Sunday, May 24, 2009

No Children + Idyllic Beaches + Perfect Weather... Need I Say More?

Hello, how are you, I'm sorry it's been so long.  This time, however, I actually have a semi-legitimate excuse: Daddy and I were on VAY. CAY. SHON.  Our first!! vacation in more than 4 years.  And there were nooooooooooooo children in attendance.  So, as you can imagine, we could have vacationed in our local Starbucks and I probably would have been just as ecstatic at the prospect.

But instead of Starbucks, Daddy delivered something much, MUCH better-- he whisked me away to what *must* be one of the most visually spectacular locations on earth: the Maldives islands (where, come to think of it, there actually was no Starbucks at our resort, proving that even heaven could stand some improvements).  He and I did just about *nothing* for THREE WHOLE DAYS and it was the most glorious boredom ever.  Long live the overpriced cocktail and the perfectly-temperatured infinity pool!

I owe a tremendous portion of the thanks for the vacation to PopPop, who, with his self-annotated, seven-page, single-spaced handbook of Mommy-drafted instructions, held down the fort with magnificent ease (surely, the substantial pile of presents also helped; what toddler in her right mind can resist a good bribe when it's wrapped in shiny princess paper?).  PopPop navigated sports classes, swimming lessons, and even the unheard-of event of a kid having to stay home sick from school... all without breaking a (visible) sweat.  The daily reports he would send us over email were full of not only laugh-out-loud highlights from the children's day, but also, incredibly, assurances of order and tranquility that were believable enough to put my mind at ease.  Thus, to the extent that my sanity has been restored (or, more realistically, returned to a temporarily functional state), it's all the work of Daddy with his masterful planning, unparalleled companionship, and boundless generosity; and PopPop with his even-keeled grandfathering style and selfless commitment to ensuring that his daughter and son enjoyed a few days of uninterrupted blissful rejuvenation.  THANKS TO YOU BOTH FOR MY BEST VACATION EVER!!!

And now back to your regularly scheduled program: what else is new?  Well, Baby has suddenly taken to her infant sign language DVD like a duck to water, and is delighting us all with her increasingly effective communication skills.  Sushi's artwork has similarly been a source of great pride: even though she's only just turned 4, she can already sketch an entire scene complete with fully accessorized characters (the exaggerated eyelashes and the vertical hairdos get me every time) and surprisingly well-thought-out floor plans (ah, she might follow in Daddy's professional footsteps after all).  Screamer has been making terrific progress with identifying all the letters of the alphabet (curiously, she is often stumped by the letter "C," what's up with that?) and has developed a melt-your-heart manner of telling you a story that has no discernible plot or ending (but one HECK of a lot of animation and enthusiasm!).

Alice and Julia's unlikely friendship is continuing to progress, which pleases me to no end... though I am embarrassed to admit that I am still, 6 weeks after poor Julia's arrival, having to openly discipline both Sushi and Screamer for giving her the cold shoulder-- or worse.  Sometimes even Baby starts belligerently flapping her arms when she sees Julia on the approach, which is beyond mortifying for me.  I only hope that my endless stream of positive reinforcement is doing *something* to mitigate the inevitable damage that the children's resistance must be having on her self-esteem.... yikes.  (Which reminds me, if anyone has any advice as to how I can speed up the toddler-acclamation-to-a-new-nanny process, I'm all ears.)

Finally, The German is pretty much out of my life entirely-- I avoid her whenever possible and I respond to her ongoing text advances as politely but succinctly as I can-- and I become more enamored with The Australian at every playdate (my infatuation is tempered only by the recent news that her husband's job may require them to relocate to Abu Dhabi, which is an hour away... Curses!!)

Overall, we have few complaints, other than (1) the heat, which is spiking so dramatically that it's almost comical; (2) the American Idol finale (DON'T GET ME STARTED, unless your intent is to get me crying onto my computer keyboard); and (3) the fact that all good things-- or in this case, all good vacations-- must come to an end.  Hey Daddy, let's not wait another 4 years before we plan our next escape.  ;)  xo

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Better Late Than Never, Passover Edition

So it all started with this "LIVESTRONG" type wristband that PopPop picked up somewhere.  Without quoting it directly, let's just say that its message was something along the lines of "Support the Newish state."  And let's just say that PopPop was wearing it around the house one day, and while it made me a little bit nervous, it turns out that it made Daddy a lot bit nervous.

The next day, when I commented to Daddy about the fact that PopPop had taken it off, Daddy expressed great relief.  What do you care?, I said, defensively and looking-for-a-fight-ing-ly.  And he went off about how PopPop really shouldn't even joke about wearing something like that out in public, because he's on Daddy's sponsorship, and if PopPop gets in trouble, then Daddy gets in trouble, and it's not like we're living in a country with freedom of speech or expression...

Suddenly I found myself in a panic.  No freedom of speech...  No freedom of expression...  You can't even wear an inconspicuous wristband with a potentially controversial message on it?  Things became clear in a way they hadn't before.  Whereas at home in the US, my minivan bore a NOW bumper sticker that read, "Keep Abortion Legal", NOW, I was in a country where abortions *were* illegal.  Illegal!  And where it is technically against the law to be gay.  And where you can't even joke about letting it be known that you are Newish.  I started to sweat.

