Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Playground Politics

Generally if you go to any preschool when parents are there to pick their kids up, you will be able to make many observations. You will notice the children playing in the sandpit and on the play-gym, parents pleading with kids trying to get them to leave, while others try different tactics with their offspring, such as bribery or threats.

“Betay chalo abb, dair ho rahi hai!,” says a mother wearily.

“Ok bye I'm leaving. You can stay in school if you want.” This threat will work on a younger child usually.

“If you don't stop crying right now, I'm going to..(threat hissed in ear of child to avoid any judgmental looks from nearby parents/teachers).” This may result in a louder howl or an instant silence with a shocked expression on the face of child.

Apart from child-parent conflicts, you will also notice conflicts of various levels taking place amongst children. There will be a little girl taking on someone larger than her over possession of a ball, a boy pleading for a turn with another on a tricycle, two kids making a sandcastle which one decides he would rather destroy than build. These kinds of disagreements either result in tears or fisticuffs (which eventually end in tears).

If you look even more closely you will notice contests of another kind going on as well. These are far more civilized in the sense there is no physical contact or any blatant threats involved. But once the gloves are off, eyes slit, claws appear and fangs protrude (not literally of course) but it might as well be that way. These are the 'conversations' playground moms have amongst themselves, while waiting for their kids to tire themselves out a little more or agree to going home (which ever comes first).

Usually the emergence of these 'monsthers' takes place when their style of parenting or their child's intelligence or any perceived insult related to either of the above takes place. For example if you start eavesdropping on the conversation of a group of mothers sitting around, you will notice that usually they are about the same topics. These include moaning about how their child spends ages here and doesn't want to go home, how the child is doing academically, discussing which park you take your kid to after school in the evenings and so on. If you venture into the territory of which elementary school you plan on sending your child to, maternal blood pressures start rising immediately. Almost everyone wants desperately for their preschool-going son to get into the (so-called) 'best' boys school in town (for which preparation begins at age 3 for an entrance exam that takes place at age 5.5 – 6). Any mention of said school's entrance exam results in anxieties and sensitivities increasing to the point where you would think it was the mother who was going to be taking the exam.

“I have started sending my son for some extra tuition in the evenings,” says one such mother (about her 4 year old son).

“I'm going to start sending mine soon too,” says another, not to be out done.

“My son doesn't need to go for tuition. He knows everything,” says a third, silencing the others.

Please imagine growls emitting from throats, as unbeknown to the kids, preschoolers moms battle for glory.

“So will XY be applying for 'TheBestestSchoolInTown'?”

“Yes of course. XY will go there,” says mom with the kind of determination seen on the face of an athlete going for the gold, or a gladiator about to face tigers in a fight to the finish.

Apart from the friction caused by discussions of future educational institutions to be attended by their progeny, mothers also manage to feel insulted where no insult is meant. The other day I was having a conversation with a couple of other moms about which milk we give our kids. One said she gave her kids fresh milk. I said "Oh I've heard that's good but I feel paranoid about germs." She asked me what I gave my son, when I told her, she retorted, “Well I have not heard good things about that. The amount of preservatives they must put in, it can't be any good.” In order to appease her (as I honestly had not meant to look down on her or anything), I said, “You're right. It's just that I guess I'm a little paranoid.” She still looked annoyed though. I was quite amused by this outburst on her part.

Then there was the mother who wanted to know in all seriousness if my child could write within the red lines of his English notebook. When I said yes mostly he did manage, she got a look of panic on her face and whispered, “But my son can't usually....” I felt really bad and wished I had lied rather than have her walk away muttering under her breath with a manic look in her eyes.

My son started school at the age of 2 and when Playgroup ended for him, a report was sent home which had a general good/satisfactory rating for things like 'motor skills', 'hand/eye coordination' (which were signified by smileys) etc. Later in the evening a particularly competitive lady called to ask 'So how was HRH's report?' For a few seconds I didn't have any idea what she was talking about. I asked her “What report?” She replied impatiently, “The school report card.” I was amazed she wanted to compare 2 year olds 'report cards'. I wasn't sure what to say, “Oh it was alright. There were 8 happy smileys and 2 satisfactory smileys?” or maybe I should have announced proudly “It was awesome! All happy smileys!”

HRH is 4 years old at the moment. With battle cries resounding from every corner of the school playground already, I dread the level of competition that is to come. For me that is.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Class – The Lack Thereof

“Money makes the world go round.”

“It's all about the money.”

“Money money money, must be funny, in a rich man's world.” - ABBA

So much has been said, written and sung about money. We all know the importance of money. After all we all have to work for it (well most of us anyway). What I don't understand is how those who have it want to flaunt it. When I was growing up money was something no one talked about. We knew there were kids who's parents were 'loaded' and then there were those who weren't that well off. But no one talked about it. No one showed off about it. No one flaunted what they had bought and where they went and what they ate and where they stayed on holiday and so on.

Nowadays however it seems a lot of people's sense of self-worth comes from exactly what they are worth. (Some go to the extent of letting you know vaguely in whatever way they can about how many zeros you can assume there bank balance has. Or balances as the case probably is. Just a ball park figure you understand?) Well I don't understand. I don't want to know what you own, where you shop, what you bought or where your kids go to school. What I do want to know is if you have some worthwhile, intelligent conversation to make. If you have some slight amount of general knowledge and if you can look beyond the end of your nose.

