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Meilee Wong Earnest and I have been friends for nearly two decades (WHAT.) She was Editor in Chief of our high school’s newspaper the year before me, and has been inspiring me ever since. For years, I’ve been tracking her rise in the DC scene (in my mind, she is basically Olivia Pope without all the drama), and she recently moved to Brazil for her husband’s job serving our country as an Economic Officer in the Foreign Service. Since she always has the best advice and insight via her Facebook status comments, I reached out and asked her to write a guest piece about marriage and life’s unexpected curveballs (and blessings). Read on, then thank her and her husband for their service! Then follow their dog Douglas on Instagram! Thank you, Meilee.

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

by Meilee Wong Earnest

[I was so flattered when the kind, sweet and hilarious Annie asked me to write a guest blog based upon a comment I made on her recent blog about marriage and career. Thinking back on the past year, it really has been a completely bonkers experience but I think I – and my marriage – have come out stronger on the other side! Hope you enjoy!!]

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

{Me in a park in Northwest DC attempting to not look like a professional chipmunk, a couple of blocks from my old lobbying firm.}

This was the old me. I was 29 years old and the director of operations for the research wing of a Washington lobbying firm. Dutifully riding the metro every day with thousands of other office dwellers, I edited every piece of research going out of our firm, managed the interns, fixed my boss’ iPad and tackled the many other generally unsexy tasks that fell under operations. If an applicant showed up unshaven and without a tie, he was not getting the job. Humility was not my strong point, because I felt like I had earned the right to be where I was, and I held others to the standard to which I held myself. After all, I had started at the company as an intern, answering the phones during the day for minimum wage and going to grad school at night, eventually working my way up the corporate ladder over the course of six years.

Work hard, play hard, I thought to myself. Those years of pulling 14-hour days of work and school gave way to graduation and promotions – and I gave myself permission to basically do whatever I wanted. I bought that handbag or pair of shoes I’d been eyeing, I drank more than I should have on a school night, I blew my Christmas bonuses on trips to see friends in foreign countries. Life was awesome, and I was living it!

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

{The Earnests, right after we tied the knot at Davis Community Church. The hem of my dress is soaking wet, cold and heavy from the rain but I didn’t care, and the photographer somehow magically obscured this in the photos…}

Grant and I first met back in 2008 at an Ides of March party at the home of some mutual friends (Thanks Karl & Ebony!), or as Grant likes to say, “we met at a UChicago kegger.” The details are now a bit foggy in my memory. But, I do remember speaking at length about books over the keg, that he was wearing a bright red sweater, and that nobody was stabbed! Et tu, Meilee? Central to this story is that somehow I ended up typing my number into his flip-phone, I managed to type it correctly, and a few weeks later he called to ask me to dinner. A low-tech love story!

Those first few dates turned into meeting each other’s families and weekend vacations out of town, although each of our living quarters and social lives maintained a level of independence from the other person. I loved living in my little studio in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. Every convenience was at my fingertips, namely being able to walk two blocks to Target and having a taco shop located inside my apartment building. (This was key when it snowed as tacos are a priority.)

I knew in the back of my mind that someday my little niche in the city I had made for myself would change, which was a mildly conflicting thought. But I also knew that Grant was the one I wanted to build and grow and be with throughout our lives. Weeks, months, six years passed on by. Grant bought a ring. (I had figured out that he was “the one” after the first three years or so, but men always take longer to come to the same conclusion, amirite?) And then, “me” became “we.”

They say marriage changes everything, and indeed a lot of things did change. After many months of searching, we closed on a condo in a Virginia suburb and moved out of our respective bachelor(ette) pads. After 5 years of living alone for me, and nearly 9 years of living alone for him, this was quite the endeavor. We adopted the other great love of my life, Douglas the Dog, from the Washington Humane Society. My new last name started arriving on various government and financial documents in the mail. And, as life tends to do, we settled into our routines of work, dog training lessons, family obligations and community service.

Little did I know at the time that within the next year, my husband would get a new job, accept a new assignment, learn a new language, and that Douglas and I would be packing up all of our shoes, handbags and chew toys and moving to the Southern Hemisphere! It was with a mixture of extreme pride and moderate fear that I accepted the title of Foreign Service Spouse, or “DiploWife” for short. After what seemed like a whirlwind of passports, visas, important dog papers, packing up, and living in a hotel for a few days (I worked up until the week before we left the U.S.) – we were off to Brazil! Marriage really does change everything!

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

{Douglas sports his Brazil collar while stylin’ at the local German heritage festival in Brooklin, Sao Paulo. Grant is filling in for me with my normal duties of Dog-lomat’s walker.}

I think I can speak for not only myself but the rest of our entire extended family when I say we are all extremely proud of Grant for serving our country as an Economic Officer in the Foreign Service. I also feel very privileged that the State Department selected our family to carry out this task of strengthening diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Brazil. (I mean, us?? We are just normal people!) The unfortunate political and economic crisis occurring in Brazil when we first arrived has kept Grant very busy at work. He goes to meetings all over Sao Paulo, travels with his boss to other places in Brazil, and occasionally I tease him about the meetings he gets because the other person must not know how unimportant we are. ☺ I have never been so jealous of a work meeting as when the CEO of St. Marche (think the Whole Foods of Brazil) took Grant to a lunch meeting at Eataly Sao Paulo – which he also owns. Gah!!!! (Luckily for Grant’s health and welfare his normal meetings are not this exciting. LOL)

I think it is safe to say that young professional women – all over the country, but especially in Washington, DC – are trending towards being extremely career-focused and sometimes even delay marriage and children, compared to the historical average. I certainly noticed the social peer pressure of this when I was in my 20s and trying my best to advance personally and professionally in the crazy fishbowl of our Nation’s Capital. And of course, I spent many more evenings going to happy hour – I mean, uhm, networking! – than I did going home to my nonexistent family. The vast majority of my peers were doing the same, and I never imagined myself becoming a full-time Domestic Engineer, although I would never have put-down another woman for making a different choice. Even after my currently nonexistent kids someday materialize, I figured I would at least go back to work part-time and have a sitter! While I never considered NOT coming to Brazil (we made a promise “before God and government,” as Grant likes to say!) I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness about leaving my old life behind. A large part of my brain space that was so active throughout my 20s, dedicated to my career and my network in Washington, was about to go dormant.

