We Can, We Must, We Should

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Having kids isn’t easy. Watching them come into the world.  We start off with big hopes and dreams for them. We are seeing them grow up so fast and those big hopes and dreams seem to change from day to day.  One day you see them as successful doctors (my crazy wife still holds hope they will be renowned plastic surgeons and she can be their testing ground).  The next month, you only want them to be healthy forever as they sniffle and sob their way through a bad flu.  A year later, you see them helping a friend or animal that is hurt and you want them to become someone who will make this world a better place.

Now, the latter one with my youngest may be a much bigger dream considering that she is 2 years old and her one mission in life is to torment her 6 year old sister.  She endlessly chases her through the house just to hear her older sister screech and yell “Baba, Mackenzie is touching me!” “Momma, Mackenzie is hitting me!” and behind her the little one with an evil grin that quickly turns into an angelic smile the moment she sees a ‘grown up’ throws up her arms and says “Baba, Fafa push!” (‘Fafa’ is what she calls her sister and push means she thinks Fafa pushed her which is rarely the case or it was a very mild form of self defence).

In 2 years, those hopes and dreams have changed on a daily basis.  From what we thought would be this quiet and calm baby that arrived after only being ‘4 months pregnant’ (see below), changed into what we continually hope and dream that she will not be a professional boxer or a serial killer (or both).

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

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending another of the #WhatWorksDubai conferences that the awesome people at #KHDA (The Knowledge and Human Development Authority of Dubai ) put on.

One of the sessions I attended talked about 3 things with kids and although it was more specific to education and teaching, it completely made sense to me when it comes to raising our kids (no matter what they end up becoming).

We Can:

We Can listen, structure, educate, support and love our children from day 1.  We have one and only one opportunity to create trust with our children that they will see as us trying to to be all of the above. And the fact that it’s a choice to do these things –  We Can provide them with an environment that  not only helps them when they are sick but that We Can help them when they need guidance and love.

We Must:

We Must not only do all of the above,  We Must provide a place of safety and comfort.  We Must provide them the opportunity no matter what our circumstances, location, financial status, family drama or whatever, to have an education.  We Must give them a chance to succeed regardless of the situation we are in.

We Should

We Should find the time to help our children succeed.  We Should give them 10 minutes (atleast) of reading time every day (#YearOfReading  and #RMRUAE). We Should spend that Saturday afternoon sitting out in the garden and helping with some homework before the school week starts.  We Should never forget that our love and support is what they see in the morning and at night.  If we cannot provide that for them, We Should not have kids.  We Should put our children first above and beyond another night out for Shisha or that 6th day at the gym that can easily be cut to 5.  We Should ease up on the tech-time and use it for time together.

All of this sounds like a whole lot of instructions.  But, there is a pretty good chance you are already doing this now without even realising it.  Think about your last few days.  Think about how old your kids are – even if they are babies – we still get the chance to show them all of the above.  And, if you aren’t doing it now, start with those 10 minutes.

Think back to how you felt when your parents spent time with you – really spent time with you doing something.   How proud you felt?  How confident you felt to take on something new?  How special you were to have time with them?

We have that opportunity and for me – the last several months has really changed my parenting ideas toward a more forward way of thinking.  Knowing that even if they become plastic surgeons or politicians (my wife will probably now say that with the US elections coming up, our 2 year old may very well be the most fitting candidate), We Can, We Must and We Should say that we played a part in whatever they become.

Use the chances.  Spread that love in whatever way you know how that can put them feeling positive about themselves and about the world out there.  Before you know it, that ability to mould them as much as possible into amazing human beings might have less and less of an effect.

And whatever you do, if you see my 2 year old chasing my 6 year old, please run and get me!

Cleanup or Tech-Timeout!

Cleanup Cleanup

That song from Barney “Clean up Clean up – everybody everywhere” rings in my head many times a day. Unless you are a toddler or a 5 year old for that matter where that song might be fun – but usually falls on deaf ears.

My wife had posted awhile ago on Facebook about “There is no cleaner floor than one that houses a toddler”.  This, although I would include ‘house’, is very true.

