That Spot on the Left of My Chest ...

It was a little sad dropping Kiddo off at summer camp this morning.

Most days, like this one in Ireland, Kiddo is used to being an only child ...

Most days, like this one in Ireland, Kiddo is used to being an only child ...

Her BFF had been staying with us for her last three days in Qatar.  For three glorious days our house was a hustling, bustling madhouse of little people, with 4 kids ages 10 months to 9 years prancing about, dancing, crawling, crying, laughing, squealing.  There were lots of runny noses, some random vomit and diarrhoea, hot dogs and 3 types of Ben N' Jerry's ice cream (perhaps the culprit of said vomitus).  It was a 3-day sleepover, a first in our household.  Kiddo was over the moon.

It was beautiful.  We are so lucky.  We got to spend 3 days with a family of five we've come to love over the last four and a half years.  

But it's real quiet at home this morning.  That family of five left at 4:15 a.m.  We got up to wish them a safe trip, gave a few last hugs, and off they went, family in one car, bags in the other.  As I write this, they are a quarter of the way to where they're headed.

So I wasn't dropping Kiddo and BFF off at summer camp today.  Nope.  It was just Kiddo.  She didn't really want to go, but seemed quite happy once she was there.  As we walked in, I told her I was proud of her for facing the day even though she missed BFF.  And I assured her that BFF was still 'right there' (tapping her heart as I said it).

And she smiled sadly and turned those beautiful blue eyes of hers to mine, and said: 'Maman, I've figured out why my heart sits on the left side of my chest.'

'Why?' I asked.

'Because I need a spot for everything I love, especially once they've left.'

Then she giggled a little.  And that spot on the left of my chest grew tight.

These are the things my Kiddo teaches me.  These are the moments I realise how much this little miracle with the big blue eyes has filled that spot on the left of my chest.

Message to Me from the Pit ... Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries

A few nights ago, like most school nights, Kiddo wistfully eyed my iPad and asked for the gazillionth time why SHE (unlike apparently every single other 8-year-old in the world) does not have the privilege of owning her own tablet.  Why SHE (unlike apparently every single other 8-year-old in the world) is not allowed to play on the computer at will, have her own e-mail address, or surf the web unsupervised.  Why SHE (unlike ... youknowwhereI'mgoingwiththis) has to wait for the weekend to enjoy an hour a day of highly scrutinized and chaperoned mind-numbing games.  Why her settings only allow her onto sites like IXL and BrainPopJr.

Just a sampling of the apps available to Kiddo on my phone ...

Just a sampling of the apps available to Kiddo on my phone ...

She didn't express it in quite those terms, but those very questions were reflecting back at me from her big blue pleading eyes as I answered "Because ..." and clambered wearily up the stairs.  

As I swapped my heels and business suit for a comfy pair of sweats, a thought popped into my head.  "Because life is the pits ..."  This led to memories of delightedly discovering Erma Bombeck's book "If Life is a Bowl of Cherries What am I Doing in the Pits?" when I was about ten.  This led to earlier memories of reading Erma Bombeck's advice column and cartoon strips (Hagar the Horrible, Beetle Bailey, Marmaduke, ...) every week as an expat child in Venezuela as my Dad would hand over the entertainment section of "The Daily Journal".  

THAT was my weekend indulgence, the HIGHLIGHT of my week - the colorful weekend funnies!  Waiting anxiously for my Dad to finish reading so I could catch up with the Peanuts' characters - what mission would the Red Baron set off on this weekend? - or try to finally 'get' the Dick Tracy plot.

I can remember those moments so vividly; some days I'd read right away, stealthily sneaking in a peek as I ate the French Toast my mom would make on weekends (trying desperately to look disinterested given the 'no reading at the table' rule).  

Other times, I'd fold the funnies up and save them for an afternoon read.  Then I'd grab the can of very expensive imported Cheez Balls my mom would buy at the Puerto Ordaz Delicatessen as a weekend treat and curl up on the couch, letting each ball melt slowly in my mouth as I tried to figure out the humor behind Blondie, and told myself I wasn't frightened by the blank orbs that made up Little Orphan Annie's eyes.

Funny what we remember ...