As proud as I am of my husband, for me, I suppose a large part of our new life has been an exercise in letting go. Going from living life at 100 mph to hanging around the house all day talking to the dog was an adjustment. (Douglas is not the world’s best conversationalist.) I missed my old life – my friends, the feeling of being in an office, and speaking to other human beings. While the State Department has a lot of resources for spouses, which are wonderful and very much appreciated, the initial move was a little bit isolating and scary. As I landed in Brazil for the first time, the sun rose over the endless high-rises and the city stretched past the horizon in all directions. What the heck was I getting myself into?

While I knew in the back of my mind that being a wife (and especially mother! Shoutout to all the awesome moms out there!) wasn’t an easy job, I quickly learned that I had absolutely no idea whatsoever. Basic life tasks such as buying a metrocard, paying your cell phone bill or changing the oil in the car become an all-day odyssey in a foreign language, in a new country, in a new bureaucracy that I didn’t understand. And then suddenly it’s 7:00 p.m., my husband is home and I haven’t made dinner because I spent the last six hours trying to figure out how to get keys made and where to buy a lightbulb, desperately hoping that the other person would understand my pitiful attempts at Portuguese. My previously strong sense of self-confidence evaporated as I struggled to complete the most basic (in my mind) of tasks. At least I knew how to do my old job. Being a professional DiploWife is hard!

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

{Me (in orange) climbing a glacier in El Calafate, Argentina}

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

{Experiencing the Galo da Madrugada celebration at Carnaval in Recife, Brazil}

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

{Hiking the trails of Iguazu Falls in Brazil and Argentina}

Letting Go and Going Forward: A Meditation on Becoming a Mrs.

{Our little family shopping for fruits and veggies at the farmers market in our neighborhood, Moema}

This is the new me. I am 31 years old and I have gotten off the couch. The past year has been an incredible adventure for all of us, and I can’t believe how quickly it has gone by. Brazil is an amazing country full of natural beauty and warm-hearted people, and I have resolved to conquer my frustrations, move forward and experience as much of it as possible. Whether that means climbing a giant block of ice, trying to speak Portuguese (badly) or figuring out where to buy bourbon – I can do this. Letting go of my fear of failure was the only way I could start trying to move forward. And letting go of that barrier has allowed me to experience the kindness of our new friends, who have invited us into their homes, lent a helping hand when I needed it, and adopted us into their awesome and crazy family events! Best of all, letting go of my old life and mindset helped me tackle the hardest job I have ever had – to be the best and most supportive spouse I can be.

  • This post so resonated with me. I moved to Germany in February (speaking not a word of german except “Hallo” and “auf Wiedersehen” thanks for the Sound of Music) and man, doing ANYTHING in a foreign language is so hard. I would go to the grocery store and they would ask me a simple question (which I now know is, “Are you finding everything ok?”) and would just want to cry because I had no idea what was happening. I’d go out and be on the u-bahn and I wouldn’t understand a single word and it felt so so isolating.

    I’ve been living abroad outside of the US now for over two years, but before now I’d been living in other English-speaking countries like Australia, where life was so much easier.

    We moved to Germany because my husband got a job here and I got an internship, but when the internship ended I found it hard to find a job not speaking German so I can completely relate to all of this, but I love how you just got up and picked yourself up and you go at everything fearlessly. I’m working on it. I can have basic conversations with people, I have a few friends here now, I understand a little of what people say on transportation and I can go to the grocery store and not want to bawl my eyes out because I don’t know which is the fabric conditioner or detergent. It’s all a learning curve and I loved reading this post :)

    • Meilee Earnest

      Hannah, thanks for sharing your experience! It sounds like you are doing awesome. It does take a (seemingly) long time, but I found that listening to Brazilian Youtubers (also, the ads on YouTube) helped me learn new words. They’re shorter than a movie and sometimes have subtitles! Also, it sounds like you have picked up enough grocery store-speak to survive Germany. Cheers to you, me and all the other modern (mildly desperate) housewives who moved to a crazy place for their husband’s job! And we won’t cry over laundry detergent AGAIN! hahah :)

      • Annie

        YOU ARE THE BEST. I adore you so much for writing this. Thank you. Biggest cheers to you! AND DOUGLAS, my favorite dog of Instagram!

    • Annie

      Hannah, thank you so much for sharing this!! I remember you mentioning you were in Germany in a previous comment, and this gives some backstory… Cheers and major props to you, I can’t imagine how difficult that transition must have been! I am happy to hear you’ve made some friends, and most importantly, can find the detergent at the store :) I’m so happy you related, thank you for sharing your story too!

    • Annie

      Hannah, thank you so much for sharing this!! I remember you mentioning you were in Germany in a previous comment, and this gives some backstory… Cheers and major props to you, I can’t imagine how difficult that transition must have been! I am happy to hear you’ve made some friends, and most importantly, can find the detergent at the store :) I’m so happy you related, thank you for sharing your story too!


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