The boxes are the least important

Well. Here we are. Here I am. We’re six months in, and I’m standing at the school gates offering advice to a teacher at my son’s school as she embarks on her maiden expat voyage to New York. ‘The boxes are the least important bit,’ I say, before wishing her good luck. And as I walk towards the car, I think ‘maybe it’s time to blog.’

Some may consider this a tad overdue, but I would disagree. I write when I feel compelled to do so, and quite simply, I haven’t felt compelled in quite a while. There wasn’t much to say. I was getting on with things, it all seemed to be going well, and I didn’t care to dwell on it too much. After that, I had stuff to say but I wasn’t sure how to say it. And then I got too busy and it seemed like I’d be writing out of a sense of duty, in that awkward apologetic mode, like anyone really cares whether I put pen to paper or not. But now, I sort of think that maybe I’m ready.

Six months. It feels like yesterday I dragged my sorry, hungover arse onto the plane and few away from my old home, towards my new one; and yet so much has happened, you could tell me it was light years ago that we left and I wouldn’t argue with you.

The family have, by and large, settled in well. The boy is making friends, and although he desperately misses his best friend from Dubai, he seems to have accepted that they won’t be seeing each other any time soon, and that life must move on. He’s happy in school, seems happy with his life, and mentions Dubai less and less. I don’t think he’ll ever forget it, but I see him making fewer comparisons as the months go by, and as his life fills up I’m sure it will become nothing much more than a distant memory. It’s a relief, that he is so content, but mixed with a large dash of sadness, that a part of his life is gone and consigned to the memory pile before it was really time. But there’s no denying, it’s mainly relief, that his transition has been easy and he’s embraced life in London with such joy. You can’t ask for more than that, and it makes me incredibly happy to watch him flourish and grow in his new world.

So my job in terms of parenting this move, is pretty much done. I can relax a bit now, and turn my attention to all the other things in my life. Not the boxes, obviously; there are still plenty of those, lurking in corners and in the attic where I can’t see them and don’t have to unpack them. Not that there’s much point, because the house we rented is a pile of crap. We love where we live; we just don’t love what we live in. Sigh. There were bound to be problems moving to a house you’d only ever seen on a video, I suppose, but I didn’t quite bank on moving again so soon. The Rightmove and Zoopla apps remain on my phone and the reminders come weekly, advertising potential properties to rent or buy. It’s the one cock up, the fly in the ointment; it’s not bad enough to make us miserable, but it doesn’t make us happy either. Mainly, what doesn’t make me happy is the idea that I’m going to have to box up the sodding house all over again in six months. Still, I mutter on a regular basis, once it’s done, it’s done. It’s only moving house, not countries. A walk in the park, right?!

So, what of me? Well, I finished my book. It’s out there, submitted, and I live in hope that someone will love the idea of 200 pages of expat life and put it into print. I’ve had a short story published here, another one sadly rejected, and I’m tackling the idea of starting a novel in January. I’ve made friends with some of the mums at school and have organised a little festive drink this week to seal our friendship, which was met with great enthusiasm. This means an awful lot to me. It’s been lovely, to meet new people and be so welcomed by them. I value them enormously, even after such a short time, and look forward to the years I will be spending with them a great deal.

I accidentally started two businesses, which has been interesting, challenging and a bit stressful to say the least. The first one, to be fair, wasn’t accidental; I was hoping to build up some copywriting work once the summer was over, and miraculously, September and October went crazy thanks to a single client who suddenly put a lot of work my way. I was ON FIRE. I was psyched. I was king of the friggin’ world. Then November hit, the jobs finished and I realised I had nothing. No pipeline of work, no network, and no idea where to start. As a result I’ve spent much of the past month swinging between wanting to network the crap out of everyone I meet, and shutting myself in a room to avoid having to do anything that might involve putting myself out there. I am terrified I will fail. And so, I have learnt the first harsh lesson of being a new-born freelance writer: not only is it really hard to win clients when no one understands why they need you (‘It’s just writing; everyone can write…right?’) it’s also a lonely, lonely job and no one is just going to roll over and pay you money because you asked them to.

