On the road…again…

It’s a funny thing, this expat life. We are 4 weeks into our world tour and have just under 3 weeks to go, now (mainly) staying put in the same beds, and although I’m happy to be here, and the sun is shining, and my little boy is content, I’m a teeny, tiny bit homesick. For Dubai. Ironic? Rather. Here, in no particular order, is why:

1. I miss routine. School, work, social: I miss it all, for a variety of reasons but mainly because routine gives purpose and order and a kind of contentedness to life you don’t seem to get from living out of a suitcase for 2 months

2. I miss my quiet time. The bit where I come home from drop off, put the kettle on, and go upstairs to write for two glorious, uninterrupted hours. Or sit watching TV with a glass of wine when I’m home alone and the boy is in bed. It is a serious situation. I’ve even taken to doing the ironing just so I can get half an hour of time to tune out.

3. I miss my friends. I haven’t spoken to an actual peer, i.e. a person who shares my day to day existence for a month  except via the odd Facebook comment. It’s tough, not talking to the people you usually share the minutiae of life with. They are either sighing with relief or miss me too. (It’s debatable which).

4. I miss my bed. My glorious, comfortable bed. My bed in my bedroom, with my bathroom, and my wardrobe with all my stuff in it, with floors that don’t creak and walls that block out anything quieter than a fighter jet and air conditioning and occasionally containing a husband.

5. I miss exercise. Not that I ever do a lot of it, but I miss the idea that I could just pop to the gym whenever I wanted. I seem to lurch from one mealtime to the next while we’re away, so much so that I’m starting to feel absolutely sick of food. And as a result of relying on eating to fill my days, the relatively svelte bikini body I’d accidentally acquired due to stress appears to be disappearing amongst lunchtimes out, afternoon ice cream and mid morning muffins at the coffee shop as a substitute for any other kind of ‘routine’.

6. I miss pedicures. This is admittedly not going to win me any sympathy, but I would really, really like to get the dead skin filed off my feet and for someone to make my toes pretty again and give my feet a nice rub. If they could see about doing my hands and thread my eyebrows as well, that would be brilliant.

7. I miss my son. He’s here, with me, but he’s not the same little boy we have at home. He’s spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, disgruntled, and fed up with the lack of normality in his life. We expect so much of him with all this travelling and it’s really not very fair. I feel so horribly guilty for putting him through this upheaval every year. It’s the worst bit about living away.

8. I miss my kitchen. I want to flick through a recipe book, to shop and cook and serve a meal without getting halfway through and wondering if there is a can opener, or not being able to work the grill. I want to not eat lunch if I don’t feel like it, or eat 4 chocolate digestives with a cup of tea because they’re mine and I can if I want to.

9. I miss privacy. I’m surrounded at all times. I love everyone, they are my family; but I miss having precious hours of my day to sit and muse in silence in front of my computer, or to wander the shopping mall deep in my own thoughts, or sit in a car by myself singing, or not to have to put a bra on as soon as I get up in the morning for fear of running into a male relative on the stairs.

10. I miss myself. I’m on the road. I have no time to write, no chance of getting on stage and worst of all, I left my hairdryer in Dubai. I love seeing everyone, but I don’t feel truly like ‘me’ while I’m away from my home. Ironically this is exactly how I will feel all over again when I leave the UK and return to Dubai in three weeks.

And let’s be honest: I’ve got all year to enjoy my life in Dubai, but only a few weeks to make the most of this one. As a result, I’m enjoying every second of being home, before I go back there. I hope you are all having a great summer too.

Ruby x

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New Girl in a Small World

I’m standing like the proverbial spare one at a wedding, clutching my iphone and gazing intently at the screen to hide the fact that I’m feeling just a little bit redundant and a tad insecure. People chat all around me, clutching babies and laughing and asking how the holidays went. Yep, it’s my son’s first week at a new school, and I’m back to a social square one. I don’t know the system, I don’t know the teachers, I don’t know anyone. And it’s a parent assembly today, so everyone is gathered in the foyer waiting to be allowed in to see their little ones show off their Easter hats and wondering if they did a good enough job with the eggs and straw and feather boas. (They did, by the way. I think I’m going to have to raise my game in the creative mum department). I hover near the mum I met briefly at drop off yesterday, who’s chatting to a larger group; I keep hoping she’ll notice me as I don’t really feel brave enough to just go and stand with them. I give myself a mental slap. Seriously. I’m nearly 40 years old, I’ve lived here for eight years, I go onstage every other week in front of complete strangers and I’m still as bad at making friends as ever.

