Page 94 - FSJ June 2012

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I
have a confession to make: I’m not
a diplomat, or a diplomat’s wife or
spouse or partner or significant
other. I’m not even a diplomat’s child.
I am a published, post-doctoral re-
searcher at a United Kingdom univer-
sity, a mother of three, a thwarted
half-marathon runner and an eager con-
sumer of political media.
Except things are about to change.
This summer, my husband will take up
a diplomatic post inWashington, D.C. I
will come, too, as will our three boys.
Two are school age and one is a toddler.
Here in the U.K., they go to school and
nursery, while my husband and I go to
work.
While we pack up our house, our
home, our lives, it feels like I might also
be packing up my identity— which, in
the U.K., is finely balanced betweenmy
roles as a professional and as a mother,
and has taken eight years to hone.
To be honest, I’m not sure I know
what a diplomat’s wife is or what is ex-
pected of her. I don’t know any diplo-
mats or diplomatic families, so I
visualize put-upon but incredibly brave
Victorian women, in corsets despite the
tropical heat, sending their children
home to boarding school from the
colonies in the service of Britannia.
And I imagine impeccably coiffed
women withmultilingual children blog-
ging about their experiences of cultural
differences, managing staff and having
to rustle up halal banquets for 70 during
a power outage.
These women are diplomats’ wives.
I am not. I can’t play bridge or mah-
jong. I won’t play golf or tennis. I don’t
own any white gloves.
After unpacking, I will take the chil-
dren to school. I will locate the shops
and the park, a swimming pool, running
routes. But then what?
The thought of endless, empty days,
stretching out to 2015, terrifies me; the
idea of garden parties and receptions,
evenmore so. There is, I hear, a sewing
group — a prospect that strikes terror
in my heart. There is charity work, vol-
unteering, working as a secretary or tour
guide in the embassy. It all sounds like
selling myself short for the sake of my
husband’s career.
Then there is the “lifestyle”: shop-
ping, gin, affairs, leisurely lunches. Lan-
guid days softened around the edges
with a fug of cocktail hour among expa-
triates, harking on about marmite, driv-
ing on the left and cut-glass accents.
Flower arranging classes, interior design
work, elocution lessons: teaching the
world to speak the Queen’s English.
But I’m not sure any of that is for me,
even as a diplomat’s wife.
There is also the opportunity to rein-
vent myself, to find a new identity as a
British woman abroad. Life in a capital
city, a world city with international in-
stitutions, prestigious universities, pol-
icy, politics, power. The chance to
approach the corridors of power not as
a tourist, but with a view to walking
them myself as a policy analyst, re-
searcher, consultant, advocate or visit-
ing fellow. The chance that my husband
would be defined by his relationship to
me, “the analyst’s husband.”
And there is another opportunity: to
be a stay-at-home mother to my boys,
the one who does the school run, takes
them to tea at people’s houses, bakes
cakes and puts the washing out to dry.
I could dig in the sand with the little
one, cycle with the big ones. Watch
them grow and change with the sea-
sons, and trade their British accents
and football for Americanisms and
baseball.
Finally, there is the reality. We are
all more than a single facet of our iden-
tities. My husband, the diplomat, is also
a father, physicist and ardent cyclist. I
am a researcher, a professional, a run-
ner and amother. I can work. I can join
the PTA. I could even join the sewing
circle. I can run and read and write and
do all the things I do in the U.K.
I can do all these things and be a
diplomat’s wife.
Kate Matheson, a published academic
andmother of three young children, will
be coming to Washington this summer
with her husband, the new defense at-
taché at the British Embassy.
R
EFLECTIONS
A Diplomat’s Wife
B
Y
K
ATE
M
ATHESON
While we pack up
our house, our home,
our lives, it feels like
I might also be
packing up my
identity.
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