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.

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An open letter to Ahlan…don’t get ME started…

Dear Ahlan

What an interesting article you published recently, on the agony of flying on planes that have – gasp – children on them.

I love how the author of the column assumed that every child who ever flew on a plane is by default loud and annoying, that all babies scream, and that they, as a childless passenger, were entitled to make us parents sound like the most inconsiderate, incompetent set of people ever to travel the earth. Talk about alienating half your readership, right there. The suggestion that all families could be given a section at the back of the plane was particularly generous. Personally I would prefer the upper deck, if that’s okay, and you can go and sit at the back and inhale 350 people’s farts and bad breath. I also love the assumption that all parents would want to sit together…”somewhere they can sit with other sympathetic parents who understand what it’s like to have a small child, and who won’t tut or glare when the kid goes into siren mode”. Ah yes, you’ve really got the measure of parents there. We don’t just love our own kids and forgive them anything, we love all children. Especially the small ones that cry all the time, or the little gits that run around during a night flight like they own the joint. This is just a suggestion: you might want to observe parents a little better next time you’re on a flight. You might just see that if someone else’s child is screaming, or kicking, or being loud, we don’t generally do much except look smug and thank our lucky stars it’s not ours. How ridiculous, to think we’re all going to club together at the back of the plane, shrug our shoulders, and mutter ‘kids, eh?’ to each other while they run riot on sugar highs and boredom.

You mention that top airlines have created bar areas, massage rooms, and showers on board, so why not soundproofed zones for kids? Great plan. Maybe we should have sections for the business travellers who lie snoring like juggernauts the whole flight too. And one for the people that don’t seem to be able to walk down an aisle in the middle of the night without hugging the backs of all the seats on the way to and from the bathroom. Maybe all the fat people could go in one section in the middle so that the rest of us still have space for our elbows. Ooo, and maybe there could be another part of the plane for people who smell bad. Really?

Flying is a necessary part of life for many people; everyone is different, none of them are perfect, and it is generally annoying for us all, no matter our personal circumstances. That’s what happens when you stick 350 strangers in a tin can and throw them through the air in order to get from A to B. If you don’t like it, take the car, or hire a private jet. But leave us parents out of it. My son has been commuting with me from Dubai to London and the US since he was four months old. Never once has he screamed, never once has anyone had cause to complain about him. I’m not saying there aren’t some horrors out there, but don’t tar us all with the same brush. How about considering that most parents dread long haul flying beyond anything you can possibly imagine, but that many of us have no choice in the matter – and that most of us do our best to make it as pleasurable as possible for everyone – the kids, us, and you included. If you’re going to attempt to take a stand, maybe publish something that offers your opinion on what civil behaviour and parental responsibility should look like on planes to those that need a kick up the backside. It would certainly offer a more positive message than encouraging persecution and segregation based on lifestyle choices. Making the world a better place and all that, don’t you think?

Yours,

Ruby Slippers.

Mushrooms and Moles

Gosh, well how do you follow up the blog post that went viral? Carefully, I assume*. I’d like to start by saying thank you to everyone that shared ‘Welcome, newbies‘ on Facebook last week, and a big hello to the new readers out there. I hope I do you proud. Or at the very least entertain you. It’s lovely to have so many people enjoying what I’m writing, it means a lot to an attention seeking ego maniac like myself.

So, while we’re having this virtual group hug, I’d like to indulge in a small moment of over-sharing:

I have fungus growing on my cleavage.

Apparently, according to the dermatologist (who has now been added to my general entourage of hairdresser, colourist, manicurist, pedicurist, doctor, OBGYN, dentist, personal trainer and anyone else that keeps me looking good, feeling good, or generally alive), it’s pretty common out here in desertville. She had one case in fourteen years working in Wales and sees about four a week in Dubai. The good news is the fungus lives on all of us, on our skin (so I’m not alone, or utterly gross), but when you get a little sweaty, it grows and forms pretty little rings which, if you’re paranoid about the time you got so sunburnt you couldn’t dress for three days and then your skin blistered and peeled away in a whole sheet (okay that’s a little gross), you might think were something more serious. They aren’t. They’re fungus, and with a little cream twice a day it will be gone within a couple of weeks. Crisis over. I just have to learn to stop sweating in forty degree heat.

While I was at the dermatologist parting with DHS 1000 of BUPAs money just to be told I was growing mushrooms on my torso, she asked if there was anything else I wanted to know. Well talk about kid in a candy store.  I’d turned 39 three days previous and the only reason I don’t look wrinkly is because of all the fat I gained stuffing my face over the summer.

