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     Volume 6 Issue 37 | September 21, 2007 |

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Food for Thought

The Last Laugh

Farah Ghuznavi

"Admit it, not only am I adorable, I am pretty darned smart too!"

Okay, okay, I admit it: where children are concerned, I sometimes tend to support a more old-fashioned line of thinking i.e. I don't like brattiness, I believe manners are a good thing, and I have very definite ideas about back-chat. On the other hand, honesty compels me to admit that sometimes the little ones might have a point. The sheer inconsistency of adults, in terms of their own behaviour as well as the messages that they send out to children, can be quite maddening. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never really been a particularly effective or acceptable instruction to most kids, regardless of how self-evident the logic of that might be to most adults…

Sometimes, a child may display a degree of subtlety in getting his or her message across to the adult concerned. Like my friend Tina's 3-year-old, Joya, whose dazzling social skills frequently leave the rest of us gasping. In addition to an inordinate degree of confidence in her charms (formidable though they are!), Joya also has some very clear ideas about the tone that adults around her should take with her, as well as strong opinions on issues related to “izzat” i.e. maintaining her sense of self-respect and avoiding embarrassment at all costs. Hence, although she and her mother both love music and have an entire repertoire of songs that they can sometimes be persuaded to perform, Joya was most unimpressed when her mother started singing to her during a recent rickshaw ride. Hanging her head in embarrassment, she cast a quelling look at her mother and said “Ma-a-a-a!”, leaving Tina in no doubt of her utter mortification at such a public display of khat behaviour.

Then, of course, there are always those children who seem like miniature adults, sometimes with more information than it's good for them or for that matter, the rest of us to have. Like a family friend's son, Bareesh, whose father is a doctor and activist on health issues. Several years ago, when my poor father was foolhardy enough to offer Bareesh a soft drink, he was coolly told by the then 7-year-old that, “I don't drink Coca Cola it's full of additives and artificial things”!

"Let's face it, Teddy, sometimes grown-ups just don't make any sense..."

On a more recent occasion, when he had come down with some kind of viral flu, a guest staying at their house told Bareesh that he shouldn't worry too much since his father is a world famous doctor. Of course, being world famous usually also comes with a price-tag of being extremely busy, so perhaps none of us should have been too surprised at Bareesh's rejoinder - “So what if he's world famous? That's never done me any good, has it…?”!

An occupational hazard of being the child of working parents today is that some kids might feel that they aren't getting sufficient parental attention. Even worse, some of them might actually be forward enough to articulate their grievances! The truth is, even a generation ago, most privileged children spent more time with ayahs and household staff than their parents. But because at least one parent, usually the mother, was likely to be present on the household premises (and children were a sight less likely to articulate any grievances whatsoever!), the complaint level was no doubt considerably lower. No longer…!

My friend Shireen's son spent much of his childhood watching his parents manage their lives as a kind of relay race, in order to ensure that one of them was always around for him. It is hard to avoid the sneaking suspicion that he may not have been altogether appreciative of these efforts. At one point, he was even heard asking his mother, “Are all families like this? You come home, and he goes somewhere; and then he comes back, and you go somewhere…” A fair enough question, and one can hardly blame Shireen for taking the easy way out and telling him that indeed all families were like that. But of course the truth can only be hidden for so long!

Another danger for the parents of particularly clever children to bear in mind, is that what you say can come back to haunt you. As my friend Runa found out with not one, but two of her daughters. At the age of 5, her older daughter Zara was heard admonishing her mother: “Just calm down, Mummy, and everything will be fine” (clearly a sentence that this child had heard one time too many). On a more recent occasion, her 3-year-old sister, Alina showed that this particular sibling tradition was alive and well. After her mother had taken an unnecessarily sharp tone with her, she said, quite calmly, “Don't talk to me like that, Mummy. That's rude!”

The last word on such matters goes on this occasion to my friend Chicha, who is the adoptive single mother of Aria. A few months ago, Aria and her mother were having their flat renovated, which inevitably meant workmen wandering all over the place for a 3-week period. One of the workmen engaged in the refurbishment of their home, asked Aria a rather stupid question i.e. who her father was. Since Chicha makes no secret of the fact that Aria is adopted, one must wonder at the workman's motives in asking the two and half year old that question. Even if he hadn't known that she was adopted, the lack of any father on-site would most likely mean that he was either dead or absent i.e. it might well be a sore subject to raise with the child. But alas, such considerations have never troubled unnecessarily nosy Bangalis…!

Anyway, Chicha worries quite a lot about how to explain to Aria why she doesn't have a father, although Aria knows that she is adopted. So this was a particularly unpleasant incident for her. She needn't have worried about her daughter's reaction to this question about her father's name though. Without missing a beat, Aria said "My mother is my father"! A smart answer to a stupid question, and there is no doubt who had the last word on that occasion.

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