Expat Stories

Sunshine

 

It’s still the South-Western monsoon season (read: the rainy season), and that runs right from May until November. We have a way to go yet! Nonetheless there have been blue skies as well as thunderstorms, and we try and make the most of the dry patches and get outdoors. It’s being out on the beach that really makes me feel good about our life here. We moved to the Maldives. Winning!

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Advice, Kiddo

10 Tips on Taking Preschoolers to Restaurants

 

I recently saw the following quote posted on the Just Eat Real Food Facebook Page:

“We do children an enormous disservice when we assume that they cannot appreciate anything beyond drive through fare and nutritionally marginal, kid-targeted convenience foods. Our children are capable of consuming something that grew in a garden or on a tree and never saw a deep fryer. They are capable of making it through dinner at a sit-down restaurant with tablecloths and no climbing equipment. Children deserve quality nourishment.”  ― Victoria Moran

“I’m with you until the part about the sit down restaurant!” someone commented on the thread, unleashing a mini avalanche of agreement. Hmm, well, my just-turned-three year old daughter eats at least two meals per day in restaurants, sometimes three. And she’s being doing this since she was two. Is it always easy? No, but I put that down to the unrelenting frequency of our restaurant meals. It’s harder to maintain socially acceptable behaviour when you have to uphold that standard 70 times a month instead of just two or three. Adults who have to see a disagreeable relative on a frequent basis may agree with me on that point. Nonetheless, taking kids to the restaurant is completely do-able. Here’s my advice for taking small children to restaurants.

1. Start early. We’ve been taking Mila since she was a chubby little newborn, and I think getting used to the restaurant environment really helps. If you’re breastfeeding, bonus: milk is always at the ready to settle a grumpy tot. (On that note: restaurants are considered public spaces not private buildings. If you’re entitled to breastfeed in public – and you usually are – you can breastfeed in the restaurant too.)

2. Take toys. One of the main pitfalls with eating at a restaurant is that you generally have to wait for food to arrive, and you have to sit still while doing it. So for the love of God, take something for your kids to do that doesn’t involve pulling someone else’s hair or testing their own decibel capacity. Small books, coloured pencils and paper/colouring books, a small bag of blocks or even toy cars are good ideas. We avoid toys that are cumbersome (you don’t really want the whole restaurant to be distracted by the giant stuffed panda on your table) and items like felt-tip pens that can create mess. Surfaces like shiny table-tops are just too tempting for small hands with felt-tips around… You get my drift.

3. Consider bringing a drink bottle and snacks. It’s obviously not ideal to bring food into an establishment that’s based around selling it, but it is much preferable to bring out a small snack for tummies that are getting impatient than it is to deal with a hunger-induced meltdown. On that note, don’t bring starving kids: or at least feed them a snack before you go in. Bananas or a small box of dried fruit are generally acceptable. Best to avoid plastic packets with their cringe-inducing rustle. And sorry folks, but it’s only ok for little ones to have a nibble. Big kids have to wait!

4. There’s strength in numbers. I often end up eating at restaurants with just Mila thanks to Mr C’s busy work schedule, but I really try and avoid it whenever possible. One person means you have to either take your kid(s) with you or leave them unattended if you need to go to the bathroom, go up to the counter, grab some water bottles or anything else. I have left Mila alone while getting something from the other side of a large restaurant room several times. 95% of the time she’s fine and the other 5% she yells “MUMMMMMMMYYY WHERE ARE YOOOOUUUU?” so loudly it sends me scuttling back. Two adults means no playing Russian roulette with your dignity.

English: Byways Cafe (Portland, Oregon)

5. Some restaurants are easier than others. 

You know that 9 course degustation menu that looks delicious? Yup, well, save it for when you have a babysitter. Your kids can get to know good food without going to a fine dining restaurant – at least until they know exactly what the deal is. A hotel buffet restaurant means no waiting times and can be a boon with picky kids. Pubs and cafes also offer eating-out experiences in a more relaxed environment. If you’re relaxed, they’re more likely to keep their cool too. Places that have outdoor courtyards often have a casual vibe and being outdoors soaks up the sound of your darling cherubs much better.  And if you do go to a restaurant, try going to lunch before braving dinner. Lunch is usually a more informal affair and you’re less likely to be surrounded by couples on (quiet!) dates.

English: Child eating a veggie burger at a fas...

Someone else’s child!

