UAE: A Lesson on Love and Loss

UAE: A Lesson on Love and Loss

Love and Loss

My husband’s grandfather recently passed away at the grand age of 94. Along with other members of the family residing overseas, we rushed home for the funeral. As we prepared with the packing and arrangements, my husband and I wondered how we should tell our daughter. Would the loss of a loved one would be too complex for my three year old to understand?

How would we explain this? What might she feel? How could we help her to deal with these feelings? Would she be confused and scared if she saw others expressing sadness over their loss? Previous parenting challenges diminished in the light of this gargantuan one; it seemed so daunting that we shelved the topic temporarily.

When she asked why we were packing, I said we were going back to Singapore. She asked innocently, “For a holiday?” After a long pause, I explained that Grand-Papa had gone to heaven and we needed to tell him goodbye. “He’s in heaven, like Nanny?” (Nanny is her great-grandmother who passed away the year before she was born.) After that, she carried on playing with her toys. While I was glad we had this conversation, had she really understood?

In Singapore, the wake is usually held before the funeral. The open coffin is displayed for friends and family to pay their respects and say their farewells. With the coffin on a raised platform, I was relieved that my daughter was not tall enough to see. However, sometime that afternoon her grandmother walked up to the coffin with my daughter in her arms. I suddenly realised that my daughter was looking at her Grand-Papa’s body and my heart leapt. But contrary to showing any fear or confusion, she just looked at his peaceful face and commented, “Grand-Papa is sleeping.”

On the day of the funeral, she amazed us with her good behaviour. I had been worried she’d want to walk around during the service, but she seemed to sense the gravity of what was happening and knew she had to sit quietly. She asked me a few questions but was quite content to sit on my lap or next to her grandmother. When it came time to say our farewells, I gave her a rose to lay on her Grand-Papa and whispered into her ear that she had to say goodbye. After looking around at her family, she turned back and said, “bye Grand-Papa.” It was such a sweet send-off to her great-grandfather of whom she has such loving memories and whom she had the privilege to know. I tried to hide my tears as I hugged her tightly.

As a parent, I worry about my daughter all the time. Each time we move to a different county, I worry about how she will adjust. I fret about her relationship with her family whom she sees maybe once a year. I agonize about how she’s eating and sleeping, and if she’s growing well. Most of all I worry about the world she lives in, for it can be such a scary and hostile place. And while I want to protect her from every single danger, I know that she has to face disappointment, sadness and most recently, loss.

In trying to protect her, I underestimated my child and how mature she can be. She might be very young, but she surprisingly taught me something in her own experience. She had shown no signs of being upset or afraid, even when looking at her resting great-grandfather. It wasn’t because she did not understand, because we recently had a conversation about Grand-Papa and Nanny being in heaven, and she exclaimed that it was unfair as she missed them very much. She really does understand that they are gone and she can’t see them anymore.

Even though she has not experienced loss to the same depths and understanding that we have, she has comprehended it in her own way. When she saw her great-grandfather, she had recognised his face, and remembered him playing games like “tweet tweet, where’s the birdy” and “meow, where’s the kitty cat.” She had remembered going to his house in Singapore and sitting on his lap while he talked to her in his ever-gentle voice. All she had seen in that face was love. And if that is her strongest or only memory of her Grand-Papa, she is truly blessed.

I can’t shield my child from everything, nor would I want to. I strongly believe that she has to go through pain, mistakes, struggles, and loss in order to fully appreciate people and what she has in her life. It will make her a stronger person, it will give her perspective and hopefully it will motivate her to bigger goals. She will eventually learn from experience that the world isn’t the utopia of her childhood, but I deeply hope that she will never fail to see love in the faces around her.

How do you help your children to understand and deal with difficult life experiences, like the loss of a loved one? 

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Karen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Photo credit to the author.

Karen Williams

Since getting married in 2007, Karen has been a trailing spouse and has followed her husband on his job postings. Currently living in Abu Dhabi (UAE), she has a precocious toddler and spends her days keeping up with her little one. Prior to being a stay-at-home mum, Karen was a Literature teacher; she still continues her love affair with books and rarely goes to bed without fulfilling her ritual of reading. She chronicles her overseas adventures with her family on her blog, Mummy In Transit.

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UAE: Family Ties in an Expat Life

Family Relationships Expat Life

Recently, we went back home for a visit due to family circumstances. We hadn’t been home in almost a year, and I was unsure how my 3 year-old daughter would react to our family and friends. After all, she is a completely different toddler from the one who visited Singapore in December.

She has changed immensely in the past six months; on some days she’s more clingy, on others she’s everyone’s best friend and sends flying kisses to all. There are also (many) days when she’s grumpy beyond belief especially when she’s tired. Sometimes she just charms the socks off everyone including her extremely gullible parents. She definitely has a feisty personality and never hesitates to opine that a person is silly, funny or wonderful.

As I packed for the trip, I felt a mounting apprehension about how she would be with the family. At 15 months old, she moved away from Singapore, where she was born. Since then, she has spent more of her life overseas than she has in her home country. Much of her extended family is scattered all over the world, in countries like Australia, New Zealand, America, UK, France and Canada. In fact, as I type this, we are visiting my in-laws who are currently residing in Oman. Our life is truly an expat life. 

