Friday, 8 April 2016

All around the world, you gotta spread the word

Well, well, well life has changed dramatically since I last wrote here. We left Dubai, spent two months travelling and have just relocated to Brisbane. So you know, just a little movement.

To say we're unsettled is an understatement. Leaving Dubai fairly quickly, travelling pretty much since Christmas and relocating to a brand-new city will do that to you. I feel spent. But! Life is an adventure and if you don't take the new road (even if it's strange, unfamiliar and bumpy) you don't reap the rewards. So while the hiccups are annoying, while many a freezing cold day I've had to drag kids literally out the door, while there have been tears and questions, I wouldn't change it. The challenge of change and uprooting your life can be immensely stressful and exhausting in so many ways. Fear of the unknown, fear of making a "wrong move" can be immense, so immense that it had the potential of stopping you do anything. I'm living proof that throwing yourself blindly into the deep end can be the best thing you ever do.

This I have to remind myself of. That the work will pay off. I keep telling the kids that the next little while will be scary and nerve wrecking, it also might be wonderful.

Looking back on my life, it's the not-so-easy moments that make the memories - losing the car keys in a massive wave; crashing a car in the Italian countryside and arriving at our Tuscan villa late at night with no food; missing a flight and having to drive for hours to make a special Christmas; a flat tyre on the first day of school, getting stuck in the door of the Paris metro; smashing a windscreen in South Australian desert days late to meet friends. Recently my aunt was scammed $40 by a taxi driver in Rio, my brother said it was a cheap price to pay for a cracking travel story to tell for years to come.

A carefully curated life on social media may seem appealing for five seconds, but that's forgettable, I want a life full of bumps and potholes. Of getting over things, past things, conquering things, interspersed with moments of peace, fun and laughter.

So while we transition into our new life, I promise to tell you some tales of the past few months. Of the amazingly wonderful moments we've had and of transitioning to a new life. Of the tedious, crap "I can't believe that happened" moments. Why letting the fear of making a wrong choice dictate your life is the wrong choice to make.

I will try and find more moments to write here.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Growth spurt

It's a new year and it's funny, living in the northern hemisphere it lacks the "newness" or "fresh start" that is does in the southern hemisphere. I think it's because it's just a small break and the school year continues on. Anyway, it lacks that certain 'punch', but it's still a time to reflect on the year that's been and the year ahead.

The past year has been up, down and all around. We travelled to more than 10 countries, spent more than 110 hours flying (the kids are expert flyers now), had our 10-year wedding anniversary, we moved house, Darbs started at the girls' school, the girls have grown like weeds, I have spent countless hours worrying about the kids, I spent weeks not knowing if the tumour in my neck was cancerous or not (and then had 3 hours of surgery to remove it), we bought a new house, we met new friends in Dubai and said goodbye to old.

We have been lucky enough to watch good friends get married in the NSW vineyards, drink wine with friends in Viennese vineyards, camp with friends in the rainy emerald fields of Ireland, eat chilli crab with mates in Singapore and slide down the Arabian sand dunes with others. This is just a handful of amazing experiences the year brought.

Recently, I was looking at the kids, and I'm always amazed when kids have that growth spurt. The kind where it feels like you've just looked away for a minute and you turn back and they're suddenly taller and older and more mature. All of my kids have had those this year, but I feel like I've had one myself. I suddenly feel like my vision has widened, I feel older and wiser, I literally have scars from the past year. I feel like I have grown and learnt a lot. The year went fast but I feel like I packed a lot of life into it – good and bad. As I say to the kids, everything can't be good all the time, it can't be Christmas Day every day, or else you won't appreciate it. It's the hard times and the challenges that make you grow and keep your brain alive. The mundane and the dull have their place too. They make the good times even better. This year there have been challenges, as there always are, but they've definitely made the good times even brighter and shinier.

2016 is going to be a very big year, but I think I'm ready for it, for better or worse. That little growth spurt is helping these older eyes see a little better.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Just people

I wrote this post on Sunday morning when I was feeling a little weary and heavy-hearted. I wasn't sure that I would post it as it felt a little soon and writing it was more of an outlet for me to process my thoughts, but I decided this morning I would post. 

Along with most of the world, I've been shocked and saddened by the events of the past days. The horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut are difficult to fathom. I'm not going to comment directly on those as I don't feel that it's my place to do so here.

What I've read on news sites and social media in regards to these attacks have dismayed me. Vitriol, hatred and anger. I, too, despise the scum that perpetrate these acts. So, so much. But to me, those monstrous vile creatures that found sport in murdering innocent people are not representative of Muslims. It truly upsets me though when people believe so deeply that there is no difference between the monsters who pick up a gun or detonate a bomb and the more than a billion Muslims who are just trying live their everyday life.

 I live in a Muslim country and have done so for the past 3-and-a-half years. In that time, my neighbours have been Muslim. My kids' teachers have been Muslim. Our friends have been Muslim. The people we deal with day in and day out have been Muslim. In those 3-and-a-half years, I have been treated with kindness, generosity and respect. I have not been asked to convert, I haven't been attacked for my beliefs. Nothing has been forced upon me nor really expected of me, except for the return of respect that has been granted to me.

The shops in Dubai at the moment have more Christmas trees and baubles and tinsel than you can imagine. I can buy a ham and pineapple pizza from the supermarket if I want to. I can stop by a bar and have a drink if I so wish. My Catholic friends regularly attend mass at a church built on land gifted to them by the Muslim rulers. My Hindi friends go to the temple and hang their Diwali lights. There are no Muslims here calling me an 'infidel' or trying to 'strip me from my rights' or force me to conform to their ideals. Though if you believe what you see on Facebook or in the mainstream media, that is what they'd have you believe is the motive of every Muslim.

My kids, thankfully, are unaware of the attacks over the weekend (Friday is our weekend). Both Paris and Beirut are places that they know of, where their friends are from, where they dream they might visit one day. And thankfully, they haven't been exposed to anti-Islamic sentiment (nor anti-Christian or anti-Western sentiment for that matter). It is impossible to protect them from the news of conflict in Syria and Iraq (and Yemen and Libya) and they are aware that some of their friends and teachers are unable to return to the place of their birth due to the war. They've also seen the pictures of refugees treading the same path from Hungary to Germany where just a few weeks earlier they spent their summer holiday.

To them, Muslims aren't evil terrorists looking to destroy their way of life, in fact it's quite the opposite. A Muslim is the mum who hugs them tightly with a greeting in the school playground, a Muslim is the teacher who patiently explains multiplication and division, a Muslim is the friend they skip with in the playground and share secrets and dreams with, a Muslim is the doctor who gave them medicine and made them feel better, a Muslim is the nurse who snuck in a tub of jelly and ice cream when the hospital food was yucky. To them, Muslim people are just people.

To me, a Muslim is the friend that wiped away the tears when I involuntarily cried after receiving an appointment for a tumour biopsy, a Muslim is the mum who looked after my sick child while I raced to school to collect her, a Muslim is a woman who spent all day cooking food she thought I might like to welcome me into her home, a Muslim is the man who stopped during his busy day and changed my flat tyre in 48 degree heat, a Muslim is the parent who wishes me a happy Diwali and a happy Christmas with an enormous smile, a Muslim is the teacher who passionately educates my child, a Muslim is the lady on the plane who held my baby boy so I could eat my meal. To me, Muslim people are just people. I feel lucky to have people in my life of different faiths and races and nationalities, who put that all aside and treat each other as humans, as friends.

The scum who kill and maim and terrorise in the so-called name of Islam have zero in common with the Muslims I know. The people that I know here are sickened by the violence that is perpetrated in their name. A lot of them personally affected in some way or another.

So, for those you reading who live in Australia, US, UK, Canada or Europe. I ask you not to respond to evil and hatred with more hatred. The only way to eradicate and fight the evil is to join together, as humans, if not you're allowing the monsters victory.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Stormy weather

Yesterday, we awoke to a one of those very rare overcast, rainy Dubai days. They literally only happen a couple of times a year, but when they do there is so much excitement!

As we arrived at school, there were shouts of "I think I felt a drop!", "It's so cold!" (it was about 28 degrees and 7.30am), "It's so dark!" I left them in their classrooms, their classmates buzzing with as much excitement as them.

As I drove home, a light shower started. I saw the windows of the car next me all come down and hands poke out of each one trying to feel a drop. As I drove past I saw an Arab family with their faces bright with delight, smiles sparkling in the dreary weather. I couldn't help but smile myself, loving that a few drops of rain could bring such wonder!

I turned on my windscreen wipers (after I remembered how to turn them on) to discover that they'd almost disintegrated over the summer from sand and extreme heat. They flipped and flopped over the windscreen making it harder to see than when I first turned them on.

