One thing they never tell you about becoming a parent is how you suddenly have to negotiate life while answering a constant stream of questions.
Whatever you’re doing as a mum, whether it’s filling in passport renewal forms, working, driving at 120kph, meeting the financial advisor, having a phone conversation or sitting on the loo, is punctuated with questions pitched with such urgency you’d think the world would stop turning if a satisfactory reply wasn’t given at once.
Sometimes the questions don’t even have simple answers:
“Why can’t we go to McDonalds?”
“Is Zanzibar a place or a flavour?”
“Why doesn’t it snow here?”
“How many hours till Christmas?”
“Where are my blue shorts?”
Why can’t we have ice cream?”
“What happens when you die?”
“Can I have a heart-shaped birthday cake?”
“What are we doing next summer?”
“Do any of the biscuits we have at home have writing on?” (this gem as I was trying to prevent us from being squished between two speeding 40-foot container trucks on Mohammed bin Zayed Road).
Research has shown that mothers can be subjected to up to 300 kiddie questions a day – that’s one every two minutes. Times that by as many children you have and, well, no wonder I can’t even decide if I want a cup of tea come four o’clock: “Yes? No? Maybe? Herbal? English Breakfast? Earl Grey?” Gaaah!
Today I ran into the doctor who delivered DS by C-section.
That lady is forever ingrained on my soul because she gave me a healthy baby with an Apgar score of 9/10. This is in contrast to DD, who came out the natural route under a different doctor and nearly died. DD’s Apgar was 2/10, which means she was hanging on by a thread. If that. We’re lucky she made it.
So, every day since DS was born, when I see him sleeping in his bed, I feel gratitude to my obstetrician for getting him out safely when, really, the odds (with a very low and calcified placenta) were against it.
And I was excited to see my obstetrician today. I feel so fond of her, it’s almost like she’s a part of my family. I remember how she arrived at my hospital room at 9pm each night, even though she’d just done a full day at her clinic, just to check up on me.
But you can’t keep seeing an obstetrician for no reason – you kind of need to be pregnant (no I’m not).
So, today, she recognised me and we greeted each other with kisses and hugs. We caught up on the years gone by; she cooed at the pix I showed her of my darling little DS, and then she said it. She said those magic words: “You’ve lost weight!”
“Yes!” I said. In actual fact I’ve put on a little since October, when I tried to cut down on wine and discovered that salted caramel chocolate made a tasty substitute.
“Lots!” she said.
“Yes!” I smiled, overjoyed.
And then I realised. It was a line she of all people is safe to say: last time she saw me I weighed 80kgs and was six weeks post-partum.
To get the record straight before we even start this story: I’m not one of those over-achieving mums who lives their lives vicariously through their kids. You know: the ones whose kids go after school to Arabic classes, tap-dancing, horse-riding, tennis, swimming, hip-hop, gymnastics, Arabic tap-dancing on ice-skating ponies.
I’m far too lazy.
Seriously, I’m one of those mums who believes a child needs to be a child. My priority for my children after school and homework is done is that they run about in the park playing hide ‘n’ seek with their friends, ride their bikes down the road like they’re in the Tour de France, and mess about in our pool. Heck, maybe even watch a bit of TV.
God knows, they get it hard enough at their school.
But DD asked me after the summer if she could take up an after-school dance class. “Not a kiddy one, mummy, but a proper dance class. I want to be a dancer.” (I am so not a stage mum.)
After quizzing her a million times before paying for a term’s worth of stage-school classes up front (AED 85 [£15.45] a pop, non-refundable), I finally agreed. And I genuinely love driving her half way round the city to her class each week and waiting around in the middle of the desert for an hour, because she clearly loves her dance class.
But then came the missed classes. One, she was tired. Two, she was sick. And three, she had the netball league match at school. Netball was optional. I gave her the choice: dance or netball. She chose the netball. I was surprised, but pleased. She likes netball!
“So how was it?” I asked her afterwards, thinking not at all of the wasted dance class.
