Deepika Gupta or better known as Dee, and I were the founding mothers at Homegrown Nursery 6 years back, and we have re-connected through the amazing channels that often happens in Dubai, and it has been great to sit down to talk to her about her Marina Mums portal that can be found on Facebook. It has been nice to remember her infectious laugh and bubbly nature, and to talk about her relationship with her two daughters.
What inspired you to set up Marina Mums, a portal that now has 3,000 members? – congratulations!
Marina Mums was started out of pure desperation! I had left a corporate job and moved to suburbia (Marina) with a newborn. I needed mummy friends!
It started by adding 5-7 mums whom I had met while taking the baby for a stroll, mainly to stay in touch with all of them at once.
Just by typing where and when we would meet by the pool or beach, we could coordinate a little baby group! (This was, of course, before the convenience of whatsapp groups.)
Within a year, our little baby group triggered amazing interest amongst mums in the neighbourhood and the number of mums quickly reached 500.
I used to hold regular playdates in my back garden organised and arranged by the mums. We had the artistic mums conducting painting workshops whilst the sculptors helped kids make sand castles on the beach; professional drama coaches started story-telling sessions. As more and more mums pitched in their talent, there was no stopping the tide. It helped that the Marina itself is a family-oriented, child-friendly area with lots of ready entertainment for the kids in terms of walkways (where mums can walk and jog together), play areas, pools, cafes and, of course, the beach.
Our little group was not so little anymore. It grew exponentially, just by word of mouth as Dubai mums clearly yearned for a community spirit, a sense of belonging and a support network. The group became a virtual family where mums could borrow a push-chair from each other, mattresses to accommodate house guests, or get a friendly opinion on the neighbourhood nurseries.
Soon, as word got around, neighbourhood cafes and start-up businesses started inviting the Marina Mums over for a free coffee or breakfast, in exchange for an earnest review of their services.
Any businesses that now opens up in the Marina seek our stamp of approval and the Marina Mums love to lend their support!
How can mums benefit or what can they find on the Facebook Community Portal, Marina Mums?
Marina Mums is an amazing online support group for mums living in the Marina and the rest of the ‘new Dubai’ areas. The group has been online for the last 7 years and has a vast pool of information, reviews, personal recommendations, debate and discussions on parenting styles.
Marina Mums as a group boasts a large database of some of the most talented and well-accomplished mums in the city, from medical advisors who generously offer free services to other mums to teachers, speech and language therapists offering one-to-one support and free advice. Photographers , and mummy entrepreneurs.
We often get posts of mum just wanting to meet someone for coffee near their building. I love it when i see the forum being used to socialise , feel a little like a mummy cupid!
On Facebook, the group comes alive, bubbling over with interactive activity between mums, straight-from-the-heart non-judgemental advice and an earnest exchange of well-researched information.
Do these mums strictly have to live in the Marina?
Initially, the group focused on providing much-needed support to mums in the Marina. However, in recent years, it has extended to include mums from surrounding areas. I remember when I ran story-telling sessions for 3-7 year olds, free of charge, we had mums strolling in with cookies and cake and the number of kids attending shot up to 50 in each session, until it looked and felt like a neighbourhood street party!
There were mums from the Ranches, Meadows and Greens and if they didn’t mind the long drive, I didn’t mind including them. Now we have mums who are living in other countries and relying on support from the Marina Mums to get insight on schooling and life in Dubai.
But all meet ups happen strictly within the Marina Area. I guess thats why our meet ups have 40-sometimes even 50 mums at an event coz its convenient.
What school did you choose for your children? What were your priorities when choosing a school in Dubai for them?
Saira (year 4) and Annika (year 2) have been at GEMS Wellington International School since FS 1. They have been blessed with the most remarkable teachers so far and amazing friends who have been with them since the beginning. I chose the British Curriculum for them as I fell in love with the strategies employed, particularly ‘free flow’ activities centred on the Montessori approach.
