Cheap and uncheerful

‘That is IT!’ I kicked the box across the kitchen in a fit of temper far more befitting of my four-year-old.

DH Looked up wearily from the set of toy instructions he’d been studying over his Special K and nodded.

‘NO. MORE. CHINESE. TAT!!!’ I continued, gathering up the bits of packaging in fury, and chucking them into the Toys R Us carrier bag from whence they came. Oldest son, red-faced and teary-eyed with frustrated disappointment, looked on.

The source of my anger, a remote controlled helicopter, was duly thrown back into the bag too, as I stomped around the kitchen still venting, and not caring if anyone answered me. ‘It wasn’t even cheap! It cost over Dhs200! Do you know how much that is in pounds? At least 35 quid! That’s how much! It was hardly a ‘market stall buy!’

Now, as you will know from previous posts (Boys and their toys) our family doesn’t have the best history when it comes to toys of any kind, especially the remote controlled variety. But this time, things had gone too far. Yes, the uber-rubbish quality control of mass-produced, modern-day toys had finally produced one dodgy loose connection too many.

You see, it was my precious son’s seventh birthday, and for months, he’d been begging us for a remote controlled helicopter (he’s a big fan of the cartoon Hover Champs). I’d tried to dissuade him, not only because they are usually recommended for kids aged eight to 10, but also because toys these days are simply not built to be crashed.

In short, the vast majority of toys today are crap. They are breakable, cheaply made, plastic tat designed to part parents with their hard earned cash and send sprogs doolally with distress.

Once purchased, they automatically disintegrate and are thrown into the dustbin within hours of you having installed the first batteries.  And even when you spend a reasonable amount of money on something – and select a trusted brand (said helicopter) – you can bet your bottom dollar that your toy will have suffered a mechanical meltdown within the week. Failing that, you’ll have to exchange it at least three times before you get a model that does perform, so that you can actually watch it suffer a mechanical meltdown within the week.

So there we were, on the morning of my darling boy’s birthday, with the long-awaited helicopter that predictably within 30 minutes, had developed a gremlin and was no longer working. Oldest son was understandably stroppy – and horribly disappointed. His birthday morning, so much anticipated and talked about: ‘I wanted to fly it in the park with Daddy,’ had been ruined.

 But his sad resignation was worst of all. As soon as the wretched thing stopped working, he’d burst into tears, and bought it to us stating angrily; ‘It’s faulty! It’s not working! I knew this would happen…’

And I suddenly realised, with a startling sense of de je vu, just how many times we’ve been down this road before.  Gosh dear reader, talk about Grounghog Day!

Why just recently, there were the wall crawlers, cars that use a suction mechanism so that they can be driven up vertical surfaces. The irony here is that we were the ones who ended up climbing the walls.

The toys, which were on special offer at Carrefour (yes, I should have known better) were an unmitigated disaster. We purchased two – one for each son. When we got home, one of them didn’t work – thus DH, who could not stand the crying (youngest son was inconsolable), took it back to the shop and got another car. That too was faulty. So, DH, now fed up to the back teeth with the thing, gave up.

I then returned it a second time, making sure the man in the shop tested it before it left the store. Once home, the bloody thing worked for 20 minutes and then stopped – never to move again… At this point, youngest son, aged four, was so pissed off that he threw the thing into bin himself.

And before this it’s been a veritable catalogue of catastrophes. We’ve had train sets with dodgy tracks, robots with exploding heads, battery operated transformers that turn into junk instead of cyborgs – and an entire scrap yard of remote control cars, large enough to rival the Dubai Police Abandoned Car Lot in September 2008…  

But the very worst thing about this broken toy carnage is not the money that’s been wasted (although I’m sure we could have paid a term of school fees with it), but the sheer disappointment and ruined memories such purchases have generated. Buckets of kiddie tears have been shed on the altar of the ‘Made in China’ toy. Shrieks of anger, frustration and grief have assaulted our eardrums. And precious birthday mornings have been spoiled beyond repair.

Because toys, which just a few years ago were objects of joy – things to be cherished and played with again and again, have become items of torture to children and parents alike.

In fact, the toys in our house that have lasted are mainly the second generation items. They are the British-made Action Men DH played with as a child (yes – even four decades on, old Eagle Eyes still works) and the Millennium Falcons and X-Wing Fighters from the 1980’s Star Wars toy range. Youngest son recently took the X-Wing into the bath, forgetting it had batteries. But in true, ‘built to last’ style, once dried out, it continued to zap away as merrily as it has done for the past 30 years…

Yes. Sadly, they just don’t make em like they used to. And many tears have been spilled as a result.

My only comfort in all this, is that our darling baby girl who arrived a few weeks ago, probably won’t suffer the frustrations our sons have experienced. This is because toys for children under the age of three, ironically, are built to last longer than a tin of ham on the Titanic. Litigation for infant injury clearly speaks volumes to toy manufactures.

Secondly, girls toys are far less breakable than boys toys, probably because they are built from less pieces (Monster Trucks vs My Little Pony; Hello Kitty vs Transformers – see what I mean?) and they are usually played with in a gentler fashion.  

