As I said in my last blog post...
We ultimately got Tokyo and are thrilled. And while the journey of what we went through this past year has a happy ending, I think the story is definitely worth telling.
Bidding, for us, actually started more than a year ago. It started last August 1st, if I remember correctly, which is when the summer bid list first came out.
When the bid list came out, it was awfully pretty, but we knew that none of those overseas posts on that initial list were ever going to be ours. This is because James didn't have any bidding preference at all. He wasn't an AIP/PSP bidder, he wasn't a 5/8 bidder, and he was coming off of one overseas tour already. In DS Land, if you don't have preference bidding (as an AIP/PSP bidder or as a 5/8 bidder), you already most likely aren't going to get an overseas assignment. Let's just face reality. And once you toss in that you're ALREADY overseas, you're REALLY not going to get an overseas spot.
James and I knew that we were in for the long haul, because we still were hoping against hope that we could pull off a second, or back-to-back, overseas tour after Chengdu (the impossible). We also knew that, together with James not having any bidding preference, we were also in trouble because James' dates didn't match with almost anything ever offered on the bid list. You see, there was almost never anything on the bid list that matched James' dates for departure from Chengdu (around September). The dates for everything on the bid list always seemed to be either for the beginning of summer (June/July), or WAY out toward the end of the year, like November or December, or even that next January or February. Nothing matched in the September/October time period. Not even close. Which didn't help.
So, yeah. Between us trying to stay overseas after Chengdu, and James not having any bidding preference, and none of the spots on the bid list matching our dates, and us already being overseas, and our only being able to bid on places with high schools, and more than half of the jobs gone because James couldn't bid on the kind of position he had just done in Chengdu, we knew it was going to be nearly impossible to get anything. But James still had to bid and lobby, and so he did. Every two to three weeks James had to redo his entire bid list as things were given to other people at the panels, and then had to re-bid and re-lobby. Over and over and over again. Every two to three weeks.
Things went on like this from last August (2012) until this February (2013) or so. With James bidding and lobbying and then re-bidding and re-lobbying, over and over again, every two to three weeks. Seven months of it.
And during those seven or so months, the overseas jobs all went to AIP/PSP bidders and 5/8ths bidders, which was totally fine because I truly believe that those folks deserve the preference they get. No doubt about it. But as those people were given the preference they deserve (and there were a LOT of them!), the bid list dwindled and dwindled and dwindled, and the remaining things on the list were even further away from our dates of departure from Chengdu. Sure, there were still a few overseas things here and there on the list, but none of them even remotely matched with our dates. The whole thing was just a total mess.
So we started thinking hard about what the future most likely held for us, which was a domestic position. Also most likely - a domestic position in Washington DC.
It was at this time that I started dusting off my own ambitions. Because, I reasoned, if we were most likely going to be given a DC assignment (let's face reality), then I could go back to school! REAL school, not just school over the internet, for things that I found really exciting and that could maybe one day employ me and pay me money and give me something to do with my days since I suck (SUCK SUCK SUCK) at the whole EFM thing. SUCK, SUCK, SUCK, SUCK, SUCK.
So in January/February I started the very long process of applying to the program at Georgetown that I was ultimately admitted to. At the time of application, it was literally something I never dreamed I would ever be given. You see, I am old and there are about a zillion people out there who are more intelligent than I am, and so applying to this program at Georgetown was basically like my buying a lottery ticket - fun to dream about but something I was certain I wouldn't end up getting.
Meanwhile, James was still tenaciously bidding on (and lobbying for!) only overseas jobs, since there were still a few here and there scattered about on the bid list. This was in February and then went into March or so.
I still remember the very last overseas job on the bid list that early spring - Dar es Salaam. It was March (I think? or April?) and Dar es Salaam was The. Very. Last. Overseas. Job. Kid you not. It was like the last helicopter out of Saigon for those of us who wanted an overseas assignment, and it was bid on accordingly. I think Dar es Salaam ended up with something like 28 bids on it AT GRADE before it was paneled...to someone other than James, of course, since you already know how this story ends.
The funny thing was that right about when we didn't get Dar - or any overseas assignment, for that matter - and it was obvious that we were going to end up going domestic (most likely to DC), that out of nowhere Georgetown emailed me and told me that I had been admitted. I literally started sobbing hysterically at 6:30am China time when I read the email, waking James from a sound sleep, and it was minutes until I could calm myself down enough to tell him why I was sobbing. The fact that someone somewhere thought that I had potential (and Georgetown, to boot!) after the years that I had spent begging State to notice that I was even alive was so emotionally overwhelming for me that I will never forget the feeling.
The fact that all of the overseas assignments were then gone off the bidlist, coupled with my acceptance email to Georgetown, cinched the deal in our minds, and James went off to work that morning ready to bid voraciously for DC jobs and DC jobs only.
It was initially suggested to James (not by me, just thought I would note that) that he bid for
So James perused the bid list and settled on what we will now lovingly refer to as DCJob#1, and then he bid for it and lobbied for it, sending emails out about it hither and yon.
