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.

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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.

Feelin’ hot hot…not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am simply absolutely not having another baby

I am a mother of one and proud of it.

There, I said it.

For some reason, some people just can’t seem to accept that we don’t want another child. They are convinced that secretly I am desperate for another one and its all just a matter of time until I come to my senses. Top five responses from people who, when asking the question “So, when are you giving him a little brother or sister?” and receiving the answer “Actually, we’re not.”:

1. “You’ll change your mind I bet”

I will not be changing my mind. I absolutely love being my son’s mum, but I really enjoy the life I have made for myself and our little unit of three as well and don’t have any intention of ruining it for any of us a year shy of turning forty. I have a very, very long list of reasons why I like our family numbering three. Not least that holidays and plane journeys – well everything in fact – is significantly easier to manage, less expensive and far less stressful.

2. “Ah that’s a shame, to leave him all on his own.

There is plenty of research as well as anecdotal evidence to suggest that ‘only’ children thrive in exactly the same way as an ‘older child’ in a family of siblings do. They simply continue to enjoy the attention lavished on most ‘older children’ for the rest of their lives instead of being ousted by younger brothers and sisters just as they reach an age where they might most benefit from it. Parents exert the same pressure and expectations on an older child as an only child. The difference is that parents of only children have more time, attention, energy and money to spend on a single child, so they may have an advantage in terms of their education as well as their social and emotional well being. Only children will not be told they can’t have help with the homework until Mummy’s finished feeding the baby. Or that they can’t go to the bowling alley for a birthday party on Tuesday because their brother has soccer practice. Only children will not bicker and brawl with their siblings either, so that you are tearing your hair out trying to make them like eachother. And they will not feel ‘lonely’ for a brother or sister that they have never had. Their lives, like anyone’s, will be filled with friends and peers to talk to and share things with when family is not enough.

3. “Don’t leave it too late to start trying”

I love this one, completely ignoring my opinion as if it’s so abhorrent you can’t acknowledge it. Also suggesting that I’m old, which may be true but it is a little insulting to me and my ovaries which I’m sure still have a few years left in them yet. Although my OBGYN was one of the people that said this too me, so maybe there is some truth to the rumour that I am getting on a bit.

4. “They grow up so fast though. Don’t you miss having a little baby to cuddle?”

No, I don’t. I’ve thought about it a lot and I really don’t miss it. I missed it the first time around, in a sleep deprived haze of panic, if truth be known. ‘Missing it’….missing what? You could say that about any age, not just the baby bit, and having another one does not make you miss it less as it passes, because if anything you are mourning the loss twice over. To make up for all the things you miss as your child grows up you’d have to keep on breeding forever. Also, like any mother if they are truthful, there are significant chunks of baby and toddlerhood that would absolutely not make it onto my list of ‘things I miss’.

5. “Really? Why not?”

Because it’s OUR CHOICE and there is no law that says you have to have more than one child. ‘Why not’ is a decision that we have made carefully and with some consideration, for many reasons related to health and happiness, and isn’t just some rash or selfish conclusion we came to in a few seconds flat. These are the same people that ask when you are getting married, or when you are going to start trying for a family…thoughtless, embarrassing and nosy, unless you are very good friends and don’t mind hearing about the inner workings of my womb or my time as crazy baby mum.

But the main reason? I will never have to sit through the Teletubbies again.

Teletubbies

Teletubbies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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?

Boys will be boys

My blog pal over at Circles in the Sand wrote a charming little post this week about having boys. It made me smile because she’s right, it doesn’t matter how much you try to produce a child without conforming to stereotypical behaviour, nature always wins out.

Boys are mental. I never appreciated until I had a small one in the house, how much energy they use and how much food they consume. I never think of mine as being a particularly gung-ho kind of a boy, yet he still insists on talking, singing, playing, arguing, and running from dawn to dusk, permanently on the move, climbing, jumping, and using me as a wrestling dummy. The sheer exhaustion caused by bringing up a boy, any boy, should not be underestimated.

