Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Administration of Leaving

I started this blog in our time leading up to departure for Naples, with lots and lots of posts on the logistics and administration involved in the move. It was our hardest move ever. Until it came time to leave Italy. Leaving was exhausting and demoralizing. I've blocked out much of it, but I remember arriving in the PNW and telling Nathan that I was never moving again. I usually take our moves in stride, so this was a pretty drastic statement. I'm actually still recovering from the move. Below is as much as I can remember about the business of leaving Italy. Most of my readers will want to entirely skip this post. It is not interesting and really long. I know this. But I'm putting it up for all the families who still have to leave, recognizing that this was just our experience. I really can't say whether it is as hard for other families. Most probably my new mom stresses and lack of sleep greatly affected my ability to think clearly. For sure there was admin stuff in which we elected to take the absolute easiest, and usually quite costly, route, just to do whatever we could to reduce stress. And it's safe to assume that I have forgotten at least five more major issues that had to be handled. This post might also be for all those civilians out there who think military moves must be so easy because "the military does it all for you." I put that in quotes because I cannot even count the numbers of times I've heard that phrase in the last 17 years. Sure, easy. If that's what you think, read on.

1.  First is the figuring out when to ship your personal property. It takes 60-90 days for it to arrive in the U.S., which results in lots of calculations and guesses to make as to when you'll need your stuff. On the Italy end, the Navy will provide loaner furniture - bed, dresser, sofa (or in our case, four chairs), the basics. On the USA end, you are out of luck. An air mattress and crates you find in the back of a liquor store are about all you get. Possibly for months on end.  Thus, we elected to send our personal property pretty early, back in mid-April, in hopes that it would be in the U.S. and ready for delivery the day after we touched down in the final week of June (it wasn't; whole other drama). And just a note, the loaner furniture is serviceable. It is not attractive or comfortable. While we did indeed get to stay in our home the last three months, for which I am beyond grateful (!!!!!!!!!), do not mistake loaner furniture and bare bones housewares, clothing, and toiletries for luxury, Italian living.

2. Then the Express Shipment. This is the shipment of things you kept out until the last minute. This is a tricky one because it takes about 30 days to get to the U.S. If your Express is full of things you kept out until the last minute, that indicates it is important stuff. But then if you are heading straight to your final destination, now you have 30-45 days without that important stuff. Tricky. Especially when there are children involved as there is the extra layer of figuring out when to ship the crib, high chair, and baby accessories that make Mama's life easy, like a swing or exersaucer. Do you want it on the departure end or the arrival. How will you contain children on moving days when moving to a place where you have no friends, no babysitter, no help? What items are so vital that you might even have to buy duplicates so they are available on both ends?

3. Next up is the wine shipment, if you choose to send wine home. That cannot be moved in the summer as the heat will ruin all your nectar. You can (a) send your wine early, or (b) find someone in Italy willing to store your wine until the fall, then have it shipped. With the wine shipment you must provide a detailed inventory, including name of wine, where it was purchased, price, and volume. And a Power of Attorney for both the shipper and your friend who may be storing your wine. This one is the easiest of the bunch because it is purely optional, and thus, I think some of the stress is relieved. Doing a wine shipment was our choice and if we wanted to reduce stress, then we could choose not to send any home.

