Crisis of conscience and the post summer blues

I have spent alot of time wanting my son to get older. To move past being a newborn, a baby, a toddler – to be the age he is now, really – that perfect moment in a child’s life where they are no longer a baby and have a degree of independence – but everything is still new and exciting and they want to share it with you. What I forgot to consider over the summer is that they move on from this. And if you push the agenda, it will go faster. And now as I see him changing before my eyes, I’m already lamenting the loss of my baby boy and feeling terrible because I think I am making it happen.

The Crystal Ball

The Crystal Ball (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was so sure I wanted my little boy at preschool this year. He’s a smart kid and a big kid and a September kid, and the school down the road has a September 15th cut off date, so I went right on ahead and put him in. He didn’t cry and he doesn’t look out of place amongst his class, who, it turns out, are mostly aged within six months of each other. But I wonder if I did the right thing by taking him out of nursery. That window where they are so cute and innocent and yummy will close before I know it and instead of putting the breaks on I fear I have sped up the process, making him move away from needing me more quickly than I truly intended. I miss him eating with me at lunch, I miss his little smile and I miss the coziness and security of nursery – and now he is in this big grown up school that I’m not sure I’m ready for anymore.

I feel like a terrible mother for making my just-turned-three year old dress up in a uniform and stay in someone else’s care from 8.30 until 1.30 every day. And yet, what was the alternative? Another year at nursery (which is only a half hour less, btw, and where they also wear a uniform) where he might feel less grown up, but quite probably get bored – and in a class that is one third as big again as the one he is in now, quite possibly be left to his own devices for more of the time? In these terms, he is better off where he is, in a class of 11 children and a wonderful classroom that has far more interesting things to explore than his nursery would be able to offer. So then I swing back and think that maybe it is all in my mind, that he will have a far richer experience where he is and I should just stop worrying. Maybe my judgement on this is clouded, and it is my experience I am missing after all the interaction I had with the nursery. Whatever it is, it’s bothering me. A lot.

I think having had a few weeks with just me and him on the road, there is also the Daddy Factor which is making me extra emotional. My boys have always worshipped each other, this much is certain, but since we got back to Dubai, my son has expressed clear favouritism towards Daddy and quite frankly, whilst I don’t blame him (there are times I like him far better than me too, and this past week may well be one of those times) it is very upsetting to think that all the hours I put in doing my best to be a good mother might be somewhat akin to pissing in the wind. Everyone assures me he doesn’t mean it, and whilst I remain unconvinced (he really has made it very clear) it has encouraged me to try harder at being a super dooper Mummy (I am nothing if not competitive). Dumping him off at school for 5 hours a day doesn’t really fit with that, making it doubly upsetting.

Oh, I don’t know, this is just a big ‘sigh’ of a post isn’t it? Maybe I just have to get back into the swing of things and I’ll be fine. After all, coming back here after nearly two months surrounded by everyone I know and love is a big adjustment for me too and I haven’t really had much time to get my head around that. I need to get to know the school and his teacher and be involved, and then I am sure I will be more comfortable with it all. I need to figure out fun things to do with my little boy when he gets home so that we can still play together and enjoy the time with each other. I need to start doing the ‘school mum’ thing and make some friends, and have some play dates, and figure life in Dubai out all over again. And I need to decide how to spend my own time while he is gone in a positive and productive manner so that I don’t wallow.

But mainly I need a crystal ball to tell me I’ve done the right thing.

Get over it

It is no secret in our house that I don’t want to live in Dubai forever. In fact I think the blog name I picked out might have given a clue as to my feelings on the subject. However for some reason I feel the need to push it in everyone’s face once in a while, just to make sure they are still listening. Last night was one of those times, and my husband copped the worst of it.

Well…all of it.

Again.

Homesickness

Everyone gets homesick once in a while (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)

My desire to ‘not be here’ has become deep rooted over the course of the last few years. In truth, I don’t think about it on a daily basis and very rarely get homesick anymore, in fact right now I’m having a rather enjoyable and satisfying time of it – but the bottom line, when you scrape all of the other stuff away and get to the heart of the matter, is that I can’t shake the feeling that being here is a huge compromise. It is so engrained in me that I want to go home that occasionally when the mood takes me and I am feeling particularly vulnerable, or dramatic, or both, I cannot see past this to anything else. And because it is not within my control to change the situation I get really foul about the whole subject of when and if it will ever happen.

