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Lessons from a niece

A fussy baby crying loudly.

A fussy baby crying loudly.  

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She was apparently trying to wake her grandfather and it was not unusual for him to pretend to be asleep and for her to try waking him up: which was why the wails of my 20-month old niece caught us off guard. Post-supper, assuming that he had successfully put his granddaughter to sleep, my dad too fell asleep, incidentally without a pillow. My niece’s attempts were not to wake him, but to insert a pillow under his head! Realising that her little hands were no match for that task, she started crying.

A few months earlier, when she had just started toddling, she had picked up a curious habit. When a groundnut made its way into her hands, instead of snatching that nut to ensure she did not try to eat it, my dad asked her to mouth-feed him that nut. From that point onwards, whenever she saw a nut or sliced fruit she would pick them and mouth-feed those near her.

Once an apple was being sliced and she naturally toddled towards it and innocently picked up the discarded portion, that with the seeds, and fed it to me. In order no not disappoint her, I did apparently eat it, and as she left to pick up the next slice I discarded the portion she just ‘fed’ me.

Unfortunately, I was not careful enough, as my act of discarding caught her eyes. Then she suddenly stopped in her tracks, turned around, glanced at me for a few moments and was back on her way. She refused to mouth-feed me for the rest of the session, but fed all the other family members around.

Not only kids’ vocables but vagitus too perhaps makes sense, although incomprehensible. Kids are only yet to learn to communicate their feelings in our language, although they have instinctive ways to highlight hunger and distress. If certain contacts are undesirable they show it, which often fall deaf upon the grown-ups and often also upon their parents’ ears.

Perhaps, differentiating a mother from a nanny is the ability to communicate with the baby rather than objectifying it.

sripathi1@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2020 8:04:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/lessons-from-a-niece/article22268324.ece

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