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.

Insecure but Proud

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Today I was reading through some of my stories of my girls.  Specifically when my oldest was just tiny and I was a jumbling bundle of nerves.  Those stories became my own personal journal of how I felt and what I was dreaming of for her, at the time.  I’m so glad that I kept them because when I read them, it brings a feeling that just wells up inside, a lot like when you see those baby pictures and remember where you were, what they were doing and oh how terribly cute and innocent they were (and then they turn five and think they are the Queen – which she claims to hold title to – and try to enforce new and unique rules daily in her kingdom).

Saffi had just turned 3 months old.  This tiny little thing and I finally had to get up the nerve to venture out into the real world.  We couldn’t be locked up forever.  The wife went back to work after with ‘real people’ (only to find it wasn’t as cool and empowering as she thought being away from her little girl) and left me with “It #1”.  I called her It.  Not in a bad way, but because every time I passed her around (language thing), “Can you take this?”, “Where is It?” (meaning her).  Wife endlessly gave me a hard time about this and even with our second one, the same thing. Completely affectionate, I assure you.

So here we go off to the mall (because there was nothing else to do in Qatar anyway at that time – and come to think of it, there still isn’t when we left).  She’s happily tucked into her properly positioned, rear facing car seat, in a car with side, front, rear, ceiling, floor airbags (again, wife’s clear placing of pillows all over the car did not put confidence in my driving capabilities).  And, she is sleeping.  Off we go.  Radio on, bit of rap music and whatever else and I thought “I can do this.  Its so easy!”.   Driving down the road, the immediate whimpering starts.  She’s hungry.  Oh no, why didn’t someone tell me to feed her before I left?  Ok, bottle in hand, stretching my arm back (while driving) and feeding her (now I understand my wifes’ insecurities about my driving because this was so not safe).  Oh she’s happy and I’m driving one handed down the road (not going a minute over 30 km an hour – in an 80).   Oh good, asleep.   Not 10 minutes later, a smell, a smell I’ve never thought possible filled the car.  Can’t roll down he windows because its around 30 degrees -c- (winter time) and I’m afraid she will get cold.  Right!   I hope and pray she won’t start crying until we get to the mall.

We arrive and rush into the mall. Head to the bathroom. What?  Where do I change her?  What is this?  Wife said the bathrooms have diaper changing things that fold out from the wall (note to wife: yes, they do.  In the WOMENS’ bathroom!).  So, I’m changing her on the counter as guys walk in and out looking at me with clear confusion and even a bit of disgust (well, of course, with that smell).   This was unfair.  I must tell the wife to write a letter to the mall management (she likes doing that stuff and making people mad about the injustices of the world).

Now, this is about an hour after we have left and I know there is a nap time involved at some point.  So I wing it because I didn’t  bring the stroller in so she was stuck with me.

I’m a bit of a big guy (the gym thing) so thats no problem.  I can handle hauling around this 4kg bundle and diaper bag (it was pink – really pink!).

Here we are, my little girl and I, walking through the mall and just moving along.  It finally hits me that everyone, absolutely everyone, stares at me as they walk past.  I kept thinking my zip was down or I had grown an extra limb.  I wanted to meet up with a couple of friends and I ask them if there is something wrong with me (they look confused).  So, the 3 of us and this little thing walk around the mall to find the coffee place.  Now, the looks went over the top – western, arabic, men, women, whatever – they just stared and commented to each other. A few of these people even outright laughed.   I’m getting irritated.

We sit down and have coffee.  Little one is happily sleeping on the shoulder of my closest friend and I go up and order coffee.  A british woman comes up to me in the line and she said “Can I ask you something?”  I nod and she says “I really think its great what you are doing”. Again, look of confusion comes across my face.   She smiles and pats me on the arm. “Seeing you, as a big guy and who is Arabic and walking with these 2 other gentlemen and this tiny little baby and that pink nappie bag, its just something you don’t see everyday.  And I really think its great”.  We started the conversation about how my wife and I didn’t trust getting a nanny and felt we should raise her ourselves because she is ours.  She smiled so big and asked where I was from (Egypt) and where my wife was from (US) and she just said “Wow.  You are a good guy”.  She took her coffee and left.