I thought of the youthful looking woman I’d seen in reception. I noted the doctor’s plumped cheeks and smoothed brow. I looked around the room at all the photos of perfect dewy-faced women, with no bags under their eyes, no blemishes on their skin, and not a wrinkle to be seen. It all looked so tempting. I may have dribbled a bit.

‘Can you get rid of the mole on my nose?’ I asked. It’s not a moley mole, it’s skin coloured and sits in the dimple above my nostril. You can barely see it and it doesn’t particularly bother me, but I thought I’d start with something small and see what she said.

‘Not without a scar’, she replied. Hmmph. That wasn’t the answer I’d hoped for. But then something amazing happened.

‘You have such lovely skin for your age,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t do anything at the moment.’

The Dermatologist instantly became my new best friend.

‘But we can whip off that mole on your back when you come back for your check up. It should only take about 15 minutes.’

I ummed and ahhed while she explained that they would send it to a lab to be checked and although she was sure it was fine it might become bothersome in the future. And so, like the thousands of women before me who are approaching forty and feel in need of a little ‘help’, I have agreed to my first cosmetic procedure.

On my back.

I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of this yet.

.

*To hell with that, let’s start with fungus.

Fashion victim

Do you remember being seventeen? I do. Vaguely. I was finishing up A-levels at a girl’s grammar school where I never really fitted in with anyone (although I’m not sure anyone else did either) and more interested in boys than school. I drove a beige mini cooper with a maroon top that broke down on a regular basis, usually when I was hanging out late at my friend’s house and had to get his dad up at 2am to jump start me and send me on my way. I had an unsuitably ancient boyfriend who worked in the city and cooked me cheese on toast with herbs on at the weekends (the height of sophistication when you’ve never even boiled an egg) and I earned enough money waitressing at a variety of pubs in the area to pay for the car, until I was old enough to pull pints and graduate to the heady heights of ‘barmaid’, when I used to spend my wages on drinking pints when I wasn’t serving them.

I wore jeans, t-shirts, or long paisley skirts with tassels on, and owned a short black skirt for work. On my feet were usually a pair of ‘chinese sandals’, awful flat misshapen things from Chelmsford market for a fiver, that were almost compulsory for every sixth former. I used to occasionally trade these in for a pair of jazz shoes to dance in, or boots, if it was wet weather.

When I was seventeen, my idea of a career was non-exisitent. I had no idea what I wanted to do, I didn’t mind too much, and nor did anyone else. I wrote a diary, not a blog. I didn’t know about fashion and fashion didn’t know about me, and we got along fine that way, because I was young enough for it not to matter. I thought the pink and orange chiffon top I bought for a party at Chelmsford City Football club was the height of sophistication. I owned a black cotton bag with sequins on the front (again from the market) and lived in my black cardigan with buttons down the back until it rotted off my shoulders. My hair was curly and out of control and done by my mum’s friend when it was done by anyone. I owned eyeliner and mascara and an old Clinique lipstick from a multi pack my mum didn’t want. I danced to the Happy Mondays and the Farm and mixed Bacardi into a bottle of coke to take to parties.

I was considered fairly cool, I think, although slightly odd (not much has changed in 20 years). How would have I described my personal style? Top Shop meets Miss Selfridge. Whilst I’m aware than a few decades have passed since then, and we are admittedly living in a very different place to the chavland of my youth (although sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference), I wonder at what strange creatures Dubai has managed to produce, for example the teenager I happened to stumble across on the back pages of Grazia Middle East this week:

‘This trendy twin describers her personal style as classic and minimal. “I tend to stick to a monochrome palette when dressing.” she says. Here, she works her style magic with this ultra-feminine white and nude ensemble. She teams a slouchy white tank top by Michael Kors with a pair of cream lace trousers by Cameo, adding a vintage Chanel belt to nip in the waist. She finished the look with a pair of nude Louboutins and a beige Chanel bag.’

You’re seventeen, FFS. You’ve got years to covet nude Loubs and neutrals. Go out and get yourself a pair of Havanias and a crop top from H&M and have some fun, girl. And give me your wardrobe. I may be old enough to be your mother but I’m not above borrowing your clothes.

Arise, agents of change: an open letter

To all the seven kinds of crazy women currently populating our school gates:

It’s fair to say, that I have whined in my time. There have been moments so low in my life that I would have gladly traded all my worldly goods for things to be different. But if there is one thing I have learnt over the course of the past few years, it’s that if you don’t like something, don’t quit, make it right. Change things. Be better.

