The age of innocence

Today signalled the last day of the junior educational cycle for my twin babies. Well, DS1 finished up last week but DD1 signed off with triple physics this morning. That’s a wrap for GCSEs.

How many times I have asked out loud to no one in particular ‘how did this happen?’ are uncountable. They were babies last week and now at 16 they have just completed their first set of ‘real’ exams. They worked hard, put their heads down and got on with it like mature teens. DH and I could not be more proud.

They have already celebrated their Prom; had fun with their mates and stayed out late.

But now is time for the expat farewells. The bitter sweet part of ex pat life. The kids are used to saying ‘adieu’ to one or two friends every year but at a milestone year when it makes sense to move from an education point of view, so many more make that leap.

I don’t even want to think about how many of their friends are leaving to go to their home countries or to boarding to complete their education. It breaks my heart.

But what breaks my heart even more is to know that DS1 will be saying goodbye to his first girlfriend who is leaving the country. He is truly smitten and, every second, is thinking about the next time he can see and be with her. I do not share photos online but there is one at Prom which captures his glow of pure joy. Even though he looks like a member of a boy band that has been on the road for 6 months and not showered in 3……he is the epitome of teen satisfaction. Not quite sure how to wear a wing collared shirt but proud to showcase the necklace his crush gifted him.

Comfortable in his own skin. Everything seems possible. Everything is light. Everything is bright. It is beautiful to see.

Long may it continue.

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the exuberance of youth. it’s infectious. it’s bittersweet.

two days ago, i watched dd and ds1 graduate from y11 even though they have not yet finished their gcse exams. many parents, like me and dh, questioned what we were celebrating. they are mid way through their middle educational exams and moving on to the next chapter in their educational journey. yet it was celebrated as if they had all received top honours from ivy league unis.

from formal mocks last november i knew what to expect in terms of grades in the event the exams didn’t go ahead due to covid. it feels like they are on track in the real life exams.

the uk half term hits the dubai students half way through their exams. it’s a welcome break in what is a stressful period; gives the students time to breathe and, of course, time to let their hair down and celebrate themselves at prom.

but first – y11 graduation. we all gathered in the auditorium; kids, family, teachers for what turned out to be one helluva emotional rollercoaster.

this was the first time i and dh had set foot in the building for almost 2.5 years. that in itself was emotional. but i did not expect what was coming.

every form tutor who spoke about their students spoke from the bottom of their heart. the year leader who has watched over them for 5 years was brought to tears in saying her farewells. there was not a dry eye in the house/

too many tears. but they were tears of emotional mum and dad watching you draw the line under another milestone and move onto the next…….and possibly further away from us.

and yet, when you exited the auditorium, my heart burst with joy watching you both with your classmates and your friends. you have formed amazing and forever-friendships. in this part of your life journey you have each found your tribe. count yourselves lucky and nurture it.

bittersweet. more sweet than bitter. just blessed to see you both so exuberant, carefree and looking forward to taking on the world – on your terms.

ps….clearly my shift key is not working……

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It’s nearly that time and it’s getting real

That time when, the exams that have been looming for the best part of the past three years, are literally just around the corner…….this is the first cohort of students since the start of the Pandemic to actually sit exams under exam conditions with no recourse to predicted or mock grades.

Tomorrow DD has her Spanish speaking exam followed by DS1 exhibiting his German speaking skills on Friday.

It feels like a language gauntlet has been laid and from here on out, it’s a countdown to the real deal of GCSE exams.

The build up. The pressure. The school’s desire to produce excellent results for its next marketing campaign. It has been relentless. And the kids are starting to ‘feel’ it.

To this day I still have nightmares about exams taken decades ago. In my terrorised sleep I panic at the unlikely and impossible thought of not having done any revision. Tossing and turning, I wrestle with what that all could mean before forcing myself to wake up and face the reality of it just being a non reality.

But I have age and experience on my side. My 16 year olds don’t.

DD and DS1 have been diligent in prepping and revising.

‘It will be fine’ feels like a weak platitude.

The mountain they see is but a hill. But, for now, they will need to bulldoze through that mountain to reach the new chapter on their golden bright horizon.

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There are tears of joy and tears of sadness. There are tears of frustration and those that flow when I manage to construct a piece of IKEA furniture without regard to the so called simpleton instructions……but today’s tears were different; these were milestone tears.