I had expected that rain would be gone by the time I collected the kids, but it hung around for most of the day.

Today we woke up to sunshine, the city was sparkling as the rain had washed away the sand that covers everything all of the time. It felt clean and fresh. I love this time of the year, it's our reward for  five months of being stuck inside.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The ancient world of the 1980s

Last weekend, my kids were excitedly telling me about this new movie that was coming out. "It has these kids and one them has my name!" says one. "There's a dog, too, with a bird for a friend!" says the youngest.

"Oh the Peanuts movie, yes, I saw that was coming out." I replied. "The dog's name is Snoopy and the bird is called Woodstock."

The kids stopped dead. "How do you know about it?" they gasped. Amazed that I might know anything useful at all.

"Peanuts is as old as the hills. I used to have a Snoopy when I was your ages. In fact, I think I even had two."

My kids are always amazed when I've seen a cartoon they like. "They had Scooby-Doo when you were a kid??!" or "You've seen Tom & Jerry before?!" They can't believe that something they think is so cool could've been around so long ago.

"Did you watch it on an iPad?" Darbs asks. This is when the eldest finally pipes up: "They didn't have iPads back then. They didn't even have mobile phones when mum was a kid."

This information seems truly amazing to them. No mobiles? How on earth did we survive? So I tell them tales about answering machines and home phones and just turning up and hoping you'd run into someone. About phones books and remembering people's numbers. About how their uncle was super cool and had a car phone. "But why was the phone stuck in the car?"

I tell them that I didn't have the internet and we had to write letters on paper, put a stamp on them and get the postman to deliver them. About taking photos on film and taking the roll to the shop to get developed. "But what if you didn't like the photos?"

Looking at their faces there was a mix of confusion and wonder like I was telling them something about a mystic ancient world.

After a moment, Goosey pipes up, "But how did you look things up if you couldn't Google it?"

So, I  launch into a tale of libraries and encyclopaedias. "Grandpa bought a set of encyclopaedias, which is a collection of big books filled with information. He bought them in 1967 so the information, especially the populations were a bit out of date, but that's all we had."

"What if you had to print out a picture for your project?" she asks.

"Well, we  photocopied them from a book at the library (in black and white, of course) or sometimes I went to travel agents and asked for old brochures," I explained.

I look over at Goosey who's tapping on the laptop to see she's made a Powerpoint presentation about why she hates her sister. Scolding her for the subject, but admiring her work - "I do like those swirly bits"

"They're called transitions, Mum."

They are indeed.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Grease isn't the word

One of the things I've looked forward to being a mum, is sharing my favourite things with my kids - books, movies, music. I've always wanted to share the things that I've loved, that have made me happy, that have shaped me. I know I'm not alone in this, I've heard so many other parents say the same thing.

The thing is, no much how much you love something or expose your kids to something, doesn't mean they're going to love it.

Last week, my eldest was home sick. We don't get a lot of time together, just the two of us, so I had the brilliant idea of watching a movie together. I imagined us snuggling up on the couch and sharing a cherished moment. Passing something wonderful on to my eldest. Something that would ignite something in her. The only thing was, which movie to watch? I wanted something that the younger kids weren't ready to share in yet, something I could share just with her. Something I adored, something I thought she'd adore. Little Women? Anne of Green Gables? There was a chance they'd be a little old fashioned, a little sedate.

Of course, Grease! Music, dancing, colour, energy. A blonde girl from Sydney, Australia transplanted to a new world. There was  no chance she wouldn't love it. Easy peasy.

Eagerly, I put it on. She watched. She was quiet, except for the odd comment "Are they smoking?! At school!!", "Those boys really like to misbehave, why do they want to hang out with them."

The credits began to roll. "Sooooo, what did you think?" I asked.

"Yeah, it was OK."

OK?! It was like it was Christmas morning and she'd opened up a gift I'd being dying to give and she just tossed it aside after opening it. I wanted to grab it and say "Well, you can't have it then!"

Instead, I have to suck it up and accept my kids aren't going to love everything I love. You can't plan those "cherished" moments. There's no accounting for taste!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

It's not a tumour (except it is)

A few months back, I was sat on a plane, heading home to Dubai after a fabulous trip to Australia for a wedding. We'd had a ball at the wedding and then a great few days in Singapore. Probably a bit too much partying and late nights so I wasn't surprised when I got a blinding headache on the flight home. I suffer from headaches, so it wasn't something new. I rubbed my head all over in an attempt to soothe the throb when I felt a lump, at the end of my jaw just behind my ear.

