The Bean is an original. Main nahi kehti, yeh zamaana kehta hai! Fiesty, warm, engaging, hot-headed, articulate, tiny, full of beans… I could go on. Whenever I want to describe her, I remember the song in The Sound of Music – How do you solve a problem like Maria? It was written for my daughter. Including the scene at the end of the song when she comes dashing in, her hair flying, her wimple in her hand. That is so Bean. As she turns five I’m in shock – didn’t I just announce my pregnancy yesterday? Wasn’t it this morning that my friends from around the world gave me a virtual baby shower? And can I say I have ‘babies’ at home, if the younger one is already five? Was she ever a baby or was she always a precocious little old lady?
She has given up all pretence of being the Brat’s younger sister and is constantly bossing him around. She is horribly irritable and the Brat just needs to look at her for her to explode in red hot anger and attack him with her little fists, if she believes there is more to the look than ignorant bystanders like me can decipher. There’s no point arguing with her, because she will not take a slight lightly. The OA says she is all me. I disagree. She is me into about 50 and that is always a scary thought. My mother has the last laugh. My father pulls the OA aside and points out that there is hope, it’s just a matter of another 15 years at worst and hopefully some besotted fool will take her off his hands just as I was taken off his. The OA is usually torn between wanting his money back and a sliver of hope.
Okay, so maybe I’m being mean, but you need to experience Bean to know how she carries you away like a sudden but fierce flood. Watch out world, don’t mess with my Bean. I have put all I have into her. I want her to be strong, fierce, tenacious, determined, intelligent – and she is the best pupil a mother could want, soaking up everything I teach her, her eyes sparkling with interest. And then she throws one of my teachings back at me and I struggle between maternal disapproval at being spoken to in that way and a sort of satisfaction at the back of my mind, that my work has not been in vain. It’s a fine line to walk and often she says things that are unbelievable cheeky and completely inappropriate coming from a four year old. But you give it some thought, put in a context and you realise it’s just a very sharp brain speaking out aloud. At this point I gently tell her that she might be right in the thought process, but perhaps the way she said it was wrong for someone her age, or perhaps it’s not something people are happy to hear. Here are some samples.
Bean to someone: Get up you lazyhead!
Me: What on earth is a lazy head?
Bean: You said I can’t go around saying bum, bum, so I’m saying head instead.
Me: We’re going to Aunty X and Uncle Y’s place. Remember? We attended their wedding some months ago?
Bean: Yes I do. Do they have babies for us to play with yet?
Bean: So then why did they get married?
Point hai, milord. Maybe I should hire her out to irate parents whose children refuse to produce grandchildren for them.
Bean: Brat, don’t do silly things on the road or you’ll die and Mama will have to marry another man to have another baby.
Me: Eh? Why do I have to marry another man?
Bean: Because if you have another son with dada he might be stupid again.
This was no slur on her father’s intelligence. On further questioning I figured that she believed that if the OA and I had another son then naturally he’d be the spitting image of the previous one.
Bean: Mama, when you smile, your eyes shine as brightly as sequins and the bathroom light. High praise indeed.
Me: Beanie! God alone knows where your shoes are.
Bean: God is busy taking care of all humans. He doesn’t know where my shoes are. —
I’m singing to her and she says, “Mama, pause that for a minute while I go get my toys.”
On finding out that she has chicken pox: Chickens don’t have spots! Dogs do. So I think I have dog pox.
Pre -X’mas she was annoying me with something and I threatened her with a tight jhaanp. To which she responded, “You can’t do that. Santa doesn’t give presents to bad mommies who jhaanp their babies.”
In response to being told that she has to be really quiet in Church when we attended my cousin’s wedding:”I WILL talk in Church if I want to because its God house not yours and we go there to talk to him, not to sit quietly and watch people get married.”
To me: Mama, if I play with Dada’s iPad too much you can give it back to Nana. That will teach me not to be so naughty.
Reason # 239 not to use sarcasm on your child.
Me: Bean, what are you doing in the bathroom?
Bean: Eating breakfast?
Lesson learnt. She won’t hear that from me again.
