…gone

And then we got on a plane.

It was all a bit surreal in the end. The week leading up to the big day was teeming with horrific goodbyes; I think I stopped wearing make up sometime around Tuesday and by Thursday literally couldn’t speak to anyone without crying. Leaving Dubai was without doubt one of the saddest moments of my life, knowing that everything – the good bits and the bad, the adventure we’d undertaken all those years back – was well and truly over. I tried looking back over my Facebook posts for the past six months to see what I’d done to make the most of it all: BIG mistake. I’ve resolved not to do that again for a while. It hurts too much to see it all now I know it’s really gone.

In a rather inconvenient turn of events, the day before we left, the boy developed a fever. It was no big surprise; firstly, the whole city is rife with kids coughing and sneezing and throwing up at this time of year, and secondly, his school decided the best thing to do three days before the end of term, to make sure absolutely everyone left for the holidays with a virus, was to take them to a soft play area for their end of year school trip – complete with ‘make your own pizza’ activity, which involved about a fifty pairs of germ infested hands lurking about in vats of grated cheese and not much chance of getting your own pizza back at the end. Guaranteed to end in a 39 degree fever, obviously.

So instead of sitting back and sipping my champagne in First class (thanks Air Miles) gazing wistfully out of the window at the city I call home getting smaller and smaller while I sobbed into my smoked salmon canapes, I spent the first half of the flight worrying about the boy’s temperature and hoping his symptoms would ease up before we arrived at Heathrow and got taken into some sort of Ebola quarantine tent. Also, having been awake the entire night before administering various combinations of Nurofen and Calpol, plus nursing my own colossal hangover (physical and emotional) from my final leaving dinner 48 hours earlier, I was exhausted. I fell asleep before the plane even took off and in a reverse biblical moment of sorts, never even had chance to look back.

Arrival in London was, at best, mechanical. We got into the apartment we were borrowing, threw more drugs down the boy’s neck, and discussed what the hell to do with him given we weren’t registered with a doctor. This resulted in a Sunday afternoon outing to A&E, the first thing we did as a family in our new city. We sat for 2 delightful hours in a grim waiting room on what was one of the best days of weather in London for about ten years, only to be told it was flu.

The next few days passed in a haze of more Nurofen, very little sleep, a lot of children’s TV and absolutely no adult company at all from 7.30am to 6.30pm every day. This, by the way, is torture for an extrovert attention seeking horror show like myself. I tried really hard not to let it get to me but the stress and loneliness and emotional exhaustion of the whole debacle meant I knew I was fighting a losing battle. By Day Three I could hear the shrillness in my voice, the resentment, the anger at having to, I don’t know what really – cope with it all. I didn’t have the strength for it, hadn’t prepared for it, and didn’t want to deal with it. In the end, of course, I had to. My little man was a total trouper as we trekked via buses and tube trains to yet another doctor for a second opinion – where – guess what – a chest infection was finally diagnosed. Yay.

It was a miserable week. At the end of it, we got on another plane, and finally we are at a point in the journey where I know I can relax. I’m sitting staring at the Atlantic ocean now from our wonderful second (first? third?) home by the sea somewhere north of Boston. I feel more at home than I have done since our container left, and the relief at feeling like we’re somewhere familiar, somewhere we actually belong, is amazing. The boy is getting better and the sun is shining and I spent the morning wandering around galleries and shops, lunchtime sipping rose and gazing at sailboats in the water and the afternoon at the beach. I am healing. I know I am, because whereas I’ve avoided blogging all week despite ample opportunity while various episodes of ‘Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures’ has been on, today I could actually sit down to write this coherently.

I know this is the bit in between – two weeks of respite from real life, whatever that means.  I don’t know what happens next. But for now I can quietly repair and prepare myself for the coming few months, when everything will be thrown into the air again and life will undoubtedly be tumultuous. We are gone, and we are not there yet. We are somewhere in between, and right now, that feels like the right place to be.

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…get set…

And suddenly, we’re four weeks away from leaving. My days and nights are crammed with coffees, lunches, dinners, drinks and shows with the best of my friends, in a frantic attempt to make up for the fact that after June 27th, the door will slowly close on all the wonderful times we’ve shared together and things will never be the same again.

My last show at The Courtyard Playhouse was on Saturday. It was a 12-hour Improvathon to raise money for the Children of the Mountain Nepal Earthquake disaster fund. We managed to raise over Dhs 10,000 on the day through sponsorship and donations on the door. If you want to donate, you can contribute here.

The day(and night) was magical. We had a lot of fun, and the audience did too – as you can see here from this rather amusing video taken from one of the shows, there were several silly moments – and a whole lot of laughs. And then there were the tears. At the end of a three year adventure that began in a living room with a bunch of random socially challenged egomaniacs making stuff up, it was a true privilege to perform together one final time to a packed out audience in our wonderful theatre that for me has become synonymous with home.

