Archive | moving

an anniversary

A year and a day ago, Husband and I knelt in front of the departure counter at JFK, enroute to our new home in Abu Dhabi, and played “rearrange the suitcases” because two of our suitcases were over the weight allotment for international travel. Liam slunk behind a pillar so he could pretend he didn’t know us, while Caleb laughed at the sight of stuffed animals, Trader Joe’s multi-grain pancake mix, and pairs of shoes being tossed from one suitcase to another. Husband and I tried to pretend that we had everything under control as  we shuffled around our belongings, but as our whispered cursing revealed, we were nervous wrecks trembling on the brink of disintegration.

Instead of shipping things to Abu Dhabi, we’d decided to max out our luggage allowance and bring everything with us in suitcases. Twelve suitcases, to be exact, each stuffed beyond capacity. Oh, and five or six carry-ons, plus entire satchels of anxiety. If the Joads from Grapes of Wrath had traveled by plane, we were what they would’ve looked like.  At least we weren’t carrying livestock.

A year and a day later, I’m writing this post in the screen porch of a house we rented in Long Beach Island, “down the shore” in New Jersey (a completely Snooki-free zone, thank god), and right now that sweaty anxious moment in the airport seems like a dream. In fact, our entire life in Abu Dhabi seems like a dream. It’s easy to imagine that we’ll pack up from here, drive back into Manhattan to our cramped apartment and resume life as we knew it.

But no. For one thing, we don’t have an apartment in the city anymore; for another, I seem to have lost my New York callouses. When we were in the city last week, it seemed extraordinarily loud, crowded, dirty, and expensive–the things that out-of-towners always say about Manhattan. There were some perfect moments–a gathering of old friends for an evening picnic, a night at the Delacorte in Central Park with Husband, watching “Into the Woods,” lingering in the Met with my dear friend S. from San Francisco and then wending our way to a ladies lunch, complete with quartinos of crisp summer wine. Bliss.

But also? Sirens, and slow-moving tourists, and traffic jams along 14th street that seemed to last for days.  I found myself thinking “at least in Abu Dhabi there’s a dedicated left turn lane, for god’s sake.” Yes. It’s true. I miss Abu Dhabi traffic patterns, despite the death-defying drivers slinging themselves into those turn lanes.

Trying to cram all my visiting into a week (and yes, I know, I missed many of you, apologies apologies apologies) meant moving fast: coffee downtown, lunch uptown, drinks in Queens. I felt winded all week; I don’t move that fast any more. My friends in New York move at a pace that I recognize but no longer practice.  Some part of me feels like I’ve lost my macho mojo–I mean, I regularly used to win the “who is busiest of them all” competitions–but part of me is happy to have slowed down.

I spent this past year feeling as if I were floating, as if I were playing pretend in someone else’s life. It reminded me of those early days of parenthood, when I would wait for the “real mommy” to show up and take over, because I sure as hell didn’t know what I was doing. Remember those days? When you’d just drift through the day, sleepless and bemused, and just getting the laundry folded (okay, just getting the laundry washed) felt like an epic accomplishment? Yeah. Much of the first year of expat life felt like that.

Now, however, to continue my metaphor, it’s as if that damn baby has finally started kindergarten and I can get some of my life back. My brain is waking up: there’s a non-fiction book percolating, and a novel or two. I am discovering what expat writers have been discovering for generations: sometimes being on the outside is the best way to get at what’s inside.

So. A year. I’m looking forward to going back and–because ambivalence is my true homeland–I am also bereft at the thought of once again saying good-bye to my family and friends. This whole expat thing would be great if you could just bring all the people you love along with you, don’t you think?  That’s what we were trying to do last year with our over-packed suitcases: cram “home” into our luggage so we wouldn’t be lonely.

But maybe loneliness is a fact of expat life, maybe it’s something you adjust to, like breathing in the Abu Dhabi heat or hearing the call to prayer and knowing what time it is.

I don’t know what will happen in this next year of expat life and I don’t know if these ideas stretching around in my head will amount to much.  I know only one thing for sure: I am bloody well weighing all my damn suitcases before I get to the airport.

See how much I’ve learned in a year?

sunset from my apartment window in Abu Dhabi






Continue Reading · on August 14, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, moving, NYC, Parenting, UAE

nine months in and we’re doing it again

I celebrated our ninth month of living in Abu Dhabi by visiting New York.  Not intentionally but as it happened, the only time I could line up doctors’ appointments, business meetings, and a flyby visit with my mother and sister in the wilds of New Jersey coincided with the nine-month anniversary of our arrival in Arabia. (Arabia. It sounds so much more evocative than “Abu Dhabi,” doesn’t it? Like maybe I’m going to ride off with Omar Sharif or Peter O’Toole at just about any minute.)

