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     Volume 7 Issue 42 | October 24, 2008 |

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Food for Thought

Existential Dilemmas of the Decidedly Under-Aged

Farah Ghuznavi

There is a simple mathematical equation that states that as children start growing older, parenting challenges multiply at an exponential rate. These can be dealt with in a variety of ways, sophisticated or otherwise. Sometimes it is a question of force majeure, with an adult needing to assert their adulthood and authority which is not always as easy as you might think. Resistance can come from the most unexpected sources! A friend of mine, Ravi, wrote to me recently saying that his two sons, three years apart in age, seem to fight almost constantly, alternating their quarrels with intense sessions of fraternal affection. The younger one, Aksel, drives his older brother, Arne, crazy by asserting that he is in fact the older brother.

"Threats of violence? Me? Never!"

Their fights can be about anything and everything, including most recently the ownership and use of a pen (this, mind you, in a household full of pens). When Ravi intervened, warning Aksel that he would break the pen unless the boys stopped fighting, Aksel responded, “You cannot break that pen- only God can do that!” Somewhat taken aback, Ravi found himself in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to defend his authority against that of God. A complex dilemma indeed!

Sometimes the role of God can be brought in at a more existential level, as was the case with my friend Chicha's four-year-old daughter Aria, who is adopted. Because they live in a joint family, all the family members are contributing to Aria's religious education some of them with due diligence, I might add. Chicha has always been quite open with Aria about her adopted status, which has been explained, to date, in terms of coming from her mother's heart, rather than her stomach i.e. not like everyone else. Anyway, Aria (who is more than averagely preoccupied with weddings, and spends a lot of time planning her own) recently announced that she didn't intend to marry after all!

"I will be like Ma," she said, "And it will be just like when Jesus planted a seed in Ma's heart, and I was born." Chicha was not excited by the heavily embroidered version of her arrival that Aria had managed to come up with not least because it sounded suspiciously like another story that every self-respecting Catholic is quite familiar with… Hopefully, at least this means that Chicha won't have to worry that Aria suffers from low self-esteem!

This brings us to another important dilemma, one that parents with highly creative children sometimes find themselves facing. Like my friend Liv, whose four-year-old son Eirik is going through a phase of great interest in what can be achieved with sharp objects, for example scissors. The day after his fourth birthday when he was given a size-appropriate goal to encourage his interest in football the aforementioned goal was found with the netting neatly sliced through from top to bottom.

"That moth was huge, honestly."

Upon being questioned in this regard, Eirik provided a detailed explanation of the giant moth that had destroyed the netting (perhaps inspired by some conversational fragment he had overheard about how moths could destroy clothing). When his father Martin announced his intention of finding the delinquent moth and dealing with it accordingly, Eirik was quick to assure him that the giant moth was long gone, having returned to the depths of the nearby forest from which it had emerged for its spree of destruction. While one must indeed admire Eirik's capacity for creative thinking, this inevitably raises the thorny question of how to differentiate between an active imagination and a wholesale massacre of the truth…

And let me assure you that in dealing with these delicate questions of truth, parents often have to tread a very fine line indeed. Like the American mother whose sons were filmed on the family's video camera running up to her waving a small white object and asking what it was. Unable to bring herself to initiate pre-teen boys into the realities of tampons, she understandably took the easy way out and claimed that they must have found a small stick of dynamite with the requisite “fuse”. This had the additional benefit of allowing her to take it away from them - for safety reasons, of course! Unfortunately, this had unexpected repercussions. Just a few weeks later when they were travelling with their older sister, one of the boys almost caused a riot at the local airport where he informed a fellow passenger that his sister was carrying sticks of dynamite in her bag!

Playground politics are also becoming an increasing source of concern for many parents, not least because they want to avoid any possibility of their child being bullied or teased in school. In this regard, some of my friends are struggling with the extent to which they should encourage their children to be pro-active in dealing with potential bullies. That's why one friend found herself at a loss when her young daughter came home complaining about a boy having pushed her and spoken to her meanly in school. While my friend was inclined to try to explain this in terms of encouraging her daughter to avoid a confrontation, her husband, quite to the contrary, argued that his daughter should “push him back, and tell him he's a mean creep!”

However, I am happy to report that another friend's daughter, Laleh, clearly does not require any advice on how to look after herself. When her mother asked her about the origins of a rather aggressive hand gesture she had proudly been demonstrating, she clarified that in fact this meant "dhoira dimu" (I'll belt you one)…

And perhaps most complicated of all, there are those existential questions to which even parents don't have the answers. Like my friend Trine's six-year-old daughter Maria who recently started school properly, in Denmark. Understandably a little nervous, she had a number of preparations to make and questions to ask before the big day, most of which her parents dealt with with aplomb. The one question Trine found harder than the rest was Maria's plaintive query about how you can make friends with people you have never met before. It's a good question to ask at any age - and frankly, I'm still trying to figure out the answer to that one myself!


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