But for now, there is little we can do to stem the flow of breakable toys that invades our home. After all, you can’t exactly put an embargo on all items made post 1995. Why, as I’ve been typing this very blog, another birthday present arrived for oldest son. Excitedly and joyfully, he rips off the colourful paper to reveal – yes, you’ve guessed it – a wall crawler car…

Let the fun and games begin…..

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Saturday at the mall

 ‘Really, you stay here and have a bit of a rest,’ I insisted to a surprised DH.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked, probably regretting it instantly.

‘Really,’ I replied. ‘You got them up this morning, and took them out all afternoon yesterday. You deserve a break.’

DH, who was hung-over and isn’t silly enough to look a gift horse in the mouth, instantly beamed. ‘Well in that case, I’ll help you load them into the car.’

The plan was supposed to be a simple one. Take kids to Mirdif City Centre Mall. Deposit said kids at Little Explorers play centre and get to Carrefour for a quick shop before the shocking weekend rush. And after that, perhaps, a very small child-free retail session – just for me…

Sadly, when we fell at the first fence, I didn’t take the massive hint that it was going to be one of those days…

At Little Explorers:

‘Sorry Maam. You can only leave them unaccompanied if they are booked in for a workshop. And that’s Dhs200.

‘And how long can I leave them for?’ I sighed.

‘Ninety minutes Maam.’

I did a quick calculation. Was 90 minutes enough time for me to waddle at high speed to the other end of the mall, waddle around Carrefour getting the weekly shop, waddle to the car to pack it in the boot, and then have a blissful waddle around some clothes shops before collecting them again?

Shit. 90 minutes (even at my fastest heavy preggy pace) wasn’t long enough… And 90 minutes of ‘workshop time’ would also cost 40 quid!

‘How about I get them a day pass?’ (a cheaper option)

‘You have to stay with them if you get a day pass. You can take them in and out. But you can’t leave them. We used to let parents leave them, but it all got a bit out of hand,’ she finished lamely.

I’ll bet it did, I thought, seeing my little Saturday morning window of freedom closing faster than a frightened clam.

Not only that, but the boys were now all geared up to spending a session in their favourite play area. Their little faces turned towards me with a Dickensian hunger only seen before in the form of Oliver Twist asking for more gruel…. And of course, I foolishly let it break through my reserve..

‘Okaaay….  Give me a day pass and I’ll go in with them,’ I eye-rolled 10 seconds later.

‘YIPPEE! HOORAY!’ shouted oldest son. And before my card had popped out of the visa machine, he was through the turnstiles, with the little one in hot pursuit.

An hour and a half later it was midday and I was beginning to feel hungry. Very hungry in fact; the kind of hungry you can only feel when you’re eight months pregnant and you’ve forgotten to eat breakfast. ‘Come on boys! Let’s go and get lunch. I promise you can come back in again afterwards.’

Clearly not convinced at my promise (even though for once I actually meant it) it took a further hour to persuade them to leave – and only on the proviso that we got ‘lunch’ from that revolting travesty of a ‘food’ outlet, McDonalds…

As sod’s law would have it, a million other parents had clearly experienced exactly the same brainwave at exactly the same time. Yes. The cluster theory was being beautifully demonstrated at the ‘golden arches’ counter. Meanwhile, every other fast food outlet was ghost-town empty.

‘How about a nice healthy salad and a fruit smoothie instead?’ I suggested hopefully as we passed the Saladicious stall at the same time as an old newspaper page and a ball of rolling tumbleweed.

‘No!’ cried the little one, stamping his foot. ‘We want the Power Rangers toys!’

Bloody hell!

Wearily, we joined the queue. We waited. And we waited. No, let me rephrase that. Tired and hypoglycemic, I spent 20 minutes acting as a Weeble-shaped buffer between two children who were trying to kill each other.

We eventually reached the counter and I placed our order through gritted teeth. ‘Two Happy Meals – one nuggets, the other cheeseburger – and a McChicken sandwich please.’

‘Certainly Maam. Would you like to go upsize?’

‘No. regular will be fine.’

‘What drinks with the Happy Meal?

‘What have you got?

‘Apple or orange Maam.’

‘No water?’

‘Water?’ blank look.

‘Yes. You know, in a bottle.’

‘Not with the Happy Meal Maam.’

‘Okay. Apple then please.’

And with your meal Maam?’

‘What are my options?’

‘Diet or normal coke Maam.?

‘That’s it?’

‘Yes Maam.’

‘I have a diet coke then please.’

‘That’s Dhs40 please.’

Finally…

I passed over my card with relief, only to be met with the unapologetic red-rag-to-a-bull words ‘Cash only Maam!’

I’m ashamed to say I lost it (with her and the manager) and lost it only in the way a hungry pregnant woman with two fighting kids can.

‘Put a sign up for God sakes! Don’t make people queue for 20 minutes, with their bickering children, when you have no intention of entering the 21st century and letting them pay with a card! Furthermore, if you can’t spell well enough to write a sign, install a bloody cash point in the food court instead!’ And with that, I grabbed both children, and march-waddled off to the nearest ATM (which was about half a mile away) accompanied by cries of, ‘I want Power Rangers!’