A toddler is able to find the smallest little speck of something on the floor – an ant, crumb, seed, toy, whatever.  And where does it go?  Straight in their mouth.  So, from the day that Kinzy started to sit or crawl on the floor, it became Saffiya’s ‘job’ to pickup ‘small things’.  With Saffiya, as a crawler, it was fine because it was just us and could ‘tidy up’ relatively independently.  But, with Kinzy, it was Saffiya that was usually the contributor to ‘small things’ – Barbie shoes, small plastic dinnerware from her Barbie Dreamhouse, marker caps, buttons, everything and all things ‘chokable’.  But, now, she would walk around like a diligent american government food inspector in one of those back alley Thai restaurants (in the back alleys of Thailand) – magnifying glass, hands and knees, identifying the smallest of small things.   You would not find one speck of anything on our floor.   And, oh the day, if there was something that was identified, it was alarm bells and shouting at the infamous find and then the blame – oh the blame – “Baba, how could you!” “Momma, do you know what this could do to MY sister?” (note how she emphasizes MY when most of the time she has decided she wants to return her to wherever she came from). She was our diligent ‘small thing’ picker-upper.

But, we managed to keep our littlest away from small things (atleast, what we didn’t see ingested and coming out the other end).  And now, the little one runs around and doubles the amount of small things that can trespass on our floor above and beyond her sisters capabilities.   However, this one is pretty good – if she sees something (which she does eventually), she has seen us panic far too many times when she puts something in her mouth, so now she just simply brings the small speck of dust and hands it over to for us to do whatever must be done with the offending speck.

I read awhile ago that when your kids, at a young age, see you cleaning, they want to do the same.  And, they grow up with an understanding that it takes the family to keep the house organized.

I’m wondering where that article is because I really want to find out when that ‘age’ happens where they realize they want to do it.  Currently, as I am using the small hand held vacuum to pickup crumbs (from the last 2 hours since I used it in the exact same place), and my oldest casually lifts up both legs so that I may pass by (while her focus remains, without missing anything, on Minecraft).   And, behind me, my youngest is toddling after me with a biscuit (oh good, more crumbs) joining in the vacuum game.

My once obsessed-with-clean oldest- who used to organize her room like a demon several times a day and had to have everything in its perfect place (even if that perfect place meant that her school sock must not touch, in any way,  her school shirt on the hook for the next day) has become what I can only assume is about as close to being a teenager as possible – not interested in cleaning.

I will admit that we do have a maid that comes in for a few hours 3 times per week.  She does the big cleaning stuff (floor, windows, changes linens, bathrooms and ironing).  However, within about 13.5 minutes of her departure, it’s like a wind has just blown through the house and dropped various articles in all kinds of places.   School socks dropped on the stairs, Shopkins strewn across the entry way (which I have now stepped on), a Barbie torso (don’t ask) and many many more ‘small things’ that the cat has now joined in the chaos and is happily playing football with them throughout the livingroom.

But, the rest of the upkeep is normally up to this Baba and the wife (in the evenings).  This can be difficult because I’m not as crazy as my lovely wife is when it comes to everything in the proper place OR not leaving food particles in the kitchen sink.  However, I can atleast avoid any cockroach (Soosar in Arabic) infestations in the near future. And, I am a madman with some Windex and a Dettol spray bottle.

When it comes to my oldest, no matter the amount of conversation we have with her about keeping about ‘clean up clean up’ and the reasoning we attempt:

“Dont you like it when you can go into your drawer and find your favourite zebra pajamas?”

“Yes, Baba”

“What if we didn’t put these away or even wash them?”

“Then I would ask the maid to do it”


We threaten tech time-outs (which work with a lot of huffing and puffing).  We use actual time outs (which she unfortunately likes because she just sits there and has conversations with herself and after the buzzer times up she just continues to sit there).  We send her to bed (no problem – she likes her room).

She is by no means lazy but she definitely is stubborn (I tell you right now, that is NOT from Baba) and following her own little path.  But, this girl needs to ‘get on the bus’ (wife-term again) with the rest of the family. And, when it comes to it, she will clean up (especially if she is in a good mood).   We did the ‘chore jar’ for which she gets paid a bit for each chore (works and doesn’t work).   She does, however, like a bit of creativity when it comes to these tasks so I’m always looking at different things to get her going.  Unlike my little one who finds it wonderful to help out and ‘clean’ (I need to enjoy this while I can – infact, I will take videos to show her later on when she turns into the child who will start taking out petitions on not cleaning or create some mutiny with other kids in the compound where we live).