The same goes for friendship, as it does for entrepreneurship. No one is going to be friends with you unless you make it happen. That goes for new friends and old. It’s hard but necessary work – yes, work – to manufacture a brand new social life, that at times has been just as stressful as running a business. This is where my homesickness kicks in, where I desperately miss my life in Dubai. Where I was out working acting jobs in the day, or on stage by night, with my best friends; where I would nip for breakfast with the girls before wandering home to write in a room bathed in sunlight; where I could head for a glass of wine bathed in a warm evening breeze and laugh, carefree and content. In contrast, after school drop off each day in London, I head back home to, I suppose, what most people in the world who don’t have live-in help probably head back to: laundry, clearing up the breakfast stuff, putting the bins out and cleaning up cat shit. Once that’s done, I debate going to the gym, decided against it, and head to my desk. I sit, lonely and silent, in a room which never gets light. I try not to get distracted by social media, which I stalk in the vain hope of getting some attention, and at my lowest points, live my former life vicariously through the photos and status updates of my Dubai friends. And then I realise I need to get out of the house and do something that actually means I won’t go crazy.

And that’s where business no. 2 comes in. I have inadvertently become the producer of an improv show, launching in February. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to do my hobby and meet some people…but it sort of turned into a big monster truck of a thing and apparently I’ve ended up behind the wheel. But no matter. THIS is where I will come alive; this is where I feel myself, where I can embrace the crazy and laugh about stuff. I know it will come, and I know it will make me happy…I’m struggling to not wish time away so that I can get there faster. In the meantime, it’s giving me purpose and confidence to carry on, and stay positive, and it’s probably the most vital thing I could be doing for myself. Luckily, both men in my life can see that too, and let me loose each Saturday to indulge myself, so that I come home revitalised and smiling, ready to take on whatever is next.

And boy do I need to be revitalised. It is an understatement to say I’m tired. I’m completely, utterly exhausted. This year, like last year, has been a full 365 days of stress. More people died who we cared about. We’ve left our lives behind, we’ve moved house, and started over. We’ve been on planes, lived out of suitcases, and spent months negotiating the unknown. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point and remain sane, loving people. It feels like we’ve achieved a great deal and for the most part, life is good. I have few complaints and more importantly, no regrets. Repatriation has been kind to us, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been an awful lot of work. It continues to be. It’s part of the reason I’ve not really blogged and written very little, in a creative sense. I don’t have the energy, or the brain space, or the time to devote to writing swathes of text. I haven’t travelled anywhere to inspire me, haven’t gazed at the stars, or the desert, or the mountains, or even sat by a pool in the heat of the sun. To be honest, more than anything else, I’m gagging for a sunbed and a book and about 48 hours of undisturbed peace and quiet, and I expect I’ll feel that way until I get it.

I’m not sure when I will blog again. It’s been hard to write this, to put into words the myriad of feelings and experiences I’ve had about the past few months. It’s a rollercoaster: some days you’re high, others you’re low, and sometimes you just feel like you might throw up in someone’s coat hood in front of you. But the thrill of it all, the rush of the ride makes it worth while. And I had to write it down for you. Mainly to avoid the rest of the boxes.

…gone

And then we got on a plane.

It was all a bit surreal in the end. The week leading up to the big day was teeming with horrific goodbyes; I think I stopped wearing make up sometime around Tuesday and by Thursday literally couldn’t speak to anyone without crying. Leaving Dubai was without doubt one of the saddest moments of my life, knowing that everything – the good bits and the bad, the adventure we’d undertaken all those years back – was well and truly over. I tried looking back over my Facebook posts for the past six months to see what I’d done to make the most of it all: BIG mistake. I’ve resolved not to do that again for a while. It hurts too much to see it all now I know it’s really gone.

