Leaving our precious offspring for the first time in the care of someone else is enough to bring us out in a mammoth rash – a symptom of that medical condition known as ‘Mother-Guilt’. But it’s not the teachers, the strange, shiny new classrooms or the smell of cabbage in the dinner hall that will cause our little angels the most anguish. It’s that huge wasteland of too much time, too many other kids and not enough friends that is… the playground.
Moving from England to Wales at the tender, corruptible age of nine gave me my first encounter of playground humiliation, when the whole school followed me for the entire tortuous lunch hour, taunting me into repeating ‘Ay up me duck’ to raucous nightmare-inducing laughter. (I must confess, though, the survival instinct soon kicked in and I was to be found in the loos, learning a whole new vocabulary with the ring-leaders just a week later.)
What about the parents, though? The journey into the school grounds to wait for our kids to emerge brings all those latent insecurities spiralling to the surface. Dubai mums are a different breed of parent, the ‘old timers’ especially. Those cliques form an impenetrable barrier between them and anyone new and, boy, are they a force to be reckoned with. The inappropriate footwear, the over-sized sunglasses, the immaculate make-up and carefully tousled hair – combined with a healthy dose of Dubai attitude – all conspire to turn the new mum into a quaking shadow of her former self, unable to string a sentence together, even if given the eye contact and opportunity to do so.
This no-friend anxiety that takes us back to our early school days comes as a shock. I’ve even found myself staring forlornly at my disintegrating flip-flops, cursing myself for not wearing platforms to pick up the kids. But we had the strength to leave our comfort zones in the first place – otherwise we wouldn’t be here. We get on, get in and find a way to survive, even if that means learning a whole new vocabulary.
So to the newly arrived Dubai mums out there: That maxi-wearing mum could be your new best friend – you just don’t know it yet. And to the old-timers: remember, the playground can be a scary place, especially if you’re the new mum in town.