Family summers in Dubai

<em>Time Out</em> spoke to four mothers about how they plan to survive a summer in Dubai

Marie Oyston, Danae Edgar, Emma Kristensen and Franziska Shwarz
Marie Oyston, Danae Edgar, Emma Kristensen and Franziska Shwarz
Danae Edgar
Danae Edgar
Emma Kristensen
Emma Kristensen
Marie Oyston
Marie Oyston
Franziska Schwarz
Franziska Schwarz
Debate team

• Danae Edgar, an author from Sydney, Australia, has one daughter, six-year-old Lara. They live in Al Safa and, as well as a five-year pre-baby stint here between 1993 and 1998, the family has been in Dubai for two years.

• Half Dutch, half Fijian, Emma Kristensen has two-year-old twins named Baros and Quba. Currently residing in Umm Suqeim, Emma is co-owner of BabySouk and has been
in Dubai for eight years.

• Nursery administrator Marie Oyston has been in Dubai for three years and lives in Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR). Originally from Middlesborough in the UK, she has an eight-year-old son named Cameron and twins Freya and Finlay, aged three.

• Hailing from Munich in Germany but having grown up in Saudi Arabia, BabySouk co-owner Franziska SCHWARZ lives in the Burj Residences and has been in Dubai for two years. She is mother to two-year-old twins Alexis and Filippa.

What got us talking…

We tried, we really did – but no matter how hard we attempted to send the soaring heat into submission through the power of our minds, the mercury levels have been creeping up into the ferocious 40s – and it’s only going to get worse. However, with more summer camps and malls per person here than anywhere else in the world (probably), and bearing in mind these are no ordinary shopping complexes (skiing lesson, anyone?), is fleeing the city for the entire summer justifiable, or is there enough on offer to keep kids busy for two months solid? We reserved a table at Reflets Par Pierre Gagnaire and quizzed four local mums – three of whom, bizarrely, and purely by chance, have twins! – on their thoughts.

Do you stay in Dubai for summer?
Danae: We’ve done one summer here when we first arrived, and then last year we did the whole summer away, but my husband had to be in Dubai for most of it so my daughter and I were away from him for six weeks. That was really tough, so this year we’re doing half here and half away.

Marie: We’ve always gone back to the UK for three weeks, but this year we’re having a family holiday at Disneyland for two weeks instead.

Emma: The first summer I was a mother, when the boys were six months old, we spent the whole season here because it was just too difficult to travel with them. This year we’re hoping to go away in August.

Franziska: We spent the whole of our first summer here, then last year I took the girls to spend the summer with my sister in Europe. They didn’t see their dad for five weeks but they had a lovely time! This summer I’m hoping to be gone for August. But I’m lucky: my nursery, Hummingbird Early Learning Centre, opens throughout the summer. It’s great.

Emma: They say summer’s the perfect time to potty-train your kids. I told my husband, ‘OK, this summer, that’s what you’re doing!’

How much do you worry about sun exposure and dehydration?

Franziska: I’ve got skin cancer in my family and my girls’ skin is transparent. I’ve always been extremely strict about having 50+ sunscreen on. They’re so good, they want to do it themselves, although it does take an hour! They always have UV-protective clothing on for swimming. My husband thinks I’m completely paranoid.

Danae: The kids get used to it though. Lara’s six and at school they cannot go out and play if they don’t have their hats on. She’s the first one to say, ‘I need my hat and water bottle.’

Emma: My boys really like the Masafi water bottles with the top you pop up, it’s fun.

Is it fair that Dubai has a reputation for being somewhere that you’d want to leave in the summer?
Marie: Last year we had a miserable time in the UK, the weather was just awful. I clashed with my mum because the kids weren’t allowed to do things because it was her house and her rules. I spent a lot of the time in tears; it was not good. My husband stayed here and while we were away, moved us to JBR. When we came back to sunshine and swimming pools I felt like we were having a holiday here.

Emma: It is good having enough time to travel long distances though. It can take so long for children to adjust to a new time zone that the summer months are perfect for that.

Danae: Even after the flight prices, being in the UK is expensive. If you want to stay in the centre of London so it’s easy to get to museums and galleries, it becomes a very pricey venture.

Emma: Although if you’re going home, you can stay with your family so you don’t think about the finances as much.

Franziska: You’d probably think twice about going away if you had loads of kids and your parents didn’t have a big house so you had to go to a hotel. The question is, in the current economic climate, is it really worth going away this summer, or should we stay here and go somewhere nice for Christmas instead when things change a bit?

Emma: If you want to get away just for a mini-break, you can find some really good local hotel deals around here.

Danae: I think it’s fair to say that you would want to leave Dubai if you’re talking about the heat because it’s suffocating, but if you’re looking at it from the perspective of whether there are still things to do here then it would be unfair to say you’ve got to leave. There’s so much on – the schools all have summer camps, or you can ski, or ice skate.

