office support to a moribund back-office in DC?
The game is not over.

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