The ‘SchoolRun’ Babas Have A Voice

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Ok, I get it, I’ve given a hard time to those ‘playground mums’ at school that often give me the evil eye like I’m this crazy oddity.  I neglect to realise that yes, although I felt like it, I wasn’t the only Baba (dad) doing the daily School-Run Drop and Pick.  So, here I was, feeling bold and confident (coffee can alter any morning mood) and decided to venture out into ‘No-Mans-Land’ (forgive the pun).

Every morning, I saw a few Babas here and there doing the daily Drop & Picks.  Most of them were in their suits and work clothes.  Everyone looking a bit bleary-eyed (comparing to the Gucci-clad mums at 715 a.m. in shoes that obviously irrigate the school lawn for them for free).

But today, I decided I was going to find out what they thought and were these guys for real?  After all, many of us ended up at school at 7a.m. to avoid the parking frenzy that changes even the most meek and docile human being into a crazed road-rage maniac.  We might as well find out if we have anything in common or if we have just been beat into transport-submission by our wives.

I boldly go where no Baba has gone before and walk up to Sarvjeet (not his real name).  He  comes from India and every day, he drops his daughter off to school.  We chatted about him, his job, his wife and family.  He was happy to tell me about why he drops his daughter to school while his wife ‘gets’ to stay home with their young son.  It was convenient because he was able to get into work earlier and he can get so much done so early.  We went on about not picking up in the afternoon and he was working, and it’s not really an option so he has his own father pick her up.  He proudly told me that his entire family was in Dubai and he was born there and life is not easy when you have kids and working at the same time.  But, having family makes a difference.  Takes a village to raise a child, right?

Moving on, I meet James (again, not the name) who comes from the UK.  We talked about the same things.  What was different about this conversation was I just asked him if he liked dropping off his kids (a beautiful girl and boy).  His eyes lit up like he had just correctly answered the million dollar winning question.

“Are you joking, man?”  – Ummm… no.

He told me that he completely loved spending time with his kids (he used some British phrase that I couldn’t really understand so this was the best I could write down).  He works so much and the School Drop was the one time of the day that they could all talk and joke.  He would love to pick them up in the afternoon as well, but well, you know, there is work.  The wife doesn’t work so it does make it kind of easy for him because she is able to get them.  But, he wanted to be really clear that this was one of the best parts of his day was being part of their morning and he wasn’t going to miss a minute with his kids.

I obviously stay with the Brits and am introduced to another one, named John (not really).   He had a different scenario.  Both he and his wife were working and they didn’t trust a nanny to handle getting them ready, putting them on the bus, getting them off, etc.  He said it was very hard but worth it. Really, all he wanted to do was sleep in the morning, but it was a choice they made (a long sigh and I really wanted to offer this guy my coffee).

I casually slide up to this American guy, lets call him Steve (I’m not exactly full of subtlety today) and when I asked him the same thing, he had a big smile and said it was ‘awesome’!  He went on to tell me that this was how he was building his relationship with his son.  I was curious about how this was building a relationship.  He went on to say that he and his wife had another 1 year old and while she is a stay-at-home-mum, by him spending that time dropping off his son he said they became so close over the last year.  We talked about his family and how his dad had lived in Dubai for 40 years and although his own family was going through some challenging family dynamics between another estranged brother and their father, he was clear that he was never going to have a wedge set between he and his little boy.  That is determination in good parenting!

Now that I’ve almost made my daughter late to class, she wanders in with her classmates and I meet up with a great Emirati guy.  I could finally chat in Arabic and we started talking about family.  I had seen him every morning dropping off and obviously its not the most opportune time for parents to just start walking up to people and patting them on the back for just ‘showing up with the kids’.

We talked about his kids and dropping them off at school.  He laughed a big laugh.

“My son, I’m their grandfather! I’m 55.” My mouth has dropped on the ground as this guy looked like he was 40!  I, of course, told him.

“Mashallah, I thought you were 40.”  He laughed and told me he had 8 children – 5 boys and 3 girls and married since 18.   And now he has his grandchildren which are the light of his life.

I asked him why he was doing what he was doing with his grandchildren and how it was important to him because I saw him every morning at 7a.m. and he was probably the only one on the playground that wasn’t on a caffeine high or looking like the walking dead.

We talked about how no one would understand until they became a grandparent.  We talked about my own dad who had been gone for more than 3 years and that he  had always said we would never understand the love and bond that is created until we have kids of our own.  He was so right and now, so was this gentleman.

