Looking forward to the cooler weather returning to Dubai? Louise-Emma Clarke is right with you.
On a recent trip to the cooler climes of our home country, we joined my old school friends for a picnic in the park. Whilst their little ones made themselves busy kicking a ball around, collecting bugs, and making daisy chains, my 15-month old lay on the picnic blanket on his back and stared up at the canopy of a tree above. I translated his ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’, and enthusiastic pointing as ‘Wow Mummy! Look! A tree!’ My friends thought it was cute at first and laughed affectionately at the little boy from Dubai finding a tree so fascinating. Twenty minutes later, however, and I could sense they were starting to worry about his social skills. We were all relieved when a bird landed nearby and he sat up quickly and shouted ‘Birdy!’ with a look of excitement on his face. My son was well educated in all things nature after all! Whilst my friends chuckled and got back to their sandwiches, I kept it to myself that the same thing happened every night when the birds appeared on his DVD of In The Night Garden; he was probably astonished that the things existed in real life.
It isn’t his fault, of course, being brought up in a country where we are confined to indoor spaces for nearly half the year. When the weather was cooler we used to spend hours in Safa and Zabeel Park, but he is too young to remember. Our days are now spent in soft play areas, dreaming about the thermometer plunging so our play dates can once again be accompanied by the great outdoors.
Where do I start on soft play areas? When I was pregnant, we walked past one in a mall and one quick glance in its direction had me shaking in fear. ‘I never want to be the kind of mother that resorts to those things’ I said with a shudder. Oh how I laugh at my pre-baby self! Little did I know that my weeks would soon revolve around these places, choosing a different one every day to give my son a little variation. ‘Look darling! This ball pit has multi-coloured balls and the one yesterday only had blue! What fun!’
Don’t get me wrong; I have not changed my opinion on these places. Even the thought of setting foot inside fills me with dread. It’s the smell of sweaty plastic that hits you as you walk in, the bruised knees as you dive to catch your child and the mats slide apart, and the grating noise of children shrieking accentuated by regular tantrums. Then there are the older children that trespass into the section for toddlers, throwing their weight around as the little ones get knocked for six. I have witnessed screaming matches take place between disgruntled mothers when one sits and has a coffee, whilst the other is forced to discipline their unruly child. With sky-high prices, hyperactive children, and inefficient air conditioning, it is no wonder that tempers are frayed.
The inefficient air-conditioning is an important point. Despite heading to these places to escape the heat, we are left dripping as we chase toddlers up slides, into ball pits, and through tunnels. After an hour in one of the largest soft play areas in the city recently, my son looked like he’d jumped into a pool. A 15-month old shouldn’t have to worry about sweat marks on his T-Shirt. And his mother certainly shouldn’t have to pack a towel in her nappy bag for the purpose of mopping her beading brow.
There are, of course, plenty of other options for children in Dubai during the summer months, but for toddlers that need to let off steam in a padded environment, the options are limited. I can’t wait for him to be a little older so we can explore the city’s aquariums, join in with craft workshops, and hit the waterparks – but I would swap them all in a second for the chance to spread out a picnic blanket in Safa Park and soak up the sunshine while he toddles on the grass.
It’s that thought that keeps me going, as this city is my favourite place in the world when the weather cools. My son and I will be soon be spending our days outdoors, revising for those al fresco picnics back home so we can impress my friends with his exceptional knowledge of tree species, grass varieties, and local wildlife.
In the meantime, you’ll find me holed up in a range of soft play areas tearing my hair out – and pressing play on In The Night Garden when we get home, of course…