But I’m saved from having to chastise myself any further because – magically – she does notice me, and introduces me to the crowd standing around. I instantly forget everyone’s names, except all the dads appear to be called Ian which is a result. But I warm to all of them and the tiniest bit of confidence begins to flow through me. I chat, briefly, and we establish who belongs to which child, before we are ushered into the hall for assembly. I sit next to one of the women, and we start to ask the usual questions. Our conversation feels strangely comfortable for two women who’ve never met before. ‘Where are you from in the UK?’ I ask. Turns out her hometown is about 20 miles from mine. Honestly, you can take the girl out of Essex, but you’ll always know when you meet one. It’s a humour thing, I think. Well I hope it is, because I’m just about to crack a joke. ‘You don’t sound like you come from Essex,’ I say. ‘Neither do you’ she replies and we smile. I suggest we can both relax and ‘get our Basildon on’ and she laughs, and suddenly – just like that – I’m not alone anymore.

Being at a new school is good for me – it makes me feel like I just arrived in Dubai all over again and reminds me to be a better, kinder person to the ones who are really new to the whole expat business. I might feel lonely for twenty minutes of a new school run but the rest of the day is filled with calls, emails and meetings with the friends I’ve made over the years here. I remember when the school run was the only part of the day I spoke with anyone, and how important it was. And it still is. I’m excited to add to my circle of friends at a time of year when traditionally I’m saying goodbye to them, excited to fill a bit more of my life with new company, to get to know them and become friends. I just hope my little boy settles in too, and isn’t left standing too long in the metaphorical foyer either, before someone helps him find his feet. But something tells me he’ll be just fine.

 

Career of Champions

“Mummy, I want to be a superhero when I’m older.”

“Do you? Which one?”

“Which one is the best?”

“Well, I think it’s probably Superman. Would you like to be Superman?”

(Pause)

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because Superman is Superman. I want to be my own superhero.”

“Well you have to have a magical power to be a superhero.”

“I don’t have one.”

(Thinking there may be a learning opportunity here) “Well maybe you could be an everyday hero instead, like a policeman or a firefighter, or a doctor.”

“Dr. Khan is a hero.”

“Yes, he is.”

“He makes sick children feel better.”

“That’s right.”

“I could be a doctor hero then.”

“That’s a good hero to be.”

“Yes. A doctor. (Long pause). Or a hairdresser.”

Not a hero in the traditional sense, I admit. However, there have been some days I’ve walked out of the salon and would be inclined to agree.

The Hardest Part

What’s the hardest part of living away from home? For me, as I imagine for 99% of expats, it’s a close run thing between missing family and a decent cup of tea, but I’m guessing family win out for most of us.

I’ve spent the past decade flying around the world to visit family – my sister in New York  Hong Kong New York, my mother in law in Florida, brothers and sisters in law in MA and NH, (with a stint in Maine for good measure), plus of course my parents, grandparents, siblings and so on, that are sprinkled across the south east of England. It’s all good fun until someone gets hurt, and then, like a one night stand in the cold light of day, living thousands of miles from your blood relatives turns out to be not such a great idea after all.

This has not been the best of years for my family. The events that have passed, and are still passing, are not my stories to share, so I’m not going to – but suffice to say that all plans to sit in sunny Dubai for the winter and enjoy the time in our little unit of three are being systematically abandoned as the responsibilities that come with being a daughter, a sister and a mother slowly rise to the surface.