All these factors left me with many questions about our return. Would she remember her cousins, aunties and uncles? Or would she think of them as strangers? Would they think she was too different from what they knew her as before? What if there was a gulf that time and space had created? Has her expat life separated her from her roots?

To be honest, these are questions that frequently run through my mind. I often wonder whether my daughter will be able to have strong ties to her family. Will she have sufficient permanence in her life? I fret over her emotional stability because we often move every few years for my husband’s job. He grew up as an expat kid too, moving every few years between Singapore and postings to other countries. As he got older, he kept to himself increasingly as the reality of leaving close relationships behind became more evident and painful. While this survival approach to an expat life may be pragmatic, I’m not quite sure if I’d want my daughter to do the same, either with friends or family.

So the questions remain – how do we maintain close relationships despite the differences in time and space; how can I help her to keep that bridge open? And I know that a huge part of this responsibility belongs to me, particularly because she’s so young right now and I need to help her establish a lasting basis for these relationships. 

And what I learned during our trip?

That this is a pertinent issue that requires greater deliberation, and which we need to keep talking about because it is one of the biggest challenges of being an expat family.

However, it also became clear to me that it’s not going to be as tough as I thought. Firstly, I’ve noticed that my daughter seems to have an innate connection to her family, and she possesses a desire to know more about everyone. She constantly asks questions about them, and remembers their encounters, especially when we look at photographs together or when we come across a gift that someone has given her. 

And very importantly, our families make such an effort to connect with her. They constantly engage with her, and treat her not as a child, but as a little person with her own personality. In the short time we were home, I feel that she has built a strong relationship with many of our family. Naturally, they have left very deep impressions on my young child, and she must feel that they are important because she keeps talking about them. So half the battle is already won. Now we just have to keep on building on those strong foundations. 

Do you lead an expat life? If so, how do you ensure that your family relationships remain strong? 

This is an original post to World Moms Network by Karen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Photo credit to the author.

Karen Williams

Since getting married in 2007, Karen has been a trailing spouse and has followed her husband on his job postings. Currently living in Abu Dhabi (UAE), she has a precocious toddler and spends her days keeping up with her little one. Prior to being a stay-at-home mum, Karen was a Literature teacher; she still continues her love affair with books and rarely goes to bed without fulfilling her ritual of reading. She chronicles her overseas adventures with her family on her blog, Mummy In Transit.

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UAE: It Takes a Village

UAE: It Takes a Village

You often hear that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Usually this takes the form of one’s family and friends in the familiar milieu of a place that you’ve been brought up in. However, when you’re an expat living far away from home, this might seemingly not apply. You will have occasional visitors, but for the most part you need to survive and thrive on your own.

We have almost reached the first anniversary of our arrival in Abu Dhabi and my daughter is approaching her third birthday. In the past year, she’s transformed into a confident little girl, due in great part to those whom she interacts with everyday. She loves talking to everyone she meets, and has made many friends with both children and adults alike.

I’ve had the fortune of meeting many people since we’ve arrived; some have become dear friends and others are acquaintances I meet occasionally in the course of my day. They offer friendship, conversation and support not only to me, but to my child and family. In a place like the UAE where expats make up 80% of the population, this is probably something that most of us strongly appreciate and even crave, especially when you’re a stay-at-home mum.

Here are a few of the wonderful people we’ve met, who are my daughter’s friends and who often help me to teach my child innumerable life lessons.

Mian

Mian is a receptionist in our building’s lobby and is often the first person we meet when we leave our apartment. She has a ten year-old son back in the Philippines and has spent the last 7 years working in Abu Dhabi to support her family. Her two sisters are coming over to work here, and she hopes that when this happens, she can take a break and be with her son for awhile. She recently returned from a one-month trip back home and has many stories to share of her son. Whenever we return from nursery, my daughter will run to the reception table to say hi and stop for a chat before we return home, telling Mian what she did with her friends that day.

Cindy

At one of our favourite cafes in the neighbourhood, Cindy is my daughter’s favourite waitress. I think all parents would agree that friendly wait staff are angels sent from God! She takes the time to chat with my daughter and plays with her whenever we stop by. Cindy is 21, from Albania, and has been here for 1&1/2 years. Her brother arrived a few days ago and is about to start work in a newly-opened hotel, so she’s very happy that she now has family here. Cindy told me that back home, her mother looks after other children while their parents work. As a result, she used to spend a lot of time with them and could understand what it’s like to look after a child. It’s no wonder she’s so great with kids. We always enjoy our meals at the cafe, especially when Cindy is there as her friendliness never fails to bring a smile to my daughter’s face.

Ms Yasmin

Ms Jasmin is my daughter’s teacher at nursery. She has lived in the UAE for the past decade and her two children have grown up here. When I asked her what was most challenging about her job, she said that it was educating parents and getting them to trust that the teachers knew what they were doing, as well as working together with parents to achieve the best for their children. The most fulfilling aspect was the kids themselves. Throughout the course of the school year, the children change immensely; they learn many new things and their progress is so evident. This is hugely rewarding for her. We have been working together to help my child with her behaviour, and I can see the development since she’s started school. A lot of her social skills have been built at nursery, and this would not have been possible without the support of Ms Jasmin and her other teachers.

