‘Mummy, please can I have a yoyo? Please Mummy, pleeease?’
I looked at his pleading little face, wobbled, but then managed to harden my heart and firmly lead the way out of Toys R Us. Oldest son trailed after me, downcast, dejected and defeated.
Now, for those of you who think it’s mean to deny a child a small plastic toy that costs a mere Dhs19 (four quid), please let me explain my strategy.
I refused the request partly because oldest son had only been given a new yoyo the previous day which he’d then lost inside *Mini Monsters. The little chap, I reasoned, has to start taking responsibility for his belongings at some point, especially when he’s been advised to leave such treasures ‘at home’ or ‘in the car’.
But, the main reason I closed my ears, is because when you live in Dubai, you are constantly reminded of the fact that while your child may not grow up to be a glue sniffing, graffiti scrawling hooligan (please note I said ‘may not’), they are most definitely in danger of growing up to be horrifically and obscenely spoiled.
If you’ve ever seen one of those ghastly American reality TV shows called things like ‘Hollywood Celebrity Sprogs Unleashed!’ you’ll know exactly what I mean. Designer-clad brats barely old enough to wipe their own bottoms, are showered with everything money can buy. The result is that none of them have an ounce of sense or personality between them, and their brains are pickled from expensive illegal substances by the time they are 12.
While brain-pickling isn’t so likely to happen in good old-zero tolerance Dubai, producing what is now routinely termed as an ‘expat brat’ certainly is. And at no point is this more obvious than at the dreaded class birthday party, where ‘one-upmanship’ has become a national pastime among parents.
Take Alpha Mum. She sends out the invitations to ‘Alfie’s Yacht Party’ six weeks prior to the event. Everyone in the class is invited, as well as 20 of Alfie’s ‘non-school’ friends, their siblings and their parents. The invitations are printed on those emergency blow-up lifejackets that are stowed under airplane seats. Alpha Mum, who used to be a ‘marketing whizz’, points out that this is a nice touch as they can all actually wear their invitations on the day. How very novel.
The party is a total success (everything Alpha Mum does always is) and the children go especially bonkers when the banana boats and parasailing chutes come out. Meanwhile, the dads talk ‘engineering’ as the yacht sails around The World, and the mums (clad in their best maxi dresses and sunhats) top up their tans as they sip Moet on the poop deck. Alpha Mum, aware that she’s trumped everyone else’s party for the school year (and it’s still only November) then attempts to do down the whole thing by telling everyone that they ‘do this sort of thing’ every weekend. After all, if you had a super-duper 50-footer, wouldn’t you?
Not to be outdone, Mumbai Mum has been planning her bash for at least six months. Little Ganesh’s seventh birthday party, is, in her words, ‘a most auspicious occasion,’ that warrants invitations being sent out to Dubai’s Indian Consul General, Aishwariya Rai and Shah Rukh Khan. As it turns out, ‘Aish and Shah’ can’t make it as they’re ‘too busy working on their latest Pepsi commercial’. But, they send a Youtube clip wishing Ganesh ‘a brilliant birthday’ and the Consul General is happy to oblige as the VVIP.
Mumbai Mum doesn’t believe in doing things by halves, so she books the Godolphin Ballroom at the Emirates Towers. She also prides herself on the fact that unlike all the other class parties, hers is an evening event running from 7.30pm to midnight, with a sit down ‘Gala’ dinner and a floorshow featuring River Dance. In all, over 100 people attend Ganesh’s birthday celebration. He knows nine of them (the rest of his classmates can’t come because they have to be in bed by eight) and he only likes one – his cousin Rakesh. But, honour is satisfied, and the family are still opening presents from the event the following February.
Lebanese Mum is just as competitive on the party circuit – but instead of inviting the whole class, ‘Laila’s’ birthday bash is a ‘girls only’ event in the spa at the Burj Al Arab. The party begins with all the little girls being picked up from their homes in a chauffeur-driven stretch limo where they are served pink fizzy juice in plastic Champagne flutes.
When they arrive, their afternoon of ‘VIP fun’ includes bodywraps, manis, pedis, blowdry’s and a makeover followed by dressing up, a mini catwalk show and photo-shoot session (Lebanese Mum owns an exclusive fashion boutique on the Beach Road). Then the guests are given a parting gift that costs even more than the one they brought for the birthday girl, and they are all chauffeur-driven home again. When questioned about what she might plan for Laila’s 18th (she is now only five after all) Lebanese Mum laughs, but says in all seriousness, ‘Why a nose job and implants of course!’
And that leaves the rest of us expat mums scrabbling around trying to throw a party that, if not on the same level, at least comes in at a respectable second. Traveling petting zoos are duly booked, as are crowds of clowns, face painters, balloon benders, bouncy castles, magicians, parking attendants and of course, the caterers.
But it’s a jungle out there….
Fashionista Mum pips MOM (Morally Outraged Mum) at the post when she books the platinum package at Kidville which features The Little Meastros live band and a puppet show. This venue gains huge respectability because Angelina Jolie and Madonna once used the New York Kidville branch to throw a party for their sprogs. MOM is not amused because this only leaves her with Encounter Zone (too dark), Kidzania (eye-wateringly expensive) and the dreaded Chucky Cheese. ‘Well,’ she sniffs when I see her at drop off time, ‘I think it’s absolutely disgusting!’
So, do I bow to peer pressure and throw a hugely expensive party we can ill afford – sacrificing our summer holiday into the bargain? It’s either that or next terms school fees…
Up until now you see, we’ve happily got away with having 10 or so little friends over for a play in our posh paddling pool, some birthday cake and a traditional bunce-filled party bag. But now I feel pressured into keeping up with the unbelievably high status quo, which means oldest son’s 18th will have to be like Oprah’s six-month ‘goodbye’ bonanza if he’s even to appreciate it.
Or, do I just say ‘stick it up your jumper. A grand on a party for six year-olds (that’s GBP not Dirhams) is just too bloody much.’?
And when I questioned one party-throwing mum friend, she said, ‘Honestly? Deep down it’s a relief when a parent doesn’t bother to have a class party. If everyone does it, that’s 20 plus parties you have to attend and buy gifts for every 12 months. Now, if you have two or three kids, and you triple that, you’re looking at having to go to 75 parties every year. And then, you then feel obliged to throw your ‘flippin’ own too!’
She added, ‘We’re all sick to the back teeth with kids’ parties, but we’re all either too polite, or too competitive to admit it. It’s insane!’
I thought about this for a moment, and then made a decision. ‘Right,’ I said to oldest son, ‘You know that super-fast-stunt-twisting-intergalactic-LED yoyo you’ve been after?’
He nodded with baited breath. ‘Well, let’s go to Toys R Us and get it for you. And after that, we’ll have a chat about who you want over for your birthday tea.’
‘Oh thank you Mummy!’ he cried. ‘Thank you! Thank you! Can you fill the pool up too?’
‘Yes son, I certainly can.’
I knew that bribe would come in handy…
*Mini Monsters is a large indoor play area on Sheikh Zayed Road