Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Safety First: Bullying (Part 2)

This is not the first time I speak about Bullying on this blog. I guess having children makes you paranoid. As we all know what they say: "children can be cruel". And most of the times, they not only can; they are.

I just cannot believe it took me that long to get to writing this article. I had promised a Dubai/UAE specific post back when I wrote the first piece on Bullying and although it took quite some time, here it finally is, with the kind help of Family and Relationship Coach, Maria Chatila.

Can you please introduce yourself and your credentials? 

My name is Maria V. Chatila. My job title tells people that I am a Family and Relationship Coach. What this means is that I help couples, parents and children to communicate better and enjoy stronger quality relationships at home. I am a qualified and certified coach for both organisation and relationship systems coaching (ORSC-C & ILM). I am also a certified coach and member of the International Coach Federation (ACC). I am a co-leader for the Organisation and Relationship System Coaching (ORSC©) for Kids as well as the co-leader for the Coaching Networking Community in Dubai. I am an active member of coaching communities that support couples and families. I have been formally coaching since 2007 and previous to this I was teaching children and adults in both primary schools and adult centres. Combined, I have 16 years of developing and understanding human relationships.

That is quite an impressive track record. So it is safe to say you have an insight on Bullying that could help us understand this phenomenon a little more. How do education and psychology experts define this phenomenon? How does it differ from innocent pranks or jokes? 

Bullying, according to ‘me’ is defined as when one person overpowers another using ‘fear tactics to serve the bully’s wants’. These ‘fear tactics’ can either be physical or emotional. In education, there are many schools of thought and I cannot speak for them all so again, I am referring to my own, (wearing my educator hat) definition of bullying. An innocent joke or prank is just that: Innocent’. 

Is bullying a phenomenon particular to children or does it spread over all age groups and even adults?

I believe that bullying is a wide spread phenomenon. As an educator, I have seen it in the classroom and on the playground; as a coach, I am seeing it in family relationships, as a person, I am seeing it at work organisations, and in community gatherings.

Is it considered a normal ‘conflict situation’ between the people who engage in such behaviour and their victims? Is bullying a natural or learned behaviour? 

Remember, fear tactics that serve and individual’s sole benefit is not normal behaviour. Because bullying is a common phenomenon across countries and communities, I don’t believe that it makes it a ‘normal behaviour’. I believe that to some extent, bullying can be a learned behaviour but I also believe that there is a natural survival of the fittest nature to it.

In the case of children in particular, is it considered a standard phase children must go through in order to build their character and "grow up"? I mean, is there any positive outcome from Bullying and can Bullying ever be considered an experience that children learn from? 

The whole process of family relationship; education systems; peer relationships are all part of the journey of character growth for children. However, fear of emotional or physical harm does not and should not be a required element for children’s growth.

Image: R. Abouzeid

In which instances does Bullying extend from childhood to adulthood and is it considered an issue with adults as well or does it just become an accepted personality trait for the adult bully? 

Instances that I have noticed that may have extended from childhood to adulthood are emotional bullying. A child is bullied emotionally (no physical scars seen by the public), and this develops into an adult who uses bullying in the workplace with his/her subordinates or colleagues to the extent of making them fear that they may lose their employment. Physical bullying, I believe is seen prominently at home. We tend to call it ‘physical abuse’. Again, look at the basis of physical abuse; it entails using fear tactics to overpower and control another human being to serve an individual’s personal need or want.

If Bullying is an acquired behaviour, what are its origins? How, when and why can a child become a bully? 

Remember, I believed that there is a little nature and nurture involved in bullying. Children are very curious by nature and so I believe it is a case of ‘I’ll try this to get what I want’. If an adult does not correct the unskilful behaviour, then the child will repeat it and continue to do so until they can. Children will also use models of behaviour that they have seen at home, at school, in books or on television.

If conflict is inevitable, how should the victim handle the situation? 

Conflict, in my opinion, is not bad. In fact, in basic terms, conflict simply means differing points of view. Conflict can be the creator of wonderful changes that serve the greater good for mankind. It is when conflict creates fear tactics that lead to violence and creates unsafety for people that conflict is bad. Children/victims need tools and skills to resolve the conflict peacefully. Mostly, children, tweens and teens need support and understanding from parents, educators and school administrators.

What strategies can potential victims employ to avoid becoming a target? 

This is a tricky one. Being a target is really only known to the bully. Sometimes the target can be the confident student or sometimes it can be the shy, quiet withdrawn student.

What is the role of those looking at the conflict from outside (friends, teachers, parents, etc.)? 

Most importantly, their role is to understand what is going on. Their role is to stop, educate and support both the victim and the bully.

How do schools and education professionals deal with Bullying? Are there professionals available to help our children at the schools?

As I previously stated, schools vary on their dealings with bullying. Some schools have whole school policies and some do not. Qualified educators are trained to teach curriculum and some go onto professional development seminars to support them with issues such as bullying but this is not a requirement of all teachers in all schools. Most schools expect the teachers to handle student relationships and it falls under the heading of ‘classroom management’. There are professionals such as myself who are trained and experienced to help teach and support parents, teachers and students with skills and tools to resolve conflict peacefully.

How can we tell Bullying is occurring at the victim's side? Are there certain people who are more likely to be bullied? 

Human relationships vary greatly so the symptoms of victims will vary as well. Some, but not all, symptoms that I have seen in young children are;

  • fear of going to school 
  • severe stomach cramps before going to school 
  • fits of tears prior to going to school 

Older children;

  • Silence when asked about school 
  • Grades have dropped severely 
  • Attitude at home has become aggressive 
  • Headaches and not wanting to go to school 
  • Stories of being alone on breaks at school and not having friends 

Again, I do not believe that there is a ‘certain’ type of person who is more likely to be bullied.