Me: Bean, what have you been up to? You’ve got biscuits on your bum.
Bean: Really? Help!! save me. There’s a biscuit on my bum!! help!
Yes, she does have a sense of humour.
Me: Bean, do you know what sardines are?
Bean: It’s when lots of people are squashed into one one place.
Proof that I don’t feed her enough variety but spend the day talking to her.
Bean, making little morsels of rice on her plate and playing the old fashioned house game: Mama, I’m going to eat your house first. For so many days I lived in your tummy and now you will live in mine. And now I’m eating Nani’s house so that she can live inside my tummy with you and you won’t miss your Mama.”
The circle of life?
Proof that we speak too many languages and confuse her at times. She asks me, “Kanna, mishti chahiye?”
Bean making up a song she titled ‘The Christmas Wish’. Sample this -
“Christmas never comes because my Mama won’t let it.
Christmas is the coldest day, I have felt it.
Whatever you do,
even if you get some glue,
a Christmas wish will never come for youuuu.”
So young yet so angsty and it all ends with Mama as the Grinch
Me: What do you mean you won’t do it? Even your pop will do it.
Bean: Yes. That’s because HE is scared of you. I’m not.
Me: No, no, no. No, you may not change yet again to go out for lunch.
Bean: God gave you one, only one little girl and you don’t even dress her properly. Arrgh.
Sitting in the balcony and talking to Bean about the importance of greenery, environment etc. She points to the hibiscus and says earnestly, “I like greenery Mama, but I would also like some more red-ery, pink-ery and blue-ery.”
Bean: Ma, Uncle told me that ice cream is good for your health. It gives you muscles.
Me: Really? Let me call and ask him if he told you that.
Bean (hastily): No, no… maybe it wasn’t him after all. Maybe I’m tired and confused and need a nap. I’ll think again and tell you who told me.
Bean watching an F1 car drive into the pitstop : “Now those people are going to beat the driver because he didnt finish the race.”
Brat is chasing a fly and finally ends up whacking the TV screen with a dino, trying to kill it. I scream in terror that he will spoil the screen.
Bean: Mama, don’t shout at him. Flies carry diseases. Do you want the TV to get a disease?
Me: Bean, if you run around without your slippers, your feet will get ugly, dirty and cracked.
Bean (seriously): Like yours, you mean?
And this considering I have pretty well cared for feet.
Me: Brat, eat your breakfast. What are you waiting for?
Me: No, you may not watch TV. You already saw half an hour this afternoon.
Bean: I didn’t, Ma. You’re fooling yourself.
Dressed in her brother’s hand me downs she looks like a neglected child. And that is no fault of his, because his clothes come down to her in pristine condition but are very clearly boys’ clothes. Ten minutes on her person and they begin to look their age. And while I try to keep her away from my world of lifestyle journalism it’s not easy and she loves picking up the magazines after I am done with them and looking at the bright and colourful pictures, pointing out which model’s outfit is the best. She has rather good taste for a child and will unerringly point out something strikingly stylish as her favourite. I try to take them away from her and then remember that I grew up in a house where no book or magazine was offlimits and that it in part contributed to my love for reading. She’s not been taught to read yet but is always found poring over a favourite fairy tale, almost reciting the story verbatim. It’s been a challenge to resist teaching her to read as the school has requested us and I can’t wait for them to give us the go ahead.
She often crosses the fine line between bravery and foolishness and will climb up a high tree until she’s on a branch that is too weak and I begin to pray for her safe descent. The OA waits patiently under the branch for it to wait while the Brat rolls his eyes and asks me why his sister was stupid enough to climb on to a weak branch. Not for her the boundaries of caution and care. Every bough must be conquered, every hill must be climbed. She was the youngest and tiniest child at a recent ziplining event, the belt and harness just about fitting her. While bigger children stood at the starting point and looked nervous, she jumped from foot to foot in excitement, hardly able to wait. And then she took off and as she flew by, high above our heads she flung her arms out, threw her head back and laughed a belly laugh of sheer joy.
