Living in Dubai and the lack of free play for toddlers


Lately, I have started having guilty feelings: my kids will never grow up to experience what I experienced while growing up – as long as we are living in Dubai. My son, Benjamin, most especially. Unlike Pristine who was already 3 years old when we relocated in 2007, Benjamin was born here.

Pristine has had lots of free play in the great outdoors, all throughout the year in Japan (well maybe except when it’s raining or snowing though those two seasons I wish they could experience too right now).

Benjamin is mostly indoors and I feel so bad about it because I know as children get older, physical activity play a key role in their ability to learn and it improves their cognitive function, concentration, social skills and mood.

We take him outside on the weekends but that’s about it. And only when the weather allows – maybe a few weeks more and then we’re stuck indoors as the desert heat starts to pounce.

Now that I am off on Saturdays too {I work full time 5 days a week}, I make it a point to take Benjamin to either to Safa Park or the play area inside the school where Pristine goes for Japanese language classes once a week. He lacks outdoor activities because we don’t live near a park so unlike boys his age in say, Japan or Philippines, his leg muscles are not that strong. He climbs very slowly and is very cautious. The first time he faced this rope and knots, he hesitated.

It’s like he doesn’t know what to do with it. And didn’t understand what they’re for.


We are not aiming to train him to be Spiderman or something (although he has demonstrated he’s got the potential) but just wanting him to be you know, a boy, who can climb trees and be more agile. 

Technology is partly to blame (and my less than stellar parenting with regards to this). Benjamin had been playing with the iPad more than necessary so I’ve decided to change it. I have hidden the iPad from him for two weeks now. Thankfully, he is not looking for it.

I grew up in the suburbs where there is plenty of free play. There was no time waster called the internet and iPads.

I would love to send my kids out the front door in the morning and tell them to come home when the street lights come on. Our parents used to do that but now, the problem is … there’s no one else out there. I wish we lived in a community where there are plenty of children his age. For now, it will be a weekly going out to the park for him.

Do you live in Dubai and have kids? What do you do for your children’s free play?

Ben out in the sun

Rough couple of days

Ben out in the sun


I’ve been having some rough days lately. Very busy with work. Very busy at home. Kids getting sick because of the changing weather, etc. I just wrote about children not having enough outdoor life in the UAE – I took them to an event last Saturday where there are plenty of green spaces and a bouncy castle.

The bouncy castle – the black hole that sucks children and then you won’t see them unless you peel them off from there and drag them home.

While the weather here is really great and sometimes I can even use the word ‘cold’, even if you have to shiver at the thought of Dubai as cold – when the sun is out, it’s definitely not cold at all.

Benjamin played too much under the sun and I should have known there’s something hidden in that very behaved and proper behavior on the way home in his car seat. And his reddish cheeks should’ve told me there is something more to it. He slept at 7:30 pm (actually, we all slept that early, too tired) and was ok the next morning.

After breakfast, he threw up.

Now, throwing up is alien territory to me. Pristine has never done that before and Benjamin is a pretty healthy little guy who rarely gets sick and has never vomited too. Nothing like your child vomiting can make you feel like an incapable mother. That’s what I felt.

I gave him warm milk to soothe his empty tummy and he was fine a bit…but the next 10 minutes, projectile vomiting! Fast as a flash, I dressed up and decided to go to the hospital.

We went to the emergency unit of Latifa Hospital (formerly Al Wasl Hospital). A little tidbit about this government hospital: if you have a government health card and taken in you won’t have to pay anything if you’re assessed as an emergency case.

The doctor suspected mild dehydration so prescribed Motillum to stop the vomiting, oral rehydration salt and  lots of other liquids. Benjamin was already feeling fine at the hospital, playing around.

Ben at hospital

But his eyes looked tired and he didn’t have any appetite except for crackers – these are one of those moments when I wish I was still breastfeeding. He did not throw up again after that.

Then this morning, I got a call from the nanny: “Benjamin has broken out in hives, eyes swollen shut, itching and in pain.” She didn’t need to tell me he’s crying. I can hear his cries in the background.

He ate something with nuts which he is allergic of. I ran back home like a Kenyan sprinter and prayed the anti-histamine would work, and work fast. It took a bit of time but I’m glad it did. We just had a trip to the emergency yesterday, who wants a repeat performance of that?!

Saturday at Safa Park

photo (71)

I’m quite happy with the weather right now and on top of it, the extra day off that my company implemented since December of last year. I used to work six days a week, with only Friday and Saturday afternoon off (I work on Saturdays from 9 am to 1:30 pm) and have been jealous of other working moms who has more weekend time than I do. I’ve been really jealous of people who has two full days off for the weekend. I prayed for it.

It took seven years to have my wish granted.

