x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Married Life: Ramadan with a toddler is the hardest one yet

As the mother of an active and inquisitive toddler, this Ramadan is the hardest one I have ever experienced.

You’d think that for someone who started fasting the entire month of Ramadan before I had even turned 10 years old, I’d be well used to the experience at the ripe old age of 30-something.

Not so much. Someone, I fear, declined to inform me that as the mother of an active and inquisitive toddler, this Ramadan will be the hardest one ever.

It’s partly my fault, to be honest, because I approached the month all wrong. I had high expectations that it would be the easiest Holy Month I’ve had, because it happens to be the first Ramadan where, as an adult, I’m not holding a full-time job and coming home mere minutes before iftar. I assumed that without the rigours of work, I could keep the headaches at bay and have plenty of time to both worship and cook elaborate meals every day. I had forgotten how quickly the hours fly by when you’re immersed in deadlines and how impossible it is to get anything done with a baby underfoot. And a work-induced headache pales in comparison to one caused by the screeches of a toddler bouncing on the couch.

How in the world are fasting parents expected to entertain children during a Ramadan that’s occurring in the heat of a UAE summer? There is absolutely no outdoor fun to be had, not even for a few minutes, because the parched throat that you are left with will find no relief until sundown. There is no chance of taking the child to the pool for a little while, to splash in the shade, because fasting and skin-revealing bathing suits do not exactly go hand in hand. The malls are deserted during the day, if they bother to open at all. Even the children’s play areas that are conveniently placed in every mall are dark and empty during the day. Most don’t open until 8pm, when my particular toddler is, please dear God, fast asleep.

Upon realising that I would have to find ways to keep Baby A occupied – indoors – from around 6am when she wakes up until 8pm when she sleeps, minus the two-hour afternoon nap where I get to flop down on the couch and stare at the ceiling in peace, I almost had a nervous breakdown. I quickly made the impromptu decision to go away for the rest of the month and escape the UAE heat. Baby A and I packed our bags, kissed Mr T goodbye, and headed to my parents’ house in Jordan.

The decision, I confess, was a rookie parenting mistake. I had not taken into account that, while Jordan may not suffer from the choking humidity of the Gulf, it is nevertheless a hot, dry country where the days are long and unbelievably sunny. Suddenly, I found myself in a place without the savvy air-conditioning of Abu Dhabi, where sundown is two extra hours after Mr T gets to break his fast, and activities for toddlers are just as sparse. It quickly dawned: there is no escaping these new and difficult challenges I’m facing in Ramadan.

I now have no idea if it will get harder or easier as Baby A grows older. Ramadan will continue to come in the hot summer months for a few more years, so that particular difficulty won’t be going away for a while. Will Baby A, as she grows older, be able to amuse herself for longer periods of time so I can sneak in a few moments of respite here and there? Or will her growth mean bigger reserves of energy that must be spent?

And do those of us who are fasting, while having to deal with the likes of Baby A, get extra points? I’d like to negotiate for that, please.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer living in Abu Dhabi