I believe the children are our future…

I seem to be quoting Whitney a lot these days. I have no idea why, she was only ever relevant to me during a particularly terrible set of Modern dance lessons I had in the mid-80s, when our teacher choreographed ‘I wanna dance with somebody’ so badly it shall forever be remembered as ‘the step-ball-change dance’. The next time I paid any attention she was dead (Whitney, not my dance teacher, although she might be too for all I know) and it was Glee season 3, and now suddenly I’m full of big ballads and bad disco dancing.

Anyway, I digress: what I really wanted to write about today was on a slightly more serious topic. We have just made some huge decisions on my son’s schooling, and the weight of the responsibility sits heavier on my shoulders than I ever imagined it would. The worry that you will somehow fail your child because you didn’t give them the best start in life they could possibly have is, I suspect, a pretty universal one. However I do think that expats have it particularly hard when it comes to deciding where and when to send their children to school.

When we came to Dubai we were a newly wed couple with absolutely no responsibilities to anyone except ourselves. It didn’t occur to me for a second that I would be here long enough to a)have a child and b) have to send him/her to nursery, never mind school. So I didn’t really pay a lot of attention, even when I got pregnant, and even though I was actually a teacher for crying out loud.

But now, as my son approaches his third birthday, it is crunch time. Schools here generally start accepting students from aged three, a full year before the UK equivalent of Reception class (if you’re from the US, it’s the equivalent of a Pre-KG class). They are fee-paying and predominantly run for profit and there is a severe shortage of places at the popular ones. And so the problem is, if you don’t put them into these schools at aged three, you may well miss the boat.

What is the idea on the blackboard?

Schools can be a little pushy here. Drawing by Olivia from Arabian Ranches, aged 3.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People here seem to enjoy having lots of babies. The city is teeming with toddlers. The population naturally seems to thin out as children get older but many schools in Dubai are ridiculously over-subscribed at Foundation stage level.  To get into the top ones you have to register them at birth or be married to an Emirates pilot. It is horrendously competitive and nerve wracking to say the least, that you may have to take your second, third or even fourth choice of school because you waited until their first birthday to think about it. Schools can get pretty pushy about things too and over the years it has become the norm to assume that you must pack your child off to school as early as possible in order that they succeed in life. One particularly cunning plan recently employed by a very reputable school here has been to open a nursery, and then send an email to all the parents who are on the wait list for future academic years indicating that it doesn’t matter when you applied, priority will be given to the children who attend the nursery. So if you can send your child to school shortly after the umbilical chord is cut, you should probably get a place.

Which is why we have gone against the crowds and instead chosen an American school in the rural backwaters of Sports city.  Despite a plan to accept students from aged three all the way up to 18, the school is relatively new and still undersubscribed, giving it a more local feel than the other giant behemoths that operate here. It is three minutes from our house versus the half hour commute I would have to undertake four times a day to take him anywhere else. It doesn’t come with the usual snobberies nor does it subscribe to the ‘work hard, play hard’ ethos that frankly seems a little harsh to be putting on a child barely out of nappies. Instead it appears to genuinely embrace individuality, and childhood, and the sheer enjoyment of learning. To top it all off, it is the nicest, cleanest, friendliest school I have visited, with some of the best facilities. It might not enjoy the ‘Outstanding’ status of some of the more popular schools but I’m pretty sure my son will benefit in other ways from a cosy class of 15 for the first two years of his academic career – and at the same time absorb an American culture and education that, being of dual nationality, is important to us that he have, and not something that he would get from an English school in Dubai (or one in England, for that matter).