As of now, this is my mission – finding a way to get this consistent in her brain.   I’ve Googled myself crazy trying to find new and innovative ways.   I’m always up for suggestions so please email me/Twitter me / Facebook me / Pinterest me / Tumblr me – whatever me.

But, one thing I’m very happy about is the fact that those ‘small things’ are no longer an object of our family obsession.  Yes, its still a clean floor but atleast that ‘stage’ has moved on.

Clean up Clean up – Everybody everywhere – Now to figure out how to get everyone to do their share.

I can do it Baba. I’m big enough

Im big enough

Dubai is unique.  We have little shops just about everywhere that sells just about everything.  My wife calls them ‘MomPop Shops’ (I dont know what that means).  Most of them are no bigger than the size of a small bedroom but they carry everything from paint, to bubblegum to toilet seats.  And then the next shop is the dry cleaner or the hardware store – beep the horn and out they march with whatever you need (more on that in another post).  My wife can’t stand the latter – says it creates such a lazy environment and why should these poor guys have to leave the cool of their shops to service us and what will our kids think of us?  Well, ok, she is right – but it is fun to get Karak (tea/chai) and they just bring it out to you in the little cup (and Saffiya gets her french fries).  We just don’t do it when the wife is in the car. 🙂

On a note, with any of these shops, don’t plan on walking in these shops throwing out your American Express card.  These are good old, hard earned cash shops where the money is thrown underneath the counter and half of the time if you dont have the exact change, he just tells you “Next time! Next time!” – and you give it to him next time.  And, if you are like me, I will bargain down for a discount for 20 minutes just because.  That’s how it works. Again, wife on the other hand, can’t bear to watch me do it so she walks around the shop pretending she doesn’t know me and then I tell her we saved 50dhs, I get swatted on the butt (nice job, babe!) but no, she would definitely never do it.  What our girls will end up doing when they get older?  Who knows but I’m sure there will be some confusion going on when it comes to bartering.

My oldest has grown up with this her entire life (the massive span of almost 6 whole years!).  In fact, when we travelled to the US, she was asking where the little shops were and could she please have a sweet?  That ‘sweet’ isn’t exactly in a shop 100 feet away – it’s an actual drive – and its not a shop, its a gas station that surely has all of the same things – paint, toilet seats, bubble gum, sandwiches, fruit, vegi and whatever else you can think of.  And yes, they take that AMEX card!

So today begins the last week of summer before ‘real school’ starts (they have been in summer camp all summer long, a few days a week, for various reasons – in no particular order – One being I need an hour of peace periodically, Two being they need some type of physical activity other than destroying the house, Three being that it keeps them on the same time timing so we aren’t fighting to get their internal sleeping clocks back to normal when school starts).

My oldest starts a new school and my youngest, bless her little 18 month old self, is going to nursery.  On that note, this nursery reminds me more of a boarding/military school than a nursery.  It’s really a great place but everything is straight to the point/no delays/no flexibility.  However, in saying that, my wife keeps telling me “Atleast she isn’t playing in mud in some villa all day – she’s actually learning something with other kids – like Mary Poppins”.  Ah yes, my lovely wife is right (however, I’m still looking for the nursery police to come after me if I don’t sign my name properly when I pick her up and I’ve seen Mary Poppins and I’m certainly not at peace with sliding down the stairs, flying umbrellas and dancing penguins!).

So, since neither had camp today, off we went to go to the little shop down the road (no, we didn’t need a toilet seat). Car seat buckled, raisin box in hand (its ‘raisin week’ for Kinzy – raisins – all day, every day, all week – last week it was cucumbers – you can’t imagine the diaper contents), one shoe off and one shoe on (that was just the 2 meters from the door to the car), lock door, wait, oldest needs the toilet again and the whole circle of life begins.  I sit and listen to Kinzy’s rendition of the Lion King (Hakuna Matata) and laughing – “hana tata. na ni na ni na na” – all in beat – I find myself tapping along.

We are now ready to go.  And, on the way, Saffiya asks for a sweet from the shop.  Ofcourse she does.  She also knows that it’s not something that we often allow but I can surely find every excuse to give into her whims. As you know, kids love their sweets and there is nothing better than that temporary happiness they get from whatever strange and unhealthy concoction they decide upon (the more colours – the better – and if princesses or Minions are involved – well there is no stopping).