Grossly unfair of me when I flip out about it and never my finest hour. I wish I could just be okay with being here, like, really okay with it. Or I wish that I could not be okay with it very quietly and privately, so that other people didn’t have to put up with my childish tantrums and whining, and so that I didn’t use my anger as a weapon of mass destruction. But I can’t seem to do either of those things. I think I have parked it, accepted it, and am coping with it, and then I suddenly flare up again and go nuclear, usually at my husband, about the terrible blow life has dealt me because I can’t go home.

Which of course is rubbish and immature and frankly rather silly. There is absolutely nothing to say my life away from Dubai would be any better than the one we enjoy here. I think it’s just – and I’m going to copyright my new term of diagnosis here – ‘Ultimate homesickness’. It’s like an extended remix, years and years of missing out on life at home all rolled into one big ball of emotion that once in a while appears rather suddenly and lashes out at everything in a two mile radius until it is spent.

I talked before about ‘that permanently temporary’ feeling of being an expat. It is here again, and I think it is exaggerated the closer I get to summer, and returning home. It is a particularly sensitive time for me as I plan my days away from here, and realise once again that it is all too short a time to spend with the people I love and miss dearly.  However, faced with the reality of leaving our life here I’m sure I would have very mixed feelings about going. There are parts of living in Dubai that I have accepted, parts I actually like and some things I absolutely love about being here. There is actually very little I don’t like, and it mainly revolves around the uncertainty of how long we are here for, which of course is a ridiculous thing to spend life worrying about. Plan for the future, but live in the here and now, right? So I consider this post a telling-off, to myself, to get with the program and stop being an idiot. Feeling sorry for myself never got me anywhere and neither did going postal on my loved ones. Fortunately, Ultimate homesickness is rare and although brightly burning, it is very short lived. Now, if someone would just invent a vaccination…

In Memoriam

My paternal grandmother passed away yesterday. It did not come as a surprise, she had terminal cancer diagnosed a long while ago, so we all knew it was only a matter of time. But when you are living thousands of miles away a ‘matter of time’ does not have the same meaning. Distance puts an invisible and impenetrable barrier between me and my loved ones. Unless I am ‘lucky’ to be home when death strikes, I cannot help, I cannot support, and I cannot say goodbye when goodbye matters most. Until last year all four of my grandparents were still alive but all over 85, and clearly not going to live forever. With each trip back I have to quietly say my goodbyes to these old people whom I love so much, in case it’s the last time I see them. I strive to make my peace with it but the bottom line is I’m not there.

There is a school of thought that death is easier to cope with if you are far away. You don’t have to deal with any of the nasty, you don’t have to see what’s happening, you don’t have to help, simply because you can’t. There is no way of being with them in an ambulance, or dropping a hot dinner round to their home, brushing their hair, or holding their hand at the bedside. There is no true understanding of what that person is going through, nor the terror, grief and worry of the other people who are there to provide all the support that you can’t. I have no real clue to what my dad has been doing these past months to assist his parents, just as I have no proper understanding of what my mum went through caring for my grandfather before he passed away last year. I am sheltered from all of this. And when a person dies, I am sheltered all over again, from everyone else’s grief, because I am not there to see it.

I toy with the idea of flying back for the funeral but I feel guilty, as if I have just turned up for the easy bit and missed all the hard stuff everyone else has been through. I cannot be part of the process, I can only turn up to the party. But it is not easy sitting here by myself. Grief is a lonely business when you are far away. I might not be able to help or support my family but there is no-one to help me either.  A comment from another post I read on this subject said this: “We  must be self-reliant in a way most grievers do not have to be…Grieving solo is one of the hardest things to do…(and) can also prevent us from the closure that other people receive from going to the funeral, the wake, the reception.”

