The End

This blog is now closed. The story continues over on Flip Flops and Flying Carpets.

Thank you for reading.

Too Much

I sit back and watch my kids get spoiled. It's not a good feeling. It's not that feeling of satisfaction knowing that so many people love my children. It's too much. It's gluttony, it's confusion. I seem to spend the year clearing out toys they never use, only to get to Christmas to fill up any space I've finally claimed, and watch them flit from one toy to the next because there's just so much, too much, to allow them to focus on one thing alone for any amount of time.

And so I find myself making a decision. There will not be a neverending amount of gifts under the tree next year. Family members and friends will only be "permitted" one gift for each child. Santa might be allowed two. (I'll have to think about that.)

I am of course grateful for gifts. People are kind, and generous. But I'm not being cruel, I believe I'm being kind. I believe my children be better children for it. They may even play more, ask to watch television less, be more focused, appreciate more.

This was a good Christmas. It was the best Christmas in all the Christmases we've spent away from family. And I believe next Christmas will be even better.



Literary Advent

Selfishly, I didn't want the children having a daily chocolate throughout Advent. There's enough excitement bubbling over from seeing the tree and decorations every morning, I didn't want to add caffeine to it.

So I bought and wrapped up a whole bunch of Christmas and Winter-related books for them. Threw in a couple of Christmas DVDs too to keep it different. They open one a day and get that book read to them at bedtime - or whenever else they feel like it.


A few of the titles:
Russell's Christmas Magic
How Many Sleeps till Christmas?
The Christmas Show
Father Christmas Needs to Wee
Peppa's Christmas Wish
Jesus' Christmas Party
The Smelly Sprout

Foam

We had some fun with shaving foam the other day. Adam wasn't too sure at first (he's going through that "can't have messy hands" phase) but Emily loved it, she spent an hour "washing" everything in the garden with the foam - including herself.





I love that the weather is now finally cool enough to enjoy the outdoors. The garden is seeing plenty of action, as are the parks and sandpits (and yes, I still hate sand). Ironically, now that the weather is probably perfect for swimming, we haven't been to the pool in weeks. I guess I'm in Wannabe Winter mode, even if it is really equivalent to a British Heatwave.

Watching Emily and Adam play together has become fantastic. Now that he's talking so much, I guess she feels that she can now communicate with him better, he's reached a new level and they do play together so well. There's also a lot of affection between them, they often sit on the sofa watching Frozen together (they both love it), arms around each other, snuggled up.

A few short months ago I remember wondering whether having two children really would get any easier. And then it did.

Trick or Treat!

It was our first "proper" Halloween this year. We have of course dressed up before [2011, 2012, 2013], and we usually throw a party, but we have never had the opportunity to go out trick or treating. This year, knowing Dubai is quite big on Halloween, we got together with some neighbourhood friends and joined the other children on the streets.

We were out for close to two hours and had an absolute blast. By the end of it, both kids were begging to go home - they'd walked so far and their bags were heavy and they wanted to sleep. Ha. Win!


Sadly, we didn't end up organising a party but we are already talking about next Halloween, and there will be a party and definitely more trick or treating!

"Just a Second"

I sometimes feel like the most repeated phrase in our house is "just a second", closely followed by "just a minute". (I'm not really helping my children's warped concept of time, admittedly)

The kids always want my attention. A cup of milk, a snack, a book read to them, "look at my dance/my picture/me."

It's simple. I can't always stop what I'm doing. And these kids seem to know exactly when the most inconvenient moment to demand my attention is.

We are surrounded nowadays, I feel, by people and advice telling us to stop and give children time. They won't be young forever. They won't ask for us to look at their pretty pictures forever.

The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
But children grow up as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

I know this and I dread the day the demands for attention will stop. On those rare occasions when Adam falls asleep on me, I will stop and take it in for as long as possible. When Emily needs an extra long cuddle after school, she will eagerly get it,

BUT.

I also don't want my kids to grow up (in a world that has no time for them) thinking that anyone will stop and give them a minute whenever they demand it.

I don't want my kids to think they are the centre of anyone's world. It's not always all about them, They need to learn to wait; learn patience.

They won't be kids forever, no. But if I make my bladder wait any longer, it may very well explode. If the pasta doesn't get drained right now, dinner will be mush. If I don't keep my eyes on the road, we won't make it there alive. And bloody hell, if I don't sometimes zone out and check my phone for what may well be a mind-numbing Facebook update, I might just lose my mind.

They do of course get my attention - a lot of the time. Just not every second of every day. They can learn to wait. They can learn that they're not the only ones who need me. They are two siblings who need to share me, their father also sometimes needs me, I sometimes need me.