I am pretty confident we have made the right choice and now my attentions turn to the UK, to look at securing him a place somewhere that I am equally sure of. The conundrum for many expats is you never know how long you’re staying or when you’re going to leave. So you have to plan properly for a future in two different places and ensure that your child receives the best potential possible start in life on opposite sides of the world. You need to believe that the chosen expat school provides an educational experience equal in all measures to that of one at home, and you need to ensure the school you choose if or when you return home is going to be the right environment to help your child cope with a huge and often overwhelming change in circumstance. We have chosen to apply to private schools particularly to try and avoid potential issues that relying on screaming into the state school system at the 11th hour may throw up. But private schools in the UK come with the same personality disorders as they do here. I am already put off by a couple of them because they display precisely the same kind of horrid, faintly sit-com-esque middle class snobbery I have seen in Dubai. However, I have high hopes that the others I am visiting will prove to be just right. I really hope so, because if he is happy at his Dubai school, one of the most vital and potentially traumatic decisions we will face making in the future will be transplanting him to a new one in a place he is completely unfamiliar with.

It’s another thing no-one mentioned when we moved to Dubai. And they didn’t mention it when we became parents either for that matter. The responsibility to ‘get it right’ is always huge, but extends further – much further – when your child is an expat. It’s so confusing to know what to do. Our son was born and raised (to date) in the Middle East, and we (his parents) come from opposite sides of the Atlantic. Where will he call home in the future? How will he identify himself? Which education system should he follow? Will it even matter to him or to anyone else? How will it affect him, when we eventually do pull him away from everything familiar to him, from everything that he calls ‘home’, because it is categorically not our ‘home’?  I guess only time will tell. In the meantime, we hope that the decisions we make are the right ones, and do what all parents do: Our very best.

Chicken nuggets or fish fingers?

We’ve just returned from a 3 night break in Ras Al Khaimah, staying at The Banyan Tree in a beach pool villa. Jealous, much? Well in theory, you should be. But how about if I tell you that both me and my husband are sick and kept eachother awake half the night coughing? And that just as we both finally dropped off each night, our darling little boy sleeping at the other end of the room would initiate his much-loved ‘shout out to the masses’ sleep-talkings, and wake us up at least twice more during the night just for sh*ts and giggles? How about the fact that we were summoned daily, exhausted, somewhere between 5.30 and 6.30am, by a little voice announcing he was getting in the bed and then proceeding to jump on us and shout ‘wake up mummy!’ until I gave in and put the light on?

Holidays are certainly not what they used to be. In fact a small part of me that I refuse to acknowledge for fear of never going anywhere ever again says staying at home is significantly easier. In the evenings whist our son slept in the villa we sat in semi-darkness on the somewhat windy and rather cool-for-the-time-of-year beach, eating our room service as fast as possible so we could get back in the warm. Our nightly routine involved silent peeing and tooth-brushing without breathing in the open plan bathroom, followed by dressing in child-proof night gear and reading until we could barely keep our eyes open (approximately 9.30pm). Hardly the stuff of Mills and Boon.

Days we would have traditionally spent lazing on a sun bed or at the spa were instead a frenzy of activities based mainly around trying to ensure our son didn’t hit his head on anything sharp, fall off anything high, or drown in the pool. I had brought a limited number of toys with me on the basis that we would be spending our time building elaborate sand castles and frolicking in the waves. However, the horrific six foot sandbank that greeted us when we walked down to the sea put paid to my romantic notions of wiggling our toes in the gently lapping water – and the dredged sand that made up the ‘beach’ was full of broken shells sharp enough to cut diamonds, and didn’t really lend itself to the reconstruction of Camelot. So we were left with a bit of a gap in the schedule. Fortunately it didn’t matter over such a short time and we compensated with long walks, shell collecting and swimming in the gorgeous little pool on our deck. Aside from the lack of sleep, we had a lovely few days together as a family and it was well worth it to get out of Dubai for a few days.

Frozen Foster Farms breast nuggets.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner of Champions, apparently

But the food! HOTEL PEOPLE OF THE WORLD: Children cannot eat chicken nuggets and fishfingers for lunch and dinner every day for 3 days, or 5, or a fortnight. Well, actually I’m sure they can – but seriously, this is not the first 5 star hotel to offer such a limited menu for children, and I don’t understand why we as parents accept it and then worse still, pay a premium for it. Why doesn’t anyone ever say ‘we’ll serve your kid whatever you like off the menu, in a half portion’? Or, just a suggestion, how about offering choices that include vegetables or something that’s grilled instead of fried?  How about offering an actual sandwich, with good things inside it, instead of some sloppy greasy melted cheese thing? And why does EVERYTHING have to come with fries?

Putting together a child’s menu appears to be very simple for most establishments. If you can fry it, put it on the list. Ta Da! A typical kids menu is born! So, because I refuse to let my son think he can eat this crap every mealtime when we are on holiday, along with the clothes, toys, books, potty, emergency blow up bed in case he wouldn’t sleep on the hotel bed, his favourite duvet, beach buckets and spades, music, dvd player and ipad, I also brought with me a tin of sweetcorn, some cut up raw veg, fresh brown bread rolls, peanut butter, marmite, jam, raisins, yoghurt, snack bars, fresh blueberries, raspberries, bananas and a couple of pears to fill in the gaps between the fishfingers and chicken nuggets.

For the record, putting together a menu that pleases parents AND children really isn’t all that hard, and the kitchen doesn’t have to work much harder either, nor does it cost them any more than buying in all that frozen rubbish. Below is my suggestion, the start of a campaign to encourage better holiday food for children. If you call yourself 5 star and child friendly, never mind about the kids clubs and the pool – start with the basics of providing good quality food. It would make such a difference.

Meat and 2 veg:1 choice of meat/fish from the following: Grilled chicken, Sausages (proper ones, not bloody hotdogs), Fishfingers, Salmon, Home made chicken nuggets or Home made burger

2 choices from the following: Fries, sweetcorn, tomatoes, baked beans, peas, mashed potato, sweet potato, broccoli, carrots, pasta, noodles, rice

Soup of the day & a sandwich: Choose fillings from Tuna mayo, PB&J, Cheese, Ham, Soft cheese, Egg, Marmite

Pasta: w/sauce options as per the adult menu

Dessert: Yoghurt, Fresh fruit (a variety, not just melon, which no-one ever eats), Ice cream, Apple crumble & custard

Snacks: Crudites with hummus or yoghurt dip

Also available: Mini-pizzas, Omeletes, scrambled egg or boiled egg with toast

See? Not difficult, not expensive, just better. Which is where a luxury hotel should really be aiming for.

Simple pleasures

English: a picture taken in the desert of kuwa...

The view from our house this week. Ok, so I might be exaggerating a little...

I’ve been extremely busy and just a bit preoccupied the past week or so and it’s fair to say I’ve neglected my usual maternal duties, or even any sense of duty except to myself if I’m honest. It’s a bit of a baptism by fire this week then, as I find myself single-parenting again during one of the worst and certainly the longest sandstorms in my time here. Even as we creep towards March the weather is still good, stunning even, except the past four days have seen our entire garden and house covered in sand over, and over, then over again. I hate sand. It gets everywhere and our garden is covered. The fake grass can’t be played in until I arrange for it to be vacuumed and the parks are still too blowy to be fun to run around in. And quite honestly the last place I want to go with my son to play is in a playground consisting entirely of sand with a slide, a couple of see saws and a sandpit in it. A sandpit in a sandpit in a sandpit. No thanks.

So the past day or so we’ve spent indoors, and what a great time we’ve had of it. My son is getting to the age now where you can actually start to have fun, I mean proper fun, doing all sorts of silly things to fill the time. Top of the list has been playing in the ‘blue house’ aka a pop up tent usually reserved for the beach. It’s been really great to watch him use his imagination and fill the tent with ‘sleeping’ stuffed toys, toys that are being ‘good’ and therefore are allowed in, and on occasions, Mummy, who must be forced to knock at the door before entering and then not allowed to leave under any circumstances unless it involves ice cream.