“You enjoyed it? Glad you went?”
“Yeah. It was great.”
Sigh of relief from me. A little jump of excitement, even: she, Little Miss Non-Sporty, likes netball!
“It was fun,” DD continued, “because I was sitting out most of the matches. “And I was with my friend C. She had almonds so we ate all her almonds. Then her mum came and she had some cool stuff on her phone so we watched, like, videos?”
“Is that it? Is that the reason you liked netball?”
“No! Not just that.”
“C’s older brother was there doing his homework too, so we watched him… that was fun.”
Facepalm. “So did you play any netball?”
“A bit. At the end.”
So, in reality, I paid AED 85 for my daughter to eat almonds, watch videos and enjoy watching her friend’s big brother do his homework. What will her teens be like?
So this morning, as the whole of Dubai celebrated en masse at winning the right to host Expo 2020, two small children stood in my bedroom and cried. Real tears. At 6.30am.
(I hope I don’t need to add that they were my children.)
“Why is school cancelled? I want to go to school!” wailed DD, thinking entirely of the UAE-flag-coloured sk8er-grl dress I’d bought her to wear for the school’s National Day celebrations today.
“I wanna go to school. I love school!” wailed the very same DS who wakes every morning to whine, “I hate school, I don’t wanna go to school. I’m sick. My tummy hurts.”
“It’s not my fault school’s cancelled,” I said uncharitably, wondering if it was too late to get back into my dream. I’d been at an airport, about to get on a flight. To where, I’d not found out.
But, like many Dubai residents, my children don’t know what Expo 2020 is. So, instead of going back to bed, they asked me. At 6.35am. My delicious dream turned out to be a big, fat flight to Nowhere City.
“It’s, umm, a big exhibition,” I said brightly. “All the countries of the world will have a stand, and it’ll be really exciting and fun. We’ll go, I should think.”
I didn’t go into the carbon neutral business. It was early. The children looked as dubious as early-morning children can look in cute pyjamas.
“You’ll be 15,” I told DD. “Your friends at boarding school will all want to come to Dubai for the holidays. You’ll call me up and ask if Hen, Bells, Laney and Fliss can come for half term and I’ll be like ‘Darling, we don’t have enough bedrooms, you’ll have to pick two friends max’ and you’ll be like, ‘but they all want to come. Dubai is so cool!’ You’ll be really popular!”
It didn’t convince her, but she wiped her tears and, at least, went down to breakfast. Happy Expo. Seven more years to go.
In the last few weeks I’ve been reliving the exhausting days of being a brand-new, first-time mum. I’ve been reminded of it by a friend who’s just had her first baby and is sharing the agony and the ecstasy via her Facebook updates. I can’t tell you how badly I feel for her when I see, as I leap out of bed at 6am, that she’s been up all night.
Much as I love being a mum now, it took me a long time to adjust. In the early days, I remember feeling robbed. While DH, wallowing in the congratulations of his colleagues, put on his suit and skipped off to his adult world of coffees, meetings and the gym at lunchtime, I sat at home and felt robbed: robbed of my career, robbed of my figure, robbed of my sleep, and robbed of my sanity.
There were days – and I don’t apologise for saying this – that I wished I could wrap up my baby, return her to the Customer Service desk and ask for my old life back. Even M&S takes returns for up to 60 days and it’s at about that point, when the initial joy and shock have worn off, that you realise that this is your new, sleepless reality; that, for better or for worse, ‘this is it’.
At 60 days / eight weeks, the tiny tyrant probably hasn’t smiled properly; certainly hasn’t yet passed the magic 12-week milestone; and likely screams endlessly for no apparent reason. You see the rest of your life stretched out before you, an exhausted muddle of sleep deprivation, baby bottles, colic and possets down your favourite top. You think you’ll never be able to go out again without a pram attached.
But it’s amazing how quickly it all turns around; it’s amazing how quickly they start letting you sleep, and grow into gorgeous little bonsai people with their own little characters. Nowadays, I wouldn’t swap it for anything.