So enough feeling guilty for not spending every moment of my day giving them my undivided attention. Out with the guilt when I hear Emily tell Adam to "wait a second" before she goes over to help him. (LOL!)

So be it. They are loved. Deeply and desperately. I would do anything for them. It just doesn't always have to be right now



Eid Mubarak

We have spent the long weekend celebrating sixth wedding anniversaries with steak dinners on 68th floors, and enjoying friends visiting from a place we once called home, watching the children get reacquainted while us adults sat back with a cool glass of white wine in 35 degree heat, and caught up.


My next project is finding the perfect pet cat to complete our family! Watch this space...

Breaking the Silence

The last couple of years have been hard. 2013 reeked of failure and disappointment. And although 2014 and Dubai have been good for us, adjusting to yet another new place is never easy, especially when there is already baggage. 

I wrote the post below in June but didn't have the courage to post it then. 

I feel now that I can. Because I've sought help and I've come far. I read through the following post with sadness, but also with pride and satisfaction - because I no longer feel like the person who wrote it. 

And that's a good, good thing. 



16th June 2014

This silence is loud. It is made up of judgement, paranoia, and self-loathing. I'd done well. But it's back, and I'm tired of the fight. I'm tired of keeping up appearances. I'm exhausted and I just want it to end.

This is no suicide note. This is me taking hold of things, my life. Me saying I'm not doing this any longer. It's been ten long years, on, off, on, off, struggling, barely coping, knowing there's a problem, trying to figure it out, hardly recognizing myself. Maybe there isn't a cause. Maybe chemistry was always going to get me to this point, where my daughter is so used to seeing me cry, she no longer bats an eyelid when I do.

I know there's a problem. That's half the battle fought, or so I'm told. It doesn't feel like it. It only feels like my battle is more constant because I am so aware of it. Day in, day out. Some days, I start the day with no energy to string a full sentence together, nevermind face a three-year-old's neverending stream of questions, or make a new friend.

And two pure and innocent children relying on me to entertain them, to keep them happy. They are the only reason I've held it together this long. Staying on track long enough to get through the day. Day by day. Some days, needing to stop and remind myself it's okay to stay home and do a whole lot of Not Much. It's okay to have a mediocre day. It's okay to enjoy the simple joys in life, rolling around on the carpet tickling each other. Dancing in our underwear. It's okay to just be.

But the emptiness is huge. The void is thick. There is no such thing as "just being" when some of the hardest things you do every day are breathing, putting one foot in front of the other, looking into someone else's eyes.

Starting Again

My big little girl started school, again. This time here in Dubai. She'd been counting the days from weeks before. She was so eager to meet her new friends and her teachers and start having fun. She was bored. There's only so much I could do to entertain two kids in a new country when it's too hot to do anything outdoors (and then Ramadan began and I completely gave up).

There were no tears. We knew there wouldn't be. She barely said goodbye at her classroom door, too thrilled to discover what adventures awaited her within.

I was worried that the long day would be too much for her. Longer than she's ever been away from me. She wasn't phased. She loves having lunch with her friends and her table manners have been praised (proud mummy), and she gets a three course meal every day. The child eats better than I do.



She started ballet classes last week. Seeing her in her tiny, sparkly tutu, those small ballet slippers, and a face full of excitement made my heart melt. She's so big, and yet she's so small.

Some afternoons, she gets home exhausted. There's been too much fun, too much learning, too much happening. The water system in the classroom's backyard gets mentioned a lot. She likes playing there, and the sandpit too. She talks about her friends and the things they've been up to. Olivia, Maya, Alice, Dauren, Matteo (her boyfriend, apparently), Mohammed, Oscar, Inez, Emmeline, Lexi and more.

Sometimes I look at her and she suddenly seems so different. Maybe somewhere in my mind I still think she's the little one year old I walked up and down Rochester High Street with, visiting the library, cafes, fish pond, so many times a week. Then I see her as she really is, almost four, and it takes me by surprise. Shock, almost.

I try to hug her for as long as I can - many times it's me drawing bedtime out - and when I'm lucky I get a tight hug back, and one of her trademark never-ending smooches on my cheek.

"How did you get so big?" I ask her.
"I grow every day and every night!"

Yes she does. She most certainly does.

Something for Me


Recently, things have changed. Adam is now the age Emily was when we decided to try for another baby (and instantly became pregnant). Nine months from now, Adam will be the same age Emily was when he was born. I'm not quite sure how we got here so fast.

There won't be another pregnancy. At least not as long as I can help it. But just as things were "easy" enough when Emily was this age for us to consider shattering any calm and predictability that had finally settled in our lives by adding a new baby to the mix, Adam is now at a similar stage.

