Stress and the Latch-Key Kid

The son is a trifle stressed these days. His world has turned, as he terms it, ‘higgledy piggledy’. Definitely Enid Blyton, but that’s as far olde-world as my twelve-year-old son will admit to being. In all other aspects, he is self-assuredly ‘ultra def rad mega whiz cool’. Before you begin to think he’s hearing impaired, let me clarify that that’s just his language for saying he’s a ‘real cool cat’.

The higgledy-piggledy factor’s come about because Amma is out in Kerala for a fortnight. I guess she got tired of waiting for Delhi to decide between fog-laden mornings and sunny, breezy afternoons. Or maybe she just got sick of fetching and carrying for a largely unappreciative family. As a consequence, I find myself manning the home front. It’s been some months since I did this – long enough for me to have been actually looking forward to the experience. But the son is perturbed. ‘Aren’t you going to work today, Mum?’ he asked the day after we waved Amma off in her train.

‘No sweetie, I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from work,’ I said absently, leafing through knitting patterns. Two weeks of knitting in the sun, swigging beer in the garden, afternoon naps, oh what luxury! The son begged to differ. First came the subtle hints. ‘Have you seen this week’s edition – they have a spelling mistake on page one.’

‘That’s how you spell metamorphosis, son,’ I replied automatically. ‘Besides, I was there for this edition, remember?’

‘You won’t get your allowance na, if you take so much leave?’

‘I can always get the money when I go back to office,’ I replied, feeling all my tense back muscles unwind and relax in the warmth of the sun.

‘But how will we run the house till then?’

I ignored that one. After all, the husband was not at home to hear this slur on his role as family patriarch.

‘Suppose they hire someone else instead of you, and then find he’s much, much better than you?’

I sat up. Enough was enough. ‘Okay, son, get me your English book. Since you seem to have a lot of spare time, you might as well do a comprehension exercise!’ The hints stopped abruptly. For the time being.

But his bosom pal of nine years’ standing took over. ‘Auntie, how do they let you take so much leave in your office? My mother’s office says if she goes on leave, the magazine will come to a stop.’ That galled, but I grit my teeth and reminded him that if he didn’t quit on the pester act, there’d be one less Christmas present under his tree this year.

But the son was not frightened off so easily. He merely shifted tack. ‘Mum, you know there was this article in today’s paper on latch-key children. It said latch-key kids grow up to be very independent. They make strong leaders and strong decision-makers.’

‘It also says they are lonely and insecure,’ I returned evenly. After all, I did have twelve years’ practice in deflecting such arguments.

‘That’s a small risk to take for developing all those leadership skills,’ he returned with equanimity. ‘Anyway, last year, you let me have my own key when Amma was away. What’s so different this year? After all, I’m a year older.’

‘Also a year more careless and impulsive! I had no choice last year. And we made sure Dad’s Man Friday was always here when you got home, and he stayed with you till one of us got home. So what leadership skills?’ I asked smugly, sure that I had outwitted him finally.

‘That’s what you think, Mum,’ he riposted with perfect timing. If it hadn’t been me at the receiving end, I might have been consumed with admiration. ‘Jagat Singh would go off to sleep in his chair after he’d given me lunch. Then Shantanu would climb over the gate and we’d take out the telephone directory and call up all the people we found in it with strange names. I was the one who decided what we’d say to them.’ Shantanu, of course, was the abovementioned friend.

I stared at him in horror. Well, at least, it explained the huge phone bills we’d got that month. The husband had transformed into a shrieking banshee right before our eyes. At the time, the buck – as always – had stopped at me. Now I knew where it had belonged.

‘Too bad, buddy,’ I said as firmly as I could. ‘If that’s the best example of leadership training you can give me, you’ve lost this round. I had thought of popping into office for a while tomorrow. But now I’m here to stay – till Amma gets back.’

It’s not very often that I can get to best the son in a battle of wits. And though I’d won this round, I am not so sure of the next one. After all, leave is not so easy to come by in a newspaper office!

First published in The Financial Express in January 2001.


8 thoughts on “Stress and the Latch-Key Kid

  1. Mimmy, it sounds like you have a constant battle of the wits at your home. I’m glad you won that round, but get ready for the next.
    I went through this too. When my oldest son came home from school, around first grade, he announced, “Hey Mom, hey Dad, I learned that I’m smarter than either one of you.”
    “Really, and just why do you think that is true?” I asked.
    “Because your brains have been shrinking for a while and will just keep on shrinking, and mine is growing!”
    It’s hard to argue against science.

  2. Mary, even thirteen years later, the battle of wits continues. The most recent one was about whether beds really need to be made when grabbing another ten minutes of snooze time is so much a better idea. I’m losing this one already because, at 25, I would have put forward the same argument to my mother!

  3. Oh my god! He called strangers from the directory! You know raks once dialed 100 and said ‘hello’ three times before she hung up. And I got a call back from the mylapore police station and a lecture from the 24 hours police help counsellor asking us to keep the kids away from the phone.

    Hilarious Mimmy 🙂

  4. our kids have grown up as latchkey and microwave kids,but we ensured that dinner was a family that we both tour a lot,we try to ensure 1 parent is at kids insist we should both be out of town simultaneously so they have the house to i know why..

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