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Tooth Fairy BUSTED!

“Don’t tell Mummy!” Son2 glanced at his brother and stifled a laugh as my curiosity grew. He brought his index finger to his mouth. “Shhh.”

“Don’t tell Mummy what?” I asked, deeply suspicious.

Hopeless at keeping a secret, Son2 then proceeded to tell me anyway: he’d lost a tooth. I peered into his mouth, and there was indeed a new gap, next to a huge front tooth that still looks oversized in comparison to his milk teeth.

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The end of a chapter in our lives

“Tooth fairy tonight,” I said brightly.

“But mum,” said Son1, from the other side of the lounge, where he was playing on his computer. He pulled his headsets off to actually join in the conversation. “THE TOOTH FAIRY IS FAKE!”

I stalled for time, considering whether just to come clean. To be honest, it would have been a relief. My mind was already trying to figure out whether I had any small notes in the house, and I’m over remembering, exhausted, at 2 in the morning that I need to play tooth fairy. But if I admitted she wasn’t real, wouldn’t they then immediately clock that we’ve been lying about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus too? It was a slippery slope I didn’t feel quite ready to go down, so I replied, “Of course she’s real. Why weren’t you going to tell me about the tooth anyway?”

“Because the tooth fairy is daddy,” said Son1, pinning his gaze on DH on the other sofa. “That’s why we weren’t going to tell you – if the tooth was still under the pillow in the morning, then we’d know for sure we’re right. William’s tooth stayed under his pillow for three days before he finally told his parents and then he got money.”

“What makes you think it’s daddy?” I asked, my nose twitching with the effort of staying deadpan.

“Because,” said Son1 as though it was completely obvious, “the last time he forgot. When we came downstairs in the morning and said the tooth fairy hadn’t been, daddy quickly said ‘Here, hold this,’ and gave me his plate while he ran upstairs to put money under the pillow.”

“Ah, yes.” I gave a small cough. I remembered the incident well.

“And,” Son1 continued, rolling his eyes, “daddy left the tooth under the pillow.”

I think that’s us just about rumbled! Best-case scenario now is that the Santa myth is hanging by a single crimson thread.

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Move over Mary Poppins – meet the Granny Aupairs!

Worried about leaving your kids with the housemaid? An older nanny with wisdom and a sense of adventure could be just what you need

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Granny Bobby couldn’t imagine just staying at home after retiring

Bobby’s dream was always – should she be alone after retirement – to spend time abroad with a family as a ‘temporary Granny’. Thanks to an award-winning nanny agency that places women aged 45+ in households all over the world, her dream came true, and a family in Dubai has benefitted enormously from her life experience.

“I was always working between the age of 16 and 65 and couldn’t imagine just spending time at home with my various hobbies,” says Granny Bobby. “Some of my friends could not believe I would do this, others were really supportive. I kept my flat and my car, leaving them in the care of my best friend and neighbour so I could always return if it didn’t work out.”

Granny Bobby’s first placement was in Bangkok with a German/Filipino family, initially for six months which turned into three years. This was followed by six months with a German/French family in Paris with two small girls. “From the beginning of 2016, with a few breaks, I’ve been in Dubai with an expat German family, who have a six-year-old boy, Joel,” she says.

Joel had just started school, with quite a heavy workload already. “After he returns home in the afternoon, I cook for him, read and do homework, and then play outside or go to baseball. When his mother comes home we eat dinner together before Joel goes to bed. At the weekends, we go on trips to the zoo, the beach, or go shopping or travel.”

Granny Bobby says she finds it extremely rewarding that she can support the family, and has built a very friendly relationship with the mother. “Her husband works in Riyadh and is only home irregularly for the weekend, so the three of us spend quite a lot of time together.”

Older women are usually better than younger aupairs because they have more experience of life, says Michaela Hansen, founder of Hamburg’s Granny Aupair agency. “Families like to take them on because they are reliable, serious and know how to be strict.”