But this time, I get to ride out the calm. I get to do some things for me. As much as I hate to acknowledge that my babies are growing up, I finally get to relax - properly - for the first time in almost four years. I don't quite know how to do it any longer; that word - "relax" - hasn't quite been part of my vocabulary for some time now. But I'm learning.

I've started going to the pool, after hours. Once the children are in bed, I wave goodbye to David and head to the community pool. There's something insanely serene about swimming in an outdoor pool after dark. I swim some lengths, badly, but I don't care. There's no one I know around, I'm there for me. I'm there to do some exercise, I'm there to relax, to swim at my own pace, to breathe in the night air and not need to hurry home, knowing the children are sleeping and safe with their father.

For the first time in years, I get to do something for me. And it's a set up that works, so I hope it will last.

And I find myself wondering, again, why I haven't written here in so long. And I have started to think that maybe it's because a chapter in my life is ending, and a new one beginning. I no longer have any babies. I have a child and a toddler. I am at a point where I am starting to remember that I have an identity, and it's not just limited to being a mother. The era of a smidgen of freedom has arrived.

White Houses

I grew up in a pretty noisy household. Five kids will do that. But there was also always music. If the radio wasn't on, it would be my mother singing (and often, us groaning), or my dad playing guitar. We each had a stereo in our rooms. We did drama, music, dance, singing classes and we all have some level of performing arts experience. Music was just an assumed part of the environment. We never stopped to think about it. It just was.

When I moved out of home at age 23, the silence was... an experience. I shared a small flat with David and, for whatever reason - probably lack of space - we had no stereo. David is a TV person, so we'd usually have that on in the background. And when that's the case, there's no space for music.

Not that I realised it. I put the silence down to not having my noisy siblings around me. It was about four years and three house moves before we bought a stereo, and even then with that TV on most of the time, there was little use for it. I listened to music on my ipod on the train on my way to and from work.

In Malta the situation was pretty much the same, not helped by the fact that our UK-bought radios didn't work in Malta (technology too old apparently). So then we listened to music in the car. But I'd been on and on about wanting to buy an iphone dock. The only thing that held me back was price. I didn't want to spend a ridiculous amount on something that would once again be drowned out by the TV.

Then one random day a few weeks ago, we bought one. It wasn't cheap, but it's been worth it. I'm not sure what's different, or what's changed (the TV is still on most of the time when David is home!) but during the day, the kids and I often have dance parties. Emily asks me for Lady Gaga specifically (slight obsession ongoing), and The Dancing (also known as the Bride and Prejudice OST which I had almost no choice but to download because of Her Royal Highness), and sometimes, when I have a say about what we listen to - often over dinner - I put on some of my favourites.

Vanessa Carlton's White Houses inevitably plays at some point or other. And it takes me back, to Summer of 2004, driving from San Gwann to Ghajn Tuffieha, windows down, music barely audible on my portable speakers (I couldn't afford a car stereo), singing along at the top of my head. It wasn't a great summer, but that's not what I remember. The music brings with it a sense of freedom and youth, and makes me want to close my eyes and sing along at the top of my voice.

And sometimes I do. And I'll open my eyes expecting looks of horror, but Emily and Adam will look at me in awe, like they've seen something new, a part of me they've never seen before. And I feel somewhat rejuvenated, and grateful for the music, and for the environment I'm creating for them. Hopefully a lively, musical household they can smile back on for years to come.


Pass

Three long months of not being able to drive. Three months of needing to plan my entire day in advance to be able to let a driver know what I have planned and when I need to be where. Impossible with two young kids. "How posh," you might think. Well, I'd happily have swapped having a driver for being able to drive myself and the kids around anytime.

Two months of driving lessons. (Maltese licenses are not yet eligible to be exchanged for UAE ones, so we need to go through theory and practical lessons, as well as testing of course, from scratch.) Two months of trying to fit in an hour of lessons around the children's meal and nap times, as well as around David's schedule - he would be the one looking after them while I was in lessons. And ladies are not able to have lessons after 17:30... don't get me started on that one!

One month of eyeing up my brand new car and not being able to drive her. One month of David telling me what a beautiful drive she is, and well done on my choice of car. One month of wondering: will I ever drive her and be able to still smell that perfectly new smell?

Today was D-Day. After a series of botched bookings by the driving centre (I believe I've walked in to one driving lesson that wasn't met with the likes of "Your lesson is tomorrow." "Er, no it's not." "Oh oops we've made a mistake." They even managed to book my final test for the wrong day and time...), I had my final hour of lessons this morning with a fantastic Pakistani gentleman who did an excellent job of killing off any nervousness I may have been feeling. "You'll pass first time," he told me. I hoped so. 

