Josna Rege

90. “Almost a Dude”

In 1960s, 1990s, Childhood, Inter/Transnational, Stories on January 12, 2011 at 3:24 pm

illustration by E.H. Shepard

By the time my dear nephew Tyler (now 14) was two, he was keenly aware that he was 12 years younger than his Nikhil-dada (big brother), and was eager to outgrow his status as the baby of the family, which, he already understood, he was in danger of remaining indefinitely. Incidentally, he called Nikhil Nikhil-dada until he started going to pre-school, where they taught him American kinship terms and he came home and announced that Nikhil was not his brother but his cousin. On one visit, when I called him Babycakes, one of the many terms of endearment I bestowed on him unthinkingly, he corrected me with great earnestness: “Not baby cakes, medium-sized cakes.” A few months later, when Sally observed admiringly how tall he was getting, he replied with pride, “Yes, I’m almost a dude.”

This brings to mind Sally’s own pronouncement (reminiscent of A.A. Milne’s James James Morrison Morrison*) when she was about the same age and chafing under supervision by grown-ups. She too sought to fast-forward to adulthood, demanding coffee instead of milk (and getting “milky coffee”—a cup of warm, frothy milk with a teaspoonful of Mum’s coffee mixed in). Deciding to take charge of her life with a complete role reversal, she told our mother: “When I was a big lady and you were a little baby, I used to push you around in your pram.”

* Disobedience

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James
Said to his Mother,

“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down to the end of the town, if
you don’t go down with me.”

—A.A. Milne, in When We Were Very Young

Tell Me Another

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  1. I loved “When We Were Very Young”! It was so nice just to see the illustration you used, which I recognized before my brain even had time to register why. Thank you for “James James Morrison Morrison.” Now I feel like having a cup of cocoa and going to bed.

    I identify with your nephew, as I was the youngest cousin (I had younger ones, but we rarely saw them, and only once or twice when my older cousins were around) and wanted to grow up fast. Not quite on point, but this reminds me of family friends whose youngest child was born while they were living in Peru, so Spanish was as much her first language as English. By age 4, she was living in the US, and we visited them in Indiana. They lived on a lake, which I thought (correctly) was heaven. Anyway, Linda pronounced her name Yinda and said that she was a yittle girl. When she was told, “That’s lllittle, LLLinda, lllittle,” she replied loudly, “That’s what I said, yittle!” (Family story, I don’t know if it translates, but it still makes me smile.)

    • Glad you liked seeing the familiar illustration, Sarah. Andrew took that photo from my ancient edition of When We Were Very Young, a 4th birthday present from my Uncle Ted. That blue coloring of the little boy’s smock was my naughtiness, drawing in the book.
      I love the Yinda story; it made me smile too. For some reason Nikhil couldn’t say his L’s when he was little, so he always said “Yondon.”

      • P.S. The other connection with the story of L/Yinda is how schools/authorities/dominant cultures “correct” cultural difference, thereby telling the children that what they have come to know as right is actually wrong. Good for yittle Yinda for continuing to insist that she had it right!

  2. We grew up with these wonderful books also and they bring back wonderful warm memories of all of us sitting on the couch around our mother while she read to us before bed.
    One thing I especially loved was that she would always ask us what we wanted her to read, so we often chose favorite stories over and over and she didn’t seem to mind reading them over and over.

    • I remember my Dad reading to Sally and me, doing all the voices and the accents–it was a riot! I can still hear him saying some of the words and phrases that became family mottoes. Both Mum and Dad told us stories as well as reading to us. Mum had a series of adventures of a sister and brother, and made up new episodes each time. The only story of Dad’s that I remember was of a dog who swallowed a bar of soap, and then blew bubbles every time he barked.
      I can see you all snuggled on the couch being read to by your mother. She must have enjoyed that time as much as you did; I know I looked forward to reading to Nikhil every evening when he was little.

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