I love meeting 'rich' people. With the exception of a few (I actually counted them on fewer than the fingers on one hand), they all give me a great sense of superiority (though that is clearly not their intention mostly). One lovely lady who I met for the first (and last) time ever, was telling me about her husband's place in the world and how her kids go to the 'best' school in town. She paused for a nano-second to ask where my son went. When I told her she said, without missing a beat, 'That's a good school for the middle class'. One could give her the benefit of the doubt and say perhaps she was uncouth and did not know what to say in civilized society. Perhaps like Eliza Doolittle yelling 'Move your bloomin' arse!' at the Royal Ascot. Or perhaps for the more cynically minded (or the first-hand witness) that was supposed to be a put down. Needless to say I was a little rude to the lady, ended my conversation and moved on.

This is what the so-called upper class (read 'Got money. Lots of it and won't let you forget it') is like - without any class what so ever. There are the pompous gentlemen who either sit around living off what their fathers worked for, or may even have worked for it themselves but pretend they have been well off forever (the nouveau riche). Even worse are the spouses of said gentlemen. These are the ones who spend the day preening themselves, while knowing nothing of the world or anything apart from their clothes, shoes, bags, jewelers, tailors, drivers, maids, cooks...well you see where I am going with this. These are the ones who live off the accomplishments of their fathers and after marriage, their husbands and think that they are 'the shit' (which they are, not in the way they think, but more literally).

Keeping up with the Jones' is another aspect of our society which wears my patience thin. So someone bought a new car, a new phone, went on holiday somewhere. Let's all jump on the bandwagon shall we? Can anyone say 'Baa'? As a very small example, when HRH (my son) started school, when ever it was a child's birthday usually parents of the child would bring in a cake and goody bags for the class and have an in-school party. When the school year began, the goody bags were the usual small-scale affairs that they usually are, that is, a small plastic bag with the usually assortment of sweets, toffees, pencils, erasers etc.

As the school year progressed though there was a rise in the level of each goody bag and its contents. By the end of the year some child's parents had replaced the goody bag entirely, with a big box (price PKR 300/- as printed at the bottom of the box), stuffed with imported chocolates, expensive toys and so forth – for each child in a class of twenty. Needless to say many 3 year olds were rather excited. A few of the mothers I spoke to were not. There was grumbling of how they would have to do the same, how it wasn't right and how they would have to compete with this.

The school took notice and a letter was sent out saying please refrain from sending such elaborate giveaways and from then on goody bags were inspected by school staff to ensure they did not contain anything expensive. So the next goody bag to arrive had reverted back to the initial usual standard. HRH on inspecting it in the car and casting it's contents aside, said to me, “Where's the rest of it?” I said there was no more and how great this was; to which he replied, “This is boring.” Is this the kind of competitive-ness we want our kids to emulate? I certainly don't. But I hear this is what kids nowadays talk about in school; which car you got dropped off/picked up in, where you vacation in the summer and where you buy your designer clothes from.

Class is not about how much you own or plan to purchase. It's about showing some. This 'showing class' is more or less equivalent to 'not showing off' (which includes refraining from setting your Facebook status to a poll on which car you should buy next, an Aston Martin or a Maserati). If you've got it, DON'T flaunt it. It's a) not nice to show off; b) others won't like you better just because you drive a fancy car and c) grow up. Do not take Jerry Maguire's line 'Show me the money!' literally. This category of people makes me feel bad for all that education gone to waste. Usually they go to great schools and colleges and have traveled the world over (no I don't mean just London) and yet have acquired none of the culture that even a laboratory petri dish possesses. They still don't know how to converse or conduct themselves in civilized society. However, since they do still socialize with others either people have a better tolerance level than I do, or must have a better way of hiding their disgust.

I think all I'm trying to say is, get over yourselves people. Life's too short. Live the life you want to. But it's always a good thing to try and broaden your horizons. And don't think you are superior to anyone due to your zeros.

Show some class.

“I don't care too much for money, money cant buy me love.” - The Beatles

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Age is just a number

I turn 30 next month. Thirty. The big 3-oh. (3-uh-oh?)

I can truthfully say that I started freaking out a little about this a few months ago. For along with the 'I'm getting oldddd..waill' (think Rachel from the Friends episode where she turns thirty), I have also been introspecting, for the first time really on the approach of a birthday.

When you are a kid, you look forward to adding another number to your age, as well as to the cake and the presents you are going to get. HRH for example asks me every few days when he will turn 5 and how many days are left to his birthday.

From age 13-18 you can't wait to get older so you can 'do your own thing' and not be suffocated by your un-cool parents.

From age 18-22 it's all about enjoying where you are at that point in your life, which is basically having a good time with your friends in college (and of course the studying..yeah who am I kidding?)

There is a slight realization that your teens are over when you hit 20. But then the 20s are cool and hip (think Friends in their first few seasons). The world is still your oyster.

Going through your twenties is really when you grow up and turn into the person you are probably going to be. Habits that are formed stay with you and personalities more or less solidify. People start working, some have jobs, some launch careers; some get married, some don't; some have kids, some don't. During this decade you also realize your parents actually did know what they were talking and trying to teach you about. (You still only truly appreciate all they have done for you when you have your own child though.)

As I approach the runway of 30, I can look back and see how I've grown up. No I did not become the archaeologist or the first female soldier of Pakistan that I wanted to be at the age of 10; nor did I become the lawyer or the journalist that was my dream at age 18.

What I did do was enjoy university, work at great organizations and find out what I really enjoyed doing, learned what things I truly loved and found fulfilling, married a wonderful man, gave birth to a child who does not cease to amaze me every single day, discovered how important every single person in my family is and how there is a well of love and support if you are lucky enough to have had strong, loving and meaningful relationships with family and friends. I have also learned that dreams change with time.

At 30 I may feel I'm almost halfway through, and I better get on with whatever it is that I want to do and get done. So this decade is it.

...But 30 is still young right?

After all age is just a number.

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." - Douglas Adams