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 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.
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 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.
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.
The other day I went to my teenage son’s soccer tournament, and because his game was delayed, I watched a girls’ match finish on the other field. Actually, thanks to the British history in Abu Dhabi, I should say that I went to the “football fixture,” watched the girls play “on the other pitch,” and then at the end of the day took my son to the sports store so he could buy a new pair of “boots” (not cleats). Who knew when we moved here five years ago that one of the ways we would adapt is learning to speak a different version of our native tongue?
As I watched the girls’ match, two girls maneuvered the ball across the pitch, their teammates shrieking encouragement. One girl—a headscarf covering her hair, and leggings under her athletic shorts—passed the ball to her teammate, whose long ponytail was streaked light blue. They brought the ball down the pitch—passed left, passed right—and then Ponytail shot for the goal. The ball bounced off a goal post, looked like it was going to go wide, and then sank into the back of the net past the goalie’s outstretched hands.
“Nice shot,” murmured my son. “Really good pass, too.” Neither of us knew the girls who were playing, but his comment made me happy nevertheless. As the mother of sons, I collect “girl power” moments like this one to remind my sons that they do not have the market cornered on sports excellence. Now that he’d seen for himself, I wouldn’t have to risk being Tiresome Mom by pointing out that those were girls playing pretty kick-ass football.
It’s easy to see in this little episode a lesson about hijab not being the symbol of oppression that so many non-Muslims are quick to assume it is. This girl left her opponents in the dust as she raced down the field, and she pounded her thighs in elation when the ball went into the net. Her war whoop as she ran to the sidelines to celebrate with her teammates would be recognized anywhere as the screech of a happy athlete.
But that’s not really the point. The point has to do with the fact that my fifteen-year-old son didn’t notice the headscarf or the leggings—or the blue ponytail, for that matter—he noticed the football. He noticed what the girls were doing, not what they looked like. As my son moves closer to manhood, a process that seems to be unfolding faster and faster despite my attempts to keep him “my boy” as long as I can, I wonder if my feminist politics have rubbed off: will he become a man who sees what women can do rather than how they look or what they’re wearing?
Isn’t that the question we ask ourselves as our children—those firm little packages of flesh that seemed at one point soldered to our hips—move out into the world: we want to know if our lessons have sunk in, if they’ve been listening even as they seem glued to the Snapchat world in their phones. Does my darling son talk about girls as “hotties” when he’s with his buddies; does he chime in when the conversation turns to which girl has the best body and why?
I don’t know. All I can know is that the other day, what he saw was two people playing great football.
Who knows. Maybe if enough children grow up appreciating what people can do, rather than what they look like or what they do (or don’t) wear on their heads, the world might become a more level playing
How do you create awareness about gender equality for your children?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE. Photo credit to the author.
Frequently I am embarrassed by the fact that I only speak one language. Many of my friends in Abu Dhabi speak at least two, and most of my students speak three or even four. A few years ago I tried to learn Arabic and was stymied by a simple fact: my brain is old. It’s that whole “old dog new tricks” thing, which is to say, my brain wanted nothing to do with new lexical and grammatical systems.
Lately, however, I’ve been confronted with another new language and it’s proving equally difficult to master. In fact, maybe I will never master it.
It’s the language spoken by fifteen-year old boys in the twenty-first century in a first-world city. It’s both a spoken and a written language, comprised of monosyllables, grunts, emojis, and weird snapchat abbreviations. It’s a language that his friends speak fluently and one that he never deigns to translate to us, his parents.
Let me be clear: my son is the proverbial “good kid,” who still (occasionally) sits on my lap (usually when he wants a favor), does his homework without being asked, and is (sometimes) nice to his younger brother. But beyond that?
We get commentary about his basic human needs—food, sleep, wi-fi—and then he retreats into his digitally created iCocoon.
When I look at my son these days, the air seems full of ghosts; it’s like I’m seeing time, compressed and wispy, floating between the two of us. I see his baby self, staggering around the house with mushy graham crackers clenched in each fist, and I see other snippets of his childhood, too, hovering just beyond his (increasingly broad) shoulders. And at the same time, there’s the ghost of my own teenage self, snarling at my mother (sorry mom!) as I stand by the phone, willing The Cute Boy to call me.
The phone is a key difference in this linguistic and generational incomprehension. Those of you of a certain age will remember the days when houses had those things we now call “land lines,” which were anchored in a specific place and were frequently shared by the entire household. That meant that your TOTALLY ANNOYING younger siblings could pick up another extension and a) eavesdrop on your conversation; b) tell your mom what you were talking about; c) tease you mercilessly while you tried to be cool with The Cute Boy on the other end of the line.
