Humour by Rehana Munir: Five kiddie clichés it’s time to retire
Why not start with Children’s Day? the astute among you might ask, and rightly so. But let’s not throw out the baby with the baby clichés; fun and frolic are every child’s birthright, and Chacha Nehru’s birthday is as good a day as any to reiterate the fact. Kids on their own are excellent, I’ve always maintained; it’s the parents I’m usually wary of. Here’s some unsolicited advice on this happy occasion.
Human colour-coding begins right at the maternity ward, when one’s defences are somewhat feeble. Trying to buy a baby some clothes at a store without following the strict gender codes borrowed from the Unicorn School of Biology is an ordeal. Plus, I’ll never understand how clothes for a three-month-old can cost as much as they do, when they’ll be worn all of three times before being damaged in some signature baby way involving rejected food, or naturally outgrown and discarded. Then there’s the bling. Kids like bright and happy things, but perhaps not all the bright and happy things in one over-co-ordinated ensemble. Is cuteness even cuteness if it has a neon sign that says ‘cuteness’ shining over it?
How do you talk to a beloved child without losing every shred of integrity that holds the fabric of one’s adulthood together? I don’t have the answer to that yet. Being around an unsuspecting toddler makes me switch to a dialect that is part Hindustani, part Teletubby. It sounds awful even to me; I don’t know how the kid can stand it. But what’s worse is when the baby talk spills into the lives of parents; mothers and fathers referring to each other by the names their kids call them is a Freudianism we can all do without. What always gets me is how perfectly ready children always are to be spoken to like equals. They are, instead, subjected to endearments whose afterlives have one central purpose: relentless ribbing from one’s friend for all one’s grown-up years. Poor little cutie patootie munchkins!
I’m firmly from the cardboard boxes and steel utensils school of toys, or is it era? But let’s say you’re of a less Dickensian disposition—what’s with all those unboxing videos on YouTube? Are they in fact messages from aliens taking over a distracted planet?—there has to be a subtext there. I understand that anyone over 22 ought to be very ashamed of existing in this epoch of accelerated obsolescence, but can I maybe suggest overindulgent toys are a mammoth cliché we’d all do well to erase? Kids need presence, not presents. (Eeeks, that’s Instagrammably pithy). And the planet certainly doesn’t need more plastic that goes into landfills. I understand that it’s insanely difficult to resist the lure of beautifully created products for children these days—I recently saw a gorgeous Bentley pram in British racing green that made me rethink my views on both vehicles and children, but I digress.
It’s impossible to watch anything on TV or online anymore—if you’re not bombarded by inscrutable ads peddling something depressingly futuristic called Bitcoin, you’re subjected to the torments of virtual learning for kids. Mostly, coding. The kids in these ads look freakishly happy, and their parents, smugly proud. It’s clearly not enough for kids to ride a bike without toppling over or to spit out their lines in a school play. With pandemic-necessitated lockdowns and extended digital exposure, educationists globally worry about the long-term consequences of children’s academic as well as social development. But at least the world will never ever run out of lines of code.
Remember those things kids once did that had nothing to do with getting ahead in a competitive world, hurtling towards a climate catastrophe? Origami and elocution, puppet-making and slam books—the gossipy ancestors of social media. Not anymore. What kind of eight-year-old squanders away their youth hanging with friends or reading comics? Pushy parents make insecure children, I declare, using both bits of my knowledge of child psychology. “Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will […]” said the wise Baudelaire, calling to mind the freedom and creativity that one’s early years embody. Writing code might be a lucrative skill, but going against the code is a far more pleasurable one.
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From HT Brunch, November 14, 2021
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