Remarks at "Diplomacy at Home for the Holidays"

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Diplomatic Reception Rooms
Washington, DC
December 14, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Welcome, welcome, welcome. We’re so pleased to see you here again this year, and want to wish you a very happy, happy holiday season. I want to thank Ambassador Marshall and her amazing team at Protocol, and of course I want to thank everyone that she thanked, because if you look around here and see all of the wonderful decorations from Erinn Valencich and her team, and the Skype platforms that I saw some of you using earlier, and so much else, this is a real team effort. And I think it’s a way for us to say thank you. Thank you to your families and thank you for everything you’re doing. And thanks especially for your understanding that your mom, your dad, your loved one needs to be where he or she is, even during the holidays, on behalf of our country.

I was very pleased to meet, on my way in, Tyler Holt, who just arrived from Baghdad. And he’s a program economist there, and his wife, Anne, and his children Lilly and Danny were expecting him tonight, but he got here a few hours early, so we’re delighted to welcome him home. And now we’re going to hear shortly from Jennifer Mauldin, whose husband, Jimmy, is currently serving an unaccompanied tour in Pakistan. Jennifer and their children, Anna, Kate, Jack, and Caroline, are home in Virginia, and while the Mauldin family story is unique – because every family is unique – there are common threads of these unaccompanied tours, long months without visits, extra burdens on the mom or dad or the parent who is at home, the usual challenges facing our Foreign Service families, picking up and moving from time to time. But in particular, I want to say a thank you to all of you who are children of our diplomats. Whether you’re an infant or a toddler or a preschooler or a teenager, I know how much you miss your moms and dads. I see them when I travel all over the world, and particularly in places where they can’t let you come with them. They think about you all the time. And we are very proud of you for being so understanding and strong and brave while they’re gone. And I particularly hope that you understand that the work they’re doing around the world is to make our country and our world better for you in the future.

If there are any questions that any of you have, the doors of the Family Liaison Office are always open, and we stand ready to help you if you have any challenges that you encounter while your loved one is far from home.

Now, as we celebrate the holidays, I want someone who can speak from real experience. So first, let me ask Leslie Teixeira to come – who directs the Family Liaison Office, and then Leslie is going to introduce Jennifer Mauldin. So Leslie, please come address us for a few minutes.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. TEIXEIRA: Thank you so much, Secretary Clinton, for your strong support of all of our diplomatic families. The fact that this room is so full and that people have come from so far – from Arizona, from Florida, from Nebraska, and so many other places – tells you how much they appreciate it. So thank you.

But I’m really here to introduce Jennifer Mauldin. Jennifer is the spouse of a Foreign Service officer, Jimmy Mauldin, who is currently serving on an unaccompanied tour. She’s originally from Denver, Colorado, but during her 18 years of marriage to Jimmy, she’s traveled extensively around the world and moved more than 11 times, a familiar story for diplomatic families. In addition to the United States, the Mauldins have lived in Ghana, India, and Morocco, where Jennifer worked as the community liaison office coordinator, and we hear she was a really good one. She currently lives in Virginia with her four children, who are here with her today, and she’s looking forward to reuniting as a family at their next posting in New Delhi. So we wish them the best of luck there.

Jennifer, thank you for your sacrifice that you and your family are making, and thank you for being gracious enough to come up and say a few words about your experience.

Jennifer. Please. (Applause.)

MS. MAULDIN: I want to start just by thanking – okay. (Laughter.) I want to thank Secretary Clinton just for making this an – event such a priority in her schedule. I know that you have been doing lots and lots of meeting today, and thank you for taking the time. It really means a lot to us that you recognize the sacrifices families make to further our country’s diplomatic missions in some of the most challenging assignments around the world. Thank you very much.

I also want to thank all of those that made this day possible through generous donations and hours spent making this space so festive. I’ve been up here on a couple of occasions and I’ve just never seen it look so beautiful. The decorations are just gorgeous.

I also want to say a special thank you to the Family Liaison Office. I know that professionals from that office had a lot to do with today’s event. But more importantly to me, it’s that office that helps families like mine and yours prepare for what to expect on an unaccompanied tour. They provide a newsletter that helps us keep in touch during a separation, and even plan special events for our kids, and even a recognition for the children who give up so much while their family – while their parent is away. So we really appreciate all that you do as well.

Everyone here today has a loved one, whether it’s a spouse, a partner, a mom or a dad, a sister, a child, a brother, living at an unaccompanied post right now. And I’m sure that each of us has a unique story to share regarding the challenges and the opportunities of that time apart. Today, I’d like to share my family’s story, the challenges and opportunities we face, and some special Christmas memories that are helping us get through this time of temporary separation.

