The Foreign Service Journal, June 2012

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. 94 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 1 2