We were sitting on opposite couches in the den. He was annoying me, and I’m pretty sure my eyes were rolled so far back in my head they could have gotten stuck if I’d held it just a little bit longer. “See, look at her,” he said pointing to Mommy cooking dinner in the kitchen. “You need to be more like her. You’re too moody. She’s so even keeled. That’s why we’ve made it this long.” Even keeled. I can do that. Nine days of even keeled Shan. Why not? Everything’s prepared. The itinerary’s set. I’m in control. Even keeled. Tears. Stop it. What are you crying for? They’re not even off of the plane. Too many emotions at once — excitement, anxiousness, eagerness. Be anxious for nothing, but by prayer and supplication…… You’re putting this pressure on yourself. Breathe. Even keeled. Why was that the standard? He’s moody, quick tempered and hot headed, too. I got it from him. Breathe. Reading. That should help me calm down. It’s a good thing I always have a book.
20 minutes. That’s normal. Passport control usually takes a while. It’ll give me time to finish this chapter. 40 minutes. Ugh! Where are they? Even keeled, Shan, remember? An hour. The plane landed an hour ago. No, bladder, not now. I’ll miss them if I go. Maybe they forgot a passport. Crap! Bathroom. Back to the exit. Did I miss them? Inside. Outside. Inside again. There they are! Go figure, last ones off of the plane. They don’t even see me. Closer. Closer. Closer. “Shan!”
It was normal. We were us, as usual. Laughing, joking, telling stories.
Hosting friends and family across the world comes with big responsibilities, and I don’t always handle them too well. I prepare, prepare, prepare and sometimes over prepare myself to the point of exhaustion. It’s a lot of pressure knowing that you’re the reason that anyone has spent a thousand dollars (per person) to fly across the globe, and you have to ensure that they have a good time. I began preparing for my family’s visit in late October. I budgeted, planned, re-budgeted, tweaked plans, booked visits, mapped out directions and still —— everything wasn’t perfect. However, all that mattered was that they were here. Well, except for Daddy.
“I’m going to take you to Global Village while we wait for Daddy’s flight to arrive.” Two hours later, Daddy’s flight arrived. We were at Global Village. Three hours later Daddy began thinking something happened to us. We were at Dubai Mall. By the fourth hour, he was sitting at the coffee shop eating. When I walked into the airport and found him sitting at the table, I was shocked.
“How long have you been here?”
“Just four hours,” he said with a slight chuckle and leaning in for a hug. Woah, he’s really calm about it.
“Four hours! I thought your flight landed at 9:55. I figured it’d take you a while to get through passport control so I estimated you’d be coming through the gates around 10:30, maybe 11ish if the lines were bad.”
“No, I’m fine. I was good. I had internet, money and some food so I was straight. All I could do was wait.” Even keeled. Who’s this Daddy?
“Please don’t tell Mommy. She’ll be so upset that she got the time wrong.”
“Nah, I won’t.”
We were only 20 minutes into our drive before he spilled the beans and we had the running line for the week, “How would you know? You didn’t wait at the airport for four hours.” We all burst into laughter, and although it was only two hours and 20 minutes it probably felt like an entire day considering that he was in a strange land where men wear “dresses” (kandoras) and women step out looking like the grim reaper. Leave it to Daddy to make jokes out of the misery of waiting. There wasn’t a hint of anger or the flush red face that I was used to seeing when he was vexed. Instead, he was different — even keeled and just along for the ride.
He was different, but it all felt so familiar.
Over the next nine days, Mommy, Daddy and Lauren had the opportunity to experience the UAE as I had planned. After waiting in the airport four hours (as he tells it) past his evening arrival, Daddy was up early the next morning. He was pacing around the house and eager to get out and see. He’s jet lagged and doesn’t even know it.
“Daddy, do you want to walk to the store with me?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
We stepped out into the morning sun and began walking. “It’s not really that hot.”
“Just wait, you’re saying that under the carport. I’ll see what you say when we start walking.”
Both, Mommy and Daddy were interested to find out what my life was like over here, and they’ve never run short on questions. I wanted to answer their questions through experiences. I opted for a walk to Carrefour because that’s how I learned about my neighborhood. I walked it. Before I got a car, I’d make the one mile walk to Carrefour in order to get exercise and investigate my surroundings. Of course, I could have taken a taxi, but it’s not the same as walking the neighborhood. Daddy had a lot of questions about the neighborhood so I figured the best way to answer him was to show him in the same way that I had learned it. After turning the corner and passing the second stop sign he retracted his statement about the heat, “Shit, man, it’s hot.”