Now, however, my son and his teenage friends carry a scrim of adolescence with them at all times, an endless stream of chitterchatter, gossip, sports scores, vaguely obscene quizzes, and god knows what else. Did you know it’s possible to have a scintillating conversation conducted entirely in poop and unicorn emojis, with the occasional emoti-face thrown in for good measure? It’s as if teenagers have all been transported into an ancient Egyptian civilzation and are fluent in hieroglyphs—yet another language I do not speak.
As I think about it, I am not sure, really, whether it’s that my son and I are speaking different languages or that his other language is omnipresent in a way that my teenspeak was not, because technology didn’t let it happen.
At some point I had to hang up the phone and turn off the TV, and engage with my family. Mind you, I wasn’t necessarily pleased about those engagements, but the world of “non-family” was regularly shut off.
Now, with smart phones, the external world is always ready to hand; there is always a way to tune out the family world.
I can hear you all, shaking your heads and muttering that we should set some boundaries and be firm about your expectations and teach your kid some manners and I bet that some of you, with small children, are thinking “my children won’t ever…”
Here’s the thing: I’ve thought all those things too. But then one night my son became fifteen and the battle lines got redrawn. How many times can we argue about how much phone use is too much; how many times can we discuss “reasonable use?” My son insists that I am the only parent who nags about such things, but my totally unscientific research suggests otherwise. I’ve talked with friends from Europe, Africa, the States, and elsewhere in the Middle East, and the screen-time battle seems to be an almost universal parenting problem.
If I think about it, the translation problems run in two directions. If my son could speak “parent,” then he would understand that in my repeated (and to him unreasonable) requests that he turn off his phone and talk to me, I am really saying “don’t grow up so fast, please don’t be in such a hurry to leave us behind.” He would understand that watching him grow up is lovely — and ineffably sad.
Maybe he’d understand if I put it in snapchat-ese for him. Can anyone translate into emoji for me?
How are things different now from when you were a teen? Do you find that the teens of today speak a different language?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE. Photo credit to the author.
“Will we be safe there?” My 11 year old son asked me that question as we were discussing our winter holiday travel plans, and I suppose, given that we live in the UAE, his question might make sense. In the last few years, we’ve traveled to Jordan, India, Kenya – all places that have been in the news lately as sites of violence.
Where are we going for the winter holidays, you might wonder, that would elicit such a question?
The United States.
I’ll let you think about that for a minute.
Okay, true, his question was a bit of a joke – the question of travel safety has become a running gag in our household, in part because that question is always the first thing my mother (in Illinois) always asks us.
But this time, when he asked the question, none of us laughed. He’d asked us just after the last mass shooting, the one in San Bernandino. And think about that for a minute: I have to specify for you which shooting I’m talking about. Was it the one in Colorado Springs outside Planned Parenthood, or the one in Oregon, or the one…
In other countries, when you say “mass shooting,” there simply aren’t that many to choose from because in the aftermath of the tragedy, governments have changed the laws to make such events less possible. But not in the good ol’ US of A.
When I tell people in the States where I live, there are two questions I am always asked: do I have to “cover” and “do I feel safe?” The answers are “no,” and “yes.” People who didn’t worry about me strolling home after midnight in New York’s East Village in the late 1980s now seem dreadfully concerned about my safety here, in this part of the world, as I drive off to the mall.
Part of why we chose to live abroad with our children had to do with wanting to give them a cosmopolitan perspective on the world: we wanted them to experience other cultures and learn to be open to, rather than threatened by, difference. I know that in the US it is possible to live in cosmopolitan cities—we used to live in Manhattan, where children from many nations crowded into my kids’ classrooms—but it is a different experience to live in a place where “your” culture is not the dominant.
A little while back, for instance, my older son had some friends over so that we could all go to a water park in the afternoon. When I told them it was time to get ready to go, my son said “well, we have to wait a little bit because T. is in the other room doing his prayers.” T. comes from a devout Muslim family and his mother would have been pleased to know that T. didn’t miss a prayer time just because the water park called. And for my son and his other friends, T. doing his prayers was as matter-of-fact as if he’d been changing into his swimsuit, or drinking a glass of water. Ordinary.
Like many of us, at home and abroad, I wrestle with how to explain to my children why the United States can’t simply change its gun laws and why so many people in the country seem afraid of anyone who worships at a mosque rather than a church or a temple. The explanation in both instances seems to boil down to fear: fear of change, fear of difference, fear of that-which-is-not-me.