Aged between 45 and 75, the women registered with the agency have brought up families of their own and are now keen to travel or learn another language. Many are former teachers, child care workers, secretaries, flight attendants or nurses. The idea of an aupair is based on mutual help. The granny helps with housekeeping and children, and gets free board and lodging in return.

Following a period with a German/Italian family of five in South Korea, Granny Anni travelled to Dubai last year. “The mother (German) is a single mother with an 18-month-old daughter. On arrival, I got to know the month of Ramadan and the heat (45 degrees!), as it was the start of summer,” she says.

“I am up early in the morning to prepare breakfast, and am also responsible for lunch while Mum is at work. I quickly realised that my presence was really needed which was a good experience for me. At the weekend, we do the food shopping for the week. I also went on a trip to Abu Dhabi, which I found to be a different world altogether.”

Granny Anni says she also has a “wonderful relationship with the Mama”. After her initial stay in 2016, she returned to Dubai in January and is currently finding the heat “not so suffering”.

Hansen points out that lots of mothers stay in contact with their Granny following the aupair stay. “Often she becomes a motherly friend and is a ‘replacement’ if their own family lives far away.”

Another benefit, she says, is that the Grannies often share their secret recipes. “How lovely is it to arrive home with the whole place smelling of freshly baked cake? Many of our Grannies are true masters of the stove.”

Granny Bobby believes her years as a Granny Aupair with small children or adolescent boys have changed her views enormously, above all with regard to dealing with young children. “I was often brought to my limit, as I had to learn to scale back my needs to respond to the needs and wishes of the youngsters, which was not always easy. But it’s worth it when the kids say they love you and want to be taken into your arms. I am getting so much back and will certainly be visiting other countries as a Granny Aupair.”

Find out more about Granny Aupair here.

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On finally getting a chic tree (after 11 years)

Christmas pasts in our household have always looked something like this: Haul the dusty box containing our fake tree from the storeroom. Assemble tree, by slotting twenty branches of bashed-up greenery into the right holes. Arrange fronds in a symmetrical fashion, with no help whatsoever from the children (the same children who 30 minutes previously were desperate to put the tree up).

Next, I’d attempt to sort out the spaghetti junction of tangled lights, while stopping the boys from jumping on the tiny bulbs and attempting to create a fuzzy, homely, festive atmosphere with jingles in the background and the sweet, gelatinous smell of mince pies in the oven.

Then (and don’t tell me you haven’t done this too!?) indulge my secret habit of rearranging haphazardly placed baubles later.

Ha! It was all … so stressful!

Now I just have to keep the dog away
Now I just have to keep the dog away

Not only because of the general chaos and mess that ensued, but because Christmas decorating with two small boys involved such terrible colour schemes, and so many bald spots on the tree, smashed decorations and tinsel-tastic explosions.

What on earth’s happened to the lights?” I asked one year, after DH strung up new gaudy, electric bulbs with the boys. “They’re all blue, and flashing … kind of like a police car rushing to a traffic accident.”

“You’ll get used to the neon-blue glow,” DH had laughed, and I’d stared, mesmerised, half expecting to hear the wail of a siren, eventually agreeing that the boys’ handiwork was indeed lovely. And colourful.

This year, thanks to the boys being that much older, it all went a lot more smoothly than usual – and a bigger kitchen in our new house meant there was room for a second white tree, decorated only by moi!

I have to say I’m rather pleased. So it’s not quite the same as when my dad used to take my brother and I to a farm that sold firs in all shapes and sizes, and we’d come back in high spirits with a freshly cut tree smelling of pine resin and the outdoors. But my chic white tree winks away rather cheerfully and casts a lovely warm hue over the kitchen.

Season’s greetings to all!

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Read me (if you dare)

There is a time of the year (it used to be a night, now it’s nearly all month) when expat communities in Dubai become satellite suburbs of the good ole’ US of A.

