Have you noticed how children readily learn to say ‘No!’ even when they are quite young? Well, it is quite natural, given that that is the word they hear most from the adults around them! We just bellow a ‘No’ for a whole lot of things that the children ask for or want to do. Perhaps we are justified in our refusal, as one can’t accede to all the demands and allow the actions of children.
Thinking about it, I couldn’t but go back in time to when my boys were small. It had not only been about my saying ‘No’, but also being a bundle of contradictions in their little eyes. They simply couldn’t figure their mother out!
My boys had a lot of trouble reconciling with my personality and temperament, the poor things! However, I must say this: as they grew older, I have been admired by them as much as I had been found a monster in disguise when they were younger. I must confess that many a time I had myself been equally confused by my temperament! Oh, how many times have I desperately tried making sense of what I was telling them!
It had started early – the confusion, I mean. And the confrontations that had followed.
The older one had been all of three when he saw a photograph of me as a child. We were looking at the old family album together and he was asking, ‘Who is this?’ looking at every picture.
‘Who is this?’ he now demanded putting his pudgy little finger on the photo.
‘That is amma, when she was a little girl,’ I replied. He gave one look at the photo and then at me and began crying. ‘No, it is not amma. It is a girl!’
I had to suppress a smile. How could the little one connect the grown woman before him to the little girl in the picture? How could his mother be a girl, this girl? He clearly was conflicted.
The confusion only got worse as he grew older and were not as simple as his mother being a girl in a photo. His feelings veered crazily between eulogizing about his mother to his friends and finding her sadly lacking in every department!
For instance, he could not reconcile with the woman who hugged him one moment for doing something and bawled him out the next instant for doing something else – both similar actions, in his child’s mind. My fault entirely, for failing to make him understand that putting away his school shoes in the rack and shoving his sweaty school shirt in the cupboard were not the same thing. So when he got a pat for putting away his shoes in the rack and a scolding for the sweaty shirt in the cupboard, he was nonplussed. Hadn’t he ‘put it away?’.
One day he came running with stars in his eyes. He had a friend, older by four years who was celebrating his birthday that evening at his grandparents’. He had invited his little friend to come along. Now, the grandparents’ house was far and the party would have ended well past his bedtime. Besides, the other invitees were all much older and the parents were not invited. So I told him that he could not go, and tried to explain to him the reasons. He begged, pleaded and screamed some. I didn’t budge.
He gave me one look with all the anger his four-year-old eyes could muster and sputtered, ‘You are……’, I could see him searching for the most indicting word to describe his heartless mother; ‘….the baddest mother in the whole world!’ and burst out crying. I had to hug and comfort him saying that his own birthday was soon coming up and he could have the best party ever where his friend could be the guest of honour!
The poor kid had just got used to this unpredictable mother of his, when his baby brother was born. Now the confusion started all over again.
I would absent-mindedly tick him off for being a big boy and how he should behave like one and not bawl for little things, and in the same breath – well in the next breath — announce that he was too small for something else.
This went on for some time till one day he confronted me squarely. ‘Will you please tell me if I am little boy or a big boy!’ his eyes dared me to put him off.
As he grew older, he had even more complaints. One of them was that I bought clothes that were too big for him even to ‘grow into’. He claimed to have set the trend of baggy shorts and shirts when the fashion had not even started! ‘If this shirt were a little longer, I could make it into a jumpsuit with some alteration!’ he told me accusingly one day. ‘And please can I get shoes of my size? I have to chase after them when I walk. They keep coming off and running ahead without me!’
The younger one’s experiences were no different. I remember teaching them that when we had child visitors, they should share their toys with them, ‘since they are visiting us.’ They happily shared their toys and all was well. Till the day we visited a friend’s house and their child would not let the younger one play with his toys. I looked helplessly at the parents who were indulgently informing us that their child was very possessive of his things. So I pulled my little angel (calling him a brat at that particular moment would have been an injustice) and told him that he should not fight for the toy because we were ‘guests in their house’.
It took some amount of digesting for his little stomach, but he kept quiet. The next time this happened he stood with his hands on his hips and demanded, ‘If I have to give my toys when someone comes home and not ask for them when I go someone else’s house, don’t I ever get to play with the toys when there is anyone else?’
Folks, this one really stumped me. I had to bow to his logic and lamely tell him that ‘good boys don’t fight.’ He gave me an uncertain look trying to figure that one out.
The boys were well-behaved. One reason for it could have been that as kids they believed that their mother had a ‘hundred eyes’, and could find out what mischief they had been up to behind her back. Most of the times it would be sheer guesswork or some tell-tale mark. I never let on about my being just two-eyed though!
When the younger one had been nine we had got a computer at home. But I wouldn’t allow them to play games on it except for maybe half an hour or a maximum of one hour. An exasperated younger one, after begging me to let him continue declared, ‘ALL the mothers in the world allow their children to play games as long as they want!’ I cringed – being the world’s worst dictator in addition to being the ‘baddest’ mother was sure depressing but I didn’t budge much to his disgust.
They used to worry about being ‘skinned alive’ and ‘beaten to a pulp’ but soon realized that they were safe from such dire consequences of their mischiefs. The older in a devilish mood would even dare me to carry out the threats!
The contradictions in the form of their mother increased during their pre-teen years. I once heard the older one tell his friend, ‘My mother is a bundle of ‘NO’ es. The younger one used to start his sentences with, ‘I know you will say no, but listen to me anyway.’
With a pang I realized that saying ‘no’ had become a reflex action for me. But I was a darned sight better than my friend who had three sons – each naughtier than the other. Her children complained that their mother only told them two things – ‘Eat!’ And ‘Study!’ So bad was it that it was as if all the other verbs had been erased from her vocabulary!
Sigh! Those were the good old days. Too soon they had grown up and become TEENS. The rest as they say, is history. And oh, they still remember a lot of things that I had said ‘no’ to when they were younger, but I am glad that they don’t hold grudges against their ‘baddest’ mother!
Do read this sensible piece on the subject by my friend Latha
(Image courtesy: Cartoonstock.com)