An hour and a half later, some nerves had built up again, I was in the car with another lady who completely messed up her parking test (poor woman), I then got behind the wheel and despite not having an entirely eventless test myself, my examiner seemed willing to give me the benefit of the doubt: "You've passed, my dear."



I still can't drive, of course. It will be a couple more days before I have a physical license, and then comes the fun of training my (very, very shocking) sense of direction on Dubai roads. It's going to be interesting. But I can't wait. 

This bird is finally about to be set free. 

At The Top


The Burj KhalifaCurrently the world's tallest building at over 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and more than 160 stories. It is the tallest free-standing structure in the world and has the highest outdoor observation deck in the world on the 124th floor. Tickets to visit need booking days if not weeks before - and hubby got us some for Mother's Day weekend. 

The queue was organised and acceptable, staff friendly and helpful. Buggies aren't allowed up but there is secure parking available. The elevator was an experience in itself. We had the children doing their "sip-stop" routine with their water bottles to make sure their ears didn't hurt them - 124 floors in 60 seconds is quite something! 

Once up there, it wasn't crowded. The outdoor deck was pretty amazing but sweltering hot! (Quite a bit closer to the sun up there!) There aren't many toilets available, be warned, so if you are going up with a young child, get them to go before you make it all the way up. Trust me on this one, I (almost) learnt the hard way. 

The view is impressive, to say the least - but there was never any doubt that it would be. And I'm not one to be scared of heights, but I couldn't quite look straight down. It was just too much. Though I didn't need to... there's enough to take in everywhere else. Such an impressive city. 

Nothing is done shoddily in Dubai - that black screen on the right is
a partition covering up a section that was under refurbishment. 





Broken

Adam has always loved bath time. He loves splashing and LOVES it when I turn on the showerhead, giggling uncontrollably, because - presumably - it tickles him when I shower him.

Then, last weekend we went to Ras al Khaimah for the long weekend and on the first day, we let the kids play on the sandy beach. We knew it would be a horrendous mess afterwards but we also knew they'd love it.



They did. Emily went about collecting shells and making sandcastles, Adam crawled around in the sand and threw it everywhere. When he started getting tired, he began rubbing it into his eyes and hair and it was time to head back to our hotel room.

And then showers. We had to get that sand out somehow. It was anything but easy. It meant holding the showerhead over their heads in an attempt to get as much of the sand out of their hair as was possible. Emily was fine - she obviously knows what "look up" means and will cooperate.

Adam was another story. There was none of the usual giggling. He cried so much I was practically in tears too by the end of the ordeal.

So the next day, as much as they had enjoyed the sand, we stuck to the pool.

And when bathtime came, it happened again. I turned on the water and Adam was in tears, desperately trying to scramble away from the running water.

The next day, the same. And the days after that too. Today will be the fifth day and i know there'll be more crying. I've broken my little boy so he is scared of the sound of water. I am so angry with myself and so unbelievably frustrated with the situation.

Sand! I hate the blasted stuff even more now.

Pink Strawberry Cupcakes

When David's parents visited last week, Emily discovered a game on her grandmother's ipad called Strawberry Shortcake Bake Shop. She loved it. It's a free app, though the game tries to make you pay over £10 to open up locked sections, which is most of it, but we resisted so she has baked the same cake over and over (and over and over) again.

Naturally, it got us talking about doing some baking together, and a couple of days later, out of the blue, Adam had a morning nap.

So instead of watching Frozen (AGAIN!!!), I suggested some baking.

She literally jumped at the idea.

We decided we'd make cupcakes. And they'd be pink. And they'd have jam and strawberries in them. It was the product of three separate recipes put together. It could have been disastrous... but it wasn't.


And she was thrilled to be actually baking. In truth, she mixed the batter for three seconds before proclaiming she was too tired to continue. She pushed two strawberries into two cupcakes before again informing me I'd better do the rest as she was too tired.

She was perfectly fine licking batter and jam off the spoon though - her first time, and if her reaction was anything to go by, not her last.


It was a regular cupcake batter, with pink gel colouring. We then poured some batter into the cupcake tin, added a teaspoonful of strawberry jam onto that. We then topped up with more batter, and popped half a strawberry on the top of each cupcake.

Bake. Cool. Eat.


They were very tasty.

Add One Wheel

Adam loves baths. He loves watching, and catching, the water pouring into the bath. He loves being showered. He loves splashing.