DCJob#1's folks seemed thrilled and wanted him, and James was thrilled to be wanted, and literally within, like, a day or two the deal was (informally) done and James was (informally) headed to DCJob#1. This is when I wrote this blog post, which is actually painful for me to go back and read. At that point, our path seemed so clear: I was going to Georgetown, James (informally) had a job in DC - I had even chosen a rental house in the Northern VA area and was busily working with a realtor to get the thing rented so we could be done with bidding and start getting everything in order to move our whole family to the DC area.
But since you already know how this story ends, you also already know that DCJob#1 didn't end up happening. I won't burden you with why or how DCJob#1 didn't happen (because it isn't important), except to say that it had nothing at all to do with James or anything about James or connected with James or concerning James. Totally independent of James-related issues, about six (or more?) weeks after it seemed like it was going to happen, DCJob#1 didn't.
I stopped the process of renting the house.
James went back to the bid list. Again he chose another job, which we shall lovingly call DCJob#2, and he bid on it and lobbied for it. Hard.
DCJob#2 decided to interview James over the phone. And during the interview, DCJob#2 asked James a question that, to this day, super duper ticks me off. It asked James to explain What was wrong with him that he didn't have an onward assignment yet.
Never mind that at that point James was still one of 130+ leftover summer bidders of his bidding class who were in the exact same position as he was and still didn't have onward assignments. James did what I thought was a great job of answering the question (This has been a very difficult bidding season / There are still more than 130+ summer bidders still who have yet to receive onward assignments / I spent seven or so months rolling the dice and trying to stay overseas, but wasn't successful / I had a DC assignment that I thought was going to happen, so for the last two months I haven't been actively re-bidding, but then it fell through), but I WAS MAD. SO MAD. I think this was probably the lowest of the low points for us that whole year of bidding - James literally having to explain over the phone during an interview WHAT WAS WRONG WITH HIM THAT HE DIDN'T HAVE AN ONWARD ASSIGNMENT YET.
As you already know, DCJob#2 didn't happen. And in retrospect, of course I'm glad we have Tokyo instead. But anyway...
So James went back to the bid list, picked out DCJob#3, and started lobbying for it.
It was at this time that something strange occurred. Something we've never seen or heard of before. I can't imagine it happens very often (ever? Other than just this once?) in DS, but a large tranche of brand-new overseas positions was created, and it flowed out onto the NOW bid list (the summer bid list had long ago disappeared) like a tidal wave. Some of the places were absolutely fantastic. (Like, you know, TOKYO.) Plus...the AIP bidders had long been given assignments (so we were no longer competing with them), there were still some 5/8 bidders but not enough to claim ALL of the new overseas positions that had been created and released (we hoped), the new overseas assignments all fit James' dates perfectly - we felt like James might actually have a shot at something. But, of course, we couldn't be sure.
And also - what about Georgetown? I had already enrolled, chosen my fall class schedule - done everything but moved to DC.
We spent about a week talking, crying, agonizing. If James stopped going after DC jobs, it could well mean he would be bidding for MONTHS longer (and he did). It could well mean that he STILL wouldn't get an overseas job (thank God he actually did end up getting one, but I'm just saying). It was a huge risk for James to change course away from trying for DC jobs and try again (and again and again) for overseas jobs, especially with a wife who had already committed to Georgetown for the fall semester and a son needing to start 9th grade somewhere. But that's what he did. And it paid off. After another few more months of bidding, he got Tokyo. And we are so grateful.
But the aftermath is still messy, with James and Matthew still in Chengdu with no idea when they will be able to leave, and with Zachary and me in the States, moving on without them, both of us starting school soon, not knowing what the plans will be. We actually even had to pay $4,000 of our own money to buy us our own two tickets out of Chengdu, since State refused over and over to pay for us to leave. Maybe the money we paid for the tickets will be reimbursed someday, and maybe it won't. I'm still upset that State literally said it wouldn't pay for our tickets out of Chengdu because Zachary's and my reasons for leaving before James "weren't good enough." That's a direct quote out of the email denying us any way for State to pay for our tickets (and no, we were also denied the ability to sign a repayment agreement for the tickets). Glorious.
What a long, painful journey it has been, this last YEAR of bidding. And of course, we're not done with everything yet. I will head to Georgetown and attend the fall semester and then our family will go from there. Maybe that one semester will show me that I was meant to only be a stay-at-home wife and that I ought to take up cross stitching or quilting or something and shut up about wanting to be someone. And maybe that semester will show me that I LOVE studying and learning, and I will bounce back and forth to Georgetown while still trying to be a wife and mom.
The bid list just opened a couple of weeks ago for this year's summer bidders. I wish for them a journey that is smoother and shorter than ours was. I will say this: James' CDO was literally the most amazing person EVER. They should build a shrine for James' amazing CDO and have them teach "How to be a Kickass Awesome CDO" classes at FSI or something. Kid you not. They are Just. That. Awesome. As I've said before. And now, months later, I mean it even more. James' CDO's awesomeness only got more awesome with time. Talk about a kind, supportive, empathetic, responsive, personable CDO. If I could send them a platter of brownies or something without looking like a psycho crazy stalker I would. (I will refrain.) We just really hit the CDO jackpot this time around.
That and James also has an amazing Assignments Officer who goes above and beyond to do everything that can be done (and more!) to help us in our crazy situation. So yes, absolutely, ours has a happy ending, and absolutely Tokyo is better than anything we could have ever dreamed or hoped for. And now you know how we got it.