And I am discovering for the second time now, that the process for grieving is difficult when you are doing it by yourself. I rely on phone calls and emails to keep me up to date with funeral arrangements, but no-one really wants to talk to me about how they are feeling over the phone, it just isn’t the same. No-one will ask me how I’m doing because they will unconsciously (or consciously) assume that I am somehow less attached for being far away. I will watch other people with less attachment, less history, less loss than me become more involved than I can possibly be in the grieving process because I am not there. I wrote an email and sent text messages to tell my grandmother we loved her but it’s unlikely I’ll ever find the right time to ask if they were delivered before she slipped into her last sleep. I cannot comfort my dad, my sisters, my grandfather. I cannot sit and have a cup of tea with them just to have the company of another human being who is going through the same thing. I cannot hug anyone. No-one can hug me back. I hate that I am not there to help, I resent that I am not there to be part of the grieving, I am devastated that I could not say goodbye when it was truly time.

Every expat must face the possibility of someone they love passing away while they are abroad. We face grief all over again when we return for visits because life has changed unalterably, again, and whilst everyone else has gradually come to accept the change, it is thrown at us like a bucket of cold water. My grandmother (she would have loved that I’m calling her grandmother, and that I’m writing about her, by the way) probably had the most understanding of my situation of all my family. Her own siblings emigrated to California decades ago and she has dealt with all the pleasure and pain that this brings. She was a meddlesome old bat sometimes (and she knew it) who I didn’t always agree with, but she managed to keep herself relevant and even with her great-grandson bouncing around the room claiming all the attention, she would always take time to ask how I was doing, how I was feeling. I write this for her, because I know she would understand where so many others might not, how I am feeling right now.  This is my goodbye, Nanna. Rest in Peace.

Nanna & Grandad with my son, summer 2011

I will survive

 

NOTE: Written last Thursday, 19th January.

Oh. My. God. I am going INSANE. Having recovered from the most extraordinary jetlag in the nick of time, my son started back at nursery last week. Three days later I picked him up to find not one, not two, but FIVE children had thrown up in the classroom, and with that I realised that it was only a matter of time before he too succumbed to this stomach virus that seems to be currently storming through Dubai with unrelenting speed, wiping out everyone in it’s path in plague-like proportions.

Last Wednesday night it hit, spectacularly, at 11pm. At 2am, when everything in a 5 mile radius had been stripped clean, twice, and the little man had passed out exhausted, I crawled into bed with him and spent the remaining hours he lay spreadeagled across 75% of it teetering on the edge, unmoving, poised with a bowl and trying to ignore the crippling pain in my hips and back.

After a night of no sleep, what better way to celebrate than with a day of feeling awful. I’m pretty sure I caught the bug but fought it honourably and managed to limit it’s effects to plain old nausea. Of course I was sick with worry of passing it on, which didn’t help, so I cancelled everything and then felt bad about that too, when my son appeared to make a full recovery by Friday morning.

But oh no, this bug is pure evil. It lay dormant for FOUR DAYS before finally rearing it’s head again on Monday, just as I had gotten used to the idea of having my mornings freed up and having just waved my husband off to foreign climes for the week. And since then I have changed approximately 20 nappies per day, washed my hands in so much of that awful dettol soap that they are cracking up, and have had approximately 12 hours sleep in total. I have not left the house except to go out on an emergency nappy buying mission, I have watched the same DVD of the Wiggles at least 7 times (the little man won’t watch anything else right now), and I have not spoken to anyone over the age of 2 for what feels like months.

I am very lonely. A sick child is not just upsetting but completely isolating too. I have relied on the power of Facebook to keep me sane but it hasn’t worked terribly well, I’m just appearing publicly unhinged instead of keeping it to myself. It’s one of those moments in parenting that no-one can explain to you about beforehand, that you wouldn’t understand even if they did. Of course the priority is my child, and I have to say this has been particularly upsetting to watch because it’s the first time he’s been ill and been able to understand and voice what’s happening to him. But I’m terrified of getting it too, and that is almost as bad as watching him suffer, because I know that being sick and having to be mummy at the same time is misery wrapped up in a box with a cherry on top. And finally, the rather more selfish bit of me is going loopy at being stuck in the house with no break and no time to myself, and I want him so badly to get better so that he can go back to school on Sunday that I’m feeling quite ill with guilt, never mind anything else.

