Tony and I were enjoying a nutritious lunch by ourselves in a mall foodcourt yesterday, when a little girl from the next table jumped down from her chair straight after she was done with her equally nutritious burger, and made a beeline for something presumably colourful and shiny.

Her grandmother – at least I think it’s her grandmother – called her back to the table, and proceeded to lecture her on the evils of running off, unbidden.

The grandma: Don’t run off!

The girl: Why?

The grandma: Because there are lots of bad people running around in shopping centres… and they’ll grab little girls like you… and take you away…

[WAIT FOR IT…]

The grandma: … to their dungeon.

Whoa, I mused aloud when they were finally out of earshot. I didn’t know Westfield did dungeons. And what are their viewing times, I wondered. But I guess that’s beside the point. The point is that I had a sudden flash-forward to what our future could be like. The child, grasping at fundamental concepts. The adult, grasping at fundamental answers.

It’s like trying to explain the word “The”. You use it all the time, you know it’s useful, but with 0.2 seconds prep time, you couldn’t explain how or why.

And as much as I’d like to poke fun at Dungeon Lady, I can just see myself reaching the end of my creative rope when I’m tired and distracted and caught off-guard and just want to get from A to Z… and my little blighter wants to find out why her nose has two holes instead of one. I can just see myself letting rip in any of the following ways.

  1. “Because God said so, that’s why.”
  2. “Because you were blessed with Mommy’s sinus problem, and need a back-up hole to breathe.”
  3. “That’s a very good question. When you go home, you can ask Daddy.”
  4. “Okay, you’ve reached 5 ‘why’ questions today. Mommy has run out of answers. Come back tomorrow.”
  5. [Mommy didn’t hear that, because Mommy’s wearing earphones, magically fixed to the latest gadget she bought from the government’s baby bonus.]
  6. “Because… er… you can smell better. So you can sniff out bad people. Who will otherwise catch you. And take you away. To their dungeon.”

I’ve been racking my brains to recall the absolute whoppers I was told when I was a precocious bambino. Fortunately for them, I can’t remember any. The only flippant comment I remember was when I was watching The Sound of Music, and wanted to know why the Captain didn’t want to marry the beautiful baroness.

“Because,” my mother had replied absently, “the Captain prefers women with short hair.”

And even though I didn’t understand how a man could possibly love a woman with short hair when long hair was so much better (I was six, and had very definite ideas about how men ought to fall in love), I remember thinking, “Okay. Mommy knows the story.” And that was enough for me.

Moral of the story: pray for a fast-thinking, creative-yet-honest tongue, and children with shocking long-term memories.

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