4. Three shipments down, but now there is your car. The military will ship one vehicle. Do you want to ship a 2nd on your own dime? Or sell one? Or sell both? And when to sell your car since you need at least one up until the last day (public transportation in Naples is crowded, inconvenient, incredibly time consuming (if you doubt that, read my early posts from our arrival in Naples), and not a true, viable option for Nathan to get to/from work in the last days). Cars take 45-60 days, so what is your plan once you arrive in the U.S. We found that here in the PNW, a car rental was $350/week. So for us, we landed, rented our insanely expensive car, arrived at our hotel at 1am, slept a few hours before waking up and meeting our property manager for the rental house, got keys, and spent the next three days car shopping, despite being unable to form coherent sentences. This car was our one and only car for almost two months, until the car shipped from Italy arrived. For us, our housing situation with a rental located in walking distance to basic services (like groceries) made this fairly easy. For many families in America, one car creates a massive hardship to be able to handle work hours, kids' school/activities, and basic needs for living. Back to selling your car in Italy - are you going to sell a car? When do you put it on the market? How many other cars are on the "lemon lot" (means something different on the American base) and how are they priced? Will you get what you hoped for your car? If your car does not sell in time, you must find a really awesome friend to take power of attorney and handle all the business of selling a car in a foreign country. The military does have a DMV type office on base, and that office is awesome...but that does not negate the fact that selling a car in Italy is bureaucratically annoying. Selling our car there took approximately 3-4 hours of paperwork and meetings and phone calls and the like. Buying our used car here took roughly 20 minutes - 10 to meet up with the seller and pick up the car and signed over title, another 10 to go to the small town DMV and register the signed over title. Done.

5. Holy smokes, I can't even think anymore right now, months later. I'm exhausted just writing all of this, much less remembering the actual process of going through it. But it's not over. In Italy, if you live out in town, you now have to get out of your house. When? And how much is it going to cost you? That is key. Most families I know had somewhere between $2000-$3500 due in various bills. For us, we found that our gas bill we'd paid every two months had been an estimate for our entire, three year stay. And a bad estimate at that. We owed 1700euros (approx $2300). We'd set up our electric bill through the base, which just meant that an office there acted as a mediator between us and the electric company. The electric company also did exact reads at somewhat random times, or never. I think we might have had one actual read per year. Maybe. We were required to leave something like 500-1000euros as a "deposit," against any remaining monies due. Two weeks ago, we got back about $500. Two weeks ago, as in December. We left Italy in June.

6.  And when you do move out of your house, where are you going to go? How will you get to/from work? And how will you get to the airport? Many families stay on our Support Site base, which makes all the admin appointments to get out of Italy easy. And there is a bus that goes to the base where most service members work. Except that hotel was booked. No room at the Inn. The base where most people work is located right next to the airport and has an Inn (which we opted for), but most families have quite a bit of luggage. Can you walk the mile from the base hotel to the airport front door with your luggage? Our flight departed at 6am, so we needed to be at the airport about 4:30am. Many families find friends to take them to the airport, but we were unwilling to ask someone to get up at 4am in order to get to pick us up. A wonderful co-worker of Nathan's arranged a taxi for us - we got a taxi to take us one mile. Best 15euros we spent trying to get out of Italy. Yep, a taxi at 4am to go five blocks cost us 15euro (about $20), and we considered it a bargain. My plan from our very first week in Italy, where I hated so much our living situation, was to stay in a hotel catering to moving Americans. This particular hotel is located right near our (former) house, so the area was familiar, has a beautiful pool area and supposedly, a great dinner. Sadly, they do not offer a shuttle to and from the base. This meant Nathan would have to take the car, leaving me and Nora at the hotel all day. Since we were looking at five full days, we opted for the base, where I had easy access to the bus that went into Centro Napoli (and to the ferries, since I held out hope for fitting in one last Capri visit...did not happen), however, our room had a great view of Mt. Vesuvius and was a tiny little suite, so Nora's crib could be in the living room, and we had a small kitchen to do coffee, basic lunches, and the like. I ended up loving it! No great pool, but are you getting yet how very tired we were from the admin of leaving the country!