It starts with a few Halloween decorations here and there, a bush covered in cobwebs, creepy spiders on the wall, and by October 31st morphs into a full-blown horror scene with grave stones and skeletons, strung-up ghosts and ghouls, along roads normally festooned with bougainvillea and desert roses.

Doesn't DH make the prettiest girl? (bottom left)
Doesn’t DH make the prettiest girl? (bottom left)

Last night, as the sun slipped from view behind the white picket fences of our new compound and the pumpkins began to glow orange, the children took to the streets en masse, in fancy dress. They were trailed by their parents, many of whom had made a valiant effort and donned costumes too.

If you saw a blondish mother in a floor-length, gold, Cleopatra outfit with jewels dripping from my forehead, limping along (my shoes hurt), wiping the sweat from my brow (it’s still humid to be walking around clad head-to-toe in cheap polyester material) and completely lost from my kids, then that was me.

When I finally caught up with my 8yo, who waits for this night all year and gets beyond excited about dressing up and getting a massive stash of candy, it occurred to me that I should ask him what he was saying to the people answering the constant stream of door knocks.

“Are you saying thank you?” I asked.

He gave a firm nod.

“And saying trick or treat nicely?” I enquired.

“I tell them, “Give me all your sweets or you’ll die,” he replied, totally deadpan.

“You’re what?” I gasped. “ YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!!!” I felt my heart skip a beat at the mere thought of how this was going down with all our new neighbours.

Stash of sweets: The face says it all really
Stash of sweets: The gleeful face says it all really

A little chat followed that he wasn’t a prankster-gangster, he was a grim reaper and had to be polite – or I’d confiscate all his sweets – and he nodded again before running off into the darkness with his friend-in-crime.

Then there was just the small matter of getting back to our house, in my flowing robes and heels, along a road that felt twice as long as it normally does so I could cool down. “You look like Cleopatra the morning after,” quipped DH, who’d taken his shock of white hair off a long time before and was enjoying a bevvie indoors with his mother (dressed as a 1920s’ Flapper).

All in all, it was wonderful night, full of frights and sights – not least of them DH and myself!

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Little America: Dubai’s ball field, basketball and more

INFO POST: Despite the heat, guest blogger Kristin Lewis can truthfully say they are never bored in Dubai

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On offer in our glorious desert city is horseback riding, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding, trampoline parks, skate parks, skydiving lessons at FlyDubai, indoor skiing or tubing at Ski Dubai, and ice skating and hockey at a huge rink in the middle of Dubai Mall. There’s an active diversion at almost any mall in the city. Whether it be indoor football, soft play areas or glow-in-the-dark mini golf – you will find something.

Almost any sport you can name is available to the kids at some time throughout the year. Cricket, rugby, rounders, netball and soccer (otherwise known as NOT-American football), are biggies here. On rare non-uniform days at school, sports team kit is off-limits, as there are just too many strong opinions about whose team is best.

The baseball fields: a self-contained quad of baseball diamonds on a green plot of land in clear view of the Burj Khalifa
The baseball fields: a self-contained quad of baseball diamonds on a green plot of land in clear view of the Burj Khalifa

For us American folk, our interests are accommodated too – basketball, American football and (my personal favorite) baseball. Walking into the Dubai Little League baseball complex is equivalent to the mothership calling me home. It is SO American and it totally rocks, and is made even cooler because kids from lots of other countries participate on the USA-named teams. The complex has beautifully kept baseball fields, t-ball fields, clean bathrooms and – get this – a snack shack that sells hot dogs, hamburgers, the best nachos E.V.E.R. and a few healthy things, although I’m not really sure what those are.

Ball park with a view
Ball park with a view

While I gripe about going to some of my kids’ activities, baseball is not one of them. If there is a conflict, my husband and I will actually argue about who gets to go to the ball field. Hubby even volunteered to help coach this past year just to have a solid excuse to attend as many games as possible. I think I may volunteer for team mom next season just to spite him. This is hands down my son’s favorite sport too – he loves the camaraderie of the game, the parent-led teams and the thrill of having someone’s car alarm go off when he accidentally hits a foul ball over the fence.

