Ladies Only

The overseas school trip (aka: pricey package holiday)

I’m back! It’s been a while, mostly due to work taking over my life for a couple of months.

Having just surfaced from full-time officedom, I suddenly find we’re just a week away from Son1’s first overseas school trip. I realise this is a rite of passage all parents must go through – that moment when you release your little fledgling into the big wide world and hope he flies far and wide.

As the Chinese proverb goes, ‘There are two gifts we should give our children: roots and wings.’

But I have to say, as the day approaches, and Son1’s excitement builds, it does feel ever so slightly bittersweet to know we’re about to watch him soar for the first time.

I also feel rather grateful that the trip is to a place we know very well – the UK – and isn’t one of these ultra pricey school jollies I keep hearing about, like the excursion to New York’s Wall Street organised by the economics department at my friend’s son’s school. Or the visit to a Nasa installation in Turkey that the same friend’s daughter went on. Another friend just waved her son off to the jungles of Borneo.

When I was at school, we went on a coach to the seaside at Littlehampton and thought it was really exotic.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 23.27.44
Have fun Son1! I’m going to miss you

How things have changed over the past decades, as schools shift to what educationalists call “learning outside the classroom”, or, to use its natty text-speak acronym, LoTC.

But I digress. As luck would have it, Son1 and his friends will cross the world in safe hands as DH is flying the plane from Dubai to Gatwick. Okay, so this had nothing to do with luck at all. We knew which flight they were going on. DH requested to operate it, and got it.

Which led to this conversation yesterday:

DH: “You could come too, you know.”

Me: “I can’t!”

DH: “Why not?”

Me: “Can you imagine? Both his mum and dad on the flight, like I was stalking him on his first school trip.”

DH: “You wouldn’t actually be sitting with him. It would be fun!”

Me: “Well … yes. But. [thinking: I know mums who’ve followed their kid’s school bus in the car].

A pause while I scratch my chin.

Me: “If I came too, wouldn’t it be taking helicopter parenting to a whole new level?”

DH shrugs: “Think about it. We could go to Brighton.”

I mean, I really shouldn’t. Not on the same flight, on his first school trip. I just couldn’t.

Or could I?

Ladies Only

School reports – what the hell happened?

It’s lunchtime at work. On the day our magazine goes to press so it’s all hands to the pump meeting our deadline. I munch on my sandwich, and click on an email from school – the interim reports are out.

Well, actually they’re not ‘out’ at all; they’re hidden away on the school’s password-protected portal. I should look, I think to myself, just a quick look while I eat lunch. Two minutes later, I’m ruing the day I set up my account and didn’t commit my username to memory.

Wait, what’s this? The reports are available on an app. All I have to do is download the iParent app, put in a password, and Bob’s your uncle: Son2’s report will appear on my phone.

So, because I’ve really got nothing better to do today, other than meeting all our work deadlines, I attempt to download the app. I say ‘attempt’ – it’s yet another parent fail for me. My phone screen turns as white as a sheet, and I feel the heat rising in my cheeks as this happens three times: Damn app. Why can’t they just give me a paper copy of the report, or is that just really last-century now?

By now, I’ve become determined that this won’t defeat me, and so I trawl my in-box looking for portal log-on details. Woohoo, I find them, and I’m into Fort Knox – I can download the report. That was 25 minutes of my day I won’t get back (and my whole lunch ‘hour’), but never mind – I’m super curious to see how Son2 is doing.

Give us a ‘B’! No chance – those people at the Standards & Testing Agency have lost their minds

Let’s just say, this is the moment I’m reminded how infuriating school reports have become. While this one isn’t a full-length report, with pages of tables, targets and almost impenetrable numbers and letters, it still leaves me utterly baffled. Even after I read the two-page e-mail (longer than the report) explaining the UK’s new marking system.

“Can you make any sense of this?”  I ask DH when I get home. “It needs decoding.”