An hour later, the children (now stuffed with hydrogenated, processed, preservative-filled, antibiotic-laden-meat and sodium-encrusted fries) were ready to make a move – back to the play centre.

‘Okay. But first, let’s go to the loo and get your hands washed.’

Of course, it was never going to be that simple. On the way, a Power Ranger toy was lost. Once we got there, the little one shut his finger in the cubicle door and needed a plaster from the Information Desk before he’d stop screaming. When we eventually arrived back at Little Explorers, there was a birthday party for a million children in full swing. The place was raucous, heaving and headache-inducing. Within minutes, the little one got into a punch-up over a wheel barrow in the construction zone and oldest son managed to soak himself in the water-play area…

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the little one shuffled off and took a sneaky poo in his pants…. I found him, backed into a corner, a look of blissful concentration on his face.

‘Quick! Let’s get to the bathroom!’

‘Too late Mummy,’ he replied with a sigh.

I won’t bore you with what happened next. Suffice to say that it involved Carrefour late on a Saturday afternoon (AKA hell on earth), several bags of squashed fruits and vegetables caused by children insisting on riding in the trolley, a beautifully decorated cake, turned upside down in its box and then sat on, and me, not only forgetting to weigh my vegetables (and realizing when we’d got to the front of the heinously long check-out queue) but also forgetting where I’d parked the flipping car….

‘So, you had a good time then?’ enquired DH, as we stomped through the front door at 5pm, exhausted, sweaty, tear-stained (me) and smeared in buttercream icing (them).

‘Sure!’ I replied a tad manically while removing a rogue French fry from my bra. ‘It was kind of non-stop. But you know what?’

‘What?’

‘As trips to the mall go, it really wasn’t that bad at all…’

Too posh to push and proud…

‘So, when can I mark the delivery date in my diary?’ I smiled purposefully, pen hovering, ready to commit the date. ‘You see my mother is flying out for 10 days to give me a hand, and she wants to book her flight.’

My new doctor (who is from sturdy, Syrian stock) raised her thick eyebrows, and fixed me with a steely glare. ‘Well, you are due in early August my dear– and there might be a two-week margin either way,’ she said firmly. ‘Your mother can adjust her flight nearer the time…’

‘Erm, how does that work?’ I replied, trying to prevent the alarm from creeping in. Stay in control. Keep calm… ‘After all, I’m having a planned c-section. Remember?’

She flapped her papers about disapprovingly, harrumphed as she read my notes on the computer screen, and raised her steely glare to mine once more. ‘We don’t finalize a date until mid-way through your eighth month,’ she replied eventually, with a non-negotiable twitch of her impressive tash.

‘Fine. No problem. Just as long as you know that as I’m paying for it, I’m having a c-section,’ I finished, rather firmly for me, I thought.

Now it’s not that I have anything against the ‘natural-birth brigade’. In fact, I am thoroughly respectful and downright awestruck by anyone who can happily push a 3.5kg baby through a hole the size of a tiddlywink, and then gush that it was an ‘amazing’ experience that they’d ‘happily repeat.’

I even gamely tried it once, but found it such absolute hell on earth, that I vowed never – unless I found myself in a post apocalypse – to do such a dreadful thing again.

Yes, the mammoth 50+hour labour, resulting in a broken coccyx, more stitches than in fleet of Olympic sprinters and a poor, battered baby rendered so grumpy by the process that he cried almost non-stop for a year, made me realise eau naturelle is not for me.

Furthermore, most fellow mothers I know when they delivered their precious firstborns, are presented with wonderful, ‘push presents’ – exclusive jewellery pieces given by doting husbands to mark the occasion. Fashionista mum received a dazzling diamond Tiffany solitaire for her one and only stab at motherhood, while Alpha mum has a huge, Harry Winston, four row ‘traffic’ ring, that her rich husband embellishes with yet another astoundingly expensive stone, every time she squeezes an annoyingly perfect child out.

Meanwhile, old muggins here was in such a sorry state after being practically torn in two, that the only ring DH thought to buy me was a blow-up one I could sit on. Admittedly at the time, being able to sit felt even more precious and luxurious than the Cartier emerald eternity ring I’d admired so hopefully in Emirates Towers Boulevard prior to delivery. But still….

So youngest son was born via the sunroof. And yes dear reader, the whole process was an absolute revelation. From the business of ‘checking in’ to my 7am ‘surgical slot’, to the vast amounts of pethadine and wonderful aftercare I received in the luxurious private hospital room, I barely felt as though I’d given birth at all. It really was more like I’d been on one of those intensive spa breaks at an exclusive retreat in the Swiss Alps, where you go through a few, grueling, beatifying processes that aren’t very comfortable, and then end up with the most spectacular results – in my case, an angelic and contented bouncing baby boy…

And having a baby the way you want to, (especially if it’s surgical) is positively encouraged in the UAE. Why? Because expats have to maintain private medical insurance, so our doctors are (usually) sympathetic to requirements. You need to time baby’s arrival to coincide with your husband’s business trip itinerary? Sure thing Honey! No problem! Need the delivery to fit in with the school holidays? of course madam! But even if you want a water birth with accompanying whale-music, Maurice dancers and a troupe from New Zealand performing the Hakka, there’s a hospital in Al Ain offering that too.