He simply told me he wanted to spend time with his grandkids and he wanted to teach them the way that he had taught his own children.

He woke at 530 every morning to go to the mosque to pray and come back to get the kids to school.  Mashallah! We talked about his work and his own company and how his sons were running it and it gave him the chance to watch over the grandkids.  I could have sat and talked to him all day.

We talked about his kids and how they were able to have time with their own children.  He talked about the afternoons after school and when the fathers come home, they have dinner together as a family and work on their homework together as a family.  The weekends they spend at the park or the mall (during the summer) or with other family members in Dubai.

Spending the day talking to these men gave me a completely different perspective (and a bit foolish for feeling like I was the only one that felt what I felt and struggled with what I struggled with sometimes).   Although these are not stay-at-home Baba’s, they made a priority in having that bit of time with their kids and grandkids (whether it be for practical purposes or by choice – or both).   They found ways to see the positive in a task so early in the morning.  They valued the few minutes they had and understood their place and position in their child’s (and grandchild’s) lives.

It doesn’t take being a Stay-At-Home Baba to make an impression, haul them around, do the laundry and handle bath time.  It only takes your time to spend with them as their father.  And, if these dads are able to carve out that bit of space, whether its the School Run Drop and Pick or if it’s just spending time together – building a tower, going to the shop alone, drawing a picture, watching a video, talking about life, then all power to you.

Your voice is being heard!

 

 

#interview #survey #parenting #stayathomedads #schooldrop #involveddads #involved #kidsmatterok #maketime #voice #yourvoice

Playing House

Playing House

I’ve always said that Family is of primary importance to the Arabic culture.  That being said, kids, as we know, mimic their parents.  And, this isn’t a lecture to parents out there but this needs to be a wakeup call to people, especially in the Arab world, that family is more than what is just ‘there’ or status.  Family means a lifetime and it means commitment and sacrifice.  We have a challenge with that and we need to recognise ourselves as a continually evolving culture and we need to understand the impacts our actions make on our children if we are going to impress upon the rest of the world that we are not a stereotype.

Some very good friends of ours here in Dubai had a birthday party for one of their kids last week.  We happily spent our Thursday night with all of of us sitting outside, having a Bbq in the great weather that Dubai starts to offer us this time of year.  The kids would run around everywhere, music playing, great food and all of us sitting and chatting.  Really one of the best nights just being around people both my wife and I and our girls are close to.

As we are sitting outside, I’m watching our girls, especially the oldest, playing with their twin boys who are around a year younger than her and who she has such fun with.  Our friends have one of those big, sturdy plastic outside garden playhouses with the doors and windows.  The kids were playing in and out.  And Saffiya announces to the boys that its time to play Mom and Dad  (for the sake of names we will call him Ahmed) and our little one (Mackenzie) is going to be their baby.

“Lets do a family meeting.”  “Lets bring some food and we will cook”  “We need to take care of the baby  now.”

She is barking orders left and right (I certainly know where she gets that from – and I apologise, in advance, to her future husband because he is going to have to be a very strong guy to deal with her) and directing the show.

I didn’t want to let her see me watching and listening but I couldn’t help but listen to this entire family dynamic being created with this 6 year old and her ‘husbands’.

Here she was, 6 years old.  Here they were, 5 years old and my little one was just following whatever was going on just to be a part of the fun. All of this ‘family’ was being created and where could she have possibly been getting all of this as I continued to listen and watch.

Why do they play mom and dad?  Why do they figure they have to have a baby to care for?  Does this mean that their interpretation of family was happening right now?  My God, what if my wife and I fought.  What if I beat her (or she beat me – more than normal with the frying pan of course – ha ha – I’m joking habibty)?  What if I abused her emotionally?  What if we were not supportive or abusive to our own children or didn’t bother to spend time with them?  What if their entire lives was spent around a nanny?

What would that family dynamic look like then?   What was going to be dramatically played out in that plastic garden house? What would they be saying or doing?

It started me thinking about how I was raised, how my wife was raised and also how I have seen many friends and family treat their husbands/wives and children – especially in this part of the world.

I will admit it.  We are not the most caring, hands on, family activity based kind of culture.  We are not overtly affectionate.  We are not public in our displays of love, praise and positivity.  Much of what we go through, both negative and positive, is behind closed doors.  And, I’m quite confident not every family is like this, but where we are from and living, things are just often not talked about in most households.  We don’t talk about addiction, depression, suicide, domestic violence and abuse.  And, it’s only in recent years that these things have started to become at a level where our culture and our governments are getting involved.  Perhaps not as progressive as in the western world but the amount of focus (specifically in Dubai) on wellbeing is at such a level that a stigma is no longer there as it would have been 5 years ago.  That is part of our evolution as a culture.

