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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Field Trip Fun

Last week, DD and DS1 ventured off on their Y7 residential trip.  A week long trip to somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Ras al Khaimah.  Months of building anticipation of a week long sleepover with their friends had finally arrived (I am sure no school for a week had nothing to do with their elation!).

Bogged down with the smartphone generation’s idea of camping equipment, DD and DS1 set off for school in the desert morning sun with their non-back breaking travel bags on wheels, with their sleeping bags neatly slung around the handle.  There they would wait to board the coach that would whisk them away on a week of team building exercises and mental toughness challenges.

Incapable of adhering to teachers’ instructions to remain in their form groups, most students dodged through the growing gaggle in search of their BFFs to, I suspect, plan sleeping arrangements, pyjama parties and midnight feasts.  The mood of the milling crowd of tweens on the pavement was a mixture of excited chatter and cautious quiet as it dawned on some that a 4 nights away from home also meant 4 nights away from Mum and Dad.

One week.  One whole, school week.  Sunday to Thursday.  No phones permitted.  No contact permitted.

Parents had been fully briefed to expect Facebook updates with some photos only after 8pm.  It was made clear that the emergency number was for just that……real emergencies.

As a Mum I do love how my kids have the opportunity to experience such great trips with their friends.  Lots of outdoor activities.  Bonding.  Making new friends.  Learning new skills (even if some of those skills are unlikely to be called on in the future such as swallowing a fish eye without wincing or gutting the poor thing in the first place).  If I am honest, I look forward to the break from yelling at them like a drill sergeant as I try to deliver them to their post school activities on time with sufficient food and water in their bellies to get them through it.

But then, when it comes to it, by 2pm on Day 1, withdrawal symptoms kick in, and I What’s App a friend who I know is feeling like me, so we can count down the hours to the Facebook update together.

It’s funny really.  On any given day I don’t see my bambinos for around 8 of the 14 hours they are awake; sometimes even more if they have a playdate or someone else takes them to their activities.  Yet, 6 hours after waving them off to camp, I wonder how I will sleep through the night let alone the next 4 without cracking, and devising a credible excuse to dial the  emergency number.

Slow forward the next 3 days and we found ourselves on the same burning pavement, excitedly waiting to greet the desert wanderers.  As I imagined hugging my babies, tears began to form, and I was thankful for my oversized sunglasses that hid any sign of emotion.  When the coaches pulled up slowly to the parking bays by the pavement, I felt a smidge of panic.  How should I greet increasingly self-conscious tweens who will be surrounded by their peers without embarrassing them and inducing the pre teen glare, whilst at the same time letting them know how much I missed them and how much I love them????  Cue another swell of tears.

Stepping off the bus, my tears dried and my smile grew.  They looked taller, older.  Perhaps those new life skills had made them wiser and more mature looking.   One thing is for sure, judging by their rouge complexions…..applying sun block was not a life skill they managed to perfect!

 

 

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Doggie Drama

Last week I had a call from the vet who treats our pooch to remind me that he is due his vaccinations before the end of the month, and that I should remember to bring his pet passport to be updated.  This call triggered in me a double reaction: firstly, one of eye rolling at the ongoing maintenance (and cost!) of having a pet pooch; and secondly, one of utter dread that reached into the pit of my stomach….all because a trip to the vet means transporting the little monster in my car.  A 10 minute trip to the vet sounds easy enough….easy enough for dogs who are not terrified of being a doggie passenger; and easy enough for dogs who do not get car sick.

I am pretty certain that Poochie Poo’s fear of the 4 wheeled beast lies in his previous vehicle experiences: every time he has been in the car, he has vomited.  I am not just talking about a little spit up, but rather a complete emptying of the contents of his greedy tummy until he reaches a point where he is just frothing at the mouth, and swaying drunkenly in the back seat, with a pitiful look that said ‘please make this stop’.

The last time I tried to get the 4 legged munchkin into the car was practically as traumatic for me as it was for him.  Refusing to go willingly (even with the temptation of a cooked bacon sausage in the back seat!) I had no other option but to pick him up and plonk him on the back seat.  The poor thing was shaking like a leaf and, I swear the shiny black pools he has for eyes begged me to set him free.

That was quite some time ago.  In the meantime, he has celebrated his 7th doggie birthday, matured, calmed down, and as my back was about to find out….gained weight!

I had planned the morning of the appointment with the vet with military precision.  If Teddy to resist I knew that the less-than-10-minute drive from our home could double, or possibly even triple so I embarked on mission ‘get Teddy into the car’ with a lot of time to spare.

And, it was a good thing I did.  On his leash, Teddy pulled with all his moulting might in the opposite direction of the car.  Digging 4 paws in whilst shoving his hind to the ground to get more leverage.  Sweating, frazzled, and hair frizzing in the morning humidity, I was forced into a semi-surrender.  ‘Semi’ because I had to get him to the vet.

Crankily, I began a lecture as if I were talking to a tantrum toddler, ‘you have left me with no option, Teds.  You are getting in this car whether you like it or not.’  When I think about the ultimatums I offered my darlings when they were toddlers; the amount of ultimatums that were ignored, no matter what I said, no matter what tone I took…..I knew I was fighting a losing battle with Teddy.