Nine months. If I continue my pregnancy metaphor, we’re due. When I was pregnant with baby #1, people with kids would say “your life is going to change…” and I would nod and smile and think to myself “maybe your life changed, suckahs, but I am a superior form of human and my life will go on like always, except I’ll have this charming bundle to look after.”

Bwahahaha.  Hubris, my friends, pure and simple. Babies kick your ass (and mostly we love them for it); they make us better people (except when we have to read Thomas the Tank Engine for the 458th time); they are little flesh-wrapped bundles of hope that will, I think, despite what Dr Sears says, flourish even if we occasionally put them down or let them cry.

Nine months ago, when we told people we were moving to Abu Dhabi, they said “oh wow, Dubai sounds really cool.”  The next question, inevitably, was “are you going to have wear a…y’know, a thing?” and they’d sort of flap their hands around their heads. They meant “veil,” but it looked more like “goalie mask” or “diving helmet.”  And always, always, they’d say “wow, that’s going to be a big change.”

I’d nod and smile and say “mmhmm,” but inside my brain there was no hubristic nonsense. Instead there was “HOLY CRAP WE’RE MOVING TO ARABIA WHAT THE HELL ARE WE THINKING ARE THERE CHICKEN NUGGETS IN ARABIA MY KIDS ARE GOING TO STARVE.”

Despite my chicken nugget anxiety, we moved. Figured out how to move twelve huge suitcases, four people, and assorted carry-on bags half-way around the world (why yes, that was me you saw crouched in front of the departures counter at JFK, madly tossing things between suitcases trying to get the weight allotments right), figured out how to negotiate the grocery stores, figured out how to drive in a world where traffic laws are more like traffic suggestions, figured out that trying to make a strange place feel like “home” is almost as exhausting as having a newborn.

Nine months ago, if you’d asked me if we would stay in Abu Dhabi for another year, I would have laughed at you with the same incredulous laugh that you’d hear if you asked new parents when they were going to have baby #2: “We’re barely hanging on,” they’d say. “And you think we should do this to ourselves again?”

But then, you know, the baby smiles, it coos, it pats your cheek. It sits, babbles, drools, shoves oatmeal in its hair, crawls, and becomes generally the cutest baby ever in the history of babydom.  And then one day, as you watch this Platonic specimen of babyhood scooch across the floor, the thought bubbles to the surface: why not another one, because if this one is so damn cute, what would a sister/brother look like?

And so it was a few months ago that I started to think, oh good lord, we just figured out how to live here. Now we’re going to move back? Liam no longer believes that we ruined his life by switching schools; Caleb can read rudimentary Arabic words; Husband loves the work he’s doing here; there are chicken nuggets in the frozen-food section of the grocery store.  Being a typical mom-type person, I feel settled now that my family feels settled–and besides, if we moved, I would have to scrap this beautiful new blog design.

Do I really want to uproot again, move back to New York, give up our adventure before we’ve even really gotten started?


It’s been nine months; the new baby has gotten cute; we’re doing it again.

We’ve not officially told the kids, but our contracts are signed, so…expat life? Here we come again – or rather, here we stay. I guess I’m going to have to figure out a different metaphor for next year’s adventures.


one of the lovely support systems (safety nets? escape hatches?) that helped me adjust to life in Arabia has been the community at yeah write, curated by the amazing Erica (she of this blog redesign).  click over using this button and see what’s brewing at yeahwrite this week…then come back to yeahwrite later this week and vote for your favorite posts

read to be read at

Continue Reading · on May 21, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, moving, UAE

I’m moving WHERE?

Friends and colleagues of ours from Manhattan are moving here next year, various children in tow, and I’ve been emailing back and forth with them about all the weird little details involved with moving to…not quite the far ends of the earth but a further end of the earth than, say, Westchester.

This morning, I got an email in which S. asked “Did you ever get huge pangs of “oh shit–what the hell am I thinking moving to Abu Dhabi?” And maybe in her email she mentioned that some people in the family were maybe crying a little bit about the thought of this impending move. I’m not saying there were tears, I’m just saying that there might have been.

It’s not a bad question, actually. In fact, it’s a question that, with a slightly different verb tense, I ask myself pretty regularly. Tears are also not unusual.

Here’s what I wrote:


Dear S.

Well DUH of course you’re going to cry. Maybe even daily, hell maybe even hourly. You’re moving HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD.

I mean, holy crap, right?

And so there will be parts that suck a little and parts that suck a lot.

