A few days back, I happened to be the moderator in a video call between Vedu and Hari’s parents. During the call, she suddenly hugged me tight and gave me a long kiss, following it with “Amme, I love you soooo much” in Malayalam. I smiled, kissed her on her head and replied “I love you too baby”. Hari’s mother came out with a comment right afterwards – “Girls, I think, do quite a lot of this ‘soaping’”. The word ‘soaping’ is something Malayalis use to mean “buttering up”, obviously not as a very positive thing. I said, “What ‘soaping’ Amme? She is just a kid.” And she went on to elaborate “Oh no, I have always seen that daughters can be very much the ‘soaping’ kind, showing off. Your cousin’s daughter does that too, hugging her mother and giving her so many kisses and all just to show off” with a look of strong disapproval on her face. I scratched my head and sat there for a few seconds wondering how to respond to this. And then I said “The kid you are talking about is only 7. If not her mom or dad, who else should she hug and kiss to express her love? And Vedu, your granddaughter, is 3 and a half. Are you seriously telling me that she hugs and kisses me and tells me she loves me because she thinks she stands to gain from that or to show off?” Thankfully, she chose not to reply and I directed the conversation to more pleasant and less ‘controversial’ territories.
Hari and I are both aware of and pretty understanding of the discomfort his family has with expressions of love and even their disapproval of it, terming most of it as “Western culture”. We steer clear of any kind of expression of love like hugs with them for that reason, although it hurts us sometimes. As I have written in a couple of blogs before (links given at the end), we do not feel it is fair to ‘suffocate’ them with hugs or gifts or even a word of love when we know they do not like it. But maybe because this particular comment was about little kids, my own daughter being one of them, I felt a mild wave of anger wash over me.
In the first place, there is no question of who is more expressive with love – son or daughter. Maybe she felt daughters do that more because she has two sons and I have heard accounts of how they were not the emotional, ‘gushing with affection’ kind as kids. In fact, the only person who has seen a very emotional and affectionate side of Hari is me, oh yeah, and now Vedu. Not even our close friends have known the Hari that I know. But I cannot take that as a base for her ‘theory’ because if Hari and his brother didn’t display affection as kids, it was only natural as kids ape their parents. In so many other families, there are children – boys and girls – who are equally affectionate, who express their love without any inhibition, who love with all their heart. It may differ from child to child and from family to family based on what they see and what they are taught. But it certainly has nothing to do with gender.
But more than this son-daughter thing, what ticked me off was the implication that if a child expresses her love even for her own mother, it is not sincere, but only a means to gain something. I mean, frowning upon adults for a hug is bad in itself. But it is simply mean to talk about little kids as manipulative only because they do not feel any shame in expressing their love to the people most important to them.
Vedu, from the time she was very small, has been a pretty expressive child when it comes to love. She is in no way stingy with hugs, kisses and explicit declarations of love in her baby voice and perfect sentences. I really don’t know if all kids are like this. But her being this way has been a constant reason of joy for Hari and me. She takes after me in quite a lot of ways in her traits and her character as a whole. In fact, sometimes I really feel she is a mini-me in every sense. Maybe that is a reason for this innate tendency to be open about her feelings, just like I have always been. But I also feel that that is not the only reason for it. Hari and I have never shied away from making her feel as loved as possible, in pampering her or telling her how much we love her or helping her see how special she is. And that has helped us to be stern with her when she does something wrong too. She understands easily why she deserves a punishment or a round of scolding because she also sees and feels love in its sweetest form from us. That balance has really worked for us. It is also about letting her know that there is nothing wrong in growing up as a person who is in touch with her innermost feelings. We want her to grow up not feeling apologetic for feeling love, expressing love and enjoying the love she gets from her close ones.
We have but one life. What do we do with all this love if we lock it in a deep dungeon at the bottom of our heart and throw the key away? Isn’t it better to feel happy and make our dear ones feel happy too by being honest about our feelings instead of putting on a charade of ‘fake seriousness’ and living like a rock? That is most certainly how I want my kids to grow up and I am not going to apologize for that. I am definitely not going to have them feel bad about it either by encouraging or ignoring such comments, no matter who they come from.
Children have a purity and innocence we grown-ups can only wish to have. Let’s help them retain that for as long as they can by nurturing the seeds of love that are already in them. Let them hug and kiss you as much as they want, let them say “I love you!” as frequently as they wish to – bask in the glory of that unconditional love while it lasts, whatever anyone else thinks. Won’t the future be that much brighter if we have a whole new generation that embraces and spreads love? Isn’t that the cure that our cruel world needs?