Image Source: Free Digital Photos

How can we tell Bullying is occurring at the bully's side? Are there certain people who are more likely to bully? 

It’s hard to tell if your child is the bully at school because sometimes/most times, our children act differently at school than they do at home. I would advise parents to pay attention to their relationships with peers; listen to their dialogue/conversations. Speak and model often to them about how they can be a peaceful and kind friend.

Why is it important to shed light on Bullying? 

Bullying instils fear and unsafety in our children’s lives at school. On average, a child spends 7-8 hours a day at school. The consequences of bullying crossover from the playgrounds, to the classroom and then over into every other aspect of our children’s lives. With the risk of sounding corny, our children are the world’s future leaders. We must instil peaceful relationship skills and these begin at home and at school.

Since Bullying has always existed, does violence on TV, in the movies and in video games play a part? If yes, how? 

This is the age-old blame it on the media tale. In a lump sum, society dictates what we see on television. If we allow our children to watch them and encourage networks to air them, then they will play a role in our children’s understanding of the world they live in. Parents and guardians are responsible for supporting their children’s understanding of ‘what is right’ and ‘what is wrong’.

How do you stop Bullying? Can parents, schools and the overall victim surrounding help and support the victim? Can parents and surroundings of bullies also have a role in help ending the Bullying behaviour? 

I would advise parents and teachers to primarily set up a clear ‘no bullying policy’. Share it with the children. Stick to it. No exceptions. Clarify the behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable. Children really need clear guidelines. Teachers and parent should be attentive. The biggest mistake adults make is when they push children who call out for help to the side. Bullies thrive on this attitude. My belief is to have a peaceful, caring and kind environment. Conflict is easily resolved once it is spotted early.

What is cyber-bullying? 

I believe that cyber bullying is the same behaviour however it is done on-line using social networking sites. Which creates an even greater platform for fear as it feeds a much larger audience. Suddenly, the bully has the opportunity to hurt his/her victim by sharing the pain with an ever-growing audience. I also believe that this type of bullying is more dangerous because it feeds itself on a ground with no real rules. There are no school leaders or parents able to enforce the consequences of such terrible actions. 

Image Source: Free Digital Photos

What can be done to avoid or end cyber-bullying? 

My theory about children/tweens/teens using social networking sites is that they should only be allowed to use them when they have the maturity to understand the dangers of using them improperly. Parents should use caution and time when discussing the pros and cons with their children. Teach your children how to use them, and monitor their usage. I advise my clients that they agree with their child to have the passwords available in case they will need them. The clauses of using the password should be agreed between parents/children. I also recommend that parents become connected to their children on these sites. Stay alert to their worlds. Stay curious and stay there for support. Obviously, many teens may struggle to understand the value in this but TRUST is essential for this to work. Your children need to trust that you will not violate their privacy and the parents must trust that their children are mature enough to be sensible.

What are the dangers of continued Bullying and what happens if nothing is done? 

A clear example of the extremities of bullying was recently seen in a little girl Lujain Hussain who lives in Abu Dhabi. She was bullied at school, physically bullied and ended up in the hospital. Psychologically, the impact of bullying can last with a child long into their school years and beyond. Relationships are built on relationships. A bullied child learns that the world accepts this type of behaviour and so the cycle begins....

Lujain Hussain following her assault
Photo: The National

Can people change? 

Change can happen when skills and tools are learned. Expecting change to happen without education is like expecting a plant to grow without the sun or the water to feed it.

Is there some sort of existing legal frame for Bullying at the national (or each emirate) level? How do you think policies at a national level should work? What sort of policies should be implemented? 

I am not aware of any legal frame for bullying. Legally, physical violence should be dealt with however; bullying does not just come in the form of physical violence. In Lugein’s case, a teacher in the Rosary School was quoted as saying that there has not been any physical violence in her school in the last 10 years. This is ridiculous! Bullying is not just about physical violence. At a national level, there should be a zero tolerance for bullying. There should be clear guidelines for what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Bullying should be discussed over and over again. Patterns of behaviour amongst children in schools should be assessed and schools should ‘listen and support’ the victims without dismissing their tales as false.

I have to end this post by thanking Maria Chatila for her time and assistance. Should you need her services or help, feel free to contact her on the following channels:

Maria V. Chatila
Family and Relationship Coach


"I hope my answers are clear. Please remember that the answers are based on my beliefs and my experience as an educator and a coach. I am not a psychologist and I never claim to be one"
-- Maria V. Chatila


Links to Safety First and Foremost posts:

Mamma Mia

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Sunday, December 9, 2012


If you missed the first episode of our Nail Saga because, I do not know, you were kidnapped by aliens who then discovered the Earth was too screwed up to study or steal and so decided to kindly send you home, or something of the sort, well first of all welcome back. Secondly, jump right to here and get yourself up to speed please (?) because you do not want to miss what is coming next.

So about twenty days ago as promised, and following up on that Nail Assignment, I called a new salon that offers at-home services: Beau Belles. And I decided to give their "long-lasting" manicure a shot. I will not go over the reasons why again (come on, I have asked you very nicely to please get yourself up to speed) but let me just reiterate, my mommy lifestyle requires heavy-duty-long-lasting beautification. OK, I have become a little obsessed (hence the title, but it is a healthy addiction, so I will indulge). 

This time again and as always I was not kind to my nails. Not in the least. It is really not my fault you know, I do try. OK, fine. I do not try at all but this is how it is and how it is going to be for, well forever really. 