Daddy and I didn't speak to each other for the rest of the night: he was angry because I was acting as if this was news to me, how could I be so naive, why do I always have to rock the boat?; and I was angry because Daddy wasn't angry that our Newishness is something that-- in all seriousness, and not just for purposes of making the blog entertaining-- we have to actively hide here.  I mean, I knew when I signed up for this that there aren't any synagogues in the UAE, but I didn't take into account that over time, being forced to conceal our identities would get harder instead of easier.  I was getting sick of keeping this part of our family a secret, even in my own home.

So I festered and I sulked and I longed for the days when I could drag my kids to Friday night services even though I knew they were just going to goof off the whole time.  It was still goofing off in the company of the News.  I missed having a community that I could take for granted.

When I finally tried to break the ice with Daddy, what began as an apology for my hotheadedness turned into an outpouring of emotion... culminating in my unintentionally hurling this somewhat ill-conceived accusation: "And because we have to be here, this is the first year of my entire life that I didn't go to a Passover seder!"

And just like that, someone get a memo to Elijah, it was Passover in Dubai.

Daddy and PopPop and the girls all quickly got on board (the girls, perhaps under a bit of false pretense: I took out the calendar and said, "Look, kids, we didn't even realize that tonight is Passover!  We have to hurry and get ready!") and we began scurrying about.  While Daddy and PopPop went to the store for various ingredients and the girls began coloring Passover decorations that I downloaded from the internet, I officially cut the inaugural ribbon of my Cooking Experience and walked into the kitchen-- alone and with a culinary purpose-- for the very first time.  Homemade matzah!  (I agree with you that it didn't sound appealing but really, what were our other options, people.)

PopPop swore that I couldn't screw this up (flour + water = matzah) but he might have been giving me too much credit.  I had no rolling pin (something tells me that this is not what the Crayola people had in mind when they invented washable markers, see first photo above) and my test matzah almost burned the house down (it seemed to me that the recipe called for the parchment paper to go into the oven, too, but maybe I was wrong?  still unclear, see second photo).  Eventually, I got the visuals somewhat right (third photo!), and after Daddy worked his magic in the kitchen (um, this was not *his* first attempt at cooking, so he had an unfair advantage, I believe), we were ready to sit down.

So what if our seder plate was a 4-year-old's computer-printed worksheet (fourth photo)... and the background music was a "Taste of Passover" album that I hurriedly purchased from iTunes (and which, it turns out, was just 14 different versions of the song "Dayenu")... and the kids both absentmindedly wandered out of the room while PopPop was doing his best to tell them a very G-rated version of the Passover exodus from Egypt.  All that mattered was that we were sitting together, as a Newish family, dining on "matzah" under the dim light of the candles (giant, canary-colored, lemon-scented monstrosities, but whatever) and remembering to pause and appreciate our freedom as News in a way we never had before.  And it was kinda cool to say "Next year in Jerusalem" and have the Promised Land be only a couple hundred miles away.  News huddling in the desert.  Like the good lord intended it!  PopPop even said it was his best seder he's ever had... and I absolutely believed him.  It was mine, too.

By the time the girls were ready to cover their eyes for the hiding of the Afikomen (photo five), we were one big pile of mushy, sentimental goop.  Daddy laughed that this was probably the first time in history that the Afikomen was traded for dirhams.  We took a family photo with Sushi holding a sign that read, "Passover in Dubai 2009," and I have a feeling it's a picture that will always make us smile.

It's still not easy to be Newish here.  But because Daddy is the most wonderful husband in the world, for at least one night this place felt 100% like home.  xo.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What's In, What's Out

IN: The Australian!!  (trust me, she's wonderful)
OUT: The German

IN: The American school
OUT: The international school

IN: eating dinners as a family in the dining room (thanks, Julia!)
OUT: breakfast cereal at the kitchen counter after the kids go to bed (though that does have its own irresistible charm, you have to admit)

IN: taking the car to pick up the kids after school (it's ALREADY over 100 degrees most afternoons, and it's barely May, heaven help us)
OUT: the adorable little red wagon

IN: watching entire seasons of shows in rapid succession on iTunes
OUT: reading books (come on, you knew it couldn't last)

IN: temporarily confiscating toddlers' precious loveys
OUT: time-out corners (it just wasn't working for us, Jo Frost, but we hella tried)

IN: stalking an American Idol contestant from afar (GO ADAM!!!)
OUT: acting like an adult

IN: swimming lessons, soccer lessons, playball lessons, ballet lessons
OUT: lethargy

IN: The Wizard of Oz, Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
OUT: Playhouse Disney (adios, Handy Manny, and your godforsaken talking toolbox)

OUT: abject terror at the thought of *voluntarily* taking 3 small children on a 20-HOUR flight (well, it's not OUT yet, but I'm optimistic that the sedatives-- mine-- will take effect soon...)

Hoping to see you then, U.S.-based friends!!  xoxo