Only, things are a little different for us this time around because for some ridiculously stupid reason, we changed our health insurance policy to another company, thinking our coverage level was the same as the first two times. It wasn’t. And so, baby number three will be born in the reputable government hospital, via their slightly cost-reduced private scheme – instead of the luxurious American Hospital, which serves up new parents a Champagne dinner as part of the package – sob! And the doctors at our current hospital are rather like those you’d find on the NHS (very skilled and able – but rather determined you’ll do things their way….

Of course, both my mother and mother-in-law who are made of sterner stuff (well, they were in the olden days – it was all that carbolic soap) think I’m rather pathetic.

‘Your oldest brother was breech so he came out sideways. I delivered him with zero pain relief after a 600 hour labour and almost lost a leg in the process. But I still cycled the 50-mile London to Brighton annual jaunt a week later with him strapped to my back in a papoos,’ declared my mother (a matriarch of seven naturally born children) as she pulled the cord of her chainsaw and proceeded to clear the miniature forest she lovingly calls her ‘shrubbery’. ‘You girls these days are such a bunch of softies.’

Mother-in-law is just as bad. Five natural births, the last one with twin boys, has her convinced that the bigger the baby, the less childbirth actually hurts…

I know! Of course, it completely defies the laws of physics! But women like this are so damn tough, it’s best not to argue the toss with them…

And the point is, I’m not actually too posh to push, I’m just too scared, not afraid to admit it – and neither am I alone…. Let’s face it girls, stitches where the sun don’t shine are a real bummer…

Why just this morning, a friend who is due to deliver imminently, and had been spewing forth about the virtues of natural birth, did a volte face  and confided that she was actually extremely relieved to be requiring a  caesarian… ‘I really didn’t want to go through all that again,’ she muttered, in relieved tones, ‘especially as I’ve only just had my roids fixed from the last time!’

So I say, ‘each to their own and no judging! Also, let’s have a bit more honesty too when it comes to the exiting of babies.

We all have to live with the consequences of our decisions – both financially and physically. And personally, I don’t want another broken under-carriage, new piles or sneeze-wee. Plus, as the best ‘push present’ I’d get out of DH would probably be another hemorrhoid ring, I might as well get him to fork out for the more expensive surgical delivery package. At least I’ll get to lie in bed and watch cable TV for four days… Now that really can’t be bad!

 

 

 

Cutting the cord….

‘I can’t believe you’ve still got that,’ muttered DH in genuine disgust.

We were clearing out the spare room (soon-to-be-nursery) and I’d just come across a little keepsake box from oldest sons’ first weeks of babyhood. Inside, lovingly preserved, was the onsie he wore when he came home from hospital, his tiny wrist and ankle ID bands, some grainy scan pictures, a pair of minute, grandma-crotched booties, a baby-curl – and the object of my husband’s revulsion; my firstborns’ mummified cord stump.

‘What?’ I exclaimed innocently, twiddling it in front of him between two fingers in wonder. It was black-brown in colour, scab-like and rock-hard, with the white plastic clamp still attached. ‘There’s nothing horrid about it at all,’ I continued, knowing full well I was making him queasy, but launching into outraged, sentimental protestations anyway.

‘It’s the very last tiny thing that connected us physically – and nurtured him for months inside me!’ I gushed alarmingly.

‘I know exactly what it is,’ sniffed DH, looking away. ‘And it resembles a piece of out-of-date biltong.’

Hmmmm… Irked that my maternal sentiments were not echoed by my usually soft-hearted husband, I hastily returned said stump to the box with the rest of my precious memorabilia, and put it back in the secure bottom drawer, like a drug-addict hiding my secret stash.

Surely keeping it wasn’t that weird – was it? It was hardly like I was storing a dismembered digit – right?

Sometime later, I was heartily reassured when my favourite newspaper (the good old Daily Mail) ran a story about the unusual things mothers keep to remind themselves of their child’s babyhood and birth. Apparently, treasuring the cord stump is something a whopping 32 percent of  mothers in the UK do too. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2134998/Babys-dirty-nappy-positive-pregnancy-tests–The-bizarre-keepsakes-new-mothers-cherish-forever.html

The article went on to say that ‘stump collection’ was far from unusual – and that some mothers even preserve their child’s first dirty nappy….

While I’d personally struggle to find nostalgia nestled in the depths of a Pampers full of muconiam, I can understand where they are coming from. Because the sad (or beautiful, depending on where you’re coming from) fact is, there is not one single, disgusting thing to a mother when it comes to her own baby…

That’s right. While anybody else’s secretions – even in tiny amounts, can make us gag uncontrollably, the most squeamish amongst us mums can happily mop up, examine and discuss in great detail, the generous excretions of our own young.  And while we don’t go as far as licking them clean, like other mammals do, we are pretty much immune to revulsion when it comes to their bodily functions.

In fact, a quick ‘ask around’ the Dubai school mums, made me realise my little cord compulsion was nothing – absolutely nothing, in the grand scheme of things, to worry about.

Alpha mum, jiggling fashionable baby number four on her slender, lycra-clad hip, happily revealed that not only had she kept her babies’ cord stumps, first nail clippings and nappies, but that she’d also sent her placentas off to, ‘my marvellous midwife in the UK,’ to have them freeze-dried and made into supplement capsules.

‘I got 300 out of Tabitha’s placenta this time – that’s more than I ever got with Jocasta’s, Astalas’ or Winnifreds’, and I’m still taking them eight months on,’ she wittered proudly, adding that she was convinced it was why her breast milk was always so abundant – and how she’d managed to almost instantly shed the seven kilos she’d gained in total, ‘while preggers with nombro quatre.’

Fashionista mum had a slightly more surreal take on things, admitting that she had obsessively collected, polished and stored every single one of her daughter’s first teeth. ‘I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them – perhaps make a bracelet or a necklace?’ she mused with alarming seriousness.

‘Perhaps you could use them to decorate your pregnant belly-cast wall hanging,’ I suggested, tongue firmly in cheek as I referred to the ‘breasts and all’ plaster of Paris body mold that took pride of place in her sitting room.

‘Derek [the pilot husband] already suggested that – and I did consider it,’ she replied in all honesty, ‘but some of my friends think it might look a bit macabre…’

Moving swiftly on….

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law, never one to mince her words, declared my ‘cord stump keeping’ as ‘Eeuuw!’ However, she did admit to storing all ‘six’ of her pregnancy test sticks when she discovered she was expecting for the first time. ‘I’m going to keep them forever and make a picture out of them for my princess,’ she declared, with no inkling of how absolutely bonkers this made her sound….

Mother-in-law however, had no room for such fripperies and thought us all rather silly. ‘I think it’s a very ‘modern’ way of doing things,’ she declared, a tad witheringly. ‘I only kept the hospital bands and birth records of my babies – what more do you need?’

But I know very well that when our daughter is born this summer, I will be just as sentimentally ‘daft’ as I was with our first two babies. What’s more, I will be sure to take extra special care of those tiny items this time around. And it isn’t just because I very much suspect she will be our last child, but because I know how easily the items can go astray.

For example, I also stored youngest son’s ‘birth bits’ very carefully, but one day, while cooing over them in a sentimental fashion when he was oh, about two, I accidentally dropped his tiny piece of cord on the floor. Quick as a flash, with absolutely no remorse – or respect for my distress, our food-addict Labrador had snaffled it up and my ‘little, physical connection to my baby boy,’ was gone forever…

DH thought it was hilarious – and still laughs about it today…

As for me, well, I’m far too hormonal to be rational at the moment, so I’ll leave it up to you lot to decide….

Maid to measure…

‘I do think we should have told them the truth.’ I said to DH, with more than a twinge of guilt.

‘We did tell them the truth.’ He answered, completely unperturbed.

‘Well, we told them part of the truth – but not the whole truth – if the truth be told…’ I reminded him.

‘Mmmm,’ he agreed, distinctly non-committal.

You see, it’s not that we lied to Agatha’s new employers when they called us for a reference. It’s just that we omitted a few fairly serious facts which in hindsight (and according to the heated discussions about maids on expatwoman.com ) we should have been more honest about.

After all, Agatha has her good points. She is very honest and as strong as an ox. Despite constant complaints that she’s ‘too old and tired’ she has only taken three sick days in the past six years. She’s never late either – not even by a nanosecond. She’s supremely organized; from out-of-date items in the fridge to the near-autistic, regimented order of my knicker drawer. Unlike many maid/nannies in this country, Agatha is a disciplinarian with the children too. Rather like us, they don’t dare disobey her. And herein lays the problem.

But it wasn’t always like that. You see, when Agatha first came to us many moons ago, she wasn’t nearly so anal or domineering. Indeed, she had been working for an Indian family who’d given her just one half/day off every fortnight, and who’d  made her sleep on the floor on a roll-up mattress in the same room as their two children. She was on call 24/7, had no privacy at all and was paid just Dhs800 a month. Furthermore, she was as thin as a rake, with the kind of half-starved cheekbones of a famine victim, and a mousey temperament to match.

She was the first person I’d interviewed for the position. She was also in the country on a visit visa, because, after five years of servitude with the Indian family, she’d felt the need to escape back home for a while. She had no references, barely spoke a word to me, and when I asked her to change oldest son’s nappy, she put it on back-to-front. She also never smiled – which should have been a warning. But I felt most dreadfully sorry for her, because I could see she was desperately shy and that she desperately wanted the job.  So, as I was working from home and could watch her for a while, we took her on.

Initially, she was delighted to be with us. Our maids’ accommodation is a little self-contained chalet with its own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen (with cooker/fridge/washing machine) and front door, and we were fairly relaxed about her duties. ‘Just keep the house in order and watch the baby when we’re working,’ type thing.