Solution? Long-lasting nails by Beau Belles of course: Shellac™ Power Polish.

Image: Beau Belles

The very first advantage is the wide range of colors available. It is way cheaper than my first experience which involved me purchasing the color(s), base, top coat, LED light and other necessities.

The other amazing advantage is the huge LED light which proved to be an issue with the at-home starting kit:

Image: R. Abouzeid

It is big enough to fit an entire hand (and foot) all at once and reduces the drying time by half in comparison to the one I used previously. It also has the advantage of timing each drying phase and turn off automatically when time is up which is quite practical considering each coat requires a different drying duration.

As you can see in the photo above, this time I used a natural color. It was way more suitable than the hot red I had in my starting kit because as the nails grew, the unmanicured space was not that visible (unless you were looking from a close distance, obviously). 

But the most important factor to assess when reviewing a long-lasting manicure is, of course, the test of time. Well, I waited twenty days before removing it and the photos clearly speak for themselves:

Image: R.Abouzeid

The photo on the left was taken on Day 15 and the one on the right on Day 20. As you can see, the manicure did not chip although I caught my index in a cabinet door which resulted in the gel breaking and peeling (so I removed it all). You will also notice a little damage at the tip of my thumbnail because well, I insisted on opening un-openable pistachios. Ahem. Yes, I know, gluttony is a sin. Also, I may have done some bleaching and other housekeeping work without gloves. Anyway, two weeks of almost perfection is far more than anyone could ask for.


Beau Belles has a loyalty program which allows you to collect a point for each 100 Dirhams spent. Five points will get you a free pedicure, ten a free manicure, fifteen a free mani/pedi, and twenty a treatment of your choice to the value of 300 Dirhams. 

Beau Belles will accomodate your schedule even on weekends and evenings which we all know is crucial, even (if not especially) for stay-at-home moms.


I am definitely Beau Belling again! Actually, I have already made a couple of bookings for next week and the week after (right before Christmas). And you should do too as soon as possible if you want them to accommodate you for the holidays. Just call Diane on 050.9559923 and take an appointment now. Keep in mind that the minimum charge for a home visit is 100 Dirhams, regardless of what services you request. All the prices are below (sorry for the huge image, it is not fitting in my usual layout but I felt I should keep it in its original size so it is clear enough to read)

Image: Beau Belles

Mamma Mia

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Making a splash!

So we know Mia (almost 2) and Jad (8 months and a half) have been taking swimming lessons for five weeks now. 

Unfortunately Jad has had to stop a few lessons ago as the weather is getting chiller and we could not find an indoors pool to accommodate us which is a shame because he is such a natural. Like all smaller babies, just like that, he will instinctively start to move his arms and splash with his legs and basically "swim". Sort of. All four-legged animals will agree he is swimming. That should settle the debate.

Mia on the other hand is still going strong, and her dad and I could not be more astonished with the results. The improvements are simply spectacular. And I am not kidding. 

Before she started this course, every time we would take her to any pool (whether the kids or adults one) she would grab on to the closest neck at hand's reach and hold as firmly as her little arms would allow her. 

Well now, let us just say mama is the one a little freaked out and stretching arms and legs and whatever stretches to reach, grab and hold on to Mia's newfound confidence! 

Here is the thing. She is jumping in the deep end of the pool, all by herself. At this point, more than ever, we must continue with the swimming lessons to make sure, God Forbid, if one day she decides to make that jump and there is no one around to see or grab her, she will hopefully know how to swim to the end and ideally lift herself out of the pool. 

So what has been happening really?

Very rarely did Hubby and I put floaters on Mia's arms because we knew it was not advisable to teach her to swim just in case she gets used to them and does not want to let go when we need her to. Of course some children, like Mia's swim-mate do not really care and will forget about floaters the minute they are off. But I have a feeling it would not have been the same for us. Our drama queen is, well, what is the word? Let us put it this way: she is strong-willed. Or we could put it the real way and just say she is so darn stubborn it makes us loose it 99% of the time!

So Mia started, with no floaters on (thank God), swimming with me supporting her. Whether it was with swimming aids like a board or a noodle, I was always there to hold her while she was learning to move in the water. 

October 15, 2012
Photo: R. Abouzeid

A few lessons ago, she started ordering me to "let go of the noodle, Mia swim alone"! 

And she did. With a noodle, granted. But still, she moved around the pool all by herself. She also decided to jump in and out and in and out and in and out of the pool, about one hundred and twenty times. Or it felt as much. Who knows, I was never good at maths. 

Another impressive transformation was Mia's willingness to go under water. She moved from  categorically refusing this exercise to going under water quite comfortably in just a few hours. She never really cried about it but it was obvious she did not like it and if she had the body strength, she would have happily nailed me to the floor of that pool!

But without a doubt, the most amazing development was Mia swimming all by herself with no aid. Of course she does not go very far and the distance between the instructor and I is about a meter but still, Mia goes under water and tries to move forward towards the person in front of her. That is completely out of this world to me!

Any recommendation?

Absolutely. It is never too early or too late to start! Enroll your kids in swimming lessons as soon as you possibly can. It will change the way they view themselves, their aptitudes and their potential. This is how talents can be fostered. 

Mia's confidence has tremendously grown (as if she needed more attitude, right?) and I am certain it is greatly related to her swimming progress because she spends all day at home, on dry floors, singing the songs we sing in the water. She just loves them. And when we take her swimming for fun, she is like a little fish, doing all the new tricks and moves she has learnt. Which really makes me wonder why she gives her instructor such a hard time. Actually, I do know why. She is a hard-core-drama-queen-B with an attitude. But that is OK, these classes and soon others, combined with nursery in january will hopefully teach her some discipline and humility. Did I say hopefully? Hopefully. 