An extra day off only means one thing for me: extra time with my kids.

Pristine attends Japanese language classes (to brush up on her Japanese language as it has started to deteriorate since our relocation here) on Saturdays near Safa Park, one of Dubai’s very big, very green parks. Now that I am off on Saturdays too, I thought it would be nice to take Benjamin out to run in the park, with just the green grass beneath and the sky above him. Just run wild, like what 2 year old boys do. All. The. Time.

And the weather in Dubai is really nice at this time of the year.

Safa Park Dubai

He tried all the different slides. The blue one…

Ben at Safa Park

the yellow…

Ben at Safa Park

Got hooked with the swing.

Ben at Safa Park

And generally had a lot of fun. I had a blast as well – nothing makes a mom happy than seeing her little one smiling like this.

Mom and Ben

His favorite slide – the purple one. The one that drops higher and the one where he gets to slide down with me!

Ben at Safa Park

I won’t lie, it was a bit exhausting to chase him around and go up and down the high slides but it was totally worth it. Last night, he scrolled through the photos and videos I took from my phone and said, “park, park!” I can tell he wants to go there again – so off we’re going again before it gets too hot!

This was the highlight of my weekend, what’s yours?

Me and my baby

Weaned. Finally.

Me and my baby

Hi, friends. I have big news: the weaning battle is over. And the boobies are victorious!

I have been breastfeeding for almost 25 months but who’s counting? Certainly not the beneficiary of this wonderful thing called extended breastfeeding. Did I imagine him still wanting the breast at 25 months? Honestly, no. I assumed he’d shift his focus to food (he eats a lot), toy trains or books rather than boobs. An attempt to wean him off a few days before he turned 2 years old last October was unsuccessful. I turned ‘cold turkey’, very soft with tough love.

I stopped the whole weaning business and resigned to the fact that he might nurse until I turn him over to his kindergarten teacher. That. bad.

One day in November when I was contemplating on ways to wean him while daydreaming of long, restful night’s sleep, uninterrupted, and saying goodbye to nursing bras and breastfeeding covers, I got an invitation to travel to Turkey.

I wanted to wean to be able to take care of myself more and spend more time with my other child who feels left behind when I am pinned to the bed by the nursing toddler on my limited time home.

I knew it was the universe telling me to let go, giving me a chance to finally wean my (big, grown up) baby. We are talking about a ‘baby’ who is big enough to eat or drink by himself, put slippers on, operate an iPad like a boss and strong enough to lift my shirt off when he wants to!

breastfeeding 25 months

Three days and three nights in far away Turkey…it sounded so exciting but at the same time, scary. When you’re a mom, you can’t really go away without leaving your heart home. It was a hard decision, but backed up by my husband (“you’ve done so much, it’s time you take a break”) and my son’s carer who helped Benjamin cope up with the sleepless nights looking for the human pacifier.

I flew to Istanbul but my mind and my heart was left in Dubai. Benjamin was holding it close – I have not slept well while I was there and constantly thought of him.

But the time I came back, he was running into my arms but for a change, did not yank my shirt, demanding to nurse. I felt so happy as well as emotional – this is it. We’re done! He walks across the room busy with a toy train or a book even if I’m there…it feels weird he’s not climbing up to me in the sofa to nurse, especially if I think that he is my last baby and I’m not going to breastfeed again.

But, I am finally free.

The night after I came back from Turkey, I had a full 8 hours of sleep last night. And why it’s worth a mention? Because this has not happened for more than 2 years!

I can’t believe this wonderful time has come for us. TWENTY FIVE MONTHS – I think that in this age, it’s a long time and I have done my service well. I loved breastfeeding, every moment of it – I love how he looks up at me, I love the warmth, the special mother and child bond so now he’s off it, I kind of miss breastfeeding more than I ever thought that I would.

But then, I am also very happy to have my body back to myself.

Benjamin is two!

ben is two 2

Yesterday, someone turned two years old.

This is the part where parents say the cliche, “I can’t believe he’s two already!” but no, I so feel it. This is real. He is two. Yesterday he was a baby and I can hold all of him in my arms. Today he is two. Tomorrow he might be 18 and go out that door to date his girlfriend. My boy is growing up, much too fast.

How does this happen? Where does the time go? Someone stop the ride! But the truth is: you cannot stop the ride. You can only hope to slow it down a little to enjoy it for as long as possible.   You look once and your children are small and look to you for everything. Then, within the blink of an eye, you are waving to them as you drop them off for their first year of college.  I am actually holding back tears now just thinking about it.

Happy birthday, Benjamin. The little guy who takes a very big space in mama’s heart.

Why I stopped weaning my child

ben toddler

In a few days, it will be 24 months since I started breastfeeding my son. I’m proud of this feat and I’m happy to provide my child with brain-building, immune and nervous system-boosting, dental-health guarding breastmilk.

But you see, 24 months is already a long time and surely a night of uninterrupted sleep is not too much to ask at this point, no? We co-sleep with a toddler bed attached to ours and he crawls in to feed, usually 2-3 times at night when he’s rustled by either thirst, nightmares or just for comfort.  He can’t sleep without nursing too, if that’s worth a mention.

When he lifts my shirt at night, I am just too tired to stop him and just give up, like saying, “Ok, go on, help yourself!”

Mind you, during day time, I can distract him from constantly climbing up to me to feed. He eats well and is thriving ok without breastmilk, especially when I am at work. But it’s at night when he becomes unstoppable.

Ben eating

During my 4 days of off for the Islamic holiday we had here, I prepared for Operation: Weaning. Me against the toddler! I thought I am prepared for the battle but it involved a lot of crying and tantrums and I went soft. This breastmilk addict child of mine is no way giving up his stash. But what is most difficult is that he kind of developed a trauma – the idea of saying goodbye to the boobies resonated to him like he was saying goodbye to mom. Like it’s not only the boobs that will be gone but the whole mom thing.

And of course he didn’t like it.

He became very clingy, wouldn’t go to his nanny when I am around. It became difficult for me to go to work because he would chase me to the door and let out a cry that will break your heart. And yes, I now take a bath at home with him sitting at the corner of the bathroom, playing with his toy car and constantly peeking if I am still in the shower or if I disappeared into thin air. These past few days, I cannot even sit down to eat properly without Benjamin clinging to me like a baby chimpanzee.

I say, enough.


So for now, I give up on weaning my child off the boob business. And it’s ok. I’d give him a little more time. We will go slow (but hopefully not until he’s going to kindergarten!). Cue that Time magazine controversial cover on extended breastfeeding.

Are you a breastfeeding mom? Do you have (successful) weaning tactics to share?

Ben and his nanny

Small children are born multilinguists

Pristine and Benjamin

Hello beautiful people! Hope you’re all having a better week than I am. I can’t believe Thursday has come again. Work had been hectic, as always, every after vacation. You get that feeling that your body is at the work place but you somehow left your brain at somewhere.

And then the paper work just piles up.

The two kids are at home because it’s still summer vacation, at least for the next 3 weeks more. I spent two weeks with them at home this summer and though I get frustrated with things I couldn’t do when they’re around, I terribly miss being with them, to hug, cuddle and kiss them at any given time.

Pristine is excited to go back to school again, or at least, get out of the house and spend time outside without bathing in sweat. It’s still very hot in Dubai and humidity is at killer high. No outdoor life yet.

Meanwhile, Benjamin is turning 22 months in a couple of weeks. There had been a lot of changes. Like, he had his first real boy haircut.


He has become very playful that when he wakes up randomly at 4am, like today, he’ll motion me to peel myself off from bed and play with him in the living room. I’m having a grand time (no sarcasm) except that I really would love some decent sleep soon. Hmm, maybe in a few months more.

He seems desperate to talk, resorting to bird language…he sounds like he’s chirping the words, it’s so funny. He can make out words like papa, mama, bye, buh-bye, de (to refer to the boobies), de (again) for candy. What he lacks in speaking, he compensates on comprehension…in at least 3 different languages!

Ben and his nanny

I speak to him in English, mostly and he perfectly understands. I also use a Philippine dialect spoken in the south of the country, the language I grew up with. His nanny, who takes care of him until I go back home from work speaks Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, my husband talks to him in Japanese. ALL of these languages he understands by the way he reacts to what we say!

Some people think that exposing babies to more than one language confuses them and that it will delay his speech. But that is a MYTH.

Great read about raising a multilingual child:

Two or More Languages in Early Childhood: Some General Points and Practical Recommendations
Raising a bilingual child: The top five myths
Ask a Linguist FAQ – Bilingual and Multilingual Children: A Different Perspective

I admit – I’ve had apprehensions and thought of telling our nanny to only speak to him in English but held myself. And observed my son. The rapport between them is amazing. He fully understands what she says and he is not less comprehensive with regards to the languages my husband and I are using. He understands us too.

Now, we patiently wait what language he will use in his first complete sentence!

How to teach a toddler to smile for the camera?

There are 3,000 photos on my iPhone. With Ben smiling in it? Maybe 0.001%.

Benjamin is a happy baby but when you see his pictures, you wouldn’t think he is. He looks at the camera in that pensive kind of way. He stares at it and the idiot who always make funny stunts and high pitched voice desperate to make him smile.

Most of the time, the smiles come from the people around me. I know I look silly trying so hard.