16 year old DS1 confided in me that he has a girlfriend. There is talk of ‘Prom’ and all that comes with that….tux fittings, shoes, corsages and looking smart.

How did my bubbly, blond curly locked blue eyed boy get to this stage???

I just blinked….and here I am…..mummy in law to potential girlfriends, many of whom, I imagine, will come and go. But, it’s a first for him and a first for me.

At that moment in time, I held it together and forbade my ‘inside’ crumbling to seep to my exterior.

He’s growing up. He’s becoming his own ‘man’. He can make his own decisions.

But, I will still be there to catch him if he falls.

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When your kids become your teacher

In Dubai, many parents spend a ridiculous amount of time chauffeuring their bubs here, there and everywhere. School drop off, pick up, activities, play dates…..honestly, sometimes it feels endless and in an half attempt to catch 40 winks whilst parked in a dusty, gravelled school car park before before pick up, and preparing myself for the dreaded phone call demanding in that teen-post-school tone ‘WHERE ARE YOU????’ as I watch him (yeah, it’s usually one of the boys and not DD) saunter past my car, head down, eyes transfixed on the hypnotising lights of his phone……hardly even caring about other maniac drivers in the car park… is then I feel compelled to roll down my window and admit to the world (and by son’s disgust), my existence; anything to accelerate the process of getting from A (school) to B (home).

In my house, it’s like some form of triathlon… pick up, activities drop off, activities pick up. I would like to think we now have it down to a ‘fine art’ but it takes a LOT of communication and scheduling by DH and I.

Yet, although this all may sound hectic and crazy…..some of my most cherished moments with my kids are those when I am with them in the car, Virgin radio broadcasting (for the kids – Dubai Eye all the way for me!), and what has effectively become ‘down time’ between pushing themselves at school and pushing themselves on the pitch/court.

My first activity run tonight meant taking DS1 to football training. Turnaround time from reaching home after school was minimal. Suited and (football)booted we headed off to his training grounds at Kings Al Barsha. Recently promoted to the older age group of his squad he is on a constant ‘high’ of pride mixed with excitement; chuffed at where he is and keen to learn as much as he can and move forward.

It struck me that when, a few years back, he was promoted, on his ability, to an older age group, he was nowhere near as comfortable and confident as he sounded today in the car. Carefully, I raised this with him and we got to talking about another of his loves – karting. For a few years he spent his time racing go karts in Dubai, Oman, Abu Dhabi and Austria. Without going into the details of how he moved from football to karting (as good as he was in both), suffice to say, it came to a point when he had to choose and he chose football. Today he came off the pitch buzzing with an adrenalin high that Redbull cannot match but out of the mouths of babes he credits his strength spent on the pitch to his time spent in a kart……in his words ‘I no longer have fear’. Turns out he was scared to race when he was a novice. I can’t blame him for that….it is super scary. The revving. The start. The jostling. The barging. The intimidation. But it taught him something. It taught him to be fierce; to be fearless; to be the best he can be.

An amazing lesson learned. As scary as his karting ventures sound to a Mum…’s also music to my ears for what it has done for him overall and he has his Dad to thank for that.

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The new label in town

Almost 14 years ago, when I first arrived in Dubai, I recall references being made to ‘Jumeira Jane’. In my greenness, I thought this was the name of a local brand of something: perhaps clothes, shoes, beachwear….which originated by the serene coastline of Dubai known as Jumeira. As I became more enmeshed in expat life it became clear that the term or ‘JJ’ for short was actually a term bestowed upon expat-kept wives or stay-at-home mums (who did not need or wish to work) whose husbands’ professions had dictated they be sent to the ‘hardship posting’ of the desert sands, as the UAE was once considered. Fussed over by household staff, these ladies did not have to lift a finger (unless the manicurist asked them to at their weekly mani/pedi appointment), had drivers on standby and who were coiffed, preened and glammed made a full time job out of keeping up with the Jones’ all whilst keeping tabs on all the gossip, ahem, I mean expat community news.

Against the backdrop of real time these ladies of Jumeira manors were actually part of an adventurous expat cohort that helped to pave a way for future expat wives, mums, and women in general to contemplate a stint in the sandpit. And, as Dubai evolved and transformed so too did the expat community and the ‘JJ’ moniker became a tongue-in-cheek reference to those privileged ladies, many of whom lived a life (far from their homeland’s two-up-two-down) in their palatial Jumeira villas complete with the perfect ocean view.