What can you do?

Get in touch with Ellie Hanlon (+971.50.5095535) the fantastic instructor who turned Mia into a baby shark, because let us face it, she simply does not have it in her to be Nemo-like. 

You will not regret it, I promise. 

This could possibly be one of the finest gifts you grant you child!

Mamma Mia

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

NAILed it!

I have been meaning to write this review for a while now but every time I thought I was ready, a new sub-topic would come to mind and I preferred waiting until this post was as comprehensive as possible. 

Because you know, beauty and nails and stuff are highly critical matters that require meticulous analysis and deserve the most detailed reporting. Ahem. Moving on. 
(Hey! Quit judging, if you're here, it means you care too! And as a mom of two with the craziest of schedules, days of screamings, poopings, feedings, I know I need some me-time just to keep my sanity but the only way I'm going to get it is if I cheat and the kids are around. Yes, during my me-time. You'll see, it's pretty simple).

Going to salons is a chore to me. It used to be a hassle before I had kids and now, well, they're just the best excuse to completely ignore my horrible witch nails, bushy eyebrows or hairy legs. OK, fine, I do not really look like that; but still, some beauty care is always welcome, right? Well, I am way to lazy to make the effort. 

In Lebanon, technicians used to come to our home and I always thought that was perfect. Those freelancing fairies are life-saviors! 

Finally, they are in Dubai now. Well, to be fair, they have been in Dubai for a while, I just did not know about them (being the ultimate anti-salon freak and all). 


Recently, a friend introduced me to the Beauty Bus and recommended Layola, "their best technician" she said. And indeed, Layola has magical hands!

My very first appointment, I did the whole shebang. I figured, if I was about to try their services, I might as well try everything once and for all and decide if they were going to be my BFF's forever and ever. I even got hubby to try their pedicure. You think I am kidding? Fine. Here we go, photo:

Layola at work: Hubby's feet are about to shine any moment now!
Photo: R. Abouzeid

Everything is sterile, as legally required in the UAE
Photo: R. Abouzeid

Indeed, Layola is highly skilled. She did the best eyebrows design and since I came back to Dubai I had been meaning to make them a little thicker which takes time and is not easy as in the process, one might look a little weird. Well Layola did it, minus the weirdness which was awesome. Yesterday was my last appointment and I confirm: the eyebrows now have the thickness I want and their shape is perfect.

Essie colors
Photo: R. Abouzeid

I also had a mani-pedi. The Beauty Bus uses Essie products. We all know the brand and I am glad to report the pedicure lasts about 20 days! Tested and proven by yours truly. And I am in the sun every day in sandals and three times a week in the pool (i.e. hello chlorine bath). Yet, I really change the polish only because the nails grow. 

Layola's work, simply beautiful
Photo: R. Abouzeid

The manicure is also excellent. It lasted about 5 days but I have to be honest and confess I am not kind to my nails. At all. I clean, cook, wash, even bleach without wearing gloves. I bathe the kids. I change the kids. I wash my hands a zillion times a day. Needless to say, I am very pleased with any color that lasts more than 2 hours!
Beauty Bus Bill: 
Manicure:    60 Dirhams
Pedicure:     70 Dirhams
Eyebrows:   25 Dirhams
Upper lip:   15 Dirhams

Meticulous work: Layola leaves nothing to chance
Photo: R. Abouzeid

With each 100 Dirhams spent, The Beauty Bus will add a point on my Loyalty Card and soon, I will be able to redeem these points against a complimentary service. Nice.

Then one day, I saw on Facebook a company that offers at-home services and, wait for it, long-lasting mani-pedis. A miracle, any mother will attest to that!

So I asked Layola about this breaking news and she told me The Beauty Bus was working on getting "gel" nail polish but that they did not have any at the moment. 

When I heard Sephora had a range of such "gel" to use at home, I decided to try it out. But because I am an accomplished failure at applying polish, I asked Layola to do it for me. Which she did, at an additional cost. So that time, my manicure cost me 95 Dirhams (60 Dirhams standard price, plus 35 Dirhams extra). Well actually, it cost a little (read: way) more than that because I had purchased all the gear myself. 

Bill? Sure:

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Yep, that was quite a substantial purchase. I have to say I was a little disappointed with the salesladies at Sephora. I came in with a simple request: "Gel nail polish". At first, none of the two I spoke to knew what I needed, then one said something along the lines of "Wait, this is it". She walked with me literally three steps (I cannot believe it was this close to them and they did not know what I was enquiring about!) and showed me two kits from the same brand: Red Carpet. When I asked what the difference was between the two, she said she did not know but she advised me to take the cheapest just to try. Ok then. It turned out I probably should have taken the other one as the LED light I got was really small and not so powerful leaving the nail polish quite sticky even after the drying time was up. I also discovered later on that the person who told me about "gel at Sephora" meant another brand, but then again, I do not want to blame anyone as they had gotten theirs from London and maybe (or not) the Dubai branch did not have it. 

Aside from that less than mediocre shopping experience, I have to admit Red Carpet is an excellent product (not their small LED light though; I do not know about the bigger one). I got one color only in my starting kit but it was a very sexy red, which I absolutely loved. And most importantly, my nails lasted two weeks. No chipping. No trailer-trash peeling. Everything looked spotless. Including the white nail part that started to show as my nails grew and which reminded me if Red Carpet can stand the test of time, I still need to move it and remove it anyway. Yes, I am big on lame play-on-words today, post title included. 

