Best laid plans

Here it comes, lurching onto the horizon like a drunken uncle at a wedding: Summer. The time of year I have sworn, regularly, might be my breaking point on how long I can keep up this expat life. The six to eight weeks of living out of a suitcase, dealing with jet lag, the ceaseless activity of sitting on planes, trains and in automobiles;  the horrendous amount of money it all costs to torture ourselves with being away from home just to avoid the torture of being here. The grand tour planning department has opened its doors once more and I am its reluctant operations manager.

But this year there is a twist. Because this year, on top of finishing a masters degree, changing my son’s school, and figuring out what to pack for a summer that most likely includes every type of weather and setting you could think of, we are also moving house.

I’ll let that sink in a little. And then if anyone can come back to me with some valium, that would be good.

Our house will go up for sale this week after four happy years living here, to celebrate it finally being worth what we paid for it back in 2007. We will be the proud recipients of approximately $10.47 profit, which is better than nothing. I’m fine with the concept of moving, but I’m getting that niggling sense that it might be a while before I recover from it when you bolt on the fact we will most likely be moving house and then leaving for a couple of months to assume our gypsy lifestyle in the west. And – yippee! – I get to spend my time away mentally adding to the bulging list of things to do which will no doubt bug me the entire time until I can get back and do them: curtain hanging, garden landscaping, pictures to go up on the wall, shelves to put in, boxes to unpack, THE KITCHEN OMG THE KITCHEN…I was up at 5am yesterday thinking about all this and we haven’t even advertised the house yet.

And I worry, that the upheaval of the summer and moving house might send my son over the top as well. Poor little man. It’s not as though he’s going to grow up in the same house his whole life – we knew that already. But it seems particularly unfair to turf him from his room, make him camp in seven different places, then tell him we’re going home to a completely different house from the one he’s been in since he was a baby.  Also I can’t imagine I’m going to be a salad cart of giggles; moving in fifty degree heat and 80% humidity will be the least amount of fun EVER, and I’m not relishing the struggle through box loads of accumulated crap to try and find a summer’s worth of clothes, books and toys with which to bundle us off to Blighty and beyond.

Maybe I’m just seeing problems for the sake of it, though. The upside is that we will come back to a new adventure, another part of our journey as expats. I will get to go shopping for new stuff for the house because inevitably, the old stuff will fall apart in the move or won’t fit (except the sofas: I promise I’ll keep the sofas). This time, I am not moving with a six week old baby. That is just so 2009. No, this time will be different: less hormonal, more experienced. This house move WILL take three days, no matter what the movers tell me about it only taking two. I am prepared for this. I will not be packing anything myself ‘in case the movers break something’, because through experience I know that they are insured, whereas I am not. They are also very good at their job, whereas I am not. Anything we don’t want to take with us will be gifted to our housekeeper, put in a crate and sent to Sri Lanka. It will not be saved ‘just in case we need it in the next house’, only to rot in the garage after a few years. A bottle of something will be waiting in the fridge for the end of days one, two and three.  I will get the curtains put up and shelves installed and pest control round before we move in, not two months after. And then I will get on a plane, and hope that my rose tinted spectacles are still working well enough to ignore the enormity of the trip before me.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to help with the logistics spreadsheet I’m creating, do drop me a line.

 

Sleeping with the enemy

We’re back after a long weekend away in the mountains of Hatta. I say long weekend with rather a large dose of irony, because although it was only for three nights, it felt more like seven. Or none, depending.

My son is four. I love him. He’s becoming a real person, whom I can spend weeks on end with in confined company over an extended summer holiday and not feel completely demented. But, as I may have mentioned before, he is a rubbish sleeper. I admit, it’s not all bad. He goes to bed like clockwork every night at 7pm, and we have managed to train him to only exit his room if a) he needs the bathroom, b) he has a bad dream, or c) it’s past 6.30am. Since the demise of the baby monitor, this has meant an interruption-free night most nights, with the odd exception not really registering.