That said of course, as “hardship duty” this barely, barely qualifies.  Everyone speaks English, there is an intact government that doesn’t open fire on its citizenry (or at least not when the news hounds are looking), you can buy likker, wine, and bacon and really, what more is there?

But yeah. Plan to be exhausted for a while–weeks after the move is finished and you think you’re “settled,” you’ll realize that you’ve never been this tired in your life. Holding it together for everyone else can wear a person down to the nubs, so be ready to be easy with yourself. Sit a lot. Maybe lie down occasionally. Drink, if you’re a drinker. And kiss your efficient type-A New Yorker self good-bye for a while. She’ll still be there when you return. I’m finding that actually if you move more slowly, it’s okay. It feels weird but everything mostly gets done (mostly) and no one else seems to be moving super fast. It’s not a very efficient city. It’s not Rome, but it’s not Manhattan, either.  On the weekends, you’ll maybe hear about this festival, or that exhibit, or that kid-friendly event, and you’ll be all “okay! we are totally there and we’re getting there at 10am and really seize day, dammit.”

That’s a great idea except that all those special events open at like, 2.  Maybe 3.  But if you go to that event at 11pm or midnight? There will be tons of little kids running around having a great time.

You will be fascinated by the contradictions and weirdnesses of this place. I’m trying to dig deeper but it’s hard to find ways out of the expat bubble–and inside the expat bubble, it’s easy to float along with relative freedom. It’s not Riyadh; you’re not going to be stared at (or worse) if your arms are exposed or your hair or god forbid your knees.

That said, however, as KSB asked in this comment, it is a city that has different attitudes for different shades of skin. It’s a city with two or three (or ten) tiers: the one I live on, for white euro/north americans, is pretty comfortable. For others, it’s less comfortable. Husband, with his brown skin, is asked for ID every time he goes into the boys’ school, while I waltz by the security kiosk and no one even blinks. And a (white) colleague here has a wife who is from South Asia, and she is not treated with the same deference I am.  As for “locals?” Emiratis rarely cross paths with expats, unless you work in one of the corporate offices owned by the government.

So no, it’s not perfect by a long shot. But there are interesting people here doing interesting things–a group started a farmer’s market; there are people making art and music and working for conservation effots. And, as with anywhere, there is an idiot contingent, most of whom drive around in polysyllabic fancy cars that end in “i” – Maserati, Ferrari, whateveri. I don’t even blink any more when a Lamborghini pulls up next to me at the stoplight. I see a yellow one around a lot that always looks to me like the swiss cheese hats that Green Bay Packer fans wear on their heads.

Anyway.  It’s an easy place, in a lot of ways – which means the weirdnesses sneak up on you with a WHAP when you’re least expecting it. Little stuff, like WHAT DO YOU MEAN I  CANT BUY PURE VANILLA EXTRACT?  WHY DO FURNITURE STORES ONLY SELL CARMELA SOPRANO’S CASTOFFS? I NEED A LICENSE TO BUY BOOZE? VEAL BACON?  There are big weirdnesses too, but I’ll save those for later, after you’ve already bought your plane tickets.

Here’s the thing: the weather is (mostly) lovely; there are good restaurants; the people you’ll be working with are terrific; it’s a kid friendly city; you’ll do yoga on the beach and kayak in the mangroves; it’s safe and quiet and relatively clean.

And every day–even on those teary, exhausting, pull-your-hair-out-crazy days–you’ll get an absolutely gobsmacking sunset that makes you really glad you don’t live in the concrete canyons of Lower Manhattan anymore.

Yes, you’re going to cry, but mostly? You’re going to be fine.



(that’s really how the sunset looked tonight, I promise – no camera enhancements whatsoever)


linking up this post to Bees with Honey – thanks Bruna!

Let's BEE Friends

Continue Reading · on February 8, 2012 in Abu Dhabi, expat, moving, NYC, Travel, UAE, What’s It Like?

Ikea, i just can’t kwitya

We left New York in July with 12–TWELVE–suitcases in tow.  For a variety of reasons we decided not to ship any personal items and instead we took full advantage of our business class tickets, which allowed us each 3 checked bags, at 26 kilos each. If you’re flying business class, each suitcase can go up to 32 kilos, however, and they don’t charge you an overweight bag fee. It’s not fair but we were in no position to argue ethics with the flight crew: we needed every kilo of baggage we could get, and if that meant the people in steerage coach had to jettison their carefully considered gifts for folks back home, so be it. Dump ’em, baby, I’ve got fifteen pairs of shoes that must come to Abu Dhabi.

