Conversations with children

As children grow up, their conversations gain maturity commensurate with their age. It happens as they progress to higher grade levels in school, and when parents introduce topics and guide the conversations at home.
In my family, we went one step further: Sioti and I went to meetings with our parents because there was no one to babysit us at home. Now that I have children of my own, I bring them to meetings for the same reasons.
The main difference may be generational: Sioti and I were passive listeners to the adult talk. My children at times joined in the conversations with their own say.
As a child, I sat in so many hotel lobbies counting the marble tiles waiting to hear the sweetest words of the day: “Beh toh khi loh (We’re going home).” I would be the first out the door.
If the meeting goes too long, I ended up falling asleep on the couch. Magically, I woke up in the wonderful comfort of my own bed. Such a short respite, as chances were high that I would be tagging along again for another meeting soon.
Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed the cakes and pastries. I even had tea and crumpets. Or teh and kuchay dumplings. But a child can only stuff so much cake before restlessness sets in. And when a child has her mind set on something, like going home, the idea runs around her head the same way she runs around an otherwise formal setting of a hotel lobby.
I have a very vague dream-like recollection of a dark couch in a dark office with dark carpets. For years, I thought it was a dream, until one day, it came up in a story with my mom. She said it was true. I was three; we were in either Hong Kong or Taiwan at some colleague’s office for a meeting and I went to sleep on the couch. I was sleeping so soundly, the colleague let me sleep there while my parents ran more errands.
Sioti and I had to be dragged out of the house to go to mom’s weekend meetings. I usually had a book with me, Sioti would have a game of some sort. We both listened in on the meetings, but never really cared what it was all about. He and I had similar experiences growing up, but I think I absorbed more of what mother was doing.
And it’s now my turn being a mother and being in meetings. Shobe literally jumps out of her seat at any mention of going out. She is willing to tag along to my endless meetings because she gets to meet so many new people. Achi is a little more hesitant because all she wants to do is curl up with a book.
When the girls were babies, bringing them along was a given because they were still nursing. My mom often recounts how I have been to almost all the major hotels in Metro Manila as a child because my dad had colleagues from other countries frequently coming in for lectures and meetings and other business. For their parts, my girls have slept on the couches of many office buildings in Metro Manila!
But unlike Sioti and I, who were passive observers in our parent’s meetings, Achi and Shobe sometimes joined the conversations.
They both stopped having a yaya when they turned six. That meant husband and I took turns with the girls, or bring one kid each when Ahma was not home to babysit.
When they were younger, we brought props for them: pens, paper, crayons, scissors and glue. They entertained themselves for hours. These days, they bring their own things and amuse themselves while the meeting is going on.
Both have mastered the art of keeping half an ear open to the meeting. They are able to pick up the topics of conversation and include their own experiences without missing a beat.
Once they are allowed to join the conference table, they ask me or Tatay if they heard correctly and if this and that are the same as their own things.
They have learned to listen and be genuinely interested when they know they can contribute to the conversation. They pick up cues when we purposefully steer the topic to something they have experienced.
For Achi, it’s about books. It is always about books. From Harry Potter to Janus Silang and Ambeth Ocampo’s Looking Back series of 13 books published by Anvil Publishing.
Meanwhile, Shobe picks up cues and can somehow relate them to the weirdest things in her life like when they dissected squid or when her dogs got scared of a cat.
Sometimes, I am surprised by what they say and how they converse with adults. I think it helped that I am the most talkative person on the planet. We talk all the time. When they were babies, I gave them a blow by blow account of what was going to happen next. As they grew older, no topic was forbidden. They are free to ask any question they want.
Husband and I freely converse in the car – no censorship. Yes, sometimes they hear us talking about a gruesome movie or bear with us as we rant about the muck we’re in. Bottomline, they can join in and ask us what we’re talking about.
This freedom of conversation allows them to think and make connections. When we know that a topic is too complex, we would guide them into looking for a parallel. Shobe once asked why the news was reporting about so many people that died. She said the police are supposed to protect people and not kill them.
Out of the mouths of babes.
But the issue is more complex than that. My tongue stumbled as I tried to find the words to explain how power corrupts. The easiest way was to compare the issue to bullying in schools.
When we make our children aware of the things around them, outside of school and outside of home, it helps them to talk more freely with people around them. It is their broadening understanding of the world that feeds their conversations.
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