6. Skip the kid’s menu. One of the great things about taking kids to restaurants is that they get to eat really great food. No offence to your home cooking intended, but often restaurants are able to take their food up a notch. And then there’s the kid’s menu: usually an homage to the deep fryer. I have a friend who calls it the “beige menu” because of the shades of the items on it – chicken nuggets, pasta, fries. Personally, I don’t take my kiddo out to eat in order to jack her up on empty carbohydrates and sugar. Instead ask if you can order a half portion of something from the real menu, or share your own meal with your little one. Ordering a couple of extra sides can help stretch out your own meal to accommodate a small child. (Bonus tip: take their own set of child-sized cutlery to encourage cutlery use and minimise frustration).

7. Set realistic expectations and be consistent. I expect Mila to talk quietly. That doesn’t mean she always does but I will always remind her when she forgets. Our other rule is no playing with food. If she does, the food goes away (on the far side of the table) while we talk about how we need to respect the food we eat, and that means no playing with it. Then if she wants it back she can have it back. We’ve found this works better than talking to her while the immediate fun of messy food is still right in front of her. On the other hand, I let her eat non-messy food with her hands if she really wants to and if she wants to hop down from her chair, I’ll show her a place that is appropriate to play in. Like everything else in parenting, pick your battles – but don’t be afraid to set limits on what behaviour is ok and what isn’t.

8. Don’t drag it out forever. On the flip side, make things easier on your kids by limiting the time you spend in the restaurant. Order quickly: consider ordering a finger-food starter as soon as you’re seated so that hungry kids can pick at it before the main event. Reconsider a three course meal with very small children: two courses is  enough or one if there’s a storm brewing on the pre-schooler horizon.

Abort, abort the misson!

Abort, abort the misson!

  9. Evacuate the premises. Some days, even the best laid plans don’t work out and you end up in tornado alley. If your child is having a meltdown, do everyone a favour (including yourself) and take them outside until they’ve calmed down. Don’t let them scream the place down. It’s incredibly hard to stay present with your child when you’re intensely aware of the negative attention you’re attracting. A walk around outside for a few minutes can do everyone a world of good, including your fellow diners.

10. Enjoy it! Eating in restaurants is a privilege and something to look forward to, not hyperventilate over. Don’t stress about it too much or your kids will pick up on it. Just relax, expect to have a good time and take pleasure in eating together as a family. I promise, it won’t hurt a bit…

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Advice, Kiddo

Our Baby Expat Turns Three

Oh, time is slipping away too fast. Our littlest expat turned three today. She has no friends here (where are all the small children in the Maldives?!) so it’s been a quiet, peaceful kind of day. Mila woke up at 7 and made short work of opening her presents. We may have helped in that department by being too lazy to take them out of all the parcels that we received them in and just collating them in the biggest box. She didn’t care.

Her presents included books, a wooden dragon and knight set, dyed wooden eggs and eggcups, dyed wooden tiny stacking acrobats, a marble run and a few other other bits and pieces. I used to be very much the minimalist when it came to birthday gifts, but now that the weather keeps us penned into very small living quarters much of the time I’m starting to see the value in having a wide range of different toys.

I started planning her gifts a few months in advance, which turned out to be a very good idea. Male’ is chock-full of toy shops… BUT most of what they offer is pretty rubbish, to be frank. Cheap plastic tat that falls apart after a couple of uses. And Male’ being Male’, none of it is even cheap. So I ended up looking overseas. Etsy is fantastic for handmade wooden toys – we’ve been buying things from there since Mila was born. A bonus now that we are overseas is that you can tailor search results to view only items that ship to the Maldives.

All the books were from Book Depository. I have mentioned them before in my posts and for good reason – excellent prices and free shipping worldwide! My only beef with them is that they send every book you order separately (regardless of whether you order several at once) and each book comes in very thick cardboard packaging. It seems like a waste of resources, but I guess as someone who is ordering items from overseas I can’t bitch too much about the environmental impact of their actions.

Finally, we also took advantage of my parents’ kindness. They offered to ship toys over for us, so we bought online from New Zealand toy shops and had the items delivered to their address. Of course this also gave them a chance to slip a few extras in for the birthday girl. The marshmallow bunny to be fair was looking slightly the worse for wear after surviving being juggled around different airports and customs. This was of no concern to my daughter, who swallowed it up like a cobra.

The rest of our day will likely be equally low key. Once Mila wakes up from her nap, we’ll make some more marble runs. We’ll go to dinner at the resort restaurant. We’ve got a dragon cake lined up as a surprise: dragons + chocolate = winning! Mr C has the night off. And then we’ll play some more, try again to explain what “turning another year older” actually means and watch a Spot the Dog movie. I’m slowly learning here that small is good, that simple is good. That this quiet existence is enough for us all.

