This article (Not once did she ask her son why he punched the new boy) reminded me of an incident that happened some years back. We were stationed at a place called Sevoke Road, a sleepy little cantonment area, with not much in the form of entertainment (but which place I would give my eye-teeth to to go back and live in for its proximity to nature and the quietness) for you to pass the time, unless of course you make the effort to drive up to Siliguri. The chances of that were dim considering the Lord & Master and the rest of the officers of the unit were a busy lot, busier even than the proverbial bees.
Most days, they left for office before the children had woken up and returned after they had gone to sleep. The rest of the days they weren’t there at all. So we wives and kids were left to fend for ourselves and find our own resources for amusement. This we did by visiting each other, going for walks, making trips to the market, watching movies etc. during our spare time. The nearest video parlor with its regular supply of Bollywood as also Hollywood movies, helped us with the last of them.
We, the L & M and I, were proud owners of a VCR and whoever had one in those days, invited others over to spend the day with them to watch a movie. Lunch was thrown in with some dishes being brought over by the guests too. Kids were usually thrilled by this arrangement. Apart from getting to watch a movie with friends, they got to eat a variety of things as well.
One day my nearest neighbor Mrs U requested that we make the next day (a Sunday) one such movie day. Her kids it seemed, had been asking to watch a movie since long. She would cook something and bring it over. It was fine by me. Our respective husbands were away with the Unit on IS duty. The days stretched long before us. This way, we’d kill some time on a lazy weekend and the kids would be happy too.
My sons were ten and four at the time. Mrs U had a girl and a boy. The son, older of the two, at seven was a willful boy who threw tantrums at the drop of a hat, bossed over his mother and generally behaved in an obnoxious manner. I disapproved of the way she seemed to give in to him always, sometimes even at the expense of her younger daughter, a sweet little thing of four, who was always ready to oblige and give up to her brother whatever he was demanding at the moment. Many times her son has been the reason for my junior son expressly disobeying my orders. But unlike many parents my solution was never blaming the instigator or complaining to his mother even. If he disobeyed me, my son had to face the music (mine). So it was up to him to decide what to do and choose to do it.
Anyways, movie day dawned bright and clear. Mrs U came over with the kids and the snacks she had prepared. We settled in the TV room. Mrs U’s son had grabbed a comic book from the book rack and had his face in it. The two younger ones, the classmates the bosom buddies were chattering, excited to be watching a movie together. My senior son got busy with the VCR. But the cassette wouldn’t play. All we could see was ‘snow’ on the screen.
I got up to see what was wrong. Mrs U’s son was already fidgeting in his seat, impatient at the delay. He started whining to his mother asking her why the movie hadn’t started. His voice low at first increased in volume. His mother put in a tame ‘Abhi ho jayega beta’ (Will be ready soon, son) a couple of times, after which she relapsed into silence.
The boy now started banging on the chair in annoyance in addition to vocalizing his displeasure in more strident tones. I looked up from where I was trying to make the cassette work. My face outwardly was serene but inside I was pretty annoyed at the mother’s complacence. But they were guests. I kept my mouth shut.
All of a sudden the boy shouted at his mother (just like an Indian husband shouting at his wife for things beyond her control) and in a fit of rage, crumpled the comic book he had been reading, tearing it in the process, and threw it right across the room. My children looked at him, at his mother and then back at me. For a few seconds, I pretended not to see and went on with what I was doing. Of course my intention was to give the parent the opportunity to correct the child. I didn’t want to be staring when she did that. But my wait was in vain, the mother remained silent as if it was not her problem at all.
THEN, I stepped in.
“Pick up that book” I told the boy in a nice, firm voice.
He sat surly and unmoving.
“I gave you the book to read. You cannot throw it around. Pick up the book.”
I repeated, this time in a firmer and no-nonsense tone. He did not oblige. After all, his mother was sitting right beside him not saying a word, why would he listen to me?? But this was a lesson for my children too. So I was not about to let it go. Besides which Mrs U’s placid silence infuriated me.
“Okay, since you are not showing good manners by refusing to pick up the book in spite of my asking you to, I am going to do it myself. “ I said and added, “ and also because books are not for throwing around.”
I walked to where the comic was thrown, picked it up and straightened it out.
“But since you have crumpled and torn a book of mine by throwing it in anger, you will no longer be allowed to touch any of the books here.”
The lady was still sitting mute, not saying a word.
“Why have we all gathered here?? To watch a movie, right??” I carried on. “Not just you, all the rest of us want to watch it too. Is throwing books going to make the movie start??”
I pointed to my senior son.
“That’s why bhaiyya is doing what he can…”
I pointed to the two younger ones sitting quiet as mice.
“And these two kids younger than you are waiting so patiently.”
Mother and son were both silent, staring into space: one expressionless, the other sullen. The rest had their eyes glued on me. I continued,
“If you feel this is taking time and don’t want to wait, either go back to your house or go out and play. But…” Here I paused, “you will NOT throw any more tantrums here. Is that understood??!!”
No answer. But of course it was understood because there were no more tantrums. He remained morosely silent after that.
I was younger back then. I don’t know if what I did was right or wrong. But I am sure of one thing, if kids misbehave in my house and the parents keep mum, they, the kids, will surely hear from me. There is a saying in Mallu-land that goes, if you don’t thrash your child, they will surely be thrashed by the villagers in later years. That is sort of literal translation. It only means that if you don’t punish and correct your children when they do wrong , they will in all probability learn their just lessons the hard way from strangers.
I have my pet peeves. One of them is parents who will not discipline their children or even make an attempt at it. I dislike (perhaps despise too) them for their misplaced sense of affection which makes them spoil kids rotten. Many parents want to be adored by the offspring and so do not deny them anything, dance to their every tune. They think saying ‘No’ to a child means you don’t love the child. Oh really?? What absolute balderdash.
Do they really think children have no brains?? Excuse me, you may have sent yours to the dry-cleaners, but the children have theirs in place. The minute they gather (rightly) that they can get away with anything and everything, they have branded the parent as nothing but a namby-pamby, a nincompoop who can be tied into all sorts of knots for their pleasure. Then they proceed to do just that. Oh well, if someone wants children to trample all over them, it is of course their prerogative. But they should NOT expect that the neighbors or whoever else their child comes across will love to be trampled upon by their precious kids as well.
Of course, I kept my promise and no books were allowed to be taken out of the bookshelf after that. But you will be surprised to know that during a get together at my place, Mrs U went to my children’s room (behind my back) and tried to bully my children into opening the bookshelf and giving her son some books. Why couldn’t she have asked me when she knew that I was the one who ordered my children not to open the book-shelf?? If there is something I hate more than parents who don’t discipline their own children, it is those coward parents who bully other people’s children! Grrr…..