But holidays, well…. they are a cruel reminder of life before the ‘sun clock’. Room sharing with someone who sleeps like a ferret with tourette’s is a slow, purposeful torture usually reserved for new parents, and long since forgotten by us. We really should know better, but the gaps between our holidays somehow heal the wounds and we forget the incessant dawn chattering, the tossing and turning, the shout outs to the masses that can occur at any time in the wee small hours. I promise, I do not exaggerate my son’s night time activity. Before now we have been known to return, exhausted, from long weekends away, sometimes a day early if we really couldn’t stand it any more. This weekend was pretty close to being one of those times, if we had been booked a fourth night I don’t think we would have made it through. With endless fidgeting and rustling on the first night, a 4.30am start after night two, and a nightmare at 3am followed by a wake up call two hours later on the final morning, my husband and I gazed glassy eyed at each other over breakfast and finally admitted defeat. Instead of continuing to enjoy the financial benefits of having an only child who can pretty much squeeze into any room in any hotel of our choosing, we are taking the plunge. It’s time for adjoining rooms.

Part of me is relieved to have made this decision; the other part mourns the family holiday ‘lie ins’ we never had, all pillow fights and giggling and breakfasts in bed – the thing I assume the rest of the world is enjoying when we’ve already been up for three hours. I thought by now we would be there, that he would have learned to sleep in at least on a Friday, FFS, but I fear by the time my son figures out how to not to rise with the birds he’ll be a gangly teenager who smells a bit odd. And frankly it would just be weird to have him snuggle up and watch cartoons with me in our PJs.

So another snip is made in the umbilical chord, as we banish him to his own hotel room in order to get some much needed sleep. I feel sad. Then I remember that the picture in my mind of blissful vacation lie ins is not my picture, and the reality is a little closer to me hissing across the room ‘its the middle of the night, will you please go back to sleep’ about 20 times, before throwing a pillow over my head to try and block the sound out and swearing silent tears of frustration and exhaustion into the mattress. So there you have it. Love and exhaustion and hard decisions that cost a fortune. Parenting in a nutshell.

Summer by Number

Seven weeks
Four long haul flights
Eight different beds
One blood vessel-bursting tantrum
90kg of luggage
Lots of lie-ins (thanks mum)
1,124 miles driven in the worst hire car ever
Half a stone
200 hours of work
Three take-outs
Two bike rides
Zero manicures
One cheeky night away
Two congestion charge penalties
Three nannas, two grandads, five aunts, four uncles, five cousins, two great uncles, one great aunt and a couple of great grandparents for luck
Several bottles of wine
Lots of laughs
A few tears
One fun summer.

Brand spanking new

So this month my degree has taken me into the deep dark depths of author branding. It’s made me really think about what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m not sure I’m any nearer writing an actual book but everything is looking much prettier. I don’t. I’m covered in spots, have dark circles the Emporer Palpatine would be proud of and to top it all my mac hard drive fried itself this morning (looking at blog site stats of all things) and is being carted off to mac hospital later today. In good news, my husband is back after nine days, although it may as well have been nine years: the mac aside, featured disasters this week include credit card fraud to the tune of Dhs 16,000, cockroaches in the house and of course, it’s the summer holidays. It is fair to say that our trip to Italy next week can’t come soon enough. Anyway, voila! A new look for Ruby Slippers, I hope you like it the change. Feel free to leave your comments or drop me an email with your thoughts! I think all the links work…

And while I’ve got your attention, I’ve just launched a new site in my alternative identity as a fiction writer, nom de plume Louisa Brann. Please come and visit, http://louisabrann.com and follow my blog there too if it takes your fancy. You can also find me on twitter @louisabrann. I think it will make for some interesting reading and I would really appreciate you joining me there to see an alternative side to my unhinged ramblings on Ruby Slippers. Of course there’s nothing to say some of the new stuff won’t be unhinged either, but I live in hope.