Adam hates the pool.

o_O

So for a while now, trips to the pool have been annoying, to say the least. Emily loves being in the water, Adam will refuse to get in. How do I tear myself apart to be close to both of them, for safety reasons? It usually results in me dragging Adam in and having to endure however long of him moaning and screaming and trying to climb out.

But as we walked along the isles in Ace Hardware the other day, we spotted the holy grail of swimming gadgets. A baby swim seat... with a steering wheel.

I knew this was going to work.



He wouldn't come out of the water.

I have found the key to peaceful visits to the pool.

CAKE SMASH!!

They're here! I have the cake smash photos!

It was about a week after Adam's birthday that this went down in the little public garden round the back of our house. We had literally JUST moved into the house (about three days earlier), I threw a cake together and decorated it with things I had in the cupboard that might be suitably tempting to make Adam dig his hands into said cake (namely biscuits and raisins).

Natalie came over, and it was the first time we met. She was lovely and so friendly and she made the photo shoot comfortable, like I was hanging out with a friend. The kids also loved her, though with three of her own, she's well trained so this wasn't surprising!

We found a relatively well-shaded spot, and laid out the blanket Natalie had brought and popped on the cake. All that was left was Adam, but of course he wasn't interested. Now he will usually eat anything. Food, insects, anything. But he wouldn't touch the cake. I know he doesn't have much of a sweet tooth, but a cake sitting there begging to be smashed How could anyone refuse?! Even Emily was dying to have a go.

But he did poke at it eventually, he even nibbled at a small piece, and Natalie got some good photos of the process, and eventually we let Emily join in too.

It was fun, if slightly frustrating, but the photos are great, and it's a funny story to accompany some great pictures of my hard-headed little boy aged one.

(For the record, it wasn't Natalie's fault the photos took so long to get to me. She was on holiday in April, which I knew about when I booked the photo shoot and didn't mind waiting!)

Natalie's website is here: Natalie Robinson Photography









Clean Paint Toy

This thing I am about to tell you about... I have no idea what it is called, but we made one.


It was originally a plastic folder, into which I dropped a little bit of red, yellow and green paint - and glitter, and then sealed with masking tape. I also stuck it to a small piece of cardboard to make it sturdier.

I made it for Adam, but made the stupid mistake of using Mickey Mouse branded paints. When he saw them, all he wanted was the paint bottles. He barely glanced at my creation. He moaned and moaned for the paint tubs, until I desperately popped them into a ziploc bag (he'd have worked out how to open them otherwise!) and handed them to him.



Emily on the other hand, loved my clean paint toy and has used it for several days running to draw things into. We've used fingers, rolling pins, cups, toys, hands, you name it, it's endured it.



The paint is very close to being one big squelch of brown now (I wonder, had I used blue paint instead of green, might I have prevented it?) but we don't care. It's glittery, it makes pictures, we love it.

There may be more of these in our future.

The Teddy Bear Diaries 2014

Every May, Horton the Bear gets his 15 minutes of fame in Emily and Adam's growing up pictures. Luckily, I remembered to bring him to Dubai with us and although his job every other day of the year is to adorn our spare bed, the kids have this time not let go of him. Every day since we took the photos, I put him back on the bed, and find him in the living room. How they do it is beyond me: he is huge and heavy, but they're obviously determined. He may not look as well-kept in next year's photos!



Emily


Not as big a difference as between 2012 and 2013 but you can tell she's older. Her face is more mature, there is more wisdom in her eyes. She is, although it isn't very obvious, much taller than she was last year. We keep saying that we need to keep track of her height, and we keep forgetting to do so. But when she wakes up one day and informs you that she no longer needs a stool to get onto the toilet (and proves it), well, that extra height had to come from somewhere. 


Adam


Impressive difference (then again, he was barely two months old in last year's photo). And I can't get over the obvious upper body strength he now has. Don't be fooled, however. He may look like a well-behaved angel in this year's picture, but the reality is it was a lucky catch in a series of photos which I had no option but to take if I was ever going to get a decent shot. This picture was taken somewhere between him trying to jump off the armchair and pulling Horton down onto him. 


I'm so glad I stumbled into this series from the very beginning of both their lives.

If You Say So

Emily and I were talking about cousins the other day.

She asked me whether and why she has cousins
and I explained that since her Auntie Denise and I are sisters,
Denise's children are Emily and Adam's cousins - and vice versa.

"No, I'm not a cousin."

"Yes, you're Bekah, Gabby and Edward's cousin."

(dismissive tone) "If you say so, Mum."


"If you say so..."!!!!! 

And yes, she calls me "Mum" now.

I keep saying this, and I'll say it again: what's she going to be like as a teenager?!?


Have a good weekend!

Not My Year Off