Of course, we got our comeuppance at the check-in desk, when two of our bags hit the “danger” weight of more than 32 kilos, and we had to scramble around to re-pack things, in front of all the real business class travelers, in their Chanel cashmere wraps and slim titanium rolling bags.  Nothing like having to re-pack, in public, on the floor of the airport, at 5 in the morning after being up most of the night to really start a trip off on the right foot.

Whatever. We got here. Bought ourselves a little suitcase-weighing gadget and before we left London for Abu Dhabi, we weighed each bag with the kind of attention drug dealers give to parceling out cocaine.

And what, you ask, was in all those bags? Well, clothes. Tablecloths. Vitamins. Shoes. Stuffed animals. Soccer cleats. Deflated soccer balls. A beautiful set of measuring spoons that someone gave us for our wedding. A blu-ray player. A wii. Books. Markers. Shampoo. Pure maple syrup (which is impossible expensive here).

And this:

Yes. That is in fact an entire duffel bag full of legos. And not a small duffel bag, I might add.

When we got to Abu Dhabi, that duffel bag translated to this:

Piles of ziploc bags, each containing fistful after fistful of lego, have been piled along the far wall in the boys’ bedroom for two months, ever since that duffel bag got upended the day after we arrived.

Last week we went to Mecca Ikea. Say what you will about that place, in Abu Dhabi, if you aren’t Emiratirich, it’s pretty much the only show in town. We visit friends in this building or elsewhere and it’s “Oh, you got the Expedit in brown. We have it in white.” Or “we looked for that table, but it was out of stock.” We’re all on a first-name basis with the innards of the Swedish flat-box store. (There’s a very funny article about Ikea in the New Yorker last week, or maybe it was two weeks ago. Or maybe last month, who can be sure).

We ordered enough stuff that we got delivery and assembly minions included (alas, you have to give the minions back). They came today and in addition to a sleeper sofa (now we can have overnight guests! If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood of Arabia, stop on by!), we got various shelves and boxes, and this:

I think it’s actually called Trofast, but I prefer “lego wrangler.” Put one of those little circles over the “o” in lego and you’re all set. See? Tidy, color-coded (because god forbid Liam’s pieces should mix with Caleb’s pieces), and not on the floor.  Anyone who has ever stepped on a lego knows that the “not on the floor” part is key.

And that is why I keep going back to Ikea. It’s not great furniture, but I need the bins.

Continue Reading · on October 8, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, legos, moving, shopping

What Do You Take?

When it came right down to it, I couldn’t throw away the craft supplies. Sparkly pipe cleaners, glitter, feathers, beads, gold paint, clay—all the stuff you need to turn delivery boxes into trains, forts, and castles, or to create Cleopatra headdresses and war chieftain headbands.

I love crafts. Nothing makes me happier than visiting my mom in the ‘burbs of Indiana and spending a good hour or two wandering through the Michael’s craft store, that big-box homage to all things glue-gunnable.  And I loved the days when the boys begged to “do a project,” so in those little left-over pots of glitter and glue I see sparkly remnants of their little boyhood.

Neither boy is likely to ask to for stick-on fuzzy bugs any time soon, so I gave most of the supplies to Caleb’s first-grade teacher. But I couldn’t leave it all behind. I mean, what if we’re in the midst of some school project next year that would be just perfect except we don’t have any glitter? Do they have glitter in Abu Dhabi? What is the Arabic word for “craft store?”

Oddly, while I couldn’t quite throw away all the crafts, I had no problem tossing out boxes and boxes of nursery school mementos. I marched through those boxes like Sherman marching across the South. I kept a few things—a huge painting of a sunflower that Caleb made; the fairy-tale hats given to each graduate from their nursery school; a few of the more wonderful drawings that Liam made, including an entire “book” he made, in 2004, about Olympic women’s hockey (he drew pictures of his favorite teams, complete with uniform details, players’ names, and stats).

When I was finished weeding through the boxes and boxes of saved projects, oddly shaped bent-wire creations, and store-bought valentines from kids we no longer know, I felt like someone in an article from Real Simple: “look at the marvelously organized mom!”

Then guilt hit: had I really thrown away the worksheets Caleb used to practice his letters? The snowman made from pom-poms? Will my children think I don’t love them when I can’t produce the first-ever fingerpainting?

It’s a risk I’m going to have to take. I refuse to be the woman a friend of mine told me about, who photographs every worksheet and art project her kids bring home and then throws away the projects.
I mean, that’s crazy, right?

Whereas bringing little pots of glitter and sparkly pipe cleaners to Abu Dhabi makes perfect sense, don’t you think?

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Continue Reading · on July 24, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Children, growing up, moving

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