The simple joys

One bleak day in the year 2000, at the ripe old age of twenty six or thereabouts, I was single again after a spectacularly bad ending to what had been, on the whole, an utterly miserable relationship. I sat in my mum’s kitchen with a cup of tea and predicted my fate.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to get married, or have a family,” I said “I think that’s it. I’m done.”

My mum sighed and took a sip of her coffee.

“I don’t think you are either,” she said.

She wasn’t being mean. I think we both genuinely believed I wasn’t cut out for that life, whatever ‘that life’ meant to me at the time.

It wasn’t too long after that I met the man who changed all that – and now, a significant number of years later, I can honestly say how grateful I am to him that he was in the right place at the right time. Without him I would not be the person I am now, I would not have experienced the things I have, nor live the life I do. I think there’s only a few people in your life you can honestly say change it completely for the better, and for me he is that person. He puts up with me, encourages me, supports me and loves me through all the good bits and the bad, and you can’t ask for much more than that, can you?

We celebrated seven years of marriage last week, and apart from a lovely dinner which both of us only have vague recollections of due to excessive alcohol consumption, we haven’t had an awful lot of time together to spend reminiscing. In fact, between his work, my work, visitors, and life generally getting in the way, we’ve barely had time to exchange a conversation. We elected not to do gifts this year, to save the pennies until we had the time or inclination to get something really worthwhile. So this morning, as we strolled towards the athletics stadium to watch our little man in his first sports day, I found myself musing over what we might treat ourselves to should we ever get time to go to a mall together…new saucepans, a new lamp for the living room, some new bedlinen….but as we moved around the field from race to race something else occurred to me.  As I sat and snapped a hundred photos and cheered on my boy while he ran and jumped and threw for his team, I felt the pure unadulterated joy and love that comes from being a mum flow through me.

And it may sound a bit sloppy, and it may be well past our day of celebration, but that, I realised, was the best gift I could ever have been given.

Advent-ures in Dubai

It would appear then, that Christmas is here. It arrived in our house on December 1st, without delay, at around 6am when my son jumped on us and inquired as to where his advent calendar was and when we were putting the tree up. And do you know what? I LOVE that it gets to be 25 days long! This is the first year my son has been old enough to really appreciate what it’s all about – well, not what it’s all about – we still have some work to do on the actual story of Christmas, I’m guessing like many expat parents living in a country that doesn’t officially celebrate this particular religious holiday, we have to work slightly harder at that bit…. However, it’s brought a completely different kind of Christmas our way to our rather more debauched pre-child years, or to the last three, which have been frankly exhausting. It’s made me think really hard about the whole thing, in order to find things to do to keep the excitement building and create traditions for us as a family that will go down the years. I admit, it can be pretty difficult to evoke the spirit of Christmas when it’s 70 degrees in the shade, but as long as we ignore the fact that our friends and relatives are wading through snow and hanging stockings up by actual working chimneys, then the illusion can be maintained until we get on a plane. And honestly, it’s kind of nice to go to a carol concert and only worry about getting mosquito bites rather than pneumonia. So, top ten things so far that have made Advent magical:

1. Singing ‘Away in a Manger’ to the boy at bedtime tonight and watching him listen, eyes wide, completely spellbound.

2. Putting the tree up and having actual help decorating it with a pre-schooler who can fetch the decorations for me to hang and shoo away the cats, rather than last year’s version – three feral animals (one toddler, two cats) trying their level best to destroy it all from three feet down.

3. Listening to my son rehearse ‘Frosty the Snowman’ for his school show. I should imagine when it comes to it he won’t make a peep but the other 47,000 times I have heard him sing it will make up for that.

4. Knowing my son is old enough to understand that ‘Father Christmas is watching’ and preparing to enjoy 24 days of making that count for something.

5. Watching my son’s anticipation and excitement build about a) seeing the Santa show on Saturday; b) going to Ski Dubai with his best friend to play in the snow c) seeing ALL his Nannas in a few weeks’ time.

6. Going completely over the top with Christmas shopping, in particular for the boy, whom I have unapologetically spoiled rotten. What the hell, there’s only one of him and he’s not going to be three at Christmas ever again. I want magic and I’m willing to let my husband pay for it.

7. The advent calendar I got from Amazon that has no chocolate in it. The doors may be welded shut in a sub-standard made in China kind of way but at least I don’t have to cope with the sugar rush from a Malteser every morning before school. Stroke of genius on my part if you ask me.

