How long ago was it when my two boys could not speak one sentence without prefixing it with, “My mother said/did….”. Oh, it seems like aeons ago when I had been the centre of their small universe. No longer. Now whatever Mom says or does has to be wrong. No second thoughts about it. And if proved otherwise, well, they might condescend to grudgingly admit, “You were right for once.” ( !?) Well, that’s kids for you.
It is not just the dethroning that, that rankles. It is the comparison with the L&M that they subject me to. Make no mistake. Kids are very clever and know from where the jam and pastries come, if not the butter. So even if you do provide them with the last, they are wise enough to unfavourably evaluate it with the former two that their Dad provides. This singular factor is enough to tilt the balance in favour of their pater dear. Some examples of the lop-sided assessment of their parents’ temperaments that children make:
When father screams and rants about some emergency (usually as catastrophic as the misplaced razor or his inability to locate a pen), he is just “in charge of the situation and is upset because of the inefficiency of you-know-who.” They roll their eyes at the unfortunate you-know-who and run to find the things misplaced by her to placate their father.
Contrast this with the following scenario: the gas cylinder is leaking; the plumbing has broken and is threatening to flood the living room; the school bus has just left without the brats. And what is the mother supposed to do in such a situation? She is supposed to keep her cool while dealing with the several crises — that’s what she is supposed to do!
Perish the thought of screaming or ranting, a la dad.
“Mom, don’t get into a flap,” advises my first born, and “Don’t panic ma,” says his exasperated younger brother.
They have no doubts that their father would have managed the situation admirably. I am sure he would have too — if he could have located the gas cylinder or known that water actually comes through a pipe and not magically at the turn of the tap or even that the children commute by the school bus every day.
But you can’t argue with the logic of the boys. Perhaps it is because their Dad is the source of moolah and it would be calamitous if he were to take offence at their criticism and stop funding their endless bottles of coke or the tonnes of chewing gum, not to speak of the ear-splitting CDs that they play 24 hours a day. Did someone say anything about children being innocent? Hah!
So ingrained in them is the belief that Mom is a nincompoop that the following conversation could be taking place in any home: “Dad, which is the largest bird in the world?” asks the younger one.
“Ostrich”, says Mom immediately with her mind shut. No sound of acknowledgment from the brat, who is hanging upon his father’s words — yet to form in his head. The great man in question looks wise, while desperately trying to remember how an ostrich looks like. His memory plays tricks on him when it comes to names. (What’s in a name?) Ocelot? Orang-utan? (No, that’s an animal!) Viola! Wasn’t it the awkward looking bird he had seen several decades ago as a kid in the zoo? Once he connects the word and the image, he is ready with the answer..
Now, here is the crux. The L&M would never give the monosyllabic answer the nincompoop mother has just given. Woe to her! He has to give an ‘explanatory reply’, if you please. So he launches into a soliloquy about wildlife in general and the African savannah in particular. Before doing this, he is of course careful to send the mother away to make a cup of tea for him.
Then, after merrily dispatching the koala to Africa and the rhino to South America, and making sundry other arbitrary transportations, he ends with a flourish: ‘…and ostrich is the largest bird in the world.’
Needless to say, when the mother returns at that precise moment with the convenient cup of tea, junior gives her a disdainful look, which says it all — ‘See, Dad knows so much!’
It is not always a game of ‘mom-is-a-dodo.’ Once they enter their mid/late teens, it is not father against mother, but their parents against others’ parents. It is the all important thing to impress their friends by presenting their parents in the best light.
You can assume the kid has become a full-fledged teen when his earlier boasts of “My father is the greatest looking guy” and “My father can lick yours anytime”, are replaced by a wistful, “Ajay’s father can play chess so well,” and an accusing, “Vivek’s father has no paunch and he is much older than you.” And at times a whispered, “Please tell dad not to sit in front of the TV munching namkeen when my friends come over. They’ll think that was all he did.”
Note that he would never make such requests directly to his father. It is all a matter of finance. Remember the cokes, gum, movies and cassettes? The needs have only increased over the years….
There are other instructions too: no lungis for dad and housecoats for mom. They had better be dressed in their best or else be guilty of disgracing him for eternity. I bite back the question, ‘Do your friends’ parents wear three piece suits and Kanjeevaram saris at home?’ But I would never dream of actually asking the question. I am perfectly teen-trained, you see.
And I never, ever make the mistake of going anywhere near his room when he has company. If it is a girl, I am afraid even to breathe in the vicinity, for fear of being accused of ‘eavesdropping ‘or ‘snooping around’ with my ‘suspicious’ mind.
Then there are times when he can’t be seen alive with his parents. If we go out, he walks either a couple of steps ahead or behind us so that some friend or acquaintance of his may not mistakenly connect us to him. If we try to either catch up or allow him to, he would bend down to tie a perfectly tied shoe lace, muttering between clenched teeth for us to go on, PLEASE, the last said in a strangled whisper.
The brats have grown up and have suddenly become very protective of their parents. It is an amazing turnaround. “You carry on with the news, Dad,” says the older one, after introducing his friends to his father, whose accomplishments he describes to them in glowing terms! (You can’t blame the L&M if his jaw is hanging open and he shakes his head to clear his hearing!) His wife hovers around anxiously as I climb the stairs and warns of impending obstacles in my path; the younger one holds my arm if it gets dark when we go out; he brings home doughnuts for me and munchies for his dad to go with his TV news! And no more ‘mom-is-a-dodo’, please – just look at all the promotion he does for my blog! (Makes me wonder sometimes how we will be treated when we become really old! Rather looking forward to it ;))
So, all of you folks out there going through the ‘critical phase’ take heart! It is temporary, with promises of better times to come!