Pull up to pump. Get out, fill up the tank. Get everyone out of the car after filling the tank, troop into the fuel station, try to block shelves filled with sweets with your knees as you queue. Pay (faint at price – perhaps we could re-mortgage?), then herd everyone back in the car. Second scenario: fill up, lock car with kids in it, join queue of drivers waiting to pay at the till, whilst staring out the window with panic as both kids hurl themselves around the car as if it were a soft play centre.
Pull up to petrol pump in your roomy, air-conditioned SUV. ‘Fill it up special please!’ Smiling man fills your car up. Asks you if there is anything else – you request a coffee and a SALIK top up card – both brought promptly to your car window. Pay, give him a tip (you still have change from that Dhs100 note after all), and then drive off. Kids barely notice – they are too busy watching Frozen on the in-built car DVD system.
Drive into supermarket car park. You feel flustered as you realise that all the mother/child spaces are taken. Squeeze into a space. Realise with horror it is paid-for parking and you have no change. Rummage around the bottom of your bag, find a few coins covered in dubious-looking fluff. Run to the machine, realise it isn’t working. Run to another, panic that your kids are unsupervised. Get ticket, find trolley, put kids in it. Run round madly getting everything, then queue at checkout. Unpack onto conveyor. Pack everything yourself. Grab shopping, kids and head to the car. Exhausted.
Drive into car park, park in any one of the big available spaces designed to fit the huge Middle Eastern cars. Spot a trolley right by your car, get children out and put them in it. Do the shopping, and at the checkout, stand idly by whilst someone packs it all for you. If your children are kicking off, or you realise you don’t want to push the trolley, get said packer to deliver your goods to your car, and pack them in the boot. Drive home serenely. Usually stress-free.
Cousin’s wedding coming up? Ring beauty parlour to book in for a manicure/ pedicure at least a month in advance. Book afternoon off work for it as they are only open until 6pm. Book into separate salon for roots, cut and blow dry. Need a massage? You had one once, on your honeymoon, remember? Have a bath instead.
If you want a beauty treatment, you can have whatever you want, whenever you want. Eyebrow tint at 11pm? Done. Post-baby mani/pedi and blowdry in hospital a la Kate Middleton? The smiling therapist will be with you in half an hour. And it probably won’t even cost you the earth. Enjoy getting organised with ease!
Is it going to rain? No? Actually maybe it will. Better pack the rain stuff just in case – boots, waterproof trousers, anorak, umbrellas, rain cover for buggy. An obsession with precipitation is perhaps a very British trait, but wherever you are from in the world, there is probably more variety in the weather in your home town than there is in the Middle East. Which means a lot of forward planning.
No need for a ‘what if it rains’ plan. It won’t. Ever. It will be sunny all day and probably, a bit too hot. On the rare occasion it does rain, the best thing to do is not leave the house because a nation that never sees rain does go a bit wild when it gets wet. Roads don’t have drainage, you see, and huge puddles can build up, adding to the general traffic chaos. Although feel free to run outside - it may be the only rain you see all year.
You look after your sister’s baby on Monday, take Granny to the hospital on Tuesday and drive up north to your cousin’s anniversary party for two days on Friday. Not to mention fielding phone calls from your five aunties throughout the week, and sending off thank you letters for your birthday presents in your ‘spare’ time.
Suddenly, your weekends are your own. For those who are suddenly ‘freed’ from a big family, this can come as a big shock, when you realise the only people you have to entertain and please are your little family unit. You can see friends! Go to the movies! Hang out at home and watch movies all day! This freedom feels amazing, until you realise the aunties have worked out Skype, and both sets of parents are booked to stay for a month.
You were really nervous about taking your baby on that package holiday trip to Greece. Where does the buggy go? Can I put a baby seat in the hold? How do I book a bulkhead seat? What is a bulkhead seat anyway? Turns out, it was all much easier than you thought, despite your fears.
You will become at one with the airline system. Never again in your life will you become so obsessed with flight routes, ‘flash’ ticket sales, foldaway buggies, toddler slings and ride-on suitcases. You will have a whole bag of mini toys designed to amuse your kids for the flight. Your iPad will be stuffed with toddler-friendly apps and your pockets filled with animal crackers and raisin packets. When you recognise another ‘expat mum’ standing in the aisle next to the loo rocking a baby, your eyes will meet in mutual respect. This bit is not easy ladies, but as the seasoned expat mums say, it does get easier as they get older!
Your friends are your friends. Whether you met them at school, at university or through work, you have known the same bunch of people your whole life. You might make the occasional new buddy at the school gate but you tend to stick with what you know. Weddings, birthdays, barbecues – the crowd tends to be the same.
Recently moved into a new apartment building or compound? Welcome to your new Dubai family. You’ll be in and out of each other’s houses every day, your kids will play with their kids and post 6pm, you’ll be sitting round the pool enjoying another catch up. Need advice on childbirth, dog sitting or schools? Ask your neighbours. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, who you were friends with before or who your parents are – you are friends now through thick and thin. And quite possibly, the friendships you make here, and take away with you when you leave, are the very best bit about living in the Middle East.
From Brunch to Babies
Used to solo beach days and nights out as a couple? Finding it hard to make the switch to life with a baby? Missing your old Dubai-life now you have children is totally normal, but we’ve come up with a few ways you can cross the divide and still enjoy the best of Dubai, parent-style…
Then: Days spent bronzing at Blue Marlin
Now: Hiding indoors so the baby doesn’t get sunstroke. Buying industrial-style bottles of factor 50 and all-in-one UV babysuits.
Good news: With a bit of planning, this bit of the Dubai lifestyle doesn’t have to change that much. Get to the beach really early and stay for a shorter time; you’re bound to get a spot by the water, alongside the other parents! Always keep a baby in the shade, and it’s worth investing in a beach tent in case there are no umbrellas available. Keep the baby hydrated with plentiful breast milk or extra water if bottle-fed. Try out Kite Beach in Jumeirah on a Friday morning. Grab a coffee, pick a spot by the water and watch your bubba enjoy the texture of sand and the sea. You’ll be leaving just as the hordes arrive, knowing you’ve had the best of the day.
Then: Your nails were never chipped, your hair blowdried to perfection.
Now: Did I shave my legs? Oh yes, two weeks ago….
Good news: Most, if not all beauty parlours welcome children. Staff, as long as they are not busy, will often hold your baby or amuse your toddler whilst you get your nails done. Or, take a friend and you can take it in turns to watch the children. Last but not least, if you really want to get pampered, try a spa with a creche! Caboodle in Dubai Mall offers supervised play whilst you use their beauty services, as does Creche Out, next to the Pharaoh’s Club in WAFI. Or go post bedtime – the salon’s open until midnight, after all.
Then: Sunset yoga sessions, day-long footie tournaments and weekends learning to kitesurf. Utter fitness bliss.
Now: Mall walks with the buggy, followed by a sofa slump in the evenings.
Good news: There are loads of things you can do as family to keep fit and stay sane. Once the weather cools down a bit, try out the 10K walking/ running track along Kite Beach, or the long walk around Mushrif Park. Pure Fitness runs a lot of baby plus mummy classes, including BuggEFit.
Then: you regularly ate out at Michelin-starred eateries.
Now: you can’t imagine taking your just-weaned baby anywhere with a tablecloth and non-plastic cutlery.
Good news: There are plenty of restaurants that offer high-quality food and don’t mind a bit of mess. Try Book Munch, Maison Mathis, The Reform Bar and Grill, The Farm, Bystro, The Change Initiative and many more!