“Mommy, I think you don’t love me,” she says, knowing little that she’s tearing me apart. I kneel down and look into her eyes.
“Now why wouldn’t I love such a beautiful little girl like you?” I ask her, with a little smile.
“Because I beat up my sister when she took my hair clips,” she responds glumly.
“Oh, that. Sweetie, I… I don’t like the beating up part. Remember, gentle hands? But I love you. I love you very much. Like so much,” I gesture with my arms wide open. She does not look convinced.
I pull her close. I sit her down in my lap. I tickle her neck. She refuses to laugh. Little girls are not little. They are grown individuals and with them you really have to watch what you say. I know, I should have realized it earlier.
“Right. Now…. Sweetheart? I’m sorry. I was mean. But sometimes mommies have to be a little mean. I’d like to be friends again,” I say earnestly.
She looks at my face, as though weighing the sincerity of my apology. I hold my breath and hope things work out. Getting out of this will not be easy.
“How about the butterfly hair clips? Maybe I could get you new pink ones…” I say, throwing in a fresh, perhaps more acceptable bargain. She appears disinterested.
Suddenly, her eyes light up. “Mom? Do you love me?” she asks.
I think I’m going to cry. “Oh of course. I love you darling. I love you very much,” I say. I try to hug her but she resists. I tell her to think about what I’ve been saying and if she feels like talking to me again, I’d be happy to be friends again.
She walks away and in my mind’s eye. I see myself, a little child standing in front of Mom, asking her if she loves me. Mom tells me I ask her that way too often, but obliges with a big hug. There’s no prizes for guessing where my little one inherited her “Mom, do you love me” sequence!
In a little while I hear someone cry. I walk outside the room to find that she has scraped her knee while trying to ride her toy car, and boy, it’s hurting. I provide the necessary hug, the comfort and suddenly she’s back in my arms without resistance, demanding that I give the bad toy car a full talking to. The heartache forgotten, the tears falling from her eyes are strangely healing.
Soon her little scrape is taken care of and she’s back on her toy car. She stops for a moment, and walks back towards me. She looks into my eyes. “Mom, do you love me?”
“What do you think?” I quip.
“I think you love me SO much,” she says opening her arms out wide. I smile at her. No words necessary.
This was originally written for Gulf News “The Views”
(Image by Gulf News)
The small park near my house is filled with children, laughing, playing and running around. It is a beautiful sight — there’s a game of hide-and-seek going on in the play area, children are taking turns on the push swing and some others are finding their way up the challenging climbing frames. Adults supervise and encourage their young ones and as I observe them, I see a small child run to his mother to show a freshly acquired bruise. The mother offers a little kiss and some sympathy and the child runs away once more with the wind rushing through his hair. A steady breeze is blowing and the sky is filled with clouds. The weather is pleasant and the playground is bustling with activity. But as the sweltering summer months approach, one wonders if the children will still get as much of a chance to play outdoors. Research suggests that children in the UAE do not get adequate outdoor play time.
A first-of-its-kind research in the UAE, the Fun City Children’s Play Index (carried out by Landmark Leisure) is based on a survey conducted between July and September 2012. The data was collected from 400 mothers from different nationalities with children in the age group of 2-12 years residing in different emirates of the UAE. It was determined that on an average week day, children in the UAE spend less than an hour engaging in outdoor activity. This time increases to 1.5 hours during the weekend. Close to a quarter (26 per cent) of the children in the UAE spend an average of three hours a day on an activity involving interaction with technology: TV, video games, internet games. One in five (20 per cent) children spends more than four hours on an average watching TV each day.
Along with the conventional toys, every child has at least one Xbox, PS3 or some hand-held video game in their toy box, thus increasing the need to spend more time indoors. The study also shows 58 per cent of children spend their time playing indoor games as compared to 29 per cent who spend their play time outdoors, while 12 per cent also engage in learning or playing an outdoor sport.
Child development experts believe that for the desired physical development, a child must engage in outdoor play for at least one hour a day. Furthermore, experts suggest that the outdoors are the ideal place for children to be themselves, to explore, to experiment, to move and make the most of the opportunities offered in a less-restricted manner. Chances for developing social skills with peers are also ample, as is space, for running around, cycling, roller-blading and for simply breathing in fresh air.