Thanks to the vision of Sheikh Mohammed and his father before him (PBUH) the heart of Dubai gently seeped across the Emirate like the waves lapping the golden shores of Jumeira. The construction industry launched a mission and new community developments sprung up in areas that were then viewed as ‘the sticks’. Arabian Ranches was just one such community. Designed to appeal to expats, the Ranches as it is known, offered expats the rare opportunity to purchase their own slice of the desert’s oasis. Behold, out of the manicured communal landscaping emerged a new expat, ‘Ranches’ Rachael’ or ‘RR’ as she might sometimes be known. RR was similar to JJ in that the salon trips were scheduled on repeat and entertaining and socialising were still very much a mainstay of Ranches’ life. But Rachael often pushed the boundaries – often she had a job to fit around school hours or at the very least volunteered to be class rep or a member of the PTA but the non-negotiable were the jodphurs: post-school drop off canters with her four legged friend were her truly valued ‘me’ time in the increasingly fast paced life that Dubai now offered.

As time marched on, and Dubai continued to develop and open its arms to citizens from around the world, labels melted away. Life in the Emirate became more fast paced and service providers constantly sought ways to adapt to continue to offer the ‘spoiling’ to which many of us had become accustomed. Like a gladiator (albeit with the perfect manicure and a sleek, frizz-free mane) I have courageously battled against becoming ‘that’ person who can no longer do anything for themselves: how else could I survive in my home country??? I have resisted home salon services. I have resisted the delivery of home cooked meals. I have resisted nannies and drivers taking my kids to and from school and doing their projects. So much resistance.

But honestly, so much resistance can grind one down: especially during a pandemic. Used to driving anything up to 150KM a day, lockdown turned my daily road trips into my monthly average. When I was worrying about the lack of use of my car and what that would mean (all the while sitting in scorching desert temperatures), I should have been thinking about nourishing my baby so she could actually run without spluttering. It would seem the lockdown got one over on my ‘fuel’ brain and as restrictions eased, I frequently found myself yelling at the light flashing on my dashboard which indicates I only have 30KM of fuel left. I had gone from 2-3 weekly petrol fill ups to once a month and it seems my post-lockdown brain did not register that very well.

One too many near misses re: fuel and I smacked that gladiator spirit in the mouth and signed up for my latest guilty Dubai pleasure, fuel delivery. Drop a pin and you are in! Cafu – a company that comes to fill your car, wherever your location, within a two hour timeframe whether you are there or not, has been my saviour.

My name is Cafu Carren or CC for short……the new label in town!

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Gosh…..not sure as a mum of 3 teens

People warn of world ending behaviour. I get scared. I get worried. How will I cope??? What do I tell my kids? Social media is ‘evil’, I am told (and what I secretly believe what ‘they’ say). COVID-19 has dug in its tentacles. It has tried to strangle life and put a stop to everything. In part, it is working. But Dubai will NOT be muted. It is the phoenix of the Middle East. Awaiting a re-birth. Every day my kids are up and ready for school (on site). My better half makes his way to his office. I wear my mask as required where ever I go. My 3 can participate in their rule abiding sports. A new norm. I’ll take that! What makes them happy – makes me happy. Stuff you covid!

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Netball on a COVID-19 court

For weeks DD has been itching to get back on the netball court.  Her first love is netball.  To have that taken away hit hard.  After months of lockdown and continued, accepted precautionary measures, I could not tell what she was more excited about: playing a netball game without having to don surgical gloves and a mask; or seeing a handful of her girlfriends.  Judging by the wisps of hair plastered to her sweaty forehead after her first ‘live’ session on court, combined with the chitter chatter and giggles of a gaggle of girls getting back to what they love – I think the answer is ‘both’.

Standing on the socially distanced sidelines we mums, donning the compulsory face mask, revelled in seeing our girls do what they love (not to mention the ‘catch up’ we managed to squeeze in!).

It felt soooooo good to be back to some form of ‘normal’.  Lovely to see them play that beautiful game again.  The girls were happy.  The energy was high.  Best of all for the umpires and the players…..the interfering, opinionated (and am sure annoying) parents were too far away to be heard.

With no parents involved it was left to the girls to organise themselves, their rotations and positions; they got on with it and end result was happy, sweaty, ‘OMG it’s sooooo hot’ time on the court.  Thank you Active Netball!