My daughter, on the other hand, would rather stick a fork in her eye than be dragged to a baseball game. Oh my goodness, the days she has to go with us can be painful – “It’s SO hot I can’t concentrate on my homework, it’s SO bright I can’t see my homework, it’s SO loud I can’t focus on my homework, the bench is SO hard I can’t get comfortable to do my homework.” It has now been mandated that all homework be left at home – at the ball field, everyone eats nachos and enjoys the game. No forks allowed.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!

Since baseball is obviously not her thing, my daughter recently came to the realization that her other sports passion is basketball. Her first year on the court she was named team captain, which tells you something – that everyone else is playing an abridged version of netball. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good player…and also one of the few to understand most of the rules of actual basketball. The whole team tried really hard, but they were just SO polite. Although we promised to never be those parents, my husband was in the stands almost every game with a vein bulging from his forehead. Out of his mouth was a constant stream of “GET THE BALL!”, “DEFENCE!” and my personal favorite, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”

It got so bad that our daughter actually marched up to the stands one halftime and told her Dad to get out and not come back until he could behave himself. Meanwhile, I felt like the belle of the ball in the stands, smiling graciously as I intercepted questions from other parents about traveling, free throws and the three-second rule.

COMING SOON: In the final blog of Kristin’s three-part series on activities in Dubai, she writes about rock-climbing and water parks. 

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On losing it over homework (and why they won’t cooperate)

Saturday morning (the last day of the weekend here in the UAE) saw me feeling determined: my kids were going to get their homework done early, rather than leaving it until last thing on Saturday night when we’re all tired and would rather stick pins under our nails.

So I sat down at the table, drumming my fingers while the boys shouted out various excuses, from needing to land an airplane on whatever computer game they were playing to being hungry/needing to run an urgent errand/feeling ill etc.

I heard my youngest son chasing the dog. “Bella … Bella. EAT it.”

I finally got them to the table, where it quickly became obvious we might still be sitting there hours later with my boys yawning and feigning snoring over small heaps of crumpled paper.

“I’m not going to do it for you,” I told my eldest. “I’ll sit here doing some work of my own, BUT YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK.” I emphasised the words with a raise of the eyebrows.

Son2: "Mum, can I have a hacking device for Christmas?"
Son2: “Mum, can I have a hacking device for Christmas?”

Son1 shot me a look, and even the plants on the windowsill looked as though they were seeking an escape from within.

Fifteen minutes later, Son1 was still struggling, complaining that he couldn’t find a good website to answer the question he’d been set. I heard the flicking sound of the rubber he was fiddling with – then he dropped his pen on the floor, which always sets my teeth on edge after the third time. At one point, he nearly slid off his chair.

A stare passed between us. I might have felt my face flash hot with annoyance.

It’s at this point that I try to remember what Clive Power, managing director of Dubai-based Power Tutoring, told me:

“It’s usually difficult for parents to help with their own children’s homework. Children like to keep their work/life balance just as much as adults. We don’t like bringing work home and it interfering with our family life, the same is true for children. It would be just as strange for children to have their parents in the classroom as it would be for the teacher to have a meal with the family in the home. So when the parent takes on the role of the educator as well, there’s confusion. Children can even question whether the emotional support and unconditional love will still be there if they get the answers wrong or don’t understand things fully.

“We’ve had qualified teachers who’ve come in and said that they can work with all the children in the school, but not their own children,” Clive continues. “It’s the blind spot on the car, the part of your back that you can’t quite reach to scratch.”

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-23-23-45So today, as my son continued to whine that not one of the websites he was looking at told him the answer, I tried to bear Clive’s words in mind – then felt the small hairs on the back of my neck rise and lost it with my son anyway.

