Across Ireland two year old Johnny’s and Mary’s are spending their morning’s twiddling their thumbs and dragging their blankys from one couch to another, with one eye on the Disney channel and the other on their soggy cornflakes. Their afternoons might possibly involve tagging along with Mammy to her friend’s house or the shop. The highlight of the week might be an outing to a sofa play centre or the park for just long enough to lick the bars and pick up the germs that you tried to avoid by cancelling coffee earlier in the week with your friend who had two sick kids.
Across Abu Dhabi, two year old Isaacs and Aisha’s are spending their mornings in nursery school, learning how to play, share, when to be quiet, when to be noisy, colours, shapes, animals, the lot. These baby boot camps run from 8a.m. to 2p.m, many come with full uniform and, much to the delight of the parents who cannot wait to get their child into the education system, some even have books. So while these baby Einstein’s are learning the difference between the primary and secondary colours, my little genius is picking cheerios out of his nappy for sport.
These nursery schools are not to be confused with crèche or daycare facilities at home. They are not daycare, they are schools for pre-schoolers. Bearing in mind that private education is the only option in the Middle East and the majority of Irish expats opt for the British system as opposed to the American, German, French, Pakistani or Canadian schools. Formal education in the British system starts at aged three, once the child is toilet trained he’s ready for off! Surely a school uniform and a seven thirty start is a stretch for a three year old, and surely the elastic snaps when you expect a two year old to attend full time nursery and learn Arabic! However under the influence of just about every other mother in Abu Dhabi, the peer pressure wore me down and I began to tinker with the notion of enrolling my soother sucking sweetie into nursery.
More in depth consideration brought me to think that I was in no rush to expand the school run, have another lunch to make or part with wads of cash every month to educate the baby, so my little Johnny is a stay-at-home baby with his stay-at-home mommy. Every day we’re learning, yesterday I learned that he was able to turn on the outside tap, drag the hosepipe to the back door and flood the sitting room. Today he learned that mommy doesn’t mind him tipping full bottles of shampoo down the loo, if it means that she gets to have a coffee and a goss on the phone for ten minutes. So everyday we’re learning, together.
This begin said, dreams of roaming down the shopping aisles of supermarkets without having tantrums and tears every step of the way and thoughts of going to the pool without an armful of inflatable toys and plastic cups began to haunt my every day. It became my getaway, dreaming of all the things I could do between the hours of nine and noon, if they were my own… train for the marathon, write a book, take a shower in peace, the list was endless. Staunch in my decision not to send the baby to nursery but green with envy at the thought of my friends having a full morning “sans children”, to do anything they please, I became curious at how one friend in particular chose to spend her morning. “Oh we just all sit in the viewing room, there are cameras everywhere in the nursery and the viewing room has over twenty screens so we can see our little darlings at play, some of the other mum’s bring books but not me, I don’t want to miss a thing” she said. Pulling out her phone she began to show me clips of the child at play in nursery.
Shocked to learn that voyeurism was in full swing in the UAE but happy in the knowledge that while I might not be spending my morning doing exactly as I wish , I’m certainly wasn’t sitting there looking on .