The location of the school is quite convenient for us as well, not to mention its close proximity to MOE, where I spend stop-gap time on the days that my girls have different pick-up schedules.
I like schools that are a part of a community , connected by public transportation , a cinema , shops and park close by and WIS has all of that!
I also find WIS well-equipped to deal with the individual needs of my children as it has a well-consolidated Individual Educational Programmes.
I know you are extremely organised, can you give three tips on how other mums can make September a little easier when school starts?
We started the last week of the summer by re-arranging the girls’ cupboards and showing them how to organise and take responsibility for their school wear and bags.
We try to celebrate the upcoming school re-opening by talking about it often and making tagging and labelling uniforms and books, a family activity. I find it helps build up anticipation and excitement!
I have also planned to ease the transition to the new academic year by giving them settling-in time for a fortnight before they begin after-school activities.
How do you ensure quality time with your children when the school term starts?
I start winding them down earlier, by tucking them into bed for stories and cuddles about half an hour before bedtime. The girls have been writing a holiday journal as well and we like to jot down a few lines before bedtime. I try to keep the ‘wicked hours’ between 5 and 7 pm as calm as possible. I have also imposed an iPhone ban on myself during those hours so the girls don’t see me perpetually distracted.
What after school acitivies do you choose for your children and why?
I have been lucky to have the opportunity to expose them to a range of activities since they were quite young. It helps to live in the Marina as we have access to most activities within walking distance. Saira, my older one, has expressed great interest in Drama and she learns the piano, for which I do have to nudge her often to practice. Annika does swimming and hip hop classes, which seem to be her forte.
Can you name three local or international websites that you find useful for yourself or for the family?
TimeOut Kids. I love their ‘Best in Dubai’ lists; Facebook, as I can’t get anything done without it and Instagram; I love this app!
What values do you hope to instill in your children as they grow?
To me tolerance is essential – tolerance towards other religions, cultures and customs, especially as our kids are growing up in a multi-cultural society.
I would also like to instil in them, the importance of tolerance towards kids who are different from them in abilities and behaviour.
Family values are also very important to us; we travel to the UK, Singapore and Delhi every year in an effort to keep out kids connected to their extended family and recording their experiences in a journal helps keep those memories alive!
I do have a bit of a “first you deserve then you desire” approach with special treats, although my husband a daddy of two girls is a complete mushball!
Three favourite books to read to the girls at night?
I love this question, although it’s a difficult one to answer. My kids love being read to. My 8 year old and I are exploring titles by David Walliams; we particularly love The Billionaire Boy. I love hearing Saira read aloud to me and we discuss our different perspectives like adults! She is now into Geronimo Stilton, its a lovely series about a mouse detective. I do like introducing her to dfferent authors writing styles etc , she has a little book journal where she writes the title and author and posts min book reviews (glittery pens and sparkly stickers included! )
We read the Roald Dahl collection last year; that took me down memory lane to my own good old pre-teen days.
My 6 year old is still at the Charlie and Lola stage and loves those stories, besides The Large Family. Anything i can read to hear…a developing reader yet!
Your favourite date night restaurant in Dubai.
Some of our favourite evenings in the recent past have been sneaking out in our jammies down to watch a movie after putting our girls to bed. We follow that up with a stop at Leopold’s for peppermint tea. Our little pleasures found right next door at the beach!
Favourite Holiday Destination!
We have been travelling to the UK to be with my family every year, since the girls were quite small. We always take a family vacation within the UK as we all simply love the English countryside. From cycling in the new forest and rafting near Mount Snowdon to hiring a boat by the Norfolk Broads and sailing through the Isle of Wight, we’ve done it all. Living by the beach in JBR particularly makes us crave an adventurous country-side trekking holiday.
The other holiday destination we fell in love with is Masai Mara. We went to Africa a couple of years ago for the safari and it has left such an indelible impact on us, we cannot wait to go back sometime soon. It’s an absolute must for nature lovers, craving a break from urban life.
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