Parental Engagement meets Hakuna Matata

Parental Engagement vs. Hakuna Matata
Parental Engagement vs. Hakuna Matata

Most schools in Dubai have an incredible challenge when it comes to the pickup/drop off process and parking that, inevitably, has to take place to get out little ones into, what we hope will be, the start of a wonderful future for them.

On the list of things I will remind my darling little angels about is how I parked 10km away from the school (the closest parking – atleast it feels that way), and walked them up the hill (both ways, of course, and no, it wasn’t really a hill,  more like a small sand dune) in the searing Dubai heat (think 42 degrees (c) at 730 in the morning) with either of them or both in tow at any given time dropping one off and then the other (one at school and the other at nursery).   I won’t let them forget about this at all.  I will remind them at periodic tense times in their life (and most certainly ours when they hit around 14) in hopes that it will stick with guilt they might carry around with them until they have kids of their own (ok, I’m not wishing guilt on them – well, maybe a little – along with the projectile vomiting moments – just a little bit of guilt).

The timing is set at 0735 a.m. sharp.  In the meantime, the kids play outside (yes, in 42 degrees ) until the golden gates of school open up and their frazzled teacher makes her way to coordinate the ‘buddy system’ into school (“Hold your friends hand”, “She isn’t my friend”, “Hold your neighbours hand”, “She’s not my neighbour”, “Hold any hand then!” and then she proceeds to grab the hand of her 18 month old sister who should be heading off to nursery).

I’m off on my side of the ‘playground’ and the mummy-patrol is on the other side.  And, while I really want to be invited to their little club gathering in the school coffee shop to talk about the genius children they are raising (and yes, I actually do want to be invited, by the way), I gather up my toddler who is now laying on the ground looking like she will melt into the fake grass with the wannabe shades that are suppose to keep us cool and we head off to trek up the hill again with her face turning a bright shade of tomato to our car (where we shift from 42 degrees to 18 in 2 seconds).

The same then happens when we go to pick her up in the afternoon.  Only this time, I leave about 50 minutes earlier than her ‘home time’ just to get a closer spot (because by now it’s 52 degrees) and I only live 3 km from the school!  We are given the opportunity to park not at the school itself but at the mall across the road, or down side streets, or in the middle of the street or wherever else an SUV might take you.  My wife calls me a ‘traffic complainer’ because its a daily ritual to discuss the ways and means of traffic in that 3km radius I navigate several times a day between both kids.  I would like to remind my lovely wife that she is not the one doing it 🙂   (Love you my darling, amazing, beautiful, hardworking wife – please don’t hit me!)  🙂

So on this day, my car is parked along with all of the other parents at every which angle (no rhyme or reason to parking and certainly no rules apply).  Both kids are ‘cooling’ with steam rising off of their heads back in the air conditioned car and we wait.  We wait.  We wait.  We wait because 5 cars are parked in front of us, the side of us and behind us as those parents are making the same journey to do the same thing – all 2000 parents, nanny, drivers or whoever else is picking up (and thats just our school – don’t imagine the other 4 on the same street).   So, we wait.

So we are waiting for some tired and hot parent to bring their kids out so that we can escape the vehicular carnage that we have found ourselves in.  This lovely woman (I use the term as about as loosely as I can on a public forum in the Middle East) comes up to my car (clearly the heat has fried her brain).

“How do you park like this?!?!”  She shouts through he window.

I almost don’t want to roll down the window because this is just not going to be good.

“I’m parked fine” I say nicely (remember, kids in the car, focus, hold your tongue).

“Thats not right! Look at your car”

Now all of this is being discussed in Arabic and my daughter is fluent and there are times I forget this.

“What would you like me to do?  YOU are parked in front of me.  Another car is parked in front of you. There are cars all around us.  Where do you suggest I go?”  That was about as diplomatic as I could get at that point without getting deported.

“Haram! Haram! Everything is Haram!” She shouts at me and storms off to another poor woman (who is the one that parked in front of her and is tucking her child in her car to leave).  This poor woman (Western origin) has no idea what fury is going to be thrown at her now and all I’m thinking is ‘Please don’t do this in front of my kids’.  I certainly don’t want them witnessing sand wrestling of two mothers at school.

I wait.  Saffiya tucks her head around the corner of my seat not seeing the two women now fighting and pointing at each other and the previous instigator has now tapped the other woman on the chest and the other woman has pulled out her phone to take a picture of her number plate so I continue to keep Saffiya occupied in conversation.

“Baba, why is this woman talking to you like that?” She says so innocently and oblivious to the craziness that is happening outside and most certainly what heat does to insane adults in a sandy parking lot forever away from the school.

“Habibty, she was upset because of the parking”

“But Baba, thats not right.  I don’t like how she is talking to you.”  She pats my shoulder.

“I know baby but its finished and we can go”  I say as we pull away finally and whatever lives have been spared (carefully planned off of school property to ensure no additional liabilities result of an assault on school property  – clever they are!).

“Baba, I don’t like how she talked to you.  I don’t care about her.  You are my Baba and I love you and no one should talk to you that way. Don’t worry Baba.”  She sat back and put on her headphones just as casually as she took them off from the long wait so she could watch Lion King and sing, at the top of her beautiful lungs, Hakuna Matata.

Little did she know, that song meant just that.  And those little words out of her mouth when she heard someone talking badly to someone that she loved humbled me that afternoon.

In this part of the world, aggression toward women (in any form) is prohibited (in spite of what you may think reading this from other parts of the globe).  It’s not tolerated and it’s dealt with very swiftly here.  It’s also a challenge for a man because when it comes to defending himself, at times, he can be on the short end of the stick if any conflict arises with a female.  And for me, I don’t want my daughters thinking its ok to let someone talk to them or anyone that way without properly resolving the situation (we did have a very long conversation about this in our ‘family meeting’ that evening in understanding what conversations were important to have and what might be better to drop).   Thats something I have to deal with but I’d much rather my girls not see aggression because they will see enough of that when they get older in the real world.  I want them to continue to have that innocence that Saffiya had just shown to me out of caring, compassion and protectiveness.

I was happy because she actually defended me.  She defended me in a situation where I couldn’t really defend myself in a way.

This wasn’t some brawl – it was a simple heated conversation.  But I did think that it clicked something in her head that day as she continues to understand the social situations out there in the world.

For my little girl defending me that day, she was my hero.

So Hakuna Matata!

P.S. To the schools – really – you need to come up with a better way of efficiently handling pickups/drop offs – especially in searing temperatures because this parental ‘camaraderie’ is not a good thing at 230p.m. in 50 degrees.

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