If your children are beyond your control, leave them at home with the overpaid nanny, or the adoring grandmother
A couple of weeks ago, as I settled down in a comfortable chair in a friend’s cosy, chic, well-run salon — of the beauty type — pondering over the process of ageing, looking at my fading highlights, I sighed and decided to just relax. To think not too much about greying hair, and weakening grey cells, and enjoy the once-in-a-while bliss of having a salon treatment. Being a self-avowed couch potato and introvert, self-pampering is the big adventure of my supremely lazy month.
As I closed my eyes for a second or two, myriad strong-smelling things in my hair, I was jolted back to reality when a scream rang loud in the salon. Startled, I looked up, and like a deer caught in the glare of headlights, my nearsighted eyes found the source of the non-stop, very screechy, very jarring din. It was a boy, maybe three- or four-years-old, standing next to his mother who was getting her hair styled. For some reason, the child thought his mother was in the clutches of some big, bad monster, being tortured to give up her magical wings. The curly-haired, chubby, totally adorable child — the kind you see in ads about children being brought up on packaged milk — bawled as if his favourite toy had been snatched by his cruel sibling. What surprised and irked me was the mother’s total nonchalance to the screams of the child. Instead of taking out a couple of minutes from her hairstyling, she merely smiled indulgently as the child shrieked louder than two dozen magpies on a hunger strike.
That reminds of me of the quiet breakfast I had one Sunday afternoon at a coffee shop in DHA, Lahore. Breakfast at lunch is an indulgence, and pancakes sheer bliss. Make that scrumptious, freshly-made blueberry pancakes with a tall, caramel latte to go with ‘em. Ah. But before I could fork one huge chunk into my half-open mouth, he screamed again. Yes, another tiny creature, another painful experience. One of those phenomena where we all merely tsk-tsk among ourselves, indulge in kids-will-be-kids head-shaking, and ask the cafe manager to tell the boy to zip it.
Seated in a corner was a nice-looking couple, in their late twenties-early thirties perhaps, with a friend/cousin/colleague. You know one of those we-are-equal husband-wife, both educated, both career-oriented, both sharing responsibilities of child-rearing and, on good nights, dish-washing. Come to think of it, that only happens in Indian ads, and Mehreen Jabbar’s long plays. From time to time, the dad did his best to soothe the bawling banshee, sorry boy, but to no avail. The crying and shouting continued. In no particular order. And I watched, scowled and counted backward from 100 to control my inner headmistress who wanted to shout: control your child or leave!
Watching Bajrangi Bhaijaan past midnight in the nearby theatre, going gaga over the mute girl uniting wordlessly hostile Pakistan and India, suddenly there was a shriek. No, it wasn’t Munni finding her voice miraculously; it was another child from hell screaming while grown-ups were happily busy seeing the similarities between Pakistanis and Indians. Why a child under the age of four was brought to the cinema past midnight is a mystery bigger than the inability of Pakistan and India to attain maturity of thought and initiate dialogue with one another. And while Munni remained on mute throughout the film, the noisy child in the cinema punctuated the silence intermittently, making easily-startled women like me almost choke on caramel popcorn when the scream was louder than Bajrangi singing the chicken song.
The moral of these stories: if your children are beyond your control, leave them at home with the overpaid nanny, or the adoring grandmother who’d plant the child in front of the TV with a remote control to throw at domestic staff. Your child is your responsibility, and that is not limited to enrollment in the best pre-school, or the cuteness quotient measured in the latest Gap Kid clothes. Your awww-how-naughty doesn’t cut it. It’s simply a manifestation of your I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-anyone’s-peace-of-mind. And before you label me a child-hating feminist, let me belabour the truth: I love, love and love children, and motherhood means more to me than anything else in the world. But crying children in public places… O the horror of that is unquantifiable. The only place that is permissible in is the paediatrician’s room. Yep. Or the play areas of fast food joints.
Children are the joy of my life right from the time I was a child myself. Ergo, I write in concern. To the parents of ALL bratty children. No, bratty-ness is never cute, and it’s totally on you. Do not let your child reach the limit where the sign on every salon, restaurant, cinema would read: children and cats are not allowed. The former empties the place and the latter causes allergies.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2015.
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