But most of all I want to be rescued because this is so hard, and I know full well there is no rescue, it’s called parenting and I just have to get on with it.

 

Sunday 22nd January.

It’s over. My son is well and happy and back at school. My husband is home. I have 101 things to do this morning but wanted to finish this post before the feelings fade away and life goes back to normal again. Why? Because last week, in between the endless nappy changes and the tears, we had a ball. Forced together with no-one else to rescue us and unable to leave the house, we did all sorts of activities that I wouldn’t usually do on a day to day basis – cooking, making dressing up costumes and props, attempting huge floor puzzles, building houses with lego, holding tea parties in tents, making collages, assault courses – you name it, we’ve done it this week. And I can truthfully say I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know my son a little more than I did before as we explored all of this together. Not that I’m a terrible mother the rest of the time – it’s just easy to get complacent and let them play with the same old toys while you try your best to organise the rest of life around them.

I know that there were certainly moments last week I wasn’t proud of and I let the tiredness and the stress get to me on more than one occasion – but for the most part, I feel that both my son and I rose admirably to the challenge and we survived, together as a team. It was one of the best and worst weeks of motherhood to date. And although I’m mighty glad to have a quiet, empty house this morning, to be able to go to the bathroom without company, and to drink a cup of tea in its entirety before it gets stone cold, I kind of miss the little fella.

Lousy day

I choose not to write about being a mother terribly often, I don’t know why but I guess because I don’t believe that my child and our ongoing relationship is particularly interesting to most people, and also because I like to make my world bigger than just him and me occasionally. However today I make an exception because I am having a terrible day, in fact the whole week has been less than ideal – and it’s wearing me down in a big way. I know I am supposed to be the grown up, and the bigger person, but my dear toddler is so unbelievably wilful and stubborn at the moment that it is hard not to completely lose the plot. Everything I do is wrong. Everything I offer, from shoes to food to activities, is not what he wants, unless it is, and in which case you have to offer something else first for him to turn down so that he can say he wants the thing you offered in the first place. Everything is ‘I do it by myself’, even things he cannot possibly do, like climb into his car seat, or do the button up on his shorts, or use a knife to cut up his fruit.

I admit that he has cut three teeth in two weeks and the back molars are now on their way too, which may go a long way to explaining his grouchiness. I have also had visitors here and I’m tired from burning the candle at both ends, so my patience is not at its best. And I know alot of it is simply a)his age and b)just how little boys are. But today I am considering voting myself ‘World’s worst mother’ because I harbour a vague hope that if I do, I can take the rest of the afternoon off from endless negotiation, from using the phrases ‘please don’t do that’, ‘no’, and ‘because I asked you not to’ and from having to swallow my inner child who is screaming right back at my little stroppy cherub to just put the damn shoes on, stop moaning at me all the time, and realise that you have it pretty good actually, little fella.

I have to go and wake him up from his nap now, so I can only hope that he wakes in a better mood than he went to sleep in, and that instead of saying ‘no, mummy!’ and refusing to budge from the bed, he will smile and melt my heart and we can giggle at something wildly unamusing before sitting down in front of the TV and having a thoroughly decadent afternoon of slobbing instead of the age appropriate activities I’m no doubt supposed to be offering but haven’t prepared because I’m too traumatised and tired to think about. In the meantime I can only tell myself that this time will pass, and try to feel a little better for letting a little of it out to my invisible audience.

Exit Stage Left.

Miles and miles and miles and miles away

How can I write this only a few days on from my last post? Don’t ask me. It’s like a bloody rollercoaster being me.

My baby niece, born 6.5 weeks early, was allowed home yesterday. This is amazing after only two weeks of being in the ICU, and I am so very proud of my sis for coping so well, she is so happy to have her baby home with her at last. However, it would appear I’m not coping quite as well. I find myself on the verge of tears this morning as I think about the fact that I won’t see this little wonder, won’t get to hold her in my arms or hug my sister and my brother in law for another two months. Why? Because I am in Dubai, and she is in New York, and that’s 2 continents, 14 hours and God knows how many time zones away. It’s not that I can’t visit, but I suspect house guests are pretty much at the bottom of their list of things to think about right now. Not that that’s stopping me from gazing at Expedia trying to figure out the maximum amount of time I can get with them for the minimum amount of time away from my own little boy.

And so, not for the first time, I am sitting here wishing, wishing, wishing I wasn’t quite so far away. Thinking that a seven hour flight would have been a piece of cake. That I wouldn’t have to wait until tonight to see my niece on skype for the first time, because last night due to the time difference I was already in bed and missed their homecoming. That I would be home in the UK, just a car drive away, when she flew home to visit the family for the first time. It really hurts to miss all these things, and as hard as I am trying to keep my chin up about it all, I’m very sad.

It brings back painful memories for me too, of having my own son miles away from family and friends, and of my inability to cope and subsequent depression that went undiagnosed and unrecognised but I realise now, was not just a normal reaction to having a baby. The feelings I had back then rise to the surface like an old wound, shrouding me in darkness. I can feel the terrible, consuming loneliness I felt then, all over again.

How many moments have we missed by being here? Not the every day moments, but the ones that you can’t ever get back. It makes me sad to count. I missed my grandad’s funeral. I wasn’t there when my friend’s mum died suddenly, and I should have been. I missed another one of my best friend’s weddings (actually make that two weddings – same friend – that’s how long we’ve been gone for). I missed my own step-sister’s wedding too for that matter. I’ve missed visiting countless new born babies, and they all missed visiting mine. I can still count on one hand the number of visitors we had the first six weeks after my son was born. No making endless cups of tea for me, oh no. And now I’m missing those babies growing up too, and I want them to know me. I want my son to know his baby cousin, and to grow up playing with her in parks and on beaches and around the Christmas tree. I don’t want to miss any more.

Someone asked me yesterday what, if I could, would I change about my life? ‘Location’ was my immediate response. I had to think for a second if I really meant it, but in the end I decided that yes, rationally it is the only thing in life that makes me repeatedly unhappy. I simply do not want to be here. It’s not that Dubai is all bad. My last post bears witness to how good life can be here. Our quality of life is amazing, the weather is perfect (for now) and I have built a life here, which is a good life, not matter how much I gripe about it. But family and friends, they are what makes a place ‘home’. Being away from them is unbearable when confronted with the reality of missing something really important.

I wonder if my sister will feel the same. She is, after all, an expat herself. I hope that she will be better at coping and less of a train wreck, for her sake. One thing is for sure, I will be driving her mad keep asking her if she’s ok until I see her and can reassure myself that she is doing fine. And until I do I will try to content myself with skype-ing and phone calls and photographs and remember that there will be more moments, hundreds more, that I won’t miss, and to cherish them and remember how lucky I am to have them when they do finally come.

Apple for the teacher

Apple Closeup

Image via Wikipedia

I have something to celebrate. I’ve been at work the past two weeks. Yes, you read right – work! But don’t be fooled…I am not celebrating because I spent two weeks being useful and being paid; but because it’s over, after possibly the longest fortnight I’ve ever lived through.

My son’s nursery school accidentally lost a teacher just before the start of the school year, replaced her, and then carelessly lost another one (through no fault of their own, I might add). I had rather stupidly offered to help out in the case of an emergency when the first one was mislaid, and two days before the start of term I assumed as I hadn’t heard from them that I was off the hook. Just as I was tucking into my “I’m a hero for offering but guess you found someone” email, I had a message float into my inbox with details of my starting date, pay package and a class list. What could possibly be worse than being stuck at home with only a 2-year old for company? I’ll tell you: being stuck in a room with 16 of the little dears for five mornings a week after a 3-month hiatus for them and a great big two and a half year break for me.

I don’t know how I ever did this job full time. Maybe once I had ‘the calling’ and maybe I will again, when I’ve had a bit more sleep. But now I find it impossible to imagine getting through a full school year without losing the plot completely. It’s no wonder teachers are by and large a bit of a strange breed. It could drive you mad if you let it. Of course experience tells me that if you don’t actually have a child of the same age you are teaching, it’s slightly more bearable, but for the ‘today’ me it was at best logistically difficult and at worst emotionally and physically exhausting.

