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     Volume 4 Issue 11 | September 3 , 2004 |

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Slice of Life

Calvin and the Hobbes's
Richa Jha

"I think we dream so we don't have to be apart so long. If we're in each others dreams, we can play together all night!"
(Hobbes, to Calvin)

As a newly born infant, our son's eyes and forehead bore an uncanny resemblance to Calvin's. Much as we fancied our infant to grow up into another Calvin (yes, parents have unusually absurd dreams and expectations from their children), it was always the picture of his harried mother that made me freeze my thoughts even before they could warm up. I certainly didn't wish to be her. (Remember Calvin's "Aww mom, you act like I'm not even wearing a bungie cord!"?)

Childlike precocity is one thing; Calvinesque precocity quite another. Calvin, the walking embodiment of the human Id, the boy who likes to connect the dots his own way, who believes that bugs and girls have a dim perception that nature has played a cruel trick on them, but lack the intelligence to comprehend the magnitude of it (!), can be any straight looking, well meaning parent's most nightmarish nemesis. Standing at his side is Hobbes, his stuffed tiger, who embodies the superego, trying his best to keep Calvin in check, with only occasional success. From the way my son expresses his opinion on every matter under the sun these days, I am afraid, my fears are coming true.

My son has now reached an age where external forces have started talking to him. Alas! There is more than one Hobbes involved here, and each, more opinionated than the other. As a parent, I can manage one of them communicating with him at one time. There is utter anarchy when he has a field day with all of them together. That's the time when even walls grow eyes and refuse to let him practise art on them, the otherwise friendly (small mercies) floor growls back at him and says he can't stand on it, and the ceilings start spewing the most bitter medicine he's ever been administered (with the memory of an elephant's, he remembers the names and colours of the most obnoxious ones). That's a lot of trouble for him and his mother to handle at the same time!

Back to the trusted coterie of Hobbes's in his life. There is a dolphin that was introduced to him with the specific purpose of helping him get over this habit of thumb-sucking. As any experienced parent will tell you that since their urge to suck their thumbs is far greater than even their perennial urge to annoy you, meek creatures like dolphins are ill-suited to the cause at hand. The modus operandi was straight: get him used to this soft toy's presence in the first few days, and then show him the hurt on this friend's face each time he popped his thumb in.

As the psychologists will tell you (and I'm certain Dr. Spock has a chapter on it), emotional blackmail doesn't work. Our son got conned into it on one or two occasions, but soon realised he was having to pay too heavy a price for keeping his friend happy. Each time the thumb fought its way in, the sense of betrayal in the dolphin's eyes and the volley of blah-blahs thereafter exhorting him to stop sucking was too intense for my son to bear. His friend was getting to be too much of a prude and killjoy. He had to find a way out.

Few months ago, he announced to me that this dolphin was getting tired playing with him in bed, so every once in a while, it wanted to go back inside the cupboard and sleep. And he, like all good friends, was just letting it do what it wanted to do. So now, while his friend rests in, our guilt-free son sucks furiously on his thumb, unhindered, undisturbed, and unopposed. Both are elated to see each other at the end of their respective pacifying activities!

Then there is his other Hobbesian friend and co-conspirator: the elephant that lives to push him when he's sipping juice, and throw his food off the high-chair at mealtimes. The little man has admonished it several times before me, even explained to him how wrong it is to be wasting food like this, but his friend just doesn't listen. Since this particularly offensive behaviour of the elephant's happens at meal times, I suggested that it be left behind in the toy box while we ate in the other room. My son tried it out, but was later pained to find it howling inside the toy box. "Mamma, it has promised it will not throw food from now on, so can he sit with me in my high chair? He said he felt lonely inside. Mamma, please, p-l-e-a-s-e…". That's a three-year-old's power of persuasion and skilful negotiation!

Mr. Jumbo is back accompanying us at the dining table, but behaves rather well. Only, it has now started pushing my son off chairs, beds, cushions and so on at all other times. I don't intervene now. As long as it is between two friends, and none of my curios break, it is all right.

And then there is his most trusted companion, the chhotu baby (tiny baby), a doll that crawls, who is always wailing to be fed, cuddled, and loved. My son takes care of it for the most part of the day, preparing food for it, boiling 'white milk' (infants have white milk as opposed to grown-ups like him who have Bournvita), bathing it and rocking it. Thankfully, my list of responsibilities is small: I just have to feed it (my son is generous enough to let it use his high chair for this purpose). My son lays the table before calling me, then shows me the various items he has prepared for the baby, and then asks me to start feeding it. This chhotu baby has a ravenous appetite; on an average, it has such meals about five times a day.

There are several more: his cars that decide to throw up their wheels the moment they reach home from the shop, his scooter that tells him it is going to skid, but goes around and does a summersault instead, his toothbrush that suddenly decides to go down the wash-basin drain, or the dimly lit room that pushes him outside of itself because it wants to be left undisturbed to sleep! Each object has a voice of its own, and doesn't fail to talk to a child's overactive imagination! A child's power to conjure is beyond the realm of any adult.

Leaving you with one of (the original) Calvin's maxims:
"The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning, and inhibit clarity. With a little practice, writing can be an intimidating and impenetrable fog!"

The day my son comes up with something like this, I'll stop writing!


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