Funny what we remember ...

And in those wonderful memories I found one of those odd and extremely rare moments of justification and redemption as a mom.  In those wonderful, simple memories I was able to wholly convince myself that sometimes I do make smart decisions as a mom.  In those wonderful, redeeming memories, I was able to remind myself that sometimes having to wait for something - having to look forward to something, even the smallest something - is the best way to learn to appreciate something.

My child won't trail behind her classmates academically because she doesn't get a daily fix of Minecraft.  She won't be unpopular because she hasn't been able to design a fashionable wardrobe on Toca Design this week.  She won't be less sociable because she hasn't used a peashooter to blow off a zombie's head today.  She won't end up illiterate because she read a hard copy of Matilda instead of reading Archie comics on a tablet or an online TabTales version of Rapunzel.

Kiddo's upstairs right now building a LegoFriends cruise ship.  We haven't seen her or heard from her in the past three hours.  

So she may not be the world's next Steve Jobs ... maybe she'll just be an engineer ... or not ...

So she may not be the world's next Steve Jobs ... maybe she'll just be an engineer ... or not ...

Yesterday, she went to a friend's birthday party at the Doha Aqua Park and came back bronzed and happy, full of tales and fully spent.    

Technology of a different sort ...

Technology of a different sort ...

We watched Dances With Wolves last night as a family.  

Some nights we play Frustration or work on a puzzle.  

Her piano teacher tells us she's one of the most naturally gifted students she's worked with.  She'll never be a prima ballerina, but once a week she carts off to ballet, and once a week she does her best to perfect her cartwheel at gymnastics.  She's in a recycling club out of personal interest, and she's an avid reader.

So she doesn't own her own tablet or get to play on the computer every day ... life's not the pits.  It's delicious.  Like a bowl of cherries.

A bowl of cherries.  In a sand pit.  Glorious!

Kiddo will be ok.  Even without her own personal tablet and .com address at age 8.

Sometimes "In My Heart" Just Isn't Enough for Me, Maman ...

Goodbyes are inevitable.  

In the ME, in North America, in Europe.  

Goodbyes are a certainty.   

Everyone, at some point, will say their goodbye.  Whether it's casual or final is up to the stars to decide.

No one escapes a goodbye. 

But in the ME ....

"Well, ......"

Even the most casual of goodbyes becomes an event of tragic proportions, particularly as seen through the eyes of an 8-year-old.  

A spoken "goodbye" denotes a potential permanent detachment in even the most  trivial of situations.   


This is because we are living as expatriates in a land where we have no roots.  We do have friends, we have amazing friends ... and we will carry them in our hearts just as we have carried our family HERE in our hearts.

But we have no roots ...  

And our goodbyes are too often final ...

  • Your nanny when you were 3?
  • She moved back to the Philippines when you were 4.
  • Your best friend in Grade 2?
  • She never showed up for Grade 3 ... her family moved to America.
  • Your favorite teacher?
  • She had to move back to Canada mid-year to care for her ailing father.

You may or may not hear from them occasionally after they leave ... it all depends on how solid the relationship was.  

But the fact is your heart will ache.  

And as a child, that ache is all encompassing.  

You are left with your immediate family:  Mom, Dad, and siblings if you're lucky. 

No Uncles and Aunts to confide in, no cousins to depend on, no Grandmother or Grandfather to turn to. 

It's just you ... and Maman and Papa. 

So an old family friend comes to visit for a couple of weeks.  And you have a blast.  And you get spoiled.  And you are so excited to finally tell all your friends and all your teachers that you have someone from 'back home' here to visit you. 

And then after two weeks he says: 

"Goodbye ... "

And you cry.  And I tell you not to worry about it. 

"Just keep him in your heart, where you keep Pepere, and Grandmaman, and everyone else who you love but is far away."  

And you look at me, with your true blue eyes, and say "But Maman, sometimes 'in my heart' just isn't enough for me." 

And I sigh, nod in agreement, and cry just a little inside. 

Thanks for coming to visit, Uncle Shaun, and "aurevoir", "until we meet again".  We will carry you in our hearts, but we really don't want to say "goodbye". 

Safe travels.   

