16 September, 2015
There are very few things that you can slip past a child.
When you think they are busy eating cheerios, watching a movie on the Ipad and kicking your 18 month old’s pampers (while still on her butt), they hear you. They hear the most minute deviation in sound, words and tone from the normal banter that you figure goes in one ear and out the other. My daughter can hear the change in wind patterns in Guatemala! But, she also has a very active imagination. So, if she hears movement under the couch, she assumes that it is one of those dastardly desert lizards that live in Dubai (you know, those tiny ones, that I am deathly afraid of) and it has grown into Godzilla and will attack the family at any given moment – no matter what we tell her – and no matter that our small little kitten has just climbed from under the sofa from having a nap (the movement under the couch).
Normally, we are very careful about what we say and how we say it because we have no idea how her imagination may run – but every once in awhile, something slips through.
Today I have loaded the girls in the car to go to pickup my wife from work who has taken off early (don’t get excited – it was early so that she could be home in time for a conference call in the US – again!). On the way, I am talking to a wonderful woman on the phone. She is the mother of a friend of Saffiya’s who is confirming the play date with her daughter for the following day (Yes, I’m a play date kind of Baba – that’s how I roll!).
I hang up the phone and Saffiya says “Baba, was that your girlfriend? I’m going to tell Momma and you are going to be in so much trouble!”
“It wasn’t my girlfriend”
“Yes it was. You are married and you can’t have a girlfriend.”
Side Bar – in the Arab world (without any ‘western’ injection to word definitions), a girlfriend is just that – a girl and a friend. Since many Arabs are Muslims, ‘girlfriends’ in the western sense are not appropriate but the definition of having a friend that is a girl is just that – a girlfriend.
“It’s not my girlfriend. She is a girl and is a new friend. It’s your friends mom.”
“It was your girlfriend and I’m telling momma”
My daughter does all of this with a thick Arabic accent. She can speak and understand Arabic very well, but since she was tiny, she simply responded in English (unless the other person doesn’t speak English – like her Teeta) and when she responds in English to an Arabic speaker, she puts in a thick Arabic accent – completely by default. When she turns around and speaks to an English person – absolutely proper English and no accent (aside from an occasion british dash). It’s quite funny.
“That wasn’t my girlfriend. My girlfriend is right here! Aren’t you baby?” I say as I affectionately pat the car dashboard navigation screen that is quietly purring directions from a detour we have just taken. My wife and I call her my “Map Girlfriend” – just like any other irritating navigational system voice is suppose to be. We have been very careful to explain, numerous times, what this ‘map girlfriend’ was so that this wouldn’t become the talk of Dubai when she decides to announce to her school that her Baba has a girlfriend.
“See, you are talking to your girlfriend. If its your Map Girlfriend its still your girlfriend and I’m telling momma” she puts her headphones back on to watch Monsters Inc in the back seat indicating that the decision was final.
Here comes my wife happily hopping in the car.
“Mom! Baba has a girlfriend. I told him he’s already married!” she says very loud and clearly.
My wife, love her, looks amused as I am wincing at what will be a long ride home with a 6 year old.
“Really? Well that’s new today” she tells her.
“Walla momma, I’m not lying.” – another common phrase that comes out of her mouth.
I then explain to my wife what has occurred. She goes on to explain what has occurred and now my wife is having to take the entire thing under deliberation before rendering a verdict.
“Hayati, Baba does not have a girlfriend. Because he would no longer be living on this earth if that ever became the slightest consideration. However, what he does have, is the Map Girlfriend – see ?” My wife casually says and presses a route button on the navigation system and there is that annoying voice yelling at me to turn left in 100 metres.
“See Saffiya? I told you.” Yes, that was me, sounding like I was 6 years old.
“That’s it, Baba. Don’t talk to me like that.” She folds her arms again. “You now are on Tech Timeout and no iPad for 3 weeks.”
Wife is laughing in the seat and not paying the least bit attention to the hole I have dug for myself.
“When you get home, you are to go straight upstairs, close the door and settle down. And when you have settled dow you can come down and apologize”. That statement is verbatim from the mommy discipline guide for Saffiya which has clearly implanted itself in her head.
“Wow” says wife “guess you are stuck”.
Headphones go back on and it’s a quiet ride home.
Moral of the story – our kids are like sponges, every second of every day. What we expose them to – even to the small assumptions that they make based on their very limited knowledge of how the world works, social dynamics, etc. is what makes up how they process situations and how they make decisions. If I look back on this, would I have done it differently? Probably not. But it did make both my wife and I continue to remember that she sees things with a much bigger and animated understanding than what that literal meaning of a situation or sound or movement that she hears/sees/feels/comprehends. I liken it to us as adults going out for coffee and relaxing – its not a big deal it just is – nothing extraordinary. For small kids, It’s an adventure and so much things to see, do, smell and taste. But everything is also very literal – so take heed.
Never ever ever refer to anything in any term that can be used against you in any way with a kid. In fact, it might be better of we just not talk. 🙂