A couple of nights ago we had dinner with friends. They are a DINK couple who planned the evening around my kids. I was touched. They have the most beautiful home that is not at all baby friendly and yet they didn’t shriek everytime the kids went near anything breakable. Neither did I shriek if the kids went near a sharp corner!
We’ve fortunately always had friends who have welcomed our kids and spoilt them beyond measure, more than making up for any lack of family. I loved that these guys had planned the menu to ensure that there was nothing too chilli, dinner was laid early, and most importantly, our kids were invited and entertained the entire evening by these friends and their dogs. The plan had been to then put them to sleep eventually and then watch a movie. The kids had a blast and I don’t know about my friends, but I enjoyed watching the kids build their own equation with them. The Brat always goes for the older men in a family – he really idol worships them – and my friend’s dignified dad suddenly found he had a little tail, with the Brat hanging on to his every word.
Anyhow, the point of this post was that I was chatting with my friend’s mother, who is a teacher and has been one for the last 25 years or more. We were basically talking about how the kids were too wide awake to be put in to bed and then the conversation moved on to how people no longer take kids to places and put them to sleep there. I recall being taken everywhere by my parents and obediently lying down on a chair or any corner and going to sleep when I was told to. “Well, aunty,” I pointed out, ” nowadays everyone has maids and parties are very clearly either for adults or kids. There’s no mixing. And kids are expected to be left at home. If you bring kids to a party, you’re expected to bring them with a maid in tow so that you can nurse your drink and peck at the hors d’oeuvres without chasing a toddler who is intent on killing the hostess’ Persian cat.” Parties in the good old days were different. Parents did get together and drink, but we were right next door in the nursery and there was always one parent popping in to check on us. And when they said lights out, lights out it was, with all of us lying down in a row and obediently shutting our eyes and our ears to the Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd blaring in the next room.
She nodded and made a very good point – That’s because everything is so personalised for children these days. Their bed, their stuffed toy, their sheets. They just can’t settle down or adjust to a new place – everything has be specially for them.
And I nodded as realisation dawned. She was right. Kids now have to have their Dora night lamp, their ratty teddy (or heffalump as the case may be), their glow in the dark Ben 10 stickers on the walls and so on. They aren’t just put down to sleep anywhere. Most people will request you not to come over at the child’s nap time. And you’ll be asked to keep your voice down if the child is sleeping. No one just grabs the baby and goes over to somebody’s house and puts them down. And it starts early – you carry the baby cot, the playmat, their own rattles, their toys – they’ve never learned to entertain themselves with a couple of spoons and a bit of ribbon. They’ve never just been put down in someone’s house and guarded with a couple of bolsters – and I have to plead guilty to some of these things. On the other hand I know people who carry food to cook on holiday too. me? I just asked for boiled eggs and potatoes and bits of rice, banana and bread, if I found nothing suitable for a baby.
I recall growing up without my presence in the house being an inconvenience to the elders in the house. And I feel no less loved for it. I can still sleep through a tornado if required. Fortunately so can my brats. If they are tired, they are out like a light – often on the floor. The Bean is famous for lying down in her class room with a little cushion and going to sleep towards the end of the school day. I keep two cushions and a shawl in the backseat and often after a long day the OA and I lie them down head to toe and cover them up, letting them fall asleep on the long drive home. Growing up in Munnar, the drive from one estate to another was a long one and I remember my favourite part of a party being getting in to the freezing car and falling asleep (the backseat of an Ambassador is still the most comfortable) … and then being carried to bed in a haze of sleep.
I have to agree, sometimes we’re just too fussy about our kids. Carrying kiddy food to parties and ensuring they eat at the exact time that they do at home. What harm is there if they just eat plain rice or roti at one meal because everything else is too spicy? What harm if they drink a little juice instead of milk at bedtime? I am glad I met aunty and I am so glad she made that statement. My own mother says it all the time but its so different coming from some one else. Depending on the way its said, it sounds less like criticism and more like an observation. Else the simplest solution is to just leave the kids home with maids and come out to party. Which no doubt, is fun once in a while, but its also nice to come out as a family – all of us. And how is one to do that when parties no longer cater to that?
As another wise Aunty once mentioned, how are kids going to learn to behave in public if you don’t bring them out and let them mix with others? If their interactions are limited to parties that revolve around kids with magicians and bouncy castles and kiddy food, all the time watched over by maids? Something that struck me too, was that people are no longer cool with a kid breaking something accidentally or puking on their carpet. Everyone has expensive furniture, knick knacks from travels abroad, expensive coffee table books, Afghan rugs and so and so forth. Any damage really does burn a hole in the pocket.
Another point she made was about 18 month old playschool kids being given building blocks to play. Instead of making trains or houses, 7 of them got on a cute baby conference call – yep – all of them pretended they were talking on mobile phones. Again, no judgment, but if kids only see their parents on the phone, that is all they will learn. If you want your kids to read or play outside, you’ve got to do it yourself. You can’t slump down in front of the TV and tell them to go out and get some fresh air.
What say older, wiser mothers?