My husband Jimmy is serving a year in the Economic Section at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, and currently he’s on an extended TDY assignment in Lahore, at the consulate. And during his year away, I live in Falls Church, Virginia, with our four children. We have Jack, who’s 11, and Anna, who’s 12, Caroline’s 14, and Kate is 16. So Jimmy will return for his second R&R in 95 days. We’re not counting, but it’s 95 days. And we don’t have family in this area, but I chose to stay in Northern Virginia for several reasons. The kids are at a great school, we have the FLO – Family Liaison Office – support, then also the biggest reason, I did not want to move again after 11 moves in 18 years. I’d had enough, and thought we would just stay in one space.

Having our family separated for a year is a challenge, and I miss not having my husband here to share in the day-to-day – just experiences that happened and those many crises that seem to always be popping up. During this time apart, we have had the earthquake – I’m sure you remember that one – we have had a hurricane, and then there was the tropical storm that sent 12 inches of water into our basement of a rental home. And you all remember that happened in about 10 days.

So in addition to that, there is now the responsibility of mowing the grass and raking the leaves and cleaning the bathrooms. These are all mundane, everyday tasks that are really important, and my husband used to take care of all of them. (Laughter.) And now I have to do them all.

Over the initial six months of this unaccompanied tour, I’ve had to learn how to shut the water off in our house when we had a pipe burst, how to take the door off the hinges in my basement to get one of my children out when the lock became stuck – (laughter) – how to fix two flat tires, and then how to break into my own house when I locked myself out. (Laughter.) So all of these are things that I gladly would have allowed my husband to handle if he were here.

In preparing to talk with you today, I asked my kids what the hardest part of their dad being away was. And they each had very different answers. Anna right here, she said that dinner just didn’t seem right without her dad at the dinner table. And Kate, she told me that she needed her dad to practice speaking French because I am absolutely no good at it. Jack, he said he needed his dad here to take trips to the grocery store and to make them fun, because I don’t buy enough snacks and junk food – (laughter) – and it’s just different stuff in our house when my husband’s gone. And then it was Caroline who reminded us all that this is the first Christmas that we will have without her dad.

So this year apart is hard. You all know that. But when I think about it, this year has also been a time of great opportunities. It’s an amazing opportunity for my husband to be on the frontlines of diplomacy in Pakistan. He is engaging business leaders and meeting with young entrepreneurs who hope to partner with America and build stronger relations between our two countries. It’s an opportunity for my kids to experience American culture and an American school. They are learning about our nation’s civics, our nation’s history, our nation’s government, things that they miss out on when we live overseas. It’s also been an opportunity for us to spend time with extended family. Family and friends living in the U.S. have come to visit us, and we’ve been able to host them here in Northern Virginia and to share with them the beauty and just the rich history that our nation’s capital has to offer. Finally, it’s an opportunity for me to see just how much I can handle on my own and to just try to keep our family growing stronger together during this year apart.

Now about two weeks ago, we decorated our Christmas tree. It’s a big tradition in our home; I’m sure many of you have this as a big tradition. And when we started, it really seemed a little bit sad and incomplete without Jimmy being there. But as we started to unwrap ornaments and the kids started putting things on the tree, the mood in the room changed, and they really became excited, and there was laughter, and they were remembering trips and just special times that they’d had with their dad. And it was those ornaments that helped us remember those.

So I have a few of those that I want to share with you today. So I took some ornaments off my tree. And you guys in the front, you’re going to be able to see these really well. Okay. The first ornament. This is the first ornament right here. Now, it reminds us of Alabama and about my husband. He is from Alabama. It reminds us of the hard work that he has done and just the determination to get him where he is today. It also reminds us of his favorite things, and that would be fried food, family – us – and Alabama football. So, go Tide, coming up in the game. (Laughter.)

Now, the next one – kids in front, can you see this one? See it right here? This one reminds us of our first State Department assignment that we had. It was in Chennai, India. And we took an incredible family trip. We went on an overnight train ride, and then we got in this jeep, and it was a crazy driver for three hours, and we finally got to an elephant preserve. And kids, when we got there, we took off our shoes and socks, we rolled up our pants, and we waded into muddy water that was also dirty, parents, with lots of other things. And the elephants were in the water, and we scrubbed the elephants. I mean, what an amazing memory that my kids have of that.

Okay. The next one. This is – what is this, guys? A camel. This is a camel that came from our trip – our assignment in Rabat, Morocco and a trip that we took on Thanksgiving Day. We rode camels into the desert, and then we slept in tents and we had an incredible Thanksgiving meal that was soup and goat meat, and then these little pumpkin pies that were squished and really messed up because I had tried to carry them on the back of a camel, and that doesn’t work so well. But we built a bonfire and just had a wonderful time with friends looking at millions and millions of stars that you see out in the desert.

Now, the very last ornament – all right – this one right here, this one comes from Pakistan. And my husband brought this back to us for – when he came on his first R&R that happened in October. And with this one, we’re going to hang it on our tree and just be so proud, as we remember the important work that he’s doing there while we’re separated. And for each of you, it reminds me of the important work that your loved one is doing right now as they are really trying to further peace and stability all around the world.