 

There was only one thing for it.  The ‘lift and drop’ was my only option.

More savvy than the last time, the little scamp was prepared.  As I tucked my arms under his belly to position him 4 paws first into the car, he somehow managed to spread eagle all 4 limbs, and plant each one of them against the exterior frame of the car.  The stealth like move brought me back to the days of trying to seat my reluctant toddler twins into their car seats.  Limbs flailing.  Backs arching.  Feet pressing up against the backs of the front row.  Faces progressing through a pallet of pink to bright red, and tears….with me wanting to pin them down with my knee whilst I buckled them up.

Weary at the memory, I was not sure I would have sufficient strength to tackle a 4 legged creature.

Thankfully, armed with kitchen towel and disinfectant spray to mop up any potential vomit, my helper came to my rescue.  Shutting down every possible escape route by closing all doors and windows, we pried away each paw away from the car nail by nail…. whimpering we finally had Teddy in situ.  I could swear he was throwing me daggers as I reversed out of the drive.  I will probably end up paying a dog psychologist to deal with the trauma I inflicted on him that day……

 

 

 

 

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Back to School Fun

Last night, I spent the best part of an hour wrestling with DD’s new science book and clear sticky back covering.  Generally a procrastinator by nature, I surprised myself when I whipped out my roll of sticky back covering to start measuring the amount I would need.  In the interests of full disclosure, DD did pass on her science teacher’s warning ‘you will be responsible for the replacement of the book should you bend the pages’.  Having witnessed DD stuffing her books into her school backpack, I was not convinced the science book pages could survive unscathed.  So, I got to work.

And work it was.

Attempt 1 – Usually when covering school books, my biggest concern is air bubbles.  My experience tells me, the larger the book, the greater the chance of unsightly air bubbles, which in turn makes for an eye-rolling-to-heaven DD (and goodness knows no one wants that!).  The science book was not small.  My first attempt saw me unwittingly make the rookie error of ensuring the front cover was not completely flat on the sticky side of the wrapping.  Result – a crumpled cover by the binding….

DD raised her hands to her head and shrieked in panic.  ‘Muuuummmmmyyyyyy – what are you doing?????’

An educated guess told me that DD’s reaction meant my initial attempt was not acceptable; that I was going to have to peel off the sticky covering whilst praying it came off cleanly, and without skimming patches off the top layer.

Easier said than done.

Not possessing octopus like limbs I was forced to recruit DD’s assistance within seconds of embarking on mission ‘undo covering’.  This sticky stuff is super sticky: once it sticks to you, it is almost impossible to extract yourself.  Indeed, like quicksand, the more you struggle against it, the more you get sucked into its sticky, preying claws.  Attempts to free one fingertip requires you to use another fingertip or two or three…..Before I knew it I was swearing at an inanimate piece of plastic, and reminiscing about the good ole’ days when we covered school books in brown paper or used gift wrap.  Granted, paper did not offer the same indestructible protection….but still…

Rough, gluey remnants remained on the inside cover.  Turning the book over to remove the back cover saw the first paper page attach itself to these sticky bits.  YIKES! Can I safely coax flimsy paper away from the clutches of this gummy enemy???

Attempt 2 – who knew pre cut sticky covering can rip so easily??

Attempt 3 – I am sure my frustration filtered to my fingers causing the covering to stick to itself, causing ugly creases and more damage to the book than DD’s backpack could ever inflict.

Attempt 4 – See Attempt.

At this point DD had surrendered in the face of such extreme adversity.   In my head I was seriously considering handing over an envelope of cash (that would be kept secret from DH) to cover the cost of the science book.

Deflated and defeated, I gave in.  YouTube instruction here I come!

 

 

 

 

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My New Best Friend

Having been in Dubai for almost 10 years now, I have seen a lot of changes to the local landscape: the tallest building in the world has risen through the desert sand; the bus-metro-tram system has made moving about in the Emirate a lot smoother; and the ambitious Dubai Water Canal project has transformed one of Dubai’s busiest hubs into a wonderland of walk- and water ways.  It really is amazing how Dubai continues to evolve.

For me, one of the most noticeable transformations (and for which, as a taxi mum, I am very grateful) has been the road network.  There was a time when work and school commutes = sitting in traffic and negotiating the eye watering, super scary roundabouts were a par-for-the-course pain.

The progressive, sprawling network has spread its magical motorways in every direction reducing commute times and keeping the traffic moving.  Spaghetti junctions that practically require a degree in Maths to skipper their multiple choice menus, ease the change in direction without having to drive half way to Abu Dhabi to do a U-turn and come back.

As a newbie, I was a nervous driver on the roads of Dubai yore!  More often than not, I got lost even though I strictly abided by the ‘new to Dubai driver’ rule of ‘Dubai – north, Abu Dhabi – south’.