“See, I told you to wait until we started walking.”
“I thought we were going right around the corner or something.”
“It’s just up ahead where you see that big tower.”
Pointing at the road up ahead, Daddy said, “We have to cross this street?”
“Yeah, it’s just over a mile from my house. This is the walk that I used to make a couple times a week before I got a car. It’s really not much further.” There it was again. He gave an interested, but resigned look and trudged on. Old Daddy would have criticized my decision to walk. I smiled. I was enjoying this walk more than he’d ever know. He was even keeled and just along for the walk.
It was calming. We were us, the grown up us — not bickering or fussing. Shannon and Daddy. Laughing, joking, telling stories…and sweating.
The week went on and Mommy was Mommy and Lef was Lef, but Daddy, Daddy was different. I didn’t exactly succeed in nine days of being even keeled Shan, but it didn’t seem to phase Daddy when I did have a meltdown. In my moments of highs and lows he kept me settled. That role was always filled by Mommy in the past. It felt a bit odd to sort out my feelings and emotions with him, but it happened as we sat in Nando’s waiting for our order. He made me see when I was overreacting about a misstep in the itinerary or putting too much pressure on myself to control things that were out of my control. Daddy even joked politely when I was freaking out. It was almost as if all of those times that I’d said he needed to consider his delivery method when talking to me had made a difference. None of his sentences began with that notoriously firm, “See what I’m trying to get you to understand is.”
It was interesting. This is Daddy. Still laughing, still joking and still telling stories, but even keeled.
After Global Village, the Dubai Mall Fountain Show, Al Qasba, the Blue Souk, a desert safari, a day at the Rotana pool, Emirates Palace, the Corniche, Ferrari World, dinner with the Iskandrani family, bobsledding on the mountain, driving up the mountain, the Grand Mosque, beers with the Abu Dhabi crew at Captain’s and a stay at Atlantis I asked them what they liked best. Lauren looked at me and seriously said, “Our car moments.” At first I was offended, This heifer did things she’d never have the opportunity to do at home and she’s telling me the car rides were the best part? I’d spent so much time and effort organizing an action packed trip and she thought the most enjoyable moments were the hours spent in the car. It baffled me.
In the weeks since then I’ve come full circle and now see it from Lauren’s perspective. Lauren had an innocent view of what was important. She wasn’t influenced by the money that I or my parents spent because it wasn’t her money. She wasn’t aware of the time and effort because she didn’t have to gather any information or book any reservations. She wasn’t swayed by the must see and must do lists because she hadn’t seen them. She was happy about the time that we spent together doing all of the things that were familiar in this bizarre place where people kept staring at her and everything seemed too crowded. We snapped sleeping pictures of one another, we had serious conversations, we planned our Harlem Shake videos, made up new volleyball chants for her and her teammates, we teased each other and Daddy followed every sentence up with, “How would you know? You didn’t spend four hours in the airport.”
We were us, as usual. Laughing, joking, telling stories.
A few weeks after their visit, I was Skyping with Mommy and telling her everything that I noticed during our time together. I explained that Daddy was still Daddy, but his mannerisms were more patient. He was who he wanted to be and who he’d grown to become. I realized that while I was growing up, my Daddy was also growing into his role as a father; and although his disposition may have changed, his personality was still the same. He was still Daddy just even keeled. He’d always admired those traits in Mommy and over time and through life’s lessons he’d been shaped and refined.
This trip helped my family connect to my life abroad and understand why I enjoy being here, but for me it was an eye opener to see how much each of them have grown since I’ve been away. My most enjoyable moments were spending time with my Daddy and understanding why he always wanted me to develop a demeanor that resembled my mother’s. Simply put, an even keeled person is great company.
In spite of all of the rare experiences, Lauren helped me to see that our time together was what was important. The morning walk with my daddy, laughing in the aisles of the grocery store and the lemon competition at the dinner table don’t necessarily top riding a camel, holding a falcon or sliding through a shark tank. Instead all of these experiences are like patches on a quilt and together they tell the story of us.
We were us, as usual. Laughing, joking, telling stories.