Bubble Wrapped

My kids shouldn’t grow up in a bubble – but I don’t want to burst theirs just yet, either

Emirates Palace tricolor
Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace lit up in solidarity with Paris this week

As a European now living in the Middle East, I think I can see why the attacks in Paris this week resonated more across the globe than those committed elsewhere  – whether at the hands of ISIS, Boko Haram or Al Shabaab.

It’s the shock of such a brutal attack on not just a nation or a religion, but on an entire way of life.

On liberté, égalité, fraternité.

A question many parents have been grappling with this week is how to explain recent events to inquiring young minds? Because as a parent, your primary instinct is to protect your children – whether that’s from monsters under the bed, physical harm, or the more insidious mental horror of discovering humanity’s endless capacity for violence.

It’s an eternal conundrum: I don’t want my kids to grow up in a bubble, but I’d like them to have as long a childhood as possible. It can be as simple as switching off the news or the Anaconda video when the kids are in the room, or as hilariously pointless as shouting ‘ship’, ‘baskets’ or ‘Melon Farmer’ at strategic points in certain songs.

Quick, quick, slow

On reflection, an unforeseen benefit of our time in Qatar was that it slowed slightly the terrifying speed at which our children are growing up.

1D no more
No more Directions

We found ourselves living in a country where billboards, movies, magazine covers and TV shows were edited or simply not on display at all.

In an ideal world, Kid A, still only 11, shouldn’t have any worries bigger than whether or not 1D’s break is a permanent one (spoiler alert: Duh.)

But it’s becoming increasingly harder to insulate them from the harsh realities of life.

Our very first week in Abu Dhabi was marked by three days of national mourning for 45 UAE servicemen killed in Yemen.

Losing that many soldiers in one incident would be devastating enough for any country, let alone one with a population of under 10 million. Can you imagine the public reaction to a similar massive loss in the UK? Announced before this incident, and therefore all the more poignant in its timing, a new annual public holiday – Martyr’s Day – will be inaugurated at the end of the month.

The UAE has indeed been United – in its grief, and its ongoing resolve; but as a result, conversations about battles near and far have been impossible to avoid.

Primary instinct

As with any horrific news, human instinct is to cut to the personal first, and so it was with last week’s attacks in Beirut and Paris.

When I heard about the attack in Beirut I was immediately concerned for my dad, who will be visiting the Lebanese capital, on his way to coming to stay with us, in a few weeks’ time.

Candlelit vigil
People light candles during a vigil for Paris in Kathmandu (c) Reuters

I asked a Lebanese colleague about the implications of the attack and its precedents. He then described growing up in a war zone in the same matter of fact way that I talk about my own bucolic childhood in the English countryside.

Now sitting a few desks apart, just two dads working to provide for our families, it’s hard to believe we grew up on the same planet.

(If you’re looking for a glimmer of hope that humanity isn’t completely up ‘ship’ creek, read the story of Adel Termos from last week: a father who prevented a second suicide bombing in Beirut, at the cost of his own life.)

Aux armes, citoyens

And then there was last weekend’s carnage in Paris.

Wembley welcomes France
Click to watch England fans sing La Marseillaise at Wembley this week

Alongside a solidarity for the citizens of a country I love, and one that my in-laws call home, my thoughts leapt immediately to a friend who recently became a fully-fledged expat herself, relocating her young family from the US to the French capital just a few weeks ago. (All safe, thankfully.)

And then I thought of our new neighbours, a French family who moved in next door the same weekend we did. A week later, they were celebrating the arrival of their second child.

Now, with their Tricolor flying proudly outside their house, they are sending a symbol of togetherness from afar, even if they could be forgiven for wondering just what kind of world their child will grow up in.

How do you explain to kids with no experience of such savagery that evil like this exists in the world? Actually the best advice appears to be: don’t, unless they ask. (Here’s a couple of suggestions about what to say about Paris in particular, like this one in French, and terrorism in general.)

Kid A overheard Mrs LC calling her mum to talk about the attacks and wanted to know what was happening. Terrorists attacked Paris, we replied. Afterwards, she asked: did they blow up the Eiffel Tower?

Flowers and candles
Flowers and candles

I was touched by her naiveté, even though I know it can’t, and won’t, last for much longer.

It’s hard to explain to a child who is just starting to learn about wars over territories, that they can be fought over ideologies as well.

Maybe the best explanation is like the one that’s gone viral this week, in which a dad in Paris explains to his son that he is not in danger, despite his fears.

Flowers and candles probably aren’t the answer, but I can’t think of anything better right now.


How have you responded to difficult questions? Let me know in the comments below

Crate Expectations

Once you know what’s going on behind the tired, hollow eyes of new arrivals, it’s really no surprise if some seemingly minor event triggers a wildly disproportionate emotional response. And so it was with Amnesiac last week.

A boy and his owl: Amnesiac and Cuddles, together again

Take your typical recently-relocated expat.

Picked up like Dorothy and Toto; whisked away from everyone and everything they know, understand and love; deposited somewhere with a different language, and a hundred new customs, rules and habits waiting to trip you up; a blizzard of wobbly-lipped relatives and uncompleted admin trailing in their tear-stained wake…and that’s just day one of expat life.

The kids are wide-eyed with excitement, but also full of questions like “Do they have Halloween where we’re going?” They’ll surprise you by assimilating quicker than the adults, but still: a new school, new classmates, new neighbourhood, new everything – it’s a lot to take in all at once.

If you have more than one kid, watch as they take out their unspoken frustrations on each other. And then, when even that gets boring, on you.

Then there’s the expectation on the working parent, or both working parents, that you’ll just turn up somewhere else and carry on, as if nothing has changed. But of course it has; otherwise, why would you move?