"Aurevoir, ce n'est pas tout-'a-fait Adieu ..." 


How Kiddo Keeps Me Grounded ...

There is a blessed perspective and a bellyful of laughs that come from having an 8-year-old around the house.  Here are just a few snippets of conversation with her that manage to make us giggle and keep us grounded:

On Pilates

Me:  "I just did 20 roll ups."

Kiddo:  "They looked like regular sit-ups to me." 

Me:  "I've been trying to get these right for months."

Kiddo:  "You'll have to do a lot more if you wanna catch up."

 On My Blog

Me:  "Hey, Smilin' Vic, Kiddo, I have 4 subscribers." 

Smilin' Vic:  "Cool." 

Kiddo:  "What are subscribers?" 

Me:  "People who want to read my blog." 

Kiddo:  "Cool, then they can use your ideas." 

Me:  "I guess." 

Kiddo:  "So you only have 4 subscribers in THE WHOLE WORLD?" 

Me:  (heavy sigh)  "Yeah ... "

On Food Choices

Me:  "If you don't eat meat, it's hard to get all your protein and be healthy. "

Kiddo:  "Just because you want to eat something that was happier alive doesn't mean I have to.  Can I just have beans, please? "

On Boobs

Kiddo:  "How come women have to wear tops but men don't always?" 

Me:  "Because men don't have breasts." 

Kiddo:  "I saw men with boobs at the beach." 

Me:  "Are you done your homework?" 

On Death

Kiddo:  "Maman, how come people have to die?" 

Me (thinking hard):  "Because you start to get pretty bored of living once you're past a hundred or so." 

Kiddo (thinking hard):  "I'm pretty sure I'd rather be bored." 

On Desert Fashion

Kiddo:  "I'm happy you don't have to wear an abaya, Maman." 

Me:  "Why's that?"  

Kiddo:  "Because then no one would get to see your new bra."

Me (silently, in my head):  "Note to self:  Ditch the shirt ... apparently it's transparent in sunlight." 

On Driving in Doha

Me (in the front seat to Smilin' Vic):  "Is that driver crazy, blind, or both?" 

Kiddo (in the back seat):  "I don't think blind crazy people are allowed to drive in Canada, are they Maman?"

Smilin' Vic and Me:  sorry, this part was unintelligible through the peals of laughter ... 

Everyday traffic in Doha ...

Everyday traffic in Doha ...

On Driving in Doha, Part 2

Kiddo:  "Why is there always so much traffic in Doha?" 

Me:  "I don't know ... the roads are too small, there are too many cars, no trains ..." 

Kiddo:  "Maybe it's 'cause the crazy blind people drive really slow." 

Me (silently, in my head):  "Time to really start watching my big mouth around Kiddo." 

On Michelle Pfeiffer

Kiddo:  "Maman, that lady looks just like you." 

Me:  "And that, my child, is why you will go far in life." 

There's just something so crazy great about an eight-year-old's perspective. 


Still Trying to Learn the Parent Two-Step ...

The country/western two-step, often called the "Texas two-step" or simply the "two-step," is a country/western dance usually danced to country music.

As with other country/western dances, there are different versions of two step. Even the same dance may go by different names depending on the area of the U.S., and even in the particular dance hall. There may be no one "correct" way to do a particular dance.

 From Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia @

Sometimes the greatest prize for dancing is the sheer enjoyment it brings. 

Sometimes the greatest prize for dancing is the sheer enjoyment it brings. 

I've come to believe that parenting isn't that different than dancing really.  Everybody has their own unique style; no two people do it exactly the same.  Some parents just jump onto the dance floor and the moves come naturally.  Some simply have no interest whatsoever.  I think most of us kind of just shuffle at first, but keep on trying to get better at it.  Hopefully the beat kicks in and we all end up a bit more coordinated and graceful by the time the dance is over.

There is a never-ending debate on who's actually getting it right.    The judges will never see eye to eye.  So even though most parents start off trying to learn the basic steps to please the judges, a lot of what comes later ends up being very much an improvised and personal interpretation.  In the end, most people realize that dancing and parenting is not anything they're ever going to get paid or recognized for; you simply have to do it for the sheer love of it and enjoy the simple pleasures it brings.