In a rather inconvenient turn of events, the day before we left, the boy developed a fever. It was no big surprise; firstly, the whole city is rife with kids coughing and sneezing and throwing up at this time of year, and secondly, his school decided the best thing to do three days before the end of term, to make sure absolutely everyone left for the holidays with a virus, was to take them to a soft play area for their end of year school trip – complete with ‘make your own pizza’ activity, which involved about a fifty pairs of germ infested hands lurking about in vats of grated cheese and not much chance of getting your own pizza back at the end. Guaranteed to end in a 39 degree fever, obviously.

So instead of sitting back and sipping my champagne in First class (thanks Air Miles) gazing wistfully out of the window at the city I call home getting smaller and smaller while I sobbed into my smoked salmon canapes, I spent the first half of the flight worrying about the boy’s temperature and hoping his symptoms would ease up before we arrived at Heathrow and got taken into some sort of Ebola quarantine tent. Also, having been awake the entire night before administering various combinations of Nurofen and Calpol, plus nursing my own colossal hangover (physical and emotional) from my final leaving dinner 48 hours earlier, I was exhausted. I fell asleep before the plane even took off and in a reverse biblical moment of sorts, never even had chance to look back.

Arrival in London was, at best, mechanical. We got into the apartment we were borrowing, threw more drugs down the boy’s neck, and discussed what the hell to do with him given we weren’t registered with a doctor. This resulted in a Sunday afternoon outing to A&E, the first thing we did as a family in our new city. We sat for 2 delightful hours in a grim waiting room on what was one of the best days of weather in London for about ten years, only to be told it was flu.

The next few days passed in a haze of more Nurofen, very little sleep, a lot of children’s TV and absolutely no adult company at all from 7.30am to 6.30pm every day. This, by the way, is torture for an extrovert attention seeking horror show like myself. I tried really hard not to let it get to me but the stress and loneliness and emotional exhaustion of the whole debacle meant I knew I was fighting a losing battle. By Day Three I could hear the shrillness in my voice, the resentment, the anger at having to, I don’t know what really – cope with it all. I didn’t have the strength for it, hadn’t prepared for it, and didn’t want to deal with it. In the end, of course, I had to. My little man was a total trouper as we trekked via buses and tube trains to yet another doctor for a second opinion – where – guess what – a chest infection was finally diagnosed. Yay.

It was a miserable week. At the end of it, we got on another plane, and finally we are at a point in the journey where I know I can relax. I’m sitting staring at the Atlantic ocean now from our wonderful second (first? third?) home by the sea somewhere north of Boston. I feel more at home than I have done since our container left, and the relief at feeling like we’re somewhere familiar, somewhere we actually belong, is amazing. The boy is getting better and the sun is shining and I spent the morning wandering around galleries and shops, lunchtime sipping rose and gazing at sailboats in the water and the afternoon at the beach. I am healing. I know I am, because whereas I’ve avoided blogging all week despite ample opportunity while various episodes of ‘Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures’ has been on, today I could actually sit down to write this coherently.

I know this is the bit in between – two weeks of respite from real life, whatever that means.  I don’t know what happens next. But for now I can quietly repair and prepare myself for the coming few months, when everything will be thrown into the air again and life will undoubtedly be tumultuous. We are gone, and we are not there yet. We are somewhere in between, and right now, that feels like the right place to be.

Out with the old, in with the new

So, apparently while I’ve been whirling in a hideous vortex of transcontinental travel, heavy drinking,large quantities of single parenting, and actual work, it would appear that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year have occurred. And yet still I have failed to put fingers to keyboard and start typing. So here we are. Happy new year and all that. I have flu, which, although this is really not much to complain about, is making me feel gross and bad tempered. So while my big boy and the little one galavant around the garden, having not seen each other since Boxing day, I am roaming the house, sniffing and sighing like a crazy but slightly house proud animal, and indulging in the thankless pursuit of sorting, boxing, binning and fixing everything in sight.

Living in Dubai seems very attractive at this time of year. It’s good to be back, despite missing log fires, pub grub and knee high boots, and countless other things that make living in the UK in the middle of winter vaguely bearable. But when you’ve just returned from the dim wet murk of England, everything looks so wonderfully bright. The sunshine is just so good to come home to. Only one big problem: Sunshine doesn’t just light up the room, it magnifies it. And by default, therefore, it shows up all the flaws – in your face, your clothes, your floors and your furniture. Once you start looking closer than, say, a couple of metres or so, at any of the above, it’s fairly easy to see what you used to class as ‘reasonable wear and tear’ beginning to look a little less reasonable. Let’s avoid any discussions about my face and head straight to the heart of this particular discussion: furniture.

We were never meant to still be here. Our lack of investment in our home is starting to reflect this. Our sofas are so tired they fell asleep standing up. Our walls don’t just need a lick of paint, they need an enthusiastic dog slaver of the stuff. Various side tables are still adorned with toddler-safe corners that are welded on and would require a crowbar to remove. And far too many Billy bookshelves still lurk, sagging and groaning in their pre-adolescent state. There is nothing IKEA make that was supposed to last anywhere near this long, and I’m pretty sure there are several items in our house that are fully aware of this fact and plan to fall apart next time I look at them.

There are also the things you can’t see from a surface glance, or that have been long forgotten about, that are rearing their ugly heads once more. A favourite hobby of our cat has been, over the years, to burrow into the underside of our sofa suite and sit in a nest of stuffing. We have tried all sorts of things to stop this delightful practice, including stapling industrial strength canvas to them. No worries for our feral friend though. She just works on the staples until one finally comes loose and then hey presto! We start all over again. On arriving home this week I sat down and looked in horror at the sofas, which have once again been systematically broken into in our absence, the canvas lining loose and the stuffing leaking out from the bottom once more.  I glanced into the TV room and remembered that we had no rug, due to a series of red wine and cat pee incidents that nearly gave me a nervous breakdown last month. And I realised, I can put it off no longer. It’s time for (gasp) new furniture.

And so began the negotiations. It was unanimously agreed that we needed new sofas, and a rug. A budget was loosely discussed, in line with what we were willing to spend for what might be only a few years’ worth of use (well you never know, one day we might leave Dubai. Alternatively I’ll be the one sweeping up after the Exp0 2020 with another set of worn out furniture to get rid of). When it came to the shopping part, I realised very quickly my plans for Pottery barn or Crate and Barrel were the stuff dreams are made of, and instead turned to Dubizzle for inspiration. I held my breath as the search ran. Could I get my dream sofa within budget? Dubizzle is the ebay of Dubai, and you can get some very reasonable stuff on it if the wind is blowing in the right direction. And indeed, it was. I found a beautiful, pristine sofa and chair for nearly the right price, and called immediately to arrange a viewing. Eight hours later, I was kindly informed they had been purchased by a friend of the owner. My dreams blew up in smoke. I searched again, but nothing.

My heart sank as I realised what had to be done. I loaded the car with a tape measure, my son, and a face set with grim determination, and headed to IKEA.

IKEA Dubai

IKEA Dubai. Palace of dreams. (Photo credit: austinevan)

I swore I would never have another IKEA item in my house, but it’s like saying you’ll never shop in Debenhams again – you can’t help yourself. And blow me down if there wasn’t exactly the right sofa and footstool for the living room AND a little comfy number for the TV room in there, all brand new and delivered and assembled for free, for under my budget. And a rug. So I loaded up the trolley with eight packs of shoeboxes, some box files, and some lightbulbs and kitchenware, then remembered what I went in for and ordered the sofas.

So, it was done, and so it shall be, that on Sunday we once again have the blue and yellow truck outside our door. I am happy because I get new things. My husband is happy because it didn’t cost him a fortune. My son is happy because he got to help choose them. And best of all they all sit tight to the ground so my evil cat can’t get in. I’ve sold the other stuff, by the way, so with that and the money I’ve ‘saved’ from the budget, I’m off to Crate and Barrel for an armchair and some cushions. The key, I’m told, to having a house full of IKEA, is to accessorise expensively. I shall remember this tip next time the sunlight spills onto the mirror in my bedroom as I gaze in horror at my increasingly crinkled face, and see if they sell diamond earrings on Dubizzle.

 

 

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.

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.

Brand spanking new

So this month my degree has taken me into the deep dark depths of author branding. It’s made me really think about what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m not sure I’m any nearer writing an actual book but everything is looking much prettier. I don’t. I’m covered in spots, have dark circles the Emporer Palpatine would be proud of and to top it all my mac hard drive fried itself this morning (looking at blog site stats of all things) and is being carted off to mac hospital later today. In good news, my husband is back after nine days, although it may as well have been nine years: the mac aside, featured disasters this week include credit card fraud to the tune of Dhs 16,000, cockroaches in the house and of course, it’s the summer holidays. It is fair to say that our trip to Italy next week can’t come soon enough. Anyway, voila! A new look for Ruby Slippers, I hope you like it the change. Feel free to leave your comments or drop me an email with your thoughts! I think all the links work…

And while I’ve got your attention, I’ve just launched a new site in my alternative identity as a fiction writer, nom de plume Louisa Brann. Please come and visit, http://louisabrann.com and follow my blog there too if it takes your fancy. You can also find me on twitter @louisabrann. I think it will make for some interesting reading and I would really appreciate you joining me there to see an alternative side to my unhinged ramblings on Ruby Slippers. Of course there’s nothing to say some of the new stuff won’t be unhinged either, but I live in hope.

Ruby/Louisa

 

Making the heart grow fonder

So, we are on the eve of the eve of my husband’s 40th birthday. He’s not here, obviously; life in the fast lane dictates that he will rock up tomorrow morning on the red eye from London and spend half his celebrations tomorrow night wishing he could go to bed and get some sleep. No doubt when the boy jumps on him on Saturday morning demanding he open his cards and presents instead of having a lay in and sleeping off his hangover, he will probably feel all four decades of life land on top of him much like the dead weight of a four year old.

My husband has travelled his entire career, since before we met, and so I am used to him disappearing for a few days each week. In fact, a little secret: I look forward to him travelling for a few days a week. It may mean I have to do the school run in jogging pants and less than perfect hair and make up (in truth I usually just throw on my gym kit and pretend to be smug work-out mom then go directly from school to the supermarket, buy a Toblerone, and go home), but it has upsides too. Chiefly that I can indulge in ‘orange tea’ with my son – fish fingers, jacket potato and baked beans – and then spend the evening doing an indecent amount of Facebooking, tweeting, drinking and watching girlie TV. I can stay up late, really late, like – ooo – TEN THIRTY –  and then just before going to bed decide to undertake projects such as ‘does my evening dress from before I was pregnant still fit’ or ‘it’s time to tidy out the medicine cabinet’  (only one of these is true, obviously, who the hell ever tidies out their medicine cabinet?) – projects that somehow drag on into the night, and leave me shattered but somehow complete in my splendid isolation.

One thing I have long since learned not to expect when DH is travelling is a coherent phone call. It has long been so, that every second of every day is taken up being important and indispensable to the bigger issue of making sure the world is still turning. So once the big boy has said hello to the little boy, there is usually no time left for me, because I am eating into valuable time required for meetings/lunch/train journeys with tunnels/toilet breaks/sleeping. The only exception to this rule is if I’m sat down with a glass of wine and in the middle of watching Greys Anatomy, in which case there is always time for chat. Except there isn’t, because then it’s my turn to get him off the phone as fast as I can manage.