I fall back to what I have gone through with my youngest sister over the last year.  She persevered and fought for her own independence and subsequent divorce from a husband whom she had a small son with (who is now 5) who held no regard for his family.  He would rather run around town, be with friends, end up marrying on the side another woman and having 2 kids with her (without my sister being aware initially) and spent not one minute with his first son.  But, as things began coming to a head, the weakness that was evident over the last year was the fighting.  Not just in person but on the phone.  And not just alone, but in front of their son.

I watched this unravel until I finally realised the confusion that took place on my nephews face when his mom would be on the phone having a fit with his dad.  I watched him roll up into my lap and would cry constantly if I were to leave. He would ask me questions and want to just sit and talk with me because he had no one else to talk to or laugh with.  And, that broke me.  Because I knew that the scars that were happening because of what he was witnessing would never go away.  His version of playing house was going to take on a very different scene if he were in that little garden house that night.

The conversations I had with my sister, it being a delicate situation, were strong but simple.  “Do NOT have any any any any conversation in front of your son.  Do NOT talk badly about his dad.  Do NOT let him yell at you in any way in front of your son.  Do NOT let your son see that any of this is the way a family works. Do NOT take him to the courts with you.”  For many of you, this may seem like common sense.  But for us, it doesn’t work like that.  Its very much a kids should be seen and not heard and most certainly they don’t hear what we are saying anyway.  And, another train of thought from some psychological forefront may be that children must be exposed to real life and hear these things.  Well, neither of these work and most certainly not at 5 years old.

It sunk in. But, there was damage that was done.  Not irreparable and so much could be salvaged but she was going to have to immediately change the way she was raising her son.  She completely switched.  She stopped.  She thought of how her son was going to see the situation.  She thought of how he was going to interpret the next thing that she said.  And, she bit her tongue and gritted her teeth when his dad would show up at his school and this poor little kid would come home saying “Baba says that you are not a good mom.” no matter how painful this was.

Our kids are following us.  Our children are watching every single move that we make.  Even if they are playing or watching tv, they are listening.  That is how they are forming what they believe to be Family.  You are creating who they will be in the future.  This isn’t someone else’s responsibility.  And yes, they say it takes a village to raise a child.  It does.  But that village is creating that childs version of family no matter how big or small.  As parents, our responsibility started the moment we shared DNA.

We get married in this part of the world because we are expected to.  Most of the time it’s not because we have been dating and fell in love.  Most of the time its someone who was ‘suggested’ for us. In a big part of the Middle East it will have to do with blood lines and class (stemming from the tribal influences).   It was never about falling in love – you just got married  and we all hoped that we would eventually love that person.  So, we had children because it was expected and we worked and did whatever it was we were suppose to do including the never ending family obligations that continually surround our culture.

What I will say, will probably spark some criticism.  But, I am of the honest belief that we are in the midst of change.  Our children are more educated and progressive that at any other time of life.  Our countries, in most circumstances, and our governments, are having to change because of this evolution.  We are becoming more emotionally intelligent.  We are understanding more of the word ‘tolerance’ but still not fast enough.  We are becoming more aware and we are becoming more global (I place a lot of emphasis on Dubai because there is no country in the Middle East with a more open-minded attitude about an individuals’  existence in this world and ensuring that community, education, life and wellbeing were paramount if it were going to move forward as a power house country).

So, I will say – don’t get married if you are not committed to making it a lifetime.  And for the love of everything, do NOT have children if you are not going to let them be the generation that fixes the messes that we have made – not make bigger ones.

If you have children, consider that little bubble that they live in which is you as their parents.  You are their ‘village’.  You are how they are forming the decisions that they make in what makes a family.  You are influencing those decisions that they make when they treat other people with respect or indifference.   And, if you are not going to stay together – DO NOT let that scene play out in front of, around, above your kids.  Make it work positively for your children and let them see love and equality in the relationship – or get out – for their sake.  We are adults, we can make it work in our way.  But, our children are not and their fears and frustrations and confusions are very real because you are their entire world.  If their ‘village’ cannot take care of them and foster a progressive, positive, creative, loving and open minded way of thinking, then our culture will not move forward.

Playing House is a big deal.  I want my girls to repeat what they hear because then I know that what they are hearing is from a good place.  And, what I hope, is that our part of the world is going to let our children Play House in a way that allows them to be social and compassionate and knowledgeable no matter what culture they are playing in or with.