It’s HARD to get a good picture of toddlers, and you can’t expect the perfect eye-contact and a cherubic smile every time you try. Some days it just doesn’t happen. The “some days” somehow became everyday.

I have given up on trying to make him smile for the camera.

But last night, I attempted again and … it happened.

He stared, eased up, looked at my face and copied it. Bless.

Here are some great suggestions on how to get your toddler to smile for the camera. I will definitely use some soon!

Oh and just to show how it is very easy to make him laugh – only takes a finger and I’m not even tickling him!

(Just ignore my random talking. Ok, thanks, bye!)

Worst allergic reaction

Cherry on top.

I will never see these words the same way again. That ‘cherry on top’ thing landed us in the emergency room yesterday. What a way to spend the last weekend of 2012.

It was a typical Friday yesterday. It started early, as usual because our baby boy? He wakes up extra early on mom’s only day off. I don’t mind, really, as I see it as extra time to spend with him although I probably yawn a thousand times before it hits noon.

We had leftover ice cream cake from Pristine’s birthday last week and the big box was taking too much space in the freezer. I asked Pristine to take it out and we’ll eat the remaining cake because I am a bad mother like that – feeding ice cream cake to her kid on breakfast! At least it was for dessert.

Ben reached out for the red cherry on top, sitting on the frozen whipped cream. I remembered, today he turns 14 months! I gave it to him as a treat and he munched it with delight. (He already had his proper breakfast earlier. ) Minutes later, he started scratching his neck, his eyes and got rashes all over. What now?

Was it the cherry? or the bit of whipped cream on the cherry?

The rashes spread like crazy all over his body and his eyes swollen shut. He cries like he’s in pain. He’s breathing well so I know this is not the worst allergic reaction (anaphylactic). Ten minutes after the explosive allergic reaction, I jumped into my feet and gathered all his things, my wallet and left the house without looking how I look like in the mirror (we just woke up and I have not combed my hair nor worn bra…thankfully I had a thick-ish black cardigan on).

It’s the worst allergic reaction so far. Benjamin’s face was unrecognizable. Pristine was crying so much looking at her baby brother in such condition.

~ baby boy playing before the allergy attack ~

We got to the hospital fast thanks to the taxi driver who could be charged with traffic fines for speeding. I know he must have wished I called the ambulance!

The doctor ordered immediate cortisone shots so the nurses inserted IV at the back of his little hand. And the nurse was not successful on the first try! Arrrgghh!! She has to do it again on the other hand! It was a pain to watch. We were told he needs to be admitted for observation for at least 5 hours. With allergy symptoms still present, they gave him another medicine. The itching has stopped but he is still red, puffy and teary.

And very irritable.

You don’t want to see how he looked like! I feel so bad why I have to give him that damn cherry. Or was it the tinge of cream? Allergy sucks and it doesn’t play fair. How on Earth will I know he is allergic to a preserved cherry?!

The next hours at the hospital was spent restraining him from pulling the IV drip. Super curious toddler just won’t give it up! Finally he slept but didn’t want to lie down in bed so I was holding him for two hours. The rashes went away but his eyelids are still puffed up. Poor, poor baby.

So that’s it! No more cherries or whipped cream in the house. Not even a mention of those words!

Is my baby allergic to eggs? The verdict.

The emergency number on speed dial, I attempted to give the baby eggs. Or something with egg in it to see his reaction to it. We needed this terrifying initiation to qualify for MMR vaccine. I did not have the guts to give him whole eggs (yet) but instead reached out for a piece of brownie baked by Pristine.

It has eggs in it and IF the he reacts to it, at least it will not be that bad because it’s not really egg-egg. It’s gooey chocolatey stuff with eggs in it. He crushed the piece of brownie with his little hands, slathered it around his mouth, tilted his head and…

Nothing happened!! For the first heart-stopping moments, I just looked at him, stunned. No rashes! I’m almost teary. No hives, no screaming, no nothing. Just a baby enjoying his morsel of brownie!

Do you know what this means? It means MORE variety of food for him! It means he can have my favorite Japanese egg dish of sweet rolled eggs (tamagoyaki), endless combination of omelettes, cookies, pastries. Eggnog! It means not freaking out to check each and every ingredient and being suspecting even after doing so. Eggs just happen to be in so many sorts of food from muffins to meatloaf!

Now that I know he can tolerate eggs? It means peace of mind and a little sanity.

* My other child Pristine cannot even touch raw eggs without having allergic reactions until now (she’s 9 next month). It’s getting better though as she is able to tolerate small amounts of food with egg in it. She has not eaten whole eggs in her entire life (yet) and we’re still dealing with the stigma of food allergies from people (even from blood relatives!) who don’t understand that allergies are real.