7.  How on earth could I forget Crazy Dog. Do you have a pet? If so, how are you moving your pet(s) back, assuming they are too large to travel in a cabin bag with you. Your options are to fly on the military flight out of Naples to the East Coast of the U.S. (all the pet spots on that flight were booked, so this was not an option for us), or fly out of Rome with your dog and just pray that all goes well (after you've figured out how to get yourself and your children and your luggage and your dog and your dog's carrier to Rome in a country where most cars are the size of a living room chair). If flying on the military flight, just the paperwork needed for your pet is enough to send a gal over the edge. If flying out of Rome, the paperwork becomes significantly easier. And if using a cargo shipper, you are paying so flipping much money that they handle the paperwork. Add on top of this that our flight was going all the way to the West Coast, so we were looking at upwards of 24 hours in flight that Scully would be in his crate. Guess which pet moving option we picked! We had a cargo shipper who specializes in pet moving to handle Scully's flight because he'd be flying in summertime. We were very worried that choosing the Rome route on our flight day, the heat would be so bad that the airline would not allow Scully to fly. And since the military won't rebook commercial flights due to pet problems, we went the expensive, but less worrisome, route. Scully cost us $2500 to fly him home. We know some families who left around the same time, flying commercial out of Rome with their dog and a $400 payment or so, and everything went very well. We know of other families who had masses of problems, airport delays that went on for days, being stranded in Rome with their pets, and so on. Luck of the draw. There are no good options on moving your pet back to the U.S. if you are going all the way to the West coast.

8.  How are you getting your own selves back to the U.S.? The best option is the military flight. It's comfortable, has a layover halfway through (where travelers with pets can visit/walk their animals), and lands in Norfolk sometime from early to very late every other Friday evening. For us, we were going on to Seattle. Now you taxpayers will surely be thankful to know that when our travel arrangements are made by the government travel office, the cheapest option is the one used, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. We were assigned to the military flight with a next day follow on to Seattle that included TWO layovers. A 40+ hour trip we'd be making with a nine month old. The fury that filled me was so great that I still cannot even express it. Seventeen years of being a Navy wife, and I have ALWAYS taken these types of frustrations as minor enough to not get worked over. This is just the life. But this time, I just felt beaten down, and that quickly turned to fury, mainly because I'd found very cheap, commercial flights that would get us to Seattle in 17 hours. Versus over 40 hours. Yet we were not allowed to use these. Nathan finally managed to get the travel office to approve a commercial flight on "approved" airlines for which we paid an extra $500 out of pocket. This trip from start to hotel arrival in WA was 30 hours.

9. Think I'm done? Nope. Most families moving to Naples put some of their personal property in long term storage. We had about 3000lbs in storage. It took us a month of requesting our property to even get an answer that the military office we had to use had received our request. This shipment of goods came almost 90 days after request and arrived in two different shipments delivered weeks apart.

10. Still not finished. You are moving to a new location from overseas. Have you been there before? If so, you have a huge leg up. If not, what is the plan when you arrive? We have 10 days allowed in a hotel before we are then on our own dime. If you are moving to a new location, then I sure hope you can find housing and move into it (on your air mattress and crates) in 10 days. Or that the rest of your Italy exit didn't so deplete your liquid funds that you now cannot afford a hotel for awhile.

Now I do want to be clear that we experienced so many blessings on our exit. We spent some quality time with friends. I got in a few, final day trips to my favorite places. Our car sold exactly when we needed for the price we needed. We got an appointment to ship our car home the day before our departure, and on arrival in the PNW, we found the exact car we were hoping to find for exactly what we hoped to spend in under three days. For our housing here, a friend contacted us to offer us his rental house, and it is everything we were hoping for in the town where we wanted to live, in the location within the town where we wanted to live.

But to be completely honest, getting out of Italy was mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially devastating for me.  There, I said it. I broke the Military Spouse Code. I admit that it totally blew, and I hated every single second. I grew to detest our evenings in the final months because rather than being able to really enjoy our final experiences, instead, we were endlessly discussing the morass of logistics that were so interwoven with one another that we felt like we were untangling a Constrictor knot. Every time I turned around, there was a new logistical problem. When I'd quiz other families who were leaving around the same time, they'd just say, "It sure is hard." I hope for their sakes that my experience was an anomaly, and those families experienced some minor, easily dealt with annoyances. Because otherwise, they were just putting on a brave, military spouse face and pretending things were fine when in reality, they too wanted to scream or cry or both. Or wished they'd sent their wine shipment later so that a few (dozens) more bottles could be added.

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