Red Carpet nails: Day 1
Photo: R. Abouzeid
Red Carpet nails: Day 10
Photo: R. Abouzeid
Red Carpet nails: Day 16
Photo: R. Abouzeid

Impressive, right? But we all have heard about the "dangers" of gel manicure so just to be safe and to maintain healthy nails, it is advisable to go manicure-free for a week or so in between gel sessions. Actually, it is advisable with any kind of manicure, even with regular polish. 

Finally, when I decided to remove the gel (while my family was waiting for us to go out), I did not have enough time to apply the remover, cover the nails in foil (!) and wait for 10-15 minutes as directed in the kit manual... So... I peeled them. I had "plastic" red strips all over the floor. A red carnage! The top of my nails looked like they were filed. But after I washed my hands, they went back to their normal texture (and almost normal look). This confirmed to me that any sort of "gelish" polish will indeed affect the quality of nails. That and, probably, it is not advisable to peel? Oh well. 

My two cents on this story:

As a mom, and probably as a human being who has to use her hands daily, gel can be an easy, sustainable solution (provided there is a break every once in a while). I am definitely going to have them done whenever possible (it takes more time than regular manicures).

BUT, purchasing this kit might not have been the best of decisions. I definitely do not advise you to do the same. First of all, it is a little expensive for what you would be getting. Do not forget, you would have to purchase more colors, base, top coat, purifier and polish remover when the (quite small) ones are empty. Also, the LED light is a big disappointment. Then again, I used it on batteries although an adapter can be plugged to it. But it should be purchased separately as it was not included in the kit (yet another bummer). Regardless, it remains a small LED light which fits only 4 fingers at a time; thumbs must be dried separately which doubles the "drying wait time". It also does not fit a foot so it can only be used for manicures. 

But this story is far from being over!

Following this experience I decided to try that other at-home servicing company. Considering my gel manicure cost me 95 Dirhams (if I forget that kit price tag) and their long-lasting manicure is at 100 Dirhams, I felt it was worth it. After all, I would be using their wide array of colors (instead of purchasing new ones) and most importantly their huge LED light which not only fits an entire hand (and foot) at a time but also has a timer. The light goes off when the drying time of each layer is done (it is a different duration for each: base, color and top coat) and you can actually see the countdown on the screen. And, the light is powerful enough not to leave the nails sticky after all is done.

Trying them made complete sense as it costs the same as using my own gel polish... And so I had that mani today! Yes, I do not waste time. I am now waiting to see how long it will last. 

Here is a sneak-peak just for you, blog post will follow as soon as the wait-time is over:


Should you wish to book the talented Ms. Layola (and I highly recommend her), call The Beauty Bus on +971.4.4474470. Note that you will be charged a minimum of 100 Dirhams per home visit, regardless of the services you request.

Mamma Mia

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let's ZUMBA everyone!

Since Mia's arrival, my physician had been ordering me to exercise. My health really deteriorates during pregnancies and getting pregnant only 7 months after giving birth didn't really allow me to get in shape properly (not that I was trying, to be completely honest). 

So I entered a new pregnancy with an already overweight and unhealthy body. Not ideal, I know. For me or the baby but thankfully we were both fine and now that Jad is 8 months old I feel I need to really shake things up. 

Following that second pregnancy I developed high cholesterol, triglyceride and liver fat and even had to undergo surgery and have my gallbladder removed. But more recently my back pain (which started with my pregnancy with Mia) has worsened to a worrying extent probably due to the fact that both my children have now reached a considerable weight (thank God, they're both healthy and that implies them getting bigger, no complaints there) and I cannot but lift them numerous times a day. 

So before I head to the doctor's office and an unavoidable MRI, I decided to try working out. Yes. Such a weird novelty, I know. Let's see how it goes ;)

Image Source: Aqua Zumba at Dubai Motor City

I started my very first Aqua Zumba class today. I wanted to exercise in the water as it enhances back improvements and I had been meaning to try Zumba for ages so, why not blend both, right?

As expected, it was not easy getting the routines done properly. I'm guessing, from where the instructor was standing, I probably even looked hilarious. Oh yes, hilarious. Absolutely. But glass half-full, she promised that once we get used to the routine, we'll start getting better and faster. I would like to add that with a little luck I might even look like a fabulous brazilian dancer (hiding in the water, with all the light reflections and shades and stuff, I could pull it off, no? Fine, whatever, moving on).

So we have a group on Facebook now for all Aqua Zumba peeps at Motor City
Neighbors, join us ;)

The instructor's fantastic and it was so much fun kicking it off with the friendliest ladies you could possibly meet at Motor City! I'm also really glad more will be joining the group soon as many have and are still enquiring about the class and are planning to join next week. 

I think this is one regimen I'm going to enjoy, finally!
See you on Tuesday ;)

Mamma Mia

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Friday, October 19, 2012

A pool of emotions!

Penned by (Imaginary) Mia, 2 years old in a few weeks.
(You know, the cute little one in Mamma Mia's head)

So we finally had our very first swimming lessons this week. It was interesting to say the least. Challenging to be quite frank. And self-awakening, sort of.

The first lesson was on Monday and I have to admit it was fun. We got to meet our instructor, Ellie, who is like a Seanta (Sea-Santa) with her huge blue bag full of toys! She has fishes, froggies and so many other fun stuff to use in the pool! I liked one of the fishes so much it ended up in my bag. By mistake, I swear. Mama returned it at the following session anyway (damn you, mother!) so hold your horses, no need to call the police, ok? 

My baby brother Jad was hungry by the time he started swimming so he ended up screaming his lungs out and missing all the fun. 

Me on the other hand, I did quite well. I even went under water for the very first time! And did not cry once! Super-Brave-Mia! Right? Wrong! Not right. At all. To put someone under water like that, you people are crazy!

But fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me! I was not about to let mama do it again! So at the second class on Wednesday, I came with an attitude. I had to show them who was boss. Me. Step aside and stay away, women!

So I did some screaming, a lot of crying but also a fairly good amount of swimming because, well, I do as I please. 

When the time came to put me under water, I resisted of course but mama is huge, especially since she still has not lost the baby-Jad weight. So there I was, holding my breath and taking it like a champ while this insane person was casually dunking me in spite of my objections. I did not cry though. 

Neither did Jad. He is only 7 months and apparently, diving come instinctively to him, but mama was scared to death when she prepared to dip him like a clueless piece of donut. He did very well though, and he did not cry either. He had not swallowed any water, but he started coughing like he always does nowadays when he is complaining or wants to nag! Yes, he can be a little funny like that. All in all, he had a really good time.

When we came back home, I was fine talking about Ellie, the froggies and the fishes but that was it. The moment mama brought up the stupid under-water-thing, I completely ignored her just like she ignored my objections in the pool! There. That should teach her. 

Of course, it seems I am going to have to do more of that dunking in the future so I am sincerely hoping for my (and mama's) sanity that I get used to it quickly.

Mama thinks it is super important both me and Jad persevere with the swimming classes, even if we do not like all the activities. The very first purpose being for me to acquire the skills to get to the border and lift myself up and out of the pool all alone should I ever find myself in the water, unattended. Who knows, I could slip or in a moment of passion, jump head first! I am a very impulsive, independent free spirit, so better be prepared ;)

In any case, I will keep you posted on the upcoming sessions and if you would like to register too, just get in touch with Ellie and her blue bag: they rock!!

Baby Mia

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Madame Gruyère Returns

Yes, she's back

A couple of weeks ago I decided it was about time I went for a check up. I hadn't seen my physician since Jad's birth, mostly because I had gained an unbelievable amount of weight, and I was certain any blood test would come back with haunting results. 

But four months of procrastination were more than enough and so I walked down the street towards my OBGyn's clinic and did those dreadful tests. And indeed, I discovered the expected: cholesterol, triglyceride and fat on my liver. Fun, right? 

I ended up redirected to a Gastroenterologist who ordered an abdomen ultrasound, more blood tests and because I've been suffering from heartburn since my pregnancy with Mia, a gastroscopy and colonoscopy which I did last week. More summer fun, I know. These showed nothing unusual, however, the abdomen ultrasound confirmed the fat on my liver (duh) and, surprise, surprise, stones in my gallbladder (which was not even on my checklist!), apparently numerous (nine of them) and huge. The doctors seemed in awe I wasn't feeling any pain at all. 

So three days ago, I underwent surgery to remove the unwanted creatures that had taken my gallbladder hostage.

I've got to say, I'm very proud all of them are so beautifully shaped and all of the same size. Huge, yes. But still, very in line with my OCD.

In case you're wondering how the cholecystectomy (the surgical removal of the gallbladder in order to remove gallstones) went, it's a fairly simple laparoscopic surgery. The procedure requires small incisions in the belly including one in the umbilicus through which the gallbladder is taken out. The other incisions are used to insert cameras which makes the whole operation quite safe. I was done in about forty minutes. The procedure requires a one night stay at the hospital if all goes well. And of course, the usual laparascopy pains are to be expected: stitches and gas induced shoulder-ache for a few days.

Bottom line, I am now sitting with four holes in my belly, stitches which forbid me to carry my children (or anything above five kilos) for three weeks and an unbelievably strict diet to get rid of my cholesteroltriglyceride and liver fat. You think I'm kidding? Since Monday, I've already lost three kilos. That's one kilo per day. Yes, very effective, I know.

That will teach me to eat like there's no tomorrow, to eat fatty and to eat junky. 

Mamma Mia

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Beirut prepares for Baby's arrival

Well, not mine. It's still a little too soon. After all, Jad's only four months old, and Mia was (already?) six months old when I got pregnant with him so we still have a few weeks ahead of us.

Umm. Pause.

Now before I scare myself any further, allow me to move on. A friend on Twitter asked me what I thought were good places to shop and prepare for a new baby. My (humble) views follow.

When we prepared for Mia, hubby did all of the nesting in Dubai by himself and I honestly did not worry much about Lebanon. After all, I was only going to stay for a couple of months. But we still needed the basics.

1) A bed.

My mom got my brother's old wooden basket from my grandparent's home and it is just so beautiful I was completely convinced not to get a new one. It is a white oval basket with handmade covers like the ones you see in the old movies. And because it is 20-something old, it is robust. They don't make baby furniture like that anymore. So this is what I used for both Mia and Jad's first couple of months. I'm sorry I can't really give more useful information on beds which I know can be quite expensive and need to be of high quality and safety standards. But I will say this. Moses baskets are only usable the first two or three months. Then once the baby gets bigger and starts to try to grab and hang on to things, they become unpractical and even dangerous. Cribs are a must. I believe they all come with adjustable heights for the mattress which means that in the first few months during which baby cannot climb, you can keep the mattress at a comfortable height and not break your back. Travel cots even allow the heightened mattress to swing/rock which is a lifesavers at night feedings. Mia and Jad's travel cots in Lebanon have this feature and Mia's wooden crib in Dubai also allows for mattress height adjustments. Apparently, all baby beds are designed that way now.

In terms of prices, we got the Chicco travel cots in Lebanon which are fair [Sassine Asco Center 01.330449 | ABC 04.416000 | Metro 09.851300] as for Dubai, we got a rather expensive crib from Mamas and Papas which has also recently opened in Lebanon [Jnah 01.843223]. Cribs can be an investment and it all depends on your needs.