8. Getting all teary eyed at my favourite Christmas song ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire’ etc. Gets me every year and I love it that it does that. If you see a bleach blonde nutcase bawling her eyes out in Mall of the Emirates this week for no apparent reason – that’s me.

9. Skyping my mum in the UK today to see the snow – and my stepdad throwing snowballs at the window that looked to us like they were coming straight out of the screen. So exciting to my son, although I’m not sure he will ever forgive any of us if we don’t produce snow on Christmas day like they have in Charlie and Lola.

10. The fact that November was our busy month for going out, and December is more about family stuff, so I will be sober for most of it – meaning that hopefully by the time we arrive in the UK I will be ready for a several glasses of fizz and a party, rather than assuming my customary burnt-out knackered state, begging for sleep and nursing a whiff of sherry whilst rocking gently in the corner of the room.

And best of all – we still have another 20 days to go of making memories. This has always been my favourite time of year in Dubai because the weather is so fantastic and the city is just buzzing with things to do and see and enjoy – but experiencing Advent as a family in such a different environment brings it’s own pleasures too and so far I’m having so much fun I hardly want it to stop. But we are lucky enough to get the best of both worlds – because in fifteen days we get to fly home and do it all again. Awesome.








Crisis of conscience and the post summer blues

I have spent alot of time wanting my son to get older. To move past being a newborn, a baby, a toddler – to be the age he is now, really – that perfect moment in a child’s life where they are no longer a baby and have a degree of independence – but everything is still new and exciting and they want to share it with you. What I forgot to consider over the summer is that they move on from this. And if you push the agenda, it will go faster. And now as I see him changing before my eyes, I’m already lamenting the loss of my baby boy and feeling terrible because I think I am making it happen.

The Crystal Ball

The Crystal Ball (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was so sure I wanted my little boy at preschool this year. He’s a smart kid and a big kid and a September kid, and the school down the road has a September 15th cut off date, so I went right on ahead and put him in. He didn’t cry and he doesn’t look out of place amongst his class, who, it turns out, are mostly aged within six months of each other. But I wonder if I did the right thing by taking him out of nursery. That window where they are so cute and innocent and yummy will close before I know it and instead of putting the breaks on I fear I have sped up the process, making him move away from needing me more quickly than I truly intended. I miss him eating with me at lunch, I miss his little smile and I miss the coziness and security of nursery – and now he is in this big grown up school that I’m not sure I’m ready for anymore.

I feel like a terrible mother for making my just-turned-three year old dress up in a uniform and stay in someone else’s care from 8.30 until 1.30 every day. And yet, what was the alternative? Another year at nursery (which is only a half hour less, btw, and where they also wear a uniform) where he might feel less grown up, but quite probably get bored – and in a class that is one third as big again as the one he is in now, quite possibly be left to his own devices for more of the time? In these terms, he is better off where he is, in a class of 11 children and a wonderful classroom that has far more interesting things to explore than his nursery would be able to offer. So then I swing back and think that maybe it is all in my mind, that he will have a far richer experience where he is and I should just stop worrying. Maybe my judgement on this is clouded, and it is my experience I am missing after all the interaction I had with the nursery. Whatever it is, it’s bothering me. A lot.

I think having had a few weeks with just me and him on the road, there is also the Daddy Factor which is making me extra emotional. My boys have always worshipped each other, this much is certain, but since we got back to Dubai, my son has expressed clear favouritism towards Daddy and quite frankly, whilst I don’t blame him (there are times I like him far better than me too, and this past week may well be one of those times) it is very upsetting to think that all the hours I put in doing my best to be a good mother might be somewhat akin to pissing in the wind. Everyone assures me he doesn’t mean it, and whilst I remain unconvinced (he really has made it very clear) it has encouraged me to try harder at being a super dooper Mummy (I am nothing if not competitive). Dumping him off at school for 5 hours a day doesn’t really fit with that, making it doubly upsetting.

Oh, I don’t know, this is just a big ‘sigh’ of a post isn’t it? Maybe I just have to get back into the swing of things and I’ll be fine. After all, coming back here after nearly two months surrounded by everyone I know and love is a big adjustment for me too and I haven’t really had much time to get my head around that. I need to get to know the school and his teacher and be involved, and then I am sure I will be more comfortable with it all. I need to figure out fun things to do with my little boy when he gets home so that we can still play together and enjoy the time with each other. I need to start doing the ‘school mum’ thing and make some friends, and have some play dates, and figure life in Dubai out all over again. And I need to decide how to spend my own time while he is gone in a positive and productive manner so that I don’t wallow.