And it’s never tougher than right at the start. Yes, even if you’ve done it before.

Second time for everything

Having done this once before, at least this time I can tell myself to Hang in there, it really does get better, and know it’s based on experience as opposed to expectation.

But this is a hugely vulnerable time for all concerned. The thrill of living out of suitcases for months on end in between homes wears off surprisingly quickly. As does the novelty of sharing rooms for two kids who normally don’t.

The minor frustrations of life – can take on mountain-like dimensions, usually around the time of your tenth consecutive daily call to the internet company who apparently can’t find your compound, or come when they’re booked, or bring the right equipment when they do finally turn up, or connect you to the service you’re already paying for…

Totes emosh tote bag
Order now for Christmas!

(Had I not been marooned in offline purgatory, this post would have been up about a week ago. For the sake of my blood pressure, I will say no more.)

Relocation is mostly dead amaze, but is also, suddenly, randomly, wearily, totes emosh, too.

So with all that going on, you can understand why the little things matter, even – perhaps especially to – the youngest member of the family.

The Boy Who Cried Owl

For four months since he left Doha, Amnesiac has been counting down the days until he was reunited with all his other toys that, for reasons of space, he had been forced to leave in the crate.

Listen to this!
“Listen to this!”

Well, that reunion finally happened last week and, needless to say, it was very emotional.

I got a call at work, much like the one Chuck Berry received from his cousin Marvin when Marty McFly invents rock n’ roll, only this time it was Mrs LC saying “Listen to this!” – and the sound was my inconsolable eight-year-old son.

Well, that’s what it turned out to be. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell which of my children it was coming from at first, if it was actually coming from either of them at all, it was that primal.

It was the most painful sound I’ve heard since I last fired up a 56k modem. Mrs LC had to keep checking with him that these were actually happy tears, so gut-wrenching were the sobs.

The specific cause was him being reunited with Cuddles, his toy owl puppet.

Mrs LC reports that he had opened the drawer in his bedroom, found her there waiting for him, and sank to his knees clutching this little owl who means so much to him; his face working overtime as he tried to process all of the overwhelming feelings of relief and comfort, and the knowledge that a slender thread of a promise, a sliver of hope that that they would be reunited one day, had actually come true.

Yes, we have Halloween here. Note the far end of our street in unintentionally appropriate blackout

Talk about the straw that broke the owl’s back: months of snotty, howling, pent-up emotion was pouring out of his eyes and nose.

If Cuddles looks familiar, it’s because she is from Ikea, typically found in one of those child-placating bins that are cunningly located in otherwise dull grown up-only parts of the shop, like bathrooms.

You may even have a Cuddles of your own. She was only 35 Riyals (about £6/US$9 – and Qatar prices meant we that was still a rip off)  but the reason Amnesiac was so attached to this toy in particular is because she was the first thing he ever bought with his own money that he’d saved up himself.

No wonder he collapsed into soggy puddle of liquid DNA and man-made fibres. The bond is strong with that one.

Whilst the reunion was a little one-sided in terms of joyful sobbing, it marks yet another tiny piece of the puzzle slotting into place of the new lives we’re building.

It’s all downhill from here…

Right Woman For The Job

In which our social life splutters into first gear

Chris Pratt running in heels
Chris Pratt rises to the challenge of matching his Jurassic World co-star Bryce Dallas Howard’s achievements

In the few weeks since we moved across the Gulf, it’s amazing how seamlessly Mrs LC and I have swapped roles. I am now the paterfamilias and Mrs LC is, well, everything else.

For now – which she assures me means at least until the new year – her focus is on getting us all sorted into our new school, job and the small matter of a new home.

That also means she’s in charge our social life.

I’ve written before about my introversion and how leaving me in charge of our social life in Doha was like trying to outrun a dinosaur whilst wearing high heels; sure, you can do it, but it’s not going to be the best use of anyone’s skills. Continue reading

Lying Cars

In which October 2015 finally arrives, sans flying cars

Back to the Future
Yeah, right, like that’ll happen

“Roads?” spluttered the notorious time travelling liar Dr Emmett Brown. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

Well, I’ve got news for you, Dr Brown, if that is even your real name. ‘Where we’re going’ turns out to have been October 2015 – and 30 years after you first sold me that thrilling vision of the future, it’s finally here.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed with the arrival of a new month.

Not only are our cars not flying yet, we’re still so beholden to the ancient formula of tyres-on-ground + internal combustion engine that manufacturers have been lying about their efficiency to sell more of them. (“Staff acted criminally,” reveals VW board member, and 2015’s nominative determinism champion, Olaf Lies.)

Basically, it’s about the worst possible time to buy a car, ever. Enter Family Little City, looking to buy two.

Continue reading

*Contents May Settle During Transit

In which everyone wants to know how we’re settling in

Nice flags, eh

It’s easy to forget we’ve just arrived in Abu Dhabi.

On the surface, so much of daily life here is looks, feels, and sounds like our old life in Qatar (I say ‘old’ – we only left last month).

True, the roads are significantly less Mad Max. It’s not too early to say that our daily ambitions might stretch beyond ‘getting back home from the school run alive’.

But the weather is still hot and humid; the working week still runs Sunday-Thursday; the school day still starts at 7-something.

Even our surroundings are familiar. There was a maple leaf flying outside the last place we stayed in Doha (a perk of Mrs LC’s grade: our final three nights’ accommodation in a hotel; we chose the Canadian-owned Four Seasons).

Fast forward to Abu Dhabi and the lower floors of the building we are being temporarily accommodated in are home to the Canadian Embassy).

The laws are variations on a theme, in terms of dressing respectfully, avoiding overt public displays of affection and always remembering you are a guest in the country. Continue reading