‘Last weekend, long time ago’ is a phrase the kidlet uses pretty often. It is her way of referring to any time in the past when there was no school and we were not bound by the constraints of routines and uniforms. In her 5-year-old mind, where time is one continuous stream and not yet bracketed within the framework of days and weeks, this is her best bet to differentiate between a school day and any other day.
She is building her memories now, this little one of mine. She knows that her birthday this year fell on a Saturday. That it was on the 14th. But she gets confused, even angry, when I tell her that next year it will be on another day but on the same date. She wants to know why if it can be on a Sunday it cannot be on the 15th? In her widened eyes I can see her wondering why one construct of time can stretch onwards while the other needs to be rigid. I can see my explanations falling flat. In time she will figure it out and understand the spinning of the earth, the path of the planets and their dependence on the Sun. And how 365 not being perfectly divisible by 7 can make dates and days do a merry uncoordinated tango. But for now she must just reconcile to the idea of having her birthday on the same date for the rest of her life.
As she grows and notches up the marks on her height chart, she knows that there is some correlation between height and age. The first question they ask each other, these kids: “How old are you?”. They size each other up by age. They refuse to play with each other, saying: “I am older than you”. Even if that differential may just be of a few months. There are no and-a-halves. You are either 4 or 5. You are either older or not. And this is a rule no one can argue with in the playground. But when it comes to Daddies and Mummies some concepts take a tumble. At the school gates once, kidlet informed another Daddy, “My Dad is bigger than you. He is 34”. The bemused father replied, “But I am 42, I am older than your Dad”. Crushed, my daughter asked me, “Is he bigger than my Dad?”. Yes, we are still working on that one. On how nature is cruel that way: there are no easy correlations between our age and height and size.
We tell her that it is ok. Everybody is different. And unique. But these words fall flat again. She still needs a quantum, a unit of comparability. She has used these to navigate her first steps into the world. We were the ones who introduced her to playmates, saying: “Look, J is your friend. He is also 2 years old”. We are the ones who told her that she needed to be gentle with a toddler, because she was older and yes, bigger.
She is learning now. Slowly she comprehends how we adults scoop out time in custom fit measurements. And that, for older people the rules of engagement are not quite the same. Uncles and Aunties talk to each other and become friends without checking who is older and who is bigger. She is thankfully still a few years away from the other parameters of social and economic class that we adults invisibly use to size and classify our friends away.
I have only some time left to cherish these last weekends from a long time ago. Because very soon there will be a definite last weekend and sure-shot plans for tomorrow. When she will be measuring out her time for us rather than us doing the same for her. And size, shape and age will still matter but in contexts much more complicated. We will still be trying to tell her that it is ok. And she will still be throwing us looks of disbelief. And yet one already knows that by then these precious times will indeed feel like a long time ago!
Nidhi Dorairaj Bruce is a Freelance writer from Mumbai. With no formal education in Parenting, she has been getting on-the-job training ever since her daughter, affectionately referred to as ‘the kidlet’, arrived on the scene 5 years ago.