Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Living with the little people: Solomon was not a stay-home parent

The past 15 months have been amongst the most instructive periods of my life. Children are meant to be enjoyed. Having said that let me deal with some utter negativity. I shrivel with fear when I read stories of people abusing children--locking them in cellars for years; power hosing them for some transgression; burning them with cigarettes to teach them lessons; etc. I am parent to three children--two are old enough to have their own now; they live in New York, Montreal, Nottinham, England, or wherever they happen to be. The third--an unplanned treasure--is just on her pathway of infancy, and at four she has the spirit of giant already. But, I am digressing. This is not about my children.

As I now spend most days at home, working at what I do, I find the transition from in-office bureaucrat to at-home whatever, full of fascinating revelations. Not the revelation that working in tee-shirt and shorts makes me more productive than sporting a suit, jacket and tie ever did. The main one I see frequently is the wisdom of children. Not so much what they know but what they can teach as they learn. Let me give a few examples. You know those children who cannot abide eating green peas? Well, like most things for small children, it's part of a habit that gets nurtured or not. It's often easier for a friend to change what a parent cannot. So there I went. First stop: I don't eat that.

Me: "C'mon. Open your mouth. Close your eyes. Chew. How does it taste?"
Little Evie: "It tastes like brown peas" [The child is Jamaican so loves gungo peas, which are brown.]
Me: "Ok. Have another mouthful. How does that taste?'
Little Evie: "Yucky."
Me: "Ok. Try some more. Now how do they taste?"
Little Evie: "Still yucky."
Me: "Hmm. But you've eaten one brown pea and six yucky peas, and you're now growing horns...Just kidding."
Little Evie: "I can't wait to tell Mummy."

So this is not evidently a life-changing moment, but it could be. Now, Mummy has a base on which to build eating more peas, and other things that are now on the list of "I don't eat those". No threats; no beating; no search for the key to the cellar.

What I find is that children often comply if things make sense or if things are presented in a fairly consistent way. For example, "No, you cannot watch that" does not mean "No...not today, but if I'm fed up, then ok, go ahead, but remember tomorrow, you can't...". That is an oft-seen recipe for confusion and game playing. Kids are good at negotiating. So, better to make the deal with them that you want to really see happen.

Next stop. Sharing.

Breathless little one: Uncle Dennis! This is my paper. Her paper is in the bathroom and Rhian's paper is on the floor. Tell her!
Me: But all the pieces of paper look the same. They are all purple and have on the song from class. So, how can you tell which is which?
Breatheless: Mine is dark.
Me: Hmm. Let me try something.

I then shuffle two sheets of paper as three pairs of eyes look on waiting for the magic to happen.

Me: Whose is this one? Wrong.

And so on I went for a few more minutes. The children still waited for the magic, but the lesson was sinking in. Three sheets of identical purple paper look identical. Now, let's solve the mystery of the missing purple paper. Here I invoked Solomon. I gave one sheet each to the two girls who claimed that they were theirs and the silent one I took to the place-where-paper-was last seen--the bathroom. We hunted in the bathrooms where the children usually wash and play but could not find the paper. I don't panic easily so no sweat marks showed on my tee-shirt as the eyes of my little partner started to get moist: her paper could be lost forever. Tragedy. I could hear her thinking "Mummy, I can't learn the song for Christmas. You won't love me. I...I...". I looked at the doe-like eyes and asked a question. "In which bathroom did you put the paper, Evie?" She looked at me like I was a true buffoon. "In Auntie's, Uncle" Aha. We were in the wrong part of the house. Duh.

Off we went to the master bedroom and I saw the paper immediately--not in the bathroom. But wait. Here was my teaching moment. "Look in the bathroom, Evie. See the paper?" Of course she did not. "Oh. Look over here. There it is." A little sheepish hesitation came from my doe-lookalike. The paper was on Auntie's dresser, near Auntie's make up and jewelry. There's another story unfolding, but I thought that we both knew what was up. I did not go on about playing in our bedroom (off-limits) or playing with Auntie's things (off-limits). This child was a frequent guest but my child should have reminded her of the rules, but was not there to have me deal with that issue--too busy painting toe nails now. I will get another chance to work on that. We found the other girls and everyone was pleased. Three girls. Three sheets of identical paper. Ownership rights restored. "Look," I said, "Let me put your initials on each piece of paper so that if they get lost again we can know whose is which". That pleased them. "Hee-hee. See my name? EW"..."Mine's RJ"..."Mine's ES". Skipping, they then went to cause more confusion in the house.

So things went on for a few more hours. So things go on several days a week. By the end of every day, I feel a bit tired but also have a huge smile inside. I do my work from early morning till around early afternoon--I like to write before dawn and my trading goes on during the day. Once my daughter comes home from school, I still work but I am mentally switched off being serious about what I need to do. I slide into a parenting mode to lesser or greater degree depending on who is around, which means that my eyes and ears are on a new frequency and I am ready to drop what I am doing, but I don't go chasing around. If my daughter has a play date--and that can be with one or several other children--I usually let them play contently only intervening for "Solomon moments" to help resolve a "crisis". I often try to encourage them to reason out the problem themselves. Adult logic and child logic are different and children can usually fix problems themselves without war breaking out, if they are encouraged to do that. I intervene for "rest stop" moments--food, drink, potty management, etc. Never give more chips to one child than anotherand if there are more than two children each one needs to have the bigger half! Always remember that everyone wants their favourite colour cup.

If you are spending your day in an office, while you pore over some sheafs of paper and deal with phone calls from people who seem severely intelligence challenged, think how Solomon would resolve the problems you face. Then think what you would do if you were dealing with a child. Take the latter option, whatever it is (and in the work place, locking people in a dark room may be a kindness). It'll probably make you laugh more, and the problem will disolve into what it really is--just a minor matter. If that does not work, remember Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal" (see link), that really will make you laugh not least because it will remind you of the link between nurture and nutrition, and of how people used to view "going to Barbados".

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