It’s not much of an explanation, but it’s the only framework I have to explain why Donald Trump, for instance, can still be considered a candidate for the Presidency.
I know that the demagogues like Trump do not speak for all the people in the United States, and that many, many people are outraged by gun violence, but alas, the picture of the country that travels outward to the rest of the world is one of violent, gun-toting Islamophobia – and it’s scary. For me the fear rests not in the thought that Trump will ever be President because I refuse to believe that his bilious self is actually electable. I hang on to that fact as ardently as I once hung on to my belief in Santa Claus. No, my fear rests in the fact that, according to a recent poll, Trump leads the group of Republican Party presidential hopefuls, with 35.8% of the vote.
THIRTY-FIVE POINT EIGHT?
Maybe there really isn’t a Santa Claus.
How do you explain what’s happening in the United States to your children?
This is an original post by World Mom, Deborah Quinn in the United Arab Emirates.
Photo Credit to the author.
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.
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.
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.
“My grandmother told me that a woman is like the neck and the man is the head,” my student said. “Important but supportive.” The rest of the students in my class on “Global Women Writers” nodded their head in agreement. None of the students is from the same country—in fact, their nationalities pretty much span the globe—but apparently they’d all been given similar sorts of instructions. One girl had been told that she should plan on being an accountant because it would be easy to quit when she got married; another girl said that her mother worried that her brains were going to be threatening to her potential husband.
It’s been interesting to listen to these girls—young women, really—explore history and culture through our readings: we’ve spent time in ancient Japan with Lady Murasaki and Sei Shonagon, visited 17th century Spain with Sor Juana, bounced around the 19th century with Mary Shelley (and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft) and Charlotte Bronte; read Chimimanda Adichie’s TED Talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” and then traced Adichie’s ideas back to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own—and back again to Sor Juana.
The list of readings is longer than what I have listed here—we will go to India, New Zealand, Egypt, Nigeria, and the UAE before the term is over—but the students have already noticed a pattern. No matter where we are in time and space, we find variations on the same theme: lack of access. Lack of access to money, education, safety, autonomy—the particulars may change, but always the obstacles seem rooted in the material reality of being female, and how the category of “woman” has been valued (or devalued) through the course of human history.
Sor Juana joined a convent so that she could pursue her studies instead of being forced into marriage and motherhood; Jane Eyre famously declared that women “feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint … precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings…”
“I love Jane,” exclaimed one student when we read that passage in the novel. “It’s like she’s speaking to me!” When students respond to ideas in the course, I am always delighted, but in this instance, I had to pause.
What does it mean that the struggles of an early 19th century heroine still resonate with a 21st century reader? I know, of course, that men struggle with feeling limited in their choices—as I remind my students, “gender” is something everyone has (although I’ve noticed that when students talk about “gender roles” they mostly talk about women). All the same, however, wouldn’t you have thought that by 2015, we would laugh at the attitudes Jane complains about because they seem so old-fashioned? Instead we experience a flash of recognition that in Jane’s world, as in our own, society insists on placing boundaries around women’s lives.
When I proposed teaching this course, a colleague asked why I had to specify “women.” She wondered why I didn’t just teach a course called “The Global Novel” or something like that. It’s a reasonable question, I suppose, but I think the answer connects, in a way, to why the United Nations decided, two years ago, to declare 11 October the International Day of the Girl: “Empowerment of and investment in girls are key in breaking the cycle of discrimination and violence and in promoting and protecting the full and effective enjoyment of their human rights.” (Click here to see how World Moms Blog celebrated this day.)
Don’t get me wrong – I am the mother of two boys (and no daughters) and while I know that my sons face gender-related struggles, I also know (because I was once a girl, and am now verging on “crone”) that men have not been as systematically pushed to the margins of history. It’s why we have “Secretary Day,” in the U.S., rather than “CEO Day.” We create formal occasions to notice those who would otherwise be silenced, overlooked.
I teach “Global Women’s Writing” because we live in a world where “woman” gets all too easily pushed out of the picture. Ironically, I teach the course in hopes that one day I won’t need to. Perhaps my students–our children–will inherit a world where we don’t need “International Day of the Girl” or a course in “women” writers. Do you think we’ll ever get there?
This post is original to the World Moms’ Blog. Deborah Quinn occasionally blogs at mannahattamamma.com and writes a regular column for The National, the English-language paper of the UAE. Her most recent column can be found here.
Photo credit to the author.