To be kids

I suppose that raising kids of our own can help us become more generous both to our youthful selves and those we interacted with when we were young.

Our eldest is just a couple of months off fourteen now, and already believes she knows everything, perpetually belittling all who cross her path: her brother, her parents, idiots at school. And her brother, just about to turn a teenager, is engaged in a constant battle with her — unless he or she is in trouble, in which case they’re best friends, and we are the enemy to be vanquished.

They have both reached that juncture where they believe their parents to be total ignoramuses — and so embarrassing too. They mock their mum’s accent, ignoring the achievement that English is her third language. And, of course, they mock my pronunciation of every Turkish word I utter daily — even if my beloved insists I had it right. They are both fluently bilingual, so to them we appear to be utter fools.

The youthful mind is bold and confident, their recent helplessness learning to walk and talk all but forgotten. Already they believe themselves little adults capable of doing absolutely anything. The anything includes setting a microwave milk pan on the cooker and watching as it bursts into flames, then protesting, “I didn’t realise it was made of plastic!”

Despite every effort of ours to encourage them to treat others with kindness, these kids can be so utterly mean and cruel. Treat others with respect, we tell them, only to hear them trounce their opponent, “Have you got problems? Are you mentally deficient, or something?”

The world, right now, revolves around each of them entirely. There is no we or us or together. Right now, the ego is being turbocharged, and over the next few years will do whatever is necessary to achieve dominance, until hopefully the hormones will fizzle out a bit, and we will enter a phase resembling peacetime, when brother and sister are best friends once more, and mum and dad are held in esteem.

Witnessing all this as parents still acutely embarrassed by our own youth, we can at least reassure ourselves that perhaps the way we behaved was quite normal. We had to define ourselves in relation to others. Perhaps some collateral damage was inevitable.

Being a kid is hard. A decade ago, we had to do everything for them. Now they believe they’re our challengers. In another five years, they will be considered adults. Nobody tells them that you don’t reach maturity until aged forty. Right now, they think they know everything. Right now, they are on top of the world. Whatever they have learnt or picked up at school, whether from teachers or friends, is necessarily the truth — and none can challenge those truths.

And so it is that we look back on our own youth, finally forgiving of each other, recognising that we too were idiots, for indeed that comes with the territory. The games we played were our part of finding our sense of place in the world. Raising kids of our own helps us see the world differently. It gives us a whole new perspective on everything.

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