It is a rare day indeed that we actually speak for longer than five minutes. So over the years, we have learned that when it comes to communication and the fine art of marital bliss, email is the perfect vehicle. For much of our time, our lives are run through the internet, and it works like a charm. Arguments Discussions that began at the front door as he is heading to the airport are finished and apologised over before the boarding announcements are made. Photo updates of me and the boy enjoying ourselves on the beach are exchanged with photos of him in a suit pulling pouty faces in some miserable conference room somewhere. Holidays are planned, hotels booked, birthday gifts purchased and social lives organised, all without the need for any conversation whatsoever. I have even been known to send calendar invites for date night on his return.

We can’t be the only ones to run our lives online. But without meaning to boast, we are very, very good at it. And thanks to my Facebook addiction, my husband misses nothing of family life while he is away. Photos, status updates and the odd location tag are all he needs to feel like he’s right there with us.

And although he’s not, we are just fine with it. The boy looks forward to his return almost as much as I do, and the pair of them skip off into the sunset together for half the weekend, which leaves me with a rather convenient amount of down time away from parenting I didn’t get during the week. When we do see each other, it’s not just a series of catch up conversations and logistics planning. We can actually talk about the real stuff. And the night owl in me is sated enough that when he wants to go to bed early to catch up on some much needed sleep I can (usually) do the right thing and turn the lights off before midnight.

I’m not sure we miss him when he’s gone, so much as feel happy when he’s home. And this weekend we will hopefully make some memories to treasure as a family, despite being separated from our nearest and dearest by a few thousand miles. Happy birthday my wonderful man. Hurry home. x

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.

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)

Busy doing nothing?

I have spent quite a while these past few weeks wondering what I do that means I don’t get anything done. This is a bad place to be in. I get that people who work or don’t have kids (or sometimes people who work and do have kids) don’t appreciate what I do all day but if I’m questioning it too – well, that is not a good sign. It’s not that I’m not running around like a crazy person, it’s just that I never seem to get anything done, or finished, or sometimes even started. Life appears to be a series of relentless activities punctuated with constant interruptions and no-one who isn’t doing the same thing can seem to appreciate that not working is not the easiest choice sometimes. Well, in actual fact the phrase ‘not working’ is not even an accurate description. It’s more a case of ‘not being paid for all the work I do’. Not that many people view it that way, but let me tell you, it’s not easy being the person that does all ‘the other shit’. Because that’s what most of it is. A load of old shit. But it’s shit that makes the world go round….and the world would be a poorer place if we weren’t in it. So I decided to keep a diary, to prove it. I’m not sure what I proved – mainly that I’m not as efficient as I would like to be, that living away from home adds about 2 hours of extra workload onto my day, and that a whole lot of it is spent chasing my own tail – but anyway, here it is, a summary of a day in the life:

3am: Wake up to the sound of child screaming because he needs the bathroom and the door has swollen stuck on his bedroom and he can’t get out. Take child to the toilet, put him back in bed. Lie awake for 45 minutes making various ‘to do’ lists and wishing for world peace. Or sleep.

6am: Wake up to the sound of child singing. Attempt to snooze and fail.

6.30am: Finally give in upon being butted in the nose by my loving, if slightly over-enthusiastic son, and get out of bed. Shower, and attempt to cover up bags under my eyes with make-up. Mentally add several items to my to-do list whilst drying my hair.

7-8am: Drink a cup of tea, write a thank you letter and succeed in getting it into the envelope without sticky fingermarks or my child ‘enhancing’ it with a crayon while my back is turned. Make nutritiously balanced packed lunch, cajole child into socks and shoes, pack bags and check emails. Quickly reply to various people from the US and UK who have all sent me messages in the night so they too can enjoy full in-boxes first thing in the morning.

8.15-8.45am: School drop off. Negotiate car parking, realise I have forgotten it was ‘Mo’ day. Consider using my biro to draw fake moustache on my child then think better of it. Remind myself that it is also National Day this week and add ‘fancy dress outfit’ to my list of things to organise. Remove old posters from various locations around the school as part of my PTA mum duties. Smile at lots of parents but keep walking purposefully so that I don’t have to stop and chat.

