The true test of being an adult is the ability to take care of another life. Nitya and I have tried. There was that tomato plant which sprouted four tiny tomatoes over a period of six months before giving up the ghost. Then there was the mystery of the overnight shriveling of a Tulasi plant. Notwithstanding such failures, we kept trying and were rewarded with a few successes including a now lush Tulasi, a Spinach potter that fed us for many, many months before we decided that its life was done, and a couple of rugged, desert gals like Karpuravalli and Aloe Vera.
This smattering of success had made us believe that we’d graduated from completely inept adults to taking care of low-maintenance, static life forms that are built to survive the harshest places on earth. We were not going to have roses blooming in our balcony garden anytime soon, but succulents and rhododendrons are good to go. We’ll water it, prune it and occasionally pretend like we are gardening by moving a bunch of soil around.
Next step: A more difficult plant, perhaps a flower? But life was having none of the learning curve bullshit. Just as our Tulasi crossed its well cared for sunk in, we had a new project to step up to. Nitya’s niece, a teenager, was going to stay with us for a week.
Let’s call her A for the purposes of anonymity. When the plan that A could stay with us for a week was floated by her parents a month before it actually happened, they were tentative about it. But never ones to let our lack of capability diminish our enthusiasm, we welcomed the opportunity with open arms. Tickets were booked.
True to form, we looked forward to all the fun we’d have. As a kid, I always had the best time on holidays staying at someone else’s house. The relatives usually went out of their way to do fun, new things and parents were more lenient.
But, this was 2019 and a long way from the 90s I grew up in. To say I was unsure of what a teenager in 2019 considered fun was putting it mildly. I was racked with so much self-doubt that I even solicited feedback from twitter. Eventually, I decided to stick to what we considered fun which included a whole of lot of eating out, going to bookstores, watching movies and more eating out.
Meanwhile, in parent land the worries were piling up. I could imagine an internal mind voice saying ‘what have we consented to?’. Having a reputation of living like a couple of college kids, Nitya and I hadn’t earned their confidence to take care of a tortoise, much less their kid. As the date of A’s arrival approached, hundreds of doubtful questions were raised checking if we indeed were Ok hosting her and that we could always change our minds even at the last minute (subtext: Are you guys really sure you understand the responsibilities and are ready to take it up?).
I presume a private investigator was hired to observe us for a week so that when the time came the parents would be confident that we can get through the phase without collapsing all of the known universe. After the inquisition, the department of parenting finally greenlighted project ‘A stays with Nityagus’.
A manual with a strict regimen of “dos and don’ts” was handed over like A was a visiting ensign on deputation. This included things like not more than one ice cream per day allowed (rule was broken at some point), A to update us every 30 minutes if she is meeting her friends outside our supervision, rules on communication, etc.
Entertainers or entertainees
A is 13, smart and surprisingly mature. She likes reading. Loves Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. And is a Kumbakarnan for murder mysteries and detective procedurals. Her appetite for Pasta too belies her stick-thin frame (which is a house for infinite energy). She likes a whole bunch of pop music stars whose names I didn’t know and cannot recall. She participates in debate competitions and dreams of starting a band. Ideal career involves living in a new place every two years. She writes short stories and little poems.
As it turned out, all the worrying was for naught as A knew to take care of herself. She also knew how to have fun. She already had friends in the apartment where we stayed and on day 2 had a meetup planned. And as a friend quipped on Twitter, “if you have wifi, you don’t need to worry about entertaining her.”
Much fun was had in the pretext of entertaining her. We dragged her off to Churchstreet to shop for books at Blossoms and food at Social. As it turned out, it was Gandhi Jayanti and Social was closed. After roaming the street up and down looking for a place to eat, we ended up at Tatacha. Many books were bought. An animated movie was watched. Benne Dosa was had at CTR. Through the course of the week, a lot of icecreams were consumed. In downtime, A prepped her debating and did some school work. And we sat and watched a million police / murder procedural on Netflix and Prime video.
In short, we probably got entertained by A rather than the other way around.
Lessons from hosting A
Energy🐱🏍: I suppose parents would concur with this but the energy of a kids could power a mini-country. You don’t realize how much your energy has dropped as an adult until you see a high energy kid like A who is an akshayapatharam of enthusiasm. As you catch-up with that level of need for mental and physical stimulation, you feel somehow alive and exhausted at the same time.
The Internet has changed the game🕸: And the Berlin wall has collapsed. Sure, it’s obvious, but really, the Internet has elevated kids into a level I can barely comprehend. Growing up, my interests revolved around 4 different TV programs, things within a radius of 10 kms in Coimbatore, Cricket and a small lending library. Every once in a year, we’d travel on Dad’s LTC to other parts of the country and see new cultures / places.
A, on the other hand, is a child of the connected age. She is connected to people across cities in real time, explores ideas at the mere tap of her finger, has streaming services with infinite content at her disposal. As a consequence, she is mature enough to have conversations across a range of topics from climate change to capitalism. We could comfortably ‘chat’ with her as opposed to talking ‘kid’.
Everyone should learn debating🥊: A is into debating. I’d never really done it in life and found it fascinating. Being asked to take a side on a topic (even if you disagree with) is a fantastic starting point to develop critical thinking. I feel like in this current “outrage as a form of communication” era, debating might be a necessity skill for all kids growing up.
There’s a whole new universe📡: The world is big. And you are mostly clueless about what’s happening in it. Sure, you may be watching the news and know who got funded to run a marketplace for dogs, but you realize how clueless you are about pop-culture and content, games, music and books you were not really paying attention to, dance moves that look like an octopus flailing on land and celebrity references that go over your head. There is a larger world beyond your cozy circle of importance and it’s strange and new. A staying just briefly opened up so much of this world that I wonder what else is going on.
Pulling an “old uncle”👴: A consequence of the previous point. Nothing gives you the opportunity to pull out the old uncle that lives inside all of us like living with a teenager. When A tries to desperately get me to like her favorite pop bands and I shake my head muttering “music these days”. I feel old!
What you say / How you behave👓: When you have a young teenager living with you, all your actions suddenly come to the limelight. The things you do on a daily basis (and subconciously) are all under your own scanner being reflected upon. Should I be saying this or doing that? You suddenly feel like you shouldn’t be sitting on a couch and binge watch TV for several hours because you may be setting an example for the kid.
They say behave like your mother is watching you. I’d say, behave like an impressionable teenager is watching you.
In any case, we managed to return A unscathed back to her parents. But even as we were basking in the glory of our success, a succulent that had been gifted a few months back shriveled up and died😒. Life has a way of putting you back in your place.
Could be worse though,