Kids are very dumb. But also very smart. And quite sweet.
Take Tara. First, she would provoke Mrini to the point of no return. Then Mrini would bite her or commit some such other atrocity upon her. Then, regardless of the severity of the offense, Tara would go howling blue murder to seek retribution (or vengeance) in the shape of an irate parent. I soon opted out of the fray by telling her to work it out herself. Moms tend to be callous that way. Dads are a softer sell. Amit would step in at once to redress all wrongs – real as well as exaggerated. It became such a pattern that one day when Tara came running to me for help and I gave her the cold shoulder, she told me indignantly through her sobs, “Wait till Baba comes home. I’ll tell Baba. Baba will scold Mrini.”
I’d already realized that she was playing Amit like a piano, but hearing her think it out like that was a bit of a shock. And she did it too – when Amit came home 15-20 minutes later, she ran to him straightaway with her tearful tale of woes. So Amit and I had a long talk and though he wasn’t really convinced by me, he agreed to “try” to keep out of the kids’ battles, no matter what. It was immensely difficult for him, because he was convinced that the girls would and could do real damage to each other. I, on the other hand, thought they wouldn’t.
For a couple of days, it was a toss-up. Tara found, to her dismay that she could no longer co-opt her beloved Baba into her battles and she didn’t have any other weapon in her armory. Mrini found that she no longer had to worry about being hauled up by Amit and she, obviously, wanted to test the limits of this new situation to see how far she could go. It was, in fact, tough to stay with the strategy and trust her to set her limits herself. But somehow the three of them worked things out and it’s been maybe three weekends since we put this new strategy in place and things seem to have settled down now. I don’t know how Tara is managing to hold her own against Mrini’s bullying, but I suspect that it is some combination of various factors: Tara is less provocative now that her guardian doesn’t get involved; Mrini is less violent, now that it doesn’t get her any negative attention; and perhaps Tara is just opting out of situations before they become very sticky.
That’s the smart part.
This part is dumb.
Tara: Mrini, why every day you open the car? Every single day you open the car. Today I will open the car.
Mrini: No, yesterday you opened the car.
Tara: No, no, yesterday you only opened the car. Today can I open the car? Please?
Mrini: Ok, today you open the car in the morning. I’ll open the car at daycare.
Tara: Yes, ok Mrini. Today I’ll open the car and you open the car in the evening.
Mrini: Tara, no, Tara, ok, Tara, I’ll tell you something. Today I’ll open the car in the morning and you open the car in the evening. Ok, Tara?
Tara: Ok. Ok, Mrini. That is a good idea. You open the car in the morning, I’ll open the car in the evening.
And that’s what they do. Every single day.
Tara does this time and again – challenges the status quo and then, when victory is her, relinquishes it in favour of status quo. She does this for selecting music for the drive; for deciding who gets to read the Winnie-the-Pooh book first (it accompanies the CD we play in the car and whoever reads it second only gets a few minutes because then we reach school; whoever reads it first gets the whole first story – 11 minutes); even for deciding which colour of shirt, shorts, toothbrushes, or shoes they will pick from two that are identical apart from colour. This girl really needs to work on her negotiation skills (and maybe on her logical thinking skills as well).
Then there’s the sweet part.
I hadn’t realized the extent to which the kids pick up things from us – like values and attitudes. They have realized, of late, that there are a whole lot of things I can’t eat. Mrini, in particular, often asks very solicitously whether the doctor has allowed me to eat this or that and whether it has maida in it. This is touching.
Now our home has a small patch of lawn running around two sides. It’s a very very small patch – a couple of feet wide on one side, and maybe six feet or so in front. It also has not been tended to in living memory, so it is basically an overgrown patch of weeds and three small and unruly trees. Our landlord, who comes by every month to pick up the rent cheque in person (he’s the old-fashioned type, doesn’t believe in net banking) asked us why we hadn’t had the garden cleaned up. I just shrugged – it wasn’t, by my standards, messy. Well, maybe, only a little. Apparently, he asked our downstairs neighbours too and apparently they took him seriously. When I went down on Sunday evening, I found, to my shock, that our unruly undergrowth had been crudely and completely removed. Now, instead of walking over a green bed of weeds, we walked over hard, dry earth. What’s more, the trees were gone. They’d been butchered down to bare trunks, about my height. They hadn’t been very large trees in any case, but they formed a nice arch of greenery over my head and provided a bit of screening from the road. Now our home looked undressed, naked.
On Monday morning, the kids saw it. They were shocked. “That’s so sad!” said Mrini, looking hurt. “That’s so sad!” She wasn’t parroting our words; she wasn’t parroting our thoughts. This was a thought of her own – she was genuinely shocked and sad to see our garden stripped of its greenery. Tara informed me that she had seen the “uncle” doing the work yesterday, from our bedroom window. “I didn’t ask his name because he wasn’t a nice uncle because he took away the pants,” she said. It took me a moment to figure out she meant “plants”.
And then Mrini’s excitement over going to Calcutta. She’s not excited about attending a wedding for the first time ever. She’s not very excited about meeting all the family members that she remembers. What she’s really excited about is:
Mrini: Mama, today is a school day? (while we were driving to school)
Me: Yes, it’s Monday.
Mrini: Tomorrow also we have to go to school?
Me: Tomorrow you’re going to Calcutta!
Mrini: But N has to go to school? (Her long-standing best-friend, boyfriend)
Mrini: It’s a holiday for me but not for N. N has to go to school. N will miss me.
Hmmm… Never too young to want to be missed!