As we were unused to having a full-time maid, and still getting to grips with the kind of sleep deprivation trauma you only experience with your first child, we rarely went out in the evenings either. Even when we did, and it was on a weekend, we made a point of paying Agatha extra for her trouble.

But little by little, things began to change. The perks we’d happily volunteered, became expectations – and Agatha started to ask for things.… A Lot. First it was a bigger fridge – she wanted a double-door jobbie with a big freezer compartment. Then it was the bigger telly and the new DVD player (the one we gave her only played original – not pirated disks). There were advances too  – which in hindsight, foolishly, we wrote off, along with numerous other financial requests. Eventually, DH and I began to raise eyebrows at each other as the ‘asking’ continued, because our generosity, (which could not be boundless due to financial constraints), was nevertheless pretty good – though clearly not appreciated.

Indeed, this December just passed, Agatha even told an astounded DH that she was ‘very disappointed’ by the amount of money we’d given her for Christmas (we are a bit strapped for cash at the moment) along with a stocking-full of carefully chosen presents.

But back to the story. As Agatha became emboldened by our gentleness, the balance of power slowly shifted. By now, oldest son was a strapping three-year-old, sleeping 12 hours a night, while youngest son (aged six months) was a well-behaved second child – also sleeping 12 hours a night. With our lives back on track, we began to crawl out of our self-imposed ‘early parenthood years’ prison – and socialize.

We couldn’t afford to go out much, so we entertained at home. But we never asked Agatha to help us cook, or wash up after one of our messy dinner parties, as many expat households do. Instead, we’d drag ourselves out of bed, and somehow, heads pounding, clear up the debris while juggling the childcare. After all, we reasoned, it was Agatha’s weekend too.

More fool us! The less we asked of her, the less she did. And the less she did, the more we took on.  And despite all this, like utter fools, we still doled out the pay rises. The result was that whenever we asked Agatha to do anything out of her self-imposed routine, like ‘babysitting’, ‘ironing my work clothes’ or ‘taking the children to the park’; we were often met with a negative response.

Tragically, what had started as domestic bliss became a domestic battle of wills. And by the time I went part-time at my company four years into her service, Agatha decided that she also, was going to become part time…..  And there was diddly-squat that I could do about it….

That’s when things got really bad. DH and I began to draw straws over who would ask our terrifyingly surly maid if she could babysit. The past two times I’ve made the request, I’ve been turned down flat – not because Agatha had other plans, but because she just ‘doesn’t want to’. I do need to say at this point, that far from being the worn-out skinny waif she once was, Agatha is now as plump and hearty as a pigmy hippo….

In short, our well-intentioned kindness had, over time, created a monster…. And despite my initial protestations, when other ‘maid-employing expats’ had declared that ‘you spoil them [maids] if you’re too nice,’ I have to say, that I finally think they are right….

Yes, these days, Agatha runs our household with all the efficiency [and terror] of a Nazi commandant. Shoes are removed promptly at the doorstep. Greens are eaten (whether they make you feel ill or not!) and only a fool would ask her to forgo her 1.5 hour daily lunch break – even if you’re on a project deadline.

I admit I’m not proud of having called her ‘bloody steel britches’ under my breath on occasions…

If you’re wondering why we didn’t sack her years ago, well, there are several reasons really. First off, we are both really frightened of her.  And secondly, every time we’ve been seriously tempted to end the partnership, some huge expense, like an AC meltdown, or an exploding car has meant we could only afford to renew her visa – not terminate it and re-sponsor another maid (which costs around Dhs8,000 – or £1,500).

So, as we enter Agatha’s final 24 hours of employment, and Dipti (our new, very sunny natured maid) takes over, I will enter this new phase of domesticity with a steely heart and wallet tighter than Michael Flatley’s buttocks.  Sorry Dipti – that’s just how it’s got to be…

I’ve also decided I won’t be apologizing to Agatha’s new employers. And I’m not going to feel guilty anymore either. After all, they interviewed her, and liked her enough to ask for a reference. We were honest – insomuch as we truthfully answered the details they requested. And, yet, despite having had a taste of what’s to come, they are still willing to take her on….  And frankly, more fool them…

Because Agatha has already demonstrated to them that she likes to call all the shots. As she told me proudly very recently, ‘New Madam wanted me to sleep in the small bedroom and use the bathroom down the hallway. But I said I wanted the bigger room with the ensuite bathroom or I wouldn’t take the job.’

‘Oh. Really Agatha? And was the room free for you to take?’

‘Oh no, ‘she said with smug relish. ‘New Madam was using it as her office. But she’s going to move into the small room, re-paint the big one and give it to me…’

Eeek!

So good luck to Agatha and all who employ her!

After so many years of servitude dear readers, I think I deserve my freedom!

Eating for two…

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Jessica Simpson recently declared that she can’t get enough twinkies (weird, processed cakes in packets that you get in America apparently) and sugary stodge since she got up the duff. The rather dull Daily Mail article (okay, okay – I admit I read it in full) went on to show several pictures of said Simpson girl, looking like she was about to give birth to a baby rhinoceros.