27 October, 2015

I have this friend —- So you don’t have a ‘job’ so you obviously don’t contribute anything.

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No, really.  I really had this friend.

This is a shout to not just the Baba’s out there but to the mom’s (or the aunt or uncle or grandmother who is taking care of a child at home).

I was going through some of my stories today and I came across something about a good friend of mine who I had known for a long time.  Our oldest was now about 2 years old and I was full head-on into stay-at-home-baba mode.  My wife had a lot going on and I was really putting in the time trying to still figure things out with the change in traditional roles that had taken over this ArabBaba.  She had started nursery and even when she wasn’t with me, I was still running errands, scheduling stuff, getting the car serviced, fixing stuff around the apartment, you name it (or I should say, whatever the wife named it).

So, yes, I had a good friend.  And, he gave me a call and invited me for lunch and it was the one day that schedules and stars seemed to align and I could actually hang out until nursery pickup.

We met up at this amazing little Lebanese restaurant in Doha that I hadn’t been to in far too long and played a game of catchup as he had just had his third kid and wanted to chat.

My first and foremost question was, “3 kids! How do you handle this?!” (here I am having panic attacks with just one).  He then goes on to tell me a very sad tale and one that I will not forget.

“How do I do it? I don’t. I’m at the breaking point. I’m tired. I’m exhausted.  I need a break. Khallas (Arabic for ‘enough’ ‘ finished’)!”

He starts telling me that he and his wife have really been fighting a lot the last few months.  She needs to get a job. He can’t continue to handle being the only one contributing to the family (exact words). He’s tired all of the time.  He doesn’t get to see his friends anymore.  He doesn’t have money to do much of anything like he used to and he feels like he’s aged 20 years and everything hurts.  His wife doesn’t understand what he is going through during the day and the stress of the job and how worried he is about everything.  The kids get sick and then he can’t get any sleep.  The car is in a mess all of the time.  The kids are always running around the house making noise when he wants to take a nap.  And, his oldest isn’t getting his homework done on time so now he has to take off of work that afternoon to take his wife to visit the teacher.

He then tells me “She needs to get a job.  All of this is killing me and we need the money to get a tutor or put him in a better school. Because everytime that I help help him with his maths, he does great.  What is she doing? How difficult is it to help him with his maths?”

I had to sit back.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I felt like I had been hit by a bus.  I felt like I wanted to hit him with a bus. I felt like he had boarded some bus somewhere with no idea where he was going and it clearly was not on the same bus his family was on.

I told him that it really must suck.  Wow.  Tough stuff to deal with.  So I asked what she does if the kids are sick during the day or if they are at school and get sick (since he is working all day and obviously has the car and she doesn’t drive).

“That happened last week. She had to pick up one of them from school taking a taxi and then take the kid to the doctor.  She was there for 4 hours. My sister had to come and watch the baby and oldest until she came home because I had too much going on at work.  And by the time I came home, she wasn’t home yet, everything was a mess, everyone was hungry and there is no food. It’s frustrating! I need a holiday.”

He proceeds to tell me that she doesn’t work, she’s at home all day and what does she expect?  He just needs to come home and relax after what is going on at work.  She isn’t understanding any of this and he doesn’t know what else to do.

“What time does she wake up in the morning?” I ask

“5a.m. because of the kids lunches and getting the kids ready” he says

“What about you?”

“7a.m. and it’s tough because the kids are fighting in the bathroom. She tries to keep them quiet but man, its so early”

So we talk about what she is doing at 5 a.m.  Breakfast for the kids, wake up the kids, do the lunches, put in laundry (which is really loud, apparently), do the girls hair, get the uniforms on and gets them walked out to the bus to wait for it to arrive.  And now, I’m pushing this conversation really hard because I want to see if he is even hearing himself talk.

“Then I wake up at 7, have coffee a shower and she sends me off with breakfast (she does a good breakfast though) and I leave”.

“So what else is she doing during the day then?”  I am holding myself back from kicking him quite severely under the table as I realise what I’m getting myself into with this conversation.

“I don’t know. Clean I guess, laundry, get stuff ready for dinner.  With the baby she and and the baby walk to the shop and get some food stuff and come back and go about their day, I guess. Why?” shrugging his shoulders.