We have skyped family for hours, played the piano as loudly as possible, and had picnics in front of the TV for lunch. We have done drawing and I have watched, amused, as he struts around the house with a pad of paper making ‘lists’ that mainly consist of snippets of my own meal planning and shopping lists. I have spent a considerable amount of time rescuing our various electronic devices from being a) procured for imaginary play that will undoubtedly end in breakage or b) if they aren’t portable, ruined by having shoelaces, drink mats, or other suspect objects poked into them.

I look back to last week when I was merely a person acting on the stage for a few days and I do miss the freedom and the individuality it gave me, a chance to lose the mummy shackles for a short time and be just ‘me’. But today I realise I am taking just as much pleasure from hanging out with my little boy this week as I did last week by not hanging out with him. Being away has renewed my enthusiasm to be here. It proved to me that a change is as good as a rest – and I must continue to find this balance in my life, because I really do enjoy being a mum a lot more when I’ve had some time to be myself too.

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.

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.

Hot, tired and cranky…

..but I couldn’t let today go by without devoting some page space to my wonderful little boy who is two today. He is driving me crazy, depriving me of sleep, I have no life of my own and barely a day goes by without me thinking I am quite possibly the most terrible mother in some capacity or another, but he rocks my world and he always will. Happy birthday bub x

Having It All: Part II

Who are these women who can devote their lives to bringing up their children without a shadow of regret for the life they left behind? I fear they are distant relations of the women that somehow have the ability to pack up their troubles in their old kit bag and become Trailing Spouses without a single doubt that it might be the kiss of death on personal gratification for the duration.

It’s safe to say I do not fall into either of these categories. I reckon I might feasibly have one more year in me before I go completely nuts from either Trailing or Full Time Mothering and it would be unfair not to admit that I have spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about how to escape from either. Or both. I have come to the conclusion that running away might be the only answer. As long as I’m back in time for tea, bath and bed because my husband is in a meeting and can’t leave early tonight.

Before I had my son I thought I would be a stay at home mum until the youngest was at least five. Yes, the youngest, meaning more than one child. Due to exhaustion and old age the number of children we would ideally like has dropped from more than one to just the one, thank you very much. One is plenty. So with that in mind, I thought I would relish spending my days playing with my little angel, taking him to coffee mornings and swimming and baby yoga and maybe even just gazing at him for quite a lot of the time. Instead I spent the first few months thinking I had made the most terrible mistake and subsequently about another six (or is that 16?) trying to figure out how to accept being a mother instead of fighting it all the time. I remember only two things about the first three months of my son’s life: the first is my husband finding me in the nursery when he got home from work, having not left it the whole day, with sick down my bra and tears streaming down my face, claiming that I couldn’t do this anymore (quote “I feel like a friggin’ cow, being milked all day long with no form of adult contact”). The second is the time when I made him pull over at a gas station in the middle of nowhere and threatened to leave him and the baby because he mentioned that we might want to rethink having any more children.
Now in my defence, three things may have exacerbated my unhappiness. Firstly it was really, really hot when my son was born. I couldn’t leave the house for the first month unless it was in a car and I couldn’t drive after my c-section. My first outing after 2 weeks at home was hobbling up and down the road at 10pm at night, sweating and panting and crying and wishing myself anywhere but here.
The second big downer was the lack of support. There are no NHS midwives in Dubai. Which means no home visits, no checks. You are sent home with the baby and that’s IT. Trouble breastfeeding? Google it. Not sure how you bath the baby? Use wet wipes. Baby won’t sleep? Neither will you. There are no family members just down the road who are happy to come and rescue you when you reach the end of your rope. No-one to say “why don’t me and your dad come over for the day and let you get some rest?” For the first six weeks of my son’s life, it was just me and my husband, walking around like zombified idiots hoping we didn’t cock up too much because it’s only 3am in the UK and we can’t call anyone to ask if it’s ok that the baby is hiccuping/snoring/sleeping without a blanket on (delete as appropriate).
The third and final straw was that we had been due to move into our newly finished house when I was four months pregnant….and when our son was 9 weeks old and we were on the verge of being made homeless (we literally had 24 hours left in the house before the lease ran out) we finally got the keys. Moving house in the boiling heat with a new baby and no family support around…hardly conducive to having a fluffy, shiny, rose tinted spectacled new baby experience. Particularly if you are a ‘glass half empty’ kind of a gal full of raging hormones and an average sleep time of 3 hours per night.