Wheezing, asthmatic, prone to rashes, it’s not right for her to be playing in dust and dirt and yet the moment I let her out of my sight she’s knee deep in filth and in seventh heaven. She plays in the mud, she pets dogs, her food can’t make the short journey from plate to mouth without incident, she must peer into the mail box when we visit people and I have gone hoarse telling her that it’s impolite, she cannot help but touch that unidentifiable mush in the middle of the garden and she must splash in every puddle. It sounds like a dream childhood but my temper frays and I snap. And then I regret it when she looks up at me with those disproportionately huge eyes in a tiny face and I am reminded that she’s still just a baby.
A few years ago the doctor was checking her for yet another rash, while she lay on the doctor’s table, gasping for breath and all the while making jokes, pointing to something on the shelf, chatting with the doctor and making funny faces. And the lady looked at me and said – ‘I see sick children everyday and its understandable that they’re cranky and sullen. It’s amazing to see her spirit.’
We’re already falling into one of those legendary volatile mother-daughter relationships, both so alike in temperament. There are days we hug and kiss each other until our mouths dry up and other days when I scream and she stomps around the house with a scowl painted on to her face. The two men of the house take one look at the tempers flaring and wisely retreat into their respective corners.
I don’t know if women are born wise and nurturing, but for all the running around the house screaming, clowning around, she instinctively knows when someone is unwell. Mama? Why are you making that face? Is your knee hurting? Is your head aching? And she’ll run around plumping pillows. She has even as an 18 month old pulled the Brat’s head into her lap and stroked his forehead till he falls asleep. At five she truly believes that she’s a grown daughter who must take care of me. Foot rubs to put me to sleep on days that she notices me limping (some days she crawls under the dining table while I am eating and I jump in shock as tiny little hands begin to massage my feet and work out the knots with professional ease), scolds her father if he dares raise his voice or even an eyebrow at me, insists on talking to every family member who calls up and rolls her eyes when I come up with something she believes to be untenable.
Her father, funnily is her biggest enemy and I see the relationship between my father and me play out again. They rage against each other, they match wits, they hold out stubbornly waiting for the other to fall and I’m surprised because the OA is the most goodnatured and calm man I’ve seen (well, he’d have to be, to be married to me, wouldn’t he?) loses it entirely where she is concerned. I’ve always said that every man should have a daughter. And the OA who has had few women in his life and rarely any this formidable, is rethinking every stereotype. She burps with the best, she tries to whistle, she cycles furiously to keep up with him and she is braver and more willing to take a risk than most of the Brat’s naughtiest friends. Fiercely competitive, she will wrestle with him and not give up until she’s lost every bit of strength in her tiny little body. The OA is not a man given to stereotypes to begin with, and a very fair man in general so wrapping his head around the conundrum that is the Bean, takes a lot out of him. One minute he probably has visions of a beautiful bride being given away, the other, he wants her to throw convention to the winds and drive rallies with him. It’s been worth having a daughter, just to watch one more man change the way he looks at womankind.
Each morning my little moonbeam (I call the Brat my son-beam and her my moon-beam – haha , geddit?) wakes up with a smile on her face, ready to take on the day. Come evening she’s still bouncing off the walls and I’m drained by the effort of keeping up with her, matching wits and answering queries. And as she falls asleep, her long lashes resting on a skinny little cheek that could do with some fattening up, I marvel at how wonderful she is.
Happy Birthday my darling Bean. On your fifth, as I type this last paragraph in I have tears in my eyes – as one of you once wisely said, that is what happens when you have so much love inside that it overflows from the eyes. And so my eyes are overflowing with love right now. This is good news because I’ve spent the day in a towering rage after you got playdoh stuck in your hair. I ask Dada what he wants to say about you and he thinks for a minute before he responds, “The Bean is the fun factor in my life – she brings us so much joy. The Brat makes me feel warm inside and everytime I think of him I smile. And you, my wife just add to my work. ” Err. Okay.
On that note, again, happy happies, little not-so-hungry caterpillar. Watching you turn into a human being has been the most fascinating experience. I can’t wait to see you turn into the most beautiful butterfly ever.