A few days ago, I overheard a remark at a supermarket which went something like, “Come on now, don’t be a child!” It was meant — as most references towards child and animal behaviour are intended — to be condescending. As if the said person, if he ever got over his “childishness”, would be just that perfect human being the world would like to do business with.
It bothered me, that remark, particularly at a time when I was beginning to feel that adulthood and its related baggage is, to a large extent, our undoing.
We have too much time to be grown-up, too little to be children. We have forgotten how to laugh, cry, jump in abandon, sing and dance at whim, eat, play, love without an agenda. We are all hiding behind our adult masks, pretending to be all grown-up. It’s exhausting, this grownupness. Etiquette, protocol, political correctness — they are all collectively conspiring to render us clones of each other.
Children ask questions, don’t take no for an answer, don’t say “yes” too easily and almost say nothing to please. Spending time with a child keeps your dissent alive. It makes you question authority, it makes you wonder why you do what you do, it makes you happy, sad, angry, curious. Some of us hold on to the child in us, others let go. But in the end, it is the child in us that sets us free, no matter what we choose to do.
So let’s not rush it for our children. Let’s not admonish them for being “childlike”. Let’s not make adulthood this hugely exciting place they have to get to. Or, as American quotation anthologist Terri Guillemets sums it up: “Always jump in the puddles! Always skip alongside the flowers. The only fights worth fighting are the pillow and food varieties.”
My mother, minutes before she went into her second open heart surgery a few months ago, said, “Oh no! Now I have to tear open my rib cage like Hanuman and will end up looking like an open cockroach!” Her biggest peeve about the hospital stay was not the pain or the needles. It was her hospital gown, which she thought was most unbecoming for her petite self. She called it her misshapen backless choli, laughing feebly to bring out the cough that was necessary to decongest her chest, help her lungs clear and her heart stabilise post her valve replacement. She is the best child I have ever had.
The husband, on most days, is spank-worthy. His jaunts to the building landing (his allotted smoking area) are now getting increasingly longer thanks to Pocket Planes and Tiny Towers, his current hot picks on the iPhone. I find it harder to get him off his Xbox than Re off his toys and into bed. Why do you allow him to game, friends ask me. Because you can never not allow someone to be a child, I say.
One of the sideeffects of having Re is that he has brought me closer to my inner child. And so I feel grateful to him for teaching me these little things:
To laugh. Always. With abandon. Like you really mean it. As loud as you can. It’s good for your lungs. And it really makes your face come alive. Know anyone who doesn’t look good laughing?
To sing. Loudly. Or even softly. Whistle. Sway along. Sing like the world belongs to you. It will.
To dance. Anywhere, to anything. Dance like you know no fear, no inhibitions. Like your body is your best friend. Dance when no one expects you to.
To hug. Because no matter how big or small you are, you always feel happier after a hug.
To clap. Because it makes a nice sound. And when you are happy and you know it, you must clap your hands. The song says so.
To cuddle and kiss. Because everyone has to know they are loved.
To ask questions. Because it is important to know. Everything.
To cry. Because sometimes it is important to let people know that you are upset. Also, it always guarantees a cuddle.
They keep me going, these children in my life. One who gave birth to me. One I married. One I birthed.
(This post first appeared as my column in the Indian Express Sunday Eye on 28th Oct 2012)