Take your child’s school, for example. Say there has been an unexpected change of leadership halfway through the year and you have doubts about the school’s future and their ability to maintain the quality of education you would prefer your  little darling to receive. Say the school had offered one on one meetings with the new principal to thrash out any worries or issues you may have, but instead of going and asking the important questions you want answered, you sit and listen to the idle fishwife gossip at pick up time. Say you were that person. I would not want to hear what you have to say, because I’ve already heard it all and never listened to such a load of tripe in my life. Examples of ‘why i am not coming back next year’ that I have overheard include:

– the school curriculum is based on the practices of scientology

– “everyone” is leaving

– one of the FS2 teachers has fingernails that are really long

Dear mother with nothing better to do: look around you. Do you see happy children who are confident, sociable and comfortable in their environment? Do you see them learning? Is there anything to suggest that this isn’t a great place for them to go to school? Does the class size of 10-15 children bother you, that maybe they are going to receive too much attention, too much individual time with their teacher, that they might learn more, develop skills that might otherwise go ignored in a larger class? Do the huge, well equipped classrooms put you on edge? Do you think your children will do better in a school that is brand new with absolutely no track record, and might not even open by september? Or one with 3000 children milling around inside it? I’m sure you feel it’s completely justified to spend your days sitting and spouting idle gossip, spreading your poisonous nonsense and putting doubt in the minds of every parent within a 14 mile radius, just to placate yourself, that hauling your third culture kid out of one school and into another after just one year won’t be detrimental to them in the slightest.

Or…hang on….could there be another way? Could it be that instead of wrenching your child from the bosom of their school because of some whimsical notion based solely on conjecture that the grass is indeed greener, that you could be an agent for change and make the community you and your child exist in work harder for you, to get what you want, what you believe you deserve? Could it be that communication, and a mutual resolve to make things the best they can be, might just be the better way forward? How about instead of moaning about the things you don’t like to people who have no bearing on the situation, that you address them with some one who could actually help you change them?

Of course this crazy idea of social responsibility might never catch on. You do deserve the moon on a stick after all, and if you can pay the fees why on earth should you have to make any more effort than that? Your responsibility lays purely with destroying the spirit of the people around you who actually like the place. Because if you choose to leave, you’re gonna damn well make sure you have someone to share the new school run with, right?

I believe in choice. What suits me may not suit you. But make an educated decision, not some half baked one based on what the popular mums said over coffee last week. And should you decide to go, do it with dignity and respect for the rest of us. Because I am bored with your tales of woe and your ‘genuine concern’ that the school is going to the dogs. I am tired of feeling like I have to defend my decision, that i should in some way be ashamed of myself for choosing to give my child consistency and a strong sense of community that our school offers in spades. That I am crazy to believe the incredible progress he has made this past six months could not possibly be repeated, and that the teachers will, en masse, decide that small class numbers are really not their thing, and jack in their jobs and their visas to go and live on a beach and teach TEFL. I am making a herculean effort to ignore all of you but I really do think you should shut up and give us all a break.

And lastly – Do try to remember your child is four years old. The likelihood of you being here long enough to care whether a school has IB or not is slim. The likelihood of you screwing them up by moving them across the world five times in a decade is far greater than the school ruining their kindergarden experience and rendering them illiterate. So as long as they are happy, why the hell aren’t you?

Cream crackered

I love being busy. This new episode of my life where I’m doing things all the time is much better than sitting about moping (although there is less time to shop or have manicures, and this is a downside). However, the nature of my new ‘work’ is such that I spend much more time at the computer and less time doing everything else. I sit and sit, in what is probably the worst posture of all time, with my shoulders hunched and my legs crossed, and I read, I write, and I catch up on the relentless influx of emails that invade my computer (everyone on the MA course writes so much my inbox can be filled with up to 70 or so emails a day, containing musings, feedback and so on from my fellow students which although interesting are somewhat over-prolific), and I don’t seem to do a lot else.

I’m feeling pretty mediocre at everything too, probably as a result of trying to be good at everything and failing because I’m simply not ready for that yet; and tired, because I’m just not used to all this concentration. My life is usually a little more ‘free’, a little less chained to the desk – and I seem to be thinking an awful lot, which hasn’t really been my thing for a while. I am struggling to keep my mind on the everyday aspects of life, like grocery shopping, and remembering to send birthday cards and – if you were to push me – parenting. Not that we’re having a bad time – I just know my mind isn’t really on the job of being ‘mum’ at the moment and I’m starting to feel a bit guilty about that too. I have found myself struggling with the  ‘who, what, where, when, why?’ questions several times this week, and failing to come up with my usual satisfactory answers to the major social, emotional and moral dilemmas my three year old poses. This includes the “Why do we die Mummy?” bath time quiz which left me floundering as I tried to think of ways to explain that wouldn’t leave him a)confused or b)depressed. I’m not sure I managed either.