Happy birthday to my sweet, loud, beautiful, firecracker of a child.

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Expat Stories, Kiddo

No Nakey Bums in the Restaurant

Life with a nearly three-year old is life with a small round-cheeked hand grenade. I never know quite when she’s going to go off: a literal type of poo/liquid/finger paint explosion or dropping a verbal bomb at the breakfast table. Today it was the latter.

Breakfast has never been the easiest meal for us. Small children, well mine at least, do not like to have to sit quietly and eat their breakfast with a knife and fork while making small talk.We turn up at the buffet restaurant looking like we’ve prepared for a week-long sit-in. Colouring books and pencils, small bags of blocks, picture books, toy cars and other random assorted items that couldn’t possibly be left behind (a fistful of felt-tip pen lids without the pens? Check). Of course I also need my phone for making distress calls when I feel like Mr C has kept us waiting longer than necessary – ie more than a few minutes, and sunglasses for sinking in shame behind when my noisy mini-me threatens to disturb the peace.

The other thing about breakfast is that it requires clothes. Mila the would-be-nudist is not so fond of that detail. We’ve had many a conversation about how it is fine to be butt-naked inside (in our house, at least) but you need clothes on to go outside. We live in a pretty public space, without the luxury of a garden for naked runarounds. Mila knows that if you were to go to the restaurant naked, you might get in trouble with the restaurant staff and you would probably get told to go home and put some clothes on. So it was with great delight that she spotted the naked lady, sitting down to eat her breakfast.

Only she wasn’t nekkid. She was wearing a low-backed halterneck dress. Her hair covered most of the tie at the top and the seat covered the rest of the dress, but hey, she was wearing it!
“That lady is nakey,” Mila said, not quite quietly enough for my liking.

“No, she’s not naked, she has a dress on – ”

“No, she’s NAKEY! THAT lady. She’s got no clothes on.” The dreaded pointing finger came out. “THAT LADY THERE HAS A NAKEY BUM.”

“Sshhh,” I wheedled, “she has a halterneck dress on. See the tie of the dress around her neck?”

“I DON’T WANT TO BE QUIET, I WANT TO BE LOUD,” my definitely not quiet daughter boomed. “THAT WOMAN IS GOT NO CLOTHES ON. SHE NEEDS TO PUT CLOTHES ON. SHE NEEDS A GO HOME, PUT HER CLOTHES ON.”

Mila started trying to stand up in her seat to get a better look at this “naked” woman. I reached for the Sunglasses of Shame.

“YOU NEED TO PUT CLOTHES ON, YOU LADY,” Mila shouted, half out of her seat. A few heads swivelled in our direction but I could feel a dozen more pairs of ears becoming finely attuned to our corner of the restaurant. The woman in question remained miraculously unaware, or at least she had the good sense not to turn around and face the beady stare of a preschooler.

I searched frantically in our bag for more distractions. A peg and some string? a few hair clips? Nothing enticing.

“SHE WILL GET IN TROUBLE, SHE’S NAKEY,” Mila started a new angle of attack.

“No, no, she won’t,” I tried to calm her, “Remember she’s not naked, she has a dress on, you just can’t see it.”

“I can’t see it? It’s invisid-bil?” I could see cogs turning. Then, “Take my clothes off mummy. I want get my invisid-bil dress on too.” My daughter is trying to peel her clothes off in the restaurant.

Happy days.

This blog post is part of a Bloglovin link-up party 🙂

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Advice, Travel

Things To Do in Male’: Classes and Courses

 

When I first typed “Things to do in Male” into Google, Thilafushi came up as a ‘point of interest’. Sorry, my beloved Google, but visiting rubbish island really doesn’t cut the mustard as a leisure activity. Instead, here’s a quick ideas list of activities aimed at expats (or perhaps tourists bored of looking at cheap shoes and fake coral).

  1. Nashee Cakes offers a cake decorating course

  2. Heat Health and Fitness is a gym with Les Mills fitness classes and yoga

  3. Sea Explorers offer diving courses…

  4. And so does Maldivers

  5. Traders Hotel has an indoor gym on their top floor which you can buy monthly memberships for

  6. Xtreme Fitness. Yep, another gym.

  7. The Alliance Francaise offers regular classes in French and Divehi and occasional classes in French cooking

  8. Nadiya’s Taste of Maldives offers, surprise, Maldivian cooking classes

 

 

Please let me know if you’ve found any other classes and courses in or around Male’. I’d love to add them to the list.