That’s right. The woman isn’t just blooming. She’s FLIPPING ENORMOUS!

One can only imagine the physics equation required to work out how much stress is concentrated in the single points that end in her six-inch stiletto heels. Would I let her walk on my polished wooden floorboards? Would I eck!

In fact if Jessica Simpson came over to my house for an entire black forest gateaux and a sisterly chat about being in the family way, I would almost certainly send her on her way – preferably in the direction of the local gym.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those pregorexic nut jobs who lives on grape nuts (WTF are they anyway?) and bean sprouts while gestating. Quite the contrary. But unfortunately, I know from bitter experience that piling on the baby weight (because you’re a fat chick on the inside and pregnancy gives you chance to stuff your face) is only bound to end in tears. Yours.

Many moons ago, when I was incubating oldest son, I let my gargantuan appetite dictate all the terms. If I fancied a chocolate milkshake at 8am, I’d jolly well have one. And if that happened to be followed by a cheese and crisp sandwich and a hearty hot lunch involving pies, then so be it! After all, if I was craving it, surely, surely, my baby (even though at that point he was about as large as a quail’s egg) needed it too. Right?

Wrong.

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But this refrain saw me though many a fattening snack and stodgy meal. Encased in pastry? Yes please! Served with fries? You betcha! Covered in chocolate? Do you even have to ask?

The result was of course, that I got fat. Not just pregnant fat – but seriously fat. Friends weren’t helpful – or truthful either. ‘You’re pregnant! You’re not fat! You’re blooming!’ they’d insisted. But I realized toward month seven, that they were only trying to be kind. And their misguided tact really hit home when my doctor told me in no uncertain terms that if I kept on eating like Jabba the Hutt, my baby would be the size of a Gammorean Guard…

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By that time of course, it was too late. I was already 20kgs up (that’s 40lbs – or three and a half stone to the initiated) and as every women who’s ever been pregnant (apart from skinny celebs) knows, it’s the last trimester where the weight just goes up, and up – and up….

I tried to put the brakes on – I really, really did. Gone were the Mars bars and Cornish pasties, and in came the steamed veg and fish. But as I said, by then it was too late. Because in the latter stage of pregnancy, your body becomes so concentrated on fat storage for the supposed ‘hard times ahead – ie breastfeeding) that basically, there’s no stopping it. Sniff a lettuce leaf and you’ll gain another pond – that’s evolution for you. So of course, I gained another 5kgs before the end.

In the last few weeks, stretchmarks formed a flaming ring across my gigantic belly and carrying the extra four plus stone, meant I could barely waddle. It was unbearably uncomfortable to say the least, especially as the weather was hideously hot. My legs swelled like sausages and my feet looked like they’d been borrowed from a Peter Jackson Movie.

It didn’t get any better with the delivery either. Because I was so uncomfortable – extra weight means extra aches and pains – labour required an epidural early on. Despite the merciful pain relief, I couldn’t move a muscle below the waist, and so the process was very, very slow – 48 hours slow in fact….

Not only that but once oldest son was finally delivered, he was fairly sizable, and not only broke the door rather badly as he exited – but my tail bone as well. Gee – thanks son!

So there I was afterwards, still four stone overweight, but this time, completely knackered, utterly shell-shocked (first baby does that to you) and unable to sit down for, oh, about six weeks….

Let’s just say the journey back to normality was a long and arduous one. I was finally able to fit back into my size 10 jeans, around 18 months after delivery. And even then, because I’d let myself get so huge, a certain amount of loose skin never went away. Yes, the experience of pigging out for dear life while pregnant, literally scarred me for life. And what’s worse is, it was my own entire fault.

The next time around of course, I was much more careful….

And third time around, as soon as I was able to pick myself off the floor from the morning sickness at around 17 weeks, I enrolled in the local gym and now do an hour a day, four or five days a week. Chocolate is banned. Chips are banned. And so is anything made with white flour, butter and sugar. Even then, I’ve gained a sizeable amount of weight (which is probably because I am now classed as an ‘older mum’) and my backside is huge.

‘Mummy, why is your bottom so big?’ was oldest son’s innocent inquiry just this evening as I huffed and puffed my way around the bathroom, tidying up clothes.

DH, despite swearing that he loves me the way I am, was heard guffawing loudly and unrestrained from the bedroom. And a little later, youngest son bounced up and down on our bed shouting, ‘Big bottoms! Big bottoms!’

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But even if my backside gets bigger than it did during my first pregnancy, at least I will know that I did my best to limit the damage. At least I will know that is wasn’t just all down to me and my hand to mouth cake compulsion… Yes, if I gain 25kgs again this time around, at least a small percentage of it will be down to muscle rather than unlimited amounts of refined carbs and peanut M&M’s….

It’s too late for Jessica Simpson now. Even if she gets an attack of norovirus, or lives on fresh air until D-Day, she’ll still walk out of that hospital wondering why her new baby looks so small, yet she still looks so enormous…… Poor woman.

And that’s where my sympathy ends. Because now I’m just looking forward to the next Daily Mail story about her struggle to lose the weight afterwards … and the ‘shocking pictures’ of her ‘post baby body’.