Of course I picked the worst two weeks of the year. Orientation in a nursery school is one of the most harrowing experiences you can go through, for pretty much everybody concerned. Tots howling for their mummies (and in a few cases, for the nanny – that’s Dubai, folks). Mummies – ah, the mummies – staring in horror at children screaming at the door, on the floor – well, anywhere they can find really – then lingering too long and asking really helpful questions such as ‘when will they all stop crying?’ (answer: when you stop trying to figure out if I’m really as qualified as I say I am and let me get back to my job).
More Mummies upset in the hallways as they tear themselves away from their traumatised offspring, converting their guilt to resentment at  the obvious incompetence of the staff who have only just met them and are expected to be an instantly accepted primary carer replacement. (Note: a qualification in Early years teaching does not mean your child is going to like me in the first 30 seconds of meeting me, nor will they thank you for leaving them with me having spent nearly three months in your company, just because you suggested they stay and play with me for a while.)
And yet more Mummies, questioning why the teachers haven’t been genetically modified to have a few extra sets of arms so that all the crying children can be comforted at the same time as taking one of them to the bathroom and breaking up a fight over a book in the reading corner. A token Daddy in a suit, who stands in the doorway feeling increasingly uncomfortable in this sea of emotional wretchedness and resolves to make sure his wife does the drop off from now on and bugger her job/yoga/coffee morning. And finally -last and most definitely least – the lowly teachers, the suckers in this whole human separation experiment, who are wondering (not for the first time) what on earth it was that inspired them to teach in the first place. Because it sure as hell wasn’t orientation week.

My heart was plucked from its natural resting place on Day 1 when I left my own howling two year old behind and ran straight to a classful of the same. I spent all morning wondering how my little one was doing in comparison to the ones I was looking after and was so worried I nearly burst into tears on several occasions. It was awful, because I couldn’t call in to find out, I couldn’t pick him up a bit early to ease him in – I couldn’t do anything except just keep dropping him off early and picking him up late, feel horribly guilty and upset and then crush my own feelings into a small place where no-one could find them and deal with everyone else’s. It didn’t improve for a good three or four days, until finally, on Day 5, my wonderful little man looked up at me with a wobbly bottom lip and said “Mummy’s brave boy. Kiss. Bye bye mummy.” He gave me his shoes and wandered off to the playdough table and that was that.  With a huge sigh of relief that he had finally accepted his fate, I turned my attention to myself, and the fact that for a week I had been peed on, thrown up over, had my sweater repeatedly used as a handkerchief, used the phrase ‘sit down and cross your legs’ about 497 times, lost my voice from talking and singing non-stop over unreasonable decibels of crying, had had no tea break, lunch break, toilet break or child break for 12 hours, five days straight, missed having quality time with my son so much it hurt – and came to the conclusion that I was absolutely, unbelievably, irreversibly broken.

Then I had two days off and did it all again.

I read a really ignorant comment from a mother on a local website here which claimed nursery was merely “playtime for toddlers” and how difficult could it be? Well lady, YOU try it. It’s really, really tough. I once again take my hat off to the teachers that do it day in, day out. It might come with short hours and long holidays but the actual work part of the day is harder than anything else I’ve ever known. 60 hours a week of sitting in front of a PC and having meetings and lunches and making a few difficult phone calls to clients/suppliers/whoever is a walk in the park in comparison. And to all of the teachers out there, I wish you luck and love and motivation to keep going, because you are amazing people who are under-appreciated by so many, yet entrusted with our most sacred of possessions.

And as for me? Well my sacred possession is no doubt currently occupied doing finger painting or water play or whatever, and I am back to civilian life. I have already started the long process of getting on with the ‘to do’ list that has been lingering since we returned to Dubai nearly a month ago, stalling slightly while I write this, it’s true, but I’m getting to it. I feel like September got lost in the mail, and I’m heartily glad for a change to be doing absolutely nothing with my life while I try and sort it out a bit. Going to work has made me appreciate not going, for once. And I plan to make the most of it while it lasts.