Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Life with a three-year-old

My niece believes I've been imported solely for her edification so she's reluctant to let me out of the house. I ease her into it by letting her participate in the dressing process. She lays out my make-up and hands it to me like a chatty surgical assistant. She comments at length on my clothes and puts on my jewellery to see what it looks like. Then she picks out my shoes and dusts them with my powder brush. It adds at least half an hour to the process but it makes the day go so much better. And a one-person fan club who firmly believes you are “so pretty” is a relief when you’re seeing a new grey hair every day.

She has wondrous toys that we would have killed to get, but her favourite* consists of two jam jars full of ordinary glass stones of the decoration-in-flower-pot variety. They represent, variously or together, people, money, food, cars, houses, laptops, phones, groceries, luggage, furniture and, after she’s been spending some time with her father, aeroplane parts. She’s lately learned about the presence of mascara in the world, so it also becomes that sometimes. The stones form the jungle, the lions and the princess lost among them. There’s always a princess. It becomes Swiper, the thing he’s swiping and the chorus that says “Swiper, no swiping”.

She seems to learn a new polysyllabic word every day, though none of us knows how. One day she’s struggling to work out how to slant the lines of “A” and the next, she’s writing her name easily (according to my brother, the Indian government would now consider the household 100% literate). She came home from ballet class and taught me the “arabeck”. In return, I taught her the Surya Namaskar; she had fun doing it but couldn’t pronounce the name, so promptly rejected it.

It bothers her when I disappear into a book and she’s lately taken to hanging around the bookshelf and picking out “books without pictures” (which necessitated a hasty shifting of some books that do have pictures to higher shelves). She turns the pages, getting increasingly frustrated by the rows of black type that mean nothing to her, understanding even less why I prefer that to playing with her. Sometimes I suddenly remember that she will be sixteen one day with no time for tedious old aunts, so I shut the book and play anyway.

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to do anything without a running commentary, I haven’t invented so many exhausting games at such short notice since I was that age myself, I can’t go out, work late or sleep in without feeling guilty, my reading has slowed to one often-missing book a month and my powder brush is permanently out of commission, but every time she’s happy to see me, I feel like I’ve won an award. And I’ve never won so many awards in my life.

Aunts and uncles – much like grandparents – have unshakeable belief in the unique glory of their nieces and nephews (I have several and I think they’re all geniuses, including the one that’s only 10 days old). So I could go on forever but will stop here.

*Favourite at the time of starting this. At the time of publishing, it was a pack of cards. By now it’s probably something else.


suholla said...

One of the best posts I've read. Pulls at strings that were tucked away in some remote corner. I think I'd give up reading books for this anyday too!

the real nick said...

This reminds me of this other internet marvel I just saw today:

Maybe there is a business in renting out my kids to their single aunty?

Gargoyle said...

Hahah you could probably get them to buy, but you'd also have to provide a maid to make the food (and the food itself, with some extra for the aunt), take care of the stuff that comes out the other end and all other messy maintenance. Aunts don't do no diaper changing. Or any work, for that matter. And they will occasionally descend into childish battles with the child over who gets to watch "my TV". So parental supervision may also be required... hmmm, unit cost would have to be very high to make it viable. I suggest making the kid ask for it.

You just called me a crazy cat lady, didn't you? Don't think I'm fooled by all the links about rental puppies.

the real nick said...

Compared to the overall non-amortizing 'unit cost' of a kid to a parent - which includes the cost of stress relieving extra intake of drugs(by the parent) - 150 USD per hour is be a steal! *)

And - crazy cat lady? I didn't say anything about...cats!

*) Halfhearted Disclaimer to UAE and Singaporean Internet authoritians, er, authorities: At no time has the real nick offered, nor will the real nick offer, his children on a commercial basis, or pro bono come to think of it, for gratuitous entertainment purposes to temporarily unemployed crazy cat ladies of uncertain residency status in Singapore. Honestly, you guys pull the finger out and get a sense of humour!

Gargoyle said...

Uncertain residency status? Uncert..?!

Dear authorities, I have a visa. You gave it to me yourselves. Look, it's right here. It says I'm entitled to live anywhere and work anywh- oh. Alright I'm going. But I'll be back. You'll see.

Anonymous said...

it does pull at the heart strings. The house is not the same after she left. I keep playing the vedios again and again,and keep thinking I should have played with her longer.As you wrote she will be 16 in no time and will have no use for a doddering old man ! there is precious little talk in the house after she left! I am still beating myself because the train let me down.

Pakhi said...

Thank you for making me pause & smile! Took a deep breath into memory lane. Keep penning it down!

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