But mainly I need a crystal ball to tell me I’ve done the right thing.

Mother and son and the power of love

Thursday: I’m sitting on a plane somewhere high above Europe and missing my son so much it hardly seems possible. When I left this afternoon, when I turned my back and climbed into the taxi, my distress was immeasurable. And even though I am trying hard to relax and enjoy this short weekend of ‘freedom’ after three years of being with him constantly,  I am struggling not to think about him all the time. As we edge further apart I feel the binds that tie us together stretching and pulling, thinner and thinner, but never breaking. And I realise the true eternity of motherhood. That he will always belong to me, that I will never stop wanting him by my side, that I will never tire of his voice, his giggles, his love. That even when he is grown and towers above me, I will always want him near. Leaving him even for just a few days, to travel so far away from him, is breaking my heart. I know now that this weekend I will sit for far too long wondering what he is doing and how he is feeling without me and he will in turn, as children do, barely notice I have gone before I am back again. But my goodness I miss him. My body aches for my little boy cuddles and my heart is leaping about madly with the thought of missing him this much for another three days. I feel perversely happy, that my feelings are so uncontrollable and that he holds such power over me. It reminds me that I am a mother, that he is my son, and that unconditional love, that most incredible of human emotions, is sitting right here with me, even when he is not.

See you on Monday my beautiful boy. X

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.

Bat Cat

My son has been ill and off school for nearly a week now and while he’s definitely on the mend things are moving quickly from mere boredom to full-on hysteria. This morning, in between breakfast and being forced to take a toy dog for a walk around the living room, I finally managed to get 10 minutes of uninterrupted time on my computer and stumbled across this story  tweeted by the breakfast DJ on Dubai 92 FM. I opened up the link to be greeted by a rather sick/amusing (delete as the mood takes you) tale of a man who converted his dead cat into a helicopter. My son happened to pass by as I was reading the story and saw the picture. Instantly renaming the poor pussy ‘BatCat’ he insisted on looking at the photos and laughing hysterically whilst shrieking ‘BatCat’ at the top of his voice. Upon tweeting Catboy the DJ (there are a lot of cats in this story, sorry) to tell him, he then related the story of BatCat on air and dedicated their ‘Topical Tune of the Day’ to my delighted son, who is still amused and excited in equal doses about the stuffed dead cat that flew on the radio.

I am so proud.

I can’t get no sleep

My son slept until 6.20am today. I could count the number of times this has happened in the last 31 months on two hands and it would have been perfect…except for the 5am shout out to the masses about some grievance or another that needless to say woke me up with with a start and left me unable to go back to the land of nod. Sod’s law and all that, you might say, but it’s a classic example of the general sleep deprivation that rules our house on a near-daily basis.

There is no doubt that my son is a historically terrible sleeper. When he was a newborn, I used to think I must be doing something wrong that all the other babies around me would sleep, well – like babies. Mine would be staring at the ceiling (or more accurately at a particular spot on the top of the door frame) for hours on end whilst I frantically tried to rock him into the land of nod so I could have five minutes of down time. Once he was asleep, staying asleep was the next challenge. While my friends were busy enjoying a coffee and a chat as their cherubs snored blissfully in buggies, mine would be thrashing about within fifteen minutes flat, demanding attention or food, or both. The other day I watched with horror when a woman wheeled her three month old into the nail spa. Irritation that I would have to now sit and listen to someone else’s small child during the precious few hours I didn’t have to listen to mine was quickly replaced by envy as the baby gently closed his eyes, and as if on cue, fell asleep and stayed asleep while his mother had a full manicure. The stuff of dreams. Only not mine, because I’m never asleep long enough to dream.

Go the Fuck to Sleep

One of my favourite books read beautifully by Samuel L Jackson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As my son grew older he adapted to a routine of about four naps a day. Which was great in theory, if only they didn’t last 20 minutes each, approximately the length of time it takes to go to the bathroom, boil the kettle, make a cup of tea you will never get round to drinking and – oh no, that’s it, he’s awake. Night times he learned to sleep with only a few wake ups…until 4.30am. Yes, for an entire summer we were woken before dawn, trying every trick in the book to make him go back to sleep and all in vain. Finally as he turned a year old, he figured out sleeping solidly at night. For six months we rested and enjoyed comparative lie ins until 5.30am. Then at about 15 months his night times got increasingly eventful until finally he decided to stop sleeping altogether. Every hour he would wake up, screaming and crying, and I would have to stay by his bed to get him to sleep again. I implemented the ‘gradual withdrawal’ method to extricate myself from the room, moving a few inches back from the bed every night for over a month until finally he learnt to go to sleep by himself again.