Is it possible to live away guilt free? I have never managed it. Dragging myself, and on occasions my husband and son across the globe and through several time zones costing thousands of pounds is just part of life as far as I’m concerned. Times like these turn my mind into a war zone, a battle between what’s right for my family unit here versus what is the right thing to do for my family there.  It is the hardest thing in the world, to figure out what is more important, who has priority, and know that due to sheer limits of time and space, all decisions are final. There is always a compromise to be made, and it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. By everyone, I am including me, but I wonder if I should, because all the logistical planning, cross-continental communications, and normal life in between leave very little time to consider ‘me’. In fact, if you asked how I felt about everything going on in my life right now, my only answer would be that I really don’t have a clue.

Part of the pleasure/burden of having a small child is that they don’t give you time to process very much. You tend to only deal with things in terms of ‘stuff I can explain to a four year old’. Which simplifies things, I admit, until your very adult brain catches up and bites you on the arse with all the things you were supposed to think and feel days, weeks, or months ago. Combine that with living away from home, and people tend to think your actions and reactions to events at home are a result of being either a) extremely calm, b) extremely good at acting, or c) being a cold bitch. The truth is that the combination of being time-poor and distanced from events not just by miles, but by GMT+4,  means dealing with stuff has to happen in super-intensive chunks, preferably when everyone else in the world (including said four year old) is in bed, so that you don’t turn into a snivelling mess just as you have to do the school run or go out to dinner, or when you are trying to sleep.

The word ‘distance’ weighs so heavily on my mind at times like these that I wonder if it’s only in moments when you want to erase it that you can understand its true meaning. I can only hope that in the coming months, I can balance distance and time and family in both my worlds, and maybe use the flights in between for figuring out how I feel about all of it.

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.

Battening down the hatches

Firstly, a big thank you to new and old readers. I made it to 20,000 hits this week!

Secondly, the end of school is nigh, and reality is setting in fast. Could someone please tell me what on earth I am supposed to do with my son for the next nine weeks? Yep, you read right. NINE WEEKS. Hampered by the small matter of a degree to study for, we are unable to leave Dubai along with the other 200,000 expat wives and children this weekend, and instead will sit here for half of July, alone and extremely bored. I am still resolutely looking on the bright side, but several factors are now chipping away at my previously perky demeanour:

1. The boy has refused to attend summer camp at the local nursery because ‘nursery is for babies’. That’s my fault: in an effort to encourage him into his pre-school at the start of the year I announced nursery is for babies. Now he has taken me at my word.

2. Ramadan is looming, meaning the end of cafes, leisurely lunches and munching popcorn in front of the latest Monsters, Inc. Whilst we are escaping to Italy for ten days of it, we will be here for another two weeks afterwards. This rules out going anywhere for longer than a two hour time period unless I want to spend half of it dragging the boy into a toilet cubicle with me in order to swig water and the rest trying to avoid being taken out by zombie drivers denied food and water for hours on end in the middle of the summer in the desert.

3. The clement spring weather is definitely over. Now it’s just the same as it always is: unbelievably hot and humid. Touching surfaces with bare skin is not recommended unless you don’t mind losing the top layer, and outside, even for breakfast, is becoming a sweaty and unpleasant business = No more outdoor play.

4. The only outdoor play we can still manage is a spot of swimming. So what better message to receive yesterday than our club pool is closed for maintenance for the whole of July. Great timing guys.

5. I can’t find Wimbledon on the TV.

Nine weeks sounds so dramatic. It’s true, ‘only’ three and a half of them are in Dubai, and then we are off to enjoy the delights of rain and reality tv at my mother’s house for four weeks. But it’s enough to make me nervous, because I know with nowhere to go, no-one to see and nothing to do, with a nearly-4 year old insisting I am on tap to entertain him at all times, there is a limit to how much time I can spend pretending to be holding it together. The horrific realisation is dawning that everyone I know will be gone in a matter of days and my husband is travelling for work for much of the duration, leaving me very firmly in the ‘I only spoke to my pre-schooler this week’ crazy lady category specially reserved for trailing spouses in the desert in Ramadan.

It’s just another expat summer. And it starts tomorrow. Wish me luck.

 

 

 

 

 

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