And it’s been so hard to articulate an answer before now, because everything was too new and too raw. But I finally feel ready to answer so here goes…
Yes, I miss Dubai.
Now in the depths of winter, I have nearly forgotten what it’s like to feel warmth on my skin. I miss sliding my feet in my flip-flops day in, day out. I miss the dresses that were my daily uniform. I miss the smell of sun cream as I slather it on our skin. I miss the swimwear that we climbed into so often, we decided to buy a storage box and keep it downstairs. I miss seeing the boy’s little pot bellies in swim shorts. I miss seeing the happiness on their faces as they dive in the pool. I miss the sand, and the shells, and the gentle roar of waves hitting the shore.
But that’s not all. I miss my friends. I miss the routines we made together, chatting over mugs of coffee in kitchens, and plates of eggs benedict in cafes after the school run. I miss seeing our children play together like cousins – and sometimes when I realise I haven’t seen those friends and their children for nearly half a year, it floors me. How is it possible we just stepped out of their lives?
I miss places that I never thought I’d miss. The shiny malls that were like mazes, but became as familiar as high streets back home. Even the supermarkets that fleeced me with £7 cauliflowers. The luxurious hotel pools we went to at the weekend, where we repeated to the children like robots ‘do you realise how lucky you are?’ The sandy school car park, where I wasn’t ‘the new mum’ and was met with smiles as soon as I strolled inside the gates. The kid’s play areas that I always hated, but now seem part of the very fabric of being a mum. The coffee shops where arriving with my laptop prompted calls of ‘welcome back!’ as I strolled inside.
And I miss just being a family. Being us. With our routines, our home, our belongings, and our little family unit. I haven’t sat on my own sofa, slept in my own bed, or even showered in my own shower for over 5 months now – and that seems so ridiculous and so impossible that sometimes I’m surprised at times that I ever managed to carry on.
I don’t miss all these things all the time, but they come into my mind every now and again. On cold mornings, on lonely afternoons, on days when nobody talked to me on the school run, in moments when something we used to do as a family pops into my mind. These things weave in and out of my mind, sometimes taking longer to disappear again than others, taking their turn to break my heart or make me wonder if we did the right thing.
But bar the odd moment, I am growing more and more confident by the day that we have made the right decision to settle back in the UK. It’s mainly to do with the children and how they have settled – something that was always in the back of my mind as an expat mum, knowing that one day I’d have to uproot them. One day I’d have to break their hearts too.
But it’s somehow more than that too. A few days ago a friend asked that very question ‘Do you miss Dubai?’ and I replied without thinking: ‘Yes, but it feels like we’ve got it the right way round now. It just feels right.’
And it does.
Because ever since that day back in 2009 when I first flew into the desert, I have known that my heart belongs to two places. One sandy, one muddy. One warm, one cold. One old, one new. And the mere act of arriving and settling in that place has meant my heart will be forever split in two.
But this way round feels right. It feels like the natural order has been restored and I never have to worry again whether we’re in the right place. It feels final. It feels like it’s the way it’s meant to be.
And that’s a relief, because until now I was relying entirely on the smiles on my children’s faces to reassure myself that we’ve done the right thing. And those smiles have been everything, when my toes are numb cold, or I’m missing the sound of my friend’s voice as I stroll into her kitchen, or it suddenly occurs to me that it’s been months since I heard the sound of the sea, or the call of prayer, or the splash as the children run and jump into a pool.
Those smiles have been everything.
And now – just occasionally, just often enough – I glance in the mirror and see mine too.