She tells me, “I can do it, Baba.  I’m big enough”.  “No way. We will go together”  “Please Baba, you are right here.  And you need a vacation and can sit here with Kinzy.  I will be fast” (whatever that meant).

This was one of those really painful decisions that you make for a lot of reasons.  One of them being my wife will probably come at me with a big utensil for putting our child in danger (no, she really wouldn’t but it would take a minute of her thinking twice).  Another being that surely she needs to have me there and what if she gets scared or worried?  The last one being that she really needs to have me there because I will be the one that is scared and worried.

I gave her the money, told her how much and what to do and gave her the rules not to talk to anyone (remember the size of this shop and the fact that I can see her every move from the window no matter where she wanders) and to take the money and sweet to the cashier. I told her she should ask how much and give him the money.  I could see the guy smiling at her and and talking with her and she was smiling and waved back at me.

My little girl walked out of that shop with her little bag like she was 25 years old and full of the world.  She had just found this form of independance that she knew she had, that she decided upon when she was ready and something that I was not prepared to see, just yet.

I told her how proud I was of her while my heart was breaking inside (while Kinzy was strategically making a grab for this new found purchase that would now become a yelling point between them for the next 10 minutes).

She told me she couldn’t wait to tell mom (as I was preparing a flow chart to explain the exact steps and time frame to the second of each move she and I had planned in order to present a unified argument to mom).   She wanted to go back tomorrow and do the same thing.  But for now, it wasn’t because of the sweet.  She told me “I can go and do all of the shopping and you can stay in the car, I’m big enough” (maybe tomorrow we will need that toilet seat).

My heart was breaking.  I know her better than she knows herself.  Her gradual move towards independence in almost every form has been frightening for my wife and I because we know that this is our girls pulling further and further away from needing us.  It’s something so simple and we all remember going to the small shops (or big shops or any shops) when we were kids and seeing all of these big people but we also knew the feeling of accomplishment – of feeling more ‘grown up’.

I know her independence but I also know that we have to let her make decisions, no matter how much it terrorizes us, because she knows when she is ready to take on new things- she carefully thinks and understands consequence.   She’s stubborn and difficult (definitely her mother) but is very methodical and systematic (still her mother) and with the most amazing heart full of love (very much her mother).  She does have my eyes though. 🙂

I guess it’s a lot like my wife with her first son.  He’s in his 20’s and when she talks to him she still calls him his baby name ‘Smugs’ (atleast she spared him any animal names).  She still sees her children, just as I do, like they are little.  We don’t want to see them go through any unnecessary discomfort but we also know it’s part of life.  We need to let them venture into areas of the unknown and congratulate them on their success and be there for them to run to in challenging times.  And, we sometimes have to just sit back and watch them through that shop window.

We really didn’t listen to our parents. Dumb Move!

Listening to our parents?
Listening to our parents?

“You are never going to appreciate us until you have kids of your own”  Those are the words that my dad was always telling me.

God rest his soul as he passed more than 2 years ago. But, wow, was he ever wrong.  But, he was really right.

I appreciated my parents.  I grew up with a special needs younger brother and 2 sisters.  We lived in a village about 80km from Cairo. My dad worked nights and mother during the day.  He got up with us after working a long night and made sure we had breakfast and was booted off to school so he could sleep for a few hours.  We didnt have nanny’s or the latest tv (my wife still uses some weird phrase about walking up a snowy hill both ways or something to get home).  But, we saw a lot of love between our parents.  We got smacked and whatever else they could come up with.  But back then, we did appreciate them (atleast I did – not sure about the rest of my crazy family).

I appreciated my dad sneaking me out and getting me a sweet or having a day together walking around to his friends or listening him talk about religion or politics or involving me in conversations sometimes.   I appreciated my mom because when she wasn’t around, I always remember really missing her as I was growing up – even just for a few hours.  I did appreciate them, and I still do.

Now comes that lightbulb over the head thing.  I had kids.  I think that at that moment (well, atleast with the first it took that 6 months I talked about), I probably appreciated my parents in about a 1000 more ways than I ever thought possible.   I took a turn from appreciating what they did for ME and my own comfort in life growing up into realizing that what they sacrificed for me from behind the scenes and how much pain, worry and fear they carried with them as I just wandered around thinking I was invincible.