Dr Stuart Brown, founder and president of the National Institute for Play in the US and the author of Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul”, writes that there is a direct connection between play deficiencies and some frightening public health and social trends: Tragic statistics for obesity, (a growing problem in the UAE), 4.5 million children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an increase in childhood depression and classroom behavioural problems involving violence and an inability to interact well with peers. Physical activity is known to lessen the symptoms of mild attention deficit disorder and is associated with much lower incidences of childhood obesity. Active kids are also more facile intellectually and perform better academically in the long term.
Dr Sandra Willis, co-owner and director of Inspire Children’s Nursery in Dubai believes that weather conditions in the UAE are not the main reason behind the lower index of outdoor play and that the weather is not as harsh as it is made out to be. “We are lucky to have eight months of suitable weather, providing children ample opportunities of outdoor play,” she says. She does, however, feel that one of the main reasons why children do not get enough chances to play outdoors is lack of community parks and spaces. Besides, she feels that an expat community is forever fluid and social relationships amongst children can sometimes suffer because of that. As parents and educators, we need to foster and encourage outdoor play, she says.
Asma Maladwala, co-owner and founder at the same nursery, believes that the best way to help children get more time outdoors is for the parents to join them, encourage them and play with them. “Go to the beach with your children, splash around and make a sand castle,” she says. Maladwala also speaks about how a child and parent playing together can bond in a beautiful way. She explains: “A child playing outside may not necessarily convey his or her fears and feelings, yet the parents can understand their child so much better by just playing with them.”
She certainly has a point. For, with a place that offers so much sunshine, we are definitely in a better position to help our children explore the outdoors, rather than, say, someone living in a place where it is bitterly cold, dark and gloomy 24 hours a day!
Note to readers: This is the beginning of a short story that I’m writing. I would appreciate feedback!
Tadpole. That’s what they called him. Little Benjamin was almost thirteen years old, but you couldn’t have guessed. He was short and waif-like and a sparse brown fringe covered his forehead. He had beautiful brown eyes – not that anyone could ever see them, for they were always covered with thick tortoise-shell glasses.
Ben liked being alone, particularly at school, because the boys never passed up an opportunity to jeer at him. Many in his class wondered if Ben could even utter proper sentences – all they had ever heard from him were monosyllables. Ben had big ideas, and he had big dreams, but he was just afraid to bring out his thoughts. What if he stammered? What if everyone laughed? What if Ben just looked silly? He spoke with an embarrassing stutter and to rub salt in his wounds, the boys at school would sometimes call him ‘t-t-t-tadpole’. Then, even Melanie, the gorgeous blue-eyed Melanie would laugh. On those days, Ben would retreat in his shell and pretend he didn’t exist.
During lunch Ben would disinterestedly pick at his lunch, which was always, always a carelessly prepared corn beef sandwich which gooey veggies on the side. Then at PE Ben would sometimes pretend to be sick, just so he could slink towards the bench and sit himself down and read that wonderful book about stars and planets and milky ways. The walk back to the classroom was tedious too; he would walk with his head down, lost in thought, startled whenever someone called out his name.
In the classroom Ben sat alone in the chair by the large window and he usually liked being in that secluded spot, where he could think calmly and work. He watched half-interested as the teacher droned on about a math problem. Math was one subject Ben actually enjoyed – it was something he could do without being taught. In fact, no one except his mother knew he could spend long afternoons doing nothing except solving new problems, the thrill of conquering each problem urging him on to the next one. “Who knows the answer to question number 6 on the board?” the teacher said.
Never had Ben ever ventured to speak in class, but as he saw the math problem on the board, he was sure of the answer. He had come across the problem only two days back in the comfort of his bedroom. Slowly but surely Ben raised his hand. The teacher looked toward him incredulously. “Ben? Well, what a pleasant surprise. Do you know the answer?” Suddenly the class was quiet; you could have heard a pin drop as with bated breath the class waited for Ben to answer.
Ben stood up awkwardly, a deep flush creeping up his neck. He took a deep breath. “Well, the answer is, 2a-a-a-a minus b, is equal to s-s-s-even a plus 6b-b-b.” There, he’d said it. And he was sure he’d gotten it right too. Except that as he was halfway through his answer, Josh, a tall back-bencher with a hint of a moustache on his upper lip said: “But wouldn’t that be 6a-2b? He scanned the writing on the board again. Of course. He saw it now — he’d been so silly. His answer was incorrect and as he sat back into his chair blushing furiously, dejected and mortified, a voice from the back said, “Th-th-th-think before you answer tadpole.” Someone giggled. Ben was sure it was Melanie.
To be continued….
So would you like to know what happens next? Would you read if Part 2 was posted on this blog? Do let me know. Thanks.
Originally written for Gulf News Perspective: