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…..it 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…..school 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…..it’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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Mischief Maker

I have always known that DS1 is a rascal.  For a baby who entered the world silently crying, he has definitely found his way to be noticed!

If there was a ponytail to be pulled in nursery, DS1 was more than willing to oblige.  If there were cheeks to be pinched, DS1 was your man.  If there were shorts to be pulled down DS1 was the cheeky, little munchkin who would be in fits of infectious giggles as he did the deed.

His favourite word/adjective/verb is ‘poo/poopy/pooping’ and he takes every opportunity to work those into every conversation, accompanied by belly aching laughter.  If ‘on command farting’ were an Olympic sport, he would be the Michael Phelps of the ‘event’.

It must have been when he was around 7 years old that he discovered his superhero power; the power to aggravate the living daylights out of his twin sister.  Generally not known for his ability to concentrate for long periods of time, his commitment to tormenting his 2 minute older sis is surprisingly focused and determined.  After pick up, the middle row of seats of my car would be DS1’s stage.  Trapped, without any escape route, DD would often be subjected to a torrent of teasing – purely for her brother’s personal entertainment.

One day when ferrying the kiddos from school to activities, my second born was pushing everyone’s buttons, and frankly behaving like an expat brat (translation – ‘demanding and ungrateful’).  Unable to participate in his own football training due to injury, I told him he could either attend his club’s presentation about his Easter Manchester trip with DH or come with me to DD’s netball training.  Faced with this choice DS1 amped up the obnoxious levels, and so I made the choice for him.

Stomping off to my car I could swear I saw puffs of white-ish steam whistle from his nostrils and ears.  Horrid Henry came to mind.  With every movement he huffed, puffed whilst deliberately turning around to throw me daggers’ looks.  To this day I am surprised my passenger door survived the slam.  Together with DD we drove in pre-teen, sulky silence to the next venue.

When we arrived at the next venue I asked DS1 to go ahead and sign us all in.  All he had to do was enter into the logbook our name, time, reason for being at this school after hours and phone number.  On entering the venue a lovely friend who was standing behind DS1 when he signed in giggled as she asked me ‘do you know what your son wrote for ‘reason for visit’?  Exasperated by this stage, I am sure my eyes rolled to the heavens…..’What now?’ I grimaced inwardly as Horrid Henry once again came to mind.  ‘Boring netball’ came the response as my friend struggled to maintain a straight face.

I slumped on the nearest bench in dismay as DS1, to my relief and before I said anything I might regret, wandered as far away from me as possible.

Courtside catch up with other mums of netball addicted daughters was a welcome distraction to the point that half way through the session, I felt DS1 had served his time and I offered him my phone as an olive branch; something to entertain him for the second half of his sister’s netball training.

Assuming he would be meserised by Instagram and Facebook, I didn’t give it a second thought.

How was I to know the berated, chastised little scamp still had mischief in him??

Within minutes, and unbeknownst to me, he managed to send DH a message from my phone asking DH where he was….the troublesome scamp maintained (on my behalf) that DS1 had only gone to my car to get his book and had returned to the training pitch at the initial venue.  DH, needless to say, switched into panic mode.  ‘What do you mean?’ ‘I haven’t seen him since he left with you’.  ‘I am in a meeting’. ‘Where is DS1?’

Mischief Maker.








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Summertime and the Livin’ ain’t Easy

The rising mercury signals two of the things I dread the most about expat life in Dubai.  Firstly, the insane summer temperatures accompanied by the feeling that each time you open a car door, it feels like you are opening the door to your 220C fan assisted oven; and secondly, the ‘goodbyes’.

A few weeks back summer definitively arrived with all its bells and whistles of its burning breeze and sticky humidity.  One always holds out (against all hope I might add), that there will be a forgiving dip in the relentless heat, and when it doesn’t happen, the hope quickly fades, and a collective sigh and shoulder shrug voices our resignation to a baking, hot few months ahead.

Unlike learning how to adapt and adjust to the guaranteed blazing summer temps,  it is not so easy to adapt and adjust to farewells: it just never seems to get any easier.  Perhaps it is because we know summer is a given, a certainty, guaranteed.  We know to expect it.  We know it is unavoidable.  Saying ‘goodbye’ to friends is different.  Friends leaving is not always a given, a certainty.

Almost 11 years in the sandpit and summers now feel a lot more different to those of our carefree, early, toddler years.  With nothing to worry about other than finger painting and building sandcastles,  moves were triggered by job requirements and possibly homesickness.

Now, in secondary school,  moving tactics come into play.  When is best to move? Y7 or Y9?  Which year will make the transition to schools easier?  What happens if you miss those windows of opportunity?  What happens if your kids don’t seamlessly slot into each year group?

I should take a leaf out of my kids’ book……keep a wide group of friends.

That is the nature of the beast that is expat life.  Given the choice – I would choose the scorching temps every time if it means we get to keep our friends.



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Home – Home/Same – Same

Last month I took my daughter and my youngest son to Ireland.  Since moving to Dubai over ten years ago, it was their first ever trip back in spring.  One day, when walking through my parents’ garden, I caught myself pointing out the spring daffodils and crocuses to my kids because those flowers are not there in summer when we usually visit (and most definitely not in Dubai gardens at any time of the year).  This gave me pause for thought.

