When we moved to Dubai our eldest daughter was only three. She had been happily attending a nursery back in the UK and thoughts of school hadn’t even registered on our radar. If we had stayed in the UK she wouldn’t be going to school until she was four, nearly five, as she has an Autumn birthday. Then we arrived in the UAE and the following was a regular, early conversation:

“Oh, how old is she? Three? What school is she going to? You don’t know?! You have to get her registered NOW!”

Oh the peer pressure. We were shocked, panicked thoughts running through our heads: ‘What if all the schools are all full? Are we going to damage her and ruin her future?! Let’s forget about finding a house to live in, this is our number-one priority!’

Then, deep breaths, rational thought. Of course we would not be ruining her chances of becoming an Olympian, a leading doctor of cardiac medicine or the first female astronaut on a space mission to Mars if we didn’t send her to FS1. Nevertheless, we still looked at various schools, signed her up, and were delighted with the choice we made. 

But then the doubts crept in again… ‘She’s not even four! She still seems so little, how will she cope? What about all the other children? The teachers? The school work?’

It was a rollercoaster of emotions, and we had to keep reminding ourselves that she’d been happily settled and enjoying nursery back at home, so school wouldn’t be that big a change… Would it?

Then there came the lists, the rules, the things we needed to buy. School uniform dresses, shoes, PE top, shorts and trainers, book bag, sun hat (‘no hat no outdoor play!’), lunchbox and water bottle. I can only imagine how this list multiplies when she gets to secondary school... As all parents know, your first child starting school is a huge deal. But, with us quaking at the sight of the uniform list (and its price tag) and our daughter blithely unaware, it seemed to be a bigger deal for us than her.

Nearing the first day of term, we tried to prepare her by talking about it. 

“Isn’t it exciting, you’ll be going to school next week. There will be lots of new boys and girls to make friends with. Are you excited?”

“Yes, but can I have cheese and Marmite in my sandwiches?” she replied, “But not too much Marmite.”

The big day

The night before the big day. All round Dubai, hundreds of other households doing the same thing: iron out; shoes shined; bag packed and alarm set, (we needed to bring that forward by 30 minutes to make sure the amount of Marmite was right for the sandwich).

The morning itself. Breakfast eaten, hair combed, hat on, and the obligatory first-day photo, which is then proudly distributed across multiple social-media platforms and anyone in the address book.

Then arriving at the school, holding her hand tightly as we took her into the classroom to meet her teacher and new classmates. We were prepared for all sorts of emotional goodbyes and heartache.

But she let go of my grip, shouting excitedly, “They have books like at home, and painting!”

With a nervous glance at her teacher, who said, “Don’t worry she will be fine,” we turned to leave. With one last look back, we said, “Bye then, see you after school.”

“OK, bye!”

She seemed fine, totally fine.

But then, that little voice piped up again.

 “...Daddy?”

And this was it, this was the emotional bit, it was inevitable all along. We braced ourselves….

“...You remembered the Marmite didn’t you?!”  

Find more from Matthew Moore at @daddydiariesdxb 
Portrait by Aiza Castillo-Domingo

Read more: 

8 ways to prepare for starting school in the UAE this September 

School gate heartache in Dubai 

10 ways to raise successful children