Food for Thought
Out of the Mouths of Babes
I am reliably informed that I was a well-behaved child (the source of this information is none other than my parents, neither of whom are known to be shy in expressing themselves on this topic!) Part of the reason for my good behaviour was no doubt a naturally sweet disposition - or so I like to believe...
An equally important factor behind it however, was probably "the look". This consisted of a lightning-swift glance sent my direction by a reproving parent, usually my mother. Whatever my action of the moment may have been, ranging from the desire to play with another child's toys for too long or showing a total (and somewhat ill-mannered) lack of self-control in approaching the refreshments offered at the home of a friend, the look was 100% effective! I was never in any doubt who was the boss in my relationship with my parents...
The youth of today, however, seem to have quite a different view of the dynamics of the parent-child relationship. Indeed, one frequently sees the traditional power dynamic turned on its head! And this can be done through a variety of tactics, ranging from clever strategies and quiet self-assertion, to direct confrontation.
Sometimes, the sheer unexpectedness of a full frontal assault can leave an unsuspecting adult speechless. Like a friend of mine, who was quite expertly outmanoeuvred by her 22 month old daughter. My friend is highly averse to swearing of any kind, and her entire household is familiar with the fact that she does not want her daughter to pick up any bad habits in this regard.
So she was quite shocked when her daughter Joya recently commented, quite conversationally, "Dhush-shala" (roughly translating to a swear word with the equivalent force - though not the exact meaning - of oh hell"). In horror, she said, in a very grave tone "Joya, what did you just say?!" Her not quite two-year-old looked at her consideringly and clearly going for the damage-control option, said innocently "Dhut…" (a rather milder expression are responding roughly to "heck")! Needless to say, her mother is still recovering from that particular encounter.
There are of course many parents who also find themselves profoundly regretting something that they unintentionally let drop in front of their offspring e.g. the occasional, spontaneous swear word. However, that realisation must be all the more bitter when you find that your child quotes your own assertions back to you.
Like my friend Runa, whose daughter Zara had clearly heard one remonstration a few times too many. Runa had a somewhat unwelcome surprise when her five-year-old recently admonished her for getting aggravated about something, by saying "Just calm down, Mummy - Everything will be fine if you just calm down"!
Another piece of adult wisdom that returned to bite its originator came in the form of a six-year-old who decided to share her own anguish at the haircut which had resulted in the loss of some of her precious curls, with one of her dolls. Her horrified mother returned home to find that she had chopped off all her doll's hair, and her mother's rebuke was met with a calm assertion that "it will all grow back soon"...!
Of course, sometimes a challenge to adult authority can take the form of naked confrontation. Like my colleague's son, aged four at the time, who met his mother's attempt to discipline him by putting the television off with a threat that she would learn her lesson when his father returned from work. My colleague, upon entering his home, was greeted with the immortal words, "Tell your wife that she can't treat me like this" (tomar bou-key bolo jano amar shathey erokom na koray)! It certainly must be true that some children exist primarily to make you appreciate your own.
Often, a gentle rebuke can obtain the best results. My friend Rosita has for some time been lamenting the fact that her four-year-old son, Mateo, is growing up all too swiftly from babyhood and becoming an assertive young man. On one occasion, she said to him, "You're getting so big, so you'll be all grown up! But I don't want you to grow up so fast..." Without missing a beat, Mateo said chidingly, "But Mamma, I want to grow up, you have to let me grow! I let you grow!"
And of course, there are just those times when you know that the child in your life is running rings around you. When my niece was five, she once told me that I spent too much time working, and that it was making me too tired to play with her when I got home from work. She suggested, quite sincerely, that I raise the matter with my boss, and explain to him that he should give me less work. I tried my best to to make her understand that this was just not an option, but she looked at me pleadingly and said (in the tones of a parent coaxing their child to eat vegetables), "Just try, okay?"
Needless to say, I had forgotten all about this conversation, when she raised it with me again a few days later. "Did you ask your boss?" she said. Deciding that it was too hard to go through the explanation of why I could not do so yet another time, I decided to take the easy way out and simply said, "Yes, I did."
"So what did he say?" she asked. "He said what I already told you that he would say. He said, if I didn't want to work hard, I should just go home", I said to her firmly. She looked at me for a moment, and said with absolute certainty, "You're lying - you never asked him!" And with that, she turned and marched calmly off, leaving me speechless...
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