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Where’s the Magic?

“Dad, there’s no real magic in the world, right? Like, this second, there’s no elves in the world, right?” a young boy named Mason asks his father in Boyhood, a lovely heart-warming movie about relationships and discovering yourself. The movie was filmed over 12 years with the same cast, and follows the journey of 7-year old Mason into adulthood. His father reluctantly says no to his question, and you can see that moment as a significant turning point in Mason’s life. It’s as if the magic of the boy’s childhood just evaporated and was lost forever. I was deeply touched by this scene as by the whole movie. It’s a movie without any real plot, but it doesn’t really need one as it’s not trying to make a point; it is just a one that is.

Curious, I asked my 5-year old the next day if he thought there is magic in the world. His answer? An empathic no! I persisted, asking him why he didn’t believe in fairies or elves or witches. Or why Harry Potter or superheroes were not real. He insisted they weren’t and simply stated ‘because I know’ and when pushed more, reluctantly went on to explain “I have been to so many countries mom but I haven’t seen any magic”. The boy had a point! Not to discount my little travellers theory but there is another reason why my child doesn’t believe in magic.

Ever since he could talk, and being precocious that started very early, he would ask if something existed or not, if it was real or made-up. It seemed like his life mission was to find out what really existed and what was just stories. Contrast this with my 3-year-old who is blissfully unaware (or at least pretends to be) about the realness of things and doesn’t seems to care much about it – his world as I see it is full of endless possibilities. What fun to be able to imagine a man on the moon or Batman fighting crime in Gotham City or a planet full of transformers.

Kids these days have a lot of exposure to and knowledge about completely unimportant and irrelevant things, thanks to the YouTube phenomenon. By the time my son reached 5 he had seen videos of space shuttle launches, car factories, scuba diving, garbage collection in action, flash mobs, toy reviews, construction trucks, clips teaching baking, sewing, tap dancing, taekwondo and even sofa making, all of these on request.

There is definitely a price to pay for all this passive visual stimulation. The knowledge of preliterate kids in the era long gone was limited to the knowledge of their parents. And given the average intelligence levels, it also means the there was a lot more room for imagination. At 5 if I wanted to know how a space shuttle takes off, I would probably have got a visual demonstration of it using props (Read: hands) or if my parents were feeling indulgent maybe a picture in the dusty old encyclopaedia.

The other day the older kid approached me, with the 153rd question of the day “What did hulk look like when he was a kid?” Me, distracted “Umm, not sure”. Without hesitation “Can you check the internet?” Scene re-enacted with the 3-year-old – I told him about the time I got hurt when I was a kid. He asked to see a picture, and upon being told there is none, he promptly states “Can you check the internet?” *facepalm*

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That’s Not Fair!

“But that’s not fair!” screamed my preschooler when his brother was offered a bowl of fruit. Since he hadn’t napped he got his fruit bowl an hour earlier, but the usual short-term memory problem ruled that he should get it again. Lesson learned – serve fruit at the same time! Kids take to extremes what is essentially inherent in all of us – the need for fairness. I wrote about a FOMO attack that my kids suffered from a couple of weeks ago, the basis of it was this similar expectation of absolute fairness.

The old dictum ‘life isn’t fair’ is casually thrown around more often than circumstances demand it. Fairness and equality are subjective fluid terms, very difficult to define even with a context. A glittering generality as its referred to in polijargon.

This video of an experiment on Capuchin monkeys brightens up my dullest day! It documents a sense of fairness in monkeys, supporting an early evolutionary origin of an aversion for inequality. I can see why this primate would so dramatically protest against ‘lower pay’ for performing the same job. Our own behaviour would not be too dissimilar when faced with such a situation, albeit marginally civilised.

Apparently, there is also a fairness gene. I’m sure the location of this gene is precisely halfway from the two ends of the chromosome (because it’s the fairness gene, see what I did there?). Genetic jokes apart, this is a very interesting concept. I think I may have got recessive fairness genes from both my parents, as I clearly remember being the but-thats-not-fair child!

Co-operation, fairness and altruism is studied with much intensity by scientists. In the economic game theory, the ultimatum game has received widespread attention. The results of this game, in which two players are given a sum of money to divide, fly in the face of economic utility maximisation logic. Homo economicus may well be turning in his graving seeing these outcomes.

Lately, this photo has been cropping up a lot on my Facebook feed, can’t credit it as I’m not sure of the origins of this.

Quality VS Justice

Although this picture is loaded with ethical and political connotations, it is easily applied in a micro context to a house with multiple critters. Children are at the nucleus of this fair/unfair debate. It may seem innocuous at first, but this innate sense is the basis of our adult views and actions relating to morality and empathy and a variety of other economic and social issues1. I showed this illustration to my 5 year-old and asked which picture was fair according to him. His answer was unequivocal and without hesitation – “the one on the left”. When I pointed to the little boy who couldn’t see while standing on just one box, the discussion took a turn, which in 20/20 hindsight I should have expected. A barrage of suggestions poured from my little man ranging from ‘they should break the fence’ to ‘they should all get two boxes!’ We are talking about owners of undeveloped prefrontal cortex here and explaining justice to them is not an easy task!