He reads it, scratching his head. “Hmmm. Well, ‘secure +’ in reading sounds good, doesn’t it? But what’s the number 2?” He shrugs.

“No idea,” I say, and re-read the blurb about attainment being presented in a series of steps within age-related year bands. Wtf? It’s a linguistic minefield: ‘working within’; ‘ideally pupils will make six steps progress’; ‘a standardised assessment’; and on consulting Google, ‘a scaled score based on their raw score’.

DH and I are thinking exactly the same thing: Why can’t they just tell us if he’s an A, B, C or D? We could understand that. And even talk to him about it.

 I peer again at the bar chart, but my eyes are tired. Son2, meanwhile, is lounging on the sofa, getting away with all this completely scot-free as his parents try to puzzle it out.

“Well, I’m taking ‘secure +’ to be good,” says DH.

“But the number 2?” I say.

“What about it?

“Well if that’s the year band, it doesn’t make sense or he’s really behind … he’s year 3.”

Oh how I miss the days of teachers writing a few scrawled, occasionally acerbic lines about their pupils.

Ladies Only

On losing it over homework (and why they won’t cooperate)

Saturday morning (the last day of the weekend here in the UAE) saw me feeling determined: my kids were going to get their homework done early, rather than leaving it until last thing on Saturday night when we’re all tired and would rather stick pins under our nails.

So I sat down at the table, drumming my fingers while the boys shouted out various excuses, from needing to land an airplane on whatever computer game they were playing to being hungry/needing to run an urgent errand/feeling ill etc.

I heard my youngest son chasing the dog. “Bella … Bella. EAT it.”

I finally got them to the table, where it quickly became obvious we might still be sitting there hours later with my boys yawning and feigning snoring over small heaps of crumpled paper.

“I’m not going to do it for you,” I told my eldest. “I’ll sit here doing some work of my own, BUT YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR OWN HOMEWORK.” I emphasised the words with a raise of the eyebrows.

Son2: "Mum, can I have a hacking device for Christmas?"
Son2: “Mum, can I have a hacking device for Christmas?”

Son1 shot me a look, and even the plants on the windowsill looked as though they were seeking an escape from within.

Fifteen minutes later, Son1 was still struggling, complaining that he couldn’t find a good website to answer the question he’d been set. I heard the flicking sound of the rubber he was fiddling with – then he dropped his pen on the floor, which always sets my teeth on edge after the third time. At one point, he nearly slid off his chair.

A stare passed between us. I might have felt my face flash hot with annoyance.

It’s at this point that I try to remember what Clive Power, managing director of Dubai-based Power Tutoring, told me:

“It’s usually difficult for parents to help with their own children’s homework. Children like to keep their work/life balance just as much as adults. We don’t like bringing work home and it interfering with our family life, the same is true for children. It would be just as strange for children to have their parents in the classroom as it would be for the teacher to have a meal with the family in the home. So when the parent takes on the role of the educator as well, there’s confusion. Children can even question whether the emotional support and unconditional love will still be there if they get the answers wrong or don’t understand things fully.

“We’ve had qualified teachers who’ve come in and said that they can work with all the children in the school, but not their own children,” Clive continues. “It’s the blind spot on the car, the part of your back that you can’t quite reach to scratch.”

screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-23-23-45So today, as my son continued to whine that not one of the websites he was looking at told him the answer, I tried to bear Clive’s words in mind – then felt the small hairs on the back of my neck rise and lost it with my son anyway.

“You know, your father and I – we had to do this WITHOUT GOOGLE! We couldn’t just type a question into the internet and get the answer, a thousand times over on the screen in front of us. We had to look in BOOKS, ENCYCLOPAEDIAS to do our homework! There was no Wikipedia, no search engines. No internet!

“Can you even imagine that?” I finished, beetroot red in the face. “Do you even know how lucky you are?”

Son1 gave a small nod, his alarmed eyes as wide as saucers.

Ladies Only

The school holiday whammy

That’s it: in my next life, I’m coming back as an expat child.