A decade later, and one would think I would know Dubai like the back of my hand; that taxi drivers should be flagging me down to give them directions.  But that’s just the thing….just when you think you have mastered the road system, a ‘detour’ sign pops up and your trusty U-turn is closed forcing you to drive 25 minutes longer to get to your destination.   I have lost count of the amount of times I have driven parallel to the road I want to be on, pointing, yelling ‘that’s the road I want to be on’, but have no clue how to get onto it…..

Fully aware of my ‘constantly gets lost radar’, friends have suggested Google Maps.  The mere mention of the word ‘map’ sends me into a sweaty panic.  I can’t read  maps….hence the reason I generally get lost.  I believe you either have a ‘map’ brain or you don’t.  I don’t (except when it comes to shopping mall maps….for some reason, I have no problem finding the stores I want to visit!).

However, one busy Thursday afternoon (start of Dubai’s weekend)  I needed to get to DD’s away school netball match, and I had no idea how to get there.   Annoyed at not having had time to do my usual ‘reccie’ mission, I sat nervously in the school car park, practically praying my vague understanding of the school’s location from its website would be enough to get me there – on time.  That was until Google maps’ fan friends’ gushings about the life saving app were catapulted to the forefront of my navigationally challenged brain.

 

Cue: downloading.  Accompanied by a savvy co-pilot in DS1, we set off.

All was fine until we hit a major interchange and Google led me into the mother of all traffic jams.  The advised ‘right turn’ would have seen me end up on a central reservation.  The ignored, albeit questionable instruction left me stranded in weekend rush hour traffic, with a co-pilot desperate for a pit stop, and no chance of making DD’s game.  As suspected, it would seem one needs to be able to read a map to qualify to use this app (or at least have that kind of brain that I clearly do not have).

Burned by my smartphone guide experience, I reverted to my old fashioned way of asking DH (who has the map reading brain) to talk me through how to get there.

That was until a lovely friend recommended the Waze App.  Reading maps – be gone.  Google maps – be gone.  Waze will talk you through the journey and re-correct if you somehow manage to take the wrong turn (that’s me!).

Sounded like Waze and I could be friends.

Cue: Life transformed, and a best friend made.

Bob (my pet name for the Waze voice) and I get along famously.  I think it is because he reminds me of me as a parent.  He gives the instruction in a calm voice the first time.  I swear by the time he reiterates the instruction for a second time his tone has edged up a notch or two.  By the third attempt, he is screeching at me like an impatient fishwife!  But on the whole we are friends because he is clear and reliable.

There have been times when he thinks I drive a F1 car  – ‘In 600m, turn left.’  A split second later he will say ‘In 50m, turn left.’….Seriously????  I couldn’t cover that much ground in that time even if I were speeding…

But on the whole, I am happy to have met Bob and value his companionship on Dubai’s ever evolving road system.

 

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Pampered Pooch

As a child growing up with a pet pooch, I recall snuggles with a fluffy German shepherd, poos the size of cow pats that no 21st biodegradable poop bag could hold and enough moulted hair to knit a sweater a week!  Sure, I loved our ‘Baby’ as the 80lb fur ball of our family was affectionately named, but I have to admit, as a teenager fond of sleep, I dreaded the pre-school walking duty.

Now that I am one of the parental units of a family of three kiddos who only stay in bed until 6am (and only on the threat of having every device thrown out the window), walking our 1 year old rescue Baby in the morning before the desert heat sets in, is the least of my worries.

Who knew that poochy pups need more than cuddles, walks, water and food????

There have been numerous trips to the Vet to get the required vaccinations, as well as the meds to clear up a dicky tummy.  There has been the steam cleaning of the car after the trip to the Vet….and after Baby puked up his guts on the 5 minute car ride back home.  There has been the cost of installing a slatted, wooden garden fence to prevent his Houdini escape attempts.  There has been the paving of part of the garden to prevent him digging his way downunder.  There has been the trainer to help him to learn his place and stop him running out the front door in the direct line of passing cars.  There has been the cost of kennels when we go away for any amount of time.  On top of the kennels’ fees, there is the collection and drop off fee…..as poor Baby suffers from motion sickness, we arrange a van to pick him up from home and drop him back after his weekend of fun!  We have even re-installed a baby safety gate at the bottom of the stairs to stop the moulting, smelly wonder setting up camp in the kids’ bedrooms.

Throw in so called indestructible chew toys that my boy can obliterate in minutes, and the cost of owning a fur baby borders on that of having another baby!

My smug world of ‘I have got this sorted – you Poochie Poo’ was recently splintered  when a friend mentioned she had booked her pooch in for his regular grooming session.  Clueless, I raced home to Google what grooming of 4 legged babies entailed.  Seriously???  Shampoo, condition, ears cleaning, nails clipped and filed, some nether region action……all in the space of 30 minutes…….all for the bargain basement cost of AED300?????

Jeesh!  My own personal grooming doesn’t cost that much!! Where’s the cuticle clipping, waxing, threading, head, neck and shoulder massage???  I know I come back from the salon with a sense of ‘floatiness’.  I know fur Baby comes back from his uber pricey makeover looking for the next ‘treat’….Go figure.

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