Meet Australian Mom living in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates
I’m an Australian married to a Brit, with three gorgeous kids from Sierra Leone, West Africa (we have two girls, almost 14 and almost 6 and a little boy almost 4). We have lived in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates for the past 2 ½ years.
People are always curious about our special family and how we came to be. For my husband and I, adoption has always been the way we imagined we’d create our family. It’s not a choice that is easy to explain, I think it is one of those decisions that either feels right, or doesn’t. When we moved from London to Dubai for his job, I had stopped working and starting our family moved from being something we talked about for the future, to a more immediate reality.
International adoption was the right choice for our family and we started to investigate the options. We came across an amazing man who had lived in Dubai, who’d adopted four children from Sierra Leone as a single dad. After discussions with him and other families, we started to look seriously at Sierra Leone.
Many people have heard of Sierra Leone only through the movie Blood Diamond, or the Kanye West song. While the civil war has been over for some years now, Sierra Leone is still recovering. It is ranked last out of 177 countries evaluated by the United Nations, in an index comparing poverty, life expectancy, literacy, education, and other factors.
After going through the home study process, we waited until we were requested to travel to bring home our little girl in August 2007. Then, the three of us returned to Sierra Leone in December 2007 to adopt our other two children, on our fourth wedding anniversary. I will never forget meeting each of our children for the first time, it still sends shivers up my spine when I think about it, it is such a precious moment for us and so scary for them.
When adopting children, most people concentrate their energies on helping the kids settle. We were completely focused on this, but did not really prepare for the adjustment we ourselves had to make to being parents. Probably this is something you can’t prepare for until you are in the middle of it! We had gone from living the life of London professionals with a funky flat in Clerkenwell, lots of dinners out and weekends reading the paper over coffee, to kids, schools, playdates, all multiplied by three and all in a matter of months. We had language and cultural issues to bridge and lots of things to learn quickly as new parents. I did not know how grumpy months of interrupted sleep would make me and how full on being a mum was. Parents we spoke to would say we were taking on a lot of change in our lives, but it was not for months, in the middle of sleepless nights and trying to figure out ways to deal with tantrums that I stepped back and thought, aha, now I understand that this is hard work! But the most rewarding work ever!
Seeing the kids personalities take shape is amazing, they are each so different but as a family, we are starting to work. The kids are all full or charm and energy, we are definitely not a quiet family. We like to get outside and play, to have music on to dance around to, to swim and tickle and laugh a lot.
In the midst of everything I set up my business Aunty Ollie. I design and produce a kids clothing range with cool, vintage inspired prints. I launched my online shop in May 2009 with a small Summer range and have a much expanded Autumn/Winter range coming in September. Aunty Ollie adds to the stress of life but is incredibly fulfilling and after spending nearly a decade working in the investment world, it soothes my soul to be doing something creative. I also write a blog that is linked to my website, I find it quite calming to document the prettier parts of life! When the kids have been particularly trying, reading back over the blog reminds me of nice days!
LIVING IN DUBAI People are also curious about life in Dubai, which seems to have appeared out of nowhere in the last ten years or so. All the stereotypical images you see in the media are fairly accurate – the city changes at a rapid pace, there really is frantic construction and development, the hotels and shopping malls really are a sight to behold – it is amazing to have this fabulously modern city rising out of the desert. You only have to drive twenty minutes out of town to see sand dunes and camels.
Family life in Dubai is great for about eight months of the year. You open up the doors and live outside – swimming, at the beach, riding bikes and playing outside. It is a very multicultural, friendly place where it’s easy to make friends from around the world. Schools are good and as an Australian, being quite central geographically is attractive! We have trips planned to Egypt and Jordan this year, as well as our current summer exodus to Australia and also a few weeks in the UK. For Aunty Ollie, the location is great as well as I am not too far from many of the markets I focus on.
The downside is the summers are horrendously hot. So hot the kids can’t play outside for several months of the year, so hot that air conditioning runs permanently everywhere you go, so hot just walking the kids from the car to the school feels like a trial, and so hot that your sunglasses fog up for five minutes every time you go outside.
HOME We have dealt with this in a few ways. We have created a really comfortable, beautiful home where we can all live happily indoors for long periods – cooking together, watching movies, making blanket cubby houses, reading books and lots of hide and seek. I have lots of books on art, photography, fashion etc to give me my fix when it’s too hot to do much else. I also read lots of blogs from all over the world and stare wistfully at green trees and people running around outside with their kids. It sounds strange but sometimes you just need to see a tree! There has been a sand storm for the last week or so, leaving the whole place shrouded in a hazy cover of sand. It’s very other-wordly and at least the temperature is down slightly.
I love making our ordinary life as beautiful as it can be, really taking pleasure from the simple things – a beautiful cup to drink coffee from in the morning, a lovely book I can’t wait to get back into each night. I love quirky things which can be hard to source here where everything is brand new and shiny. I got some gorgeous prints for the kids from The Black Apple which look amazing framed in their rooms. I often get gifts online as well. I’m really very comfortable with finding what a like, whether art, clothes, books, whatever and then ordering it online. I cannot really imagine a world without internet shopping, how scary, especially for those of us away from home!!
I adore beautiful, thoughtful kids products, especially those that are quite simply in design, allow for maximum imagination and look beautiful. I love the Rosie and Flo series of colouring books and the Pascalle Estellon activity books, I think probably even more than my kids do. My eldest has a Charlie Harper colouring book that is pretty fabulous as well.
For kids books I love Lauren Child’s books, especially The Princess and the Pea. The thought that goes into the pictures and illustrations is amazing and they are gorgeous to look at. We’ve also enjoyed some retro books like Corduroy, Goodnight Moon and I bought The Poky Little Puppy online, which I remember vividly from my own childhood. My little boy loves We’re Going On a Bear Hunt and Where the Wild Things Are, both of which I love reading to him. Cannot wait for the movie version of the latter!
I love The Bee Movie, something about it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and of course, Charlie and Lola DVDs. The kids also like musicals a lot so we’ve revisited all the old favourites from our childhoods and love The King and I. Our teenager is keeping us up to date with pop culture now though so I think I could recite each High School Musical movie, and do have a favourite Jonas Brother (I don’t know his name, the one everyone likes who was in Camp Rock).
We’ve always listened to loads of world music and now are discovering jazz trumpet as my husband has started to learn to play. For great kids CDs we love the Putumayo series. And probably like everyone else in the world, we’ve been listening to Michael Jackson again, our little girl was trying on her moonwalk this morning at the ten pin bowling alley, much to everyone else’s amusement!
There are many, many kids clothing labels I love. We were just in Australia on our escape the heat holiday and I loved shopping at Seed, Mill & Mia and Country Road, and also did a big order recently from Baby Loves Style. Of course the kids wear stacks of Aunty Ollie, my little boy loves his “party shirts” and my little girl’s favourite tops are from Aunty Ollie’s Asia range. I’m happy to spend a little more on gorgeous clothes, I just try to buy them big enough to get a couple of seasons out of them if we can. Alternatively, we hand them on to lucky friends. All too soon the kids want to wear Hannah Montana t shirts so I say enjoy having some style control while you can! I’d have loved to get some great shoes for the kids but ran out of time…
Our life is crazy, full on and completely different to our life just 18 months ago. I do have moments where I go, oh, what happened here? But it is the best, most perfect life I could have imagined. I have a gorgeous family full of love and am living life at full speed. I wouldn’t change a thing.