“What about the kids homework and stuff in the afternoon?” I ask

He tells me she waits for them at the bus and brings them in, changes them, gives them something to eat and they start on homework.  With the baby starting to be more active its getting harder and that is where he thinks the oldest is suffering in his maths is because she can’t spend the time with him.   And, by the time he comes home, he really needs to have a quick nap for an hour or two until dinner and then spend a bit of time with the kids, eat and then start all over.

“What is your wife doing?”

“She eats, feeds the baby, cleans up.  She’s cool about it all. She likes doing it and when her mom is here, it’s amazing because she gets so much more done and fixes stuff up, does nice food and spends time with the kids.   By the time I go to bed she finishes ironing the kids uniforms for the next day and gets to bed after I’m asleep and it just keeps going over and over again.   I’m exhausted, man, I need a holiday or I don’t know what will happen with this family.  And, if she doesn’t get a job – ” I stop him.

“Doesn’t get a job? First off, if she gets a job who is going to do all of this stuff you just said?  Secondly, You work 9 hours right?  She’s up at 5a.m. and goes to bed at 11.  That’s 18 hours!”

“Look I understand that.  But she’s at home. She can relax when she wants” he continues as I start boiling.

I start going in on him about the fact that she’s got a little baby to take care of.  IF she is lucky and the baby sleeps, she can clean.  She is taking a taxi to get a sick child and wait at the doctor and take a taxi back.  She is walking, on the road with a stroller and baby to the shop down the street to get food.  She is doing laundry and folding and ironing clothes for everyone.  She’s trying to help  2 kids with homework and a baby.  Where is he in helping with the maths?  Where is he in helping with dinner or cleaning up?  He doesn’t need a nap – she needs a nap in the evening.  The fact he is going to the school to meet the teacher is because of HIM – not her and then I punch in that he’s an Accountant for his company so maths should not even be part of this discussion.

I tell him that I also know her and she never once complains and always is happy (atleast on the outside) and here he is talking about what she ISN’T doing.  What about all of the stuff she gets done to make things all nice and happy for him?

I left him with one thing “Friend, she has a job, she has 2 full time jobs right now – she is contributing more to your family than you do. Man up and take responsibility for your kids and family and work as a team.”

I got up and left.  And, unfortunately, I haven’t talked to this guy in 4 years.  Not because I didn’t want to and I did try but because I put out there what I had been feeling at times too and that what I was doing and what she was doing was just as important as anything else.  And if something is failing, it’s because we need help and can’t do it on our own.  Clearly those things were not what he wanted to hear and felt like that was not how he was raised as an Arab man.  Well, I wasn’t raised that way either, entirely, but I became a parent and it’s a 50/50 thing.  My wife and I overcame a lot to get to the point where we realized we needed each other to make it work and give our daughter that fighting chance to be the best and it certainly wasn’t about hierarchy.

We get one shot at this – that’s it.  There is no do-overs.  When you commit to raising a family you commit to doing it together and part of that means sacrifices in a lot of areas but atleast you can look at each other, exhausted, frustrated but under a clear understanding that you both did the best to help each other and your family in the only ways that you can and you did it as a team.

There is absolutely no parent better or more privileged than the other.  There is no parent out there that is not walking through their own battles.  There is no parent out there that hasn’t wondered how they will survive another day, wish their partner did something differently to help, where their partner even was or wondered why their kid couldn’t be in the genius class. And there is certainly no parent out there that doesn’t wish their partner would just spend time together as a family and not head out for shisha for 3 hours or hanging out in some majlis at some buddy’s house (Yes, Arab men, I’m talking to you).

It’s one shot to communicate and understand that no matter how tired we are, it’s a different tired than the other parent.  It’s a different frustrating day that we had than the other parent.  And, we have very different emotions at the end of the day.

All of those things represent who we are to our kids.  They represent what defines us, in their eyes, as parents and who they will, undoubtedly, become when they have kids.

Don’t walk in the door tonight and think that the other parent has a great life of lounging around eating juicy mangoes all day and watching Al Khabir.  Take a second to look around and understand what they have overcome that day to get where they are – you don’t know what kind of war they fought today.  Then, share yours together for a bit and focus on dividing and conquering the night ahead.

Because at one time, I ‘had’ a friend and that was never, never, ever going to happen to my life.

Shout out to all of the ‘contributors’ out there – no matter what way you are contributing – it matters!

Express Baby, OCD and its not a boy????

lists

Our youngest, Kinzy, is what we call the Express Baby.  She was the surprise.  She was the one who just decided to make herself known when she was ready.