They get soooo many holidays. I mean, it is actually a bit ridiculous. My boys went back to school after two long months of summer holiday at the very end of August. They were in school for two weeks. TWO WEEKS. Then the government called Eid, and turned it into a week-long holiday.

For those who don’t live here, the UAE has a tendency to call holidays just when long-suffering mums really don’t want them. Case in point: the Expo win. Fireworks would have sufficed, but no. School (but not work) was cancelled as part of the celebrations. Helpful? Not.

Then there was the time it looked like it might rain, and the schools were closed. The day became known as Spit-mageddon:

Look at all this rain! Good job the kids were safe at home
Look at all this rain! Good job the kids were safe at home

This last week of holiday has felt like an extension of summer. Did those two weeks of school even happen? Or were they just a murky dream? A hallucinatory period of time and space in which to get things done. I might be being rather ungrateful for this holiday, but really we could have done without it – it’s still too hot to do anything outdoors; our new, half-built compound doesn’t have a pool; my oldest is spending too long on his computer; and I’m at that stage with my chatterbox youngest where I can see his mouth moving but can’t really hear what he’s saying and can do nothing but nod at whatever his moving lips are trying to assault me with.

I’m so ready for them to get back to school properly.

But … guess what? My youngest is back in school for two weeks, then there’s another week off for half-term.


Ladies Only

Throwback Thursday: Organised Mum’s fait accompli

I was late getting organised for school this year for various reasons, and after patting myself on the back on the first day for delivering both children to their classrooms (with lunch boxes, water bottles, labelled clothing, shiny new shoes, hats, pencil cases and so on), it dawned on me that the trouble with back-to-school is you then have to do it all over again for another 188 days.

As I dwelled on this while resting my head on my desk, I remembered a character I wrote about several years ago: Organised Mum. Some of you will know her. She’s a yummy mummy-of-three-hen-pecked-children extraordinaire.

Organised Mum breezes through back-to-school week, while my uniform shopping trip screeches to a halt due to the out-of-stock school ties
Organised Mum breezes through back-to-school week, while my uniform shopping trip screeches to a halt due to the out-of-stock school ties

You meet her at the uniform shop – except she’s not there to buy uniforms. She bought those in June, long before the store ran out of book bags and PE shirts. She’s there to buy a new wall planner, because last year’s didn’t have enough space for all their extra curricula activities.

“Are you ready for school?” she trills, with the smug air of someone who could quite easily spend this week by the pool. “Olivia can’t wait for school to start, can you darling?”

You see, Organised Mum has every reason to gloat, because she spent her entire summer planning for this moment. The Organised family went to the Rockies to climb mountains in July, with two weeks in St Tropez on the way back. But she never took her eye off the start of the new term.

Her children were measured and fitted for shoes on a stop-over in London; haircuts were done at Vidal Sassoon in Mayfair; her maid sewed satin labels on while they were away; and she restocked their stationery supplies with some stylish new lines sold exclusively at a French boutique.

Organised Mum has all the time in the world this week, and it’s beyond her that other mothers might still be buying last-minute uniforms. She finds a wall planner she likes and asks at the till if she can pre-order a diary for 2017. As she discusses typefaces, the working mothers in the line behind her, with approximately 10 minutes to get all their back-to-school supplies and get back to their desks, start silently cursing.

She leaves her details and the queue exhales a sigh of relief as she moves aside, but she’s not finished yet. With Mr Organised, a big cheese in oil pipelines, away in Saudi, she fancies a little more adult interaction and asks what activities we’re signing up for this term.

“We’re doing some extra French tuition,” she says. “The girls practised so hard on holiday. Go on, Trixabelle, say something in French. She sounds so clever when she speaks French. And we’ll be at the swimming trials, of course. Harry was very inspired by the Olympics … You never know!” she tinkles proudly.

“Maybe see you at the pool later,” she calls, as she breezes out the door into the sunshine.

