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        Volume 11 |Issue 40| October 12, 2012 |


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Food for Thought

Under Age and (So) Over It

Farah Ghuznavi

Some time ago, a friend of mine told me that she didn't like children. I was somewhat puzzled by this comment, primarily because she is the mother of two children herself. When I pointed this out, she rushed to clarify, “No, no, I like my kids I just meant I don't like other people's kids!” So with that conditionality in mind, I will confess: I do like kids I just like some of them rather a lot more than others.

In fact, if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said, actually, that I really only liked kids aged five and upwards, since they are (theoretically) easier to reason with. And better conversationalists. They tend to have many thoughts and ideas that are quite fun to hear about when they decide to chat with you-if, of course, you have proved yourself worthy of their interest! I mean, let's not kid ourselves; the current generation are very far from the 'should be seen and not heard' variety of children, that maxim being one that some of us actually heard quite often while we were growing up.

Recently I decided to revise the age requirement implied in my assessment of 'children as persons of interest' downwards. This decision came about as the result of a series of encounters with five-and-under children that left me smiling. Not just because they were cute, but because they were smart! Sometimes, almost too smart with no hesitation in letting the adults around them know how totally they are 'over' the issue of adult authority. Like two and a half-year-old Alice. When she wants to get her mother's attention and make a point, she will sometimes cup her mother's face in her small hands and say, "Now you must listen to me, Mamma. I have something important to tell you." Nor does she take kindly to being interrupted. On one occasion, at a family gathering, Alice was telling her father a story, when her mother asked him a question. Before her father could respond, Alice took control of the situation "You must wait - I am talking to daddy now!" she said firmly to her astonished mother.

Another time, after she had accidentally spilt her drink on the table, it was explained to Alice that she had to apologise when she spilt something that way. A few days later, her grandfather was setting some dishes on the breakfast table when he accidentally knocked over Alice's younger sister's sippy-cup. As the adults scrambled to mop up the spill, Alice watched intently. After they had all sat down to resume their meal, she said to her grandfather, reproachfully, "You must say sorry now, because you spilt Madeline's drink"!

Not all almost-three-year-olds are quite as advanced as Alice, of course, but many little kids still have rather interesting things to say; particularly those that have older siblings. Like my cousin's two girls, aged five and three. I have his permission to tell this story only after swearing to maintain an oath of secrecy regarding his identity. The girls like to play at dressing up, which occasionally involves the use of "make up". A few weeks ago, my cousin woke up from his afternoon nap to find his three-year-old doing something to his face. As he drowsily asked her what she was doing, she replied "Putting eye-shadow on you, Daddy…" He came awake quickly after that, heaving a sigh of relief that the makeup she was using was of the "made up" (imaginary) variety!

And sometimes, even with the best of intentions, things don't work out quite as planned. My friend Raj has two daughters, and he regularly gives thanks for the fact that his girls are much quieter and better behaved than his sister's three boys. "I came into the bathroom a while back, and found that they had smeared toothpaste all over the tiles near the sink. When I asked them why they had done it, they said - very sweetly - that they were just cleaning the tiles! Since the toothpaste was so effective in cleaning their teeth, they figured that it would be just as good for cleaning the rest of the bathroom. The good thing is, even when they are creating a mess, it's with good intentions!"

These days, no matter how young they are, it seems that children have very clear ideas about life in general and their own roles in particular. And adults should guard carefully against patronising them. My friend's two year-old son was recently playing in the sand pit, mixing sand and water together to create a pile of mud. "Are you having fun, playing with that nice mud?" she asked him. He looked at her pityingly, and replied, "Mud is not nice - it's yucky." Indeed.

And sometimes, they are just delightful - simply, effortlessly delightful. So, as another friend recently put it (after her young niece had received some exciting news about a planned outing), "Do not correct a toddler when she clasps her arms around herself and jumps up and down saying, 'I'm so exciting!' Because she is."

A child's logic can be as beautiful as it is straightforward. Recently, two-year-old Oda pointed to the rain outside and said to her sister, "Look, look!" Andrea, aged four, immediately responded, "It's just the sky crying. When the sky is happy, it's bright and sunshiny. And when it's sad, it gets dark and cloudy"!

Of course, sometimes that logic can also be at your expense - as it was on the occasion when I was recently spotted surreptitiously gnawing on a chicken bone at a barbecue with bideshi friends. Oda was inspired to follow my example by gnawing on the top of a drumstick quite happily, to her father's horror. And her older sister Andrea subsequently had the following conversation with their mother, Kristin.

Andrea: Some people eat bones.
Kristin: Some dogs eat bones too.
Andrea: Maybe Farah is a little dog!

(Kekarey "little" koy, I ask you?!)

All amusement aside, the bottom line is that children, even young children, remain - as they have always been - miniature sponges, soaking up everything that is said around them, particularly things that might be age-inappropriate. This was illustrated when my friend Raisa recently heard an unexpected topic crop up between her six-year-old boy cousin and four-year-old girl cousin.

The little boy confidently informed his younger cousin, who was listening intently to his words of wisdom: "You know, everyone says a girl has to look pretty. And if it's a guy, he should look 'sexy'"! Needless to say, this exchange - interesting as it clearly was for the two (little) people participating in the conversation - left Raisa quite speechless…

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