Story is, my wife, without getting into all of the physical woman stuff and also because I value my life so if I divulge more than would be appropriate for the internet world this could very well be my last writing (CSI, take note of this!), did not realise she was pregnant until around 18 weeks.  Aside from all of the stuff that didn’t happen that is suppose to and all of the other tell-tale signs, she didn’t know (I swear on whatever book I need to).  She said she was sitting at her office one day and said she felt these bubble things and swore it was gas. To hear my wife tell it, is much more vivid – but again, internet world.

She comes home and says “Ya know, maybe you should just pop through and get a pregnancy test just for the laugh of it”.  I, of course, go into full panic mode.  We decided on 1 kid.  We figured it just wasn’t happening for us anymore (aside from the fact that my wife wasn’t exactly getting any younger – Again, I quote the ‘mature skin’ cream she bought – not me).

I do think that the drive to the pharmacy was probably the longest drive of my life.  All I kept thinking was how expensive it was for kids, how was our oldest going to handle this and how was I ever going to have a life again if we had 2?

Well, she walks out of the bathroom looking like a sheet of white.  She just sat down and we just dropped our jaws on the floor and said “What do we do now?”.   Seriously, what on this earth are we suppose to do now?

She stands up “I knew it! I knew it! And I know I’m a couple months along and we haven’t prepared for anything and haven’t a thing (from the first week we were pregnant with Saffiya we began buying pampers and formula each and every week and our home quickly began to look like ToysRus – we even had aisles!  But, we also gave much of that away a couple of years after Saffi).  But now, at this moment, this is what SHE was thinking of?   Hey, I was having a moment here.  There is going to be another ‘it’.  I’m the one that is going to be with 2 ‘its’.  How are we going to handle that?  What about schooling and nursery and how do you handle 2 kids in the car at the same time?  And here SHE is starting about not being prepared for anything and we haven’t started getting ‘stuff’?

Now, you must understand my wife.  She is completely compulsive when it comes to organization, lists, everything in its place – and most of all, preparation.  Everything is a lot of preparation!  I realized a long time ago, that marrying an American was the highlight because we were never never never out of anything in the house, everything was labeled, organised and in its proper place.  She knew what we needed to do tomorrow, next week, year and 10 years from now – she colour codes everything (see image) AND she had an app for just about everything.

Well, now any romantic evening for us is shot (and probably for the next while).  She calls her doctor to get a booking for the weekend.

That weekend, we go in, looking like we haven’t slept (because we haven’t) and the poor child isn’t even born yet.  Our oldest is clearly confused as to what is going on as she trails in behind us testing out every available hanging gadget she can get her hands on.  We get in with another doctor because her other one was booked and this little old Egyptian lady walks in after the little confirmation test they did, and says “Mabrook Habibty” (Arabic for Congrats sweetie).  She asks how far along she is and we don’t know.

As she starts to do the ultrasound, my wife says, “I think maybe 2 months”.  The doctor starts laughing, “Habibty, you are 19 weeks! You didn’t know you were pregnant?”  She is laughing hysterically.  My wife starts to cry “Momma, why are you crying?”  and I just about fell over.  This was not happening.  I had to sit down.  Saffiya is asking what is on the screen and the doctor starts talking to her in Arabic and explaining.  Saffi’s eyes become as big as a cup and her smile became the only thing that stopped my wife’s tears.   The doctor then stops and says “Do you want to know what you are having?”

In the Arab world, there is a great deal of mixed customs and ideas about what gender is preferred.  I’m Arabic and even with pressure from my family and friends “You need a boy.  You need to carry on the family name”, I enjoyed having a daughter.  I always saw women as strong.  My mother and my sisters were all strong and independent women and I respected that very much.  And I saw how our oldest was growing up to be such an amazing creature that I thought it would be nice for her to have a sister, too.  But, again, I never thought it was in the plan.

“You are having a girl!”  My wife started laughing and telling Saffiya she would have a little sister (she is now beside herself).  I felt like I had just about everything in the world right then.

The doctor again asked how she didn’t know she was pregnant and we went through the whole story.

The next few days were a blur so they could schedule a different scan to accurately know how far along she was.  And this time, the doctor says she is now 21 weeks.  Are you joking?  1 week ago we weren’t pregnant. 4 days ago we were 19 weeks and now we are 21 weeks?!  My wife now has refused to see the doctor anymore because she thinks the next time she goes in, they will say the baby is happening.

Everything was thrown out the window for planning.  The lists started, the coffee runs stopped, the packs of pampers started piling up (we were now on double time).  And, all the while, the little one, just kept cooking along, not bothering anyone just as she had the first 5 months.