Ruby/Louisa

 

Making the heart grow fonder

So, we are on the eve of the eve of my husband’s 40th birthday. He’s not here, obviously; life in the fast lane dictates that he will rock up tomorrow morning on the red eye from London and spend half his celebrations tomorrow night wishing he could go to bed and get some sleep. No doubt when the boy jumps on him on Saturday morning demanding he open his cards and presents instead of having a lay in and sleeping off his hangover, he will probably feel all four decades of life land on top of him much like the dead weight of a four year old.

My husband has travelled his entire career, since before we met, and so I am used to him disappearing for a few days each week. In fact, a little secret: I look forward to him travelling for a few days a week. It may mean I have to do the school run in jogging pants and less than perfect hair and make up (in truth I usually just throw on my gym kit and pretend to be smug work-out mom then go directly from school to the supermarket, buy a Toblerone, and go home), but it has upsides too. Chiefly that I can indulge in ‘orange tea’ with my son – fish fingers, jacket potato and baked beans – and then spend the evening doing an indecent amount of Facebooking, tweeting, drinking and watching girlie TV. I can stay up late, really late, like – ooo – TEN THIRTY –  and then just before going to bed decide to undertake projects such as ‘does my evening dress from before I was pregnant still fit’ or ‘it’s time to tidy out the medicine cabinet’  (only one of these is true, obviously, who the hell ever tidies out their medicine cabinet?) – projects that somehow drag on into the night, and leave me shattered but somehow complete in my splendid isolation.

One thing I have long since learned not to expect when DH is travelling is a coherent phone call. It has long been so, that every second of every day is taken up being important and indispensable to the bigger issue of making sure the world is still turning. So once the big boy has said hello to the little boy, there is usually no time left for me, because I am eating into valuable time required for meetings/lunch/train journeys with tunnels/toilet breaks/sleeping. The only exception to this rule is if I’m sat down with a glass of wine and in the middle of watching Greys Anatomy, in which case there is always time for chat. Except there isn’t, because then it’s my turn to get him off the phone as fast as I can manage.

It is a rare day indeed that we actually speak for longer than five minutes. So over the years, we have learned that when it comes to communication and the fine art of marital bliss, email is the perfect vehicle. For much of our time, our lives are run through the internet, and it works like a charm. Arguments Discussions that began at the front door as he is heading to the airport are finished and apologised over before the boarding announcements are made. Photo updates of me and the boy enjoying ourselves on the beach are exchanged with photos of him in a suit pulling pouty faces in some miserable conference room somewhere. Holidays are planned, hotels booked, birthday gifts purchased and social lives organised, all without the need for any conversation whatsoever. I have even been known to send calendar invites for date night on his return.

We can’t be the only ones to run our lives online. But without meaning to boast, we are very, very good at it. And thanks to my Facebook addiction, my husband misses nothing of family life while he is away. Photos, status updates and the odd location tag are all he needs to feel like he’s right there with us.

And although he’s not, we are just fine with it. The boy looks forward to his return almost as much as I do, and the pair of them skip off into the sunset together for half the weekend, which leaves me with a rather convenient amount of down time away from parenting I didn’t get during the week. When we do see each other, it’s not just a series of catch up conversations and logistics planning. We can actually talk about the real stuff. And the night owl in me is sated enough that when he wants to go to bed early to catch up on some much needed sleep I can (usually) do the right thing and turn the lights off before midnight.

I’m not sure we miss him when he’s gone, so much as feel happy when he’s home. And this weekend we will hopefully make some memories to treasure as a family, despite being separated from our nearest and dearest by a few thousand miles. Happy birthday my wonderful man. Hurry home. x

Feelin’ hot hot…not

It has been an interesting twenty four hours during which I procured a fantastic haircut which, if I say so myself, has probably shaved about five years off me. The other twenty two hours I banked have done their their level best to add grey hairs and wrinkles but in fact only succeeded in dark circles.

