بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
On our way to an extended family gathering, I floated an idea to my significant other about offering to take all the children of the clan – some of whom were visiting from outside the city – horseback riding along the now-quite-clean stretch of Clifton Beach after dinner. He thought the idea was great, given the pleasant weather.
Despite knowing how two pairs of keen ears with an efficiency of highly sensitive recording devices take in our car conversations, I didn’t suspect that the first thing our five-year-old would do once all the guests were seated, would be to start a mock trivia contest, announcing happily “Okay, everybody! Who is going to guess where we all are headed for a horse ride right after dinner?” Taken aback and wide-eyed, I tried to summon discreetly to her to not divulge any more, but to no avail. She was already the center of attention of the fifteen highly entertained guests seated around the dining table.
This was not the first time one of my children had spilled our beans in public, in all innocence. Once, when we disembarked from our car, my daughter spotted an elderly lady in shalwar kameez walking past, and asked in an alarmingly loud voice, “Mama! Is she a beggar woman?” You can imagine my relief when that lady, lost in thought, didn’t register this indirect insult to her attire. Would anyone blame me for losing my temper at such a point and letting go of my otherwise strictly adhered-to parenting rule: “never-scold–a-child-in-public”?
I fondly remember the good old days when my babies were little chubby bundles whose oral emissions caused chagrin only when they comprised of foul-smelling, regurgitated milk, or vomit. Back then, we couldn’t wait to hear them speak in sentences and become independent. Little did we know that their in-leaps-and-bounds mental progress would stunt our own freedom of expression at home, and drastically limit our conversational vocabulary!
As my children left toddlerhood and became minors, their skill of picking up difficult new words and deciphering the code words my husband and I used for discreet communication, gradually improved. Urdu being the primary spoken language in our home, initially we would switch to English and spell words out in order to prevent our 3-year-old from finding out what we were talking about. So, for example, we would say, “Let’s go to the p-a-r-k” in order to keep her in the dark about our destination. However, soon she and her younger brother started to comprehend English as well.
After that, we resorted to mentioning only a few letters in a word, including the beginning and ending letter, to communicate what we meant. For example, my husband once said, “I want a very light dinner because I had too many “F_ g’s” in the evening”.
“F_ g’s?” I asked, confused.
He looked at me pointedly, as a mini-computer nearby – one very fond of “F_ gs“, by the way, – immediately started doing a mental “hangman” exercise.
After a few seconds, just after I said, “Oh, I get it!” with a smug smile, a little jubilant voice piped up, “I know! Figs!” much to our mutual dismay. Our smug smiles turned into eye-rolls, as she demanded, “Where are the figs? I want some!”
The most difficult part is discussing issues regarding extended family for brainstorming solutions without the children catching on. Names have to be left out, complex descriptive adjectives and meaningful facial expressions need to be used in order to get the message across. However, we have realized that, since both our children are within earshot almost all the waking time we spend together, we are running out of feasible options. Children only get smarter and more knowledgeable as time goes on.
Most parents ‘talk serious’ only after their children have gone early to bed on weeknights because of school the next day. As homeschooling parents who mostly retire at the same time as their children, we seem to be in a fix. However, door locks, our children’s 3-hour afternoon naptime, cell phones, and quiet time after Fajr in the mornings do help us recover chances for more private tête-à-têtes, albeit shorter, eventually-interrupted ones.
What parents need to realize is that children are little individuals who love to be respected and trusted, just like we do. I have seen that, when I reasonably request my children to let me talk to my husband about something important without interruptions, they acquiesce readily. Especially if I answer their queries about difficult or novel concepts with a reassuring, “I will explain that to you when you are a bit older. Right now you are a little young to understand,” they appreciate being taken into confidence, and accept the decision.
Rather than treat our children as mindless havoc-creators who need to be kept “out of the way” until they become mature adults, we should try to consider them our “friends” in little bodies who love us unconditionally, so that we change the way we perceive their incessant interruptions, questions and demands for attention.
“Mama, you told me never to whisper when others are present, so why are you whispering to Baba so that I cannot hear?”
As I let out an exasperated sigh, I realized that she is right. You can never find friends more honest and sincere than these little munchkins!
This article was published in the “Mommy Diaries” column of last month’s issue of Pakistan’s Women’s Own Magazine.