Last Friday, which is the holy day in Abu Dhabi, we spent most of the day in the lovely pool area that’s on top of the building where we’re going to live in next year.  There is a kiddie playroom inside in the air conditioning, a small fitness center with spectacular views of the gulf, a wading pool, and a larger pool just the right size for cannonballs into the deep end and infinite games of “Marco Polo.”

The boys played in the pool happily for most of the day and joined me for a little session in the health center.  They trotted on the treadmill, which cracked them up, especially when Liam turned his head to talk to me and slid right off onto the floor. He recovered and then ran an entire mile at a pace that would’ve given me a stroke, the little show-off. We tried to keep our voices down because there was a dad in the exercise room with his tiny baby, sleeping in the stroller next to the weight machines. What U.S. gym would allow such a thing ?

This rooftop—with the shaded tables and chairs, the little snack bar, and the sense of quiet that comes from being fifty stories above street level—seems to me wonderful and extremely dangerous. Wonderful because I can imagine sitting at a shady table grading student papers next year, while the boys romp around in the pool, but dangerous precisely because of its convenience.  How easy it would be to sink into the expat bubble for a year and emerge at the end of our time no wiser about this part of the world—not that in a year we can really “understand” Emirati life, but we should at least try to move off the roof, right?

How does an expat find her way out of expat-bubble land, I wonder?

We’re going to have to explore, in order to get out of the bubble, which brings us smack up against the ugly reality of my kids’ eating habits. Which is really to say their non-eating habits.

Do children in other countries insist on only white food, or only fried food, or chicken cooked only a certain way? Do little Emirati boys tell their mothers (or their household chefs, more likely) that they will only eat the chicken if there is NO SAUCE? Are sesame seeds on a hamburger bun really a crime against humanity?  Liam likes chicken with no sauce; Caleb likes hamburgers but only with ketchup. Liam likes plain noodles, Caleb likes red sauce but NOT TOO MUCH.  Neither of them likes cheese unless it’s on pizza; Liam likes chocolate, Caleb likes vanilla.

Salad? Tabbouleh? Hummus? Mint lemonade? Surely you jest.  Dates? Figs? Mangoes? AM I TRYING TO KILL THEM?

I’m going to have to ratchet down my expectations for our year away. Expat bubble be damned. All I want is to come back to the States with children whose palates have expanded beyond the global French fry.