The New Version

To everyone who has agreed to give me feedback on the second edition of Naked in the Driveway: Memoirs of a Motherhood Gone Wrong–thank you!!! This is the new version of the foreword (previously part of Chapter One). If you read the first edition, I just need to know if you think this version is better or worse. If you didn’t, please let me know what you think–do you like it? Do you want to see more?
Again THANK YOU! Laura xo

FOREWORD: IN WHICH I FIND MYSELF LIVING HAPPILY EVER AFTER

October 2010

As soon as I saw the flashing lights and the policeman waving for me to pull over to the side of the road, I knew I was screwed.

It had started as a pretty typical Sunday morning. Of course, anywhere else in the world, Sunday means sleeping late, hanging around the house in my fat pants, maybe going to church—but here in Abu Dhabi, we’re on a totally different schedule. Since Friday is the holy day in Islam and most people in the United Arab Emirates are Muslim, Sunday has been relegated to the first day of the business week.

Looking forward to another crazily busy week, I was in the process of dropping off the kids at school on my way into the office when the accident happened which I guess some people might argue was kind of, sort of, technically mostly my fault—but honestly, not really.

I had already gotten myself ready for the day as quickly as I could, and thanked God once again for Imelda, our nanny, who was awake long before I was and able to get the kids ready. At least I’d made their lunches the night before, so all she had to do was help them get dressed, give them some breakfast, help them brush their teeth and pack up their bags.

I’d planned on darting in and out of my own bathroom without a lot of fuss, taking a quick shower and then whipping my hair back into the same messy bun I wear pretty much every day. I’d like to believe it’s a look somewhere between ‘tousled’ and ‘bedhead’ that says ‘I’m so confident, I don’t need put a lot of time into my appearance’, but I’m pretty sure I’m kidding myself.

But then I remembered that my girlfriend Cindy had promised to bring me a coffee at work that day. Now, Cindy’s a fantastic friend—she laughs at all my jokes, she answers the phone no less than 50 times a day to hear whatever is going on with me and she knows almost everyone in town, which makes her an invaluable resource.

I’ve convinced my editor that she’s my ‘community liaison’, which means any time I’m writing an article for the magazine, I can call Cindy and start the conversation with “Who do we know who….?” She always, always, always has an answer, whether it’s the acquaintance of a friend who works for an embassy, someone who’s running a craft fair, a mom whose husband works for whatever company I need to interview—name it, she knows someone who would love to give me a quote or a contact.

It doesn’t hurt that pretty much everyone she knows has some sort of event or person or business or thing they’re trying to promote, and it’s the work of a moment for her to call me and get me to mention their thing in the magazine, which makes for heaps of copy for me and even more goodwill for her—all of which means that, even if she weren’t my very best friend, I’d make time for coffee with Cindy. The fact that she was stopping at Starbucks on the way had just sealed the deal.

At the same time, seeing Cindy was going to be slightly problematic, mainly because I hadn’t had a pedicure in weeks. Cindy is the sort of girly girl who wears lots of pink and would never leave her house without a full face of makeup and a matching handbag, and she firmly believes that a fresh pedicure—especially in this part of the world where it’s flip flop weather year round—is a must. She literally can’t stand the thought of me walking around with chipped toenail polish and dry skin on my heels.

In fact, if she were to see my feet in their current state, she would be devastated to discover that there’s so much ugliness in this world and would probably slip into the sort of black depression that only gin and Fritos Scoops can cure, and I couldn’t stand the thought of being the one to bring her down.

With Cindy in mind, I flipped through my closet. If I was going to see her with unsightly toes disgracing the ends of my feet, I was going to have to hide inside closed toed pumps, which—with my current wardrobe—meant I was going to have to wear a dress.

Of course this is Abu Dhabi, where there is no word in English or Arab for ‘stockings’, which meant I was going to have to make time to shave my legs, which meant five more minutes in the shower. Five more minutes I didn’t really have. 

I jumped out of the shower (legs now smooth) and set about getting my hair out of my face and smacking on just the rudiments of makeup. I have a whole box of foundation and concealer and shadows and blushes, all of which seemed like a really good idea when I was in the store buying them and none of which I’ve ever found the time to bother with. And besides, I’m so hugely confident I don’t need to bother with makeup, right?

Riiiiiight.

“Hey.”

Just as I was putting the cap back on my mascara, my husband came into the bathroom, ready to take my place in the shower. He spent years playing football and cricket and golf and pretty much every other sport known to man and, even though it’s been awhile, he still looks pretty good naked. From the naughty look in his eye, he was thinking the same about me–he can pack a lot of lust into one little “hey” when he wants to.