That moment, it was like a lightbulb just exploded above my head.  It was one of those moments where reality just opened up and everything I had always known and what I was taught and what was ‘traditional’ in my culture (and most in the world) had just been thrown out the window.  I honestly felt lost and worried I’d done something wrong.

These people simply weren’t used to seeing a guy like me with this little baby – let alone without a mom in tow.

I suddenly felt insecure but empowered and even embarrassed.   A year ago, I was a guy that wore the latest watches, had the cool new phones, nice jeans and it took me about 6 minutes to get anywhere in the country.  Now, I’ve got stains on virtually everything, watches don’t get worn because I’m afraid they might scratch her tender little skin and my phone, well, it’s been dropped and lost far too many times to even mention.  I miss that guy, I miss the spontaneity.   But, now I’m the guy that walks around the mall with a tiny baby and who is upset because I have nowhere to change my little angel.   I have my 2 friends (who I spent that 6 minutes on the road all of the time to hang with them) cuddling her in their chairs, feeding her and kissing her head.

It was that moment, among all of that confusion that I felt, that I realized that I actually liked what I was becoming.  I liked that I looked at little strange to people and that they wondered what was up.

It was from that moment on, that I developed my own little plan (feed before going, get the stroller – as a diaper changer if those mens bathrooms don’t have – have those diapers and wipes handy at all times) and that I walked proudly, down the mall, store, or anywhere else I went, with my little girl in my arms (before she became the Queen of this kingdom) and just smiled at everyone that looked at me a bit odd.

I am the ArabBaba. I’m still insecure (but atleast I have a well thought out plan now – well thought out, but not always executed that way).  I’m still irritated at mens bathrooms and very thankful that Dubai has the family bathrooms (and has the forward thinking enough to realise dad’s are people too!).

And, I still get to hold it over my wife periodically when I need some sympathy (that I had to go out all on my own with a baby and there was so much going on and so worried, etc.).

We have the opportunity to share moments and stories with our kids, and others.  We have the chance to offer up our insecurities as just part of being human and being a parent.   And I love every second of it because that tiny little thing has grown up far too fast and it was just like yesterday when it seemed like I found myself at that moment.

Pizza and Post-its

Pizza and Post-its

Today is Pizza Thursday.

It’s Pizza Thursday because this is the start of the Middle East weekend (Fridays and Saturdays).

It took some time for my wife to get used because it seemed completely out of sorts to actually work on a Sunday.  For me, when we visit the US, it feels completely alien to me that not everything is bustling and crazy on a Sunday.

Anyway, it’s Pizza Thursday.  It’s exciting because the girls (Saffiya specifically) knows its the end of the school (or atleast summer camp) week and mom’s work week.   Everyone pops in the door and kicks off the shoes in about 100 directions (my lovely wife as well – I pity anyone that dares haul out her heels until Sunday – or as she calls it ‘Smunday’ – Sunday/Monday – for the beginning of the work week – unless its an 18 month old teetering around in her shoes), sweatpants and pajamas and whatever comfy clothes make the mark that day are happily put on (or as in Kinzy’s case tonight, a half unbuttoned onesie so that she can continually monitor the status of her belly button).

There are no lunches to make.  My wife is the most awesome ‘lunch maker’ in the world.  She has making lunches for a 5 year old (soon to be 6 as I’m reminded of daily) and an 18 month old down to a science.  This woman is in the throes of Pinterest for new ideas, ready Good Housekeeping and Mother & Baby and our fridge looks like a modge-podge of pictures of ‘stuff to make’.  The sandwiches are cut in hearts, the cucumbers are precisely cut in sticks, the berry bin (the Binto Box berry container that she clearly worships) has all of the proper berries in their places – never mix blackberries with blueberries because apparently, they had an argument last week and the rasberries are the current mediators in the berry bin.  She packs those lunches, places the well thought out post-it in each of their lunches (something her mom did for her and if she forgets to do it, I’ve seen her get up at 3a.m. and go down and put the post-it in their lunch) and off she goes to prep her lunch, have a conference call or 2 (or 3 depending on the day and how long these people seem to want to hear their own voices) and get the coffee cups ready in the morning.  But those post-it notes better be in their strategically placed locations for the kids (one reads and one doesn’t but those post-its go on there!).   And, absolutely, do not forget the post-it!  The drama associated to not putting the post-it in her lunch will carry on for days.  This happened on my wife’s last trip to India.  She did 5 days of post-its and I always know to grab one and put it in the lunch so Saffi has a bit of her mom with her each day.  One day, it didn’t happen.  Well, that Skype conversation that night with her mother was beyond drama.  She was promptly instructed to never let it happen again, her friends asked where her post-it was and, in her words, “It was embarrassing, Mom”.  She’s 5 – there is plenty more embarrassment coming.  But, my wife, bless her, agreed and said it wouldn’t happen again and she will ensure that there are 2 post-its the next morning (she always knows the right thing to say – mom’s have that skill!).

