On Friday, I took O to the library. Her first visit to a library (barring a car hop in Chennai years ago), and she was quite excited.
Since it was a weekend, the Education City campus where Georgetown University is, was rather quiet. There were a few students lazing around in the library.
She knew she couldn’t talk loudly, run around or get chatty with the folks there. She carried her own book to read, since there are no children’s books available there.
The problem with O is that her whispers are quite loud. And so I told her unless it’s an emergency she can’t talk at all.
She sat with her Black Beauty till I browsed two rows. By the time I got to the third she was by my side, begging to be allowed to walk around with me. She was touching the books and soaking it all in, and I was feeling rather kicked that she was as enamoured by the rows of books at a university library, as she was by the Barbie nonsense in Toys ‘r’ Us.
I could see that obsession in her eyes that only a fellow book lover can empathise with.
She even managed to identify books she has seen me read. And then she decided to browse the magazines, happy to identify Obama and McCain on covers of magazines, and then totally tickled to find my magazines there too… pointing it out and patting me on the rump.
I was swelling up and was ready to burst – “not bad Umm, you haven’t done so badly as a mother”, I told myself; but (un)fortunately she managed to totally deflate me in the next 15 minutes.
Oh, it’s a long road ahead before I can even begin to congratulate myself.
When I sat down to read the magazine, wondering which other world leaders she would identify, she flipped through people magazine, quickly identifying every second or third picture of a celebrity. There is Miley, here is Grey (Ellen Pompei), here is Sex & the City lady (Sarah Jessica Parker, and oh please let this end), oh and Rachel (of Friends)… I quickly shut the magazine and shushed her… This is way too much Hollywood for a 7-year-old.
I diverted her attention and got her interested in the students on campus, and the opportunities a good education provides. For about 5 minutes.
Finally, I went up to the librarian to check out my books and O couldn’t digest that I was not really paying for the books –
“Even if you are just borrowing, you should pay them money, amma”
Yes, but they don’t take money.
“Oh, then they will really be poor.”
No. They have the money. This is a service that they provide. Something nice they do for the people.
“Even if you don’t give them money?”
That’s when it really sunk in that she hasn’t see anything non-monetary yet. There is always a purchase, talk of money, about affording or not affording. She couldn’t believe that you can get something or do something that isn’t based on monetary gratifications.
The only life she is used to is of absolute materialism. As are most of us.
Then so many past conversations came back to haunt me on the drive back home.
Often, when I tell her something is expensive and wasteful, so I will not buy it, she would ask if we were poor! She has asked me so often if we get ‘richer’ will we have a convertible or 4X4? If we were richer, would we live in a big bungalow with a garden?
And here I was thinking that we were quite comfortably off. That our fair sized apartment had everything we needed, we had enough wheels to meet all our requirements… and yet in her mind, this was not ‘rich’.
We have spoken to her about it at length. That some people do have more than others. But what we have is far more than most. That we never want for anything. Obviously the message hasn’t really sunk in.
Only a day before the trip to the library she asked me what was more important, family or money. I have no idea where the question popped up from. “Family,” I said.
No for me. Each person has to decide on what is important to them.
“So I can say what I want”
Yes (and with butterflies in my stomach await her answer)
“I think it’s Money and Family for me.” (And she was watching my face for the slightest expression of disapproval and waiting for my response.)
That’s fine if that’s what you think.
“Because we won’t have anything without money.”
Yes. But if you don’t have people around you?
“Yes, that’s why both are important.”
I did not want to continue this thread of conversation, because I knew I was on the verge of delivering a long right-wrong lecture. But I think she knew already that I didn’t quite agree with her.
It’s scary. What you are, what you are not; what you say, what you don’t say; what she sees, what she never gets to witness; what you protect her from, what she is exposed to… everything has an impact on her. What influence do parents really have at the end of the day?