What better fun can a three-year-old have on a Thursday afternoon than be allowed – or even encouraged – to run riot with paint pots or get busy digging in dirt and planting flowers, with lots of noisy little friends in tow? Not much, we can tell you. And that goes for mums too. Of course, it’s made a whole lot easier if there are a bunch of friendly, like-minded mothers to chat to, who help keep the kids in check and, most importantly, help clear up afterwards.
It’s this winning formula that has made Marina Mums such a boon to families with young tots living in the Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence area. It all started when Deepika Gupta, a mum of two girls aged three-and-a-half and 21 months, realised just how little there was available for women with young children in her neighbourhood. ‘Initially, there were just a couple of us, and we started to get together on a regular basis. Then slowly the group started to become more popular – and now we have more than 400 facebook members all in the Marina area,’ she explains.
The original idea was simple. Mums and kids need friends and activities, that’s a given. And so many women have hidden talents – former teachers, nurses, artists, interior designers – that get buried under the new job title of ‘mum’. Dee was not about to let all those skills go to waste, so she combined the two ideas and got mums to take turns leading the group with an activity each week.
A former stage performer, Dee settles the kids at the start of each session with a dynamic story, her commanding voice and presence magically encouraging the most troublemaking toddlers to toe the line. Then it’s over to the ‘mum of the week’ to do her thing.
Ebru Saner, who helped Dee set up Marina Mums, explains; ‘I’m an interior architect – so I like to help with all the arts and craft sessions. But the activities vary wildly. One week we’ll do cooking, another week, dance, or gardening. Next week it’s sandcastle sculpture – that’s proved very popular.’
Saba Gizilbash, an art teacher at the American University Dubai, is also mum to two daughters, one aged three and a baby of six months. She says, ‘The whole set up is very positive and the kids absolutely love it. It’s become a real community event. I take a painting class. I provide paints and canvasses and give the children a short lesson at the beginning – and then let them get on with it. I’m not into structured art or providing them with pictures to colour in. I’m much keener on natural expression and creativity.’
And the natural approach seems to appeal to the kids too, who cover themselves – and each other – in paint, produce a gallery of colourful artworks and then get stuck into the communal painting where, it seems, anything goes. As one little boy uses his head as a paintbrush, a little girl shuffles delightedly around with her masterpiece on her bottom, while an older child decides to think out of the box and starts painting the walls of JBR.
‘Don’t worry!’ Dee kindly assures the red-faced parent of said graffiti artist, ‘all the paints are water-based and washable.’ It’s this kind of chaotic-but-organised fun that makes the group so popular. At the gardening session, the equipment was all provided by Emma Riedel of meandriley.com, an online events and party organiser. ‘Dee is a friend,’ says Emma, a mum of three, when asked why she’s run this particular session. ‘I appreciate what she’s doing. I’m not a mumsie person, I’m an interior designer and I can’t abide sitting at home doing nothing. I’d much rather the kids be painting canvasses, decorating cupcakes or, like they’re doing today, doing a bit of planting. It’s all about educational entertainment where the kids learn something and have fun.’
The formula certainly works. Indeed, Dee now has to run the activities on a first-come, first-served basis. ‘I let everyone know what is happening via the facebook page, but I have a limited number for each activity so mums have to RSVP quickly to book for the activity – and then we all meet up and have fun. What’s great is that different nationalities tend to enjoy different activities, and around a third of mums actually come from outside the JBR/Marina area.’
And as well as providing a creative energy outlet for the kids, it’s been great for the mums too. Komal Kapadia, whose daughter Neha is 20 months, moved to JBR several months ago and has found the group a lifeline. ‘It’s never easy moving somewhere new, but I’ve made lots of new friends and I feel as though I belong to a community. I actually found out about it through facebook and have been involved ever since. It’s also super convenient because it’s so close to home. I don’t have to drive anywhere – I just walk here from my building.’
Aida Mokadem, mum to Adam, aged 21 months, says the group has helped her, as well as her son. ‘We live in the Marina, and we started coming along for the socialising – for him and for me. Adam is not at nursery so I’m always looking for something to do. I’ve met lots of mums here in the group, including Dee, who has become a very good friend.’ She goes on; ‘It’s great for Adam. He gets to meet the same kids every week, but he also makes new friends. And it’s great for mums – we get to discuss development and behaviour and while we try not to compare too much, it can be really helpful if another mum has gone through something and can offer advice.’
The community feel – and the fact that almost everyone has a contribution to make – is what makes this group stand out. Lydia Pope, mum to Isobel, aged three and one-year-old Mathew, enjoys the coffee mornings and expert talks on subjects such as toddler nutrition, but she’s also helped out a few rookie mums by running an informal breast-feeding support group.
Dee reckons that the secret of the group’s success (her sessions fill up fast) is that it’s not just about mums chatting while the kids play. ‘It’s more of a well-structured, edutainment, constructive play centre which also allows mums to catch up with what’s new in the neighbourhood,’ she says.
So what does the future hold? ‘We’ve been around for almost three years now and I’ve just launched the website. After that, we hope to get bigger and bigger with a focus on being a local community support group for mums.’
To find out more about Marina Mums, check out www.marinamums.com or email Dee: email@example.com.