There is a new game in our house at the moment called ‘hiding’. This is not hide and seek in the most traditional sense; our son basically covers his eyes and tells you to find him, and insists we guess where he is first. Dull, right? And just a bit not-very-clever. So in an effort to introduce him to the delights of actual hide and seek, last night when we heard my husband come in the front door I said “come on, lets hide from daddy!” Whereupon he put his hands over his face and I dived into his bed. Rather unexpectedly he got the idea instantly and followed me head first into the duvet, landing on top of me and in the process nutting me in the face. Writhing in agony, insult was added to injury as he gassed me out with a poisonous flourish, announcing to my broken face ‘mummy, I just did a smelly bottom pop!’ As if I didn’t already know.

Meanwhile downstairs, helpful husband was finishing up on the crackberry aka wife. No.2 and was no where to be seen. Eye swollen and nostrils flaring, I lurched out of the bed and hissed down the stairs ‘will you come and find us, FFS!’ and ran back up to the torture factory. He finally ‘found’ us, only to comment that my eye looked ‘pretty black’ and off I went to find mr. Bump the cold compress, and get ready for (yep, you guessed) our romantic date night out.

Cut to a bottle of red wine later and I couldn’t care less about the eye, in fact I’ve forgotten about it altogether. We get home and climb into bed after a nice evening out, and fall asleep in a semi drunken stupor. At 3.10am I wake up again, boiling. At first I thought it was the wine, but I figured I couldn’t possibly have drunk enough for my liver to fail to process it. It has been in training rather a long time. So, after about 40 minutes of attempting to find a cool spot on the bed, I get up and splash my face and walk around for a while. At 4.30am it occurs to me that maybe I’ve gone into eary menopause. It was about 5am the last time i looked at the clock, sweating and too hot to sleep – and at that point I think I must have fallen unconscious.

So at 6am this morning I was not winning the pretty award. Black eye developing nicely, and five hours sleep to my name, I was a post sweaty mess of mascara and garlic and felt like the human version of a coq au vin.

‘How did you sleep last night?’ I asked my husband. ‘Were you hot?’

‘A little bit’, he said. ‘Did you turn the air conditioning down?’

‘What do you mean, did I turn it down?’

It transpires that in an effort to reduce our summer electricity bills, my DH has been altering the temperature of the AC in the daytime, and on the days he forgets to change it back, lightly sauté-ing me at night.

Between the two of them, it’s a miracle I haven’t run away to hide somewhere neither of them will find me.

Seven signs of summer

Well summer is most definitely here in good old Dubai. I know this, because:

1. The air con in my car isn’t making the slightest bit of difference to how hot I feel until about 20 minutes into any given journey

2. I am continually torn between making conservative, middle eastern friendly wardrobe choices vs. putting on the skimpiest outfit I can find that still avoids the mutton dressed as lamb look (although clearly this is not a universally thought through decision judging by some of the outfits I have seen lately)

3. I am thoroughly irritated by the majority of people who I come into contact with – not the ones who are actually my friends and therefore decent, kind, considerate human beings, but rather the selfish, rude majority that seem to delight in crossing my path of late.

4. No one has conversations any more, it is just a series of questions surrounding leaving dates, summer camps and Ramadan

5. I found a dead roach in the kitchen today. Good news is, it was dead; these days I tend not to panic too much about internal pest control until a six inch diameter spider drops in for coffee or a squadron of the little cockroach critters take up residence under my sink.

6. I have opened excel up on my computer to start planning the great migration. I dream about being a wilder beast, I’m pretty sure they don’t need a spreadsheet.

7. My skin has assumed the sweaty pale pallor of a sea sick sailor, as the sun shines every day but its too damn hot to stand in it. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink springs to mind…

Traditionally this is never a great time of year. Everyone is fed up, hot, tired, homesick and busy as hell. I may have fallen into the whinge-trap myself for various reasons, some valid, some because I am an attention seeking missile when i’m unhappy, but mainly because I just need a damn good holiday. But there have been worse years. I’m not limping to the finish line quite yet. And with three weeks to go until we hit the beautiful Tuscan countryside, I feel I might actually get there this year with my sanity vaguely intact.

Vaguely. Don’t get excited. There’s still time.