By this point I was actually turning into a zombie. I love my little boy but I love my sleep too. Other mothers would bemoan how they had been woken up at 6am whilst I sat wishing my child would ever sleep until that time. He dropped his naps quickly too, down to a single nap of an hour or so by the time he was 18 months old, and getting rid of that just before he turned two. I actually wept the day he didn’t sleep at lunchtime. I wasn’t ready for the relentlessness of the day without a break, and thought I’d easily have another half year or so before I had to worry about it. Wrong.

Fortunately the big boy bed arrived without too much of a hitch and he now settles quickly at night so we don’t have endless wars at bedtime like some. I must have done something right for this to happen and I am now officially the world expert on sleeping and sleep methods, so many did I try to crack the code. But we still get regularly woken between 5 and 6am, and most nights he throws in a couple of screeches or wails for good measure, that leave our hearts pounding and break up our much-needed sleep. I think now, that his sleeping isn’t so terrible, but that the residual effect of over two years of sleep deprivation means that anything less than an uninterrupted seven hours leaves me exhausted.

Parents of children who sleep do not understand what it is like, to have one that doesn’t. They suggest all kinds of things – over the past couple of years I have been given so much advice my head could burst. “When he starts solids, he’ll sleep through because he won’t be hungry.” (No, he won’t.) “When he starts school he’ll sleep no problem.” (No, he won’t. He’ll be tired but that’s not the same as sleeping.) “Have you tried black out blinds?” (OF COURSE I’VE TRIED BLACKOUT BLINDS!) “Sometimes children sleep better if they have a nap.” (And sometimes they don’t, they just won’t go to bed on time either because they’ve had too much sleep.) “Maybe you should try putting him to bed later.” (No, thanks, I quite like the two hours I have to myself at night before I collapse in a heap.) The problem with all these suggestions – apart from the obvious fact that they don’t work for me – is that they worked for the child of the person concerned. Hence their child sleeps. So back to my original statement, that parents of children who sleep do not understand what it is like, to have one that doesn’t. They only understand what it is like to have one that didn’t used to, but does now. And that is a different thing altogether.

This post wouldn’t be complete of course, without mention of the Sunclock. The magical piece of gadgetry that parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers swear by. So many people recommended this to me and assured me it was the answer to my prayers, that despite my reservations it would ever work I decided to give it a try last month. I was encouraged by my son’s quick grasping of the concept (stars out = go to sleep, sun = wake up) and was even vaguely hopeful that one day I could enjoy a 7am lie-in on the weekend. Although to be honest I would settle for a regular 6am. But folks, here’s the catch: the Sunclock only works on children that were predisposed to sleep in the first place. Children who rise early to count the stars left on the LED display do not qualify. Children that couldn’t care less if the clock has stars on it or a sun and continue to sing at the top of their voices anyway from the second they wake up, do not qualify. Children who you can hear muttering “It says “five, four, seven ‘A’ ‘M’!” do not qualify. I have been experimenting with said clock for three weeks now, just to give it a chance, and have to tell you for anyone with a child who simply doesn’t want or need to sleep any later in the mornings, it’s a heap of crap.

I live in hope that one day my son will sleep until 7am and beyond. I know that it is only another 10 years or so until this is guaranteed to happen. And from today I will never mention again how sleep deprived we are, to avoid any more well meant but unfortunately useless advice coming my way. My child doesn’t need sleep to sleep past dawn. I do. These are the facts and there is nothing anyone can do to change it. So if you see me with bags under my eyes, instead of trying to solve the impossible problem, do me a favour and recommend a decent concealer.

Belt up

The trouble with living somewhere perpetually sunny with more money than you can shake a stick at, is that complacency tends to top the list of undesirable characteristics developed within approximately six months of arrival. Topped off with a healthy dose of ignorance and stupidity, and my guess is that’s how you end up with all the unbelievable idiots driving round this city.

I could go on about the bad driving in Dubai forever. It is an endless source of amazement which never ceases to astound me and terrify me in equal parts. However, today I want to talk about the very special collection of people who not only endanger their own lives but those of their children.

You spend nine months making them, an indeterminate amount of time giving birth to them, and the rest of your life nurturing them. So WHY THE F*CK would you let them romp around your car with no seatbelt on?

The original 50th percentile male Hybrid III's...

