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     Volume 6 Issue 31 | August 10, 2007 |

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Food for Thought

or Brutal Truths?

Farah Ghuznavi

A self-assured Eivik gives a shot at singing.

The term “out of the mouths of babes” is generally used to signify that profound truths can sometimes emanate from surprisingly youthful sources. This is offered as proof of how the wisdom of children lies in their very innocence. What is not said however, is that the lack of inhibition that allows children to articulate certain truths, also means that they are not held back from articulating truths which may be painful (at least to the listener)!

At times, children have their own agendas in choosing to share some truths rather than others. This of course contradicts to the idea that children are utterly sweet and innocent, and therefore different from the rest of us. While the latter is true in some ways, there can be times when children show themselves to be microcosms of the adults surrounding them - subject to the same passions, though not necessarily held back by the same scruples…

It is interesting to see how quickly children develop certain characteristics, not least the capacity to understand and use humour in order to make a point. My friend Liv's son, Eirik, is at the age of three, already showing signs of having inherited his parents' excellent sense of humour. On a recent occasion, when Eirik was annoyed with his mother, he informed her that he would not live in his parents' house anymore. Instead, he was planning to move out to his grandparents' place, which is just down the road. Approaching the situation strategically, Liv told him that she would be very sad if he did so. Having got the re-affirmation he was looking for, Eirik gave her a sunny smile and said, “I was just kidding”!

Who needs grown ups when you have good old Teddy?

Sometimes, children have a way of seeing things that cuts to the heart of the matter, regardless of social conventions or taboos. And sometimes, it takes the comment of a child to make the absurdity of adult behaviour utterly evident. The recent trend towards conspicuous consumption in Dhaka has begun to manifest itself in ever-more extravagant parties and celebrations, and children's parties are in no way exempt from this. My friend Chicha attended a party with her young daughter Aria where the 20 children invited were hugely outnumbered by the 200 adults, and it became clear that the focus of the birthday party (for a one-year-old boy) was to show off the wealth of his parents.

The birthday cake was brought out in front of the salivating children, carefully cut and then removed (to the accompaniment of howls of disappointment), to be served after 9 at night - once the adults had had a chance to gorge themselves on murgh pulao. Not surprisingly, by this time all the young children (including the birthday boy!) were grouchy and tired, and not to mention thoroughly fed up. The party took place on the hired premises of an exclusive club, and the bored children were not even allowed to play with the balloons, which had been put up strictly as decorations. After observing the men and women grouped under separate shamianas, enjoying their murgh pulao, the three-year-old Aria said bitterly - and with an alarming degree of perspicacity - "Why did you bring me here, Ma? This wasn't a birthday party, it was a wedding!"

At other times, of course, children's candour can be of the brutal variety, for those on the receiving end - particularly when an adult has annoyed them! A friend of mine, who is the ultimate workaholic, recently received a truly scathing putdown from her 5-year-old daughter. After she had arrived home very late one evening, she rushed in to hug her child, and was greeted with the cool response of “Oh, it's you. Amito tomakey chintei pari nai (I didn't recognise you)”… Ouch!

In fact, it must be admitted that working mothers (however conscientious they are about spending time with their children) often get a raw deal from their offspring. This can be further heightened when your child has been spending time with his or her peers and learning “interesting” new words. A friend of mine was quite upset when her young daughter recently said, quite casually, “Ma, tumi morey jao” (“Ma, why don't you just die?”) The child's horrified ayah remonstrated with her saying, “If your mother dies, who will look after you?” Without missing a beat, the little girl replied, naming her favourite aunt “X Khala will." So just in case anyone thought otherwise, it seems that none of us is indispensable… Just kidding!

Of course, sometimes men can also be on the receiving end of underage wisdom from their offspring. My friend Lena's father took years to recover from a casual comment by his young daughter that he was “only” an engineer. His entire family maintains that this comment was responsible for his subsequent decision to take not one but two masters degrees, one of them being in a subject other than engineering! So clearly, rather than the more conventional parent-child role, it can sometimes be children who push their parents into a lifetime of striving for greater academic achievement…

Not all parents take such casual brutality lying down, though. My friend Aggie recently told me about an incident where her 2-year-old son Shawn greeted her request for a morning kiss before she headed off to work, with the immortal words “Mummy yuck!” Aggie was not amused. So when Shawn came to her, just as she was leaving for work, to ask for a kiss she said no, pointing out to him that “yuck” was not a nice expression to use with your mother particularly first thing in the morning! Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been no repeat of this experience since.

Another friend, Marie-Ange, successful survivor of thirty years of motherhood credits the fact that she has three great kids, to knowing where to draw the boundaries for them. Although her two older daughters are her biological children, her third daughter is adopted, and I asked her once if she ever worried that some day Sasha would argue with her and say something like “I don't have to listen to you, you're not my real mother”.

Marie-Ange laughed and said that since her biological children had never pulled their punches on occasion informing her they wished that they were adopted indeed, that they would rather have had their favourite movie star, or so-and-so's mother, or even the neighbour as their mother instead of her, she wasn't too worried about what Sasha might come up with when she hit adolescence. “I will just tell her what I told the others: too bad if you think I'm not good enough to be your mother - you better get used to it, since I'm all you've got!” That's a tough argument to beat…


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