"Ooh a swollen gland," I thought. When I landed, I went to the doctor to get something for the severe headache and I mentioned the lump, just as I suspected he diagnosed a swollen gland. A few days later I developed a kidney infection so it all fell into place. I had been fighting off an infection. Simple. After large doses of antibiotics, I recovered from the infection. Then I noticed the swollen gland will still there. "I must get back to the doctor to check it out."

Finally a few weeks later, one free morning after dropping the kids at school, I decided I better get that lump checked, on the spur of the moment. Just in case.

"Just a swollen gland, I'll prescribe some antibiotics." "But I had all those antibiotics!" "hmmmm"

Taken to the room next door for an ultrasound, I was then asked to wait while he spoke to the doctor. I could see them talking for five minutes or longer. Called in, I was told there was something wrong with my saliva gland "do you have a history of any problems? Does your family? You'll need an MRI, you'll need it today." 

I didn't have it that day but the next. An hour of jack hammering in my ear. "your doctor will give you the results in two days".

Exactly 48 hours later the phone rang. "It's a tumour. You'll need to see the specialist."

Tumour? Specialist? Tumour means only one thing. Fear and tears and dread. Death and deformity. It all seemed like an overwhelming wave of certainty or uncertainty. Tumour. It can't be good. 

Arnold Swarznegger uttering "it's not a tumour" in my head. But apparently it is. 

"These tumours are most often benign, but they can sometimes be more sinister. They can be cancerous. I recommend a biopsy. Whatever it is, the treatment is the same. It needs to be surgically removed, they can't be left, malignant or benign."

Google told me these tumours aren't common. Not necessarily rare, but fairly uncommon. Google told me, if malignant, they can be tricky to treat. Google told me Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys had a malignant tumour the exact same size, in the exact same location as mine. He sadly died in 2012. Google told me the surgery could result with permanent facial paralysis and other weird side effects. I was terrified, to say the least.

I was admitted for the biopsy. It was painful, but not too bad. "We'll have the results in five to seven days." Two days later I got on a flight to Europe, for a holiday. Try as I might to ignore it, there was a black cloud hanging over me. I wondered if I'd actually return to Dubai. If the results were bad I would fly straight to Australia for treatment. Should I warn my friend in Ireland that we may not come visit them after all? Could I really have cancer? What if I do have cancer?

After a long weekend in Berlin we drove to Bratislava. My eye constantly wandering to my phone. Thinking, I should know today. As I put my bags down in our Air BnB apartment and logged on to wifi, I saw my doctor's name pop up with a ping on my email. 

"Samples indicate a pleomorphic adenoma." A benign tumour. I felt like 50 ton of concrete had been lifted from my shoulders. I burst into tears of pure relief. Benign in Bratislava. For more than two weeks I'd lived with this lump, not knowing if it was cancer. Knowing that it might be. Everyone kept saying "it will be alright" I daren't believe them, because what if it wasn't alright. It isn't always alright. 

My ENT in Dubai said it had to be removed because it would keep growing, as it got bigger it would be harder to remove and as it had already grown quite deep could affect the facial nerve. As it was growing deep, he couldn't remove it. All this meant I had to return to Sydney to see a highly-skilled surgeon, who repeated exactly what the ENT said, it needs to be removed. 

Wanting to avoid surgery, especially one that had risks, I read everything I could get my hands on. I could live with a lump on my neck. But they all said the same thing, these tumours have to be removed, especially in the location my was or they would cause more problems. 

So last week, after jetting into Sydney I went into hospital and had my lumpy little friend removed. I woke up in agonising pain, wondering why on earth this was necessary. Quickly though I began to feel better. Numb and sore at the same time, but better. I still sometimes brush my hair back from my face and feel a weird, spongy thing on the side of my head and it takes a few seconds to realise it's my poor, numb ear. "Who needs feeling in an ear?" people say to me, but I've realised I quite like feeling in my ear. It may come back. It might not. 

Once removed, the tumour was bigger than it was when I had the MRI. Further "proof" that surgery was necessary. A numb ear is better than a paralysed face or the benign tumour turning "sinister" as they can do. 

I'm now back in Dubai, after a whirlwind trip to Australia. Time to move forward from that time I had a tumour in my parotid gland. Incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to move forward. 
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