I am certain of having inadvertently passed on this fairness gene to my children (fairly evenly at that!). This only means most of my primary parenting role will involve maintaining an inordinate level of fairness just to create some semblance of peace in the house!

1. “The Fairness Instinct” L. Sun

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#FOMO

keep-calm-and-say-no-to-fomo2The internet has added some interesting slang words to the English langauge. One of the more catchy one, FOMO or ‘Fear Of Missing Out’, is a social anxiety perpetuated by social media networking.

These days the Haque offsprings are struck by a serious case of FOMO. In their case, FOMO mainly involves the fear of missing out on mom’s attention (they don’t bother to make a distinction between positive or negative). Mild cases of FOMO are quite a common problem in households where the adults have decided to pluralize their progeny. The symptoms of FOMO are precipitated by an event like a sickness or one of those unidentifiable developmental changes which cause them to go crazy every now and then for no apparent reason. FOMO also shares a strong positive correlation with working parents (although it is no way restricted to them alone) as time with kids becomes a scarce and much sought after commodity.

Recently, when during the tail end of our yearly visit to Mumbai the kids got sick with viral fever, I witnessed this syndrome in its prime. My normally happy and self-assured 5-year-old turned into this whiney and clinging boy demanding the same kind of attention as my almost-3 year old needs. If I would even as much as glance at his younger brother, he would demand I look at him too for precisely the same amount of time. I had to content with the most uncomfortable middle seat in taxis as both kids wanted me next to them. I had to calcuate and deliver equal number of kisses, hugs and even cuddles to both of them. Even my annoyance with both had to be equally measured! The 3-year-old, being the baby of the house, is used to getting more attention anyway but FOMO gripped him too.

Once we got back home to Singapore, the kids had to contend with me being back at work after two weeks of holiday. It also didn’t help that both are on school holidays with nothing to do the whole day. Despite his best intentions the dad is unable to do much except shrug his shoulders and watch me despair as the kids vie for my constant attention. Given that they have completely recovered from their viral and school starts next week, I’m hoping the normalcy will abate this FOMO anxiety and the kids get back to their normal happy selves soon!

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The 9-point Manifesto

20140729_080355_1It’s that time of the year again, when we head back home for our customary visit to family and friends during the kids summer vacation. It’s more of a workation for me, considering it’s India and that we’re travelling with two young kids. This is our first long holiday since my older one turned five and finally seems to have grown out of throwing fits on days that he’s tired or hungry and all the days in between. That’s more than I can say for my younger boy, but one out of two is a pretty good score.

I have a strong but unsubstantiated hunch that my kids got together and passed a secret manifesto for the holiday. It went something like this –

1. We shall appoint mom as an honorary trash can, for all intents and purposes. We will henceforth hand her all pieces of trash – banana peels, candy wrappers, ice cream sticks, snot-filled tissues – all waste that needs disposing.

2. We shall maintain a steady flow of background chatter. At no point shall we deprive the people around us of our constant tomfoolery and loud goofiness. We shall take uncoordinated naps so one can of us can pick up the baton while the other sleeps.

3. We shall pointedly refuse to be a part of the tots road show that the adults so wittingly subject us to. We shall refuse to perpetuate cutisism by ignoring requests for performances including singing, dancing and elaborate gymnastics. We will give blank looks and dry smiles to further indicate our apathy towards these moronic demands.

4. We shall constantly interrupt adult conversations. Surely, there can’t be anything more important than immediately helping us retrieve the Lego piece from behind the couch for the nth time.

5. We shall whenever possible walk into doors, walls, cabinets, table corners and all places capable of potential harm, making a grand display of our lack of spacial awareness in new environments. Extra points for walking into them when adults are on the phone or seem to be involved in important discussions.

6. We shall use jet-lag as our weapon of choice – waking up at ungodly hours, napping at meal times and pushing bedtime to the point where moms blows a proverbial fuse.

7. We shall maintain a distance of a metre or more from the deadly Indian curries, activating our survival instincts against these spice laden sauces of evil.

8. We shall be at our best behaviour only when no one is looking, stockpiling our reserves of tantrums and meltdowns for times when inane social interactions are forced upon us.

9. We shall squabble over toys but when mom offers an alternative to either one of us, we will both pine for it, conveniently abandoning the original toy that we were arguing about.

Of course, by now I’m trained to counter this constant barrage of schemes from the little rascals. For that I use my exclusive monopoly over the distribution of resources, more specifically food! My advice for moms to boys is to stock up on food and let the feasting never stop.

Oh you want to play with the same toy as your brother? Here, why don’t you have a banana first. Crisis averted! Can’t sit still in the car? Offer nuts. Rioting in the airplane? Chips and bars will work. The chewier the snack the better!

Food can buy you time, diffuse tantrums or just give you a 5-10 minute break to reorganize your thoughts. And since drastic situations call for drastic measures, I’m always stocked up on the good ol’ candy. Yeah, I’m crafty like that 🙂