This morning was foggy in Dubai. We live on a high floor – and when we opened the curtains, we discovered that we were inside a white cloud. No views of the beach, the ocean, or the tops of skyscrapers jutting into a bright blue sky – just white, foggy nothingness instead.
“It’s a bit fishy out there today!” Wilfred said, with his face pressed up against the window – learning the word ‘foggy’ is a bit tricky when you’ve only seen it a couple of times in your life, after all.
These kind of days take you by surprise in Dubai, when we open the curtains to bright sunshine 360 days a year. I’m not sure how I feel about bad weather days, but for the kids, it’s always exciting. “It’s going to rain!” they sung in unison, as they skipped around the lounge. “I need my cosy coat!” Stanley piped up excitedly, grabbing a zip-up sweatshirt he hasn’t worn since February, but apparently today was cold enough to warrant it over his school uniform.
Twenty minutes later, we pulled up to school in the car. Stanley looked up at the sky suspiciously – and as I pulled him out of his car seat, he shivered. “I can’t walk, Mummy! I’m too cold!”
Knowing we are flying back to the UK next week, my husband and I stifled giggles as he dragged his heels through the gate. We were going to be late, so I needed to encourage him along – but as I opened my mouth, I nearly said something that I would’ve later regretted.
“Man up!” was what nearly came out of my mouth, watching my 4-year old shivering in 20’C. A line I’d heard a thousand times before (and probably said a few times to my husband during bouts of man flu). A line that has become pretty standard and casual in the English language, batted about between groups of boys (and definitely uttered by girls too – to their brothers, friends, boyfriends, and husbands).
But before it escaped my mouth, I stopped myself. Now a mother of boys, I see that phrase in an entirely different light – and as I drove home in the fog this morning, I started thinking about it.
What does it mean exactly? To me, it means being tough. Not just when you are feeling cold – but when you are feeling pretty down too. Say that phrase to your boys enough and they will think it’s right to ignore both physical and emotional challenges – because after all, that is what society expects them to do. No crying when they feel down, no spilling their heart out to friends over a pint, no admitting that they don’t really enjoy boxing because it actually hurts.
Thanks to these kind of thought processes, we have too many boys that don’t talk about their feelings and bottle them up until it’s too late. I know what I was like as a teenager – I needed to write a diary and to cry when it all got too much (even if it was in public – sometimes it just had to happen) – but if I had been a boy in the same bubble of emotions, would I have been told to ‘Man up’? And if someone had said that to me, would I have had the courage to voice the way I felt again?
I’m not saying that I want my boys to cry whenever it dips below 20’C in Dubai, nor that I want them to choose a life of writing poetry over running onto a rugby pitch (although to be honest, I don’t mind if they do). What I am saying is that I don’t want them to feel compelled to be society’s version of ‘manly’. They don’t have to ‘man up’ if they are feeling sad, or cold, or uninterested in typically masculine things. They can just be themselves – and that might be strong some days, but emotionally fragile on others.
That’s being human, after all.
So I’m glad those words never escaped my mouth this morning when my Dubai-born 4-year old was shivering in the desert. And it’s also why I’m glad my husband scooped him up and carried him quickly to the classroom.
Sometimes we all feel a bit chilly – and who cares if we shiver through it.