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Expat Stories, Kiddo

Tiny Island: Pros and Cons

This is not a list of pros and cons so much as a summary of my day today. Ergo, the cons:

Mila is still doing it tough. Just on the cusp of turning three, away from all her buddies, her adored Nanny (nana) and Papa, and her much-loved part-time daycare. Her favourite word currently is RRROOOOAAARRR! She roars at me. She roars at the restaurant staff. She roars at the canteen staff. She roars at guests who look at her (you got a problem with your eye, boy?). She roars at everyone. And not a very nice, kindly type of roar, if those happens to exist. An angry, WHY DID YOU DO THIS TO ME? type roar. She’s not happy, and it’s all my fault.

Well, my fault and Mr C’s: together we made the decision to uproot her. But as women and mothers we are raised to feel guilty and inadequate, to soak ourselves in all the memories of things we didn’t do quite right. Not all the time, of course, but more than enough. Did you make the right choices? Are your legs slim enough? Is your career good enough? Is your mothering good enough? It’s that last question that creeps along in my shadow, no matter how much I try to kick it away.

Today the weight of all my doubts felt heavy. I roared back in words. Not in a nice, kindly way. Stop that! I am sick of this! Immediately I felt guilty. And that made me even more pissed off and upset. Mother and child: locked in a battle of wills that was not really about either one of us and more about all the changes in our lives and all the things we couldn’t really articulate, at least not in neat, tidy and kind sentences. So we roared.

Then Martha, our nanny, arrived. She has been making HUGE progress with Mila. Mila does not roar at her, at least not after the first 10 minutes. Martha rocks her to sleep in her arms if I’m not there. That’s quite a physical feat for a tiny-boned, petite Sri Lankan woman faced with my sturdy child. “I had to sit down afterwards and rest!” she says, “But it was worth it. She looks so innocent when she’s sleeping.” We smiled together at the caveat. If Mila wants cuddles, Martha has plenty of them. Sometimes they nap with arms around each other, like I do with Mila when I’m at home. Mila has started saying Martha is her friend. That feels good. They read books together, do lots of drawing together, go for walks around the island together. The trust that was broken in our first awful nanny experience is being repaired. That feels good, too.

So, after being a sub-par parent this morning, far from my best, Martha came in to relieve me. She’s only here for a few hours at the moment so that Mila can get to know her, but boy was I glad to see her. Mila was already deep in dreamland; I brushed her hair back behind her ear and kissed her forehead. Still so much like a baby. Then I grabbed my laptop and my book, tiptoed out the door, prayed no-one would feel the urge to do some lunchtime construction work or get out the insanely loud fogging machine, and high-tailed it down to the bar.

I might have voluntarily foregone my social and support network of family and friends, but being able to hire a nanny – at much more affordable rates compared to New Zealand – is helping to bridge that gap. Once I would have babysitted the toddler of a sick friend; she would have easily done the same for me if I was worn out or needed a break. Now I have Martha. Maybe my ‘village’ is a little contrived, but Martha really does feel genuine and warm. I am so glad to have her here. A day that was spiraling into messiness has been restored with a couple of hours – all to myself! – to relax and recoup.

One large frozen pineapple margarita, coming right up.

photo credit: http://www.tasteloveandnourish.com/2013/05/01/frozen-pineapple-margarita/

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Advice, Expat Stories

Just the Three of Us

I have an old friend who hates Lonely Planet books. “Everyone reads the same guide books then goes to the same places, eats in the same restaurants and stays in the same hotels. And they wonder why those places aren’t as good as the guidebooks say! Well – Lonely Planet spoiled them, that’s why,” he would complain.

I had to admit that he kind of had a point. Nonetheless, I looove me some Lonely Planet. Like a little chunk of travel in my hands, just waiting to spill out of the pages into a thousand mind-bending experiences. Plus, despite all the information out there on the internet, guidebooks are a handy all-in-one. It turns out that I don’t like being stranded without a map and directions to dinner. I like being guided.

Crap, there is no guide for living as an expat in the Maldives.

OK, so that’s a bit of a lie. There are actually a few of the forum variety, including Allo Expat Maldives and Expat Blog Maldives. Maldives posts also pop up in places like British Expat despite the site having no dedicated Maldives page. But, but, but, there isn’t the kind of camaraderie I’m searching for. To begin with, during quiet weeks you could hear a cricket cough browsing the same expat forums that were humming when we lived in Malaysia. And there’s nowhere full of Maldivian expats bitching and complaining about the same trivial things, getting sick of eating tuna curries and wishing someone would send them a nice big jar of Marmite from home. Know what I mean? There might be forums, but I wouldn’t call them communities.