Maybe not, Organised Mum. Some of us still have shopping to do.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Are you a school mum in Dubai? You might enjoy my short e-book: Cupcakes & Heels – I don’t know how she does it abroadDownload it for 99p here. THANK YOU!

Ladies Only

Throwback Tuesday: Underhand school run tips

Mothers across Dubai are either breathing a huge sigh of relief or sobbing into their hankies this week as they drop their children at school for the start of the new term.

But rather than simply depositing your offspring into the classroom roughly on time, it seems there are plenty of tactics you can use (some of them underhand) if you want to achieve a flawless drop off. Much is doubtless universal, but there are certainly some skills that are specific to Dubai schools.
Tips and tricks:

– Pay special attention to your chosen outfit. Currently trending is gym wear, preferably black. Whether or not you actually go straight to the gym from the drop off is entirely irrelevant.

– Make sure you and your children are perfectly laundered. Even the slightest trace of toothpaste, breakfast cereal, chocolate, snot, vom or poo will make itself glaringly apparent at the worst moment.

Creating the illusion of a six-hour workout is a useful skill
Creating the illusion of a six-hour workout is a useful skill

– Although a huge pair of sunglasses will hide a plethora of cosmetic tardiness, make sure your nails are perfect and your hair is pristine.

– Prepare to race other parents from the red light, bully your way round the roundabout and take every opportunity to jump the queue.

– Even if you only drop off one child, make sure you drive your seven-seater SUV right up to the school gates.

– Ignore the car parking attendants and remember to cut up your best friend to get that prime parking spot.

– When alighting from your car, greet your friend with a cheery smile and a wave.

– Do not rush or run. Do not push or drag your child. Irrespective of what is actually happening, glide serenely through the school with a relaxed and happy expression.

– Greet each member of staff and wish them good morning. Train your children to do the same.

– When engaging in small talk with other parents keep to the following subjects: how charming the children are, how much the children are growing, how lovely everyone looks, the weather.

– Never admit to another mother any homework not done, lost library books, tantrums endured either at home or in the car, diarrhoea or head lice.

– Of course, all of the above also applies during pick up – although you must ensure that whatever you wear is entirely different from the outfit you were sporting only a few hours earlier.

– The only possible exception to this rule is you may return in the same gym wear, creating the aura of a potential six-hour work out. Sweat patches, however, are not acceptable.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00064]Are you a school mum in Dubai? You might enjoy my short e-book: Cupcakes & Heels – I don’t know how she does it abroad. Download it for 99p here. THANK YOU!

Ladies Only

Summer is over: Time to remember the day of the week

The radio silence over the past week was because we were moving house. We couldn’t have picked a better time really – it’s as hot as Hades (see temperature, according to the car, below!) and as humid as a steam room. Needless to say, it was all rather fatiguing, and that was with packers who did an amazing job carting enormous pieces of furniture out of the house in the furnace-like heat.

Is it humid today?

The movers went by the name Delight – and, quite honestly, they lived up to it.

All my back-to-school chores were promptly forgotten during the chaos of moving, and so when we surfaced from the remaining boxes, it was with some trepidation that I turned my thoughts to the fact Son1 was starting a new school in three days’ time, and had NO UNIFORM whatsoever.

Cue: urgent dash to the Meydan Racecourse, where there was a pop-up shop selling the red-and-grey uniforms.

An odd place to sell such items, you might think. All the horses were gone (beating the heat in Europe), and the shop was located there as the under-construction school was still in a rather unfinished state with hoardings all around it and builders hammering away.

Dubai has a habit of pulling these things off, and today, the school opened! (Read: Thank God). Son1, who we’d pulled from a school he loved due to distance, had a great day, to my relief. And I finally got some peace, after two months of holiday.

I think maybe all boy mums will know what I mean when I say that after a prolonged period of noise so loud and jarring it could even rattle the pans on the shelf in the kitchen (think: stampeding around, crashing and yelling and fighting – not all the time, but enough of it to hurt my head!), it’s just so nice to have some space to think.

Enjoy the quiet mums!