I didn’t know until many years later that my mother and father took only a few bites of food in the early years to make sure we ate plenty.  That those little sweets my dad would buy for me was without my mom knowing and using the little bit of taxi money he had reserved for the next day to offer me something and see me smile.  Those times he was seeing his friends, it was to pay back money he owed them.   Thankfully, that wasn’t the situation any longer as we grew up and things improved and we all went on our own ways – becoming educated and moving on with our lives.   But, when I started checking on my daughters every night, several times a night to make sure they were breathing, having vivid nightmares of the things that could happen (robbery, fire, earthquake, nuclear disaster, Tom Cruise trying to stop an asteroid from hitting the earth, etc.).  How will I protect them?  What about those nasty bad people out there?  What about the terrible nannies that are out there (more on why we decided against nannies early on in a later post) and the things they do to children.  I started not caring about what I was going to buy but thinking about what could we do to have fun, what new clothes did they need or lets spend the extra money on buying organic instead of the cheap rasberries. I wanted to simply put that child back in and go back to my life where everything was normal and I worried about which jeans to wear the next day.

The other night, I listened to my littlest coughing.  She’s always struggled a bit with anything slightly respiratory.  I know every single little cough and what sound means one and continuing to check on her to make sure she is ok and hasn’t vomited (yes, this is the projectile thing I was talking about – she has taken it to an art form!)

This is painful!  This is horrendous having to worry about some other little person.  This isn’t about next week or putting things off to tomorrow.  This is about right now, this second, at 3:22 a.m. when you just watch her breathe and the house is quiet and you sit in their room feeling like there is a blizzard of fuzziness in your head.  You worry if you locked the door.  You go and check.  You hear a cough, you go back. You sit and watch.   At that time, my heart is probably the heaviest but also ready to take flight.  This painful thing that weighs on every single decision that you make every second of every day is so overwhelming.

Do they appreciate me (or us, I have to say that or the wife might take serious action)?  Yes, I think they do.  They appreciate what I DO for them right  now.  What I appreciate is everything my parents did behind the scenes that has brought me to this point of being able to say “Thank you” and really meaning it.

My girls are going to appreciate me every step of the way – even when they hate me when they are teenagers.  But that appreciation is going to be in phases just like we have been going through those same phases growing up and figuring out that maybe we actually should have listened to our parents.

And even when they are 50 and I’m still calling them my babies or my girls (my wife calls them different animal names – and I really hope that she doesn’t use those words when they are 50),

I want them to know that while they are still working on their ‘phases of appreciation’, I am appreciating them for what they have been able to give to me.   They have been able to let me turn around to my parents (both here on earth and in spirit) and truthfully say “Thanks, you were right”.

When a kid (or 2 or 3) is sick – it’s all the same

Sick kids

Oh man, there is nothing more trying than a sick child.   Add to that, a child that can’t quite talk yet.

So, here begins a day — 5 a.m. (because the wifey is working and she says there is a very important early morning meeting — wink wink).  Small one is coughing up a storm and with coughing up a storm for this one, comes projectile vomiting.  I’m not talking about the stuff that just rolls down the front of their chest and they feel better.  I’m talking about the stuff that reminds me of the Exorcist – it becomes a Picasso painting on the wall (and the laundry basket, and the door, and the floor).  But it doesn’t stop!  How can so much come out of this little body?

But there is my wife – sound asleep.

Little one can’t tell me whats wrong. 7a.m. everyone is awake and trying to get the oldest ready for school (well, summer camp right now).  Oldest says it smells (you think?), then whines about her hair and the school uniform.  Little one whines because the big one is whining and the fact that she just feels miserable and wants to whine.

Wife happily skips off to work (really, she’s not that bad 🙂  ).  Mad rush to school drop and then a quick trip to the clinic.

There is really few things more frustrating than watching your child sick and it’s one thing you can’t do anything about.   It’s painful – really painful.

Doctor prescribes and endless array of whatever it is (doctors seem to prescribe based on quantity vs. what will actually work) and we go home.  Older one comes home, she is coughing and a fever.  I now feel like death is starting to cover my body.

Apparently, I didnt need the little one to tell me how she felt…. because it’s quite evident now that we are all feeling it.

Oh, an in comes the wife happily skipping into the door.  Sigh.