“You know, your father and I – we had to do this WITHOUT GOOGLE! We couldn’t just type a question into the internet and get the answer, a thousand times over on the screen in front of us. We had to look in BOOKS, ENCYCLOPAEDIAS to do our homework! There was no Wikipedia, no search engines. No internet!

“Can you even imagine that?” I finished, beetroot red in the face. “Do you even know how lucky you are?”

Son1 gave a small nod, his alarmed eyes as wide as saucers.

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Dubai Mermaids: Catching the synchronised swimming wave

INFO POST: One of the best things about our sparkling emirate is the range of water sports available. From surfing to shark safaris, paddleboarding to scuba diving, the blue stuff offers something for everyone. For guest writer Kristin Lewis, it was her daughter’s new-found interest in synchronised swimming that led to a bedazzling foray into a watery world of sequins and hair gelatin. Over to Kristin …

We are a pretty active family, so one of my initial fears about moving to Dubai was having to adopt a heat-induced passive lifestyle. Not that it would necessarily trickle down to my kids – who I imagined would be scaling the ceiling, inventing new hairstyles for the dog, Jackson Pollock-ing the walls with toothpaste and building epic forts in every room. But parental sanity would definitely be affected.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about my kids being bored here. This city has everything imaginable for a kid. And then some.

With the sea generally fairly flat, stand-up paddleboarding has become popular in the UAE
With the sea generally fairly flat, stand-up paddleboarding has become popular in the UAE

Of course, there are the pools and beach clubs. Whether it’s a community pool, a five-star resort or the whole range in between, these are always MUCH nicer than the run-of-the-mill fare you might find in just about any other country. You still need to keep your mind away from thoughts of leaky swim diapers, snotty noses and the occasional floating Band-Aid, but you would find that anywhere.

What you won’t find everywhere is the endless opportunities of paddleboarding, kayaking, surfing, scuba diving, volleyball, jet skiing – even land and water obstacle courses – that you find at Dubai beaches. Additionally, lots of pools offer cool classes, including swimming for all ages, water aerobics for the slightly aged, diving and synchronised swimming.

My 13-year-old daughter just caught the synchronised swimming wave and loves it. She started going once a week, then twice a week and was invited to join a squad. She’s a tall, slender girl who, at times, is sort of the opposite of her given name of Grace. After a year at this sport though, she is really learning the fluid movements and pointed toes of a synchronised swimmer.

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Dubai water ballerinas turn the pool into a stage

Not only has it been a learning experience for her, but for me too. I learned how to shop for an almost-impossible-to-find plain black bathing suit AND expand my non-existent sewing repertoire by hand-stitching hundreds of sequins onto the suit. The silver sequins were supposed to create this nice swirly pattern, but as my daughter checked in on my handiwork she asked, “Why did you stitch a question mark on my suit?”

When she first modeled it for me, it was true – the suit seemed to ask, “Why did you let your Mom do this?” Needless to say, we all hope it’s a pre-decorated swim costume next time.

Making a splash

I also learned to gelatin her hair so it would stay neat in the water. After watching several YouTube videos, I thought I had the process down pat. Turns out, I didn’t thin out the solution quite enough, resulting in thousands of tiny glue balls in my daughter’s hair. I allowed myself three hours of prep time which was clearly not enough, as I didn’t have time for a re-do. So, let’s just say that, unless we were up for the Lazy American award, we didn’t represent our country well, because every other nationality looked fastidiously tidy with proper swirls, sleek hair and bold makeup.

Thank goodness my daughter’s a laid-back kid and was okay with the question mark, glue balls and makeup I managed to borrow poolside from another mom. In my defence though, after gliding and somersaulting through the water for several minutes, she had not one hair out of place.

NEXT WEEK: If water activity is not your child’s thing, that’s no problem. Despite the heat, Kristin can truthfully say they are never bored.