the babel machine


Sunday, September 05, 2004

monsters and aliens

Our daughter Sam, who's two years and eight months old, woke up at around 3 a.m. and took a while to go back to sleep. We think she got scared because of yesterday's free storytelling session where she and a bunch of kids listened to a woman reading aloud James Howe's "There's a Monster Under My Bed."

While we were at Robinsons Galleria, we saw Knowledge Channel's Knowledge Caravan exhibit and Sam insisted on checking it out, so we did. It just so happened that the storytelling session was about to begin, so I took Sam inside the makeshift library. More kids entered, and I felt a bit sheepish at first because I was the only dad (in fact, the only parent at first, but a mom stood by the doorway to watch her daughter a few minutes later) inside the room. Sam got really excited because Clifford (well, someone in a Clifford the Big Red Dog suit) entered the room, and she's been fascinated with the Scholastic Clifford books for the past two years or so.

The storyteller kept telling the kids to behave and sit down so that the session could start, adding that Clifford couldn't stay if they didn't. So she started reading the story aloud, and Sam, who's never read the book, was OK with it at first, 'coz everytime the storyteller said "monster," Sam would turn to me and say, "Like Monster Blue (which is what she calls Sulley from 'Monsters, Inc.')." As the storyteller kept talking about monsters and asking the kids if they believe in monsters, Sam got more uncomfortable but I kept telling her it was just a story and that there wasn't any monster under her bed. So everything was cool and she kept smiling and saying "Clifford" and patting him occasionally because he was seated on one of the bookcases.

Unfortunately, some of the kids kept standing up, with one boy -- who was actually pretty nice and kept telling me stuff like how their house has a lot of moomoo or mumu (ghosts) -- pulling Clifford's ear and tickling him. The storyteller kept telling the kids to sit down ("Ate, sit down. Kuya, please behave.") and finally latched on to the brilliant idea of saying, "'Pag di kayo nag-behave, aalis na si Clifford."

That's when Sam started crying, bawling, "No! Clifford, don't go! I want Cl-iii-iii-ford!"

While I was comforting Sam and telling her that it was all right, Clifford wouldn't leave, the storyteller looked contrite and said, "Ay, sorry, umiyak si Ate."

Sam calmed down in a few minutes and finished the story, even sticking around a bit to listen to the next book, "Dindo Pundido." She's actually a brave girl -- she never cries or looks away when the best pediatrician in the world, Dr. Herbie Uy of St. Luke's, gives her her shots and even when she had her first major accident (she fell off the bed last Good Friday and required three stitches on her forehead), she only cried a bit but her main concern even while the doctor at Medical City was stitching her wound was if she could go swimming later. What really upsets her is when she faces the prospect of a loved one leaving or losing a thing she likes. She also doesn't like it when things break or when something familiar changes -- she expects me to fix every toy and she can be OC like me when it comes to using her favorite cup, finding the exact toy she wants at that moment and being bothered by the smallest speck of dirt on a white shirt. I suppose, like most of us would wish, she wants to have her cake and eat it too, to keep getting new stuff and embarking on new adventures, while always having the safety net of the familiar and routine.

At the same, we don't really know the magical world our children inhabit, how those imaginary friends of Sam are as real to her as "reality" is to us. Sometimes it seems that she sees things, and as someone who's had my fair share of the supernatural since childhood and who has a wife and several friends who can read fortunes or are otherwise involved in the metaphysical and the occult, I do believe that different worlds exist, within and without us.

Like one philosopher of science (I think it was Thomas Kuhn, whom we have to blame for everyone who says "paradigm shift," but for the life of me I can't be sure because I read the book way back in college. It could be Paul Feyerabend, however -- kindly e-mail me at if you know which one or if it's neither and then slap me for being pretentious), I'm inclined to agree that childhood is not just the immature stage of a human being, but another state or life entirely.

He said that we think and experience the world differently when we are children, and that the two worlds are so different that we forget most of the things we did or thought in those early years. Instead of thinking that children's thought processes are immature because they do not conform to adult thinking, he asks us to consider their existence in its own right and recognize that children do have their own logic. Some argue that one of the things that humanity gave up when men and women decided to walk upright is a longer pregnancy, not because the woman's pelvis became smaller (though it did alter the shape of the pelvis) when she opted for bipedalism, but because of the effects of gravity and the strain on the spine of a vertical pregnant woman. Who knows what evolution was thinking but bipedalism is actually an inefficient method for locomotion (wanna see a cheetah run on two legs?). Add to that the fact that a baby's skull isn't fused together to allow passage during childbirth, and you can see why some of these parenting books refer to infants as "half-cooked" humans who are only forced to be thrust into the world ahead of time, making them so helpless compared to other baby animals.

But I like the idea that, in a way, children and adults are two different species, complementing each other and evolving into each other all the time. I think we should accept childhood on its own terms and recognize it as something infinitely precious, that we shouldn't rush our children into accepting the behavior or biases that adult society demands of us. Children grow (or are brainwashed, some say) into adults all too soon and even though sometimes I lose my patience and say to Sam with exasperation that I wish she'd grow up, I know deep down that I'm scared by how quickly the years fly, that a part of me misses the baby that she was. We don't need philosophers and scientists to tell us how important play is to human development, not just for the fascinating little aliens we found when we landed on Planet Parenthood but also for the child in each of us. I'd like to think that every time we write, every time we create, every time we dream, we return to the magical land of childhood and bring back what memories we can to the adult world, to share with others so that they will know that nothing was truly lost.

So really, storyteller of the fake monsters, don't expect or force kids to grow up too soon, all for the sake of the book's "moral lesson" (argh!) that monsters aren't real so children shouldn't be afraid to sleep alone in their own room, away from their mommys and daddies.

They'll be spreading their wings and leaving us all too soon, anyway, and their childhood will be nothing more than precious memories before we know it.

Posted by Joey Alarilla :: 4:33 AM :: 0 Comments:

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