I’m so busy concentrating I can’t concentrate. I keep forgetting to do things, or go places. This week alone I have forgotten I was getting my hair cut and that my husband was going to Oman. Both are in my diary, I have looked at it several times, and yet still failed to take in the information well enough that I wasn’t totally surprised when my hairdresser turned up at the door on Sunday, or that my husband was toting a suitcase this morning. I have PTA issues to deal with and summer holiday bookings to make and a whole host of things in between that really do require attention that I am failing to give. I do a little bit of each every time I remember and then have to drop it all to get something else done before a deadline passes. Take this morning: I know I need to book restaurants for when my visitors come, call my mother, and get the maintenance guys in to do their quarterly checks on the house, but I just don’t have the energy for any of it. I am lurching from day to day in a daze, going to bed late and rising early and not sleeping well in between. My face is full of spots (WTF I’m nearly forty, when does this END?) and each day when I drag my sorry butt out of bed I think about how I still haven’t been to the gym in three weeks but simply can’t summon up the enthusiasm to go. I feel like I need to sleep for a thousand years. And I’d quite like to go shoe shopping when I woke up, if only all this ‘work’ was paid.

I’m fully aware that this is just a period of adjustment and that my brain and my body will figure it out soon enough. And I know there are ways of making it easier on myself in the meantime (drink less, go to bed earlier, get off the computer, stop procrastinating in a blog and get on with it). I just need to relocate my motivation for all of this and I’ll be good to go. Sigh.

If you don’t know me by now

Well here I am, one day into my MA and absolutely NOTHING’S HAPPENED. It’s no-one’s fault, but the first study block opens today and of course, there’s me clearing the decks to start work and it’s only when I sat down I realised that it will open at 9am. UK TIME. Duh. So now I have a very empty looking morning which I’m trying hard to spend productively rather than at the mall, and so far I have managed a coffee with a friend, some form filling and a blog post. I’m ignoring the unpacking sitting in the guest room that I STILL haven’t done and there’s filing all over the floor of the office but I’m taking things slow and with an hour left until pick up I’m sure I’ll squeeze it all in.

The form filling was for the course, so technically I have been working today. It was the usual stuff – why are you doing the course, what do you want to be when you grow up, what are your strengths and weaknesses etc. etc., along with the one that has really caught my eye and is bugging me senseless, a finish the following sentence-type-thing:

‘Most people don’t know that I can….’

Now, several things spring instantly to mind and I’m sure those of you that keep your minds in the gutter along with mine have already filled in the blank with a hundred ‘amusing’ endings (Actually the next question is worse, “Most people don’t know that I have….” which I could potentially go to town on, but perhaps it’s best not). But this is my master’s degree. So I have to be reasonably sensible. Or do I? Should I just be honest? Trouble is honesty weirdly keeps sounding like I’m making it up. And it says something about me I’m not sure I’m ready to share with a bunch of strangers as their first impression. Or anyone else, come to think of it. Which presumably is why ‘most people don’t know’. Of course now I’m blogging about it a whole lot of people will know, which again, means I’m already editing out what I’m not willing to share even as I write, and again defeating the point of the question. After over half an hour of agonising about this incredibly elementary question, I’ve come up with these alternatives:

‘Most people don’t know that I can operate four different types of mechanical saw, remember things longer than the average elephant, and lose weight without trying very hard’. (Show off)

‘Most people don’t know that I can pole dance’ (Shallow, and possibly makes me sound like a dirty hooker)

‘Most people don’t know that I can judge whether or not I will be friends with someone the instant I meet them and will then stick to that opinion even to the detriment of myself (Self depreciating and bitchy)

‘Most people don’t know that I can….OH FFS, I don’t know! It’s too much pressure, to say the right thing. And for those of you that say there is no wrong answer of course there is, don’t kid yourself.

These answers, as well as not being anywhere near as interesting and challenging as I really feel they should be, do not get over the essence of me to a complete stranger. Or maybe they do? Maybe if I put all of them into one sentence and added ‘..can be more anally retentive than a constipated octopus’ it would sum me up completely.

What would yours be?