Because there are no lunches – there is no schedule/routine to keep that night.  No laundry, phone calls, social stuff, whatever.  It’s our one night as a family where nothing else matters except the 4 of us (and 3 felines that are the bane of my existence most of the time).

Pizza Thursday (if you have ever tried Freedom Pizza – try it!) was celebrated with a big supreme pizza (my girls love their veggie’s – don’t ask me where that came from) and one of those cookie pizza things (I know where they got that from).

We settle like complete slouches – no dishes, the couch and a movie (today – thankfully – was not Frozen – but Cinderella).

The little one is walking around ‘half-onesied’ with half a pizza piece dropping olives as far as the eye can see (while obnoxious cats think they are little black toys).  The other is devouring her 3rd piece of pizza.  Now, my daughter is a ‘skinny mini’ (the wife) – the metabolism, bless her, just doesn’t stop.  We are cautiously warning her on the effects.  But no, those slices go down and so does a slice of cookie pizza.

Full and content, wife gets her up to bed and settled in.

Not 20 minutes later she comes down the stairs moaning and groaning.  Her stomach hurts and she can’t sleep (I don’t think many people could at that point).

Wife is content with the wee one happily sleeping on her shoulder and I take her up to tuck her in and get her to sleep.

The funny thing is that here she is, turning 6 and I remember when she was tiny, even Kinzy’s age and before, tucking her in and holding her to sleep.  She’s big now.  She grew up too fast.  And here I am tucking her in because she still needs me.   Is this the last time it will happen?  Is she going to be 15 before I know it and then she will be slamming the door and not listening to anything?   My wife and I were now tucking in the little one.  And I realized that I still need to take that time to tuck her in.  And, I found myself doing this so much with Kinzy.  But with Saffi, this could probably gradually go away – when she doesn’t need me anymore or just deals with her own upset stomach.

I feel like they are both changing so fast.  I want to be the one that she calls with a stomach ache.  I don’t, of course, want her to have one.  But, I do want to make sure that I am taking those times to listen to her growing pains more and spend the time putting her to sleep. And looking at her and watching her as her beautiful brown eyes close and she looks like a peaceful angel tucked into her pink princess, pepto-bismol room, I can’t help but laugh that think about the fact that we have survived these ‘almost’ 6 years together.   And that I can still put her to sleep and she still needs me – stomach ache or not.

The opportunities that we have to make a difference in however many years we live can dwindle if we don’t look for every chance to make a difference.  For her, if I’m that face she sees before she sleeps and I know it will be a peaceful and pleasant sleep for her, I would give anything to be sure that happens.  For my wife, if those post-its are going to make the kind of memories for her that are important in whatever way that is, she will go to the end of the earth to make sure there is never any shortage of post-its.

This is what we do for our kids.  So Pizza Thursday may not have been the most pleasant for my oldest tonight, but I know that us laughing and joking as we do each Thursday makes that stomach-ache a distant memory.

Buying toys, spoiling children for no reason, guilt sweets, whatever it is (that is so prominent in the arab world sometimes), we often fail to realise that it isn’t about those things – the memories stay with them long after the Shopkins have been lost or the Minions have gone far out of style.  My wife calls the memories, RAK (Random Acts of Kindness).  But, for parents, those Pizza Thursdays and Post-its are simply our way of good parenting and holding onto those bits of time that seem so short.

Have an amazing Pizza Thursday, everyone.

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.