I'm not a great dancer, but I love to dance.  I'm not a great parent, but I love being a mom.  I don't always get it right.  I fumble a lot.  Sometimes I trip up.  Other times I'm just grooving away, then looking back I realize I was probably completely off-beat.  Even when I'm gliding across the dance floor oblivious to the judges, there is a seed of doubt in my mind that I've missed a beat.

Right now, I'm trying to capture that fluid motion I so appreciate in natural born dancers.  I'm watching Kiddo grow up; it's a new tune for both of us, and we don't yet really get the tempo changes.  We know the mood is changing, but we're not yet really sure how that translates onto the dance floor.  We do know the moves are a lot more complicated.  We know there are a few aerial flips involved, where I actually have to let go of her a bit, and these still require a lot of practice.  We're fumbling a bit. 

The last few weeks, she's been attending a summer sports camp.  She loves the social interaction, and I think she's starting to enjoy the actual "sports" component, but she's facing issues that are new to her.  She's not yet into her groove, and I can't help but think I'm failing as a dance coach. 

The children in her group are all different ages, at all different levels of sporting skill and sportsmanship.  Some are sociable little beings like her, mostly there to make new friends and giggle and have a bit of fun playing dodgeball and swimming.  Others are fully engrossed in the athletics and the activity.  And finally there are a select few natural born competitors, out to prove their prowess both on the floor and off.

It's the latter that are causing the real issue for me as a mom.  I'm really fumbling as I try to figure out how to even step out onto the dance floor.   

You see, Kiddo's been coming home telling me about this particular child who is two years older and "not nice" to her.  Kiddo doesn't get it.  She wants to play with this kid, and can't understand why this kid is constantly pushing her away or ridiculing her.   

I'm so torn.  On the one hand, I tell myself that this is life, and that Kiddo's got to learn to stand up for herself and simply ignore anyone who can't appreciate her.  Better that she get strong now.  So I tell her to play with the friends she's got, stop trying to engage that kid in conversation or play, and simply ignore the kid or anyone else who doesn't treat her right.  I tell myself that teaching her to stand up for herself and to alienate the "bad guys" is responsible parenting on my part.  I tell myself this is how to take to the dance floor like a professional.  I tell myself that she's growing up, she's changing, her world is changing, and she has to find her way.  

Love this song as sung by father-daughter.  Old dance moves aren't that easy to change, but I think it's possible if you try.


But then the novice dancer in me, the kid in me, chimes in.  Whispers in my ear "Is it really about getting the steps right, or is it about feeling the music?"  And that's when I want to burst onto the dance scene with Kiddo.  I fight the urge to bust a move on the 10-year-old bully.  I have to resist challenging her to a dance-off.  Because even though in my mind I could really humiliate her with my amazing mother-daughter dance routine, I think my pre-historic dance moves would probably end up being more of an embarrassment to Kiddo than anything else.

So I stand back; watch Kiddo as she flails her arms at the back of the dodgeball pack, determined to stay away from any incoming balls.  Watch as the other kid tries to goad Kiddo.  Watch Kiddo ignore the kid, just like we talked about.  Watch the other kid poke Kiddo in a further attempt to grab her attention.  Kiddo stands firm, ignoring this kid.  It takes everything to keep me off the dance floor; I have a really good idea where my dancing shoes would lead me, and it's not a good place.  I tell myself this is Kiddo's dance challenge to win or lose.

When the game is over, I walk over to Kiddo.  She's surprised to see I'm still there, but happy.  I tell her I'm proud of her.  Tell her to make sure to let the other kid know not to ever touch her again.  Then I stare the other kid down.


I know what you're thinking.  I'm 43.  The kid is 10.  But I warned you in the beginning: I'm not a great dancer - I'm just trying to get better at it.  I don't know this dance so well, and I'll certainly never be a world-class champion.  But as long as Kiddo never doubts that I'll be there to catch her on that aerial flip, I think we'll do ok.


Some people say this song by Dave Matthews Band is about lovers ... I've always thought about it more as about celebrating the moment and recognizing that change is unavoidable.  It's called Two Step by the way ...