The conversations with bosses, family, friends, Saffiya just took to the fast track.  The books on ‘being a big sister’ were being read every single day.  Wife pulls out the “What to expect when you’re expecting” and just opened it halfway through the book and then ends up tossing it “I give up – expecting is not part of this now”.

We were happy, scared, thrilled, worried, stressed, shocked and watching Saffiya talk endlessly to everyone she saw about her little sister coming soon.

Kinzy (which is Arabic for Treasure) was what I really wanted to call her.   My wife informs me that there is no way we are going to name our daughter after something that sounded like a Powder Puff Girl.  “How do you expect her to put a ‘fafi’ name like Kinzy on a name plate on a company when she owns it?!?!  She needs a strong name!”  But, I was determined.  I was putting my Arabic foot down on this.  My wife, put her swollen, water retention foot on top of it.  I knew I was stuck.

She did agree that she would look to something that would incorporate Kinzy.  That would work as a compromise but there was no way. So, she starts on Google, buys a name book, consults the stars (or whatever she as doing at that hormonal point).  She found “Mackenzie”.  And there we went.

Did the lists work?   Yes, as usual, she was right on this.  Did we get organised?  Yes, very quickly.  Were we ready?  Not at all.  Did I figure out how to handle 2 kids in a car?  No.  I am still working on that (but I do have a ready supply of just about everything ever needed in a vehicle in the event of a baby/toddler meltdown, projectile vomiting, headache, fever or Armegeddon).   Did we figure out schools?  Yes, thanks to a pretty great system in Dubai that actually ‘wants’ to work with parents instead of just tossing their hands up and throwing you on a non-existing waiting list to watch you squirm.

I have 2 beautiful, healthy girls.  Did I want a boy?  No.  I wasn’t looking for either one with the 2nd.  But she found us.  I have, however, come to rely heavily on my wife’s lists.  She’s even got it to auto-remind on MY phone (isn’t that just so great of her?!?!).  And, it just seems that no matter how prepared you think you are, life is going to throw some very interesting curves your way just to keep you on your toes.  And somehow, things just seem to work.  They work differently, but they work.

We all have our lives planned out when we are young.  Everything down to the moment.  Even if we don’t know where we are going, we know we are going and we point ourselves in the direction.  We should never feel like that curve that gets thrown our way is anything other than a new opportunity.   I say that now because I’m not fainting looking at an ultrasound machine and because there is no way another baby is happening.  But, I can say that it taught me a valuable lesson – the curves are thrown at a daily basis and I’m catching them.  The moment you don’t, things start dropping.

Now if I can just find a way to get rid of those damn apps on my wife’s phone!

Cheerios, Maafi Moshkela and Inshallah?


Cheerios

There is an very common Arabic phrase that is “Maafi moshkela” (no problem).

“Maafi moshkela” for my life.  Normally.  With the exception of the last few days.

As Arab Baba’s (or any dads out there), we get to a point where we realize we’ve lost a bit of ourselves.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve gained a BIG part of ourselves by becoming parents – parts that we had no idea we had (and some of those parts are continually covered in dried cereal or topped with a cheerio or two).  But, we lose a bit at times as well.  And, eventually, it starts to blow.

My job is handling our family life.  That can mean school runs, grocery store, kids shopping, changing contracts, renewing leases, car service, back to the grocery store, drop the cats at the vet, find a vet first, coordinate the maintenance guys to fix the aircon, pickup school uniforms, pay the school fees, forgot the receipt, go back to the school and get it, buy the birthday cake, choose the birthday cake (by means of sending pics back and forth to my wife) and then be tasked with finding birthday presents because our oldest can’t figure out what she wants for her birthday so it becomes an interrogation with our 5 year old in the car about Shopkins versus Barbie.

My wife, in the meantime, does as much of that as possible by delegating and still working 50 + hours a week.  Not in a bad way.  But delegating in giving ideas or where to go or what to look for about 40 times a day.  We make a good team.  And, she’s good that way. I mentioned before, she is more organized than I ever hope to be (all because of that stupid, damn app on her phone which I swear to all I will find and destroy!).  Plus, it’s better not to let her loose on poor shop keepers because her patience is about as thin as the line of drool from a teething baby – it will break at any time if she doesn’t get what she needs.   So, its a balance and promotes peace in the world (trust me!).