It’s heartbreaking to know it’s all over. Four of us are leaving, and it was the last performance for all of us. An incredibly emotional day – and given the hole left in our original cast of nine after the massacre is over, not just for the ones of us who are going. While the show must – and will – go on (even I am not big headed enough to think I am irreplaceable), it will never be the same. I feel terrible that I’ve played a part in that – guilty, that I’ve betrayed them in that way. Sorry, my friends, so sorry.

I stood, for a while after the show was over, and watched as audience and performers mingled, and chatted and laughed together. I hugged a few people. I cried quite a lot. I said some goodbyes – to people I’ve taught, people who taught me, people I’ve worked alongside, people who I don’t even know but who’ve been to see the shows and know me, if not by name then by sight. I sat in the front row for a bit, taking it all in. Then I knew what had to be done – the moment I’d been dreading. It was a terribly quiet moment; a contrast to the raucous but comforting noise all around me. I found my friend and stage partner, Erik, who’s also repatriating. I could see he was as lost as me. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘it’s time to go.’ I knew he felt the same; he didn’t want to leave either; it was just too final. But in true improv style, without saying anything else, we held hands, quietly walked the few paces to the back,stepped through the curtain, and with a deep breath, left the stage.

And just like that, the adventure was over. There were drinks, and more tears, and speeches, and more giggles, for hours after, and I know life here, with them, will continue for a few weeks yet. But leaving the stage – saying that goodbye – was the end of something truly wonderful. My time here is something I will remember and cherish forever.

It’s pretty much how I’m thinking leaving Dubai itself will be. A glance back at my lovely friends, the knowledge that I have to leave them to their lives, their conversations, to each other – that I have to let go – and step over some invisible threshold (let’s call it the doors of an A380)  quietly, without any fuss, into the next chapter. It all feels so wrong at the moment, like I’m not ready; I keep feeling that there must be some way of making it last.

But there isn’t. I realise, now, what people mean about leaving well vs. leaving happy. I’m not going to leave happy. Oh no. I’m going to be devastated – I already am devastated – and no doubt my poor husband will cop the worst of it for a while to come. But I believe I am leaving well. I’ve jacked in the idea that anything – work, writing, packing, planning – is more important than just spending time with people until I go. Not just any old people, but the ones that I want to say ‘I love you’, ‘I’ll miss you’, ‘I think you’re an amazing friend/mother/person’ to; friends I want to keep, even though we are miles apart; friends I will treasure in the future as much as the ones I am returning to in the UK after so many years.

And as much as I am clinging on to life here right now, when the time comes, I know I have to go without regret. And I will. I have no regrets. What a phenomenal and special journey this has been. And continues to be. I am so glad I had it – so thrilled to have experienced all of it, even the bad bits, but especially the good. I feel strong even though I am sad; I know things will be okay even though I am scared; I know I want to go as much as I want to stay. I’m older and wiser than I was when I left home and I know that great things lie ahead and this isn’t the end of life by far. It doesn’t stop me feeling sad, but it helps to know I’ll get over it (eventually). I think this is what is meant by ‘leaving well’.

So with four weeks to go, I embrace it all, taking in every moment, loving every part, before disappearing quietly from this, my wonderful stage.

 

Friends and farewells

I’ve been really lucky in the past seven years. Whilst I’ve said goodbye to a few people here and there, friends have tended to drift in and out of my life as circumstances have changed, rather than be ripped from my side and onto a plane, never to be seen again. However, my time has come. This week sees me saying farewell to my oldest (okay, second oldest) and best friend in Dubai, and I am so very, very sad to see her go after so many shared years.

Good friends – really good friends, that know you and understand you  and are committed to you – are hard to come by in expatland. That’s not to say she’s been consistently brilliant – sometimes she’s been downright lousy lol… But like friends anywhere, that’s not always the thing that matters. Our friendship is about our similarities, our personalities, who we are, who we have grown into. Our shared love of laughter and honesty and housewifery skills bordering on Stepford territory. Our tendency to bury our head in the sand and close up the doors in times of personal crisis instead of asking for help or support. Our mutual experience of arriving in Dubai and making it our home. The importance, above all else, of our children.

English: Glass of White Wine shot with a bottl...

I suppose I’ll have to drink the damn thing by myself now… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I admire my friend and am proud of the woman she has grown into during the time we have known eachother. She has made wonderful friends and a beautiful home and ‘kept it real’ for her children, who are the least expat brat-like kids you will ever meet. Her Dubai journey is a different one from mine, but no less arduous. Despite the many things that have shaped her in the past seven years, in many ways she leaves as she arrived – a willowy, determined, vivacious woman who can’t take her liquor. She has never deviated from her Aussie down-to-earth no-BS attitude and is always the person who will make me laugh, make me feel comfortable, make me feel loved.

