x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

On the Money: Daughter transitions from joined-at-the-hip to joiner

Last year when the school mums happily chatted about which extracurricular activities their little darlings were enrolled onto, I kept quiet because my little darling wasn't doing anything.

My five-year-old daughter has just joined an after-school gymnastics club. No biggie, I hear you say, but spending Dh850 on a term of body-bending sessions is a big decision when you're unsure if you're going to get value for money on your expenditure. You see, my daughter has a history of only taking part if I do.

Over the years I've had to run next to her on sports day, hold her hand as I stumbled along the international day parade with my toddler son perched on my hip and sit on the stage singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with all her classmates for the annual Christmas concert (not my finest moment).

When I ask why it's so important I have such an active role in her moments of glory, she simply replies: "I'd rather be with you, mummy". Her desire to have me by her side at every opportunity is very endearing, if not a little frustrating at times, but in all honesty it is also much easier on the pocket when it comes to financing her hobbies.

Last year when the school mums happily chatted about which extra-curricular activities their little darlings were enrolled onto, I kept quiet because my little darling wasn't doing anything. When I asked her if she wanted to swim, do ballet, gymnastics or karate (my husband's suggestion, not mine), she simply said no.

And as much as I like demonstrating my proficiency at the demi-plié, swimming a length of the pool in my pyjamas or doing the odd handstand or cartwheel (I can still master them - just!) - it's not something I want to do all over again with a group of five-year-olds. Plus, I've no doubt most teachers would have an issue with my oversized presence in their class.

And there's no point forcing my daughter into taking part because unlike many children who say no, but really mean yes, her nos are most definitely a no. Rather than follow the crowd she has always been quite happy to sit on the sidelines and do her own thing, which is exactly what happened at gymnastics club.

Despite taking her best pal along, who enthusiastically threw himself into a series of back-breaking manoeuvres on the gym mat, my daughter spent 10 minutes urging me to take part which, of course, was never going to happen.

When I was ordered away from the mat by the firm-but-fair instructor, my daughter sat on a bench refusing to get involved before bursting into tears and demanding to go home.

Thankfully I'd already negotiated a one-class-only fee in case she baulked at the first session, because a Dh60 failed session is easier to swallow than an unattended Dh850 term. So as my daughter wept on my lap, I reminded myself that just because other children like to get stuck into every activity that comes their way doesn't mean my precious little bundle does.

I recalled the two years of babysplash classes where I was desperate to teach my daughter how to swim by the age of six months (something I now know is nigh on impossible). I stopped going because I could not bear the screams of horror every time the teacher encouraged her to swim away from me to her.

On reflection, my daughter's over-vocal honesty about what she does and doesn't want to do has probably saved me a fortune over the years.

Rather than spending hundreds of dirhams on ballet uniforms, leotards or karate suits, let alone the class fees, I have gone for the cost-saving/stress-free option and taught my daughter to swim and master a forward roll myself.

Had I been as honest as my daughter with my own parents, they too could have saved a tidy sum in unwanted piano lessons. From the age of eight until 13, I dutifully trudged over to my weekly piano lesson with the slightly-scary Miss Phillips where I pounded out a painful rendition of When the Saints Go Marching In and listened to the tut-tuts of my teacher who knew full well I hadn't hit a single key since our session the previous week.

When I failed grade one in my fifth year of lessons, (yes, that's right, fifth year) I decided to fess up to the parents - particularly my mother, an accomplished piano player herself - about my lack of talent as well as my blatant lack of interest.

Worried about accusations of lacking commitment, I was surprised when my mother's only comment was: "Why didn't you tell me before? We thought you liked them - they cost a fortune."

It never crossed my mind that my parents would rather I was happy not playing a musical instrument than unhappily attempting to master one. Apart from the fact they simply wanted me to enjoy any hobbies I decided to take up, they didn't want to pay for something I clearly gained nothing from.

As it was, at the aforementioned gym class, my daughter surprised me. After crying in my lap for five minutes, I gently explained to her that the class had cost mummy a lot of money and if she didn't want to take part that was fine, but we would go home and leave her enthusiastic pal to it.

With that, my daughter sat bolt upright and slowly made her way to rejoin the group. A further five minutes was spent holding the instructor's hand - who patiently urged her to get stuck in despite her persistent shakes of the head - until amazingly, she was on the mat demonstrating her prowess at doing the bridge. Punching the air silently in delight, I crept out of the gym to watch the remainder of the class through the glass door for fear I might be called upon for the cartwheel demonstration.

At the end of the session, she skipped out and exclaimed: "Mummy, that was really fun. Why did it have to end so soon?" Are you serious, I thought to myself.

I may have only committed to one class, but I'll pay for the second and then who knows I might go crazy and shell out for the whole term.

arayer@thenational.ae