But surely there are other Maldivian expat bloggers, right?

Somebody let me know where this tea party is at, if I’m missing it. So far I’ve tracked down one blog that’s still being regularly updated. But for the most part, we’re winging this on our own. Even expanding my search for other bloggers, I keep feeling like the same kid I was in high school: trying way too hard to fit in and never quite managing. Fuck it. I’ll do my own thing.

This blog is an oddball, too.

There are lots of homeschooling families living overseas and blogging about it. Mila doesn’t go to kindy or school, but we do have a part-time nanny. So even though she IS at home, I get the impression that it doesn’t count since we have a (lovely) non-relative traipsing in regularly to look after her. Naughty us.

Then there are lots of travelling unschooling families. I quite like the idea of unschooling on some levels: passion-led learning without a fixed curriculum. But perhaps even more so than the homeschooling crowd, a lot of unschoolers would be horrified at the idea of a nanny. We’ve also had Mila in a Reggio daycare in New Zealand – a fantastic, enriching experience. More blasphemy to the unschooling set! On the other hand, I’m also decidedly not into the radical unschooling lifestyle of complete child autonomy. I need my time alone, I need my house reasonably tidy, and horror of horrors, I need my needs and desires respected too. So we negotiate and compromise and as a parent I do set limits around things like food and media viewing. These things are often at odds with the radical unschooling philosophy.

As I mentioned here, I’ve also stumbled across travelling family blogs. They’re brilliant and inspiring and I hope one day we’ll be lucky enough to be among them. But we’re not full time travelling now, just plotting trips here and there to keep the travel fire sated. The long term travel idea is just bubbling away on the backburner, a wee nugget of excitement that will take time to come to fruition. We’re not counting down the number of days til we leave or the days til we return.We’re not part of that club. (And here I can’t help but whisper, yet.)

In the meantime, we’re expats, if not like most of the expats I’ve met. We stick out like a sore thumb here in the Maldives because a) we’re not single and b) we have a child in a country that doesn’t make it easy for expats to bring one. We have no fancy house, no army of household staff and definitely no modern cosmopolitan city in which to shop til we drop. I know I’m making some massive generalisations, but those are my attractive-if-unrealistic associations with the word ‘expat’. Harrumph.

Enough of the complaining, already!

Sometimes you just need to suck it up, and maybe today is one of those days. I didn’t leave my cosy, happy, easy life behind because I wanted to fit in. Things were pretty good in New Zealand. We weren’t evacuating the premises, we chose to come here. Like a beating drum in my soul, I remind myself of that: we chose this, we chose this, we chose this. That doesn’t mean I’m reprimanding myself about it: it’s actually kind of liberating. I chose this life, so I can always go back to my old one if I want to. Except that I don’t, not at all – and that realisation means I know I made the right choice. I accept the good and the cruddy because they’re all part of the package I signed up for. We’ll make it work. We’ll have an adventure. We’ll poke the frustrations with a stick and laugh.

And sooner or later, we’ll find our community – whether that be online or in real life. Maybe for now, it’s just Mr C, Mila and I, together. I can live with that.

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Expat Stories

Monsoon in the Maldives

The monsoon began a few days ago. It’s only the 3rd of May! That’s much earlier than I remember it beginning in India.

Heavy, warm, torrential rain. Fog like a soft grey blanket, folding us up in its grasp. Thunder so loud it makes the house rattle. Lightening so bright it temporarily blinds. A pressing humidity than makes everything damp, and everything smell like damp. The sand, the house, our clothes. Our bedrooms have turned into a makeshift laundry, trying to dry and air out clothes before they smell like cheese (sorry cheese-lovers, that’s not much of an advertisement!).

The weather is cooler but unpredictable. Last night Mr C and I ran laughing, in the darkness, in the monsoon rains. We only had 100 m to travel and still got caught out by the downpour. I am pretty sure half the staff were laughing at us too, but I don’t care.

During the stormy days we mostly stay inside. We’re all restless and irritable, but I do what I can to keep us all sane. Or maybe we weren’t all that sane to begin with? That’s not a bad excuse for the days when Mila and I don’t quite hold it together. When we do it’s by drawing, using modelling clay, reading stories, building forts. You can take it from that description that our house does not stay pristine.

Somehow the rain has made my brain foggy too. I feel like we’re all waiting for something – something to do? Somewhere to go? For the rain to stop? I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Grumpy by breakfast

Grumpy by breakfast

Hibernating

Hibernating

Building a road of blocks in Mila's room

Building a road of blocks in Mila’s room

Keeping herself entertained

Keeping herself entertained

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