As I arrive at playgroup wearing the second top of the morning, no make-up, and carrying a toddler whose shoes I can't find, I notice the coffee table with a selection of biscuits in the corner of the room. Then, across the crowd, I spot a friendly face, a smile, a mummy friend.
Since entering the crazy and exhausting world of motherhood 1,574 days ago, I have come to appreciate this special pack of friends. Mums who listen, even when they're changing a nappy. Who offer advice, even when they haven't slept all night. Who share their last snack bag with your little one, as they know it will keep everyone happy, just for a few moments.
I underestimated the importance of these special friends. I wasn't aware how much support they would provide, the reassurance that you're not alone, that it isn't easy, and that none of us has all the answers.
Living in the UAE, where so many of us are away from our family, makes forming these friendships vital - for new mothers especially. From offering to have a playdate while I do the supermarket shop on my own, to stepping in for emergency childcare when one of the kids is ill in hospital, developing and establishing this circle of friends has been essential to me as an expat.
Some of my mummy friends are from my life before kids. Some are from work. Others I have met at coffee mornings, playgroups and play dates.
By the third child I've got a tight group. It's still growing with new friends but there are a few core mums. All of my friends are different and all of them have helped me and slightly changed me.
Here are some of the qualities of the amazing mummy friends you find in the UAE. You might recognise yourself in some of them …
1) The Hosting Friend
Always happy to bake a cake, rustle up some sandwiches and snacks, and happy to get the paints out for the kids. Nothing is too much trouble.
2) The Alternative Friend
This friend always knows when the organic shop has its 20 per cent weekend. She generally bakes her own bread, enjoys yoga and has dream catchers and salt lamps in the kids’ bedrooms.
3) The Friend with Older Kids
A vital friend, she is proof that it does get better, and you will finally get some more sleep. She reassures that your little one won't still be having a bottle to go to sleep or be wearing nappies at night when they leave home for university.
4) The Open House Friend
This friend is probably on speed dial. If you need a coffee and a chat, all it takes is a quick call and the kettle is on. She will let the kids play, and invite you all to stay for dinner.
5) The WhatsApp Friend
You've met at a play date but never really seem to catch up in real life, yet you'll chat occasionally and share useful tips and new play date locations.
6) The Exercise Friends
This may be one or a group of mummies always there to encourage and motivate you in their active wear. Always happy to grab a coffee or bite to eat after.
7) The Bargain Hunter Friend
Never underestimate her knowledge when it comes to discounts and vouchers. If there is an offer or deal to be had, this friend knows where to look and the exact dates of the shopping festival, or the online shops with introductory offers and free delivery.
8) The Organiser Friend
In charge of all social events, whether it's nights out, play dates, or coffee mornings, this friend is sorting it. Usually by setting up a WhatsApp group to begin with.
9) The “I Can Do It” Friend
Nothing fazes her - not even labour. She barely noticed the contractions, and giving birth was just an activity penciled in for that afternoon. She was out of hospital as soon as possible, walking and getting stuck in. She is the one hiking across India with her baby strapped to her back. Nothing stops her. Ever.
10) The Mother Earth Friend
Softly spoken and somehow never has to say the word “No” to a screaming toddler, she has read all the books and seems to have endless knowledge on how to get a baby to sleep through the night and which are the best establishments offering gentle-parenting style curricula like Forest Schooling.
With so many qualities, it's fair to say that mummy friends are vital on the tricky journey through parenthood. I couldn't be without them.