These ornaments all have special meaning to my family, but I’m sure that each of you has your own holiday traditions and holiday memories. And I just want to encourage each of you to reflect on those during this season of separation. And my family wishes you peace and love and a happy reunion with your family whenever it may happen. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. (Applause.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Jennifer, that was great. Well, Jennifer, that was absolutely fabulous. You are a natural born teacher. And I think we all enjoyed that.

Now, we have one more speaker who wants to say hello. I’m delighted to welcome via Skype from Pakistan Jimmy Mauldin, with his Alabama tee shirt on. (Applause.) Do you want to come talk to him?

AMBASSADOR MARSHALL: Yes, come up to the podium. Jennifer, come to the podium.

MS. MAULDIN: I made it through that whole thing without getting all upset or anything. Okay. Hi, Jimmy. Can you guys see?

JACK MAULDIN: Hi, daddy.

MS. MAULDIN: We can’t hear, but I bet he’s saying really nice things to us. (Laughter.) Jack thinks – can you hear us? Jack thinks it’s funny that we can’t hear you. Okay, we can hear you. It’s good to see you. We’ll see you in March, for real. (Laughter.)

MR. MAULDIN: You still can’t hear me, huh?

MS. MAULDIN: Oh, now we can. (Applause and cheers.)

MR. MAULDIN: Jen, I just want to tell you – can you hear me good now? – you look absolutely marvelous. That is a fabulous haircut you got today. (Laughter.) And for you guys in the room, you don’t know this, but this Sunday Jennifer and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. (Applause.) You’re going to make me cry. I’ve got to say something funny here.

But I just want to tell you, Jennifer, you’re absolutely fantastic, and I couldn’t ask for a better wife or a better friend. And you cannot deny that we have had 18 years of wonderful adventures, and the best thing is that it’s just beginning. You’ve given me four beautiful children, and I tell you, I appreciate you so much. You’ve been the encouragement behind me that pushed me out of the peanut fields of south Alabama to the front lines of diplomacy here in Pakistan, and I wouldn’t be here at all if it wasn’t for you. So thank you, I love you. You did an awesome job today.

And kids, I think you are absolutely fantastic. I got three of the most beautiful daughters in the entire world. Katie, I wish I was there with you last night to see you get recognized for winning all-state at the cross-country team. I appreciate that. (Applause.) Here in Pakistan, but I’m eating lots of good food, so if I tried to run like you did, I’d keel over dead. So I’m glad you’re doing it for us. Thank you, I love you. You’re a great young lady. You have great leadership. I appreciate that.

Caroline, you’re absolutely beautiful. I miss that red hair. I miss your gumption. I miss that oomph. You’ve got your mamma’s true grit. And I want to tell you that I especially appreciate you taking on the job of being the plunger person at the toilet when it gets stuck – (laughter) – so thank you for taking on that job. That really means a lot to me.

Anna, you are gorgeous, and I so miss not being there for the promenade weekends that you have when you’re going to dance. And I’m going to miss that father-daughter dance this year, and that hurts a little bit. But I tell you what, when I get home, I want you to teach me some of these new moves you’re learning and so that maybe I can take your mamma out dancing in the spring. So you’re going to have to help me out, okay? But I am so proud of you. I saw your report card online this week – all As – way to go, girl. I’m proud of you. (Applause and cheers.)

And Jack, you’re my number one buddy, and I know it is so tough being the only boy in the house with all these girls. (Laughter.) But I appreciate you. I appreciate you stepping up to the plate. I appreciate you helping out with those chores, cleaning the bathrooms a little bit. And I promise, when I get home, me and you, let’s go to Mad Fox Brewery, we’ll get a root beer and you can tell me all kinds of wild stories. (Laughter.)

And I want to say a special hello to my sister-in-law, Joy Burns. She is in the room somewhere. But Joy flew up from Atlanta, Georgia. And Joy is an example of just how – what an important role that extended family can play to people like us and my family back in the states by just the encouragement that you offer, the support that you give. And I appreciate that. Tell your mamma and daddy, Joy, that I love them – even my mother-in-law. (Laughter.) She’s a pretty good mother-in-law, and I appreciate those care packages with Moon Pies and grits, and they should just keep them all coming.

And for anybody else in the room, I just want to let you know that you guys have some of the best mammas and daddies and sons and daughters ever in the world. And I know that I’m working with a lot of them here in Pakistan, both in Islamabad and (inaudible) here. I know, in fact, I have a nice young lady here I just met, Corrine Soloman. She has family there in the group and she is absolutely awesome. So although you’re missing them, I’m enjoying them, and we have become a family of our own. So thank you for sharing them. And as we say in south Alabama, in closing, I just want to tell you Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and roll Tide. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR MARSHALL: Thank you, Jennifer. Thank you, Jimmy. Thank you so much. Thank you, Madam Secretary. That was a really just wonderful touching moment.

We now have a few performances for you. I’d like to welcome the Bay Theater of Maryland now to the stage. (Applause.)

PRN: 2011/2145