Franziska: There are music lessons, ballet courses, painting – actually we get all our ideas for days out from Time Out Kids!

Danae: JESS have got Dubai Drums coming in for the summer, the Centre of Musical Arts do music lessons for kids, and then there’s Dubai Summer Surprises…

Marie: I like Dubai in the summer. It’s quiet. It has a much slower pace of life, you’re not rushing around, it’s nice to just chill. You can go out later on and the roads are quieter. I’ll probably take the twins off to PeekaBoo. Last year, Cameron and I went with a friend and her son to Children’s City; that was really good. We could’ve been in there all day. We were out from 10 in the morning till eight at night, then we had coffee and cakes in Wafi. It was such a nice day. If we’re at home I’ll probably do all the things as a mummy that I never normally do, like baking!

Franziska: The positive thing for those of us who do stay here during the summer is that it bonds us. You’re all in the same boat, you all probably wish you were somewhere a bit cooler, but you’re not, you’re here, so let’s make the best out of it and come up with fun, original things to do.

Danae: I actually love the fact that I’m in my own four walls, with our things, and we’re not running to a schedule. That’s a great position to be in as a mother, as I get to spend time with Lara. That’s nice.

Marie: It’ll be interesting to see how Ramadan in August works. All the entertainment is in malls. Will all the coffee shops be closed?

Franziska: At the Madinat and the Mall of the Emirates there are screened-off cafés. It’s OK for kids to eat and drink anyway, so it’s not like they’re at risk.

Do you ever feel trapped here in summer?
Franziska: The biggest issue for me is not opening a window, being stuck in this constant air-conditioning. I get claustrophobic after a while, I hate not being outside.

Emma: When my boys look out the window and see that the sun’s shining, they don’t really understand that they can’t go outside.

Marie: Being from the UK you get this feeling like if the sun’s shining, you ought to be outside. It’s really hard to overcome. My husband always says summer in Dubai is just like winter in the UK, when you can’t go out because it’s freezing and raining.

Emma: But then you can put your wellies on and do forest walks.

Where would the kids rather be for summer: here or your home country?
Danae: Mine doesn’t know any better because we’re expats, she’s moved all over the place. I think as a parent, as long as you make it exciting they really don’t care.

Marie: Cameron’s a little bit different because he was brought up in Scotland and moved here when he was six, so when we visit everyone he grew up with he loves it.

Danae: My daughter’s the other way, whenever we go away she wants to go back to Dubai to see her friends here.

Emma: I think what’s important with children is that they know who their family is wherever they are – and they remember different things. At my husband’s parents’ house they have a bike each, and they associate going to Fiji with eating cupcakes!

Marie: My mother-in-law has a junk box full of old toys and the first thing Cameron does when he gets to his nana’s is get it out. The twins love playing with her jewellery too. But when I talk about going ‘home’ my husband always says, ‘But home is where we are.’

Do you have any tips on creative activities to do in summer?
Emma: Painting and potato stamps.

Franziska: Cutting things out using scissors and adding glue and glitter.

Marie: Last year we spent a whole morning playing waterparks under the carport with the hosepipe, it was fantastic!

Danae: I bought one of those little pools for the garden but the water came out boiling hot so it was a total waste of money.

Emma: My boys are just desperate to be outside running around and picking up leaves and sticks and what-not, being inside doesn’t last that long. The Al Ain Zoo is really nice for a day trip.

Danae: And have you seen all the museums at Sharjah? They’re great.

Marie: I went with school last year to the wildlife centre, that’s nice and it’s indoors.

Franziska: Another good place is the Discovery Centre at Dubai Aquarium. It’s pricey, but it’s a great little escape and the kids can touch the sea urchins.

Emma: During the twins’ first summer we went mall-walking every day.

Marie: We came when mine were six months old too. I spent my whole life bundling them up in the buggy and taking them to the mall just to get out of the house.

Danae: Wasn’t there meant to be a big edutainment centre at Dubai Mall?

Franziska: There will be a SEGA World and a Kidzania but none of it’s open yet. I’m sure they’ll open before summer. I spent a lot of time at Favourite Things when the girls were smaller, when it was in the Jumeirah location. But now they’ve closed that site and moved to Marina Mall.

Marie: It’s pricey there though – and when you’ve got three kids…

Franziska: It does add up – but on the other hand, somewhere where you can sit outside and have a coffee while you watch your kids? Now that is ideal. There’s a huge sandpit and the other thing that I really like is that it’s clean.

Emma: The ones in the malls are just disgusting. We went to one place with the twin club and we discovered they only cleaned it once a month!

Danae: When you think about it, if you can afford it then yes, there’s lots to do in the summer here. But if you don’t have the money to be paying for skiing and skating and this lesson and that lesson, there’s not really that much to do other than go to malls. You can’t walk around the parks.

Franziska: You have to find playgroups and go to people’s houses. You’ve really got to get organised.

Danae: And let’s face it, everybody feels relieved come September!
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