Buckle up, dummies

In my time here, I have witnessed so many bad examples it makes me want to weep. A few months ago I saw a child sticking out of the sunroof up to his waist, whilst the driver sped along at a steady 40km/h. A couple of weeks back I watched no less than seven children and four adults climb out of a car at a gas station, my favourite being the two tweens that were squashed into the very small boot just waiting to be rear-ended and disabled for life. I have witnessed a woman holding her baby in the front seat. Just holding her. No babyseat, just her mother’s arms to protect her from flying through the windscreen. Last year I saw a little boy of about eight sitting on his dad’s lap, steering the car as they drove along. I know he was steering because his father had a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other. Countless times I have seen children clambering around in the back with no belts on. And best of all, children – and I mean children, not teens – driving golf buggies and quad bikes along main roads in our neighbourhood, completely unaccompanied by anyone old enough to hold a licence or understand the rules of the road.

All nationalities, all income levels, there is no exception it would seem. Whether it’s ‘treating’ the child, taking a chance, or simply the logistics of not enough seats in the car, complacency has leaked into every corner of society. I would love to know what goes through a parent’s mind when they decide to put their child in mortal danger. Because as far as I can tell it must be something along the lines of “they’ll be alright, I’m such a great driver what could possibly go wrong?” How ridiculous, for the sake of a couple of extra seconds strapping them in. It seems all the more shocking coming from a country where you aren’t allowed to leave the hospital with your baby unless you produce a car seat. It’s terrifying for the rest of us too, when a car with unsecured children in it is driving towards us or alongside us, often at high speed. One false move on anyone’s part and those children, the innocent ones, will be the ones who suffer the most. I hate having that responsibility – and I don’t see why I have to be burdened with it when so many people know better.

For some, of course, it is actually down to a lack of education. Britain in the 1970s, 80s and even the early 90s knew no better either – I distinctly remember long road trips where I and my sisters would turn our seatbelts into a sort of competition to see who could get out of them first, and for years I drove around four people in the back of my mini (!) without any thought that they might fly through the front window in the event of an emergency stop, killing me in the process. And of course there is nothing illegal about a lot of what we see here with regards to passengers in cars. UAE law says that a child under 10 must not be in the front, and front seat passengers must wear safety belts. There is no law regarding rear passengers which I suppose is why we see so many children without restraints. These days, I am fully aware of how much peril they are in, in the event of an accident, but many parts of the world are not quite so well informed. Maybe if they had seem some of the shocking campaigns run on our TV stations in the past decade or so they would better understand the dangers.

So if this neglect is truly out of ignorance, from not knowing or understanding what a car crash whilst travelling at even 30km/hr can do to its passengers, then it’s time to spread the word and strive for change. One woman is doing just that, campaigning for better awareness and trying to change the view here that rear passenger seatbelts are just an optional extra. In such a diverse population, it is difficult to make change, to create understanding. But it is so important that we do, because these children will not get a second chance.

Arrogance or ignorance, neither will save lives. Seatbelts will.

(Footnote: After writing this yesterday, what a coincidence that I witnessed a black and yellow Chevrolet driving through Motor City this morning – complete with huge ‘Buckle up in the back’ slogans pasted all over it. Can only hope there is more than one out there but it was great to see the website in motion, literally.)

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.

To boldly go where no man has gone before

Use the pot, Luke…(yeah so I got my Trek and my Wars mixed up. So sue me)

Potty training: The final frontier. The last voyage my son must make to go from baby to boy. He knows how, he knows when, he knows why. And yet still he pees on my sofa. I know it’s supposed to be a process and they do it when they’re ready but dear Lord HOW LONG must it go on for before he gets it?!

It just seems to be taking waaaay too long. The potty has been in use since September but only when he feels like it. I am tired of inventing different ways to get him to sit and he never seems to remember to go on his own, so I am tired of cleaning up after him too. I’ve tried books, star charts, incentives, and ignoring the whole process, but to no avail. He goes on it when he wants, and when he doesn’t, he goes where he stands. I fear the poor boy has poo confusion now, that I’ve made some terrible cock up of the whole process, and he will still be in a diaper when he’s 20.

I am in daily conference with God to fix it, fast – as in ‘oh for the love of God, please use the potty’, rather than actual prayer, which would be a little inappropriate (‘Dear God please stop my son peeing on my furniture, amen’) I know he’s a boy and boys take longer than girls, but seriously, I’m done. I hit the wall. Will someone please just make it so my son sh*ts in the pan?