A grey toy car, n°1

Of course when they hit puberty and retire to their rooms with porn, acne and terrible smelling clothes, we mothers of sons will get a bit of a break. Whilst they sit languishing over computer games and rap music or alternatively run about on a field with a ball of some description, we will be gazing from the sidelines and merely be in charge of providing food (this is my vision; don’t ruin it for me). The mothers of girls, on the other hand, will be dealing with horrid younger versions of themselves getting into trouble at every given opportunity whilst being overly emotional and completely foul at the same time. All those years drinking coffee and watching their little girls strut about in dressing up clothes or sitting doing ‘colouring in’ will fade into a grey memory as they attempt to dissuade them from older men with cars and clothes small enough to fit a Barbie doll.

But, in the spirit of ‘enjoy it while you can’ I try not to imagine those heady days when I might not claw my way to 7pm and a bottle of wine after an afternoon spent throwing, catching, pretending to sleep/eat/fly/drive/be at school/belly dance etc. etc. I try not to yearn for a time when I don’t have to stick the TV on just to have a conversation that doesn’t involve the words ‘Why?’ or ‘Because’ or ‘be careful‘ or ‘mind my hair/sofa/your fingers’, or ‘get down/sit down’ (delete as appropriate).

And right now, my son really is very enjoyable. Despite being relentless. So I really do have a lot of love for him, and as I watch him grow from a baby to a little man I am so glad to be part of this series of special moments. And special they are. For example, this morning, at breakfast, he gazed up at me and said in his very serious voice, “Mummy, it would be very sad if everyone in the house died. Then I would be all alone.”  (I’m not sure where his current obsession with death came from but it seems he has some issues to work out)

“Yes, that would be very sad,” I replied. “But it’s not going to happen, so you don’t need to worry about it.”

“Mummy, I don’t want to die,” he said, “you have to look after me very well so I don’t.”

I gathered him up in my arms and got the best little boy cuddle ever. “Of course I will look after you, you are my number one boy, and I will always look after you.” I replied, with a little catch in my throat. I kissed his head and held on as tight as I could to the moment, hoping he could feel how much I loved him.

Then my darling little boy looked me in the eye, gave me a smacker on the lips, smiled, and farted.

No rest for the wicked.

Apologies. Over the past two weeks there has been a slight pause in delivery of any kind of the brain spill I usually call ‘writing my blog’ due to the fact that I’ve barely had time to pee. Which my sister, by the way, informs me is bad for the complexion. Who knew? Anyway, the combined forces of visiting family, no internet, flying halfway across the world and the ensuing jet lag have put a spanner in the works the size of a small cocker spaniel. Never mind the unnecessarily cruel third week of Christmas holidays (who the f*** decided that was a good idea?) which have rendered me completely incapable of escaping upstairs to the inner sanctuary of my office for the past week.

But here I am. At last. Amidst tears of frustration and exhaustion around about Tuesday night, I claimed the weekend as mine and mine alone, to sort out my crap and get my life back on track again. My husband was surprisingly compliant (I think he may have feared for his life or my sanity, or both) although judging by the look on his face earlier today as I breezed past him with my third cup of tea and left him to the mercy of our three year old, I think he may have regretted it.

It’s always the same. Term time lulls me into a false sense of security, that I’m not mainly consumed the rest of the time by the business of running a family and living abroad. But as holidays loom and packing lists emerge, it becomes increasingly obvious that the task ahead is not easy. By ‘task’ I mean what other people refer to as ‘vacation’. I’ve spoken about this before, at the other end of the year, when we were on the road for six weeks or so and visiting several different continents. Of course this time it was only a few weeks. “Piece of cake!” I hear you cry. I would be inclined to agree with you, but of course Christmas brings it’s own special kind of bonkers. Trust me, going on holiday for a fortnight in the sun at a 4-star in Alicante is not quite the same as trying to recreate a home from home in a place that hasn’t been your home for twenty years and counting. It has to be done just right, so that your little one doesn’t question the existence of Santa (“But how will he know we’re not in Dubai?”)  and of course that the relatives and friends all get their pound of flesh (oh how I wish that were true, then I could have eaten even more food) and so that everyone within the ring fence is fed and watered and has lots of things to do to keep them interested but not so many they are overwhelmed. (Decent TV and internet would have helped with that, I dare say)- and that the boy gets his fix of fuss and attention from his adoring fan club before we up and leave them all behind for another six months.

