Small Conscience By Sunehra Mehmood

Children, with their looks and small size, are extremely well able to recommend themselves, quite independently of their parents’ constant endorsement. However, taking them at face value is inadvisable because, like everything else about them, their conscience also comes in small amounts. And they can get away with anything, helped in no small manner by their angelic faces.children

Children may be a menace at home but then that’s all right, for what happens at home is likely to stay at home. But when they show their true colours in front of company is when they should be most feared. Some children, in particular, are remarkably fond of putting adults in their places at public gatherings, especially, if it’s a serious kind of affair with many sober-faced adults in attendance. The parents, who cannot stop from boring others by enumerating their children’s very many qualities, would at times be confronted by their children choosing, at a most inopportune moment, to display to all and sundry, their parents’ propensity to brag. With nary a thought for their parents’ reputation in the adult world, they may start to howl and rage at a moment’s notice, refusing to be placated. One is invariably treated to such a cry when everyone is quietly listening to a religious scholar trying to impart the values of patience to us. childrenThat cry alone would have been bearable had it not been for the highly contagious quality of it. Every child in the immediate vicinity picks it up and soon we have a multiple of whines and wails registering their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. Most of the people listening to the scholar going on and on about the importance of being patient, may be, nonetheless, in a most uncompromising mood, and start to direct disgusted looks at the mothers of those children. One can’t decide whether to feel sorry for them or consider them well served for spoiling their little ones.

childrenIt is my belief that children are out to get their parents for reasons best known to them, but, perhaps, one can make an educated guess. Parents make them go to school then to madrassah and then to tuition, all in one long day. As a result, children consider it their right to embarrass their parents whenever possible but, particularly, when visiting other people’s homes. And they have other ways of making their parents pay besides just shrieking and crying, which according to them, is pretty old school. They may, with perfect disregard to modesty, start to undress themselves with deliberation to get it inside their parents’ mind that they mean to acquire whatever latest thing that has taken their fancy. Now, the poor parents are, no doubt, wishing fervently that had they been somewhere else and preferably alone, they would dearly loved to have whacked their beloved child into whimpering incoherence but since they apparently can’t, they resolve to disown them later on. It is miracle of no small proportion, and one that never ceases to amaze me that parents are blessed with such short memory spans when it comes to their children that before long they forget their child’s numerous indiscretions.

Dear readers, two little girls, four and five years of age, came to see me everyday for an hour, sporting, interestingly enough, a different eye-shadow on each eye (green and purple) and a different colour on each lip (pink and yellow) and even a different shade of blush on each cheek (red and orange). As you might, by now, have deduced, they were quite the naughtiest girls I have ever known and it fell to my lot to make human beings out of them. I own, I failed miserably. But I did learn, in the process, an excessive amount about little girls, and from the narration of that knowledge, I’m sure, you will benefit as well. I discovered, first of all, and science may well one day prove me right, that small children happen to be different species altogether from regular adults. How else can one make any sense of the fact that they consume only a small amount of food but their bodies turn it into double the amount of energy, which in turn, allows them to spring about tirelessly and endlessly for as many hours as it takes for the adults to completely exhaust their meagre supplies of energy. Children also have it in them to promptly forget, after having been told quite a lot of times, that B happens to succeed A. At the end of an hour at this, do not be surprised if you actually start believing that your kindergarten teacher had it wrong and it is, for all intents and purposes, very much as if B actually did precede A. You may also find, whether you want to or not, that if you commit the unforgivable sin of looking at one of the girls while the other one is trying to catch your attention, then the latter may go to any lengths imaginable to express her displeasure at such an occurrence by carrying out a complicated manoeuvre. In very quick succession, she may firstly manage to fall off her chair, then, by a feat of dexterous limb movement, manage to have that same solid wooden chair fall on top of her but contriving it so that the chair just about misses her face by an inch. By that time, if one is wise and sensible and still in possession of one’s nerves and, not to mention, patience, then it is only proper to convey to their parents in as politically correct a way as possible, that their children have outgrown your help and would indeed benefit more in a rigidly controlled environment with cameras, if possible.

One other fact about children is that they are, by nature, truthful but, by God, do they have the most awkward timing. If you want to know things about your mother-in-law when you left your child in her custody, he or she will tell you everything without a glimmer of suspicion as to your real motives. But, on the other hand, they may be just as vocal when you don’t necessarily want them to broadcast to the entire world your secrets. A little girl I know proclaimed to the entire world that her aunt was, at that specific moment in time, wearing her mom’s clothes. Normally, it wouldn’t have mattered so much but, as it happens, she was in the company of some half a dozen other women. And that little girl took particular care that if, at the first instant, there was some hope that these women hadn’t heard her, she dashed all her aunt’s expectations by yelling the same thing over and over. This little episode did do some good, however, for that lady was cured of the habit of borrowing things from others.

If you really think about it, you’ll start to see that children are not only a different species but are quite similar to pets as well. For example, both children and pets speak an alien language; both require a large amount of one’s time and attention; and both are governed by the same law. Animal experts say that pets should be punished at exactly the moment when they do something wrong otherwise there is no point in punishing them after the fact because they wouldn’t understand what they did wrong. Same goes for children, one should suppose. There may, however, be some arguments in favour of pets, as compared to children, when talking about house-breaking them. Empirical research would likely suggest that, when it comes to potty training, pets are smarter.

childrenSchool is an extremely uncomfortable place as it is, without children bullying each other. Once they’ve had their fill of making their parents’ lives acutely painful, they then turn to doing the same to their teachers and fellow students. Their ingenuity renders them masters of the art of rhyme and they take it upon themselves to provide remarkably unflattering substitutes to other children’s names. Seemingly normal names like mine were distorted as well. Don’t get your hopes high, I’m not about to tell you what they did to mine. But that’s not all. You can be teased for anything in school and your physical attributes are at the top of the list. I had once been made fun of for yawning! A third grader was showing off his skills, in the winters, of opening his mouth and exhaling just to show his fellows how big a white smoke he could create. I was in first grade and so duly ignored as is only proper. Suddenly, I yawned and he spotted me. He thought I was so impressed by his skill that I wanted to emulate him, although God alone knows what gave him that idea. He started pointing at me and he and his group laughed like anything. I wish I had had the temerity to tell them that I was only yawning to express my feelings for their ‘mature’ antics. Not only was I cripplingly shy, I was no smart aleck in those days and so, was suitably busy being embarrassed. By the bye, isn’t it odd that smoke actually emitted from our mouths in Karachi’s winter? Wonder what indecent hour our school commenced. It never happens now, no matter how early one wakes up for work.

People always say that God listens to children’s prayers. And everybody also knows that prayers are answered if you mean them. So, when adults ask children to pray for them, that’s where we have an apparent contradiction, because I’ve always thought that those small creatures couldn’t care less. They don’t care if you get married to a man resembling Shahrukh Khan or whether you get the latest branded bag at sale price just so you could incense your sister-in-law. For them, it’s just another dumb thing grown-ups make them do, just like making them choose between mummy and daddy. Whoever invented that silly game was clearly unaware that children would always choose mummy. She feeds them, washes their tushies, makes their tummy stop aching, and even do their school homework occasionally; whereas daddies, if confronted with any of these situations, would be found focussing all their attention on not making eye contact.

Raising a child is a responsibility not to be taken lightly, and only a very brave person should attempt it. The population of Pakistan would suggest that there are many lion-hearts amongst us. However, dear readers, many of you may form the opinion that such a thought-provoking discourse on the merits and demerits of children is slightly premature for someone as happily unencumbered as I am.

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