I have lived the last 6 years as a stay at home Baba.   My wife gets to go and have fun at work and I get to control everything that comes in and out of this house, handle the appointments, most of the school meetings and manage to keep my children in one piece.   I did, however, work part time in Qatar because of our kids (nights).  This worked well because atleast I saw my friends, was able to hang out a bit (I really miss my friends) and still be able to be with my girls.

Moving to Dubai was tough in the beginning.  I didn’t know anyone.  My sister lived in Al Ain and it’s not like it was a quick drive there and back, I had to figure everything out on my own with my “Map Girlfriend” (the name Saffiya calls the car navigation system).  It was getting odd when I was starting to talk back to the car after the first 3 months!.

In saying all of that, Dubai was probably the best place to choose to live.  It’s great for families.  So many activities and opportunities to do things.  The education sector (kids) is above and beyond what we were used to before and life, in general, is really good here (for about 3 months it is miserable as hell for the heat – but for 9 months – its amazing!).

But, I’m on my own.   Sure, I can join the Mummy-Coffee-Mornings that are out there (because that was a BIG success when I tried that in Doha and the women started talking about ‘sensitive parts of their body’ after having kids and then realized I was there and quickly shut up with blushed cheeks as I grabbed my pink diaper bag and tried to slip away before I fell on the floor rolling).  Or, I can start my own Baba-Coffee-Mornings.  Should be a big success because I’ll be the only one there.  But, atleast I don’t need to talk about sensitive body parts and worry about who’s child is walking first and who’s child is still crawling (and the mum of the one that is still crawling – yes, they are talking about you when you aren’t there).

I am given a reprieve 3 days a week now that the littlest is in nursery and the oldest is in school.  I get to go to gym and, if I’m lucky, sit at Starbucks, alone, utterly alone in my own world for about 42 1/2  minutes before I pick up the littlest from nursery.    The wife (I call her ‘The government’ – affectionately, ofcourse) takes the ‘kid duty’ on the weekends so I can hit the gym on Fridays and Saturdays.  But I really want time alone – whatever that is.

I know I’m not the only baba out there that thinks this and I’m not asking for a 5-day paid holiday to the Maldives (although I wouldn’t turn it down) but I’ve gotten to the point where although I have a couple of friends now, I just don’t have the time to  ‘go out’.

During the week there is so much going on as we coordinate between homework, getting kids set for the next day, getting 30 minutes of adult conversation with “the government” which normally consists of the days briefing or whats the plan for the next day, where is the swim suit and the 50dhs for the outing the next day.

If we are lucky, we might get to pawn the littlest off on a friend or my sister every couple of months so the wife and I and our oldest can head to Friday Brunch (because the kids go off in one direction and the wife and I sit in peace and quiet for 4 hours talking about everything and nothing).

I understand why people have nannies-  for this reason.  I get it.  But I also know how it easy it is to pawn them off daily on the nannies at every possible time making it easier to do stuff ‘alone’.   I can also see that I might get used to it (as I’ve seen friends do).  I don’t want to do everything ‘alone’.  But I really do want a small chunk of time on my own.

The crazy thing is, trying to figure out what to do with that time.  Do I go plant myself on a beach?  Do I just drive with the sun roof open and window blaring (wait, was that a cheerio that just fell from the visor?)? I’m not the clubbing type.  I’m not the shisha guy.  I know, all of this sounds completely UN-Arabic.  Do I just go to Jumpboxx and throw myself against trampolines and get out this energy?

Even if I do have that time alone, I have absolutely no idea what I would even do!  Am I going to feel guilty because I’m not at home? Am I going to be messaging my wife saying “what are you doing?” and is she going to do the same?  What are the girls doing?   Did my wife give our youngest her bunny?  Which cheerios did she give her – she hates the honey nut!

I was excited about going and getting gas last week, alone and I even took the long way home and felt refreshed.  And then, I see the cheerio on the back car seat.

Being impulsive lost way to schedules and routines.  After 6 years, I’m still trying to figure out how the rest of the world does it. Is hiding in the bathroom for 20 minutes the only solution until they turn 18?

I’m having to choose my friends carefully because if they don’t have kids, it’s only going to take 2 invites that I turn down for them to just dump the idea of inviting me altogether.   And for friends that have nannies, those impulsive invites don’t happen because it’s just me, the kids and a lot of cheerios.

I’ve got to figure out where that balance is that I get the time that I need even when I don’t even know what it is that I want to do.

Maafi Moshkela used to be the best – it solves everything.   No problem!

Now, things revolve around, “I’ll see you, inshallah (Arabic for God-willing)”  (after I grab a bag of cheerios to appease the small masses)