Which of course brings me to The Return Home. Never mind the fact that I got back on the plane more exhausted physically and emotionally than when I had left. The next bit was even more fun. Husband went back to work the morning after we landed and then the true cold turkey began. Not more leftovers, but the bit where the boy and I have only each other for company for an entire week in horrific post-Christmas isolation while everyone else gets on with their lives. Post-travel fall out of the worst kind.

It’s been interesting. After the brief meltdown mid-week, it got better when we both realised that shouting was definitely not the answer. I am not sure who came to that conclusion faster, me or my pre-schooler, but it’s a small victory that we had two days of blissful harmony that included a supermarket trip, a doctor visit and soft play, and there were no tears and no rows and it felt like I was somewhere near being one of those nice mummies after all.

But I have failed, utterly, to get anything done. I think part of the improvement in my relationship with my attention craving, chocolate-withdrawing, overly-stimulated-by-relatives child was due to resignation on my part of getting anything done at all before the end of the week. Once I’d given up all hope things seemed far easier. Maybe that’s what women mean by ‘having it all’ – ‘all’ being by definition a very personal expectation of what you hope to achieve in life. If you hope for very little for yourself, it seems you may be in luck.

But today I have excelled. The PTA agenda for Monday’s meeting is drawn up and ready to go. The Christmas photos are downloaded. Property management issues both here and abroad are now a little more managed than they were. Finances have been straightened. Spreadsheets updated. Improv team is standing by for rehearsals. Reading list books read and notes made. I am not there yet – for example the thank you letters are still unwritten and there is no food in the house except fish fingers – but the fact that I’m sitting writing this is testament to how much better I feel about the state of things than I did. Of course I need to make the most of it given I have a Masters degree starting on Monday, and Improv performances looming.

And we still haven’t hit Day Nine of return yet, which is traditionally the day when something goes horribly wrong with the boy, or our lives, the house, or all of the above. That, co-incidentally, is also on Monday. I am full of fear about what it may be, the day will be fraught with ‘what ifs’ until it is over. ‘What if’ my son has got a bug from the soft play and can’t go to school? ‘What if’ my car breaks down on the way home from rehearsal and I miss my virtual MA course introduction? ‘What if’ all the white goods in the house suddenly realise they are three years old and break down simultaneously? ‘What if’ travelling has produced a profound but as yet unseen psychological effect on me, my husband, my son? Previous years the curse of Day Nine has included acute depression on my part, as the realisation that there is no going back sinks in. Two years ago my son developed a sleep disorder and my grandad passed away, both on Day Nine. The sleep disorder came in the form of crying every hour, on the hour, all night, for two months whilst I gradually positioned myself closer and closer to the door waiting for him to go back to sleep. Tiring, exhausting and upsetting, but not terrifying. Last year starting on Day Nine was worse. He refused to eat anything for three days after a nightmare that left him screaming and grabbing at his tongue –  resulting in assessment by an occupational therapist for possible autism. That was a fun week, let me tell you.  So the jury’s out until next Tuesday, on whether we have truly survived Christmas intact. I am hopeful this year, that as we have travelled about less and offered a greater number of grandparents up for play than usual, that we will be lucky and Day Nine will pass uneventfully.

In the meantime I have unpacking to finish, a tumble drier to fix and visitors to prepare for. No rest for the wicked? My brother in law is right. I must be the Wicked Witch of the Middle East after all.

The Wicked Witch

I’m here! I’m here! (Photo credit: Dulce Dahlia)