Tida

Little Tida and her mum were the first friends we made in our building. Now the girls even go to the same nursery and enjoy many activities together. When they initially met, they were much younger and needless to say, there were some tears when they played with each other. In the past year, we’ve seen both girls become fast friends! They’re now in the chatty phase; from barely speaking, they have progressed to having little conversations and influencing each other’s behaviour. It’s amazing how little ones have the ability to change so much in a short time and also create changes in other children through their constant interaction.

Even though we’re thousands of miles away from home, I have a wonderful support system to help bring up my child. The people whom we interact with daily, they are our village and I’m so thankful for them!

Who do you consider to be your “village”? Do you have a non-traditional one? Tell us more!

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by KC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Karen Williams

Since getting married in 2007, Karen has been a trailing spouse and has followed her husband on his job postings. Currently living in Abu Dhabi (UAE), she has a precocious toddler and spends her days keeping up with her little one. Prior to being a stay-at-home mum, Karen was a Literature teacher; she still continues her love affair with books and rarely goes to bed without fulfilling her ritual of reading. She chronicles her overseas adventures with her family on her blog, Mummy In Transit.

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UAE: Interview with World Mom, KC in Abu-Dhabi

UAE: Interview with World Mom, KC in Abu-Dhabi


Where in the world do you live? And, are you from there?

Home for the moment is Abu Dhabi, UAE. Our family (husband, 2.5 year-old and yours truly) just moved here six months ago for my husband’s job. Originally from the tiny city-state of Singapore, we have been living a transitory life and have resided in four countries since 2007.IMG_4548

What language(s) do you speak?

English and Mandarin, and such basic French that I wouldn’t even call it speaking! While the official language of Singapore is Malay, today it is mainly used by some of the older generation, the Malays and a minority of other Singaporeans. The business language in Singapore is English and all schools instruct in English so this was what I grew up reading and speaking. In schools, you also have to learn a second language and although I managed to scrape by in my exams, I still always feel a little nervous and panicky when someone speaks to me in Mandarin. I also understand some Hokkien (another Chinese dialect) from listening to my maternal grandmother when I was a child. I never practised it very much and needless to say, I had numerous moments when things were lost in translation with my grandmother!

 

When did you first become a mother (year/age)?

In 2013, three days before I turned 32, my daughter made an early entrance into our lives. Since then, we’ve never had a dull or quiet day.

 

Are you a stay-at-home mom or do you do other work in or outside the home?

By choice, I am a stay-at-home mom. Initially, I left my job to focus on conceiving. When my daughter was born, I didn’t have any help with her and was her main care-giver. And now, she is with us on her first overseas posting, and I’m happy to be at home with her to maintain some sort of consistency. I remember being a teenager and telling my teacher that I wanted to be a physical education teacher (I ended up teaching English Lit, but close enough) until I had a family and then I would stay home with my children. Somehow, things turned out the way I had dreamed, and I am so very thankful that I can make the choice to stay home with my daughter.

Why do you blog/write?

I’ve only started writing fairly recently, mostly as a means to keep my brain working especially when my days revolve around nursery rhymes and Disney songs on repeat. I’ve found it rather cathartic and calming, and it gives me a chance to stop and gather my thoughts. Blogging and reading other blogs also provides a platform for an exchange of ideas, different perspectives and very importantly, support between friends and fellow mums. 

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What makes you unique as a mother?

As a mother in the parenting game, I am like any other mother who wants the best for her child. My uniqueness lies in one fact, that I am my daughter’s mummy, that I know her better than anyone else, and that I love her differently from anyone else.

 

What do you view as the challenges of raising a child in today’s world?

Because we move from country to country ever 3-4 years, and we are away from our family a lot, I worry that my child will lack permanence, a connection with others and a sense of rootedness. “Where is home?”  and “Where do I belong?” will be questions that she will need to find answers to. And hopefully, as parents, we will be able to provide safety and security at home, so that she can face other challenges as we move around.

 

How did you find World Moms Blog?

When I first started writing, we had just moved away from Singapore, and I was searching for other blogs for expat parents; I wanted to find some support from mums who were living abroad with their young kids. When I came across World Moms Blog, I was immediately drawn to it. Not only did it feature mothers from across the globe, it highlighted many inspirational issues and causes, and gave others a rare glimpse of mums living, working and parenting in different parts of the world. With each post I read, I learn something new and am spurred to want to do more than I am doing. There’s no better place to be inspired and uplifted by other mums!

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by KC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. 

Photo credits to the author.

Karen Williams

Since getting married in 2007, Karen has been a trailing spouse and has followed her husband on his job postings. Currently living in Abu Dhabi (UAE), she has a precocious toddler and spends her days keeping up with her little one. Prior to being a stay-at-home mum, Karen was a Literature teacher; she still continues her love affair with books and rarely goes to bed without fulfilling her ritual of reading. She chronicles her overseas adventures with her family on her blog, Mummy In Transit.

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