It’s Sunday evening and the kids are about to go to bed. My feet are in slippers, the central heating is cranked up, and a furry blanket is covering my knees. Outside, the temperature has plunged to 3’C and when I open the back door to throw a nappy in the bin, my breath smokes and dances in the air.
This isn’t where I expected to be in February. I expected to be in my dusty desert home in Dubai, enjoying after-school playdates to the park, planning weekend trips to the beach, and feeling smug about the perfect winter weather. After all, that is exactly where we have been for the last 7 Februarys. And being there at this time of year is the only real normality I have known as a mother. It was my ‘normal’.
But not anymore – because after our last-minute decision at the end of summer to bring our return to the UK forward, we have now been here for six months. It’s the longest I’ve been away from Dubai since my husband moved there in 2009 – and sometimes, the place I used to call ‘home’ feels so far away and so distant that it feels like it was all just a dream.
I’m not going to lie, the first six months back in the UK were hard – but this was kind of our own fault for making the decision without any forward planning. I’m sure that we’d have found it all a lot easier if we’d shipped our things back to the UK when we first left in July and found a family home to move in as soon as it reached us. Instead, it took us a while to get our bums in gear, choose a shipping company, have my husband single-handedly pack up our villa in Dubai, and then find somewhere to live in the UK that was close to school and would fit all of our children into. It wasn’t easy, but we managed it – and in December, a truck pulled up to our new home in the countryside and our belongings (all those “things” I hadn’t seen since we left for Dubai Airport in the early hours of July 7th 2017) came tumbling out the back and into the place we would now call ‘home’.
Christmas and New Year arrived very quickly after that, making it feel a little bit like we were on holiday – but as soon as we returned home from skiing and settled into a routine with school and work, life started to feel normal again. Not the “normal” I was used to – but a “new normal”. And very quickly, it started to feel right that we were here.
In the darkest hours of the last six months, I thought we’d made a big mistake. So many times, I told my husband I wanted to go back. To turn back time. To re-register the kids at their school, to resume the play dates with the friends that felt like family, to be reunited with our nanny, our favourite weekend spots, our favourite malls, our favourite restaurants, and the life that I had loved so much. But since we settled into this new house in the UK countryside, I have realised that I wasn’t really missing many of those things at all – I was just missing having my life in order. I wasn’t missing Dubai – I was missing the feeling of normality, of security, of having my feet firmly planted on the ground. The exception, of course, is my friends – but I’m no stranger to missing the people that I love. I’ve been doing that for the last 9 years and I can handle long distance relationships better than anyone.
And of course there will be days in the road ahead where I miss that old life with such intensity that it takes my breath away. Yesterday was one of those days. I pined so much for those friends, those old haunts, and the feeling of sunshine on my skin that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. But by bedtime, I was OK again. And I know I need to accept I’ll feel like that occasionally – and that it’s OK to look back and say ‘Wow, I loved living there. I really did!”
There are so many things I am enjoying about being back in the UK. From the impromptu visits to grandparents to feed the children their tea, to ordering weekly Tesco deliveries to our door, to the weekends suddenly having this incredible possibility (“Shall we visit a 15th Century Castle today, kids? Why the hell not!”), to getting invites from my school friends to birthday parties and baby showers and being able to type back ‘YES!”, to holidays being about where we want to go now, rather than spending all our spare money on flying back to the UK.
For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be as happy as I was in the sunshine in Dubai – but I know now that I can be.
I will be.
As soon as we became expats, I knew I’d always love two places, two sets of people, two homes – but the easiest way to describe it is that finally it feels like we’ve got it the right way round.
The right way up.
And I am sure, finally, that we made the right decision back in late August.
I know we did.
It just feels right.