As we settled into our new home and my son got older the full realisation of what motherhood was all about began to sink in. And I must admit I didn’t like it much more than I had at the beginning. I love my son. I would do anything, anything in the world for him. I think he is the most amazing individual and sometimes I just sit looking at him and can’t believe we got it so right. But OMG I am terrible at full time mothering. If he’s with me 24/7 for longer than a 3-day stretch I start to come out in a rash. It exhausts me and I end up resenting him, my husband, other smug full time mums, people who are thinner/younger/prettier than me, anyone who’s ever had a job…pretty much everyone, in fact, who isn’t me or directly looking at me telling me how sorry they are.

It’s taken me a long time to admit to the fact that full time mothering is not for me, and longer still to accept it. Fortunately a good friend of mine shared her secret over a few glasses of wine last summer. She is allergic to full time mothering as well, so her kids are in nursery. This does not sound like much on paper. But it was a revelation at the time, because a) someone else admitted they felt the same way as me, b) they had found a way to manage it and c) they weren’t ashamed to say so. Co-incidentally she is an expat too. It makes me wonder just how much of a negative effect the lack of immediate family support can have on you if you were pre-dispositioned not to cope particularly well in the first place. Whatever the reasons, the fact is I had been battling for so long with these demons that it was an enormous relief to discover there is no shame in admitting you need a break.

Still, it took me another six months to stop listening to the guilt-voices in my head. And despite the fact that he loves nursery, and has gained so much confidence from going, sometimes they are still there. Sometimes, the guilt of not wanting to be with your child all day every day when you don’t have the excuse of going to work is overwhelming. Until I got over myself, I felt it was like admitting that you don’t love your kid, which isn’t true. Or that you are a bad parent, which also isn’t true. Or worst of all, suggests you’d rather be in an office, which is definitely, positively not the case either.

Admittedly, after a few months of enjoying myself, I think I would like to do something more than just have ‘downtime’. The problem is this: every time I think about going back to work, I start to think about all the times I won’t be there for my son. I think about how much I enjoy the parts of my life that are interesting and fun and fulfilling, and how nursery has changed everything, made me more relaxed and allowed me to recharge my batteries three mornings a week to be a better mum the rest of the time. I think of all the great things I get to do with him, precisely because I have the time. The moments we share and the battles we fight and the giggles and tears and the magic of it all. Then I mentally fill in the week with somewhere between 20 and 40 hours of work and suddenly that doesn’t seem like such a good idea either. I can’t bear the thought of losing all that time just yet, the time I have for me and the time I have for my son. And yet, I feel the need to do something with my life. At the moment ‘something’ is this blog but it’s not exactly making me big bucks, nor is it the most socially interactive of career choices. Granted, I never realised until I started writing how much sh*t fills my head on a daily basis, and this is certainly a great forum for getting it out, but it’s not a job (I really must keep reminding myself of that). On the other hand, is it enough for now, just to be doing something that I enjoy that means I don’t have to compromise on the rest?

Basically, I’m really bloody confused. ‘Having it all’ is a concept I can’t even begin to contemplate. ‘Having a clue’ would be a good start. Because if I don’t want to be a full time mum, I don’t want to go back to full time work, I don’t want to have another baby and I don’t want to sit around doing nothing, then I ask you, WHAT THE HELL DO I WANT TO DO?!