8.45am: Fight through the hordes of women parking up and head to the supermarket for tonight’s dinner (even though I clearly spent an hour food shopping yesterday, for some reason I still have an empty fridge). Bump into two people who want to stop for a chat, and get agitated to the point that I avoid making eye contact with the third person I see and reverse into the next aisle to hide. Forget blueberries for making fruit salad at school on Thursday and resolve to make a return trip tomorrow. Again.

9.15am: Assess ‘to dos’ regarding house maintenance, overseas property management, Christmas, travelling, Improv group, PTA and school stuff. Reply to emails regarding all of the aforementioned. Forget most of what I had remembered I needed to do at 3am this morning. Call a guy to fix DS’s bedroom door.

10am: Head to shopping mall. Buy DS some winter boots for our UK trip home, some pyjamas, cards and gifts for this weekend’s kiddie birthday party, and attempt to find some inspiration for DH’s Christmas gift. End up in a decoration trance in Crate & Barrel instead. Unless my husband wants seasonal napkins and a santa sleigh for Christmas this is considered an epic fail.

11.30am: Give up and go home. Grab a cup of tea. Start making food shopping list to order online for delivery to our rental accommodation in UK. Email several good friends I haven’t spoken to since summer but really should have so that I don’t have to handwrite paragraphs of crap into Christmas cards when I do them next week. Accuse some of them of being lazy for not getting in touch and keep it to a short, abusive ‘Are you still alive?’ type thing so I don’t have to write much. For others, write something longer and more newsworthy, copy and paste content, changing names as appropriate for speed. Yeah, I know, that’s really bad – but it’s very efficient. Deal with it.

12.15pm: Head back out to the party shop to buy the National day costume stuff I forgot to look for in the mall. Make a mental note I need to find the pirate costume already lurking at home somewhere for Saturday’s birthday party.

12.40pm: Make a sandwich and start studying. (In my head, this activity was allocated 2 hours today.)

12.41pm: Doorbell rings, it’s the guy about the stuck door. Abandon sandwich and studying to oversee job.

12.50pm: Repairman comes to tell me he is finished, so I go to check the work and pay him. Resume eating stale sandwich. At this point with less than half an hour of time left of my morning I give up on my studying and call my mother.

1.00pm: Tell my mother I have to get off the phone. Check email whilst talking and cross of the stuff on my to-do list. Mentally note I haven’t done very much of it.

1.20pm: Hang up and drive at breakneck speed to pick up DS from school.

1.45pm-5pm: Get jumped on, do colouring, play football, climb up stuff, assist in operating various toys, go to park, read books, cook, wrestle, repeat myself about 457 times, mend something broken, wonder if I’m starting to smell, sing, prepare dinner, be endlessly enthusiastic about stuff that is interesting to a three year old. (No-one who doesn’t have one will appreciate just how much energy all this requires, but trust me, it is the working person’s equivalent of conducting a series of endless negotiations whilst having your boss sitting on your lap singing for the entire day including bathroom breaks.)

5-7pm: Cook, play the ‘if you eat this you can have that’ game for half an hour or so, clean up, bath, bed. Get at least one phone call during this time from someone who should know better than to attempt to speak to me at this point in the day. Consider the merits of sauv blanc vs. responsible parenting. Settle for a cup of tea and half a cold (home made) chicken nugget.

7pm: Yank myself into a dress. Shave legs (just down the fronts where the light catches) with a wet razor and some moisturiser. Think about going to the gym in the morning. Assess my arms and legs for spit/ketchup/sand etc, brush hair, spray perfume on, add lipgloss.

7.05pm: Leave house for client dinner with DH.

11pm: Return home, slightly squiffy. Check emails and drunk message at least one person on Facebook. Enjoy precisely 3 minutes of quality time with DH to discuss the day. Go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that my day will begin again sometime between 3 and 6am.