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Football on a COVID-19 pitch

This evening I dropped DS1 and DS2 to football practice.  COVID-19 protocol regarding sports here is ‘drop and go’.  Temperature check once they reach the sports fields, masks on, sanitised footballs, gelled hands and social distancing.

As I was just about to pull away having waved off my 2, another car pulled up and emptied its footie cargo – a team mate of DS2.  You could see the twitch of excitement when they saw each other; these days practically a novelty to see a peer outside of their own house. Reverting to type and induction they went in for the Club ‘fist pump’.  Just before they landed it, they simultaneously retracted their hands, visibly remembering the COVID-19 protocol of no contact.  Their facial expressions dropped (obvious even behind their masks) and they turned to walk (whilst socially distancing) through the school towards the football pitch.

This saddened me so much.  The club with which my boys train prides itself on many principles, one of which is greeting each and every squad member and coach at every training session.  It inspires camaradarie, respect, team spirit and unity.  The young and the shy footballers feel included and respected by the older boys whom they admire.  They all learn about the meaning of pride in their club and their squads whilst appreciating the discipline and hard work it takes to be a team player.

In today’s global health crisis, unfortunately this is no longer possible.  We knew this when sports were given the ‘green light’ to recommence after the general lockdown….but the impact of not being permitted to greet team mates/coaches with a form of handshake was not on anyone’s radar.

Combined with required social distancing, the football session has become more stilted, distracted, and almost robotic like.  No question; health and safety above all but here’s to getting back to a ‘normal’ some time soon.

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Liquorice and Music

I can’t sleep.  That’s nothing unusual. Nothing different to most other nights.  I am of that certain age which has to expect sleepless nights when most others are deep in candy floss dreams; uneasy, uncomfortable and feeling a light sweat…..

I don’t know why but my instinct is to scuttle downstairs as quietly as I can (which unfortunately, for my no-ballet figure, is a 7 on a scale of 1-10 as I trip over the slippery rug underfoot and bump into the stair wall that seems to move every time I try to quietly navigate the turn from the landing to the first step on the the stairs.  It takes all my energy to stop swearing when I stub my toe (for the gazillionth time) on the corner of that first step.

Honestly, I am not quite sure why I make a break for the south…I guess it is because there the only disturbance I create affects the 4-legged hooman…..Teddy the doggie.  ‘He enjoys the company’ I rationalise.  Sometimes, to compensate for my invasion, I let him on the ‘forbidden couch’ (as long as he doesn’t tell anyone!).

Sometimes I dreamily watch Netflix et al waiting for the sandman to dump a bucket load to send me away with the fairies until at least bright sunlight shines through (I would like to say the ‘break of dawn’ but unfortunately, living in the desert, that is around 4:30am and the frickin’ tropical birds do an overly excellent job of reminding me of that fact).  By this point the poor doggie has done a marathon of laps around the couch, coffee table and stared at me in disgust because my glass of water seems to be upsetting his concept of feng shui.

Tonight, tired of American sitcoms on demand and being incapable of remaining awake through a ‘Game of Thrones’ episode  I choose music.

Two days ago DS2 (at the innocent age of 12 years) introduced me to Spotify.  I had been tuned into iTunes on my phone but really took it not further than signing up (more likely because I didn’t know how). Every time DS2 (who has been a long time Spotify fan asked me to upgrade his account, I was happy do so because I felt, unlike screen-time, he would be less likely to be corrupted by inappropriate messages).

He offered to make me a playlist but because I can’t remember the names of songs/artists beyond 2001, we both struggled, so tonight, in search of something to tempt 40 winks, I listened to DD’s downloads (which I happened to find stored on my phone).  I expected boy bands, cute teen boys (perhaps some with the random ‘brave’ tattoo to make them look ‘tougher’ than they actually were).

Steady, reliable ‘pick ‘n mix’.

I like jelly babies.  I like jelly tots.  I like wine gums. Sweet, sickly sweet even, is what I expected.

Alas talk about a ‘mixed bag’; mixed bag of liquorice.

Listening to DD’s playlist, I was thrown.  Liquorice is a ‘hit and miss’ sweet: sometimes you bite in, wince and raise eyes to heaven but if you take a moment…….its aftertaste can be magic and something leaving you wanting more, just like jelly babies.

And that was DD’s playlist.  Her ballad-heavy, deep-thinking talented singer/songwriter choices brought tears to my eyes…Moments.  Times.  Marking Moments and Times.  And glad to see at least one Irish group made the very clearly discerned list (@the Script).



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