I realised I miss the seasons.  I miss seeing golden daffodils and white crocuses peeking through damp, spring soil.  I miss the crunch of autumn’s fallen, bronzed leaves underfoot.  I miss the bracing, fresh air when the winter sky is cloudless and an uplifting shade of blue.  I almost miss the rain.  I missed home, and the childhood on which my kiddos were, I felt, missing out.

An oft quoted view of Dubai’s seasons is ‘there are only two seasons; hot and flippin’ hot’.  In winter, pretty petals from the burnt orange flame trees carpet lawns and pavements.  When the mercury rises, the elegant, pink shaded desert rose proudly assumes her summer domain.  Endless blue skies give way to relaxing, balmy evenings filled with the refreshing scent of jasmine, and the orchestral chirping of crickets.

When I think about my childhood in what was a small seaside town, I remember racing home from school to grab the stale bread to feed the fluffy, white swans who would be waiting patiently on the shallow, brown river under the town’s bridge.  I remember championing the cause of the garden snail: rescuing them from the trample danger zone of the garden path to escort them to the safety of the cabbage patch (yes, the cabbage patch!).  I remember pouring soapy water on grass to tease worms to wriggle upwards through the lush, green grass.  I remember running shopping errands to the greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers; running out for that pint of milk or the evening newspaper.  I remember fishing for tadpoles in the river that cuts through my hometown, and carrying home my catch in used, glass, jam jars (and often dropping wet, slippery jars on the way!).  I remember rummaging through rock pools by the Irish sea, searching for crabs and other interesting marine life.  I remember sand peppered sandwiches amongst the sand dunes of Brittas Bay which I imagined were just like some exotic beach destination.

In the desert, my munchkins are ferried everywhere in ‘Mom’s Taxi’, and unfortunately don’t have the opportunity to run to the corner shop when we run out of milk or bread.  Even so, in the desert we have taken the chance to teach our kiddos to champion the cause of the gecko, especially the teeny, weeny baby ones.  When they come inside the house, seeking refuge from the adverse environment outside, we leave them be.  DS1 Googled and discovered geckos like to eat crickets and cockroaches (as well as grapes if in captivity….not quite sure how the gecko could wrap his jaws around half a grape!)…unfortunately for DS1, he is not quick enough to catch those critters (and given we pay exterminators to rid our home of the dreaded pest that is the cockroach, there is no way we will be inviting them in!).  Free weekend mornings are spent wading through the clear waters of the Persian Gulf; trying to stealthily creep up on darting, slim, silvery fish, crabs and starfish all the while trying to avoid the jelly fish.

Different countries.  Different continents.  Different generations.  Approximately 6,000KM and an 8 hour flight apart and my kiddos’ lives are, as we would say in Dubai, ‘same-same but different’ to my childhood.

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Cars in the desert

Driving is, unfortunately, one aspect of Dubai life that is nigh on impossible to avoid.  Indeed some days it feels like that’s all I do – early morning drop off for sports training, regular drop off, errands across the Emirate, pick ups, football training drop off for DS2, home for dinner with the other two munchkins, pick up DS2 and drop DS1 for his football training before taking DD to netball training…..it is no wonder that my derriere appears to have taken on the shape of my well worn cream, leather car seat!

During the week my car is a changing room (albeit a very messy and smelly one), a dining room and (much to my chagrin) less so, a study.  My 4×4 is my second home…..

When the mercury begins to rise, it is every desert car’s duty to offer a welcoming, air conditioned haven from the searing temperatures.  When choosing the optimal parking spot, whether it be at school pick up or footie training, we taxi mums use well practised technical, and very complex algorithims, all soley based on minimising sweat patches and fending off  frizzy tendrils.  Yet, so often I found myself turning the stuffy, hot air blue because my previous car’s AC did not hold up its end of the bargain when it came to its cooling responsibilities.  That said, humidity fogged up sunglasses often blinded me to the car’s other positive attributes as I began to dream of the car with optimal AC….


Fast forward too many sweaty days…

Zipping around in my new car, I and my shiny, smooth tresses laugh in the face of the increasing temperatures.  Inside my personal igloo, I even forget what time of year it is, and keep a pashmina to hand should it get too chilly.  My munchkins’ messy meltdowns have evaporated, and no one screams in agony when the metal buckle on the seat belt touches them.

As I get to know my new, chilled friend, AC competence no longer ranks up there as a priority, and I begin to notice other, how shall I say….deficiencies with my new best friend.  The fact the dashboard does not screech neon seatbelt signs at me when the front seat passenger is not buckled up (yet does when the driver is not clicked in) is slightly concerning in this day and age of smart-everything.  The foot step thingy on the outside of the car aimed at, I assume, aiding a less clumsy looking embarkation and disembarkation into a high off the ground 4×4, are so narrow I end up positioning my foot accordingly causing my ankle to bash against the car door frame, and it’s beginning to hurt.  First world problems – I know!  Randomly the dashboard screams ‘BRAKE‘ in bright, neon letters when I am at more than a ‘safe’ distance.  Why?  I have no idea…at this rate this feature is likely to cause an accident as opposed to preventing one!

Yet when I found myself standing at the rear end of my car, desperately scouting the sides, the interior, the fob key….looking for the button that closes the boot automatically…..only to realise I had to close it manually…..I questioned my wisdom in focusing on AC for my new ride….


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