A lingering snog and a few lengthy squeezes later and I was nearly convinced to throw all punctuality to the wind and have a session right there on the bathroom counter. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first time the receptionist at the school, Lori, had seen me running in, breathlessly trying to get my oldest into the primary school before they locked the playground gates for the day. If I told her I was late this time because I simply had to shag my husband, I was pretty sure she’d understand. She’d be tempted to write down that very reason on the late pass.

Then I looked at the clock and gasped. I was determined to get out the door on time, ever since I found out my oldest son’s teacher is The Kinder-Nazi.

I mean, I understand that he’s going to a private international school—we’re paying good money so of course the teachers aren’t going to be slack—but last week I happened to go into his classroom and discovered his teacher has been keeping a Wall of Shame right by the door, littered with late passes from kids whose parents, like me, don’t always get their shit together and get out the door on time.

Ok, most of the late passes were from my kid. Fine, ALL of the late passes were from my kid.

“Sorry,” I said to my husband, giving him one last squeeze and a pat on his bare bottom. “I really have to go. Tonight, I promise.”

Hair back, lipstick in place, legs smooth and eyeliner mostly straight, I belted down the stairs, only to remember the kids’ lunches were not quite finished after all. I blame the teacher entirely—she doesn’t seem to know a thing about children. I know it’s not her fault that she doesn’t have kids herself, but I don’t care how many years you’ve spent in a classroom, I think it’s impossible to know just how bizarre kids can be until you have your own.

Maybe I’m wrong—I’m only basing my opinion on my own limited experience, but I was a high school teacher for 15 years and despite all those hours spent with other people’s offspring, I was still shocked as shit by what my own kids came up with once I finally got around to having them.

As it is, my oldest son’s teacher is convinced that he would be more likely to eat fruit out of his lunchbox if I were to cut it up. I’m convinced that, at the age of five, he’s decided he doesn’t like fruit at the moment and that’s just that. It wouldn’t matter if I dipped it in chocolate—he’s not going to eat it. Seriously, he would lick off the chocolate and throw away the fruit. I’ve seen him do it.  

But the other day after school, his teacher told me how she’d had a ‘rational’ conversation with him and how, when she asked him if he would eat the fruit if it were cut up, he looked up at her with his giant, beguiling blue eyes and said, “Yes.”

Little shit.

So now I had to take another moment to cut up the fruit, even though I knew my son wasn’t going to eat anyway. The joke was on the teacher, though, because I knew that apple was on its very last legs and 24 hours away from going into the bin. I figured it was a win all the way around—the teacher would get to feel like Super Educator for yanking an errant mother (i.e. me) into line, I would score a few runs on the board by ‘listening’ to her and my son would relish the joy of turning up his nose at the fruit.

Whick whack bam, the fruit was cut and we were still going pretty well. I double checked my own bag, making sure I had my laptop, my mouse and all the press releases and drafts I needed for a day of writing. With a growl, I remembered the row of late passes with my son’s name on them, stuck accusingly along the top of the Wall of Shame and the way the teacher was likely to shake her head and purse her lips if we were to walk in late. Again.

Ok, yes, he needs to learn to be punctual, but let’s get real just a little bit. He’s five freaking years old. Exactly how much vital material is he going to cover in the first ten minutes of class? He’s KNOWS it’s Sunday, he KNOWS he’s feeling happy today, he KNOWS it’s sunny outside. We’re in Abu Dhabi—it’s sunny outside EVERY DAY!

And let’s not overlook the fact that something like 80 per cent of his classmates don’t speak English as their first language. The fact that he understands not just that you’re speaking but that you’re speaking TO HIM puts him miles ahead.

But of course I wanted to be a good mother, so I was trying—I was really REALLY trying—to get him there on time. I went through the morning checklist to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. Starter coffee drunk, check. Hair back, check. Legs shaved, check. Husband reluctantly denied, check. Bags packed, check. Kids ready, check.

No wait. Where was the little one?

I asked the nanny, a gorgeous young woman from the Philippines, who had just come in from mopping the front porch. We were living in a small compound with only six villas and all the nannies knew each other pretty well. Every morning, the girls would fastidiously hose down and squeegee the front porches, chatting to each other as they worked. I never asked Imelda to clean the porch—I just left her to clean as she saw fit, which was amazingly thoroughly—but apparently it was the done thing and she didn’t want our house looking shabby.

“He is outside,” she said, taking my coffee cup out of my hand and into the kitchen to wash. “He is on the trampoline.”

As much as I loved our massive three-storey villa with its five bedrooms, six bathrooms and three lounge rooms, I really wished we had our own backyard. As it was, there was plenty of common garden space out front and all the kids from all the villas played happily together outside. We’d all gone in together on the purchase of a huge trampoline for the kids to share, and jumping on it was one of my youngest son’s favourite things.

I hurried out to the car, bags in hand, oldest behind me and called to the youngest to come get in the car.

“Mommy, look!” he called from the trampoline. “I’m the Hulk!”

Behind me, Tracey honked her horn and I turned to wave. It was her turn to take the other kids in the compound to the British school. Years later, I would wish I’d sent my kids to the same school, but this morning, we all turned to wave the neighbour kids goodbye before heading out to my son’s school. I wasn’t surprised to see everyone in Tracey’s car laughing and waving at my youngest.

Then I looked at him and saw what they were laughing at.

I should have known. He’d told me he was being the Hulk, and I should know by now that he believes there’s no point in being in character if you don’t have a costume. Obviously, when Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk, his clothes rip off, so laying in a trail across the lawn were all of my youngest son’s clothes. Also, the Hulk doesn’t fly, but supposedly he does take bounding leaps that cover miles at a time, which was exactly what my little son was doing on the trampoline.

Completely. Stark. Naked.

So it was no wonder, really, that the kids in Tracey’s car were all laughing—but in a friendly, good-natured sort of way. It wasn’t the first time they’d seen my youngest son strip off out in the driveway and run around ‘wearing his nudie’ (as he put it), and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Well,” I muttered to myself as I went to retrieve him with a smile, “if you can’t jump on the trampoline in the all-together when you’re three years old, when can you?”

I quickly gathered up my son and got him back into his clothes while Imelda loaded my oldest son and the bags into the car.

A few minutes later, we were in the car, through the gate and onto the lonesome desert road that would take us through the Khalifa City B—which was nothing more than block after city block of bland cement block housing—then across the empty section of open sand that was slated to become Khalifa City C and over the bridge into the creatively named Khalifa City A. 

As always, the traffic coming off the highway was absolute madness. Between the drivers coming into the capital for the day from Dubai and the ones commuting from the suburbs on mainland onto the island of Abu Dhabi, there was always a tangle of cars vying for just a few lanes of blacktop.

“What the f-….!!!!” I stopped myself just in the nick of time as a sleek white Mercedes yanked in front of me and I narrowly avoided knocking it off the road. From the backseat, my oldest son piped up.

“Was it a dickhead, Mom?”

Let me explain.

It seems like pretty much everyone on the road in this city is in a huge hurry pretty much all the time. Any time I get into my car, I can count on someone roaring up behind me, riding my bumper with headlights flashing and horns blaring.

It’s no wonder, then, if certain unsavoury words happen to pop out of my mouth every so often. We’re talking about the face of death here so give me a break.

The other day, for instance, someone in a gleaming black Lexus decided to go for the exit, even though it meant cutting across four lanes of traffic in about 45 seconds to get to it. I literally would have died that day if a quick thinking truck driver hadn’t pulled onto the hard shoulder giving me room to break, move over and save the lives of myself and my two children.

In that split second, I imagined the three of us being crushed into goo and my husband being left a widower. I could clearly see him wandering around the house in search of the spare toilet paper, surrounded by empty takeaway wrappers as he watched endless hours of Top Gear late into the night, devoid of his family and with no further reason to live. And since I had no other recourse available to me, I screamed at the retreating bumper of the cowardly Lexus.

Which means that now, my boys both think the proper word for ‘someone who drives recklessly’ is ‘dickhead’—which is kind of accurate, if not entirely appropriate.

But I’m really trying to draw the line at the F word. I’d been a little lax about it when the boys were little. In my pre-kids days, I was more likely to use the F word than anyone else I knew. Yeah, ok, I think I might still be. I had hoped the kids weren’t listening or might not catch it. Then one early morning, when my youngest son was only two, he asked his dad to put on a movie.

“Sorry, mate, but we don’t have that movie,” my husband said.

“Flipping idiot,” said my son with a deep sigh. Only he didn’t say ‘flipping’. He said The Word, the really bad F word that you can’t say on TV. So I’ve really tried to rein that one in, with varying degrees of success. This time, I was able to keep it in.

As the traffic coming into Khalifa City A thickened, the kids put in their song requests.

“Mommy, put on the driving song!” said my oldest, then from my youngest, “No, the cowboy music!”

And that’s when it happened. We had listened to the driving song twice—that’s ‘Rollin’ by Limp Bizkit in my house—and I was just putting on The Greatest Hits of Johnny Cash (aka the cowboy music) when some idiot with a towing hitch came tearing across three lanes of traffic and stopped suddenly in front of me.

Of course I hit him—and as soon as I saw the flashing lights and the policeman waving for me to pull over to the side of the road, I knew I was screwed. In the end, I was left with a gaping hole in my front bumper, a traffic report naming me as the culprit and a lunchbox full of brown apple slices. Oh, and my son was perhaps as late as he’d ever been. His teacher was fully disgusted

But you can see how it’s only 80 per cent my fault—90 per cent max.