In Lebanon, I have no baby room so the foldable travel cots are perfect as we can fold and store them when we leave. Also, the mesh windows are soft and safe. In Dubai I had to use a padded cover to keep Mia from bumping into the wooden barrier. Mia's Chicco cot doesn't have wheels but her old one does and it can be a real added value if you want to move the bed to the sitting room for baby to play in it during the day. It's now Jad's bed. I've to admit, if I didn't have a cot with wheels, I'd have definitely gotten a new one for Jad. In Dubai we opted for a high quality wooden bed by Mamas and Papas that starts as a crib and develops as the child grows. When Mia's old enough, we can remove the barriers and it becomes a regular bed.

Read more about safety considerations when purchasing a cot bed here.

Mia's bed in Dubai - by Mamas and Papas
Mia's travel cot in Lebanon - by Chicco
Jad's travel cot in Lebanon
With wheels,
a changing table,
a cover (tent)  
Jad's travel cot in Lebanon
Notice the heightened mattress,
and the net that can also be attached to the tent (above)

2) A car seat

That may not seem like the second most important item on the list but it is. You'll need it the minute you decide to step out of the hospital. In some countries, it's even illegal for the doctors to discharge a baby if the parents do not have a car seat ready. We purchased ours in Dubai so I can't really help with that item regarding prices and availabilities in Lebanon. However, I can tell you we got it at Baby Shop which has a branch in Beirut [City Mall 01.872999]. 

We researched for a while before deciding on the Maxi-Cosi. The car seat that is used from birth to 6 months is also the seat we can plug on the Quinny stroller for that same age. It is always placed facing the parent so you can keep a close eye on baby while you're walking. When the child outgrows it, you can start using the regular, larger seat (see next section on strollers)

Our Maxi-Cosi CabrioFix
Our Maxi-Cosi CabrioFix

Our Maxi-Cosi CabrioFix mounted on Quinny Buzz 

We've now upgraded Mia to a new 5-point harness car seat which is bigger obviously, and what I really wanted, reclinable. That is in Dubai, because in Lebanon we're using one that was generously lent to us. However, when Mia falls asleep in the car, she's too upright to be comfortable and her neck and head keep dropping as the car moves. We've tested the reclinable one in Dubai and it's perfect: when she falls asleep, she can lie back in a relaxed position with her neck, head and back supported. 

Mia in her new reclined Maxi-Cosi

3) A stroller and my take on baby carriers

We got our stroller in Dubai as well, from Baby Shop [City Mall 01.872999]. It is the Quinny Buzz 4 which is highly robust, can climb on just about anything and is perfect for Lebanon's (off)roads! The most important feature to me would be the option of placing the seat either facing the parent or facing the road as per your preference. Also, it allows the child to sit completely upright or lie completely horizontal which is more comfortable should baby fall asleep during a walk and you can't get back home immediately. And last but not least, the one-handle. This is a tiny detail that people usually don't pay attention to but it turned out to be so practical: you can "drive" this stroller with one hand which is perfect if say, you're sipping coffee or talking on the phone while strolling. Of course, the two handles usually come in handy when you are carrying bags and you'd like to hang them but I managed to find a solution: there are hooks that you can attach almost anywhere on the bar and that you can use to hang anything. In any case, Quinny has its own changing bag which can be stored at the bottom, between the two biggest wheels (see previous image above of car-seat mounted on Quinny) so I don't need to worry about hanging it. 

With Mia, we also tried the baby carrier which to be completely honest we only used three or four times at most. No matter what brand you choose, there will be back pain issues for you and comfort issues for your baby. But just in case you're wondering, we got the BabyBjörn carrier. 

Our Quinny Buzz
(the new model is slightly different)

Our latest purchase, also from Dubai's Baby Shop [City Mall 01.872999] is a Chicco which can recline completely to become perfectly horizontal; and it is to me a necessity when we spend more than three hours outside. Kids will fall asleep so we might as well keep them comfortable so we don't have to rush or sink in stress. 

Both strollers have an adjustable 5-point harness.

Mia's Chicco Liteway
Mia's Chicco Liteway reclined

4) Baby clothes and bed accessories

The first thing you'll need at the hospital is an outfit for that new bundle of cuteness. I know it's always fun to buy baby clothes and you want to get everything because they're all so cute! Well don't. You'll never use them. Take into account that clothes are the most common gifts so you can bet you'll have more than baby can use. And more importantly, those newborn clothes will only fit for a couple of weeks, maybe three tops. 

All you need really, are good quality cotton undergarments and pajamas. No matter how cute the outfits in those stores are, don't fall for it! Newborns will only be comfortable in their pajamas, even when they go out. I get all my kids' undergarments at Baby Shop [City Mall 01.872999] because the cotton's good, they're all white which means I can bleach them if and when needed (Carter's has really cute onesies but they are all colored so you can't bleach them) and last but not least, they're cheap. Newborns will wear those only for a few weeks so it is really a waste to get expensive ones. I don't really like the pajamas designs at Baby Shop which is why I got most of my stuff from Carter's [03.82058] and Mothercare where I also got all my sheets and blankets. Don't forget your baby's receiving blankets which will help carry your newborn on those scary first days. You can also find Carter's and other brands (some even much more luxurious) for discounted prices at Brands For Less [Ein Elrimeneh 01.290862 | Jnah 01.842885]. I'm a fan of both their Dubai and Lebanon shops. In Beirut, Glowbal [Raoucheh 01.792709 | Tayouneh 01.391660] also offers a wide variety of discounted brands. You can't always find everything there but you'll definitely make some interesting discoveries.

