Raising children in Dubai

The trials and tribulations of parenthood in the UAE. We take an entertaining look at coping with overseas grandparents.

Raising children in Dubai

I hadn’t realised that giving birth to a son would result in more than one new member of the family, but it turned out that the four people formerly known as ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ were about to trade in those names (or job titles?) for something altogether more distinguished: ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandad’.

Unfortunately, nothing in my life is that simple anymore. The two granddads weren’t the problem; they accepted their new names with pride. No, it was the grandmas stirring things up: they both wanted to be called ‘Nana’ – and, of course, I was expected to decide who deserved that badge of honour.

I had always had one nana and one grandma, and I had assumed my mother would be a nana. My husband thought the same about his and you can’t, it seems, have two nanas; it just doesn’t work. Nobody was backing down.

It was like they were American presidential candidates, both running high-profile campaigns. Telephone calls always began with a cheery ‘It’s Nana here,’ and emails were signed in an equally suggestive way. It was all very political, but votes were tied.

It would have been a lot easier if they were in the same country – we could have just locked them in a room and let them fight it out – but like most expats in Dubai, we live thousands of miles away from the rest of our families, which can be particularly hard for new mums. Not having grandparents close by means you miss out on a lot of the advice they can offer – although judging by some of my emails, that might be a blessing in disguise.

With the debate showing no signs of cooling and the Dubai sun at its hottest, I packed my suitcases and took the boy half way around the world to introduce him to the ‘Nana’ candidates. It turns out that travelling with babies is like carrying water across the desert with a spoon: no matter how careful you are, one little nudge ends in disaster. My journey wasn’t made any easier by my lifelong fear of flying, or the fact that I was travelling without my husband.

For somebody who still weighs less than my hand luggage, Sam doesn’t pack lightly. Walking though DXB with a case full of blankets, spare clothes, toys and medical supplies, I felt I was delivering a UN aid package rather than taking a short summer holiday. We managed to check in and get through the airport without too many problems, but changing an explosive nappy on a turbulent flight in a room smaller than a broom cupboard was a motherhood test I’d rather not have taken.

That’s what Obama and McCain should have to do. Forget policy and televised debates: stick them both on Air Force One with a couple of babies and see who comes up smelling of roses (and not nappy fillings). It would give a whole new definition to the expression ‘smear campaign’.

In the end, what could have been an ordeal was made a pleasure by the air hostesses, who were helpful and patient, and even doted on my baby boy. If they’d have asked, I would have gladly told them they could be his nanas – but that would have spoilt the real competition.

My mum edged ahead in the polls when she changed a particularly unpleasant nappy (my mother-in-law headed for the hills when it was her turn). But this was not a dirty election. I was judging the candidates on their devotion to the cause, and that was level pegging.

While their running mates – the grandads – continued to fight minor skirmishes revolving around favourite football teams, the main candidates seemed happy just to see him. It is often said that it is a lot easier to be a grandparent than a parent, and watching these two women play with my baby I think that is probably true. They sing and coo over him like a couple of, well, air hostesses, and he laps up the attention. Both can rock him to sleep in minutes and know the words to so many long-forgotten nursery rhymes that it is obvious they have been through all this before (and survived, which is comforting).

But I’ve decided to take their advice with a pinch of salt. It may be said that mother always knows best, but I’m certain this adage does not apply to mine or my husband’s, not least due to their suggestion that I give him porridge and chocolate instead of breast milk. In the end I decided they would both be called ‘Nana’ – but only because I couldn’t face the journey back for the recount.

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