We were talking a few weeks ago about leaving (trying not to cry) and the thing she fears most about going home is not fitting in. Ironically the very thing we feared when we arrived in Dubai. Only I think going ‘home’ is worse, because as much as we haven’t changed, there are ways in which we have, irreversibly, far more than we realise at the time. I can see the attraction now, of moving ‘on’ rather than ‘back’. We are simply not the same as when we left and it’s hard to start over in a place where your brain tells you, you shouldn’t have to. Things are the same, yet different. We have seen and done things our family, friends and neighbours will never see, and we have done it alone, often without their support or guidance. We have coped with stress of being away from all that is loved and familiar, beyond the realms of many people’s imagination. As someone with childhood friends who have inexplicably ended up scattered to the four corners of the earth at one time or another, I can say with some confidence that expats the world over share this common experience, this perilous journey; to have to make your home somewhere else in the world, and then go home again. (Or not… It is never an easy or obvious choice.)

My friend will leave for Brisbane next week. And I will eventually leave for London. Of course we always knew it would happen and have often joked about who would manage to get out of here first. The chances of us seeing each other again are slim, although I hope that we will. If we do, it will be different again. Our lives will move on and we will make new friends in our new homes and reacquaint with old ones and we will use these new relationships to cope with the struggle to reintegrate. But no-one can replace the good friends you make as an expat, which is what makes returning home so daunting – on that side of the journey, they won’t be there to meet, or make friends with. And often, other expats are the only ones who ‘get it’ – who understand just what you are feeling – on the way in, while you are there, and, I’m pretty certain, on the way out as well.

So I can only wish for her what I wish for myself one day: that the landing will be soft, and that one day in the not too distant future she happens to meet a friend of a friend who suggests a glass of wine in a local bar; they talk and laugh and the company feels like putting on a pair of old shoes – familiar and comfortable. She once wrote me a card which said “you made it ‘home’ for me”. Well ditto, my lovely friend. It won’t be the same without you. x

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Popcorn

Dinner, anyone?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apologies for this fleeting post, and for the completely unoriginal title, but it’s been that kind of week. Just when I thought this place couldn’t give me anything else to laugh/scream/sob about, it comes up trumps once more. I kid you not, here are some of the completely stupid things that have happened to in the past seven days that just make me want to bang my head against a wall.

– I tried to mail a birthday card to my aunt in Mallorca and the post office informed me that they no longer deliver to the Balearic Islands. EH? I thought the point of a postal service was that they mail ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. They helpfully suggested if I put ‘Spain’ on the envelope, it was nearby and might get there.

– Overheard at a party on Saturday:

“I ordered a pizza and a salad the other day and they told me they couldn’t deliver the salad because it was raining.

“What about the pizza?”

“Oh yeah, they brought the pizza.”

EH?

– On the subject of pizza, our local take out place made waves this week by encouraging people to take photos and text whilst driving. Their genius ad campaign, later removed from their website after several complaints and an article in the local newspaper, read, “Catch us on the go! If you’re on the road and spot us, snap a pic and share where you were!”

– Our gas bottles were replaced on Tuesday and the regulators on the bottles changed at a total cost of Dhs 750 (about $200). The oven has since performed its own comedy show every time I use it and I am only able to light one gas ring OR the oven at any one time, or it all trips out. This is making cooking tricky and I have visitors arriving in the morning. Not an auspicious start. Upon recalling the gasman to sort it out, he blamed the electrics and told me to call the electrician. The electrician came and told me there are NO ELECTRICS to fix and it’s the gas regulator inside the house that is the problem. The perfectly functioning regulator that went wrong on the very day the bottles were changed, what a co-incidence. No-one can tell me who the hell fixes these but clue: It’s not the gasman and its not the electrician. Is there a regulator-man I wonder? Answers on a postcard please.

I’m sure there were more; these are the stand-out moments. It is no small wonder I look as deranged as I do, if you throw in hours devoted to PTA, the 2 days of acting work that meant I had to entrust someone else to pick up my baby from school for the first time (emotional stress = 8.5/10), the guys that were supposed to come and remove half a ton of broken furniture from the house and forgot after I waited for 4 hours for them to show, a monologue to write and about 400 pages of reading to get done by the weekend. Did I mention I have visitors arriving, or that my husband is away until Friday morning, meaning I am completely sleep deprived, slightly grubby and suffering from mental exhaustion due to single parenting the ‘Child Who Wouldn’t Stop Asking Why’? I would worry about the lack of food in the house but there is nothing to cook it with, so, you know, whatever.

I refer you to the title and bid you goodnight.

 

 

 

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.

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.