Friday, March 11, 2005

My advisor, the little mouse!

The following I did a while back shortly after the Beslan calamity-- before the start of the Iranian school year. Written in part for a foreign journal, it was rejected for want of culture specific content. And I didn't want to change it; so for what's it worth, here is my story as is.


“Let me have your sunglasses,” she beseeched me “and you can watch me become a little mouse in a flash.” And right she was. With her lush, black hair covered beneath the mandatory Islamic headscarf, and her large, beautifully expressive eyes masked, all that was left to see was an oblong face. We laughed all the way home from school that day and have since settled on the name, mooshe koochoolu for her—the little mouse.

She is not always such a bundle of joy. In our third meeting while having lunch, she harangued her mother incessantly about her not wanting to head the Parent Teacher Association at school. Quite the tantrum, I thought.

“You should get out of the house more and accept responsibility for our education,” She insisted belligerently. She would cross her eyebrows, roll her eyes and angrily lecture her mother about a parent’s social obligations. Big words coming from such a small creature.

In the afternoon, though—to my amusement, she whispered discreetly: “I don’t know why I become so crazed sometimes!” The real reason for wanting her mother in that position, she then offered, was “to be allowed to get away with being naughty at school.”

That is the thing about my mooshe, you see. While naturally gifted at masking her intentions, she almost always acknowledges why it is she is being a pout. It is uncanny.

She has since become somewhat of “advisor” on children’s affairs for me. And I reciprocate by doing my best to explain adults to her. As a matter of routine, we have simply settled on waiting for her inevitable “revelations,” before having a substantive discussion.

She is in the 4th grade now. She loves learning. She adores school.

The first time she ever entered my house, as I was busy greeting her parents, she got busy sifting through the books stacked on my desk.

She later wanted to know how the Little Prince sounded in French, and what to make of those “weird” Greek Alphabets. The real question she was dancing around all night, though, was whether I had any stories with pretty pictures like the one with the “boa in the hat” to read since she found adult gatherings “very boring!”

Her questions are unending and exhausting.

As there is no succinct, widely used equivalent phrase for “not fair” in the Persian language, her protests about the vagaries of the universe take the form of “why” in rapid succession.

“Why can’t we see God?” “Why are bees such pests?” “Why did my parents not have me before my [older] brother?” “Why can’t kids gamble?” “Why shouldn’t I drive?” “Why can’t I hold up both feet in the air without falling?”

“Now, really why not?”

Her favorite game with me is being an airplane. She lies stomach down on the couch, hands spread, and legs tightly together and after we make the customary “safety” checks—shirt being sufficiently sturdy / soft on her delicate bones and my grip on the seed of her pants behind her knees sufficiently comfortable—we go for a cruise. And she giggles giddily and delightfully.

When properly mischievous, she insists on being a fighter bomber.
With a couple of apples, oranges or other fruits of the season in two hands, we go on a “bombing run,” around the position of his brother’s toys or sometimes even his brother.

I asked her mother to put mooche on the phone one day. “She is sleeping,” her mother replied. “She was throwing up all night and we had to take her to the hospital this morning.” That’s how I found out that my mooshe has a habit of throwing up and crying herself to sleep the night before every one of her father’s frequent flights on business.

A few days ago she told me, “If you are a real friend, break something on my head so I don’t have to start school this year.” I looked at her abnormally sad eyes and her hunched body, and with Beslan so fresh in memory, simply knew we had our work cut out for us.

How to deal with an inquisitive child’s “why” about the events of Beslan? Especially as she was about to start a new school year?

Luckily, she was in no mood to divulge much that day.

My mooshe koochoolu looked hesitant; frightened, less carefree, less audacious, and less inclined to experience excitement, delight and wonder.

She looked quite a bit more grownup that day.

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