Mothercare branches:

ABC Centre
Level 2
Tel: 00 9614 522664
ABC Centre, Ashrafieh
ABC Mall Ashrafieh
Level 1
Tel: 00961 1 320581
ABC Mall Dbayeh
ABC Mall Dbayeh
Tel: +961 4522661
BHV City Mall
City Mall
Dora High Way
Tel: 00 961 1 885083
Souk Soldier
Souk Soldier
Tel: +961 1990410
Jnah Msaitbeh
Tel: 00961 1 825962
Verdun Centre 
Verdun Centre - 730, Ground Floor
Verdun Street
Tel: 00 961 1 788705
Fax: 00 961 1 788704

5) Bath necessities

A friend gifted us our baby tub from Mothercare but honestly, I feel they're overpriced. This is the kind of things you can easily find at a local shop in Lebanon for much less. After all, it's only a large plastic bucket! Most of the towels were also gifts and I got a few from Mothercare only because of the shop's proximity to my home. As for the shampoo and bath products, I use Mustella and BBcomBIO Organic which I find at my neighborhood pharmacy.

6) Bottles and sterilizers

Obviously, baby's gotta eat or more accurately, drink. I've tried all sorts of bottles from glass to plastic, long to short, and large to small. And all the brands I found interesting (Avent, Nuk, MAM, Nuby and Tommee Tippee). Some will argue glass bottles are healthier, which is most probably true. But they are so heavy and trust me, when you're waking up for that 3am feeding and you can't even open your eyes you end up feeding baby while you're asleep, that glass bottle will feel like it's the size of the Raouche Rock. 

So after trying Avent then Nuby then Tommee Tippee then Nuk then MAM, I finally got back to Avent again. The first few weeks, their smallest bottles work well and then you can keep them for water later on, when they become too small for a feeding. When Mia's intake got at its highest point, I had to upgrade to the biggest bottles because my children do not take breaks when they feed. If we stop for burping, they quit feeding. Now we're on the middle size bottles which are big enough for a feeding (less than before since Mia's eating solid foods now) but still small enough for Mia to hold the bottle by herself. Glass bottles by the way can never be held by children. I think all in all, the most important criteria is for whatever brand you choose to be Bisphenol-free (BPA free). 

We got the Avent Digital Steam Sterilizer which fits six large bottles. I used it with all the bottles I got, regardless of their brand as it is large enough to accommodate all sizes and shapes. When I went to Dubai for a few days with Mia and left Jad in Lebanon (with the sterilizer) hubby got a smaller, faster one which also fits six bottles, but not the largest ones: Avent Microwave Steam Sterilizer.

Avent Digital Steam Sterilizer
Avent Microwave Steam Sterilizer

In Lebanon, I purchase all bottles, pacifiers and their accessories from the comfort of my home. Mazen Pharmacy [01.300444 | 01.313369 | 01.313362] can home-deliver any and all baby products as they have a "Baby Gallery" in addition to the standard pharmacy. So when I prepared for Mia's arrival, I ordered over the phone the bottlessterilizer, breast pump, bottle warmer (which I never used) and even the monitor from Mazen Pharmacy who delivered everything to my home within the hour. The only disadvantage is that home-delivery implies cash payment which can be a little too much when purchasing all these items at once. However, typically, all these products must be sold for the same price nationwide so why not take advantage of the home-delivery system?

Avent Bottles
Avent Bottle Warmer
Avent Breast Pump
Avent Baby Monitor

7) Pharmacy 

My neighborhood pharmacist supplies me with all the necessary daily products we use such as formulas, diapers, wipes, shampoo, creams, oil, etc. However, and it happens more often than you'd like when babies are involved, in case of emergency it is always important to keep nearby the numbers of a 24/7 pharmacy. In my case, I use Mazen Pharmacy [01.300444 | 01.313369 | 01.313362] which is the most helpful in Beirut and they deliver at all hours, every day of the week.

My advice would be to always keep at home a thermometer (my review), electric nasal aspirator (my review), Panadol Baby, Tylenol suppositories for the bigger babies, Profenal, and cool patches (my review). Get some disposable syringes that you can use to dispense syrups. Sometimes you won't have time (or the energy in the middle of the night) to clean the single dispenser included in the medication box. The good thing about these disposable syringes is that they are made of the same material as the bottles and can be sterilized too so you can reuse them as needed.

Also save SOS Médecins Lebanon's numbers: 01.344444 and 03.344444 in case you need a doctor's assistance at home (24/7).

To conclude,

Try not to buy too much before baby's arrival. In the next few weeks following your return home, you will start receiving many congratulatory gifts so wait a little before you can sit and quietly review what you really need. Truth be told, your baby will not really need anything the first few weeks of his life aside from his diapers, feedings and baths (some special attention and care must of course be given to the umbilical cord). 

To give you an evidence for the aforementioned advice, we were gifted the very useful steam blender by Avent which cooks and blends solid foods all at the same time. You will find it is useful because regular size blenders require larger portions of food to blend properly while this one is small enough for the blades to blend a single portion. Also, the fact that it cooks the food at the same time is such a time-saver (less containers to clean). 

Other items such as changing bagsbouncers, activity centers with or without wheels, baby gyms and playmats, and even bath pads (for babies who can sit) and bath supports (super helpful with newborns) and many other cool stuff all make for really great gifts so don't rush to buy them just yet. Not to mention the countless clothes which will require a new dedicated closet! ;)

And finally, don't forget to charge your camera and video-cam every night and keep them nearby at all times ;) All the geeks out there will confirm: get an external storage device because your laptops, tablets and phones will never be enough! Have fun! ;)

Mamma Mia

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