Mean of me? Probably. Unsisterhood-ish? Certainly. But will I be the only woman thinking this? Absolutely not!

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Party of five

‘You take a look. I can’t…’
There was silence as DH removed the object from my hand and checked it. Then there was more silence, followed by a stifled, rather pathetic whimper.
Oh God! It’s positive – isn’t it,’ I gasped, grabbing the nearest kitchen chair and lowering myself into it.
‘Yep,’ he confirmed hoarsely, bravely clearing his throat. ‘It’s positive alright.’

I’d known all along that it would be. After all, you don’t feel as though you’ve got a combination of swine flu and ME for weeks on end without having a little inkling that something very major might be up. And then there was the appetite, which probably gave it away more to DH than anything else.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ he’d grumbled a couple of weeks previously, as I’d munched my way through an entire loaf of white bread toast (I never eat the stuff) slathered in Marmite.
‘I don’t know!’ I moaned and then promptly fell asleep at the kitchen table. It was 10.30am.

Denial. That’s what I was in, for oh – around three months. After all, if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you’ll know exactly how hopeless we are at parenting (really quite rubbish) and the very LAST thing we needed was another child to run rings around us.
‘Don’t worry,’ DH patted my back bravely. ‘We might have a girl this time. That would be nice – right?’
‘But what if we don’t?’ I cried. Silence descended once again – until it was disrupted by screams from the other room as our sons started playing a jolly rollicking game of ‘got the last slap in’.

My child-free sister was more upbeat about it. ‘You’ll be grand!’ she said. ‘Everyone reckons the third one just slots right in. And anyway – it’s just SO fashionable to have a baby bump right now. Think about it. Anyone who’s anyone has three kids plus these days. There’s Ben and Jen, David and Victoria, Ange and Brad – and erm, Madonna.’ She knew she was clutching at straws at this point, but soldiered on bravely nevertheless. ‘And – well, abs are very last season…’

I thought about my two past pregnant selves. Morning sickness until week 20, weight gain of an average 2.5 plus stone, ankles to tankles by month six, and then 12 months after both births spent literally exercising my (huge) butt off in an attempt to return to normality. I thought about stretch marks forming on top of my stretch marks – of at least six months worth of breastfeeding, or worse – expressing – because that’s what working mothers have to do. I thought about cracked nipples and the endless months of sleepless nights…. Oh God! The solution was to promptly lie face down on the kitchen floor.

DH came at it from another angle. ‘School fees,’ he kept muttering manically. ‘Three sets of em. Every term… Three terms a year…’ Then this changed to a slightly more immediate matter. ‘The car… We’ll need a new car… Can’t fit three safety seats across the back…’And finally, there was a roar of absolute horror, as he checked through our paperwork and discovered our health insurance did not cover me for maternity. ‘GAHHHH!’

Yes. It’s fair to say that our third pregnancy is still something we’re coming to terms with…

BUT, I’m a great believer in there being a silver lining to every cloud. For one thing, we now have to get a new car – which is wonderful, because quite frankly, I HATE our car. We bought it off some annoying cheeky chappie in Mirdif when oldest son was a baby. He assured us that it was well maintained, and, because we try to be sensible over things like that, we borrowed it for a couple of days and popped it into a garage un-aptly called AAA for an assessment. The said assessment came back claiming the vehicle was ‘sound as a pound’, so we parted happily with our hard-earned cash and off we went. Less than a week later, it stopped working. Completely. We then took it to the dealership who declared it a complete ‘lemon’ and we’ve been pouring cash into the sodding thing ever since.

Currently, the dashboard shorts out, so you can be hurtling along Emirates road and suddenly have absolutely no idea how fast you are going, how much fuel is left in the tank, or if the engine is overheating. The boot door struts have also gone, so stacking shopping in the back can only be a two-handed job if you hold the door open with your head… Yes! That’s me! I’m the red-faced pregnant woman in the shopping mall car park with a trolley full of shopping, two screaming kids and a boot door balanced on her head!

But that’s not all. There’s the sticky back seat belt, which is especially stubborn when the weather is cold (an absolute bastard if, like me, you’re perpetually late on the school run). The central locking has gone completely, and finally, electric windows are  rather like our maid Agatha – they only work when they feel like it – certainly not when you tell them too.

Yes – I really won’t be sorry to see the back of that car – and if it’s taken a third pregnancy to finally persuade DH to part with it, then actually – perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

The other bonus is that as soon as we told Agatha our news, she promptly quit. We were rather relieved, because neither of us would ever have had the guts to fire her – and if this hadn’t happened, we’d probably have been stuck with her for at least another decade.

So, despite the imminent exhaustion, monster-size bras, back ache, sleep deprivation and cellulite, there are a couple of things to look forward to. Firstly, I really can’t wait to get a new car. Secondly, I get to hire a new maid – and this time, it will be someone who knows how to say ‘yes!’ and smile simultaneously.

And thirdly, well, let’s face it – DH could easily be right. I might actually be able to shop for pink things next Christmas. Now that’s really something to look forward to!